In lieu of a 'real' post today (rather busy, sorry!), I thought I'd offer up a short essay I came across by the remarkable Mark Twain. (And yes, copyright has expired - for more texts like this, visit Project Gutenberg).
A Word Of Encouragement For Our Blushing Exiles...Well, what do you think of our country now? And what do you think of the figure she is cutting before the eyes of the world? For one, I am ashamed. [Extract from a long and heated letter from a Voluntary Exile, Member of the American Colony, Paris.]And so you are ashamed. I am trying to think out what it can have been that has produced this large attitude of mind and this fine flow of sarcasm. Apparently you are ashamed to look Europe in the face; ashamed of the American name; temporarily ashamed of your nationality. By the light of remarks made to me by an American here in Vienna, I judge that you are ashamed because:
1. We are meddling where we have no business and no right; meddling with the private family matters of a sister nation; intruding upon her sacred right to do as she pleases with her own, unquestioned by anybody.
2. We are doing this under a sham humanitarian pretext.
3. Doing it in order to filch Cuba, the formal and distinct disclaimer in the ultimatum being very, very thin humbug, and easily detectable by you and virtuous Europe.
4. And finally you are ashamed of all this because it is new, and base, and brutal, and dishonest; and because Europe, having had no previous experience of such things, is horrified by it and can never respect us nor associate with us any more.
Brutal, base, dishonest? We? Land Thieves? Shedders of innocent blood? We? Traitors to our official word? We? Are we going to lose Europe's respect because of this new and dreadful conduct? Russia's, for instance? Is she lying stretched out on her back in Manchuria, with her head among her Siberian prisons and her feet in Port Arthur, trying to read over the fairy tales she told Lord Salisbury, and not able to do it for crying because we are maneuvering to treacherously smouch Cuba from feeble Spain, and because we are ungently shedding innocent Spanish blood?
Is it France's respect that we are going to lose? Is our unchivalric conduct troubling a nation which exists to-day because a brave young girl saved it when its poltroons had lost it - a nation which deserted her as one man when her day of peril came? Is our treacherous assault upon a weak people distressing a nation which contributed Bartholomew's Day to human history? Is our ruthless spirit offending the sensibilities of the nation which gave us the Reign of Terror to read about? Is our unmanly intrusion into the private affairs of a sister nation shocking the feelings of the people who sent Maximilian to Mexico? Are our shabby and pusillanimous ways outraging the fastidious people who have sent an innocent man (Dreyfus) to a living hell, taken to their embraces the slimy guilty one, and submitted to indignities Emile Zola - the manliest man in France?
Is it Spain's respect that we are going to lose? Is she sitting sadly conning her great history and contrasting it with our meddling, cruel, perfidious one - our shameful history of foreign robberies, humanitarian shams, and annihilations of weak and unoffending nations? Is she remembering with pride how she sent Columbus home in chains; how she sent half of the harmless West Indians into slavery and the rest to the grave, leaving not one alive; how she robbed and slaughtered the Inca's gentle race, then beguiled the Inca into her power with fair promises and burned him at the stake; how she drenched the New World in blood, and earned and got the name of The Nation With The Bloody Footprint; how she drove all the Jews out of Spain in a day, allowing them to sell their property, but forbidding them to carry any money out of the country; how she roasted heretics by the thousands and thousands in her public squares, generation after generation, her kings and her priests looking on as at a holiday show; how her Holy Inquisition imported hell into the earth; how she was the first to institute it and the last to give it up - and then only under compulsion; how, with a spirit unmodified by time, she still tortures her prisoners to-day; how, with her ancient passion for pain and blood unchanged, she still crowds the arena with ladies and gentlemen and priests to see with delight a bull harried and persecuted and a gored horse dragging his entrails on the ground; and how, with this incredible character surviving all attempts to civilize it, her Duke of Alva rises again in the person of General Weyler - to-day the most idolized personage in Spain - and we see a hundred thousand women and children shut up in pens and pitilessly starved to death?
Are we indeed going to lose Spain's respect? Is there no way to avoid this calamity - or this compliment? Are we going to lose her respect because we have made a promise in our ultimatum which she thinks we shall break? And meantime is she trying to recall some promise of her own which she has kept?
Is the Professional Official Fibber of Europe really troubled with our morals? Dear Parisian friend, are you taking seriously the daily remark of the newspaper and the orater about "this noble nation with an illustrious history"? That is mere kindness, mere charity for a people in temporary hard luck. The newspaper and the orator do not mean it. They wink when they say it.
And so you are ashamed. Do not be ashamed; there is no occasion for it.
[Written in 1898, first published in 1923 - Ed.]
As Mark Twain notes, being ashamed of America depends on being in the presence of someone who could make America shameful by comparison to their virtue. And, fortunately for us, there is no country or collection of countries that is superior, or even the equal, of America in any significant way.This letter is not a Twain rant about American moral superiority - after all, he changed his mind over the Spanish-American war after it was all over - it is a note to a fellow American reminding him (and us) that there is no cause to be ashamed before Europe. They are just as dirty as we are, and just as human. It is for this reason that Twain can write "Do not be ashamed; there is no occasion for it." Not because the Americans are God's gift to morality - for we are certainly not - but because we are no worse than any other being on this planet. Should we be ashamed before God? Certainly, as should the whole of the world. Should we be ashamed before our European opponents? Certainly not. This is Twain's point, and even when he later changes his mind, the validity of this point is not undermined.
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