A Brief Tutorial on Second Class Citizenship

Back in 1906 Ambrose Bierce, a journalist for the San Francisco Examiner, wrote a book he first called “The Cynic’s Wordbook” and later republished as “The Devil’s Dictionary.” The book has since been nominated as one of “The 100 Greatest Masterpieces of American Literature.” “The Devil’s Dictionary” is comprised of short, cynical word definitions. In that spirit we need to examine a few definitions in order to clarify the 21st century international power structure. Here we go, with fervent apologies to Mr. Bierce.

Sovereign Nation: Sovereignty has everything to do with power. A Sovereign Nation has the power to exercise absolute control over its people and its lands; including but not limited to making laws, exacting and collecting taxes, making war and peace, making treaties or engaging in commerce with other Sovereign Nations. A Sovereign Nation, by definition, holds the sledge hammer.

Republic: A form of government in which the supreme power is purportedly vested in the people but whose real power is vested in the Wealthy Elite or in artificial entities called Corporations which are owned and managed by the Wealthy Elite. The Wealthy Elite, along with their Corporate counterparts in a Republic, dole out the hammers.

State: In the United States, a bounded parcel of geography ruled by a state legislature and a governor within which the state government has the power to perform all the duties of a Sovereign Nation except where those rules and regulation run counter to the rules and regulations of the Sovereign Nation which governs that State. A State, by definition, holds a tack hammer but pretends to wield a sledge hammer.

Protectorate: A form of international guardianship that arises under International Law when a weaker State surrenders by treaty the management of some or all of its international affairs to a stronger State. A Protectorate, by definition, has been hammered upon.

Territory: A bounded parcel of geography owned by or under the jurisdiction of a Sovereign Nation and dependent on an external governmental organization, but which has some degree of autonomy. The Territory holds a clown’s mallet with a silly-putty head and a rubber garden hose for a handle.

Commonwealth: A State, for all intents and purposes, unless you live in Puerto Rico or the Northern Mariana Islands. The United States has two distinct forms of commonwealths:

Kentucky, Massachusetts, Virginia, Pennsylvania are really States but their constitutions deem them as commonwealths, not states. For all practical purposes they are States.

Puerto Rico and the Northern Mariana Islands are not really States but each of them gets to elect one non-voting representative in Congress. Residents of these Commonwealths are U. S. citizens, but they pay no federal taxes. When Puerto Rican politicians drew up a constitution in 1952, they called themselves the “Commonwealth of Puerto Rico” and the label stuck even though the government of the United States made it clear that they still regarded Puerto Rico as a Territory. This form of Commonwealth is the embodiment of the age-old question: if a hammer falls off the bench in the work shop and nobody’s there to hear it does it make a sound?

Citizen: A native or naturalized person who owes allegiance to a Sovereign Nation and is entitled to protection by it but not from it. The lowest rung on the political ladder. Cannon fodder. If the Sovereign Nation holds the hammer the Citizens must be regarded as the nails.

Second Class Citizen: Citizen

Teddy Roosevelt and the Spanish-American Skirmish

Back in 1823, when the United States was a brash young contender, President James Monroe dashed off a letter to the crowned heads of Europe saying their land grab activity was okay so long as they weren’t grabbing lands he wanted to grab. Jimmie had an eye on Indian Territory. He was a visionary who knew in his heart of hearts the USA would someday emerge as a world power. His vision even anticipated the Homestead Act of 1860 which legitimized a domestic land grab closer to home.

During the previous 300 years Spain and Portugal had been up to their armpits “colonizing” North, South and Central America along with vast swaths of territory in the Pacific. By the early 1800s Spain could lay claim to the entire Pacific Coast from what we know now as the southern Oregon border as far south as the tip of Antarctica. But they were getting stretched thin on the home front.

In 1808 Napoleon invaded Spain and Portugal and took the Royal Families hostage. You might think grabbing lands from your next-door neighbor is the epitome of dirty pool. Not back then. Populist points of view on the Continent were relatively straight-forward. Everybody hated everybody who wasn’t them and the French even hated those who were them if they lived out in the country.

To make matters worse the natives in the out-lying colonies in our own neck of the woods got restless. Maybe we’d set a bad example for enslaved people everywhere with the success of our American Revolution. Maybe indigenous populations everywhere were sick and tired of getting conquested. In any case South and Central American folks decided they wanted independence. They overthrew the “legitimate” governments and tossed the foreigners out. The whole continent of South America was on fire.

And then the revolution hit Cuba. We backed the rebels. After all we’d told the Europeans fifty years earlier in no uncertain terms, we didn’t want no stinking interference in our backyard. Besides the USA was emerging from a protracted period of depression and everybody knows nothing cures depression like a good old-fashioned war.

