Week 9: Commerce, Coercion, and America’s Empire

At the beginning of the chapter, something that stuck out for me, was the astounding number of workers that died while working on the Panama Canal. Although yellow fever and other diseases are the main culprit, the more than twenty-seven thousand five hundred people that perished is still a tremendous number of people. To put that amount into perspective, the number of people that died could fill Rogers Arena once and a half. I also found it surprising how Dawson implied that “only five-thousand and nine [people]…died in the ten-year period during which the United States government oversaw construction” was somehow better than the death ratio when other countries oversaw construction. It is unreasonable to think that that was a better number because zero deaths is truly the best number. Some may point out that there are many reasons for why these workers died, however, to me, it seems to be just another dark chapter in the book of human exploitation.

The labeling of the United States as a “bully” can be justified through many of its foreign relations in the past century. There are countless examples of the US interfering and intervening with the politics and governments of other countries. If there were any country opposing the US’s ideology, they would counter it militarily and financially. In the example given by Dawson, the US and CIA overthrew the committed anti-communist Jacobo Arbenz of Guatemala. Even though he was anti-communist, he legalized the communist party and wanted to pull Guatemala out of its poverty and inequality by expropriating land and railroads owned by UFCO. In retaliation, the US implemented trade sanctions on Guatemala and when that didn’t work, eventually worked with the CIA to bring him down; Which unsurprisingly occurred with the help of the US military might. As Dawson points out, “close business ties between UFCO and the administration, CIA fears of growing Soviet influence and the US government’s inability to distinguish nationalism from communism” all lead to Arbenz’s downfall. In this case, it is farcical to think that the US did this for the better of Guatemala, it only benefited those in the US, which is the case for many of their military interventions in the past and present.

2 thoughts on “Week 9: Commerce, Coercion, and America’s Empire

  1. I liked your comparision of the number of people who died while working on the Panama Canal and how is in perspective to the capacity of the Rogers Arena. The working conditions were harsh and exploitation was present. It’s also intersting how the U.S. continues to manipulate other countries to this day while pretending to help.

  2. Hey Austin, I also liked that you put the equivalent of the number of people who denied; I always find it’s easy to detach yourself from numbers because they’re just numbers but you really put it into context and gave it a humanistic feature. But you mentioned it was just a dark chapter of the book of human exploration, do you think there can ever be human exploration without people dying or suffering? And also do you think it’s justified to call America a bully? You listed a lot of their actions but I’m curious as to what you personally think about the United States. Regardless, nice blog, it gave me a lot of insight!


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