The White Man’s Burden

Of course, this refers to Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem.

Did you know the complete title is “The White Man’s Burden: The United States and The Philippine Islands“?  I didn’t.

It was originally published in the popular magazine McClure’s in 1899, with the subtitle The United States and the Philippine Islands.  The poem was originally written for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, but exchanged for “Recessional”; Kipling changed the text of “Burden” to reflect the subject of American colonization of the Philippines, recently won from Spain in the Spanish-American War.

There are different interpretations of the poem, ranging from a racist call for the white man to rule the dark skinned all the way to satire – an interpretation I would greatly prefer; unfortunately Kipling’s actions surrounding the poem, his interactions with Teddy Roosevelt, and the events in the Philippines kind of get in the way:

In September 1898 Kipling wrote to Roosevelt, stating ‘Now go in and put all the weight of your influence into hanging on permanently to the whole Philippines. America has gone and stuck a pickaxe into the foundations of a rotten house and she is morally bound to build the house over again from the foundations or have it fall about her ears’.  He forwarded the poem to Roosevelt in November of the same year, just after Roosevelt was elected Governor of New York.

Teddy Roosevelt?  Why would he write to Roosevelt in September 1898?  Why send the poem on this subject to him in November of the same year?  During this time, Roosevelt had no office that would make such a communication relevant:

·        He was Assistant Secretary of the Navy from April 19, 1897 – May 10, 1898

·        He was Governor of New York from January 1, 1899 – December 31, 1900

·        He was Vice-President of the United States from March 4, 1901 – September 14, 1901

·        He was President of the United States from September 14, 1901 – March 4, 1909 – succeeding William McKinley, who left office due to a combination of an inconvenient bullet and perhaps a less-than-capable physician.

In the fall of 1898, Roosevelt had no official office – yet Kipling sent the poem to him.  Not to McKinley, who was President at the time; not to John D. Long, who was Secretary of the Navy.

No, he sent it to Roosevelt.

I have written before about the assassination of McKinley – the assassination that began the century of war.  Citing Schultze-Rhonhof:

Until McKinley’s presidency, the relations of the USA with the German Reich were always friendly and balanced.  The English-American relationship, on the other hand, up to then is still burdened by the former British Colonial rule and England’s colonial wars in America.

With the assassination of McKinley in 1901 and the change to the presidency of Theodore Roosevelt a new kind of thinking arises in the USA.  (Page 32)

What difference was there between McKinley and Roosevelt, I wondered – both progressive, both taking steps toward empire?  I searched for clues.

Murray Rothbard solved this puzzle for me, as he has solved many other puzzles. McKinley was a Rockefeller man, favorable toward Germany.  Roosevelt was a Morgan man, favorable toward England.  There was the difference.

This was during the critical time of the Great Rapprochement:

The Great Rapprochement, according to historians including Bradford Perkins, describes the convergence of diplomatic, political, military and economic objectives between the United States and Great Britain in 1895-1915, the two decades up to and including the beginning of World War I.

Before this time, the two countries were not always on such friendly terms – what with a revolutionary war, another war in the year 1812, and Britain’s dubious dealings during Lincoln’s uncivil war.

I have written before about this coming together of the English-speaking Anglos – W.T. Stead offered a good amount of the backstory.

The elite wanted to expand empire, and believed this could be better achieved through the rising and unlimited Americans as opposed to the declining and limited Brits.  Teddy Roosevelt, representing interests friendly to Britain, was the perfect candidate to continue expansion of the empire.

After all, Teddy found it just that the continent was swept clean of the American Indian in favor of the white race:

In 1886 Roosevelt criticized Native Americans, stating: “I don’t go so far as to think that the only good Indians are dead Indians, but I believe nine out of ten are, and I shouldn’t like to inquire too closely into the case of the tenth. The most vicious cowboy has more moral principle than the average Indian.”

So much for background.

The Imperial Cruise: A Secret History of Empire and War, by James Bradley

This book tells the story of Teddy Roosevelt’s secret dealings with Japan – secret from Congress, secret from the American people, secret from even the Constitution (yes, I was also shocked).  He cut a deal with Japan to be “Honorary Aryans” (don’t laugh, they can make up any theory when it suits their purpose), and thus continue the westward expansion of the great white race from the Caucasus through central Europe, then on to Britain, the New World, and the Pacific unto the Philippines. (Yes, we are all Georgians, apparently.)

Entire theories were developed in support of this great white expansion; scientists, authors, philosophers, professors, scholars, and religious leaders could all be found extolling the righteousness of the cause.  Further theories were developed to transfer this goodness to the Japanese.

Even Teddy Roosevelt, the fake outdoorsman and prolific author, wrote often of this supremacy of the white race – displaying a character that would prove useful to those who would select a conveniently-placed vice-president.

