The Teaching Front
Tomorrow in my American History 120 courses we’ll finish up, hopefully, the French-Indian War and move on into the Pre-Revolutionary Era. This semester I’ll move away from the standard “This Act, that Act and the Other Act followed by a massacre or two,” into something a bit more intellectual. I’m going to try and show the students what the Founding Fathers were thinking as they pondered their situation with Great Britain. That will entail a brief lesson on the Romans followed by a heavy dose of Locke.
In my American History 121 we’ll finish up the Spanish-American War, cover the situation in the Philippines (the Nam before the Nam as I often call it) before showcasing a couple of cultural artifacts from the era.
The artifacts are Rudyard Kipling’s poem The White Man’s Burden and Mark Twain’s The War Prayer. In Twain’s case it was recently adapted into an animated film which is (hopefully still) at YouTube. I believe the makers of that piece were more interested in the antiwar value they could get out of it than anything else and I’ve got my own issues with the fact that Twain put it into a trunk rather than risk his writing career by upsetting folks of the era but it will be handy in any case.
But why Kipling? Didn’t I get the memo that he is a Bad man, Persona Non Grata in the Halls of Academia? Don’t I know that what I am supposed to be doing is throwing him into the memory hole along with that report Winston Smith was working on in 1984?
Yeah, I got the memo. I’ll read the poem to my students anyway.
First, it is the classic imperialist argument of the era, summed up into a neat little poem. I can read it, dissect it while I read it, and explain to the students what is going on. They’ll pick up the racism easily enough (just consider the title) but I think they’ll miss other points.
Second, to ignore the poem and speak in vague, broad generalizations about the concept of “white man’s burden” is to reduce it to an intellectual concept with zero emotional punch or ability to generate resonance. It also makes it just a little too easy for the students to brush it off as unimportant.
Finally, I’m always uncomfortable with this notion that there is such a thing as forbidden knowledge or knowledge that is inherently evil. I think that is what bothers me about the Teach Peace Not War types in academia. Orwell had a saying for that too.
Ignorance is strength. Some twits will say that by reading the poem I agree with the message.
As for Mark Twain’s piece, I’ll get to showcase an example of anti-imperialist thinking in the U.S. during this period. What Twain’s piece is missing is the racist side of the anti-imperialist argument, namely that we shouldn’t dilute and weaken ourselves by moving out into the world. Those people will want the same rights we have, you know? Then there is the miscegenation issue as well, which the anti-imperialist types were worried about.
The Writing Front
I think my last story crawled off into a hole and died on me. That happens with so many of them. So yesterday I started on something else. I’m mainly writing this for Terri’s Creative Writing class and if I can find a market for it, fine. If not then fuck it as I am mighty tired of the Fail Nazi bullshit that goes on in the American Science Fiction Community.
For now the story is simply titled Edward. The word count is 1600 words. We’ll see how it goes.
So it goes.
Steven Francis Murphy
Author of The Limb Knitter and Tearing Down Tuesday
North Kansas City, Missouri