"To the victor goes the spoils" describes the typical fate of conquered nations — except when the United States was the conqueror.
Ever since Columbus landed in the Bahamas in 1492 and decided to declare the island the property of Spain without consulting the indigenous population, Western Europe and later the United States turned imperialism into an article of faith and a corrupting source of wealth extracted from foreign countries and new American colonies.
Ronald Reagan joked about U.S. annexation of the Panama Canal Zone, “We stole it fair and square.” During the Canal’s construction, Panama was a province of Colombia.
After the South American nation reneged on its agreement to grant the U.S. a lease in perpetuity for the two strips of land that border the waterway and bisect Panama, the U.S. urged the Panamanians to revolt and declare independence from Colombia.
Teddy Roosevelt's Outburst Cost the U.S. $25 Million
American Vikings and the Panama Canal
"I took the Canal." - former President Theodore Roosevelt
The Great Miscommunicator
"We stole it fair and square." - Ronald Reagan
Reagan’s crack was made with impunity, which was not the case with an earlier imperialist, Theodore Roosevelt.
Pestered by reporters to admit that the U.S. had stolen the Canal Zone, the former president finally blurted out, “I took the canal.”
The Colombian government sued the U.S. government, citing Roosevelt’s outburst as prima facie evidence of America's grand theft of its sovereignty in the Canal Zone.
The U.S. Supreme Court sided with the plaintiffs and ordered the federal government to pay Colombia $25 million in 1921 ($300 million today) for the Canal Zone.
Earlier, cynical politicians also said the U.S. “paid for what it stole” after winning the Mexican-American War in 1848. At war’s end, the victorious Americans annexed 55 percent of northern Mexico, or nearly one million square miles, covering today’s Texas, California, Nevada, Utah, and parts of Colorado, Arizona, Oklahoma, New Mexico, and Wyoming.
Nineteenth Century America: Greedy for Foreign Land But Not Money
But unique among 19th century colonial powers, the U.S. did not demand war reparations. The American government actually paid the rulers of the mutilated remainder of Mexico $18 million ($457 million today) for the purloined property. Before hostilities began, the U.S. had offered Mexico twice the final amount, which was rejected.
By 1853, the transcontinental railroad needed land in what became Arizona and New Mexico to build a southern connection to the major artery. Because of its military superiority, the U.S. could have easily seized the 32,000 square miles required for the railroad’s extension, but instead, the federal government paid $10 million ($240 million) for what is known as the Gadsden Purchase of 1853.
Undocumented Workers “Recolonize” the United State
In a case of historical symmetry, undocumented aliens south of the border have been slowly “reconquering” their ancestors’ territory by relocating north. Victory by foot.
The Spanish Reconquista (reconquest) ended with the expulsion of the Jews and Moors from Spain by Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492. A Mexican Reconquista is ongoing.
According to a 2005 report by the U.S. Census Bureau, Texas, Hawaii, New Mexico, and California have already become “Third World” states where so-called minorities have become majorities.
Not only border states have experienced this recolonization. The inflow from the south has penetrated deep into America’s heartland. Iowa and Maryland have exploding Latino populations.
Reconquering Mexican Territory in the Bedroom, not the Battlefield
The reclamation of conquered Mexican territory in the U.S. is propelled by force of demographic shifts rather than by force of arms.
Demography rather than tyranny or warfare is literally changing the complexion of the U.S. Besides immigration, Hispanic birth rates, which are higher than Anglos’, will also help turn the nation into a Third World state.
Anyone familiar with the French epigram, “Plus ça change, plus ça le même chose” (“The more things change, the more they stay the same”), will recognize that it also applies to the “reconquest” of former Mexican territory by Latinos moving to the U.S.
An identical demographic shift is making the Israelis very nervous because their Arab population’s higher birth rates are gradually transforming the Jewish state into a Muslim enclave.
Which is one of the many reasons, rarely mentioned by historians or demographers, that Israeli politicians are secretly delighted that Arab residents of the West Bank and Gaza have rejected Israel’s offer of citizenship and representation in the Knesset, the nation’s parliament.
Not only scholarly demographers realize that the Palestinians’ faster population growth will eventually give them a majority in the legislature, and the leader of the majority party in the Knesset becomes prime minister as in Britain and other parliamentary democracies.
A demographer at Israel’s University of Haifa, Professor Arnon Soffer, predicts that Arabs will achieve majority status as soon as 2020, too early for them to become acculturated and assimilated into a no-longer Jewish state.
The transformation of Hispanics minority to majority in the U.S. will be much less convulsive, if at all, than Israel’s transformation because the transition won’t occur in America until 40 years from now.
