Monday, January 15, 2007

But now I’m here, guess I’m goin’ to stay, and lick you into shape

Bush’s questioning of whether the Iraqis are showing “a gratitude level that’s significant enough” reminded me of an article about Cuba: Louis Pérez, Jr. “Incurring a Debt of Gratitude: 1898 and the Moral Sources of United States Hegemony in Cuba,” American Historical Review, 104:2, April 1999. Check your public library’s website; I was able to download the pdf through mine. It’s about how Americans were bewildered that the Cubans didn’t show sufficient gratitude for our generosity in liberating them from the Spanish. And they weren’t the only ingrates: Gen. Otis Howard, a former director of the Freedmen’s Bureau, wrote an article in 1898 suggesting that Americans were developing a prejudice against Cubans, who “have not properly appreciated the sacrifices of life and health that have been made to give them a free country,” similar to the “dislike of black men in 1863... because so many of them did not seem to understand, or be grateful for, what had been done for them.”

When the US was pressuring Cuba to accept the Platt Amendment denying it the right to its own foreign policy, ceding Guantanamo Bay, and giving the US the right to intervene militarily in Cuba at will, Secretary of War Elihu Root thundered, “If the American people get the impression that Cuba is ungrateful and unreasonable, they will not be quite so altruistic and sentimental the next time they have to deal with Cuban affairs as they were in April, 1898.”

This more-in-sorrow-than-in-anger-although-actually-pretty-angry-too-now-that-you-mention-it attitude persisted for decades, as did the belief that the history of the country only began when the US became interested in it: Teddy Roosevelt often said “Cuba owes to us her birth,” just as Bush last week described Iraq as a “young society.” In October 1959 a reporter asked President Eisenhower what he supposed was “eating” Castro. Ike admitted bafflement: “The whole history – first our intervention in 1898, our making and helping set up Cuban independence... and the very close relationships that have existed most of the time with them – would seem to make it a puzzling matter to figure out exactly why the Cubans and the Cuban Government would be so unhappy.” Rep. Mendel Rivers in 1960 called Cuba “a country that was conceived by America, delivered by America, nurtured by America, educated by America and made a self-governing nation by America. ... When ingratitude on the part of a nation reaches the point that it has in Cuba, it is time for American wrath to display itself in no uncertain terms.”

Cuba cartoon Punch.gif

(Click here for larger image.)

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