The beloved American poet Robert Frost once said “Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.” While our minds generally think of beautiful emotions expressed in verse, sometimes poetry can express the most vulgar and disgusting sentiments found within the human psyche. Each time I see the infamous “Aleppo Boy” photo, and listen to the distorted media commentaries that accompany it, I am forced to think of a particularly abhorrent poem, “The White Man’s Burden” by Rudyard Kipling.
Kipling wrote his infamous work in 1899. Though Kipling was English, and the poem described sentiments widely held within the British homeland, his poem was directed at an American audience. As Kipling wrote the piece, the United States had already seized the Philippine archipelago from Spain. US troops were battling against the indigenous population that wanted real independence.
“A Gangster for Capitalism”
Marines poured into the Philippines singing racist songs: “Damn! Damn! Damn the Fillipinos!… Maybe we can kill a few, civilize them while we do!” Hundreds of thousands of civilians died in the prolonged conflict, with the US armed forces brutally putting down the domestic uprising and securing the islands as US territory. Within the United States, many people opposed the war. The Anti-Imperialist League rallied millions of Americans who opposed the presence of the US armed forces in the Philippines.
Kipling’s poem, written in England, was meant to explain to the reluctant US public that intervention in the Philippines was the right thing. According to Kipling, the British and Americans had a moral duty to conduct military interventions in foreign lands. According to Kipling, and yellow journalists like William Randolph Hearst, the United States was in the Philippines for purely humanitarian, selfless reasons. The war was being waged to rescue the poor innocent Filipinos and bring them “civilization.” It was this duty to conquer, what is now described as “responsibility to protect” by the United Nations, that Kipling called “The White Man’s Burden.”
In Kipling’s warped version of reality, it was unfortunate that whites must “seek another’s profit, and work another’s gain” in “savage wars of peace.” Kipling bemoaned that the peoples being colonized often did not appreciate the kindness of the imperialists, forcing the westerners to endure “The blame of those ye better, The hate of those ye guard.”
US Marine Corps General Smedley Butler, who was sent to the Philippines to fight against the indigenous population that wanted independence in 1905, later described this and his many other military exploits saying: “War is just a racket. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of people. Only a small inside group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few at the expense of the masses…. The flag follows the dollar and the soldiers follow the flag. I wouldn’t go to war again as I have done to protect some lousy investment of the bankers… I spent thirty- three years and four months in active military service as a member of this country’s most agile military force, the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major-General. And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high class muscle- man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for the Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.”
The reality was that the United States was colonizing the Philippines, not out of a humanitarian sense of responsibility, but for profits of Wall Street. US bankers and corporations secured control of their position in the global economy, against competitors. The domestic economy of the Philippines was crushed.
Over a century later, the United States and China now contend over the very same strategic waters of the South China Sea. The positioning of US military forces in the Philippines is key in the Pentagon’s strategy for an “Asian Pivot” to surround China. Meanwhile, Filipinos work in call centers and sweatshops owned by western corporations, receiving poverty wages. Rodrigo Duterte has taken office in a wave of populism that includes deep resentment against the United States.
The Nariyah Testimony & Other Classics
At the time, US media portrayed Philippine-American War that killed hundreds of thousands, as a selfless act of kindness, done to help the impoverished Filipino people. These lies presenting conquest as an act of charity or kindness are a common theme in US history.
Students of American history will recall that similar claims were made by slaveholders. When packing Africans onto slave-ships and transporting them to the USA to be worked to death on plantations, the slave-traders always insisted they were doing the African peoples a favor. They were “bringing them Christianity” or “civilizing them.” They were “teaching them a better way of life.” They were “giving them new opportunity” in a “new land.”
The slave-traders, the East India Company, the New York Stock Exchange, and the Pentagon have never said “We plan to kill and conquer innocent people so we can make money and secure our control over global markets.” Such a claim would be rather bad for public relations. No, the imperialists and colonizers always claim they are “taking up the white man’s burden” and helping some people they sometimes openly and sometimes more subtly consider to be inferior. The sentiments found in Kipling’s racist rant are very well alive.
