Strategy and Commerce…The Panama Canal


Today in History, August 15: 1914 – The Panama Canal opens for business as the cargo ship Ancon becomes the first ship to transit the series of locks. A long and complex history led to the canal’s opening. The French tried first, but failed after malaria and the huge cost ended their venture. The Canal was important to the US. After the Spanish-American War, the US had interests in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and they had always needed a faster, less dangerous route to the nation’s coasts for shipping than the Strait of Magellan at South America’s Southern tip. President Theodore Roosevelt ramrodded the building of the canal. When a treaty with Columbia fell through, the Panamanians, who wanted the canal, declared their independence from Columbia and TR sent the US Navy to support their efforts. After they won their independence they signed the Hay-Bunua-Varilla Treaty, giving American ownership of the canal in exchange for rent.  John Hay was the Secretary of State for the US, who had been a secretary to President Lincoln many years before.  Was their some skullduggery involved in these dealings? Of course. For years after it’s opening, the Canal served it’s purpose…commerce between the Atlantic and the Pacific, and a quick route for American warships (in the photo, the USS Missouri transits the Canal in 1945) to defend the country in both oceans (WWII was known as the Two Ocean War). In 1977, President Jimmy Carter signed a treaty giving away the Canal to the Panamanian dictator Omar Torrijos. Today, the Chinese are bankrolling the expansion of the Canal. Which means the nation that we are likely to have conflict with in the next century has control of the route our Navy would need to defend our country. So. Who do you favor? President Theodore Roosevelt? Or President Jimmy Carter? I vote for Teddy. Would love to see them in a debate, or in a ring together.

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