Emergence of the American Military Power

Have you ever wondered where the military power of the United States came from? We haven’t always been a super power capable of destroying our enemies, our friends, and ourselves.  For most of the early years of the American republic we had to rely on allies to assists us in our military campaigns. The French aided us in the American Revolution, although we did have minor successes prior to their entry into the war. We fought to a stalemate with the English during the War of 1812, yet our Nation’s Capital was burned down.

We were able to defeat the Mexicans during the Mexican-American War, but we still weren’t a super power. We had to rely on the British to enforce the Monroe Doctrine, which stated that the Western Hemisphere is closed to European Colonization. Yet, one event in American History stands alone as ushering in the advent of American military supremacy.

During the Civil War advancements in technology were made that made obsolete all other militaries in the world. The mini ball made for more accurate gun fire, destroying a military fighting style that had spanned centuries. The CSS Hunley was only the second major attempt by Americans to create submarine power (the USS Turtle was used during the American Revolution, which was a one man submarine that operated on a similar concept as the Hunley.) And ultimately, the clash of the Iron Clads (CSS Merrimack & USS Monitor) made all other navies in the world obsolete. By the end of the Civil War there were over 1 Million soldiers in America’s Army. Within a couple years that number would drop significantly to 125,000 military personal.

In the wake of the Civil War and the assassination, and attempted assassination, of President Abraham Lincoln, Vice President Andrew Johnson and Secretary of State Seward two nations attempted to capitalize on a war torn nation. Emperor Louis Napoleon III had fashioned himself as a French Andrew Jackson, but like his famous ancestor became an Emperor. With the coup that destroyed the French Second Republic, Napoleon sought to take advantage of a perceived weak America.

Napoleon conspired with the Arch-Duke Maximilian of Austria to take over Mexico and create an Empire that would threaten the existence of the United States. Secretary Seward recovered from a carriage accident and being stabbed in a failed assassination attempt the night Lincoln was shot by Booth to challenge Napoleon’s plan. General Grant sent 50,000 soldiers and General Sheridan to the Texas-Mexican border to secure America from an attack. In the mean time Seward sent General Schofield to deter Napoleon from his plan. Publicly Seward published a letter to the Emperor that was more diplomatic than what Schofield was sent to deliver. Napoleon backed down and the Mexicans murdered the Arch-Duke.

In the mean time, the British were attempting to secure Canada from the United States. War was England was eminent during the Civil War, it was only Ambassador Charles Francis Adams  (Son of John Q. Adams and grandson of John Adams) that helped prevent war from breaking out. The British, Sir John A.  MacDonald created a plan to create the Kingdom of Canada, a confederacy of the Canada territories. When northerners along the border cried for war, the English monarch Queen Victoria signed into law a bill creating the Dominion of Canada; regardless, the damage was done and a permanent reminder of the English monarchy was created. And in a major coup for the United States, Secretary of State Seward purchased Alaska from the Russians. This purchased, declared “Seward’s Folly” and “Seward’s Ice Box” was actually a tactical victory for the United States. With Alaska, the United States surrounded Canada from the South and the West. The arctic circle to the north meant that Canada only had it’s Eastern boarder free from America. In the event of a war with England, the United States could secure Canada and blockade it’s Eastern shore ports.

The United States came out of the Civil War a military power house. Over the next thirty years the US would continue to grow stronger as the industrial revolution took hold. By the time the United States went to war with Spain she had one of the strongest navies in the world, and was able to defeat the once mighty Spanish. Following the destruction of Europe in World War I, the United States stood as the most complete and most powerful military in the world. It wouldn’t be until the end of the Second World War that the U.S. was officially a super power, with enough fire power to destroy the world.

On the meaning of patriotism

What does it mean to be a patriot? This is a central issue throughout the history of Political thought. A patriot simply put can be defined as a good citizen, and thus the question now becomes what does it mean to be a good citizen.

In 2007 a movie named Blue State was made in an attempt to consider this question. Starring Brekin Meyer and Anna Paquin as John and Chloe, Blue State explores what it means to be a good citizen of a republic while showing the audience the examples of bad citizens.

