Sunday, October 21, 2007


Again, time has passed. George Bush seems well defeated, I’m adjusting to Vancouver and making friends and acquaintances at last. I’m not so urgently driven to communicate in this blog. My marriage continues to be wonderful. I’m drawing again, writing some poetry, working algebra problems, reading and drinking lattes at some interesting coffee shops around Vancouver. I drive over to Portland almost every Sunday morning to join my fellow humanists for interesting lectures, then go to lunch with another small bunch of humanists. I feel pretty good, and I’m much pepped up by the knowledge that my potential heart disease turned into a clean bill of health by angiogram. I’m meeting some people in the apartment complex too. Currently I’m reading poetry by Marvin Bell, Loewen’s book and also Gore Vidal’s memoir, Palimpsest. I really like Gore Vidal, I do. Sense a kindred spirit there, even though I’m heterosexual as all get out, but sometimes Gore’s writing makes me love him. Life is pretty damn great.


In Lies My Teacher Told Me, James Loewen studies 12 textbooks of American history to demonstrate just how distorted American textbooks are in order that they might portray America in a much too favorable a light. Even in my minor in history, I don’t recall the following information being presented to me.

… slavery and it concomitant ideas, which legitimated hierarchy and dominance sapped our Revolution idealism. Most textbooks never hint at this clash of ideas, let alone at its impact on our foreign policy.

After the Revolution, many Americans expected our example would inspire other peoples. It did. Our young nation got its first chance to help in the 1790s, when Haiti revolted against France. Whether a president owned slaves seems to have determined his policy toward the second independent nation in the hemisphere. George Washington did, so his administration loaned hundreds of thousands of dollars to the French planters in Haiti to help them suppress their slaves. John Adams did not, and his administration gave considerable support to the Haitians. Jefferson's presidency marked a general retreat from the idealism of the Revolution. Like other slave owners, Jefferson preferred a Napoleonic colony to a black republic in the Caribbean. In 1801 he reversed U.S. policy toward Haiti and secretly gave France the go-ahead to reconquer the island. In so doing, the United States not only betrayed its heritage, but also acted against its own self-interest. For if France had indeed been able to retake Haiti, Napoleon would have maintained his dream of an American empire. The United States would have been hemmed in by France to its west, Britain to its north, and Spain to its south. But planters in the United States were scared by the Haitian Revolution. They thought it might inspire slave revolts here (which it did). When Haiti won despite our flip-flop, the United States would not even extend it diplomatic recognition, lest its ambassador inflame our slaves "by exhibiting in his own person an example of successful revolt," in the words of a Georgia senator. Five of the twelve textbooks mention how Haitian resistance led France to sell us its claim to Louisiana, but none tells of our flip-flop. Indeed, no textbook ever makes any connection between slavery and U.S. foreign policy.

Racial slavery also affected our policy toward the next countries in the Americas to revolt, Spain's colonies. Haiti's example inspired them to seek independence, and the Haitian government gave Simon Bolivar direct aid. Our statesmen were ambivalent, eager to help boot a European power out of the hemisphere but worried by the racially mixed rebels doing the booting. Some planters wanted our government to replace Spain as the colonial power, especially in Cuba. Jefferson suggested annexing Cuba. Fifty years later, diplomats in the Franklin Pierce administration signed the Ostend Manifesto, which proposed that the United States buy or take the island from Spain. Slave owners, still obsessed with Haiti as a role model, thus hoped to prevent Cuba's becoming a second Haiti, with "flames [that might] extend to our own neighboring shores," in the words of the Manifesto. In short, slavery prompted the United States to have imperialist designs on Latin America rather than visions of democratic liberation for the region. (pp.142-143)

Photo a nice one along the Columbia River as one drives westbound on I-84.

No comments: