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America on the International Stage, Ready or Not: 1900-1919

At the beginning of the 20th century, the U.S. was ready to become more important to the rest of the world. America's somewhat-reluctant empire extended halfway around the globe, so the country was beginning to look like an international power. But people still remembered the Founding Fathers' warnings to stay away from entangling foreign alliances, and they were more concerned with the economic and social work to do at home.

After years of holding off change, the U.S. begin to make major reforms under the Progressive movement with the beginning of the new century in 1900. With domestic reform at a high point, the U.S. got dragged into World War I. After tipping the balance toward victory for the Allies in this war, the U.S. president proposed an international League of Nations which his own Congress would not support. By not quite agreeing to sign on for its own ideals of international democracy, the U.S. unintentionally ensured that it would have to fight for them again.


In 1899, the Americans and the Filipinos were standing side by side waving goodbye to the Spanish colonists when the native independence fighters realized something was wrong: The Yanks weren't leaving.

After five years of the U.S. Army slogging through the jungle led by ex-American-Indian-fighters from the American West, the Americans managed to knock out all the major rebel armies at a cost of thousands of soldiers and hundreds of thousands of civilian lives. The eventual rewards to the U.S. were an independent Philippines that is generally pro-American, a naval base, and a jumping-off place for activity in Asia. The Filipinos learned some English in the schools Americans helped build but were quite happy to finally get their freedom on July 4th, 1946 — see Chapter 17.

China and the Open Door Policy

Colonialism benefited European countries politically, so they pushed to acquire Hong Kong (Britain), Macau (Portugal), and Tsing Tao (Germany) from large-but-weak China. The U.S. didn't want to rule China, but it also didn't want other countries to set up permanent shop and exclude them from trade. So the U.S., consulting more or less with the other major European powers, issued the Open Door Policy (1899). All foreign nations in China were supposed to respect Chinese rights and let other countries bid fairly on commercial contracts. To the Chinese, this policy felt like an agreement among the bullies about how to fairly divide the lunch money they stole.


Question: What was the Open Door Policy?

Answer: A U.S.-sponsored agreement among Western nations to respect Chinese rights and let other countries bid fairly on commercial contracts.

The Boxer Rebellion

Chinese anti-Westerners called the Boxers murdered Western missionaries and besieged Western diplomats holed up in the capital of Beijing. Western governments quickly threw together an eight-nation rescue/invasion force of 20,000 soldiers to put down the Boxer Rebellion (1900).

The United States contributed a couple thousand troops who were already on hand in the Philippines. The Western diplomats barricaded their offices into one big fort and held out for 55 days with nothing but one old cannon until help arrived.

China had to pay a huge amount of money for the trouble some of their citizens had caused the Westerners. Shame over their weakness led the Chinese to get rid of the ancient Empress Dowager and start a more modern government. The U.S. used some of its share of the money to educate Chinese students in America.

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