"American Progress" by John Gast. In this painting, Divine Providence watches over settlers on their journey west.

“American Progress” by John Gast. In this painting, Divine Providence watches over settlers on their journey west.

After reading these articles, essays and poems, a couple of questions come to mind: How long will we Americans continue to allow the Manifest Destiny doctrine and its supporters in government to dictate our domestic and foreign policy? When will we take our country back, as the Declaration of Independence provides for us to do under such mismanagement by our elected leaders?

History has proven that the values Americans cherish most are not compatible with the direction in which our politicians are leading us. We want peace. We want to be good neighbors in the world community. We want free and fair elections. We want justice. We want democracy. We want equal rights for all. We want the separation of church and state. We want to help those in need. We want corporate regulation and accountability. This is who and what we are, but, unfortunately, there is a discrepancy between what we think we are and what we have become.

We may consider ourselves good, generous people, but when we step back and see ourselves from a different perspective — as most foreigners see us — we discover that our nation has become an arrogant, childish and self-absorbed imperial monster destroying all in its path, taking whatever it wants from others because it believes that it is destined to do so under “divine providence,” a central tenet of Manifest Destiny. Those people and nations we trample upon — our victims — may even like us as a people, but at the same time may despise our nation for what we have become. The 2004 Iraqi torture scandal at Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad is a case in point here. The torture of Iraqi inmates by American soldiers hardly promotes the positive, all-American values we once intended to force upon the Iraqis. The Bush spin machine tried to portray the torture as “abuse” limited to a few bad apples in the military, but the problem is systemic because the doctrine of Manifest Destiny — and thus the theft of Iraqi oil — was behind the invasion all along. In similar fashion, the Union cavalry raped and mutilated Indian women as new forts were built and more troops traveled westward to protect settlers as they moved in and began farming Indian land “from sea to shining sea.” We may think of ourselves as good people, as humane people, but we do some very bad things to others in order to get what we want. It wasn’t just a few bad soldiers in those Iraqi torture rooms; we were all there with them.

I, for one, have hope that America can become a positive example for the world when we free ourselves — once and for all — from the yoke of Manifest Destiny. We can then, in true democratic, grassroots fashion, pursue policies aligned with our shared values as Americans and human beings.

This collection is divided into three parts — Plunder, Empire, and Consensus — in order to provide the reader with a logical progression through the stages of the Manifest Destiny doctrine. Readers should remember, however, that this is just an organizational tool and that the works themselves may not fit neatly into a single category.

The plunder began with Columbus’s arrival in the Western Hemisphere as millions of native peoples were either killed outright or died of diseases introduced by the Conquistadors. The process of empire-building in North America began with the first permanent settlement at Jamestown and continues today on an international scale.

From the very beginning, however, there were individuals who thought that plunder and empire-building were wrong because of the horrific effect these policies had upon others. These heroes expressed their human compassion, their hope that humankind would take a different path. Some of these heroes find a voice in these works as they recount what has happened and where we go from here as we seek to build an all-inclusive, humanist America within an all inclusive, humanist world. Such a world will only be possible when we learn how to make decisions by consensus for the common good and maintain the separation of church and state. People of faith must be free to practice their religion, but at the same time, religion and metaphysics must have no place in the process of government. This is the only way to ensure an all-inclusive society.

Violence begets violence and, as Mahatma Gandhi so aptly put it, “an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.” Human progress can only occur when we get past the idea that force and violence will achieve a desired end for us. Forget plunder. Forget empire. Instead, we must come full-circle. We must learn from Native Americans and focus on consensus-building as a way to move human society — finally — out of the dark ages.

Jamie York
May 2004