White man's burden '99

Charles Brown CharlesB at SPAMCNCL.ci.detroit.mi.us
Wed Aug 11 14:43:02 MDT 1999

Imperialism's racist 'burden' is to be world enforcer

By Arthur Perlo

One hundred years ago, the famous English author Rudyard Kipling wrote his poem,
"White Man's Burden." The British empire spanned the globe, and the United States had
just joined the ranks of global imperialist powers with its conquest of the

Today, the U.S. is the world's dominant power. New York Times writer Thomas L.
Friedman celebrates that power in an article in the March 28 New York Times Magazine.
Published exactly 100 years after Kipling's poem, the headline reads, "... the
emerging global order demands an enforcer. That's America's burden."

What was Kipling's burden, and what is Friedman's?

Kipling wrote, "Take up the White Man's burden ... To serve your captive's need ... To
veil the threat of terror ... to seek another's profit."

In other words, imperialism would selflessly bring peace and civilization to the
ungrateful non-white peoples of the world, who Kipling called the "new-caught sullen
peoples, half devil and half child."

There was an immediate worldwide response against Kipling's racism. In an eloquent
essay, Sixta Lopez, a leader of the Philippine independence movement that was being
brutally suppressed by U.S. troops, wrote, "... the 'white man's burden' consists in
making colossal fortunes out of the inadequately paid labor of the brown man. But ...
the Filipino will not slave for the benefit of foreigners any more than will the
American or the Englishman or Mr. Kipling."

Today, America's new burden, as described by Friedman, sounds suspiciously like
Kipling's "white man's burden." His essay is an appeal to the U.S. people, and
especially the decision-makers who read the Times, to undertake the "burden" of ruling
the world.

"As the country that benefits most from global economic integration, we have the
responsibility of making sure that this new system is sustainable ... Sustaining
globalization is our overeaching national responsibility."

Kipling complains of the burden of the world's ingratitude for the gifts of British

Take up the White Man's burden,

And reap his old reward

The blame of those ye better

The hate of those ye guard.

Friedman also complains that, from Tehran to Paris, from Indonesia to Russia, the U.S.
is called the "capital of global arrogance," and that "resentment of America is on the
rise globally." But that's the price "we" pay for global leadership.

Friedman is slightly more honest than Kipling, because he admits that the U.S. (or at
least the U.S. multinational corporations) benefit from this New World Order.

But he's just as proud of the role of global enforcer: "The hidden hand of the market
will never work with out a hidden fist McDonald's cannot flourish without McDonnell
Douglas ... the hidden fist that keeps the world safe for Silicon Valley's
technologies is called the United States [armed forces]."

We have just seen this in the catastrophe visited by that fist on the "sullen peoples"
of Yugoslavia.

There is much that is hateful in Friedman's article. It deserves a flood of answers,
comparable to those that responded to Kipling. One of those century-old answers speaks
to us today on a vital question what does the imperial burden mean to the ordinary
working people of the dominating power (Great Britain then, the U.S. today)?

"The Poor Man's Burden" was written by Howard S. Taylor in 1899.

Pile up the poor man's burden,

Accept Great Britain's plan.

She does all things for commerce

Scarce anything for man.

Far off among the pagans

She seeks an open door

While Pity cries in London

"God help the British poor!"

It could have been written today about the United States, with Friedman's "free trade
and competition" the modern form of Britain's "open door." Taylor continues that poor
men's sons will die in far-off places for others' gain; that glory will ride, "as
ever, upon the toiler's back."

At the end of the last century, British working class youth joined the army to escape
their grinding poverty. Included were Irish youth, whose parents were held in poverty
by the same British army.

They served throughout the world, keeping the yoke of British colonialism fastened on
people in Africa, Asia and the Middle East. Some of them died there. Others returned
home to the mines and factories of Britain, only to find that the same imperial
interests they served overseas were now their oppressors in the class struggle at

At the same time, young American boys from farm and town were serving in the
Philippines under General Leonard Wood. The general got his early training
exterminating the Native American Indians.

In the Philippines, he directed a brutal war against an entire people to crush their
movement for independence. A decade later, this hero was Army Chief of Staff when
federal troops were used on behalf of the Rockefeller-owned coal companies against the
striking coal miners of Colorado.

Friedman tries to instill pride in us, the U.S. working class, because our country is
number one, because we can beat up anyone on the world's block and because "our" way
is the only way.

We should reject his arguments because his arrogance, tinged with racism, places the
majority of the world's people at the service of a few giant U.S. corporations.

We should reject him because we will pay with our taxes and sometimes our lives for
the "burden" of being the multinational corporations' world enforcer.

Most important, we should reject him because these same multinational corporations,
strong and fat with the spoils of world domination, will use their strength to cut our
wages, close our factories, destroy our education, health care and social security,
and smash our unions.

To get their way in Yugoslavia, they bombed it to rubble. They will not hesitate to
turn the lives of U.S. workers to rubble, unless we are strong enough to stop them. We
can start by protesting and organizing against the New World Order and all its
manifestations starting with the sanctions against Iraq and Yugoslavia.

Art Perlo is chair of the Communist Party Economics Commission

More information about the Marxism mailing list