Small Wars Journal

Mark Twain on Counterinsurgency

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 decidely anti-imperialist. In previous writings, Twain wrote,

"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."

Much more of Twain's biography and his thoughts on counterinsurgency at NPR.

Comments

Backwards Observer

Fri, 11/19/2010 - 5:23am

Sic transit gloria mundi...

<em><blockquote>The commanding general considers that no greater disgrace could befall the army, and through it our whole people, than the perpetration of the barbarous outrages upon the unarmed, and defenceless [sic] and the wanton destruction of private property that have marked the course of the enemy in our own country.

Such proceedings not only degrade the perpetrators and all connected with them, but are subversive of the discipline and efficiency of the army, and destructive of the ends of our present movement.

It must be remembered that we make war only upon armed men, and that we cannot take vengeance for the wrongs our people have suffered without lowering ourselves in the eyes of all whose abhorrence has been excited by the atrocities of our enemies, and offending against Him to whom vengeance belongeth, without whose favor and support our efforts must all prove in vain.</blockquote></em>

Robert E. Lee, General Orders, No.73 (excerpt)
Headquarters, Army of Northern Virginia
Chambersburg, Pennsylvania
June 27, 1863

http://www.sewanee.edu/faculty/Willis/Civil_War/documents/LeeGenOrders7…

Backwards Observer

Fri, 11/19/2010 - 4:37am

Plus ca change, part deux...

<em><blockquote>Finally, the Secretary had before him, when he wrote his letter, the orders of General Bell in Batangas and General Smith in Samar. After one-sixth of the people of Luzon had been killed or died in two years, after the horrors of Macabebe war, after the burning of towns, the torture of prisoners, the terrible slaughter which the evidence discloses, General Bell in Batangas and General Smith in Samar were evidently given what, in the language of the War Department, is called "a free hand."

---

Let us see now what General Smith's orders were.

The following was issued after Major Waller and others had been at work for some time, as General Smith took command October 10, and Major Waller's report of burning one hundred and sixty-five villages was dated November 23:

[Circular No. 6.]

Headquarters Sixth Separate Brigade,

Tacloban, Leyte, P.I, Dec. 24,1901.

To All Station Commanders:
...

Third:
...
Neutrality must not be tolerated on the part of any native. The time has now arrived when all natives in this brigade, who are not openly for us must be regarded as against us. In short, if not an active friend, he is an open enemy. </blockquote></em>

From "Secretary Root's Record: 'Marked Severities' in Philippine Warfare; The Orders of Bell and Smith."

http://www.humanitiesweb.org/human.php?s=s&p=l&a=c&ID=1125&o=

Backwards Observer

Fri, 11/19/2010 - 2:00am

Plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose...

<em>The charges of American atrocities grew in intensity in the States as we closed with the enemy half a world away. The mail we received was weeks old, but relatives and friends in the States were telling us what Bryan and his friends were saying about American atrocities and they hoped the tales weren't true. They weren't.</em>

Foulois pp.21-22

<em>Also striking a modern note, where reporters are either "embedded" or otherwise have their access to events restricted, the senior U.S. commanders tried hard to prevent news of atrocities and casualties from reaching the American public. The commanding American general, Ewell Otis, personally altered the dispatches sent out by journalists. His chief censor told the outraged reporters, "My instructions are to shut off everything that could hurt McKinley's administration," and when the reporters confronted Otis, "Otis did not deny suppressing the facts. He had to do it, he insisted, to shield the people from distortions and sensationalism." So what they had themselves witnessed, "such as American soldiers bayoneting wounded 'amigos' [Filipinos], the looting of homes and churches, and so on," was not to be reported.</em>

from "Violent Politics", by William R. Polk, pp.43-44

http://www.amazon.com/Violent-Politics-ebook/dp/B000SIV10M

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_R._Polk

Greyhawk (not verified)

Fri, 11/19/2010 - 12:26am

Correction to above - that's chapter three, not two.

Greyhawk (not verified)

Thu, 11/18/2010 - 4:52pm

Some might find chapter two ("The Philippine Insurrection") of Major General Benjamin Delahauf Foulois' memoirs worth a few minutes of their time. That full chapter can be read online <a href="http://books.google.com/books?id=bqOQrBir9swC&printsec=frontcover#v=one…;. Quick excerpt:
<blockquote>The guerrilla phase of the insurrection was tying down about 70,000 American troops by this time. In the States, the re-election of McKinley in 1900 caused a deeper look into the Philippine problem. The result was that a number of State Department and War Department experts arrived to study the people and figure out what it would take to make them stop fighting Americans and start on the road to self-government. It was our job to carry out the program dreamed up by these experts, which included the setting up of schools for the children wherever American troops could do so.

"Sergeant Foulois," my top kick announced one day with a big grin, "you are now a schoolteacher. Congratulations!"

