What does it matter to the world if the President of the United States decrees a change to the name of North America’s highest mountain peak? Perhaps it is merely a tempest in a teapot, ultimately signifying nothing of importance. Or perhaps it is far more significant than we may imagine.
For 98 years Americans have referred to the highest mountain on the continent as Mount McKinley. It is not the original name of the mountain. Since time immemorial the Athabaskan people of Alaska have named it Denali, which means Great One in their language. In 1896, a gold prospector in Alaska attached the name McKinley to the mountain, thus declaring support for William McKinley of Ohio, the man who would be elected as the twenty-fifth President of the United States later that year. Since then a controversy has bubbled along regarding the name of the peak, with native Alaskans asserting the original name, and most other Americans who bothered to think about it going along with McKinley. In 1975, the Alaska Legislature officially requested that the United States Government change the name. The name of the national park over which the mountain presides was renamed Denali in 1980, but the mountain itself retained the name of McKinley.
Until now, that is. The administration of President Barrack Obama has announced that the President will use the occasion of his visit to Alaska to bring an end to the dispute and rename the mountain Denali. Alaskans and many others applaud the change, but others have denounced it, particularly the Congressional delegation from McKinley’s home state. Ironically, the entire Alaskan Congressional delegation and most of the Ohio delegation are Republicans, a fact that renders meaningless any charges that this is a political decision by President Obama, a Democrat. Yet it is political, as is everything that a sitting president does. And it is also prophetic.
If we are to understand this prophetic message, we must first understand the importance of William McKinley (1843-1901). He was the last of the US Presidents who served as a veteran of the American Civil War, a fact that carries some significance in that it ties him to the single greatest conflict ever to take place on this continent, and which established the character and destiny of the United States from that point forward. McKinley was also the third of four presidents whose terms in office were cut short by an assassin’s bullet (the others were Abraham Lincoln, James A. Garfield, and John F. Kennedy). But most important of all, McKinley presided over the establishment of the United States as a Great Power. His administration led the nation into war with Spain in 1898, a conflict that lasted only four months (April 20-August 12, 1898), but which resulted in the death of the Spanish Empire. In its place a new American Empire arose as the United States acquired control over Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines. Since independence for Cuba was the primary aim of the war, American occupation of that nation ended in 1902, although the US retains a naval base at Guantanamo Bay to this day. The US retained control of the other territories, however, annexing all of them in short order. Guam and Puerto Rico remain US territories, but the Philippines gained independence in 1946. But that was not the sum of American territorial gains in 1898. Just as the Spanish-American War was winding down, the US annexed the Republic of Hawaii, perhaps the most significant piece of real estate in the Pacific Ocean, ultimately to become the 50th State of the United States.
Consider the implications of these territorial gains. In April 1898, the United States was a strong continental power confined to North America. Four months later, the US was a global power able to project its will on the entire Caribbean and across the world to the Far East. The United States had become a world empire, able and willing to join the ranks of Great Britain, France, Germany, Russia, Austria-Hungary, Italy, Japan, and Ottoman Turkey as one of the elite Great Powers. And it all happened under the administration of William McKinley, the man for whom America’s highest mountain was named.
The process that McKinley began came to fruition during the administrations of his successors Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and Woodrow Wilson. It was Roosevelt who cemented the status of the US by such acts as carving Panama away from Colombia and ensuring that the US had the rights to build a transoceanic canal through that nation. He also mediated an end to the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-05, ensuring that American diplomatic, economic, and military power not only had a place at the table, but carried greater weight. Taft continued along the lines Roosevelt had established, leaving the US poised for even greater expansion when Wilson took office in 1913. And in fact that was precisely what happened. Wilson initially kept the US out of World War I, but in April 1917 had no choice but to enter the war in response to repeated German provocations. When the war erupted in 1914, the US was a debtor to Great Britain and France. At the end of the war, those nations and many others were in debt to America, and American arms ensured ultimate victory for the Allies. By 1919, the United States was not merely a Great Power, but the Greatest Power.
Although it would take another generation before the US took up the mantle as Leader of the Free World, the advent of the Pax Americana was clearly on the horizon as the nations of the earth struggled to recover from the First World War. Interestingly, the official naming of America’s highest mountain coincided with that era. On February 26, 1917, just five weeks before asking Congress to declare war on Germany, President Wilson signed into law the Mount McKinley National Park Act. Prophetically speaking, it was the seal to a generation of American ascendency that had begun in the presidency of the man for whom the mountain was named.
And now, 98 years later, another president revokes that name. McKinley is now what it was before: Denali. A century from now that will still be its name. The name of McKinley will be no more than a footnote in history, just as William McKinley himself. That, you see, is the true meaning behind President Obama’s decision. By renaming Denali, he has proclaimed the end of the American Empire. Until now, the United States of America was not merely the first among equals, but the greatest of all the Great Powers that have ever existed. No lasting changes to the borders of the nations, or to the economic, political, social, and military order of the globe could transpire without American approval, or at least acquiescence. The world order is now what it was in 1898: a multipolar system of competing Great Powers, with America standing aloof.
Do not mistake the message here. This is not a proclamation of the end of the United States of America, but of American preeminence in global affairs. Notice that Britain, France, Germany, and Russia are all still with us, albeit shorn of their empires. They survive as Great Powers, achieving much that is both good and evil in world affairs. They are joined by China, Iran, India, Korea, Pakistan, Brazil, and others that would claim a portion of prestige and influence. If we may believe the Word of God, one day, perhaps one day very soon, another Power will arise to bind each of these lesser powers, but that Power will not be the United States. Henceforth the US, like all the others, will travel the inevitable road toward the bondage of the Beast. It may be in fits and starts, and it will surely be a road daubed in blood and lined in bone, but it is the road the prophets of Israel have long foretold as the Holy Spirit of YHVH has given them utterance. The question for us is not if we will travel that road, but whether we will travel it in fear or in hope.
All these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them. (Hebrews 11:13-16 NASB)
Behold, I will gather them out of all the lands to which I have driven them in My anger, in My wrath and in great indignation; and I will bring them back to this place and make them dwell in safety. They shall be My people, and I will be their God; and I will give them one heart and one way, that they may fear Me always, for their own good and for the good of their children after them. I will make an everlasting covenant with them that I will not turn away from them, to do them good; and I will put the fear of Me in their hearts so that they will not turn away from Me. I will rejoice over them to do them good and will faithfully plant them in this land with all My heart and with all My soul. (Jeremiah 32:37-41 NASB)
Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign forever and ever.” (Revelation 11:15 NRSV)