Mark Twain

Mark Twain returned to the U. S. on October 15, 1900, after nine years away. The nation had just recently escalated its military involvement in the Philippines, and a prolonged debate over motives and battlefield behavior was underway. As one of the most outspoken members of the Anti-Imperialist League, formed in 1898, Twain had his statement on the Philippine situation ready for the newspapermen assembled dockside for his arrival:

I have tried hard, and yet I cannot for the life of me comprehend how we got into that mess…. We were to relieve them from Spanish tyranny to enable them to set up a government of their own, and we were to stand by and see that it got a fair trial. It was not to be a government according to our ideas, but a government that represented the feeling of the majority of the Filipinos, a government according to Filipino ideas. That would have been a worthy mission for the United States. But now — why, we have got into a mess, a quagmire from which each fresh step renders the difficulty of extrication immensely greater. I’m sure I wish I could see what we were getting out of it, and all it means to us as a nation.

Julia Ward Howe died on this day in 1910. In 1901, Twain turned her most famous poetry to his political advantage, expressing his view on America’s involvement in the Spanish and Philippine wars in “Battle Hymn of the Republic, Updated”:

Mine eyes have seen the orgy of the launching of the Sword;
He is searching out the hoardings where the stranger’s wealth is stored;
He hath loosed his fateful lightnings, and with woe and death has scored;
His lust is marching on….

William Vaughan Moody died on the same day as Julia Ward Howe. Moody is now regarded as a minor American poet and playwright, but before his early death (age forty-one, from cancer) he was regarded as a rising star, his “Ode in a Time of Hesitation” especially famous. Printed in the May, 1900 issue of the Atlantic, the poem asks if the Philippine War reflected high principles or imperialist swagger, especially in light of the prolonged guerilla fighting, the concentration camps, and the reports of atrocities. Moody’s answer is a fervent say-it-ain’t-so:

Lies! lies! It cannot be! The wars we wage
Are noble, and our battles still are won
By justice for us, ere we lift the gage.
We have not sold our loftiest heritage.
The proud republic hath not stooped to cheat
And scramble in the market-place of war;
Her forehead weareth yet its solemn star….