Liz (_eliza_b) wrote in shawneen,

19th century Imperialism vs. America's role in the world

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:--
"Why brought he us from bondage,
Our loved Egyptian night?"

Take up the White Man's burden--
Ye dare not stoop to less--
Nor call too loud on Freedom
To cloke 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 proferred 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!

Having had this poem included in the World History exam, I happened to be thinking of it and mentioned it to my dad. He brought up an interesting point and I'm not sure what to make of it. He suggested that the attitudes reflected in "White Man's Burden" and imperialism are the same Americans are using now in Iraq and the rest of the world. Of course, one would like to say that there are major differences and that we've come farther than that, but I don't know. Perhaps America isn't going around intentionally destroying cultures for the sake of substituting our own, "superior" one, but we do act like we know what's best for everyone else, regardless of how they feel. Also, the line about "Bring[ing] all your hopes to nought" is reminiscent of Vietnam and currently Iraq. The leaders of this country seem to feel that we have a moral obligation to go around policing and safeguarding people, and indeed, as the wealthiest country I suppose we do have responsibilities. But is this any different from believing in an obligation to convert and control the "half-devil and half-child" natives of the poem? I wonder if, in the end, America would be willing to cede power to the people of Iraq, or anywhere else, if a democracy is ever set up.
In all fairness, we are not trying to takeover the world solely for economic profit or to establish colonies, I believe, like the Imperialist powers were a century ago. There is a genuine will to improve the lives of the peoples of other nations, and to protect them from cruel regimes, human rights violations, and so on. Nevertheless, the undercurrents of superiority and condescension sound somewhat like American leaders today, and the quiet resentment and hatred of the foreign peoples is also strangely familiar.
Apparently this poem was written in response to the American takeover of the Philippines after the Spanish-American War.
(Um...Paula, if you read this, remember that my dad is a Republican, so don't start going on about a crazy liberal bias and stuff. Also, I tried to be objective in this. The end.)
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