July 11, 2010

Twain and America's "Uniformed Assassins"

The first of three volumes of "the complete and authoritative edition" of Mark Twain's autobiography will be published in November. The new material in Volume I will be "as little as 5 percent" of that volume alone, but by the time all three volumes are published, "about half will not have ever been in print before."

Twain himself decided to have his dictated autobiography published only selectively for a long time:
"From the first, second, third and fourth editions all sound and sane expressions of opinion must be left out,” Twain instructed [his heirs and editors] in 1906. “There may be a market for that kind of wares a century from now. There is no hurry. Wait and see."
According to the Times story, Twain feared that some of his opinions "would damage his reputation if not withheld." Aw, Sam. Well, here we are a century later anyway. Timing is all!

The Times provides these details concerning some of the more "acerbic" views:
Twain’s opposition to incipient imperialism and American military intervention in Cuba and the Philippines, for example, were well known even in his own time. But the uncensored autobiography makes it clear that those feelings ran very deep and includes remarks that, if made today in the context of Iraq or Afghanistan, would probably lead the right wing to question the patriotism of this most American of American writers.

In a passage [previously] removed by Paine, Twain excoriates “the iniquitous Cuban-Spanish War” and Gen. Leonard Wood’s “mephitic record” as governor general in Havana. In writing about an attack on a tribal group in the Philippines, Twain refers to American troops as “our uniformed assassins” and describes their killing of “six hundred helpless and weaponless savages” as “a long and happy picnic with nothing to do but sit in comfort and fire the Golden Rule into those people down there and imagine letters to write home to the admiring families, and pile glory upon glory.”

He is similarly unsparing about the plutocrats and Wall Street luminaries of his day, who he argued had destroyed the innate generosity of Americans and replaced it with greed and selfishness. “The world believes that the elder Rockefeller is worth a billion dollars,” Twain observes. “He pays taxes on two million and a half.”
Twain was entirely correct about the "uniformed assassins" in the Philippines (and in many other countries down to this moment, knowledge of which he was spared, though he may be looking up from Hell with fearsome gaze). "The Mythology of the 'Good Guy' American" offers many details about the abominations committed by the U.S. in the Philippines. Here's a small, excruciating sample, from Paul A. Kramer's The Blood of Government: Race, Empire, the United States, and the Philippines:
One of the most banal and brutal manifestations of racialization was U.S. soldiers' imagination of war as hunting. The Manila occupation and "friendly policy" had frustrated martial masculinity; the metaphor of the hunt made war, at last, into masculine self-fulfillment. All at once, a language of hunting bestialized Filipinos made sense of guerrilla war to American troops, and joined the latter in manly fraternity. "I don't know when the thing will let out," wrote Louis Hubbard one week into the war, "and don't care as we are having lots of excitement. It makes me think of killing jack rabbits."


The most notorious orders of indiscriminate killing were Gen. Jacob H. Smith's late October 1901 instructions to Marine Maj. Littleron W.T. Waller, following Filipino revolutionaries' successful surprise attack against U.S. soldiers at Balangiga on the island of Samar, to make reprisals against the entire population of the island. "I want no prisoners," he had directed. "I wish you to kill and burn." Smith ordered "all persons killed who are capable of bearing arms in actual hostilities against the United States." When Waller had asked the general for clarification, Smith stated that he considered any person over the age of ten "capable of bearing arms." The interior of Samar must be made "a howling wilderness!" The direct result of these instructions was systematic destruction and killing on a vast scale.
The full article has much more, if you can stand it. But dear me, it certainly sounds as if Twain might not "support the troops." I'd like to think that piece might find some small favor with him.

I also enjoyed this bit from the Times:
“I believe that the trade of critic, in literature, music, and the drama, is the most degraded of all trades, and that it has no real value,” Twain writes. “However, let it go,” he adds. “It is the will of God that we must have critics, and missionaries, and Congressmen, and humorists, and we must bear the burden.”
And, we are now compelled to add, it is also God's will that we must have bloggers.

Bear up, gentle readers.