the collateral damage of manifest destiny

I STUMBLED OVER THIS IMAGE ON FACEBOOK at about 5:00 AM this morning and my immediate response was to type “this is the collateral damage of Manifest Destiny” into the comment section of the other person’s page. Then I thought, “No! Wait . . .” and instead I posted the image onto my Facebook page. Again I typed “this is the collateral damage of Manifest Destiny” into the comments window and again stopped with a second “No! Wait . . .”

I posted it sans comment on the image or the ‘facts’ it spouted, which is unusual for me. Well, it was 5:00 AM and I had been up all night and the last gallon of coffee was wearing off, so I guess I can forgive myself for not doing a wee bit of research on the numbers. But that’s not the point of this posting.

Long promised road, trail starts at dawn carries on to the season’s ending. Long promised road flows to the source, gentle force never ending.

Manifest Destiny was a widely held belief in the United States among the white men who were the decision-makers and scribes of the time. It maintained that American settlers were destined to expand throughout the continent, carrying European civilization ever westward, as it had migrated from the Old World to the New.

Instead, you are reading it here—hopefully for the first time. When I have published this page on Neal Umphred Dot Com, I will check Google to see if anyone else has ever used that phrase before. If not, I may have coined an interesting new phrase here. 1

So, below find:

1) the image that kicked this off (“100 million”) followed by “On Manifest Destiny with capital letters”;

2) a famous 19th century painting followed by “On manifest destiny with lower case letters”; and

3) another Facebook poster (“refugees”) with “On collateral damage.”

The two sections on Manifest Destiny below were adapted liberally from Wikipedia entries. The final image is a Beach Boys album cover accompanied by a few observations on the music within the album. 2


When I posted this image on my Facebook page, I added, “50,000,000 is probably more accurate, but hey, who’s counting, right?” A friend commented, “50,000,000 may be right, counting Central and South America, but more recent estimates say that the population of the western hemisphere may only have been 20,000,000.” 3

On Manifest Destiny with capital letters

In the 19th century, Manifest Destiny was a widely held belief in the United States among the white men who were the decision-makers and scribes of the time. It maintained that American settlers were destined to expand throughout the continent, carrying European civilization ever westward, as it had migrated from the Old World to the New.

Modern historians agree for the most part that there were three basic themes to Manifest Destiny:

I hit hard at the battle that’s confronting me; I knock down all the roadblocks a-stumbling me; I throw off all the shackles that are binding me down.

•  These people and their institutions—mostly white Anglo-Saxon Protestant—had special virtues that other peoples did not share.

•  These people had a mission—it was America’s mission—to redeem and remake the west in the image of agrarian America.

•  These people had an irresistible destiny—given them by the Old Testament God but one in the New Testament’s God’s name (and they ain’t the same critter)—to accomplish this essential duty.

These same historians also emphasize the fact that Manifest Destiny was a contested concept: while most Democrats endorsed the idea, many prominent Americans rejected it. The latter included Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses S. Grant, and most members of the Whig Party.

Manifest Destiny was born out of “a sense of mission to redeem the Old World by high example It was generated by the potentialities of a new earth for building a new heaven.” Newspaper editor/journalist John O’Sullivan coined the term Manifest Destiny in 1845 to describe that spirit. 4

But as a motivating factor or as a justification for action, Manifest Destiny did not enjoy widespread support in the 19th century. “The thesis that it embodied nationalism, found in much historical writing, is backed by little real supporting evidence.”


American Progress (John Gast, 1872) is an allegorical representation of the modernization of the new west. Here Columbia personifies the United States, leading civilization westward. She brings light from the East into the darkness of the West, with both technology and literacy, as she holds a school book in her flight—and it is not a Bible.

On John O’Sullivan’s manifest destiny

John O’Sullivan is an interesting and important figure in the 19th century: in the Democratic Review (July–August 1845), he called on the US to admit the Republic of Texas into the Union. Because of concerns in the Senate over the expansion of the number of slave states and the possibility of war with Mexico, Texas had long been a controversial issue.

