Posthumous Moore Award Winner: Mark Twain

“He [Theodore Roosevelt]  knew perfectly well that to pen six hundred helpless and weaponless savages in a hole like rats in a trap and massacre them in detail during a stretch of a day and a half, from a safe position on the heights above, was no brilliant feat of arms—and would not have been a brilliant feat of arms even if Christian America, represented by its salaried soldiers, had shot them down with Bibles and the Golden Rule instead of bullets. He knew perfectly well that our uniformed assassins had not upheld the honor of the American flag, but had done as they have been doing continuously for eight years in the Philippines—that is to say, they had dishonored it.”
– Mark Twain, autobiographical dictation of March 12, 1906

This weekend’s Spotlight over on the home page has the disadvantage of being a little elderly—two months and 105 years old, give or take a day. But do read Mark Twain’s twopart commentary on a massacre of Moro men, women, and children by U.S. troops in the Philippines. If nothing else, it will give you a soothing sense of continuity. For instance, despite the diversity of America’s official enemies through the years, they’re all alike in certain ways. Thus, we read in Twain’s account how the general who oversaw a refugee camp’s annihilation assured a reporter that there was “no wanton destruction of women and children in the fight, though many of them were killed by force of necessity because the Moros used them as shields in the hand-to-hand fighting.” Those cowardly fill-in-the-blanks and their human shields never change, do they?

Nor do our Serious Journalists. Twain quotes a New York Tribune editorial on the killings: “It was not a question of submission to American rule but a question of regard for any rule at all and for the peace of the Moro people. [¶] The manner of doing the work was undoubtedly severe. There are cases in which severity is humanity.” Not to be outdone, The New York Times editorial page did its best impression of, well, The New York Times editorial page: “Lamentable as it is to hear of the enforced slaughter of 600 inhabitants of the islands where we established peace some five years ago, there is yet consolation in the knowledge that these last rebels against our undoubtedly beneficent rule are men who, if nothing except extermination can reduce them to order, can be exterminated with exceptional facility.” America was once again reminded that it could do whatever it set its mind to.

But Mark Twain, bad sport that he was, just had to get all shrill: “The enemy numbered six hundred—including women and children—and we abolished them utterly, leaving not even a baby alive to cry for its dead mother. This is incomparably the greatest victory that was ever achieved by the Christian soldiers of the United States.

Bark that last sentence with conviction, and you just might get your mug on Mt. Rushmore.

For more on the massacre of the Moros, read “What Happened at Bud Dajo” by Andrew Bacevich. If you don’t understand the title of this post, give Andrew Sullivan some much-needed traffic. For more divisive, bitter, and intemperate rhetoric from Mark Twain, read “To the Person Sitting in Darkness” [.pdf].

9 thoughts on “Posthumous Moore Award Winner: Mark Twain”

  1. American exceptionalism, anyone?

    I read the Twain piece last night, Matt. We slaughtered thousands in the Philippines. The atrocities were repeated in Vietnam decades later, then the Middle East.

  2. Twain earlier had endorsed American jingoism based partly upon his personal feelings for people such as Teddy Roosevelt and similar. He was a product of his time and had regarded many non whites as "savages" and the like. Of course he wasn't too keen on Europeans and white Americans either.
    His endless world girdling lecture trips, taking him to Africa and Asia, educated him to the injustices of colonialism and "American exceptionalism." In his latter years he became a voice in the wilderness for sanity. Hence we enjoy his political commentary today of those times.

  3. A minor incident in a process of not too selective extermination, as America civilized thePhillipines with the Krag-Jorgensen rifle. It was there the Marines started earning the soubriquet about best friends and worst enemies – but their proclivities had more to do with whether they were on, or off duty.

    The whole Philippine insurrection reads like a series of 'commanders' using methods developed by the British to pacify the Irish. That it weas effective is attested by the large number of Philippinos who to-day think that America's time, was their best time, ever.

  4. Hey, let's not forget all those grand episodes of American gunboat diplomacy throughout Central and South America.

    It's been the same throughout human history. Politicians will use any perceived advantage to subjugate others. War is part of human DNA.

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