Dominion from Sea to Sea: Pacific Ascendancy and American Powerby Bruce Cumings
America is the first world power to inhabit an immense land mass open at both ends to the world’s two largest oceans—the Atlantic and the Pacific. This gives America a great competitive advantage often overlooked by Atlanticists, whose focus remains overwhelmingly fixed on America’s relationship with Europe. Bruce Cumings challenges the
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America is the first world power to inhabit an immense land mass open at both ends to the world’s two largest oceans—the Atlantic and the Pacific. This gives America a great competitive advantage often overlooked by Atlanticists, whose focus remains overwhelmingly fixed on America’s relationship with Europe. Bruce Cumings challenges the Atlanticist perspective in this innovative new history, arguing that relations with Asia influenced our history greatly.
Cumings chronicles how the movement westward, from the Middle West to the Pacific, has shaped America’s industrial, technological, military, and global rise to power. He unites domestic and international history, international relations, and political economy to demonstrate how technological change and sharp economic growth have created a truly bicoastal national economy that has led the world for more than a century. Cumings emphasizes the importance of American encounters with Mexico, the Philippines, and the nations of East Asia. The result is a wonderfully integrative history that advances a strong argument for a dual approach to American history incorporating both Atlanticist and Pacificist perspectives.
Selected as one of the Atlantic''s 25 Best Books of the Year 2009
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Dominion from Sea to Sea
Pacific Ascendancy and American Power
By BRUCE CUMINGS
Yale UNIVERSITY PRESSCopyright © 2009 Bruce Cumings
All rights reserved.
The Machine in the Garden
Locke sank into a swoon; The Garden died; God took the spinning-jenny Out of his side. —W. B. Yeats, The Tower
Where does the West begin? Historians can't agree, but for pioneers it was once the Appalachians, in Daniel Boone's time it was Tennessee, Illinois was called the Northwest (thus Northwestern University), then Chicago and the railroads made a "new West." The Census Bureau counts thirteen Mountain and Pacific states, including Alaska and Hawaii, as part of the West—but not Texas (not Texas?). Probably the most influential definition is the 98th meridian, the dividing line between rainfall adequate for farming and aridity. But half of the Americans living west of that meridian live in California. So is it the real West? Where would the West be in Saul Steinberg's celebrated New Yorker cover? The West starts across the Hudson in Jersey and has space, expanse, width; the East has depth—it has civilization. You live in the one and you fly over the other. Steinberg reveals a state of mind, not a place. New England is the fount of Anglo-Saxon civilization, New York the apex of American culture, and the continent might as well still be an untamed wilderness. It dawned on a woman of nineteen who grew up in Seattle, cruising in a rented Toyota through New England, that she had somehow failed to grasp that "the East Coast was American cultural headquarters."
What about the Atlantic's continental opposite? "It rested on a crust of earth at the edge of a sea that ended a world," Frank Fenton wrote in A Place in the Sun. But what world ended there? D. H. Lawrence thought that Fenton's city, Los Angeles, was "silly," a queer place that "turned its back on the world and looks into the void Pacific." In his essay titled "Facing the Pacific," Edmund Wilson stared into the same void, kindly remarking that California writers did not seem to carry "a weight proportional to the bulk of their work." No doubt this failing issued from "the strange spell of unreality which seems to make human experience on the Coast as hollow as the life of a trollnest where everything is out in the open instead of being underground," or from the climate ("the empty sun and the incessant rains"), or from the view ("the dry mountains and the void of the vast Pacific"), or from "the surf that rolls up the beach with a beat that seems expressionless and purposeless after the moody assaults of the Atlantic." San Francisco was "the real cultural center" of California for Wilson, but (regrettably) a victim of "arrested development." Meanwhile San Diego had none at all: "a jumping-off place." Then he drew closer to his real intent: "Add to this the remoteness of the East and the farther remoteness from Europe." And then Wilson made his point: "California looks away from Europe, and out upon a wider ocean toward an Orient with which as yet any cultural communication is difficult." (In a similar essay Wilson put it this way: "an Orient with which, for white Americans, the cultural communication is slight.") For Lawrence and Wilson—and in literary criticism it doesn't get much better than that—Southern California was walled in by mountains and facing west toward "the void of the vast Pacific."