Second generation Mexican Americans tend to assimilate with much greater ease than Palestinians.
Auto-genocide: Half of Latinos Marry Anglos
Another demographic shift may be diminishing the effects of the Mexican Reconquista of America’s Southwest. Hispanics may be ethnically cleansing themselves out of existence since just as 50 percent of Jewish Americans now marry gentiles, the same percentage of Latinos marry Anglos.
This reproductive Holocaust is taking place in the bedroom, not on urban battlefields in the Muslim Uighur region of northwestern China today and Muslim Bosnia at the turn of the last century.
Unlike the U.S., all other colonial powers not only failed to reimburse conquered nations for annexing portions of the losers’ land, the winners embraced the philosophy that “to the victor goes the spoils” and made defeated nations pay reparations for what the conquerors stole.
Nineteenth Century Britain: Greedy for Land and Money
Comparisons to other colonial powers in previous centuries reinforce the unique nature of America paying for conquered territory without monetary punishment of conquered nations.
In one of history’s more egregious land grabs, Britain demanded — and got — $5 million in reparations after defeating China at the end of the second Opium War in 1860.
Adding insult to assault, Britain acquired a lease on Hong Kong as part of the war reparations. More than a century later, when the leased expired in 1997, capitalist Hong Kong was still smarting from Britain’s 19th century thefts and welcomed the city’s return to China despite fears that the country’s communist government would confiscate Hong Kong’s wealth.
Woodrow Wilson’s Failed Peace Mission after World War I
America’s unique policy toward vanquished nations contrasts in particular with the behavior of other victorious countries at the end of World War I.
Alone among the Allied leaders, President Woodrow Wilson urged that a defeated Germany and Austria be spared ruinous war reparations, correctly predicting that a humiliated Germany would be back for a second round of world war.
Wilson’s plea was ignored by the other Allies, who wanted revenge and demanded that Germany pay $32 billion ($400 billion today) as compensation for the victors’ loss of personnel and matériel.
Benjamin Franklin - Victim of Britain's Malevolent Colonialism?
American Founding Grandfather
It wasn’t only money that distinguished America’s treatment of vanquished opponents from the retaliation against the losers by other victorious nations. At a fractious meeting of the Continental Congress during the American Revolution, Benjamin Franklin urged unity…or else.
The most famous man in the world in his day and the Albert Einstein of the 18th century, Franklin warned the other delegates with genuine gallows humor, “Gentlemen, we must all hang together, or we shall all hang separately.”
Our Founding Grandfather did not exaggerate the consequences of an American defeat. If Britain had won the war, Benedict Arnold would have been granted lands and a dukedom. The leader of the American Rebellion, George Washington, would have been hanged.
That prediction isn't far-fetched. Twenty years after the American Revolution, one of the leaders of Ireland’s rebellion against Britain, Lord Edward FitzGerald, was shot and beaten to death by British soldiers with rifle butts despite FitzGerald's wealth and connections as a distant relative of King George III.
Sometimes the U.S. was merely incompetent and lacked persistence. In a preview of our Keystone Kommando attempts to capture Osama bin Laden, American troops also failed to apprehend Mexican bandito Pancho Villa after he massacred more than 20 civilians in Texas and New Mexico in the early 20th century.
At other times, American policy was inexplicable in its forgiveness of atrocities. After Mexican president General Santa Anna killed 250 defenders of the Alamo and massacred more than 350 Anglo POWs at Goliad, Texas, in 1836, the Mexican dictator was captured and sent to Washington.
There, instead of going on trial for war crimes, the Mexican dictator was given sumptuous lodgings and an invitation to dinner with President Andrew Jackson's as guest of honor.
Despite his war-time atrocities, Santa Ana never went on trial and was allowed to return home to Mexico unpunished.
Did the war reparations America paid Mexico in 1848 represent guilt money? Unlikely. Might still makes right in many parts of the world today. The concept of guilt didn’t influence the mighty in the past and sadly still does not deter America’s current adventurism in Iraq.
Foner, Eric, and John A. Garraty, eds. The Reader’s Companion to American History. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1991.
Hanes, W. Travis III, and Frank Sanello. The Opium Wars: The Addiction of One Empire and the Corruption of Another. New York: Barnes & Noble, 2002.
Tuchman, Barbara. The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam. New York: Ballantine, 1985.
(Excerpted from the author's Fractured History Tales or Why (Almost) Everything You Thought You Knew About the Past Never Happened. Los Angeles: Genesee Avenue Books, 2011)
Causes Frank Sanello Supports
ACLU, ASPCA, Amnesty International, Doctors Without Borders