Mark Twain Learned His Anti-Imperialist Lesson the Hard Way (wasRe: Memory and History: Power and Identity)

Yoshie Furuhashi furuhashi.1 at
Thu Oct 12 13:34:27 MDT 2000

Leo Casey wrote:
>In fact, of course, there has always been an anti-imperialist strain in
>American politics, and not just among African-Americans (remember Mark Twain
>and William Jennings Bryan?).

Sure, I myself have written about Mark Twain on this list some time
ago.  Twain learned his anti-imperialist lesson the hard way:

*****     Mark Twain on Cuba's Anti-Imperialist Square

By Jim Zwick


On April 3, the José Martí Open Anti-Imperialist Square was
inaugurated in Havana, Cuba. Built during the crisis in diplomatic
relations between the United States and Cuba over the fate of the
young shipwreck survivor, Elian Gonzalez, the square is named for a
Cuban nationalist leader and will eventually include monuments to a
number of other national and socialist heroes from around the world,
including Abraham Lincoln and Mark Twain. The immediate circumstances
of the creation of the Square, and the presence of Elian Gonzalez's
father at its inauguration, might lead some to believe that the plan
to include a monument to Mark Twain is pure propaganda. But, like the
proposal made in the Philippines two years ago for a statue of Mark
Twain to honor his support for the Philippine Revolution, this
gesture has its roots in Mark Twain's anti-imperialist writings.

José Martí lived in New York after being exiled by Spanish
authorities in Cuba in 1879. His writings inspired the Cuban
revolution from Spain that began in 1895 and he was killed by the
Spanish after he returned to Cuba that year. Three years later, the
United States intervened in that revolution with "Cuba Libre!" one of
its most potent slogans. Observing the Spanish-American War from
Europe, Mark Twain wrote,

"I have never enjoyed a war -- even in written history -- as I am
enjoying this one. For this is the worthiest one that was ever
fought, so far as my knowledge goes. It is a worthy thing to fight
for one's freedom; it is another sight finer to fight for another
man's. And I think this is the first time it has been done."

The outcome of that war was a bitter disappointment, though. After
reading the Treaty of Paris that concluded the war, Twain realized
that the United States had no intention of freeing Puerto Rico, Guam
or the Philippines. On his return to the United States in October of
1900, he declared himself an anti-imperialist in dockside interviews
and soon became a vice president of the Anti-Imperialist League of
New York. He remained an officer of either that branch or the
national Anti-Imperialist League until his death in 1910.

The U.S. colonization of the Philippines became the primary focus of
Mark Twain's anti-imperialist writings in the early 1900s but he also
paid close attention to what was happening in Cuba. Although the
Spanish-American War was ostensibly fought to "free Cuba," some in
the U.S. Congress thought that the island should be annexed by the
United States along with the other former Spanish colonies. In
February 1901, Senator Orville Platt of Connecticut introduced a
compromise measure that would give Cuba nominal independence but
forbid it from forming international alliances and reserved for the
United States the right to intervene militarily at times of political
instability or whenever Cuba could not pay its international debts.
The Platt Amendment became law in the United States and its inclusion
in the Cuban Constitution was made a requirement of the country's
independence. It defined U.S.-Cuban relations for the next three
decades and set the stage for the next Cuban revolution that would
bring Fidel Castro to power.

Mark Twain was an early critic of the Platt Amendment. In "The
Stupendous Procession," a piece he was writing in February of 1901,
the month the amendment was introduced, he described the U.S.
Congress as ready to chain Cuba in a new set of leg-irons and
hand-cuffs. In "As Regards Patriotism," written in 1902, he used the
promise to free Cuba as an example of what "training" in the
country's old democratic principles had accomplished, and contrasted
it with the results of a "short training" under the new imperial
conditions: "Training made us nobly anxious to free Cuba; training
made us give her a noble promise [of independence]; training has
enabled us to take it back."

In its report of the inauguration of the Anti-Imperialist Square in
Havana, the Reuters news service quoted Cuban youth leader Otto
Rivera's explanation of the planned inclusion of monuments to Abraham
Lincoln and Mark Twain: "Our war is against the empire which enslaves
and oppresses, not against the American people who build and love."

Instead of dismissing this gesture as propaganda, the American people
would do well by reading what Mark Twain had to say about the
severely limited independence granted to Cuba in 1902. "The empire"
is not a fiction invented by creative Cuban speech writers, but
something Mark Twain condemned as it was being established at the end
of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century. The
creation of the José Martí Open Anti-Imperialist Square in Havana is
a reminder that the present conflict grew from those roots, and that
even during the worst of times Cubans and Americans can agree upon
Mark Twain.

Jim Zwick  *****


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