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Mark Twain, American Imperialism and War in the Philippines

I earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science in 1995. My interests include political and social issues and history.

Why did Mark Twain oppose U.S. acquisition of the Philippines?

Why did Mark Twain oppose U.S. acquisition of the Philippines?

The Spanish-American War

It started in 1898 with the Spanish-American War.

America entered the war to wrest the Philippines from Spain because the US wanted a foothold in trade in Asia, particularly with China, and feared European and Japanese domination of commerce in the region. Under the pretext of helping Filipinos in their war of independence against Spain, the US fought Spain and bought the Islands from the Spanish and then fought the Filipino insurgents who still wanted independence.

And Mark Twain was absolutely furious.

Mark Twain's View of the War

At first, Twain believed the war to be a humanitarian one. Like America had done against the English crown, the Filipinos were now doing against their Spanish colonial masters; they wanted to be freed from the yoke of colonial subjugation. While the US did not keep Cuba in the deal with Spain, America did opt to retain control of the Philippines for economic reasons. When Twain saw the tide turning to pure business interests and not humanitarian ones, he spoke out vehemently.

One of the things that outraged Twain was the underhanded way that Filipino revolutionary leader, General Emilio Aguinaldo, was captured. Aguinaldo's men were starving and promised food by American soldiers; instead, they were forced to lead American forces to Aguinaldo, where he was subsequently captured.

As the war dragged on, the brutality of American forces became more dramatic. In letters home, soldiers compared shooting Filipinos to hunting rabbits and referred to Filipinos as the N-Word. Back home, the Filipinos were thought of in the same way Americans thought of African-Americans. Understand, this was a time when the Ku Klux Klan were considered heroes and Americans believed in the spread of Anglo-Saxon America; in fact, American was equated with white skin.

When a group of American soldiers slaughtered a group of 600 Filipino men, women and children who had taken refuge and were trapped in a volcano, Twain was incensed. In his autobiography, he wrote scathingly of the hypocrisy and brutality of America's actions.

The Philippine-American War

Mark Twain's View of America

To Twain, and probably a good many Americans, America was about freedom and self-determination. He certainly was sensitive about injustice and abhorred the domination of a group by another. Twain spoke on racism, the unfair treatment of the Chinese by Christian missionaries, corruption in politics in New York City, and the unethical involvement of Western powers in crushing the Chinese Boxer Rebellion.

Mark Twain's vehemence toward injustice ran the gamut, he hated it wherever he saw it. The case of the Philippine-American War was no different.

The war flew in the face of American conceptions of freedom and humanitarianism. Mark Twain spoke out about this betrayal of America, this corrupted movement of business interests, and this slaughter in the name of money.

Mark Twain was skilled with words. Being a famous writer and being aware of all aspects of his environment, including what his government was doing, Twain spoke out against war. In fact, he was active in the Anti-Imperialist League, which was originally formed in opposition to the Spanish-American War.

Twain envisioned an America that lived up to its ideals and considered it an abomination that it actually did not. Ironically, Twain was the embodiment of American free speech, lambasting the politicians and business interests that had no qualms killing people in the name of money and in a way totally against American ideals of freedom and self-determination.

Mark Twain's Objections to the Invasion of the Philippines

Against American ValuesPurely Business InterestsSlaughter and Brutality

Contradicted American values of freedom and self-determination

The motivation for the war was not humanitarian but purely to secure trade in Asia.

Filipinos were brutally slaughtered in the war with no regard.

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Cartoon lambasting the hypocritical and arrogant treatment of the Philippines by the U.S.

Cartoon lambasting the hypocritical and arrogant treatment of the Philippines by the U.S.

An Activist and Writer

More than half a century before the Vietnam War, and the anti-war movement of that era, Mark Twain protested American aggression overseas. The Philippines represent America's first step toward a foreign policy of wresting control of a foreign land from its people. The abhorrent brutality of the Philippine-American War rightfully insulted Twain's American sensibilities.

