The Panama Canal and the Age Old Issue of National Security

the panama canal

Class discussions can be so much fun.

Get the right topic, a few statists and socialist sympathizers, two guys ready for a fight, and you’ve got an hour full of fun. I’m not kidding, it’s that great.

Not only do you get some debate practice, but you also hear some of the most interventionist, anti-capitalist remarks on campus.

Like this one about the US’s acquisition of the Panama Canal.

The Panama Canal Wasn’t Always a Part of Panama

Originally it was part of Columbia. In fact, Panama wasn’t even a country; it was just a region controlled by Columbia. Columbia had contracted the building of the canal to a French company. But, the company failed and ended up trying to sell the canal charter to the US.

Columbia, being a clever nation decided that they could get some serious cash from the US if they played their cards right. They offered an outrageous price for the charter, which they knew the US wouldn’t pay, hoping that the charter would run past it’s five year due date.

The goal was for the US to not pay the exorbitant price, have the charter dissolve after five years, and then renegotiate the charter to get more out of it for the Columbian government.

The Three Choices the US Had

After realizing that the Columbians were literally extorting them, the US only had three choices. These three choices were the basis of the discussion debate in class.

  • The US could wait for the contract to dissolve after five years, then they could negotiate a new deal with the Columbians.
  • The US could pay the exorbitant amount the Columbians were asking and get started on the canal construction right away.
  • The US could use force to take the canal territory away from the Columbians.

Here’s the Problems

  • Waiting five years would open up the door for other nations (i.e. Germany, France or Britain) to come in and obtain the canal project. This would be “a threat to national security”, as they say. It would also “damage” the US’s reputation with the world. “Oh look, the US let’s a third rate nation run all over them. They’re just pushovers.”
  • The second option isn’t much better. Not only is it expensive, but it also gives the impression that the US is letting Columbia walk all over them.
  • The third option gives the US everything they want. No excessive price tag, no waiting, and it would send a message to the world that the US isn’t a pushover. However, there is the whole problem of military and civilian casualties.

It all Revolved Around National Security

I’m not joking. Everyone who was for forcibly taking land from a sovereign nation used the “in the name of national security” argument.

The pagan idol of the political world. (Click to Tweet)

A frequent excuse for politicians to pass reactionary and power-grabbing policies.

In fact, it’s a reason for politicians (and their statist sympathizers) to do anything they want whenever they want, regardless of what’s morally right or wrong.

At least half of the class was pro-invading. They’re reasoning, in the name of national security. The Germans or British could build the canal first (and then we’d be in trouble). We need a viable way for US warships to reach the west coast in case of emergency.

Assumptions Galore

All the reasoning and calls for action, “in the name of national security” were just assumptions. They assumed foreign powers would attempt to grab power. So many scenarios were assumed to be possible. It was like a think tank of conspiracy theorists.

My fellow students were justifying starting a war with a sovereign nation over a proposed canal.

“Without a canal, our national security is jeopardized. We need to do whatever possible to secure our nation.”

How many times have you heard that from a politician

The Age Old Excuse for Politicians

Whether it’s the Patriot Act, the TSA, or the NSA… it’s all been in the name of “national security.”

Politicians will use “national security” as an excuse for anything. More power? More control? Just slap a “national security” sticker on it, and wait for the suckers to line up behind it. They’ll support it, because, heaven forbid we neglect our national security.

If you have enough spunk to disagree with them, you’re immediately labeled a pacifist. Maybe, you’re even called an enemy sympathizer. You’re vilified and told to shut up.

In the name of national security, those who disagree are told to sit down and shut up. (Click to Tweet)

It’s the same tactic when trying to push through reform of any kind.

You’re holding back progress. Why do you have to be so close minded?

National Security is a Farce

Don’t believe me? Why is that politicians are so eager to intervene in world affairs? Why are they so eager to pass massive surveillance bills? Why do they not even hesitate to send hundreds of thousands of troops into nations?

National security? Nope, think more on the lines of power and control.

Please don’t take my statements here to be extreme non-interventionist rhetoric. Isolationism doesn’t work in the world we live in. Some non-interventionist policies still apply, but the US can no longer run and hide in a cave. Reality doesn’t work that way.

That said… national security is the opposite side of that spectrum. On one side, you’ve got the isolationists. On the other, you’ve got the interventionists, who, by the way, scream bloody murder at every potential threat. Both sides are wrong. The Middle is where you should be.

You can’t hide in the closet, and you can’t intrude in everyone’s affairs. Also, you can’t turn your nation into a Nazi concentration camp because “people are out there to get you.”

But Wait, There’s More!

Back to the Panama Canal discussion in class.

Around half of the class was for invading Columbia and taking the canal land. Columbia’s a sovereign nation? Who gives a rip!

“We need to protect ourselves against a possible threat, that isn’t a threat yet…but we’re pretty sure it is a threat, despite it not being a threat… yet!”

After that horrible conversation where a fellow student and I were literally cringing, the professor threw a curveball.

There’s actually a fourth option… and it’s the one the US chose.

Enter, the Pseudo Panama Revolution

Instead of running into Panama guns blasting, the US decided to take a more clandestine approach.

Send diplomats into the Panama region of Columbia to convince the Panamanians to revolt against Columbia. Have the Panamanians declare their independence and then support them militarily.

Not only do you get around the pesky Columbians, but you also look like your spreading “independence.” In exchange for helping the poor Panamanians declare their independence, they give us permission to build a canal.

Isn’t this just awesome? Promoting freedom and getting what we want. Best of both worlds right?


This move was nothing more than a deceptive effort at getting control of the canal project. Columbia wouldn’t let us do it, so we’ll just come in, help some suckers declare independence, and then play guardian nation state.

Thanks to US military presence, Columbia was unable to crush the rebellion. The US then paid Panama a fee (and agreed on annual utility fee) for the canal rights.

Signed, sealed, delivered, it’s theirs!

Wrong, Wrong, Wrong!

Were the US’s actions justified? I mean, they did help “liberate” a people from an “oppressive” nation. Do the actions justify the motive?

The US liberated a nation. That’s the action. In a general sense, it’s a good one.

The US’s motive was the acquisition of the Panama Canal charter. All done in the name of national security I might add.

This is also an issue of the ends justify the means. Our security was lacking, therefore certain actions needed to be taken to correct it.

Does security justify our actions as a nation? Is security the Holy Grail of the political realm?

Personally, I’m going to say no. Once you let politicians do whatever they want in the name of “national security” then you’re just asking for trouble.

To defend your home, you need standards. Next time you hear politicians pushing a policy in the name of national security step back a minute and think about what exactly that means. And, is it worth it?

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About John-Pierre Maeli

Keeping it simple and crystal clear, because anything else is useless. I'm here to not only inform you, but to also connect with you. That's what The Political Informer is all about. Feel free to follow me on either Twitter or Google+ Let's talk!

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