First Denali, now Tahoma

In April 1916 U.S. Delegate James Wickersham of Alaska and U.S. Senator Key Pittman of Nevada introduced identical bills in the House and Senate to create a Denali National Park in Alaska. A mountain within it, the highest in the nation, was already informally named Mount McKinley. It was given that name by a local miner early in William McKinley's term as president. Before that the mountain was known as Denali, and under Russian ownership as Bolshaya Gora, a translation of Denali into Russian.

Wickersham and Pittman tried to name the park Denali, but when the bill was passed it had been changed to McKinley National Park and also made formal the new name of the mountain. President Obama this week reversed that decision. The park name was changed in 1980.

William McKinley, remembered today mainly for being assassinated—the mountain was named for him before that happened—was hardly admirable. Too weak to resist newspaper-generated war hysteria, he invaded Cuba, then wouldn't leave for three years. Worse, he occupied the Philippines on the pretext of taking them, like Cuba, from the Spanish while posing as the savior of the Filipinos—and never left, instead colonizing the Philippines. He later wrote that once he had the Philippines, he “didn't know what to do with them.” He decided “that we not leave them to themselves—they are unfit for self-government—and they would soon have anarchy and misrule over there worse than Spain's wars. … [T]here was nothing left for us to do but to take them all, and to educate the Filipinos, and uplift and civilize and Christianize them, and by God's grace do the very best we could by them, as our fellow-men for whom Christ also died.”

McKinley had no idea what the Philippines were like. The notion that Filipinos needed the U.S. to uplift them is nonsense. Eighteen universities had been established in the Philippines before the United States was created. Moreover, McKinley failed to control his military, which engaged in terrible war crimes there.

Now that the name of Denali has been restored, there's still Tahoma, a mountain in Washington called Mount Ranier. Interestingly, this mountain in the United States is named for a British sailor and member of Parliament, Peter Ranier, who tried to prevent the United States from ever existing. He served on British ships in the American Revolution. Later, he served in the East Indies colonies. There is no record of him ever finding anything wrong with the notion of colonialism.