S3:E19 Teddy Roosevelt and the Guano Islands
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When we were done conquering the west, done warring with Mexico, done fighting Native Americans, we looked out across the Pacific Ocean and said… “huh… I wonder what’s over there?” The truth is that the United States is an empire. We accomplished that by fighting wars and by seeking out resources.
In the 1800s the United States faced a very real problem: we were running out of nitrogen. Not in the air. There is plenty in the air. We were losing it in our soil. Plants need nitrogen. Where were we going to get it?
The answer we came up with was: bird poop. It’s rich in nitrogen and makes a great fertilizer. The trouble is that we didn’t have any way to get large quantities of it. Until American businesses took over islands off the coast of our country.
This is the story of greed, a different kind of slavery, a Supreme Court battle, and the worst job in the 1800s.
Our guest this episode is Daniel Immerwahr, author of the book “How to Hide an Empire” and an associate history professor at Northwestern University. In his book, he argues that the United States has been an empire since it’s inception.
- New York Times review of a book on the Spanish American War where I first learned about German plans for the Philippines.
- Helpful info about President McKinley’s declaration of war against Spain.
- New York Times archived article about the German plans to attack the US otherwise known as Operation Plan III.
- Doris Kearns Goodwin’s book The Bully Pulpit which provided some background on Teddy Roosevelt and the Spanish American War. It’s a good book, but its main focus is on Roosevelt’s relationship with Taft.
Special thanks to:
- Stand up comedian Nick Staron
- Paul Hastings of the Compelled Podcast
- Angel McCoy of Angel Reads the Bible