Friday, April 21, 2006

Heart of Darkness

On this date in 1898, the USE (United States Empire) began its projection of power across what politicians of the time often called "our lake" (better known as the Pacific Ocean) by declaring war on Spain. The results included the annexation of the Phillippines and the assumption of a protectorate over Cuba.

The pretext was the supposed bombing of the U.S.S. Maine in Havana Harbor by Spanish agents. Later research has shown the sinking of the Maine was almost certainly due to an internal explosion caused by faulty design. A secondary pretext was the "liberation" of Spain's colonies.

The latter is one important reason why many Cubans, while admiring of American culture and prosperity, still put no trust in USE governments. After defeating Spain, the McKinley regime installed a USE-obedient government and placed the infamous "Platt Amendment" in the Cuban constitution. The amendment granted the USE permanent rights to interfere at will in Cuba's internal affairs, among other exploitative conditions.

The situation in the Phillippines was far more bloody. Filipinos had already been struggling for independence. The US Army was dispatched to subdue the islands, whose inhabitants were assigned the racial epithet "goo-goos," which later evolved into the Vietnam War slur "gooks."

As many as 250,000 Filipino civilians were slaughtered before the conquest was completed. (Further reading: In Our Image: America's Empire in the Phillippines, by Stanley Karnow.)

Another important consequence of the war was the emergence of Teddy Roosevelt as a national figure, where he became arguably the USE's first great imperialist abroad, completing and extending the conquests of McKinley.

In one sense, it is be regretted that these conquests came at such slight expense to the USE in treasure and lives, for it led Americans to think it would always be thus. Among other consequences, this misconception would later lead to the Indochina Wars, where some 5 million Indochinese and 60,000 Americans would needlessly perish.


Blogger RtR said...

If there is any subject that stirs my rage and causes me to wish to write with "a pen warmed up in Hell" (apologies for the theft to Mr. Clemens), it is the abject failure of our public school curriculum writers, Departments of Federal and State Education, and state and local school boards to integrate a public school curriculum that highlights the courage, prescience and humanity of our country's giants. Although I am a career public school teacher and a fervent advocate for public education, our system of public education must take a large share of the responsibility for our nation's present debacle. I believe it is more than simply my opinion that the various Public School curriculums have become so inoffensive as to render them without value (as in amoral).

Here is the very same Mark Twain of Huck Finn on the great US Philippine war along with a couple of links for the interested. The parallels to our current national shame are so close as to be almost unitary.

From the New York Herald, October 15, 1900:

I left these shores, at Vancouver, a red-hot imperialist. I wanted the American eagle to go screaming into the Pacific. It seemed tiresome and tame for it to content itself with he Rockies. Why not spread its wings over the Phillippines, I asked myself? And I thought it would be a real good thing to do

I said to myself, here are a people who have suffered for three centuries. We can make them as free as ourselves, give them a government and country of their own, put a miniature of the American constitution afloat in the Pacific, start a brand new republic to take its place among the free nations of the world. It seemed to me a great task to which had addressed ourselves.

But I have thought some more, since then, and I have read carefully the treaty of Paris, and I have seen that we do not intend to free, but to subjugate the people of the Phillippines. We have gone there to conquer, not to redeem. . .

It should, it seems to me, be our pleasure and duty to make those people free, and let them deal with their own domestic questions in their own way. And so I am an anti-imperialist. I am opposed to having the eagle put its talons on any other land.

A Boston Herald transcript of a speech he gave in 1900 began thus:

Oh, you have been doing many things in this time that I have been absent; you have done lots of things, some that are well worth remembering, too. Now, we have fought a righteous war since I have been gone, and that is rare in history--a righteous war is so rare that it is almost unknown in history; but by the grace of that war we set Cuba free, and we joined her to those three or four free nations that exist on this earth; and we started out to set those poor Filipinos free too, and why, why, why that most righteous purpose of ours has apparently miscarried I suppose I never shall know.

In a 1906 essay about the Moro massacre in the Phillippines, which was not published until after his death, Twain criticized the military:

General Wood was present and looking on. His order had been, "Kill or capture those savages." Apparently our little army considered that the "or" left them authorized to kill or capture according to taste, and that their taste had remained what it had been for eight years in our army out there--the taste of Christian butchers.

In a February 1901 article titled, "To the Person Sitting in Darkness," he continued to criticize the U.S.:

There must be two Americas: one that sets the captive free, and one that takes a once-captive's new freedom away from him, and picks a quarrel with him with nothing to found it on; then kills him to get his land. . .

True, we have crushed a deceived and confiding people; we have turned against the weak and the friendless who trusted us; we have stamped out a just and intelligent and well-ordered republic; we have stabbed an ally in the back and slapped the face of a guest; we have bought a Shadow from an enemy that hadn't it to sell; we have robbed a trusting friend of his land and his liberty; we have invited clean young men to shoulder a discredited musket and do bandit's work under a flag which bandits have been accustomed to fear, not to follow; we have debauched America's honor and blackened her face before the world. . .

And as for a flag for the Philippine Province, it is easily managed. We can have a special one--our States do it: we can have just our usual flag, with the white stripes painted black and the stars replaced by the skull and cross-bones.

And another essay on the American flag, also from 1901:

I am not finding fault with this use of our flag; for in order not to seem eccentric I have swung around, now, and joined the nation in the conviction that nothing can sully a flag. I was not properly reared, and the illusion that a flag was a thing which must be sacredly guarded against shameful uses and unclean contacts, lest it suffer pollution; and so when it was sent out to the Phillippines to float over a wanton war and a robbing expedition I supposed it was polluted, and in an ignorant moment I said so. But I stand corrected. I conceded and acknowledge that it was only the government that sent it on such an errand that was polluted. Let us compromise on that. I am glad to have it that way. For our flag could not well stand pollution, never having been used to it, but it is different with the administration.

The War Prayer 1905 Mark Twain

Mark Twain the Anti-Imperialist

1:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

HH notes: On this date in 1901 died the great anti-imperialist Mark Twain, at the age of 74.

All honour.

4:02 PM  
Blogger HH said...

HH said:

RtR kindly points out that Twain died in 1910, not 1901.

Serves your author right for taking data from only one reference source, and not cross-checking facts.

Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

Leave it to RtR, Hari, Grand Duchess, Earthbound Misfit, Anonymouse, and countless others to keep HH on, if not the straight and narrow, at least The Right Track.

9:40 PM  

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