Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Weapons of Satire

Weapons of Satire: Anti-Imperialist Writings on the American-Phillipine War
© 1992 Mark Twain; edited by Jim Zwick.
256 pages

Mine eyes have seen the orgy of the launching of the Sword;
He is searching out the hoardings where the stranger's wealth is stored;
He hath loosed his fateful lightenings, and with woe and death has scored;
His lust is marching on.

("Battle Hymn of the Republic" brought 'down to date'. Written in 1901  by Mark Twain. Picture taken from the book: click for larger image.)

In 1898, the burgeoning United States declared war on the Spanish Empire and set forth to 'liberate' the island of Cuba, which Spain held. The resulting victory netted the US government Cuba, Guam, Wake Island, and a few other odds and ends -- including the opportunity to buy the Phillipine Islands from Spain. Both Cuba and the Phillipine islands posessed native populations eager to rule themselves, not that the US or Spain gave them much notice.  Filipinos mounted an insurrection against their self-aclaimed new masters in 1899, and the bloodshed would not end until seven years had passed. Some Americans saw the removal of Spain from the western hemisphere as a fulfillment of the Monroe Doctrine, or as  the beginning of a great crusade to spread Republicanism throughout the world. Other Americans were not so sure the US invasion of the Phillipines, and its occupation of the ceded Spainish territories was a good thing: they saw it as a naked land-grab. Mark Twain of the Anti-Imperialist Leauge was one such American.  He campaigned vigorously against the war, and his thoughts regarding the war are collected here.

Weapons of Satire pulls together speeches, articles, jotted-down private thoughts, satiricial essays, and a book review of Twains into this anthology, one that makes Twain's view of the war abundantly clear. At first he viewed the war as a good cause,  wanting to see his country rid the western hemisphere of imperial powers and make way for democracies. Upon seeing the way American generals, politicans, and businessmen interacted with Cuba and the Phillipines, Twain concluded that this was nothing more than the expansion of imperialism, under a new flag -- one with industrial might and not just the gold of days gone past to back it up. Twain sees the war as a moral failure on the part of the United States: instead of spreading democracy, it is expanding itself like the European states of the day, in the same manner as England and Germany. It is commiting great abuses against the people of the Phillipines, even engaging in massacre.  This imperial growth will not only harm the annexed territories, but undermine the American vision: the ideal of the Republic will be undone by these dreams of empire, for Twain believed no democracy could survive prolonged war and imperial ambition. Monarchy, or some form of authoritarianism, would be the inevitable result.  He viewed the war as corruptive -- not only of the American system of government, and of hope for the future, but of individual idealism. Patriotism, he notes, has been been perverted:

There are two kinds of patriotism --- monarchical patriotism and republican patriotism. In the one case the government and the king may rightfully furnish you their notions of patriotism; in the other, neither the government nor the nation is privilege to dictate to any individual what the form of his patriotism shall be. The gospel of monarchical patriotism is "The King can do not wrong". We have adopted it with all its servility, with an unimportant change to the wording;"Our country, right or wrong!" We have thrown away the most valuable asset we had - the individual's right  to oppose both flag and country when he (just he by himself) believed them to be in the wrong. We have thrown it away, and with it all that was really respectable about that grotesque work and laughable word, Patriotism.

Unfortunately, Twain's words are still applicable today: questioning the moral integrity of the United States' actions abroad in the late 20th century and in the past decade is kin to blasphemy: 'supporting the troops' apparently means 'letting the government do with them as it wills'. I wonder what Twain would make of corporation-dominated media and the persistently mighty influence of the US's military industries on its foreign and domestic policies.

Again from the book; click for larger image.

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