Bringing Back McKinley

A 1900 Republican campaign poster for the U.S. presidential election, with portraits of President William McKinley and Vice Presidential candidate Theodore Roosevelt at center. On the left side "Gone Democratic" shows the U.S. in economic slump and Cuba shackled by Spain; on the right side "Gone Republican" shows the U.S. prosperous and Cuba being educated under U.S. tutelage. Wikimedia Commons

The greatest challenge to McKinley’s reputation in the twenty-first century is the legacy of historians of the mid-twentieth century.

November-December 2017

Other great powers have their own “empires of bases.” To prevent the possible loss of its strategic Black Sea naval base, Russia seized and annexed Crimea. To avert the loss of its base in Syria, Russia intervened to prop up Assad in the Syrian war. Meanwhile, China is building artificial islands to reinforce its claim to the South China Sea, a claim contested by U.S. freedom-of-navigation exercises. The foreign-policy experts who have spent a generation fantasizing about global connectivity and the end of the nation-state should have been studying Alfred Thayer Mahan’s The Influence of Sea Power on History.

In what Merry calls “a rare immodest moment for McKinley,” the president told a group of visitors to the White House:

*** “And so it has come to pass that in a few short months we have become a world power; and I know, sitting here in this chair, with what added respect the nations of the world now deal with the United States, and it is vastly different from the conditions I found when I was inaugurated.” ***

There is no McKinley Memorial on the Mall in Washington, DC and there is unlikely to be one. If there were, its motto might be the epitaph of the architect Christopher Wren in St. Paul’s Cathedral in London: Si monumentum requiris, circumspice. If you seek his monument, look around.

Michael Lind is a visiting professor at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs of the University of Texas and the author of The American Way of Strategy.

Image: A 1900 Republican campaign poster for the U.S. presidential election, with portraits of President William McKinley and Vice Presidential candidate Theodore Roosevelt at center. On the left side "Gone Democratic" shows the U.S. in economic slump and Cuba shackled by Spain; on the right side "Gone Republican" shows the U.S. prosperous and Cuba being educated under U.S. tutelage. Wikimedia Commons

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