In 1905, Roosevelt intended to give Japan the green light toward Korea, Manchuria, and other parts of eastern Asia.  He sent William Howard Taft on a cruise to the Far East with only verbal instructions to this end – hence the “Imperial Cruise.”  Of course, Teddy’s distant cousin later took advantage of Japan’s aggression in order to make war on Japan and Germany.  What a set-up.

I will cover the story of the cruise in more detail in a subsequent post.  In the book, Bradley also offers a history of US colonialism in the Pacific prior to this – one key being the Philippines. Once the Americans threw out the Spanish, things only got worse for the natives.  Let’s just say, just as with the American Indians and with the Mexicans who fell victim to James Polk’s deception and General Zachary Taylor’s un-neighborliness, the white man showed no benevolence toward their Filipino charges, or to use Kipling’s phrase, the Americans did not “serve your captives’ need.”  From Bradley:

In 1898, Filipino freedom fighters had expected that America would aid them in their patriotic revolution against their Spanish colonial masters.  Instead, the Americans short-circuited the revolution and took the country for themselves. Related American military actions left more than two hundred fifty thousand Filipinos dead.  Over the next seven years, many Filipinos came to associate the Americans with torture, concentration camps, rape and murder of civilians, and destruction of their villages. (P. 22)

To the Americans, the problem was the Filipinos themselves – unfit to govern and all that.

Bradley expands on these American crimes throughout the first sections of the book; but first, he offers the set-up:

[Admiral George] Dewey solicited Aguinaldo’s [Filipino revolutionary leader] assistance several times.  Within a month of the Maine explosion, he dispatched Commander Edward Wood to negotiate with the Filipino leader.  When he met with Wood, Aguinaldo naturally assumed that since he was dealing with an emissary of the top U.S. official in Asia, he was hearing the official American position on his revolution.  Wood told him the United States would support Filipino independence if the Filipino army teamed with the U.S. Navy against Spain. (P. 85)

Aguinaldo would regularly and naively ask for a signed agreement (it didn’t do the American Indian tribes much good, after all).  Wood replied that his word was good as gold (plus the administration likely couldn’t get a treaty through Congress anyway).

Now that the fish was hooked, the real crimes could begin – well, first the Spanish had to be booted out.  Dewey, with significant help from the natives, did this efficiently.  The American public responded with Dewey days, Dewey songs, Dewey fireworks, Dewey mugs, and baby boys named George. (P. 88)

The Filipinos eagerly awaited their prize, and celebrated Independence Day on June 12, 1898.  They would not celebrate another for sixty-four years (although, even then, “independence” would be a relative term).

McKinley had God on his side.  How could anyone compete with God?  McKinley confessed to a visiting delegation of Methodist ministers…

…that he fell to his knees and prayed for enlightenment and that God told him it was his duty to uplift, civilize, and Christianize the Filipinos. (P. 99)

Wait a minute, weren’t the Spanish Chris-….  Oh, never mind.

On June 30, 1898, now-President Aguinaldo made a fatal error – allowing 2,500 armed American soldiers to come ashore.  “I have studied attentively the Constitution of the United States, and I find in it no authority for colonies, and I have no fear.”  Whoops.  I think Aguinaldo hadn’t heard of the Supreme Court. Or the US military.

Admiral Dewey sent two American Navy men on a fact-finding mission to the Philippine Island of Luzon, from October 8 to November 20, 1898:

Wilcox and Sargent documented a fully functioning Filipino government that was efficiently administering justice through its courts, keeping the peace, providing police protection, holding elections, and carrying out the consent of the governed. (P. 101)

I guess God didn’t get the memo before He talked to McKinley.  But then God likely didn’t know about the report as it was immediately buried by the benevolent, burden-bearing white men.  I guess they didn’t want to burden Him.

February 4, 1899 seems to be when the tension erupted into shooting.  American sentries were ordered to fire on Filipino “intruders,” intruders to the ever-expanding US zone.  The sentries obligingly followed orders.  As more Filipinos arrived on the scene, Private Grayson said “Line up fellows…the n*gg*rs are in here all through these yards.”  (P. 101)

Instantly and miraculously, the Americans were able to fight along a ten-mile front:

An Englishman who observed the coordinated American attack noted skeptically, “If the Filipinos were aggressors, it is very remarkable that the American troops should have been so well prepared for an unseen event as to be able to immediately and simultaneously attack, in full force, all the native outposts for miles around the capital.” (P. 102)

The Americans were quite efficient for being caught off-guard.  Within 24 hours they killed 3,000 Filipino freedom fighters.  More Filipinos died that day than did Americans on D-day. (P. 102) I guess they could be considered the Greatest Generation of the Philippines.

Now the atrocities.  Numerous atrocities.

