Wilsonian Missionary Diplomacy - Scholarly views on missionary diplomacy

Recent works by scholars demonstrate the varying views they hold about Wilsonian missionary diplomacy in Latin America. Many of these scholars are more critical of Wilson's diplomacy in their books and articles than earlier historians. Walter LaFeber in The American Age (p. 261) observes that Wilson, "Determined to help other peoples become democratic and orderly, … himself became the greatest military interventionist in U.S. history." The works of Frederick S. Calhoun strongly back this point of view. "More than any other president," Calhoun writes in Power and Principle (p. ix), "Woodrow Wilson defined the various ways armed interventions could support foreign policy." In another work, Uses of Force and Wilsonian Foreign Policy (p. 9), Calhoun defines five categories for the use of force, all of which he argues Wilson used in Latin America: "force for protection," to defend specific national interests; "force for retribution," military action against a government that has violated international law; "force for solution," to oppose a nation's policies in a third nation; "force for introduction," military intimidation to persuade a government to enter negotiations to settle a dispute; and "force for association," military action in accordance with alliance regulations.

Lester D. Langley writes in America in the Americas (p. 111) that "the record of Woodrow Wilson, who condemned the interventionism of his predecessor [Taft] and chastised the economic imperialists," was "among the ironies of the Latin American policy of the United States." He added, "Three-quarters of a century later, the United States has yet to shake off the cultural paternalism he grafted onto the Pan-American tissue."

In an astute analysis, Ideology and U.S. Foreign Policy (pp. 17–18), Michael H. Hunt identifies three enduring components of the U.S. worldview in place early in the twentieth century:

The capstone idea defined the American future in terms of an active quest for national greatness closely coupled to the promotion of liberty…. A second element … defined attitudes toward other peoples in terms of a racial hierarchy…. The third element defined the limits of acceptable political and social change overseas in keeping with the settled conviction that revolutions, though they might be a force for good, could as easily develop in a dangerous direction.

Hunt applies these elements in his account of Wilson's policy in Mexico, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic, as well as elsewhere in the world.

Walter A. McDougall in Promised Land, Crusader State (p. 129) contends that Wilson intensified the so-called progressive imperialism that had become prominent in U.S. foreign policy by the turn of the twentieth century. Wilson made clear, according to McDougall, that the United States (the "Crusader State") would cooperate with its Latin American neighbors, but only "when supported at every turn by the orderly processes of just government based on law." When order collapsed, the United States would use "influence of every kind" to reestablish it. He discusses "Wilsonianism, or liberal internationalism (so called)" in reference to U.S. policy in Mexico, Haiti, and Nicaragua.

Jules R. Benjamin's revisionist interpretation of Wilson's policy in the article "The Framework of U.S. Relations with Latin America in the Twentieth Century" (p. 99) emphasizes his uses of military intervention as well as the promotion of U.S. economic interests. As Benjamin puts it, "Although Wilson protested that neither Mars nor Mammon would be a part of his liberal hemisphere, he found no way to improve Latin America that did not include entrepreneurs and policemen…. [H]is principal legacy was to add to the older punishment of sins against order the punishment of sins against progress."

In the article "'An Irony of Fate': Woodrow Wilson's Pre–World War I Diplomacy," based mainly on The Papers of Woodrow Wilson, volumes 27–30, John Milton Cooper Jr. takes a more favorable view of Wilson's diplomacy in Latin America, especially in Mexico. He rejects the argument that Wilson aimed to promote U.S. economic interests in Mexico, and argues that "Mexico provides the clearest application of Wilson's political ideals to a diplomatic solution and offers … the best test of the effects of his ideals on his diplomacy" (p. 434). Wilson's use of military force in Veracruz was a "blunder," according to Cooper, the result of his "interventionist impulses" temporarily determining his course of action. Cooper also argues that the "irony of fate" viewpoint associated with Wilsonian diplomacy has little relevance. Wilson, he says, "embarked on leadership in foreign affairs willingly and confidently" (p. 429) and clearly led his administration in foreign policy.

Kendrick A. Clements's article "Woodrow Wilson's Mexican Policy, 1913–15" reaches similar conclusions. After Veracruz, "Wilson's policy …was to support the [Mexican] revolution, avoid intervention, and attempt to influence the rebel leaders into the path of justice and moderation by means of diplomatic influence" (p. 135). Neither Cooper nor Clements mentions Pershing's 1916 punitive expedition into Mexico; this event needs to be considered in evaluating their views on Wilson's policy.

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