I thought the sergeant had been in the Philippines too long. To tell Foulois that he was a schoolteacher was like telling one of our Army mules that he was a company commander.

"Sergeant," I told him, "the joke's on you. I never finished school. I couldn't teach anybody how to write his name."

The sergeant's grin was suddenly lost in the storm that crossed his features. "That's exactly what you are going to teach, Foulois. Your job will be to teach every kid in Naga to write his name, and start from there. You're stupid, but you're a genius compared to those kids who have never heard of a school. Get going!"

I went.</blockquote>The school episode is just a fraction of the whole. Foulois & Co spent more than their fair share of time in the islands, condensed to one chapter it's a quick and insightful read, very applicable to this discussion.

Ken White (not verified)

Tue, 11/16/2010 - 11:31pm

I agree with Mike, Publius and Mister Clemens. Though I believe the issue is not semantic nor is it "what is COIN..." It is that our arrogance and overreach compounded by willful ignorance of other nations and cultures allied with failure to adapt and some bureaucratic missteps has simply made us lose the bubble...

The COIN bit is much overplayed. We do not do it well and we need not, should not, entertain it. There are other and better ways. Publius is right, we <i>are</i> Imperialists. Reluctant to be sure but the world still seems to need us to do that (while not liking us because they do...) and we need to do it for now. We do <u>not</u> have to do it as stupidly as we seem determined, for some reason, to do...

Since the 1950s over several Administrations and Congresses led by both political parties we totally emasculated both our foreign intelligence and our foreign affairs agencies. That resulted in the Armed Forces and DoD by default picking up roles and missions they should not have and delving into things better left alone. We have done ourselves no favors.

Thus far, we have done little lasting damage but only because our opponents have been even more incompetent. We should not -- cannot -- rely on being so lucky in the future. The repair of the Department of State and the foreign intelligence services should take precedence over any defense rehashing...

With the possible exception of an urgently needed reset, reorientation and return to primary mission of Special Forces and simply better, more thorough training in the basics for the rest of the force...

Publius (not verified)

Tue, 11/16/2010 - 10:18pm

@Gulliver:

The only problem with your hairsplitting is that it's just that: hairsplitting. The reality is that our American version of COIN in Afghanistan--and in Iraq, for that matter--is nothing more than imperialism. Think not? Then find the friendly allied government that invited us into Afghanistan or Iraq. The governments in each of those nations are U.S. proxies. Our troops are not fighting for the people of those nations; they are fighting to prop up governments we established.

Face it. We're imperialists. And we were in the Philippines as well. Twain: "We have no more business in China than in any other country that is not ours....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."

Mark Twain could have and likely would have written those words today. This long-dead man understood the dangers of these foreign exercises. And I have to say that right along with Mr. Twain, I, too "wish I could see what we're getting out of it, and all it means to us as a nation."

Vietnam actually would meet the COIN test because we at least were invited in by a friendly allied government. Small comfort to those of us who participated in that particular adventure. The ultimate and only noble COIN enterprise in which U.S. forces have participated remains that small unpleasantness from 1861 to 1865 on our own turf. That was COIN worth doing. That was COIN that had to be done.

If we find it necessary to our national security to throw our weight around and otherwise act in an imperialistic fashion in these foreign lands, then we should be honest enough to say so. But this whole COIN business really just smacks of putting lipstick on the proverbial pig.

ADTS (not verified)

Tue, 11/16/2010 - 12:45pm

Mike and Gulliver:

"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"

First, a disclaimer and apology - I didn't listen to the NPR audio. I did, however, enjoy the reference to Family Guy in a recent post of yours (apologies - sincere ones - if that besmirches the solemnity of that post).

This raises a couple of points. First, it alludes to the difficulty of Phase IV. I haven't read Linn, so I don't what the state of planning was (or wasn't) for the Spanish-American War/Philippines, but Twain's quote suggests that Phase IV is *intrinsically* and perhaps *inevitably* difficult. This runs counter to the narrative that has been seen with regard to OIF, which is essentially, "We screwed up Phase IV planning" (e.g., Fallows, "Blind into;" Ferguson, "No End") with the implication that had planning been proper or properly implemented, Phase IV would have been easier and more successful (to say the least) than it was.

The second point is somewhat similar, and regards a government that is "Filipino" in nature, rather than "In Our Image." What if the preexisting Filipino nation (or colony, I suppose), or the nascent one emerging, was the *most* Filipino nation that could arise, rather than what Twain apparently had in mind? I use that qualifier *most* because there may be no ideal-type Filipino (or Iraqi, or...) nation that could have taken form. Would we have looked at the Marcos regime is something to strive for, or (for another example the Diem regime (Moyar's "Triumph" notwithstanding)? Nation-states are social constructs (Andersen, "Imagined"), for one thing. Contingency plays a role, too - what seems a good form of government at one point may be a bad form of government at another point in the not too-distant future or past. In sum, perhaps there is no ideal-type point toward which Phase IV ought to go - and I imagine not having a definite form of government in mind would probably make planning difficult.

