Mark Twain, American Imperialism and War in the Philippines |

Mark Twain, American Imperialism and War in the Philippines

Mark Twain was angry about the Philippine-American War of 1899 –

It started in 1898 with the Spanish-American War. America entered the war to wrest the Philippines from Spain because the US wanted a foothold in trade in Asia, particularly with China, and feared European and Japanese domination of commerce in the region. Under the pretext of helping Filipinos in their war of independence against Spain, the US fought Spain and bought the Islands from the Spanish and then fought the Filipino insurgents who still wanted independence.

And Mark Twain was absolutely furious.

Mark Twain was angry about the Philippine-American War of 1899.

Mark Twain’s View of the War

At first, Twain believed the war to be a humanitarian one. Like America had done against the English crown, the Filipinos were now doing against their Spanish colonial masters; they wanted to be freed from the yoke of colonial subjugation. While the US did not keep Cuba in the deal with Spain, America did opt to retain control of the Philippines, for economic reasons. When Twain saw the tide turning to pure business interests and not humanitarian ones, he spoke out vehemently.

One of the things that outraged Twain was the underhanded way that Filipino revolutionary leader, General Emilio Aguinaldo was captured. Aguinaldo’s men were starving and promised food by American soldiers; instead they were forced to lead American forces to Aguinaldo where he was subsequently captured.

As the war dragged on, the brutality of American forces became more dramatic. In letters home, soldiers compared shooting Filipinos to hunting rabbits and referred to Filipinos as the N-Word. Back home, the Filipinos were thought of in the same way Americans thought of African-Americans. Understand, this was a time when the Ku Klux Klan were considered heroes and that Americans believed in the spread of Anglo-Saxon America; in fact, American was equated with white skin.

When a group of American soldiers slaughtered a group of 600 Filipino men, women and children who had taken refuge and were trapped in a volcano, Twain was incensed. In his autobiography he wrote scathingly of the hypocrisy and brutality of America with such actions.

Did you know America went to war with the Philippines to annex it and Twain was against it?

Mark Twain’s View of America

To Twain, and probably a good many Americans, America was about freedom and self-determination. He certainly was sensitive about injustice and abhorred the domination of a group by another. Twain spoke on racism, on the unfair treatment of the Chinese by Christian missionaries, corruption in politics in New York City, and the unethical involvement of Western powers in crushing the Chinese Boxer Rebellion.

Mark Twain’s vehemence toward injustice ran the gamut, he hated it wherever he saw it. The case of the Philippine-American War was no different.

The war flew in the face of American conceptions of freedom and humanitarianism. Mark Twain spoke out about this betrayal of America, this corrupted movement of business interests, this slaughter in the name of money.

Mark Twain was skilled with words. Being a famous writer and being aware of all aspects of his environment, including what his government was doing, Twain spoke out against war. In fact, he was active in the Anti-Imperialist League, which was originally formed in opposition to the Spanish-American War.

Twain envisioned an America that lived up to its ideals and considered it an abomination that it actually was not. Ironically, Twain was the embodiment of American Free Speech, lambasting the politicians and business interests that had no qualms killing people in the name of money and in a way totally against American ideals of freedom and self-determination.

Informative Lecture on Twain’s Feelings and Truth About the War

Susan K. Harris, the Joyce and Elizabeth Hall Distinguished Professor of American Literature and Culture at the University of Kansas, gives a guest lecture at Claremont Graduate University on Mark Twain and the Philippine American War.

Mark Twain’s Objections to the Invasion of the Philippines

Against American Values
Purely Business Interests
Slaughter and Brutality
Contradicted American values of freedom and self-determination
The motivation for the war was not humanitarian but purely to secure trade in Asia.
Filipinos were brutally slaughtered in the war with no regard.
Cartoon lambasting the hypocritical and arrogant treatment of the Philippines by the U.S.

Cartoon lambasting the hypocritical and arrogant treatment of the Philippines by the U.S


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