Summary: Most of America’s wars have been counterinsurgencies, fought before Mao brought 4GW to maturity after WW2. As we start a new war, let’s take advice from wise men of our past about such conflicts. Such as Mark Twain (1835-1910), who lived during America’s golden age of counterinsurgency. Today we have two of his articles. One gives advice. The other is something to shock us into sense.
- Mark Twain’s advice about Counterinsurgency
- The War Prayer
- Other notes from the past
by Mike Few at the Small Wars Journal
16 November 2010
Reposted with his generous permission
In a month when we’re asking the experts hard questions on the need to reform FM 3-24 Counterinsurgency and rethinking the colonial methods, Mark Twain, the quintessential American writer, decided to chime in. Nearly 100 years after his death, Mark Twain is finally publishing his autobiography. In his political views, Twain was decidedly anti-imperialist. Twain wrote in “Returning Home” (interview in the New York World, 4 October 1900):
You ask me about what is called imperialism. Well, I have formed views about that question. I am at the disadvantage of not knowing whether our people are for or against spreading themselves over the face of the globe. I should be sorry if they are, for I don’t think that it is wise or a necessary development.
As to China, I quite approve of our Government’s action in getting free of that complication. They are withdrawing, I understand, having done what they wanted. That is quite right. We have no more business in China than in any other country that is not ours.
There is the case of the Philippines. I have tried hard, and yet I cannot for the life of me comprehend how we got into that mess. Perhaps we could not have avoided it — perhaps it was inevitable that we should come to be fighting the natives of those islands — but I cannot understand it, and have never been able to get at the bottom of the origin of our antagonism to the natives. I thought we should act as their protector — not try to get them under our heel.
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.
More of Twain’s biography and his thoughts on counterinsurgency at NPR.
(2) An attempt to shock us into sense
“The War Prayer” by Mark Twain One of his most powerful works. Unpublished at his death in 1910 (as sacrilegious), it was published in 1923. Opening:
It was a time of great and exalting excitement.
The country was up in arms, the war was on, in every breast burned the holy fire of patriotism; the drums were beating, the bands playing, the toy pistols popping, the bunched firecrackers hissing and spluttering; on every hand and far down the receding and fading spread of roofs and balconies a fluttering wilderness of flags flashed in the sun; daily the young volunteers marched down the wide avenue gay and fine in their new uniforms, the proud fathers and mothers and sisters and sweethearts cheering them with voices choked with happy emotion as they swung by; nightly the packed mass meetings listened, panting, to patriot oratory with stirred the deepest deeps of their hearts, and which they interrupted at briefest intervals with cyclones of applause, the tears running down their cheeks the while; in the churches the pastors preached devotion to flag and country, and invoked the God of Battles beseeching His aid in our good cause in outpourings of fervid eloquence which moved every listener.
It was indeed a glad and gracious time, and the half dozen rash spirits that ventured to disapprove of the war and cast a doubt upon its righteousness straightway got such a stern and angry warning that for their personal safety’s sake they quickly shrank out of sight and offended no more in that way.
It should be required reading for all citizens in every nation before it goes to war.
Other notes from the past
- From the 3rd century BC, Polybius warns us about demographic collapse, 11 June 2008
- President Grant warns us about the dangers of national hubris, 1 July 2008
- A warning from Alexis De Tocqueville about our military, 7 August 2009
- Another note from our past, helping us see our future, 16 September 2009 — by Daniel Ellsberg
- France gives us tips for the Afghanistan War, from their successful role in the American Revolution, 11 March 2010
- Advice from one of the British Empire’s greatest Foreign Ministers, 18 November 2011 — by Lord Palmerston
- George Orwell sends us a note, giving some perspective on our situation, 22 January 2012
- Thomas Jefferson saw our present peril. We should heed his warning., 21 April 2012
- Voices from the past describe the coming New America, 1 February 2013
- Martin Luther King Jr’s advice to us about using violence to reform America, 20 January 2014