ADTS

MikeF (not verified)

Tue, 11/16/2010 - 12:19pm

Gulliver,

Good points. The quotation that I chose shares his thoughts on imperialism, but he actually wrote extensively on the tactics used by the US Army during the occupation of the Phillipines. If you fast forward to time 4:30 of the NPR audio, he addresses the commander's use of kill or capture in the mission statement prior to the Moro massacre near the island of Jolo. Regardless, I found the NPR audio interesting.

Mike

Gulliver

Tue, 11/16/2010 - 11:42am

Mike -- Interesting to see these comments, but I think it would be more appropriate and accurate to title this entry "Mark Twain on American imperialism." Over- and mis-use of the term "counterinsurgency" by applying it to some particularly expansive foreign and security policy vision makes it more difficult to discuss COIN for what it <em>actually is</em>: one type of operational approach, a set of tools that can be usefully applied to security challenges in a specific set of circumstances.

To say that this constitutes Mark Twain's thoughts on COIN -- surely a matter to which he gave not one second of thought -- is no more accurate than to say that Washington's warning against entangling alliances represents his thoughts about attrition warfare.

Jett (not verified)

Mon, 12/27/2010 - 1:29pm

I am always bemused by those, like Clemens, who so well observe and appreciate the freedom, justice, and individual opportunity provided by the U.S. federal Constitutional system, yet fail miserably to see that it is precisely that system or a close analog that is required for "native peoples" to have even the slightest chance of peacefully governing themselves and advancing the best of their own individual and any cultural variation in their societies/nations. Anyone who thinks that fostering lesser evil or temporarily friendly tyrants (whether individuals or ideologies, like islam/sharia) to rule any polity will produce any real advancement in the freedom and peaceful coexistence of such polity is historically challenged, tragically myopic, and/or seriously deluded.

Backwards Observer

Tue, 12/28/2010 - 6:48am

Jett:

Hi. You wrote:

<em><blockquote>Anyone who thinks that fostering lesser evil or temporarily friendly tyrants (whether individuals or ideologies, like islam/sharia) to rule any polity will produce any real advancement in the freedom and peaceful coexistence of such polity is historically challenged, tragically myopic, and/or seriously deluded.</em></blockquote>

Could you share your views on the following exchange? Would you draw any parallels between Mr. Clemens and Mrs. Thatcher? Thanks again.

<blockquote>Margaret Thatcher:</blockquote>

<em><blockquote>Most people agree that Pol Pot himself could not go back, nor his - some of his supporters, who were very active in some of the terrible things that happened. So, theres quite an agreement about that. Some of the Khmer Rouge, of course, are very different. I think there are probably two parts of the Khmer Rouge, there are those who supported Pol Pot, and then theres a much, much reasonable grouping within that title, Khmer Rouge.</em></blockquote>

<blockquote>Presenter:</blockquote>

<em><blockquote>Do you really think... </blockquote></em>

<blockquote>Margaret Thatcher:</blockquote>

<em><blockquote>Well, that is what I am assured by people who know. So, youll find that the more reasonable ones of the Khmer Rouge will have to play some part in the future government, but only a minority part. I share your utter horror that these terrible things went on in Kampuchea. The United Nations couldnt do anything about them, none of us could do anything about them. They were absolutely terrible.</em></blockquote>

http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/+/http://www.number10.gov.uk/…

Backwards Observer

Tue, 12/28/2010 - 4:25am

Jett:

I totally share your bemusement. Just of curiosity, could you provide some examples of the "lesser evils" and "temporarily friendly tyrants" that Clemens recommended supporting?

Also how would you characterise Marcos' declaration of martial law in 1972 under your "close analog" model of the U.S. federal Constitutional system? I'm not sure if the U.S. was supporting Marcos in the seventies. Maybe you could shed some light on the matter. Thanks!

<em><blockquote>On September 21, 1972, Marcos issued Proclamation 1081, declaring martial law over the entire country. Under the president's command, the military arrested opposition figures, including Benigno Aquino, journalists, student and labor activists, and criminal elements. A total of about 30,000 detainees were kept at military compounds run by the army and the Philippine Constabulary. Weapons were confiscated, and "private armies" connected with prominent politicians and other figures were broken up. Newspapers were shut down, and the mass media were brought under tight control. With the stroke of a pen, Marcos closed the Philippine Congress and assumed its legislative responsibilities. During the 1972-81 martial law period, Marcos, invested with dictatorial powers, issued hundreds of presidential decrees, many of which were never published.</em></blockquote>

http://countrystudies.us/philippines/28.htm