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.

Too Armed to Take

Today in History, March 1: 1917 – (2nd Amendment friends take note!) The Zimmermann Telegram is made public by the United States, on the authority of President Woodrow Wilson. The German government had sent the telegram to their envoy in Mexico City in January, in anticipation of beginning unlimited submarine warfare in the North Atlantic Ocean on February 1st. Germany wanted the United States, and her supply of men and materiel, to stay out of the war. And, should she enter the war, Germany wanted to limit her ability to assist Great Britain. And that is what the Zimmermann Note was all about. It was an offer to the Mexican government; if Mexico would open up a “second front” for the United States by siding with Germany, the Germans would provide monetary support and promise to return Texas, New Mexico and Arizona to Mexico. Germany hoped the second front would distract the Americans from shipping men and equipment to Britain, and that the sinking of what ships did venture forth by U-Boats would strangle the UK, forcing her to sue for peace. The Mexican government actually established a committee to study the proposal…things had not been good between the US and Mexico, what with Gen. John Joseph “Black Jack” Pershing chasing Poncho Villa around Northern Mexico in recent years. Mexico decided against the offer…because America was too powerful, because she would anger her neighbors, and (I find this VERY important), because they considered the fact that the Anglo citizens in the suggested states WERE ALL ARMED. British intelligence managed to obtain a copy of the telegram and give it to the Americans. Our ancestors in the beginning of the 20th century shared our isolationist views and were not excited about involvement in a European War. The release of the Zimmermann Telegram and unrestricted submarine warfare against our shipping helped change public opinion…and we were soon headed “over there”.