Before the Gulf War between the United States and Iraq, US media played up allegations that Saddam Hussein’s troops in Kuwait where pulling babies from incubators. In testimony that was repeated on CNN over and over again, an unidentified 15 year old girl gave teary statements urging the US public to intervene and “rescue” the poor innocent children. The US public was roused into a fit of patriotism, thinking that it was time to “take up the white man’s burden” and rescue the Kuwaiti people from Saddam Hussein.
It was later discovered that in all likelihood, the infamous “Nayirah testimony” was completely false. Congress had even arranged for her not to give it under oath, so she could never be prosecuted for lying. Amnesty International, which originally had confirmed the reports, issued a lengthy retraction. Later, Human Rights Watch later retracted the story as well. Witnesses from the hospital were discovered, who confirmed not a single baby had ever been taken from an incubator.
But at the time, US media echoed an endless chorus about “responsibility to protect.” US leaders compared Saddam Hussein to Hitler, and insinuated that US military action in the gulf was the equivalent of preventing another holocaust. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis were killed by US bombing, and the ghost of Rudyard Kipling smiled.
In 2004, after George W. Bush’s claims about “weapons of mass destruction” were disproven, Bush announced that the real reason that it was necessary to invade Iraq was to provide the poor, oppressed Iraqis with “freedom.”
Prior to the NATO bombing of Libya, which toppled Moamar Gaddafi and put the most prosperous African country into ruin, US media was bursting with allegations of atrocities. Hillary Clinton and US media claimed that Moammar Gaddafi was providing his supporters with Viagra in order to conduct mass rapes of dissidents. Amnesty International later confirmed that there was no evidence of this claim, which was blasted across the United States.
Will We Get Fooled Again?
In Iraq and Libya, the people are far worse off than prior to US intervention. The “innocent victims” the US media championed, and said needed to be rescued are worse off than before. The situation in Iraq and Libya has become so bad that millions have become refugees. Terrorist groups like ISIL and Al-Qaeda, which had minimal presence in these countries, have gotten stronger than ever.
In Syria, the United States and its allies have been in all out drive to topple the legitimate, internationally recognized government. Since 2011, US forces have been training “rebels”, supplying them with weapons, and doing everything possible to overthrow the Ba’ath Arab Socialist Party. Foreign fighters have poured into Syria from its Turkish and Jordanian borders.
Millions of Syrians have become refugees. Over 500,000 are dead. But the United States continues to keep this war going, funding “moderate rebels” in the hopes of smashing the Syrian government. The Syrian government remains the only thing protecting the country’s Alawi and Christian minorities, who would face mass slaughter and forced deportation under the rule of the “opposition,” dominated by Wahhabi fanatics.
The reason that millions of Syrian children have become refugees, and millions more have been killed, is not because “Bashar al-Assad is a dictator.” Syria was a peaceful country prior to 2011. The reason that millions of children, including the infamous “Aleppo Boy” have had their lives destroyed, is because the United States, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Britain, and France refuse to give up their campaign to topple the Syrian government. Even as the menage of ISIS has set up shop terrorizing the world, they still refuse to stop destabilizing the country. As Russia came to the aid of the government, hoping to stop the wave of fanatical Wahhabi terrorism coming from a destabilized, chaotic Syria, the United States did not welcome, but has condemned the intervention. As people continue to die, the mantra of western leaders is “Assad Must Go.” With their fanatical drive to topple the Syrian government, they are creating millions of young boys like the one in the widely circulated photograph.
However, these facts are absent from US media’s narrative. A photograph of an innocent Syrian child, one of millions whose lives have been destroyed by US destabilization of the country, is somehow made into the case for further intervention.
US media conjures up Kipling’s old racist mantra, saying “look at this poor child, we must intervene to rescue him!” An internal petition at the US State Department was leaked showing that many diplomats want the US to directly invade Syria and topple the government.
The old American idiom says: “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.”
The same racist “interventionism” narrative is being told again. Media is plucking our heartstrings, telling us its time for the Pentagon to go rescue someone. Will we fall for it this time?
Caleb Maupin is a political analyst and activist based in New York. He studied political science at Baldwin-Wallace College and was inspired and involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.