Something of Value
“When we take away from a man his traditional way of life, his customs, his religion, we had better make certain to replace it with something of value.”
This quote from Robert Ruark was at the beginning of the movie “Something of Value” that I happened to see on TCM last week. I remember seeing this movie a long time ago when the events portrayed in the film were being played out in the headlines as the indigenous tribes of Africa were rising up to rebel against English colonialism and demand freedom. From the headlines that fill the news today, it seems we have made little progress in insuring human rights for all the people of the planet and that we’ re simply replaying old rhetoric and pointing the finger of blame. It is ironic that the United States prides itself on being the Great Democracy and yet, many of the people used to create this great democracy have spent most of the history of this republic denied the very freedoms so widely promoted all over the world. I have been not only a student but a teacher of the history and government most of my life and have been disturbed by the failure of the United States to bring freedom and respect for the vast majority of its citizens and crippling its efforts to bring democracy to the world.
I spent the last 15 years of my teaching career trying to find the root causes of this failure in the way our government and country came to be. I searched for an answer to one important question. Why is a country that prides itself in being the Great Melting Pot so hopelessly polarized and why all the violence? I began to uncover some of the reasons for this failure during that time and in retirement have done my own writing about this in the form of fictional books and short stories. I in no way consider myself nor my research the last word and continually read and study to understand why things still seem stagnant, indeed from my viewpoint, only getting worse. When I saw this quote at the beginning of Something of Value I had an Aha moment that had a powerful impact on me. I share that experience with you now and just like the quote, I hope this leaves you with “something of value” to use in making a contribution to end the cycle of hate and despair threatening the very existence of life as we have known it.
As I have studied the development of the United States, I have learned that this “free country” was established for one small group of Western European men at the expense of the indigenous cultures living here when they first “claimed the country for the English King.” That group has been given the nomenclature of First Americans or Native Americans, but they were not Americans. America came to be because of the destruction of their way of life along with genocide resulting from European viruses, guns and “firewater.” I ask myself, what is the something of value we gave in return for this? What was the something of value we gave to the Africans that we “bought” and whose slave labor was responsible for building most of the early homes and government buildings in the United States as well as feed our industries with King Cotton? What is the something of value we gave to the Asian Americans who came to this country and were responsible for building the transcontinental railroad? What is the something of value we gave to the Mexicans whose empire we destroyed to control the Santa Fe Trail? We did give something of value to the Irish and Scandinavian Americans who were lured to this country with the promise of free land so they could homestead the plains to get rid of the Indian threats? What is the something of value we gave to the Cherokee and other Southeastern Civilized tribes to give up their homes in the Southeast to settle in Oklahoma? We gave them small pox infested blankets and land that was promised to them only to take it away with the great Oklahoma land rush when oil reserves were discovered on their land. What did we give to the Lakota people in return for the Black Hills of South Dakota? Life on a reservation with hunting rights that were soon taken away and now that land is being taken because we want to pollute the water they use for farming with leaky pipelines. Yes, our democracy flourished and we fulfilled our Manifest Destiny but then at the end of the 19th Century we turned our attention and our imperialistic war machines to lands with fresh resources to continue to fuel our never ending hunger for more and more and we took our cues from the great Empire established under Queen Victoria and took up the White Man’s Burden.
“The White Man’s Burden”: Kipling’s Hymn to U.S. Imperialism
In February 1899, British novelist and poet Rudyard Kipling wrote a poem entitled “The White Man’s Burden: The United States and The Philippine Islands.” In this poem, Kipling urged the U.S. to take up the “burden” of empire, as had Britain and other European nations. Published in the February, 1899 issue of McClure’s Magazine, the poem coincided with the beginning of the Philippine-American War and U.S. Senate ratification of the treaty that placed Puerto Rico, Guam, Cuba, and the Philippines under American control. Theodore Roosevelt, soon to become vice-president and then president, copied the poem and sent it to his friend, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, commenting that it was “rather poor poetry, but good sense from the expansion point of view.” Not everyone was as favorably impressed as Roosevelt. The racialized notion of the “White Man’s burden” became a euphemism for imperialism, and many anti-imperialists couched their opposition in reaction to the phrase.
Take up the White Man’s burden—
Send forth the best ye breed—
Go send your sons to exile
To serve your captives' need
To wait in heavy harness
On fluttered folk and wild—
Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half devil and half child
Take up the White Man’s burden
In patience to abide
To veil the threat of terror
And check the show of pride;
By open speech and simple
An hundred times made plain
To seek another’s profit
And work another’s gain
Take up the White Man’s burden—
And reap his old reward:
The blame of those ye better
The hate of those ye guard—
The cry of hosts ye humour
(Ah slowly) to the light:
"Why brought ye us from bondage,
“Our loved Egyptian night?”
Take up the White Man’s burden-
Have done with childish days-
The lightly proffered laurel,
The easy, ungrudged praise.
Comes now, to search your manhood
Through all the thankless years,
Cold-edged with dear-bought wisdom,
The judgment of your peers!
Source: Rudyard Kipling, “The White Man’s Burden: The United States & The Philippine Islands, 1899.” Rudyard Kipling’s Verse: Definitive Edition (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1929).
As I view the recent events and the reemergence of Nazism and the cries like those of Hitler to take back the “lebensraum” for the rightful owners of all property and wealth, I take a look back and realize what I need to do is to work to give back “something of value” to all those people who have lived under the “white man’s burden” far too long. I take a quote from the epilogue of my book “The Peacemaker” to define what I think needs to happen.
“As of June 8, 2008, the Oneida Land Claim dispute is still stalled in federal courts. There is still controversy in every part of our nation over Indian sovereignty and whether Native Americans should pay state and federal taxes. In the summer of 2008 Wall St. took another dramatic downturn and the economy is in another deep recession. The United States is deeply entangled in war in Iraq, and the Israel and Palestine continue waging war. . . History was made in the election of 2008 pitting a female and African-American male in a dramatic race for the Democratic Party’s nomination for President. Barack Obama was elected as America’s first “African-American” President, however, Obama’s mother was Caucasian.
“The Peacemaker” is about realizing our unity. America is a country of blending. We are not an Aryan nation. We are one people from many different ethnicities and cultures. We are one nation and the key to our unity must be in coming together as one celebrating our different heritages and traditions that enrich us as we put aside past hurts and grievances. If we cannot make peace in our families or in our communities we cannot make peace in the world. We must become a nation of peacemakers – not peacekeepers. A peace that is kept with weapons of destruction is not peace at all. We must learn to resolve conflicts with words of love and forgiveness not by overpowering those who differ with us. In Alex Haley’s book “Roots” Kunta Kinte’s teacher during his manhood training teaches that you do not get rid of any enemy by killing him. Instead, you create generations of enemies among the descendants who continually seek to avenge that death.
As we make peace with the human race, we must also make peace with the earth that sustains us. We must learn to live in harmony with the earth once again and help it heal from centuries of abuse. We are children of the same creator and of one family no matter which creation story we believe. We are all peacemakers. Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.