Sunday, April 25, 2010

Mark Twain and Imperialism

Mark Twain and Imperialism

Jennifer Brainard, BA, MAT, JD


retrieved April 25, 2010


"The condition of things in the Congo is atrocious, as

shown by the photographs of children whose hands have

been cut off."  -- Mark Twain


"I am an anti-imperialist. I oppose putting the eagle's

talons on any other land." -- Mark Twain


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.


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.


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.


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." See also "The

Philippine Mess."




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