In 1898 President Bill McKinley sent the battleship Maine down to Havana to protect American citizens. Somebody sank the sucker. Nobody knows who. Mighta been Spain. Mighta been the rebels. Might even have been Teddy Roosevelt who at the time was Secretary of the Navy but who resigned his post to lead the Rough Riders to an easy victory.

The USA had a formidable navy. Spain was down to two rowboats and a rusty frigate. After six months of one-sided war Spain threw in the towel. The USA got the Philippines, Guam and Puerto Rico. Cuba became a USA protectorate which was as close as they could get to independence until Fidel Castro came along but that’s a whole ‘nother story.

400 Years of Benevolent Spanish Rule

My bad. I keep calling Chris Columbus an Italian. There wasn’t any Italy back then. The country we know as Italy didn’t spring into existence until around 1866. Chris was Genoese, not to be confused with being Genovese which was the moniker associated with a crime family of some repute. Italy back in Chris’s day was a loose collection of independent city states. The most famous city state was Rome. Remember the Roman Empire? The Western Roman Empire flourished from roughly the time of Christ until somewhere in the mid-fourth century when it just kind of came apart at the seams. I’m trying to put the situation in Puerto Rico into historical context. Bear with me.

The whole Jesus thing was a land grab. Don’t get your knickers in a twist. I’m not interested in debating the divinity of Jesus, the improbability of deistic insemination or the metaphysical implications of the Holy Trinity. Prior to 313 it was illegal to be a Christian according to the laws of the Roman Empire. Heck, being a member of any religion, organized or slapdash, was a crime punishable by execution. What the Emperor Constantine did was first to legalize membership in any and all religions (313) and second to define the rules of conduct for Christians according to a set of canons drawn up by the First Council of Nicaea (325). When something is legal it can be regulated. And taxed.

Was Constantine a Christian? Not until he was baptized on his deathbed. Even Emperors can be persuaded to embrace a particularly attractive philosophical doctrine by the promise of eternal happiness in Paradise on the one hand as opposed to the same eternity spent burning in the fires of Hell. As the plaque on Chuck Colson’s wall points out, “If you’ve got them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow.” Besides, the prophet Muhammed didn’t arrive on the scene for another 250 years so conversion to Islam wasn’t an option for Constantine. Now I’m not saying Constantine wasn’t a True Believer. I’m just saying, from the evidence at hand, it looks like Connie was a very pragmatic dude.

Speaking of Muslims and Christians, the biggest land grab in history, the Crusades, took place between 1096 and 1291. Just trying to explain how Chris and his boys felt perfectly comfortable claiming someone else’s land for Ferdie and Bella. By that time Christians felt theologically entitled. As James Michener, in his book Hawaii, remarked, “The missionaries came to the islands to do good, and they did right well.”

Final note on land grabbers. Who do you think started the Spanish Inquisition? Hint. It wasn’t the Genovese family. It was Ferdie and Bella way back in 1478. Which leads us up to the “Age of Exploitation.” Thus, the Spanish ruled Central America and the Caribbean until around 1898 when some fool sank a boat in Havana Harbor and the United States of America became a player on the world stage.

Just Another Old Fort Named El Morro

In 1539 Spain began building a fort at the entrance to the harbor of San Juan to fend off attacks from their European rivals. The sound you just heard was my head exploding. Let’s review the scenario. An Italian gent named Chris Columbus, on a voyage of exploration, landed on what he thought was the shore of India, having at last discovered a short trade route to the Far East. In fact, what he’d actually found was a flourishing civilization of peaceable, indigenous people (well, except for the Caribe tribes who were admittedly cannibals, but I digress). So he claimed the land for the court of Spain. He didn’t ask. He didn’t barter. He didn’t buy. He just flat out claimed the land. Talk about the Art of the Deal!

During the next fifty years the Spanish conquistadors (invaders) managed to kill off 90% of the indigenous population. But then, alas, they had to go erect themselves a big old fort (Castillo San Felipe del Morro) to protect their newly appropriated interests from the acquisitive ambitions of their colonialist neighbors from the Old World. I’m not getting a sense here that Western Civilization was all that civilized after all.

The design for El Morro became the business model for Spanish forts across Latin America in Cuba, Acapulco, Guatemala, Honduras, The Dominican Republic and a host of other Spanish conquests during the “Age of Exploration.” It protected Spanish interests for the next four hundred years. From the Brits. From the Dutch. Not from the Portuguese. The Portuguese were busy colonizing Brazil.

And what about the Germans? What were our Teutonic brethren up to during the fabled “Age of Exploration?” Turned out they helped finance Spanish colonialism and were rewarded for their efforts with a duly signed and notarized lease to plunder Venezuela. You can always tell an honest invader. He has the requisite paperwork to validate his just and honorable intent, affixed with all necessary seals and signatures.

And what about the local folks who tilled the soil and hunted wild animals in those distant lands before they were conquered? If you try real hard, you can find their shattered bones in unmarked graves in countless overgrown cemeteries. Sic Transit Exploration.