VITAL SIGNSrnPOLITICSrnThe Conquestrnof the United Statesrnand Puerto Ricornby Bill KauffmanrnOn the matter of statehood, PuertornRieo’s outstanding uoveHst hasrnwritten . . . actually, I have no idea whatrnhe has written, because I do not readrnSpanish, nor do I plan to learn. Shouldrnour flag be defaced by a 51st star for PuertornRico—which is, admittedly, more deservingrnof stellification than the ersatzrnstates, Alaska and Hawaii —most of usrnwill be incapable of reading its writers orrnunderstanding its songs. Doesn’t it seemrnthe least bit odd that we will be unable tornread flie novelists and poets and polemicistsrnof another of our United States?rnEven Mississippi’s Faulkner is, theoretically,rnreadable. (Hawaii is the exceptionrn—and the precedent-/)(3ce DonrnHo.)rnA century ago, William Graham Sumnerrnwarned us that overseas expansionrncarried within it the germ of destruction;rnthat “all extension puts a new strain onrnthe internal cohesion of the pre-existingrnmass, threatening a new cleavage within.”rnThe Anti-Imperialists —Brahminsrnand hardscrabble Populists, the Jamesrnbrothers and Tom Watson —foughtrncourageously against the absorption ofrnthe rotten spoils of the Spanish-AmericanrnWar and lost, and the old republicrnwas never quite the same; as one Anti-rnImperialist wag had it, “Dewey tookrnManila with the loss of one man —andrnall our institutions.” And so we are left torncount the blessings we have derived fromrnour colonial possessions: Pearl Harbor,rnonce-pacific islands that target practicernhas bombed to rubble, and the eo-edmaulingrnSamoan football players of thernWestern Athletic Conference.rnThe acquisition of far-flung territoriesrnwas, as Massachusetts Senator GeorgernFrisbie Hoar announced in 1899, “therngreatest question that has ever been orrnever will be put to [senators] in theirrnlives, the question, not of a year or of arnCongress, b u t . . . the great eternit}’ of nationalrnlife.” Hoar predicted that imperialismrn”will make of our beloved countryrna cheap-jack country, raking after therncart for the leavings of European tyranny.”rnThe abhorred standing army woifldrnbecome a permanent feature of thernAmerican polity; the expense was “surernto make our national taxgatherer thernmost familiar visitant to every Americanrnhome.”rnHoar’s famous dissent was an authenticrnprofile in courage; think of him as thernreverse image of a later Republican senator,rnArthur Vandenberg, who defected torninternationalism in the 1940’s after beingrncompromised by beautiful British spiesrnacting as whores. (The homonyms herernserve as antonyms. Wliat today’s RepublicanrnParty needs is a few good Hoars.)rnSenator Hoar had been the most conventionalrnof Gilded Age Republicans:rnHe was of the Hamilton-Webster school,rna believer in loose construction and thernGreat Barbecue. “I have believed religiously,rnand from my soul, for half a century,rnin the great doctrines and principlesrnof the Republican party,” he declared inrnhis bitterly eloquent speech of Januar}’ 9,rn1899. He was horrified to watch his nationrnstray from “the ancient path of republicanrnliberty which the fathers trodrndown into this modern swamp andrncesspool of iiuperialism.” For “the mostrnvigorous health or life may be destroyedrnby a single drop of poison,” and he foresawrnthat this would be the fate of thernAmerican people under an expansionistrnregime. Even at this late date, when therngame is over and the box scores havernbeen printed, who but an editor of thernNew Republic can fail to be moved byrnthe hoary Brahmin’s pathetic cry: “Isrnthere to be no place on the face of thernearth hereafter where a man can standrnup by virtue of his manhood and say, ‘Irnam a man?'”rnWhen, at mid-century, the eontiguit)’rnof these United States was violated by thernadmission of states 49 and 50, the goodrnfight was fought by the usual noble butrndoomed group of geriatric liberal mugwumps,rnSouthern Democrats, and MainrnStreet Republicans—that is to say, Americans.rnNorth Carolina’s CongressmanrnJones was typical of the last-named; hernremarked in House debate in 1953,rnIf Hawaii is admitted, the next steprnwill be Alaska [vice versa, as therncase turned out to be], and afterrnthese will come Puerto Rico, thernVirgin Islands, Guam, Wake Island,rnand on down the line.rnWhere is the line to be drawn?rnWhere shaft we stop? Shall wernspread the American States overrntwo or three continents? Have wernlearned nothing from the lessons ofrnthe old Roman Empire?rnIf Alaska and Hawaii were admitted, saidrnSenator John Stennis (D-MS), “PuertornRico will have her day or should have herrnday in court.” That day has come.rnStatehood for Puerto Rico, like its acquisitionrn100 years ago, is largely a Republicanrnproject borne of the samernghastly mixture of expansionism andrnGreat Wliite Father benevolence. Thernopposition, we are told, consists of a fewrngrizzled graybeard Spaniards, some wildeyedrnPuerto Rican communists preparingrnto toast statehood with Molotov cocktailsrn(but Janet Reno will take care ofrnthem), and stateside racists who will admit,rnafter a beer or two, that their real fearrnis putting “four million spies on welfare.”rnThis is a sen’iceable lie that has crowdedrnout the truth: that Puerto Rican independentistasrnare patriots, and that Americansrnwho wish to grant the island herrnlong-overdue freedom are acting in thernbest interests of both countries. “Independence,”rnsays Senator Ruben BerriosrnMartinez, long-time leader of the PuertornRican Independence Party, “would endrnPuerto Rico’s lifeless imitation of the colonizer,rntypical of colonies.” The UnclernTomases of statehood offer Disney andrnfood stamps; the poets and patriots of thernindependence movement dream of therncirltural flourishing of their enchantedrnisle. The dream has lasted decades.rnThe classic exposition of the debilitatingrneffects of U.S. colonialism in PuertornRico was provided by the brilliant youngrnpatriot and aristocratic bon vivant LuisrnMunoz Marin in the pages of the AmericanrnMercury in 1929. Inflammatory,rnmordant, spiked with enough punches atrnJANUARY 1999/37rnrnrn