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The following review appeared 12 May 2003 on the Mark Twain Forum.
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Virginia Commonwealth University
For students of Mark Twain, the chief interest in this oversize, elaborately illustrated volume is Jim Zwick's "Mark Twain's Anti-Imperialist Writings in the 'American Century'" (pp. 28-56) and the accompanying reprint of Mark Twain's 1901 anti-imperialist essay "To the Person Sitting in Darkness" (pp. 57-68). The entire volume commands attention, however, more these days than usual. It is comprised of 50 pieces in multiple media--poems, visual essays, scholastic essays with documentation, literary essays, video and play scripts, a painting, and one polemical essay (Twain's). These are gathered into five clusters arranged more or less chronologically: "The Object of Colonial Desire" (where the Zwick and Twain essays are), "The Body Count: The War and Its Consequences," "Looking the Other Way: The Cultural Fallout," "View from the Diaspora," and "The Past Meets the Present." An index affords access to topics and people across all the sections, aiding significantly the volume's research and reference potential. Throughout, but especially in the fourth section, the pieces are globally inclusive, with authors and topics drawn from Vietnam, Germany, Guam, China, and Korea in addition to the Philippines and the United States. The volume's size, its artwork and its handsome appearance might give a first impression that it is decorative. But the contents say otherwise. It is earnest and even mournful in places. Its dedication is to "all the innocent casualties, living or dead, of a war that should never have happened."
The objective that unifies the various pieces in Vestiges, as the Philippino-American editors make clear in their introductory essays, is to begin to recover two strands that have been lost: the history of the war itself, along with its aftermath, including "American colonialism [and] subsequent U.S. interventions after colonial rule through to today"; and the parallel history of the efforts world-wide to speak out against these intrusions (xi). Twain addresses the former; Zwick the latter. His piece is one of many that comment on one hundred years of "marginalization and mainstream censorship" (xi). From the distance of a century, the editors and contributors probe the conflicting undercurrents of imperialism and its consequences--identity and alienation, redemption and guilt, loyalty and betrayal--conflicts exacerbated by suppression, not only in the United States but in the Philippines, too. They point to the silences in the press and in school textbooks and histories. In this context, Shaw highlights the essays by Zwick and the "legendary satirist" Mark Twain which together "offer compelling criticism across the generations of what Twain labels 'the blessings of civilization'" (xii).
To my surprise, the idea of including "To the Person Sitting in Darkness" was not Zwick's. It seems that both editors areTwain aficionados. The volume is far richer for it. Surrounded by pieces written in retrospect, Twain's composition, coeval with the war, substantiates and authenticates them. While it "fits in" with them, the very features that show its contemporaneity--its topical references, and its locutions and vocabulary--make it stand apart, too. It's edgier and sharper than its companions. It appeals to the mind, like most of them, but unlike most of them, it also appeals to the soul.
Mark Twain's opposition to American imperialism and to this war in particular is familiar territory for Zwick, for these are exactly the Twain writings that have most interested him since 1992 when he rescued many of them from obscurity with his book Weapons of Satire, containing a broad assortment of 35 newspaper interviews, speeches, essays, publicity announcements and the like in which Twain protested American intervention in the conflict. Many of the pieces had not been printed before. In the decade since, Zwick has published further on Twain's anti-imperialism, and along the way he has created a wide-reaching, multi-layered website, http://www.boondocksnet.com/, that is doubtless the single best electronic resource on anti-imperialism in general and on Mark Twain's anti-imperialist writings in particular.
Here in his Vestiges piece, Zwick's interest is, first, in the suppression of Twain's Philippine-American War writings, and, second, in the political uses (some legitimate and some not) that these writings have been put to. Though the situation is much better now, Zwick believes that Twain's protests are still "relatively unknown today" because of the "nation's inability to deal with that part of its past" (38). That seems true, for we know that much of the censorship of Twain's writings was perpetrated by two powerful people who, while vigorously opposed to allowing his political and social views be read by the public were aggressively interested in using him to advance their own reputations and financial gain.
The two notorious figures here were Albert Bigelow Paine, Twain's first literary executor, and, after he died, Clara Clemens, the author's only surviving daughter. If Clara never made explicit what prompted her to censor her father's writings, certainly Paine did and cupidity does not seem to be too strong a term to describe his motives. Zwick cites with great effectiveness a blindingly blatant letter Paine wrote in 1926 to Twain's publisher, Harper and Brothers, saying that no one should be allowed to write about Twain for "'as long as we can prevent it.'" If others are allowed to write about him, Paine continued, "'the Mark Twain that we have "preserved"--the Mark Twain that we knew, the traditional Mark Twain--will begin to fade and change, and with that process the Harper Mark Twain property will depreciate'" (44).
