Woodard’s Myths of Yankee Anti-Imperialism and Southern Hawkishness

In part four American Nations, Colin Woodard analyzes what he calls the “culture wars” of 1878-2010. This section includes discussions on post-Civil War immigration, westward migration, industrialization, urbanization, and political tensions between Yankeedom, the Deep South, and their respective “allies” (New Netherland and the Midlands for Yankeedom; Tidewater, Southern New France, and at least a part of Greater Appalachia [most of the time] for the Deep South, and the Far West and Left Coast as “wild cards”). Amid these discussions, Woodard makes a rather questionable assertion about U.S. foreign policy initiatives. To wit:

U.S. foreign policy has shown a clear national pattern for the past two centuries. Since 1812, the anti-interventionist, anti-imperial Yankees have squared off against the bellicose, unilateralist hawks in the Deep South and Tidewater.

This assertion may be true . . .

  • Except for that time in 1893 when a party of businessmen in Hawaii (led by Sanford Dole, the banana guy) overthrew Queen Lili’uokalani and imposed their own provisional government in its place. Rather than condemning these interventionist attacks and violations against Hawaiian sovereignty, native Ohioan and longtime Hoosier Benjamin Harrison rushed a proposal to annex Hawaii to the United States Senate, fearing the “disorganization of business interests” he believed would occur if the Queen remained in power. After Harrison left office later that year, President Grover Cleveland commissioned James Henderson Blount (a Deep Southerner from Georgia) to investigate conditions in Hawaii. Blount’s Report concluded that the coup was unlawful and that a majority of native Hawaiians opposed annexation. Blount himself also opposed annexation because his white supremacists views led him to fear the incorporation of more non-white citizens into the country.
  • Except for that time in 1898 when an Ohioan President, William McKinley, led the United States into the interventionist Spanish-American War, a war in which McKinley’s future Vice President, the New Netherlander Theodore Roosevelt, battled to the top of San Juan Hill.
  • Except for that time when Woodrow Wilson–a Tidewater native but also a New Netherland college president and governor–was elected to the Presidency in 1912, leading the United States to war with Germany in World War I after winning reelection in 1916 on the campaign slogan “he kept us out of war.”
  • Except for that time when a New Netherlander President (Franklin D. Roosevelt) guided the United States through World War II, and his successor from the Midlands (Harry Truman) ended the conflict by dropping atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
  • Except for that time when a Midlander (Dwight D. Eisenhower) and a Yankee (John F. Kennedy) oversaw the U.S. military’s increasing intervention in Vietnamese affairs, only to have a Greater Appalachian (Lyndon B. Johnson) and an El Norte native (Richard M. Nixon) escalate the war even more.
  • Except for that time when a Yankee (George H.W. Bush) advocated for armed intervention in Iraq following Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990. Justifying intervention in the region, Bush argued that “out of these troubled times . . . a new world order – can emerge: a new era – freer from the threat of terror, stronger in the pursuit of justice, and more secure in the quest for peace. An era in which the nations of the world, East and West, North and South, can prosper and live in harmony…. A world where the rule of law supplants the rule of the jungle. A world in which nations recognize the shared responsibility for freedom and justice. A world where the strong respect the rights of the weak.”

Since Woodard’s book stops in 2010, one must rely on their own views and opinions in considering the applicability of Woodard’s foreign policy theory to the administration of Barack Obama, an administration that had no qualms about intervening in Libya in 2011 and nearly did the same in Syria not too long ago.

I, for one, am not convinced.

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