Mark Twain: A Biography, by Albert Bigelow Paine

Chapter CCXX

Mark Twain and the Philippines

Among the completed manuscripts of the early part of 1902 was a North American Review article (published in April)—“Does the Race of Man Love a Lord?”— a most interesting treatise on snobbery as a universal weakness. There were also some papers on the Philippine situation. In one of these Clemens wrote:

We have bought some islands from a party who did not own them; with real smartness and a good counterfeit of disinterested friendliness we coaxed a confiding weak nation into a trap and closed it upon them; we went back on an honored guest of the Stars and Stripes when we had no further use for him and chased him to the mountains; we are as indisputably in possession of a wide-spreading archipelago as if it were our property; we have pacified some thousands of the islanders and buried them; destroyed their fields; burned their villages, and turned their widows and orphans out-of-doors; furnished heartbreak by exile to some dozens of disagreeable patriots; subjugated the remaining ten millions by Benevolent Assimilation, which is the pious new name of the musket; we have acquired property in the three hundred concubines and other slaves of our business partner, the Sultan of Sulu, and hoisted our protecting flag over that swag.

And so, by these Providences of God — the phrase is the government’s, not mine — we are a World Power; and are glad and proud, and have a back seat in the family. With tacks in it. At least we are letting on to be glad and proud; it is the best way. Indeed, it is the only way. We must maintain our dignity, for people are looking. We are a World Power; we cannot get out of it now, and we must make the best of it.

And again he wrote:

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 had 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 Philippines 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 concede 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.

But a much more conspicuous comment on the Philippine policy was the so-called “Defense of General Funston” for what Funston himself referred to as a “dirty Irish trick”; that is to say, deception in the capture of Aguinaldo. Clemens, who found it hard enough to reconcile himself to any form of warfare, was especially bitter concerning this particular campaign. The article appeared in the North American Review for May, 1902, and stirred up a good deal of a storm. He wrote much more on the subject — very much more — but it is still unpublished.

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 12:00