Thursday, August 25, 2011

Mark Twain and Imperialism


Mark Twain is known the world over for his books and humor, but less well known is that he was an active anti-imperialist. After his death, his executors suppressed some of his more political writings and only in recent history have these opinions become more widely known.

He lived during a time when the nations of Europe had possessions all over the world, particularly Asia and Africa. Imperialism was the norm and generally people in the imperialist nations accepted it not just as an economic bonanza but as a responsibility to "civilize" the world.
"The condition of things in the Congo is atrocious, as shown by the photographs of children whose hands have been cut off." 
 When horrible abuses of imperialism in the Belgian Congo came to light, he worked for an international investigation. He brought the issue to the public and eventually the outcry brought about reforms. He also expressed his views in the way he preferred - the satire. In King Leopold's Soliloquy, he lambasted the Belgian King's policies.
"I am an anti-imperialist. I oppose putting the eagle's talons on any other land"
He became outraged when the United States became involved in imperialism. In 1898 the United States fought the Spanish-American war. It began with intervention on behalf of the Cubans, but the American victory in Cuba led to the Spanish surrender of all their possessions in the Pacific. The United States had to decide what to do with them. This began the American experience with imperialism.

Filipino war dead
An English author and poet, Rudyard Kipling urged America to play the imperialism game. His famous "The White Man's Burden," often called the "Anthem of Imperialism," appeared in McClure's Magazine in 1899, and was written to appeal to America keep the Philippines.

President McKinley decided to keep most of the possessions. Most controversial was the Philippines. The Filipinos resisted American rule and the Philippine American War was the result. Forcing the Philippines to accept American rule outraged Twain. He wrote the satire To the Person Sitting in Darkness and commented often to express his Views on Imperialism. SeeThe Philippine Mess and The Belgian Congo.

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