The Belated Pacific
If it is hard to imagine a more jaundiced and blinkered view of the Pacific Coast culture and climate ("moody assaults" are available o? Bodega Bay if you like them, and the "empty sun" rarely warms Astoria), these are important statements because they are the kind of thing most eastern intellectuals hesitate to say openly, but it's what they really think—California is remote from Europe, it "looks away" toward a vacuous Pacific. It puts intellectuals out of sorts and so they hustle back to New York or Cambridge with relief and a shudder. What about the in-between, the continent from New York to Los Angeles? Well, that truly is flyover territory. Saul Steinberg's poster recapitulates the geography of Edmund Wilson's mind; he wouldn't pause in Peoria to assay the local culture. Fine: but what about a country that from its founding "looked away" from Europe, that turned to face West, unrolling a novus ordo seclorum (a new order for the ages, see it on your dollar bill) on a vast continent, an exceptional nation that would negate Europe's monarchies, its despotism, its landlords and peasants, its wars of nation and class? And what about a literary tradition founded in New England that also faced West in spite of itself?
What of the "void of the vast Pacific"? The Pacific looks like a tranquil, gently rolling, infinite plane promising serenity and long life. Wilson's void is the absence of a common civilization ("cultural communication") on both sides of the Pacific. The distances were too far, the cultures too disparate, the peoples too incomprehensible. We see the Atlantic or the Mediterranean as a distinct entity and subject for inquiry, but not the Pacific. We say Atlantic World, but Pacific World is a concept just now gaining traction (unless it connotes the romance of the islands). We say Atlantic civilization but we don't say Pacific civilization. Oliver Wendell Holmes, who coined the term "Boston Brahmin," helped found the Atlantic Monthly in 1857 to link America with European culture, and it is still an influential magazine; we don't have a remotely comparable Pacific Monthly. Americans and Europeans meet each other as equals, as part of the same cultural realm, however much Europeans may think a ration of error crossed the Atlantic. Americans met Pacific peoples very early, as they were discovering their own territory—Chinese in the gold rush, Japanese, Koreans, and Filipinos at the turn of the last century—and they met them with sharp racial discrimination that did not begin to end until the civil rights movement of the 1960s. They met them in continuous wars from 1941 to 1975. They met them in economic exchange after 1960, and now they meet them in universities, corporations, hospitals, courtrooms, and laboratories, a new and burgeoning professional class. In the twenty-first century a Pacific civilization is slowly emerging, linking all sides of the vast ocean in ongoing, daily life exchange. But today the ocean remains primarily a setting for business exchange or popular culture—and an arena of overwhelming American military might.
For Bernard Bailyn "the idea of Atlantic history" emerged in the postwar period as a way to characterize Britain's imperial Atlantic order and an intertwined British-American, internationalist history—a "transnational, multicultural reality," or as Armitage and Braddick term it, a social system "with permeable boundaries, created by the interaction of migrants, settlers, traders, and a great variety of political systems." The new Atlantic history leads David Armitage to say, speaking for a host of historians, "We are all Atlanticists now." An ocean is a natural fact, Armitage goes on, with a built-in geography; the same, ipso facto, is true of the Pacific. But Bailyn and Armitage trace the origin of Atlantic history to engagement with Europe during World War II and the cold war: "the idea of Western civilization ... owed more to NATO than to Plato," Armitage wrote. The opponents of the Atlantic idea, they say, were isolationists, otherwise called "Asia firsters" (or maybe Pacificists). Atlantic history became increasingly multicolored—a black Atlantic, a green (Irish) Atlantic, a red (Marxist) Atlantic. Are there Pacific counterparts? Yes there are, as we will see. But these historians, too, are talking about a state of mind, a cultural Atlantic, built around an internationalism that they privilege. For David Armitage "the Pacific is belated" when compared to the Atlantic world and it was Europeans, not natives, who first saw it whole. But it took them forever to grasp the whole—and is it still "belated" in the new century?