Much of Zwick's essay is a study of the combined effect that Paine's and Clara's thwarting control had on Twain's texts and reputation for more than half a century. To be sure, Paine began his publishing on Twain forthrightly enough--his biography of the writer in 1912 contained no glaring censorship--but one by one the following books deleted information and presented falsified texts, from Twain's letters (1917) to his notebook (1935). In Europe and Elsewhere (1923), Paine brazenly altered "To the Person Sitting in Darkness," a work that Twain himself had seen through the press. Paine's censorship was most egregious in his notebook volume, brought out during the rise of fascism in Europe. Where he didn't remove Twain's critical references to war entirely, he made changes that distorted Twain's views, changes that were all the more insidious in the light of Paine's explicit assurance that "'nothing has been modified, nothing changed"' (46).
Following Paine's death in 1937, Clara assumed responsibility for maintaining the public view of her father. Her most notable contribution to this nefarious activity occurred in 1939 when she refused publication of Letters from the Earth, the collection of social and religious commentary prepared by Bernard DeVoto, Paine's successor as Twain's literary executor. It was not until she died in 1962 that more than a half-century of control devoted to preserving the "traditional Mark Twain" and the "Harper Mark Twain property" finally ended.
It must be remembered, however, that Paine and Clara weren't the first to keep Twain's anti-war writings from the public. The author himself contributed to the suppression. On his own, Twain decided against publishing pieces like "The Stupendous Procession" and "As Regards Patriotism." His favorite explanation was that "None but the dead are permitted to tell the truth" (47). The Harper brothers were also restrictive. They rejected strong pieces like "King Leopold's Soliloquy" and "The War Prayer." Zwick says that for one reason or another, during his lifetime "only a fraction" of what Twain wrote about imperialism was published (43).
What Mark Twain did publish, though, was enough to earn him an intimidating reputation. His emergence on the battlefield over imperialism began upon his return to the United States in October 1900 when he became a member of the Anti-Imperialist League. There he joined such outspoken opponents as Jane Addams, Samuel Gompers, Andrew Carnegie and William James. A few like the southern segregationist Benjamin R. Tillman also joined until they could be sure that imperialism didn't mean United States citizenship for Filipinos. Zwick delineates this curious blend of motivations well, noting that, "Imperialists and racist anti-imperialists were not far apart here" (42). Thus, American military-backed imperialism sought to deny Filipinos self-government while segregationist violence in the South sought to disenfranchise American blacks.
This combination of causes doubly fired Mark Twain's formidable creative energy, and once he got started it was next to impossible for him to stop. He continued to speak out against imperialism in interviews and public statements until at least November 1907. His involvement with public issues during his late years was so well known, in fact, that it amounted to a kind of second career. By the time of his death, as Zwick observes, he was as widely recognized for these writings as he was for his fictions, configuring a writing career so unusual that an integrated understanding of it still eludes critics and biographers.
Zwick's chronicling of the long duration of Paine-Clara control contributes useful information to our understanding of this unhappy saga. When he turns his attention to the uses that some political ideologies have made of Twain's anti-imperialism, however, he engages a fresh aspect of Twain's political writing that leads Zwick to delineate the fine line a democracy must walk between self-criticism and self-defense. Beginning in 1947 and peaking more than a decade later when it was front page news in the New York Times, Soviet critics, accusing the United States of being an imperialist nation, charged the American government as well as some Twain editors (like Charles Neider) of suppressing Mark Twain's anti-imperialist writings. As the subject of an international debate, therefore, Twain's protest writings (albeit still in their expurgated form) experienced "banner years" in 1961 and 1962, the years of the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the early escalation of American involvement in Vietnam (49). And the writings continued their prominence during the Vietnam conflict the following decade, and carried on into the 1980s and early 1990s during United States military intervention in Nicaragua and the Gulf War.
Vestiges of War grew out of exhibitions and conferences on the Philippine-American War at the Guggenheim and New York University arranged by the editors in February 1999, the centenary of the beginning of the war. That accounts, apparently (no one explains it), for that year in the subtitle. The volume was no doubt scheduled for publication soon thereafter, and that would have been salutary for appearing when it does with scarcely a mention of all that has happened since September 11, 2001, makes the collection seem curiously truncated. The only indications I could spot that the editors sensed this omission appear in brief, late-added comments to their introductory essays. Thus, the volume could be said to abet the woeful condition it derides by helping to "hide" some of the aftermath of the imperial dream. But that wasn't the only embarrassing omission, for Francia informs us ruefully that in February 1999 the Philippine government neglected to commemorate the centennial of the outbreak of the war. All the more reason, therefore, that the volume should have been revised as soon as the editors and the NYU Press knew that it wouldn't be published promptly. As the book stands, one reads the subtitle and wonders what the editors were thinking by seeming to suggest that the "aftermath" was all over in 1999.
The Philippine archipelago has been an "object of desire" for the
west at least since Ferdinand Magellan stopped there in 1522 to proselytize
for Christianity during his attempt to circumnavigate the globe. Most natives
who failed to accept "the blessings of civilization" were killed.
But some resisted the choice to convert or die, and not unsuccessfully--Magellan
died at the hands of Muslims on the island of Mactan. No "aftermath"
problem there. The islands stayed Muslim for most of the rest of the century.
Terry Oggel is professor English at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond,