Featured Document: “Now, Will You Be Good?”
This 1902 political cartoon by Grant Hamilton published in Judge, an illustrated satirical weekly, is a regular feature in ASHP/CML’s Teaching American History workshops. We use it as a morning warm-up (most recently in December 2008), a way to both reveal and stimulate teachers’ thinking about U.S. imperialism at the turn of the twentieth century. We also use it to model strategies for how to analyze and interpret political cartoons generally. The cartoon, entitled “Now, Will You Be Good?,” portrays the supposed benefits of U.S. imperialism. Both Cuba and the Philippines are depicted as helpless children under the guiding hand of a kindly Uncle Sam, but “Cuba” (recently independent though still subject to United States domination as a result of the Spanish-American War) is portrayed with a toy Statue of Liberty and shiny military playthings, while an envious “Philippines,” depicted as a bloodthirsty savage mired in “primitive” conditions, looks on in shocked surprise. The caption reads “Uncle Sam (to Filipino) – See what I do for a good little boy?” The cartoon is a potent symbol of its era’s pro-imperialist mindset and also prompts comparisons to our own early twenty-first century moment of waning U.S. imperialism-how would such a cartoon read now if the nations were Iran and Iraq? Israel and Syria?
In Cuba, as in other nations, Uncle Sam’s military “toys” facilitated the rise of military dictatorships during the first half of the twentieth century, making the country safe for U.S. investments and tourists. This history was included in a recent Teaching American History program workshop on the Cold War, where historian Van Gosse (Franklin and Marshall College) described the nationalist context for the revolution that overthrew dictator Fulgencio Batista and brought Fidel Castro to power in 1959. With Cuba in the news again this spring, as President Obama moves to lift the trade and travel sanctions imposed on the country during the Cold War, it is worth remembering that the U.S. and Cuba have a history together that long predates the Castro regime.