The Anglo-Saxon Atlantic
The late Samuel Huntington not only posited a "clash of civilizations" but a clear preference for one of them: "Americans should recommit themselves to the Anglo-Protestant culture, traditions, and values that for three and a half centuries have been embraced by Americans of all races, ethnicities and religions and that have been the source of their liberty, unity, power, prosperity, and moral leadership as a force for good in the world." The United States was not a nation of immigrants for him, but one of settlers—people who left in groups to found a new society, often to escape religious intolerance—and those settler societies replicated themselves over two and a half centuries as the frontier expanded. It stopped expanding, according to Huntington, at the same time Frederick Jackson Turner said it did: 1890. Since then a multiethnic settler society has been diluted by immigration, he wrote, such that now more than half of the American population has no settler heritage. Huntington wanted us to revitalize "the American Creed" (reminding us of Richard Hofstadter's quip "It has been our fate as a nation not to have ideologies, but to be one"). Huntington's image is again cultural: what distinguishes Atlantic civilization are "its values and institutions"—which he lists in the following order: "Christianity, pluralism, individualism, and rule of law," all of which "made it possible for the West to invent modernity." He approvingly quoted Arthur Schlesinger Jr. on Europe as "the source—the unique source" of these basic attributes, and the responsibility of American leaders should be "to preserve, protect, and renew the unique qualities of Western civilization." The Atlantic world that Huntington wanted to revive and preserve is the only civilization truly worthy of his respect, and defending it is less a matter of confronting external enemies than husbanding its flagging resources at home and abroad. The home struggle, predictably, is against "multiculturalism" and the "culture wars" that raged in the 1990s.
Against all the hard labor of racial and ethnic enlightenment since the 1940s, Samuel Huntington still pursued "the great historico-transcendental destiny of the Occident," in Foucault's words, more specifically the destiny of the Anglo-Saxon Occident. Here is a long lament for a lost or declining Atlanticism, an America defined originally and primarily by New England (Huntington came from an old-line Boston family) and a "West" led by white men—and hopefully Protestant ones. Huntington was honest and straightforward about his preferences and betrayed no concern for partisan advantage. But the majority of Americans who differ in color, class, or gender from Boston Brahmins will not find their views and interests represented in his book.
According to Huntington the original settler societies were fully known and realized examples of Puritanism, exemplifying an Anglo-Saxon homogeneity. But did they not encounter difference from the beginning and get transformed by it—by the encounter with Indians, by the introduction of slavery, or by the lack of Turner-like settlements beyond the 98th meridian? Is not a Frederick Douglass or a Malcolm X a central part of American civilization? Are the "blue states" and "red states" of recent elections an example of the clash of civilizations (or "Atlantic culture" vs. multiculturalism) or further testimony to the deeply contested nature of American liberalism? Maybe WASPS are just another minority group? These questions answer themselves and suggest that the attributes of liberalism that Huntington held dear manifest themselves around the world in a heterogeneous democratic civilization available to all peoples, growing stronger all the time.
An Atlanticist's Pacific
The New England worldview may appear to be some quaint relic of a bygone past, and it is surely threatened—why else would Samuel Huntington defend it?—but it structured three important American institutions: the academy, the China trade, and the Foreign Service. Harvard, the self-nominated pinnacle of academe, has always been a redoubt of internationalist doctrines and so are most other elite universities; prominent Harvard scholars like Huntington still routinely supply their students to run central journals, like Foreign Affairs. Meanwhile diplomatic service was the wholly-owned subsidiary of graduates from Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and a few other schools from the beginning until the late 1960s—and usually wealthy graduates, since salaries were so low. As an observant man who happens to be English wrote, "To an extent that is quite astonishing to Europeans, who are brought up to think of the U.S. as a great populist democracy with a strong anti-aristocratic bias, the foreign policy of the U.S. as a great world power over the whole seventy years from 1898 to 1968 was a family affair." That foreign affairs "family" had blue running in its veins and proper schooling at Choate or Andover, Harvard or Yale. After graduation they inhabited institutions like the Council on Foreign Relations, the Atlantic Council, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, and the Trilateral Commission and belonged to the Cosmos Club in Washington and the Century Club in New York. Since 1941, Godfrey Hodgson noted, the foreign policy establishment was fully united on these points: prize Atlanticism, support internationalism, oppose isolationism.
Economics had an Atlanticist view, too, coming not simply from one Harvard don after another loving Adam Smith and loathing protectionists, but generations of merchants applauding free trade—and especially the China trade. John Winthrop's "City on a Hill," after all, was overlooking an ocean. Until the acquisition of California, trade with China was mainly the province of New England merchants. After the Revolution, American ships no longer had to worry about the trade monopoly held by the British East India Company, and growing wild in the countryside was a root that meant nothing to Americans but brought a fine price in China: ginseng, believed to be a fillip to male health and virility. The 360-ton Empress of China left New York in February 1784 bound for Canton, loaded mostly with ginseng and financed by Robert Morris (who had also directed the financing of the Revolution). The Empress was the largest cargo vessel ever to dock at Canton and quickly deepened the China trade. She returned in May 1785 loaded with tea, silk, and porcelains, having made a whopping profit of $30,000, a net gain of 25 percent on the original investment. Soon other American ships—the Grand Turk, the United States—followed suit, trading ginseng, furs, and sandalwood for tea and silk, and by that pregnant year—1789—as many as fifteen American ships might be tied up at Canton. The golden age of this trade arrived in the 1830s and 1840s, with $6.6 million in tea and fine porcelains arriving from China in 1840, and ginseng and cotton textiles going out. Only France and Great Britain exported more to the United States than China. John Perkins Cushing lived in Canton for three decades as the agent of Thomas Handsyd Perkins and brought with him upon his return to Boston several Chinese servants, built a grand mansion, and surrounded it with a wall of Chinese porcelain. Bostonian Russell Sturgis easily accounted for half of the trade, but Pacific commerce also built great wealth in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia—"Lowells, Girards, Astors, Lows, Griswolds, Copes" named some of the larger fortunes accrued at least in part through the China trade.
John Jacob Astor, Caleb Cushing, Abiel Abbot Low, and other American traders all loved free trade, but they did not scruple to spurn importing opium to China, mostly from Turkey, which helped them to balance their trade just as it did the British; American traders even reaped windfall profits by selling opium during the Opium Wars. It hardly hurt their social standing, either: Low was president of the New York Chamber of Commerce from 1856 to 1866, and his son Seth became president of Columbia University, from which we get Low Memorial Library (always the centerpiece of the campus). Only one prominent clipper-ship merchant refused to deal in opium: David Washington Cincinnatus Olyphant of New York, a dedicated Presbyterian who supported many foreign missionary causes. For the China traders, off to the west was an extension of the Atlantic and free trade doctrine that people happened to call the Pacific; it was a large body of water that had no meaning otherwise.
The Genteel Tradition
From the Anglo-Saxon point of view, American culture reached its apogee in the "genteel tradition" of New England and a dominant elite of "Protestant patricians." For two centuries New England had a homogeneity unlike the rest of the country, with as many as 80 percent of its citizens having common English and Protestant origins, and a pronounced class difference not unlike England itself: in Massachusetts in the early nineteenth century, for example, a handful of upper-class white men ran just about everything of importance, controlling all nominations for Congress and operating the state legislature like its handmaiden. This tradition was less specifically European than English: "the true Bostonian," Henry Adams wrote in 1907, "always knelt in self-abasement before the majesty of English standards." By the same token, the true New Englander looked up to England and faced East: here is the cultural origin of Atlanticism. The involvement of many of these same Bostonians in the China trade also made them junior partners to British commerce with palms turned up to London banks, breeding a like-minded free-trade internationalism among New Englanders generally and Harvard dons more particularly, accompanied by the belief that world peace followed in the wake of free trade. Plus Bostonians lived in the core—of America, of the world: Oliver Wendell Holmes considered Boston "the thinking centre of the continent, and therefore of the planet."
Excerpted from Dominion from Sea to Sea by BRUCE CUMINGS. Copyright © 2009 by Bruce Cumings. Excerpted by permission of Yale UNIVERSITY PRESS.
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Bruce Cumings is chair of the History Department at the University of Chicago and author of the award-winning book The Origins of the Korean War.
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