Introduction: White Man’s Burden

The February 1899 issue of the American magazine McClure carried Rudyard Kipling’s WHITE MANS BURDEN.  It was subtitled “The United States and the Philippines” and for many was an exhortation for the United States to take up imperial rule with the English, which Kipling had known in India.

The Battle of Manila Bay had taken place less than a year earlier, on 1 May 1898, during the Spanish-American War. The American Asiatic Squadron under Commodore George Dewey engaged the Spanish Pacific Squadron destroying it. The engagement took place in the Philippines, the first major engagement of the Spanish-American War. On December 10th, 1898 with the signing of the Treaty of Paris ended the war and the United States became the legal sovereign government over the Islands.

At the time of the poem’s publication in February of 1899, the first United States troop ship to pass through the Suez Canal was on route to the Philippines.  The USAT Grant, “the most perfect troop transport in any military service.” [NY Times, Jan 17 1899 ] had sailed from New York harbor amidst great fanfare to finally arrive at Manila on March 10th [Ibid. March 11, 1899 ]. Gibraltar saw the formalities of gun salutes and bands playing. The English regiments invited the American officers to dine.  Following several toasts to “the Queen,” came a toast to “The American Army;” and then, an expression of “the hope that the entrance of the United States into the East would mean the frequent and hearty fraternization of the two armies.’  [NY Times, March 17th, 1899] Stopping at Port Said and “Perim,   now Aden, for re-coaling, the American army became exposed to the Muslim culture of the region and the stories of the  Mahdi.

At the moment, the British were in the midst of their struggle with Muslim extremists. On 2 September 1898, at the Battle of Omdurman, an army commanded by the British General Sir Herbert Kitchener defeated the army of Abdullah al-Taashi, the successor to the self-proclaimed the Mahdi Muhammad Ahmad. For many at the time it served as a demonstration of the superiority of a highly disciplined European-led army equipped with modern rifles and artillery over tribesmen with older weapons and marked the success of British efforts to re-conquer the Sudan. Not until the Battle of Umm Diwaykarat, a year later, were Mahdist forces defeated.

The entry of American military forces onto the global imperial field in the Spanish American War led to the development of a legitimating ideology of ‘American exceptionalism.’  Discussed by Julian Go and others as a way of differentiating American from other forms of imperialism, it may be described in McKinley’s phrase, ‘benevolent assimilation.’  However this exceptionalist ideology has deep roots in the religious history of the American nation.  It harkened back to John Winthrop’s speech on the ship Arbella approaching the New England coast to settle the Puritan commonwealth, when he called them out to be a ‘city on a hill.”  The American religious historian, William McLaughlin has written that “Our history has been essentially the history of one long millenarian movement.  Americans, in their cultural mythology, are God’s chosen, leading the world to perfection.” [REVIVALS, AWAKENINGS AND REFORMS, page 19] American exceptionalism on the global imperial field was but a secularization of this: spreading democratic civilization over an evil, tyrannical world.

In February 1899 the USAT Grant was transporting one of the American armies most well known generals, Henry Ware Lawton .  Lawton had brought in Geronimo, fought in Cuba and would go to his death on the battlefield on Luzon.  He brought with him his staff, including his Chief Clerk, Frank W. Carpenter, subject of this biography.

Carpenter would only leave the Islands more than twenty years later, considered one America’s best colonial administrators.  In his report on the ‘Moro Mission,’ Episcopal Bishop Charles H Brent wrote, “ I consider the work of Governor Frank W. Carpenter, which I know intimately and in detail, to be on a par with the administration of noted Oriental administrators like Sir Stamford Raffles, Ralph [sic] Brooke and Sir Frank Swettenham.” [Nation Institute of Social Science, “Bishop Brent’s Mission to the Moros”] On the collapse of his career due to health he would spend Den Kenjiro



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