O’Sullivan argued that the United States had a divine mandate to expand throughout North America, writing of “our manifest destiny to overspread the continent allotted by Providence for the free development of our yearly multiplying millions.”

Sew up the wounds of evolution and the now starts to get in my way. So what if life’s a revelation if the mind speaks of only today. So real, the pain of growing in soul, of climbing up to reality’s goal.

O’Sullivan’s second use of the phrase became extremely influential. In the New York Morning News (December 27, 1845), he addressed the boundary dispute with Great Britain in the Oregon Country, he wrote:

“And that claim is by the right of our manifest destiny to overspread and to possess the whole of the continent which Providence has given us for the development of the great experiment of liberty and federated self-government entrusted to us.”

O’Sullivan believed that God (“Providence“) had given the United States a mission to spread republican democracy (“the great experiment of liberty”) throughout North America. Because Great Britain would not use Oregon for the purposes of spreading democracy, British claims to the territory could be disregarded. O’Sullivan believed that manifest destiny was a moral ideal that superseded other considerations, including international laws and agreements.

O’Sullivan’s original conception of manifest destiny was not a call for territorial expansion by force. He believed that the expansion of U.S.-style democracy was inevitable, and would happen without military involvement as Anglo-Saxons emigrated to new regions.

O’Sullivan’s phrase provided a label for sentiments which had become particularly popular during the 1840s, but the ideas themselves were not new. O’Sullivan was not the originator of the concept of manifest destiny, but he was one of its foremost advocates.


The first few times I read this, I read it as a warning against European white civilization—which is why it is a part of this article. It wasn’t until I had published the article that I realized that it was instead a rightwingnut warning against taking in the embattled women and children of war-torn Syria.

On collateral damage

Merriam-Webster defines collateral as “1a) accompanying as secondary or subordinate : concomitant; 1b) indirect.” I think we all know what damage means . . .

The USAF Intelligence Targeting Guide defines collateral damage as “unintentional damage or incidental damage affecting facilities, equipment, or personnel, occurring as a result of military actions directed against targeted enemy forces or facilities. Such damage can occur to friendly, neutral, and even enemy forces.”

Collateral damage in the Southeast Asian War that ended in the 1970s is estimated between one and three million.

In military doublespeak, collateral damage is used to describe situations where non-combatants are unintentionally killed and/or non-combatant property damaged during attacks on legitimate ‘military targets.’ 5

In Orwellianese, collateral damage is a euphemism—the use of inoffensive words or terms to describe offensive actions or results—that dehumanizes civilians (especially women, children and old people) killed during ‘legitimate’ military operations.

As a euphemism, collateral damage is meant to reduce the perception of culpability of the military and the government in failing to prevent non-combatant casualties.

I associate the term with Vietnam. I am incorrect: the term was rarely used at the time of that ‘quagmire’ (a euphemism). In fact, while researching the term and learning of my error, I came across this interesting bit:

“Paradoxical as it may sound, the Vietnam War marked the beginning of the military’s attempt to return to its 1936 standards and limit collateral damage. The infamous ‘free-fire zones,’ for example, were an attempt to lessen civilian casualties. Except in such zones, usually established in sparsely populated areas or in enemy-held territory, air strikes in Vietnam had to be cleared by local South Vietnamese officials.” (Los Angeles Times)


The Beach Boys’ SURF’S UP album from 1971 (Brother/Reprise RS-6453) featured this amazing cover with a painting by an unknown artist. The too-good-to-be-true story is that the Beach Boys’ manager found this anonymous painting in a thrift shop and bought it for a cuppla bucks. It caught his attention because it vaguely resembled the group’s logo for their Brother Records. Forty-five years later and no one has come forward to claim credit for or even identify the artist!

