U.S. imperialism took a variety of forms in the early 20th century, ranging from colonies in Puerto Rico and the Philippines to protectorates in Cuba, Panama, and other countries in Latin America, and open door policies such as that in China. Formal colonies would be ruled with U.S.-appointed colonial governors and supported by U.S. troops. Protectorates and open door policies promoted business expansion overseas through American oversight of foreign governments and, in the case of threats to economic and strategic interests, the deployment of U.S. marines. In all of these imperial forms, U.S. empire-building both reflected and shaped complex social, cultural, and political histories with ramifications for both foreign nations and America itself.
Michael E. Donoghue
The United States’ construction and operation of the Panama Canal began as an idea and developed into a reality after prolonged diplomatic machinations to acquire the rights to build the waterway. Once the canal was excavated, a century-long struggle ensued to hold it in the face of Panamanian nationalism. Washington used considerable negotiation and finally gunboat diplomacy to achieve its acquisition of the Canal. The construction of the channel proved a titanic effort with large regional, global, and cultural ramifications. The importance of the Canal as a geostrategic and economic asset was magnified during the two world wars. But rising Panamanian frustration over the U.S. creation of a state-within-a-state via the Canal Zone, one with a discriminatory racial structure, fomented a local movement to wrest control of the Canal from the Americans. The explosion of the 1964 anti-American uprising drove this process forward toward the 1977 Carter-Torrijos treaties that established a blueprint for eventual U.S. retreat and transfer of the channel to Panama at the century’s end. But before that historic handover, the Noriega crisis and the 1989 U.S. invasion nearly upended the projected transition of U.S. retreat from the management and control of the Canal. Early historians emphasized high politics, economics, and military considerations in the U.S. acquisition of the Canal. They concentrated on high-status actors, economic indices, and major political contingencies in establishing the U.S. colonial order on the isthmus. Panamanian scholars brought a legalistic and nationalist critique, stressing that Washington did not create Panama and that local voices in the historical debate have largely been ignored in the grand narrative of the Canal as a great act of progressive civilization. More recent U.S. scholarship has focused on American imperialism in Panama, on the role of race, culture, labor, and gender as major factors that shaped the U.S. presence, the structure of the Canal Zone, as well as Panamanian resistance to its occupation. The role of historical memory, of globalization, representation, and how the Canal fits into notions of U.S. empire have also figured more prominently in recent scholarly examination of this relationship. Contemporary research on the Panama Canal has been supported by numerous archives in the United States and Panama, as well as a variety of newspapers, magazines, novels, and films.
Evan D. McCormick
Since gaining independence in 1823, the states comprising Central America have had a front seat to the rise of the United States as a global superpower. Indeed, more so than anywhere else, the United States has sought to use its power to shape Central America into a system that heeds US interests and abides by principles of liberal democratic capitalism. Relations have been characterized by US power wielded freely by officials and non-state actors alike to override the aspirations of Central American actors in favor of US political and economic objectives: from the days of US filibusterers invading Nicaragua in search of territory; to the occupations of the Dollar Diplomacy era, designed to maintain financial and economic stability; to the covert interventions of the Cold War era. For their part, the Central American states have, at various times, sought to challenge the brunt of US hegemony, most effectively when coordinating their foreign policies to balance against US power. These efforts—even when not rejected by the United States—have generally been short-lived, hampered by economic dependency and political rivalries. The result is a history of US-Central American relations that wavers between confrontation and cooperation, but is remarkable for the consistency of its main element: US dominance.
Theodore Roosevelt played a seminal role in the rise of the United States to Great Power status at the turn of the 20th century and in debates about World War I and the League of Nations. Prior to entering the White House, TR was a leading proponent of a more ambitious foreign policy. As the 26th president he promoted US predominance in the Western Hemisphere, engaged in Great Power diplomacy, and oversaw expansion of the navy. He also laid the foundations for modern presidential statecraft with forceful advocacy of specific policy goals, a close relationship with the press, and an intense engagement with public opinion. After leaving Washington, he was among the most ardent critics of president Woodrow Wilson’s policies and helped to build support for the Allies and for preparing to enter what would become the “Great War,” or World War I. At the time of his death, he was a leading contender for the Republican presidential nomination. Scholarly and public surveys frequently rank Roosevelt among the most successful presidents, especially in the realm of foreign policy. His influence can be observed in successors as diverse as Wilson, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan, and Barack Obama. Yet historians have also scrutinized his views on race, gender, imperialism, and violence, many of which appear outdated or problematic from an early-21st-century perspective. Also troubling was Roosevelt’s demonization of antiwar activists during World War I and his sometimes heavy-handed attempts to promote loyalty among citizens of German or Irish descent.