The Idea of Imperialism

argue in support. In response to Kipling’s poem, each of you should post a statement in support, or in opposition to the idea of Imperialism. You do not need to restrict yourself to the moral justification. The arguments for, and against, expansion took many avenues.  Try not to make assumptions. Instead, assume the historical role of someone who lived in the United States near the turn of the century. You could be a manufacturer, a pastor, or a politician. Conversely, you can be a laborer, a pacifist, or a housewife. Be creative. When we examine the past, we must place ourselves in the right frame of mind. It is impossible to adequately understand an historical event using a 21st century mind-set. As an example, when the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth, they discovered a vacated village. The land “hath been planted with corn three or four years ago, and there is a very sweet brook runs under the hillside.”[1]Bolstered by their religious conviction, these early settlers firmly believed that God had set them here, and cleared the land for their taking. We know today, that Native-Americans did not have the necessary immunities to fight-off European diseases, and died in great numbers. In Europe, these same diseases had existed for centuries, and had become endemic. Fishermen, and traders, had long plied the waters of the New England coast, and passed these diseases to the local inhabitants. Now take a moment, and place yourself in the mind of the local people. If you were a Native-American, you saw your people dying in great numbers, yet Europeans remained healthy. There are a number of scenarios that could have developed here, but in most cases, what do you think Native-Americans must have thought of this situation? If you placed yourself in their situation, does it not stand to reason that you would begin to think that your “spirits” had failed you, and perhaps the God of the settlers protected them? Based on our assumptions, we would think that as a result, Native-Americans, then, converted in large numbers. What is necessary is a clear understanding of early-contact Native-American culture. For indigenous Americans, it centered on spiritual power. Power could be increased through addition, not subtraction. Instead of giving-up their ancient spiritual practices, they instead, simply added the Christian God. What we gain, by examining the past through a lens focused on that point in history, is a deeper understanding of the dynamics at play, and empathy for all participants. Today, some things are just unacceptable. We cringe at the thought of slavery, child labor, no rights for women, and segregation, to name a few, but they all existed at one point in time. More remarkably, a strong justification existed for each of these that prevailed to the point where they proved to be generally accepted.  In 1898, the United States went to war with Spain.  Generally speaking, Americans cringed at the thought of Imperialism because of their earlier relationship with Britain that resulted in the American Revolution. By the end of the 19th century, industrial overproduction increasingly required new sources of raw materials, and more importantly, external markets to sell American goods.  While this need softened America’s disdain for Imperialism, the nation still sought the moral high-ground by passing the Teller Amendment that restricted the US from annexing Cuba.  Following the Spanish-American War, the Treaty of Paris granted Cuban independence, but ceded Puerto Rico and Guam, and sold the Philippines to the US for $20 million.  Congress also annexed Hawaii. Numerous reasons for Imperialism soon surfaced, but none validated the subjugation of foreign peoples more than the moral justification as expressed in Rudyard Kipling’s “A White Man’s Burden.” Take up the White Man’s burden– Send forth the best ye breed– Go bind your sons to exile To serve your captives’ need; To wait in heavy harness, On fluttered folk and wild– Your new-caught, sullen peoples, Half-devil and half-child. Take up the White Man’s burden– In patience to abide, To veil the threat of terror And check the show of pride; By open speech and simple, An hundred times made plain To seek another’s profit, And work another’s gain. Take up the White Man’s burden– The savage wars of peace– Fill full the mouth of Famine And bid the sickness cease; And when your goal is nearest The end for others sought, Watch sloth and heathen Folly Bring all your hopes to nought. Take up the White Man’s burden– No tawdry rule of kings, But toil of serf and sweeper– The tale of common things. The ports ye shall not enter, The roads ye shall not tread, Go mark them with your living, And mark them with your dead. Take up the White Man’s burden– And reap his old reward: The blame of those ye better, The hate of those ye guard– The cry of hosts ye humour (Ah, slowly!) toward the light:–” Take up the White Man’s burden– Ye dare not stoop to less– Nor call too loud on Freedom To cloak your weariness; By all ye cry or whisper, By all ye leave or do, The silent, sullen peoples Shall weigh your gods and you. Take up the White Man’s burden– Have done with childish days– The lightly proffered laurel, The easy, ungrudged praise. Comes now, to search your manhood Through all the thankless years Cold, edged with dear-bought wisdom, The judgment of your peers![2] [1] William Bradford in Mourt’s Relation: A journal of the Pilgrims at Plymouth, London, 1622. [2] http://www.kiplingsociety.co.uk/poems_burden.htm

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