The movie begins in the midst of the 2004 Presidential Election among supports and staff of Democratic candidate John Kerry. John plays an outspoken supporter of the Kerry campaign and hater of the Bush administration. He believes it is not only his right, but his duty to speak out against the policies and administration of President Bush.  One night, during a drunken stupor, John makes a pledge that if President Bush wins a second term as President that he will move to Canada. Now, during every Presidential election season, we hear people proclaim, “if so and so wins the election, I’m moving to (name your country.)”  Well, as one suspects, in November of 2004 President Bush won reelection and John is forced to deal with his promise he made to move to Canada. After realizing he cannot get out of his promise, John is resolved to move to Canada; but first he places signs around town in hopes of finding someone who will go with him.

Enter Chloe, who we see for the first time putting blue streaks in her hair and piercing her right nostril.  She meets with John at a local coffee shop and tells him that she worked for the DNC on the election campaign for John Kerry and that she is a gym teacher. John accepts Chloe as his companion and so begins their journey to Canada. We later find out that Chloe in fact did not work for the DNC but rather she is an apathetic. This brings us to the first point of a good citizen.

John replies to Chloe’s apathy that politics does matter. Aristotle defines politics in the Nicomachaen Ethics as the supreme activity, all other activities are aimed at politics. Why is this? Because politics is aimed at the ultimate good, which is happiness.  The question of whether it is better to engage in politics or in a life of contemplation is also central in this quest. John declares that to engage in politics is the best possible life one could partake in. A good citizen certainly has an obligation to take part in his or her given regime; a citizen according to Aristotle is the person who is capable of governing within the polis. Thus in our republic we are all citizens, once we reach the age of 18, and are capable of ruling. To be apathetic in our regime is to neglect one’s citizenship duties- to be a bad citizen.

Next we have to understand why John and Chloe choose to flee to Canada as the ultimate act of patriotism. John leaves primarily because he swore to do it when drunk; this should teach anyone being drunk is a bad idea. But there is something deeper in why John has chosen to flee his place of birth. John doesn’t agree with the administration and believes the country is lost and wants to make a political statement by leaving our regime in favor of the Canadian regime. But is this true citizenship? The Declaration of Independence makes it clear, “That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” John is directly contradicting the Declaration’s mandate, if he truly and sincerely believes that our government is defective it is his duty as a citizen to work towards the institution of  a new regime for the future happiness and safety of the American people. This is a lesson that John only learns later on, at the same time when Chloe fully realizes what it means to be a true citizen.

Chloe’s reasons for fleeing America might be considered much more reasonable than John’s. Chloe admits before they cross the border that she is in the U.S. Army and facing a second tour in Iraq. Her fleeing the United States is not only a political statement, but a Federal crime. Chloe knows full well she can never return to the place of her birth. Instead they shes goes with John to Winnipeg,  where a group called “Marry a Canadian” is located to help disaffected Americans find a spouse so they can start their process of becoming a Canadian citizen. When they realize that it is a crack brain idea, they vow to head to Vancouver.

On their way to Vancouver we witness yet another mistake of John’s misguided principles when they run out of gas because John refuses to buy gas that uses oil from the Middle East.  They encounter a man who offers to give them a place to stay for the night and gas to continue their journey. We come to learn that this man fled the United States back in the 1970’s when he was to be drafted and sent to Vietnam. He admits that if he had the chance to do things all over again, he would. His fleeing to Canada was not a political statement, because people in America could careless that he left. He left America because he was fearful for his own well being. He looks down upon the soldiers who flee America because of the war in Iraq because it was their choice to join the military, they were not compelled as he would have been. Thus Chloe resolves to return to the U.S. and face a court martial for going AWOL.

Being a good citizen means that you stay and fight for what you believe in. This is exactly what John realizes as he returns to America and resolves that instead of running away from what he disagrees with he’ll stay and attempt to change things from within; he becomes a California Senator. To be a good citizen one must realize that they have a duty to ensure that the government has not become destructive of the ends it was established for, and further,that if it does, a good citizen will work to correct the ills of their government. John  and Chloe come to realize that fleeing to another country is a cowardly act; it is a selfish act.

To be a good citizen you must be active in politics, and you cannot simply turn your back on your country when it has turned its back on you. You must stay and fight, become directly involved in the government. Ultimately, to be apathetic is the sign of a bad citizen because it proves they do not care for their country. John and Chloe are prime examples of two forms of apathy at the beginning of Blue State. John is unwilling to help change the government, but instead flees at the first sign of trouble. Chloe doesn’t care about politics, she doesn’t realize that politics is the most essential part of human life.  Being a patriot, being a good citizen means being active in politics.

For those who are interested you can find more information about the movie Blue State at:



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