Published: September 13, 2013

With President Obama making the case for military action against Syria, BackStory takes on the history of humanitarian intervention. In 1898, President McKinley called for war with Spain to liberate Cuba from the “barbarities, bloodshed, starvation, and horrible miseries now existing there” – offering the kind of humanitarian rhetoric that has come up time and time again in American history, justifying numerous interventions around the world – from Haiti in 1915 to Libya in 2011. But where does the idea of a humanitarian obligation originate? When and why has the US felt justified to intervene in other nations’ affairs? And how have these interventions shaped Americans’ attitudes toward the world — and the world’s attitudes toward us?

These are the questions that Brian, Ed, and Peter explore in this episode, looking to history to help us make sense of America’s international role, and understand the deep roots of current debates over Syria.