Combating Empire: Americans, Their Institutions, and Colonial Subjects Stand Up to Imperialism in Haiti (1915), India (1919–20), and Syria (1925–27)

AHA Session 289
Sunday, January 8, 2017: 9:00 AM-10:30 AM
Room 502 (Colorado Convention Center, Meeting Room Level)
Alan McPherson, University of Oklahoma

Session Abstract

The three papers for this panel will explore in detail how anti-imperialist Americans, American institutions, and subjects of empire took action and spoke out against three different incidents involving imperialism, nation building, and the formation of empire in the colonial world from 1915-1927. The first instance transpired in Haiti in 1915; the second against Indian immigrants living in the United States just after World War I; and the final one in Syria during the Great Syrian Revolt of 1925-1927.

This panel will add specific examples of anti-imperialism both in and towards the colonial world to the extant scholarship on the topic. In the works of anti-imperialist scholars Erez Manela, Paul Kramer, Alan McPherson, and Mary Renda, we witness American policy towards the colonial world during the early twentieth century in terms of race, enforced colonial hierarchy, military occupation, and the neglect of colonial self-determination. From this we are exposed to American conceptions of these topics at the time and how they influenced relations between the United States, other empires, and their subjects. This panel seeks to show both the American and colonial anti-imperialist responses to the formation and maintenance of empire as well as the frequently insurmountable obstacles that supporters of empire threw in their paths.

The three papers also highlight various problems with Woodrow Wilson’s foreign policy visions as they applied to the colonial world. Matthew Phillips shows the consequences of American progressive imperialism represented by Wilson in his decision to invade Haiti. Andrew Chatfield’s paper shows the Americans who, unlike Wilson, harbored the idea for greater political freedom for the world’s colonized peoples. Idir Ouahes reveals the imperialism that resulted from Wilson’s League of Nations’ mandate system and the violence into which it drew its imperial authorities in Syria. The subjects of Chatfield’s paper, especially the United States Senators, foresaw the imperialism that would result from the League’s mandate system because the organization would serve to maintain the precarious status quo of the balance of power present during the prewar years. French violence in Syria in 1925-1927 was a case in point.

Lastly, a final cohesive purpose of the panel is to point out the methods of combating colonial imperialism in the early twentieth century by both Americans and the subjects of empire.  The actions and movements engendered by the anti-imperialists may not have resulted in an end to the suffering of the subjects of empire. However, if we broaden our views of their actions, we can better parse their heightened awareness that they brought to the discourse of American foreign policy and to the public debates about empire. More importantly, their actions shine light on the transnational anti-colonial alliances at the time and their relationship to the American left.

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