End of the trail

In 1970, the Beach Boys issued SUNFLOWER, one of the best albums of the year and arguably one of the ten most under-appreciated albums in rock’s history. (Yup, that’s my opinion, for what it’s worth.) It sold squat in the US and received little critical attention but was hailed as a masterpiece and the successor to PET SOUNDS in England!

In 1971, the group’s had a new manager and lyricist in Jack Reilly, This man had more hipness and awareness of the currently political and social climate than the six group members combined. He convinced them to resurrect a legendary SMILE track and build an album with an ecological theme around it, which was apt as Earth Day as an event and as a wake-up call celebrated its first birthday a few months earlier than the album’s release.

Hence SURF’S UP.

So hard to lift the jeweled scepter when the weight turns a smile to a frown. So hard to plant the seed of reform, to set my sights on defeating the storm.

Sold as ‘an album,’ in fact SURF’S UP was a hodgepodge of tracks, some recorded or written over the previous two years. A few tracks were ecologically oriented (Don’t Go Near The Water and A Day In The Life Of A Tree), a few were politically aimed (Lookin’ At Tomorrow and Student Demonstration Time), and a few were of a more ‘philosophical’ bent (Long Promised Road and ‘Til I Die).

Don’t Go Near The Water by Mike Love and Al Jardine was a pleasant track that opened the album’s first side with “Don’t go near the water, don’t you think it’s sad—what’s happened to the water, our water’s going bad.” This bouncy song should have been a single—not that it would have necessarily received any more airplay than the other Beach Boys singles of the time.

SURF’S UP was different not only for the Beach Boys, but for rock-pop music: it should be celebrated today as the first album displaying any eco-awareness. For many people, the album cover art was the attention-getter: it was a supposedly amateur painting (naïve art?) based on James Earle Fraser’s famous sculpture End of the Trail.


First modeled in 1894, End of the Trail is based on James Earle Fraser’s experiences growing up in Dakota Territory. He wrote in his memoirs, “As a boy, I remembered an old Dakota trapper saying, ‘The Indians will someday be pushed into the Pacific Ocean.’ The idea occurred to me of making an Indian which represented his race reaching the end of the trail, at the edge of the Pacific.” In 1915, Fraser displayed a monumental plaster version of the work at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco, earning popular acclaim and a gold medal.” (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

SURF’S UP and the Beach Boys brought Fraser’s piece out of the museum and into record stores, households, and hippie pads across the country. It fit in with the hippie’s seeming fascination with all things Native American.

And it was what often come to my ex-hippie mind when seeing anything like the Internet posters about the collateral damage of manifest destiny (like those above) and keep on trying to hit hard at the battle that’s confronting me, knock down all the roadblocks a-stumbling me and throw off all the shackles that are binding me down . . .


1   Well, I typed “collateral damage of manifest destiny” into Google and no results showing those five words used as a phrase so it looks like I just coined me a new phrase that got zest appeal!

2   I call them posters; others call them memes, which ain’t what I understand memes to be!

3   As a response to my putting the “100 million” poster on my Facebook page, my friend Frank Daniels added this to the comments section: “50,000,000 million may be right, counting Central and South America, but more recent estimates say that the population of the western hemisphere may only have been 20,000,000. The number of deaths is basically speculative, but that number includes the dominant cause of death: disease. Measles and smallpox—not spread deliberately—were responsible for most of the deaths. This was due to the fact that the diseases were unknown in the Americas, and the natives had no resistance to them. No more than about 2,000,000 natives died between 1492 and 1900 in North America.”

4  Frederick Merk, Manifest Destiny and Mission in American History (Harvard University Press, 1963).

5   Collateral damage is not synonymous with friendly fire, which is defined by Google as “weapon fire coming from one’s own side, especially fire that causes accidental injury or death to one’s own forces.”

The lyrics quoted throughout this article are from Long Promised Road by Carl Wilson and Jack Reilly. It would have also made an excellent single in 1971, except as stated, the likelihood of a Beach Boys single receiving prolonged airplay on Top 40 was slim to nil in the early ’70s.

Comments and arguments welcome!