What are some of the consequences of imperialism on a democratic society and its people?
The consequences of imperialism are many and complex but several aspects of that influence stand out from amongst the rest. The first and perhaps most important aspect is a negative relation between the government of the imperialist country and the people of the country on which imperialism is being imposed upon. Secondary issues regarding imperialism connect with the backlash against an imperialist agenda both at home and abroad. While these issues may not have been present in historical terms, in the modern world, their relevance is certainly high enough for governments to disguise their imperialist activities as something other than creating regional hegemony.
The case of American regional imperialism is perhaps most evident when it comes to Latin America. Of course it remains quite obvious that American governments have always had a role to play in international politics even though they had been warned by their greatest leader not to interfere in the matters of other nations. Buschini (2000) notes the American influence over the Middle East as well as Latin America and notes that in historical terms, “Between the end of the Spanish-American War and the dawn of the Great Depression, the United States sent troops to Latin American countries thirty-two times (Buschini, 2000, Pg. 1)”. The consequences for such actions both home and abroad only became clear when the changes to the Latin American politics became evident.
For the American people, intervention and the idea of sending soldiers to fight and die in a foreign land had to be given some explanation. This explanation came from the Monroe Doctrine as it was fed to the public by Roosevelt and other presidents who did not see imperialism as imperialism. In fact, American intervention was seen as necessary, a positive force for change and the American people were taught to see themselves as liberators as well as the protectors of democracy (Kinzer, 2006).
As a consequence of having imperialist policies, America was made out in the media to be the defender of civilization in a world which was full of chronic wrongdoing and mischief done by others. The nobility of the American government was essentially a myth fed to the people and many of them gladly accepted it as fact. In this manner, even in a democratic society, a government which was hesitant to intervene in the matters of other nations would be seen as lacking the courage to make strong decisions (Kinzer, 2006). For governments willing to intervene, the idea of bringing democratic values to other countries was perhaps the same idea used by earlier imperialist powers who wanted to bring civilization and Christianity to the savage tribes of the world.
American intervention and the imperialist agenda thus found its own justification even though America was certainly a democracy. The idea of American interests being at risk itself was easier to push since the fear of American interests under threat was easier to prove than the idea of bringing democracy to a people. However, the exact definition of what American interests are at risk in a given situation is rather difficult to define since even today it is a rather question for the government to answer particularly with regard to certain nations in the Middle East where American forces have been engaged for years (Kinzer, 2006).
American imperialism in Latin America had a simple delineation, those nations that followed what America suggested as a viable course were the friends of America and those who did not needed to be set on the right path in order to protect American interests. This correction could include a regime change through political support to various groups or even an outright overthrow of the government through military means. As discussed by Esler (2006, Pg. 1) “In pursuit of American interests, the US has overthrown or undermined around 40 Latin American governments”.
For a democratic society, the idea of a change in regime or the illegal support of a foreign power to a domestic party as severe consequences since it upsets the natural order and allows a party/person to come into power who had no real right to wield power. In essence, while the American government may tell the world as well as Americans at home that it is protecting democracy, its actions and deeds may actually be destroying democracy and changing the way in with democratic institutes are supposed to function.
Of course America is not alone when it comes to imperialist tendencies since Russia, Great Britain and even France have had a past where their governments used imperialist tactics to get what they wanted. For instance, during the Cuban missile crisis, both Russia and America were involved in conducting interventions into the internal affairs of several Latin American nations. While America wanted to influence Latin American democracies to curtail their links to Cuba, “Moscow tried to persuade Latin American Governments not to cut their economic and diplomatic ties with Cuba (Mujal-Leon, 1989, Pg. 14)”.
Perhaps it is regional proximity and the wealth of natural resources which Latin America can call on which makes it a very lucrative target for the American imperialist agenda but regardless of the motive for imperial tactics, imperialism certainly is a part of how America works in Latin America (Kinzer, 2006). However, it does not seem fair that America should be blamed for acting in an imperial manner. American governments and the American businesses are simply looking out for themselves and doing the best they can with regard to their investors and stakeholders.
Even in terms of ethics, American actions can be seen as ethical egoism since America is doing what she thinks is best for her. The only real objection which can be made to the acts of America and the American governments who have supported these acts is that they are given a sugar coating of fabrications, spin doctoring and even outright lies. Imperialism is certainly not a justifiable act and by twisting words, the government seems to be insulting the intelligence of Americans who see it as it really is.
Buschini, J. 2000, ‘U.S. intervention in Latin America’, [Online] Available at: http://www.smplanet.com/imperialism/teddy.html
Esler, G. 2006, ‘How the US ‘lost’ Latin America’, [Online] Available at: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/4861320.stm
Kinzer, S. 2006, Overthrow: America’s Century of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq, Times.
Mujal-Leon, E. 1989, The USSR and Latin America: A Developing Relationship, Unwin Hyman.