A soldier wrote home:

“Brutality began right off.  At Malabon three women were raped by the soldiers…Morals became awfully bad.  Vino drinking and whiskey guzzling go the upper hand of benevolent assimilation.” (P. 104)

The few, the proud…

F.A. Blake of the American Red Cross visited the Philippines and reported, “American soldiers are determined to kill every Filipino in sight.”  And there was “fun” to be had with the women: Captain Fred McDonald ordered every native killed in the hamlet of La Nog, save a beautiful mestizo mother, whom the officers repeatedly raped, before turning her over to enlisted men. (P. 106)

This was reported in Washington as the good Captain taking care of his troops, perhaps?

Water boarding was an oft-practiced art:

“Water detail!” an officer would bark, and up came the torturers with their black tools.  In the Philippines conflict, waterboarding was known as the “water cure.” (P. 106)

A First Lieutenant later offers testimony of the process to a Senate panel.  It is not a pleasant read.  (P. 106) One soldier wrote that he had personally water boarded 160 Filipinos, of which 134 died (or “cured,” it seems). (P. 125)

The US Army penned a marching song, an ode to the “treatment”:

Get the good old syringe boys and fill it to the brim.
We’ve caught another n*gg*r and we’ll operate on him.
Let someone take the handle who can work it with a vim.
Shouting the battle cry of freedom. (P.108)


Doesn’t that sound like something fun to sing about?  There are many more verses.

That wasn’t all: flogging, scorching over open fires, hanging trussed prisoners from the ceiling.  A private from Utah writes home to the folks:

“No cruelty is too severe for these brainless monkeys, who can appreciate no sense of honor, kindness, or justice.” (P. 109)

Probably provided for a benevolent thanks to God by the fireplace.

It wasn’t enough to kill them with kindness – they had to be tortured, raped, and otherwise humiliated first, it seems.

Concentration camps were established.  Those who did not report within hours of being notified were then shot on sight.  Those that did report would likely die from the conditions in the camps.  General Frederick Funston bragged to reporters about personal stringing up thirty-five civilians.  Major Edwin Glenn chimed in that he had forty-seven prisoners kneel before him and repent their sins before having them bayonetted to death. (P 112)

By now, Roosevelt was president.  He was immediately faced with a crisis; it seems some Filipinos on the island of Samar did not appreciate the way they were being benevolently assimilated.  On September 28, 1901, they revolted, killing fifty-one Americans. (P. 122)

General Jacob “Hell Roaring Jake” Smith was put in charge of bringing the sheep back into the fold.  He sent Major Littleton Waller to act as the kindly shepherd, caring for the flock:

Smith ordered Waller, “I want no prisoners.  I wish you to kill and burn. The more you kill and burn the better you will please me.  I want all persons killed who are capable of bearing arms in actual hostilities against the United States.” (P. 123)

Smith set the age limit at ten as “capable.”  Not one American was killed in this island-clearing operation.

Slowly, the truth of the atrocities was coming to light.  It made little difference.  Roosevelt put to trial forty-four officers and soldiers for cruelty; thirty-nine of these were convicted. They were…wait a minute…reprimanded. (P. 126)

The Washington Post reported about…

…how the U.S. Army had systematically executed thirteen hundred Filipino prisoners of war in just one camp.  The Americans brought in a native priest to hear the condemned prisoners’ last confessions.  U.S. soldiers marched the Filipino prisoners to the killing ground and, after making them dig their own graves, shot them in the head.  The body of the priest swung from a noose overhead. (P. 128)

American soldiers committing atrocities?  The American people would have none of it:

Americans so embraced the benevolent intentions myth that they ultimately could not accept the idea that their humanitarian military was capable of atrocities. (P. 126)

On the history of US Indian policy and the debate over Philippine annexation, Walter Williams wrote:

White Americans generally did not believe that their past was criminal, they accepted the rightness of their actions in the Philippines.  To admit doubt would have undercut the whole history of the nation. (P. 98)

Yes, the myths might get their feelings hurt.

Of course, a Senate investigation buried the “slander” contradicting the benevolence. (P. 127)  Never fear, little myths.

Roosevelt used the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis to tell his side of the story.  More than eighteen million people saw the depictions of American benevolence in the Philippines…well, not exactly in the Philippines, but it sure looked real to the visitors. (P. 129)

Most American history books place the number of Filipino civilians killed by Americans at between 200,000 and 300,000.  Other sources report one- to three-million.  Even with the figure of 300,000, the rate per month of civilian deaths exceeds the rate per month of all of the US military deaths at the hands of Hitler and Tojo in World War II. (P. 127)

The white man’s burden?  I suspect most brown skin members of the human race would gladly offer to lighten the load and not have the white man feel so burdened; instead, perhaps just follow the silver rule.

Reprinted with permission from Bionic Mosquito.