Mark Twain: American Anti-Imperialist

Mark Twain is truly one of the giants of American literature. Millions of children throughout the world have been brought up on Tow Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, though he wrote much, much more, all with his warm, dry wit. I can remember reading his travel book, The Innocents Abroad, at college, which describes his adventures touring Europe, with its wry observations of the countries, ships and hotels he journey through. His folksy style has become one of the fundamental characteristics of America’s image. Way back in the 1980s, for example, the cartoon strip, Bloom County, had two of its characters, Milo and Owen Wendelle Jones lying down, looking up at the night’s sky and arguing whether the universe was created or ‘just made’, just like Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.

What is less well known is that Twain was a fierce critic of American imperialism. At the end of the 19th century the doctrine of ‘Manifest Destiny’ led America into a war with Spain for the remains of the latter’s possessions in the New World. Spain was defeated, and a victorious America took over the former colonies of Guam, Cuban, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines. These conquered territories were not colonies, however, but designated as ‘protectorates’.

Twain was appalled at his country’s transformation into an imperial power, and formed the Anti-Imperialist League of the United States to protest this. He used his characteristic dry wit to satirise the US’ new status of imperial overlord and oppressor. Of the changes to be made to the Philippine flag, he said

it is easily managed. We can have a special one – our states do it: we can just have our usual flag, with the white stripes painted black and the stars replaced by the skull and cross-bones.

There’s an attitude in parts of the American Right that sees any criticism of America and its global imperial power as coming from a deep-seated hatred of America, ignoring the fact that some of the greatest figures of American history and literature, like Twain, have been sharply critical of such policies.

Advertisements

Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

One Response to “Mark Twain: American Anti-Imperialist”

  1. Albert Kaplan Says:

    to see a recently discovered double ambrotype of Samuel Clemens, proceed to http://www.kaplancollection.com, then click on his name.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


%d bloggers like this: