Are we back to 1899?

This country’s first debate about “nation-building” took place in 1899.

Jake at Razing Cain thinks that the Philippine insurgency after the Spanish-American War has some lessons for our current problems in Iraq. They aren’t happy lessons: he thinks that we need to stay for a long time, and that we won’t.

I’m not sure I agree with Jake substantively, and I think the comparison is not entirely apposite. Iraq is a much more sophisticated society (measured, say, by literacy rates) now than the Philippines were in 1899. Nor is it obvious to me that the Philippines is a happier place now for our having decided to keep it after we took it from Spain, rather than turning it loose. Still, his thoughts are worth pondering.

One of the continuities between the Vietnam-era anti-war movement and the movement in opposition to the war in Iraq is the curious absence of arguments from American history. Those two movements — whether you agree with their purposes or not — carried on the great tradition of Lincoln and other Northern Whigs in opposing the Mexican War and of the Anti-Imperialists (including Mark Twain, Grover Cleveland, Carl Shurtz, William James, and Andrew Carnegie) in opposing the colonization of the Philippines.

It seemed to me back in the late ’60s that the refusal to claim legitimate historical roots reflected (and reinforced) the anti-patriotic tone of much of the anti-war movement. It was, and is, quite possible to be anti-war and patriotic — to be anti-war because of being patriotic — but that isn’t the dominant tone. Whichever side of the debate you’re on, that’s too bad.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: