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Influence and Extension of Power BlogPost 9/30

When reading Zinn’s the Empire and the People chapter of A People’s History of the United States, I was particularly surprised by the amount of involvement and influence that unions and other home groups had on international affairs in Cuba. Although I knew about these “two concepts” of union fighting during the end of the nineteenth century/beginning of the twentieth century and of the United States conquest of Cuba (and other areas), I never thought about them in relation to each other. I honestly never even recognized that these two extremely important aspects of American history were happening at the same time! Understandably, a lot of public support or opposition from the working class was influenced by unions like United Mine Workers, Knights of Labor, and the American Federation of Labor (to name a few) which then had an influence on the media. This influence then would have had an even larger impact on policy if it weren’t for the intersecting influence companies and the rich had in the government. After reading the Myth of American Exceptionalism and listening to the podcast I think it is easy to see how embedded American business goals are into the policies of the United States, with Cuba being a defining example of many. 

The United States not only manipulated their power over Cuba, but they imposed their own business ideals onto the country, people, and government for their own gain. I was both surprised to read about the hypocrisy that the United States government participated in, and continues to participate in, to gain the market and resources that Cuba offered, but I also have learned to expect the United States to always take an angle of personal advantage in international situations. What I did not know was that there was a history of international manipulation of power before Cuba and the Panama Canal starting in the mid-1800s. Even though most policy decisions do have some intersection of economic, social, and political motives, I questioned throughout the Zinn reading how many American policies/acts have left long-lasting social or economic impacts on the country? Should countries always be trying to work for their best interests, or do policies that work with only self-interest in mind hurt everyone else in the longer run? I can only hope that there will be more of a balance between government and business motives when it comes to the international power of the United States in the future as there definitely could be future conflicts if one type of policy is overreaching.

On a separate note, this podcast explores how dehumanization takes place through imperialism powers and American exceptionalism, but I do not think that American exceptionalism is ingrained into American culture as America has no defined culture and is much more defined by region, religion, state, and honestly … political belief. The idea that American exceptionalism is in American culture seems more like an accurate stereotype created by others based on the fact that Americans always talk about “large concepts” like liberty, freedom, or justice. Even though many other countries also talk about larger values in politics, I think the conversation around these values is more prevalent in American politics and make it seem like an intense superiority complex simply because these values connect to the human experience (don’t get me wrong though America does have a superiority complex, but I just think it is different).

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7 Comments

  1. Margot Roussel Margot Roussel

    I also learned in history class that labor unions were just there fighting for workers’ rights and trying to get certain guidelines put in place. I also did not learn about their political influence in the affairs of Cube, although it does make sense since our interest in Cuba was very economically driven. I do not have the answers to your big picture questions, but I am too wondering whether the policies the US makes only to benefit themselves end up hurting them and the other country in the long run. In this case I would say yes because after the Platt Amendment was passed relations between the US and Cuba have forever been strained and continued to escalate until the Cuban Missile Crisis.

  2. Charley Blount Charley Blount

    I’m glad you brought up the economic exploitation of Cuba in addition to military intervention. Zinn mentioned that financial interest was the key motivator for American imperialism. American financial interest still dictates foreign policy decisions today (Gulf Wars).

  3. Charley Blount Charley Blount

    I shared your surprise regarding the close relationship between unions and international affairs. After thinking about this relationship more, it makes sense. While unions are far less influential now, isolationism, free trade, and labor laws are still very important to unions.

  4. William Coben William Coben

    I agree with what you said about the financial aspect of American imperialism. In the past, and presently it has still remained the driving factor in wars and american expansion.

  5. Zachary Andrews Zachary Andrews

    After reading A People’s History to the United States and the additional article, it’s crazy to see how many conflicts the United States has got it. Usually I feel that the purpose of these conflicts, whether at home or abroad, is always for some economic gain. Even if the military or other military’s are involved, there is always going to be economic gain and that is one of the reasons why the United States has been in so many conflicts… because they want to gain as much overall wealth as possible.

  6. Carly Cohen Carly Cohen

    I was also unaware that labor unions had any effect over the affairs in Cuba. It is interesting to me that still today America is most concerned about the financial aspect of foreign affairs.

  7. William Clifton William Clifton

    I really like your perspective on American exceptionalism being a result of foreign image of America. I think that makes a lot of sense. America has a lot to live up to and I find it so interesting how others view the job we are doing. I think so often we lose sight of that considering we live within the country. I remember when my family hosted an exchange student from Spain it was truly intriguing hearing his view on America and American figures.

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