To Twain, America was, or should have still been, a country with dignity, rooted in principles of freedom and self-determination. Well, the Philippine-American War was the opposite of these principles. For Twain, the Filipinos were, in this case, similar to the Americans fighting the British in the American Revolution.

In true Mark Twain fashion, the skilled writer lambasted the war and its intentions, documenting one of the most scathing war protests in American history.


Stromberg, Joseph R. (1998, Dec. 1). 'The Spanish-American War: The Leap into Overseas Empire.' The Independent Institute. Retrieved 20 Aug. 2021.

Zaide, Gregorio, Philippine Political and Cultural History, 1950, 1957. Philippine Education Co.

Zaide, Gregorio, The Philippine Revolution, 1968. Modern Book Co.

American Soldiers in the Philippines Write Home About the War. (n.d.). History Matters. Retrieved 21 Aug. 2021.

Twain, Mark. 'To the Person Sitting in Darkness.' Logosjournal. Retrieved 23 June 2013.

© 2013 Nathan Bernardo


Crin Forbes from Michigan on June 23, 2013:

Now, why is it America at fault when you can't get your act together and find some honest leaders who love their people?

As far as England and France, let's not push it. France did not exist, which was a good payback for creating the trouble situation in Europe, and England, as heroic as they were, they would have not made it on their own.

America did not show gratitude to Britain and France? For what for arming the Brits and feeding them when they were cut off the rest of the world? For losing so many GI for the liberation of France, only to be told: "Americans go home", right after the war?

We are not saints, agreed. However I think we should mind our business and let the world blow itself up, because we are losing too many American lives to save people living with death wishes...

conradofontanilla from Philippines on June 23, 2013:


The Philippines is a neocolony of USA against the wishes of the 90% of Filipinos. America rehabilitated Japan, a former enemy, by breaking up feudalism, among others. It never broke up feudalism in the Philippines because the feudal lords are the collaborators with USA in controlling the Philippines. We know what ails our country but we don't have the power to implement what we want because we are dominated by superpowers. America commands a lot of levers of power Filipinos, other developing nations for that matter, cannot overcome.

Should we beg for justice? We fought the Americans but a few collaborators betrayed us. They are betraying us even now and America is cultivating them.

As I say in one of my Hubs, power determines the future of this world. Even with its allies in WWII like France and Great Britain America was not considerate. In the Marshall plans I and II they grumbled that America gave loans with strings attached. In fact, the Marshall plan shaped the economies of Europe, according to Joyce Kolko and Gabriel Kolko in their book "Limits of Power." America had the economic power then, not to mention the military power, because it was the only source of credit in the world. If we were treated like a truly independent country, the Philippines and Filipinos should be much better off by now.

Crin Forbes from Michigan on June 23, 2013:

Interesting perspective.

I think that a better phrasing can always help though conradofontanilla.

A few years back Philippine's main industry was export of labor force. Actually it was a $65 billion a year business.

Even today Filipinos are pouring in America. Some are people with higher educations, but they still come here to work menial jobs because the pay better than home. There are a lot of MD from the Philippines working as nurses assistants in the USA, for better wages...

It is nice to carry a lot of patriotic slogans here, however before one does it, one should look at the over all pictures.

How come that after all these years the country which is independent is not capable of ensuring a living to its people?

Nathan Bernardo (author) from California, United States of America on June 23, 2013:

Yes, absolutely, conradofontanilla. All of what you said is true; Filipinos had already defeated the Spanish in the revolution, after the Spanish had made the mistake of killing Jose Rizal, so that the Philippines exploded with revolution. It's true too what you say about the big Federal Reserve Bank and America's fall; maybe both superpowers were bound to fall but at different times. Thanks for stopping by, it was good to hear from someone who knows this history and the politics that went with it.

conradofontanilla from Philippines on June 23, 2013:

It is nice to read about Americans objecting to the annexation of my country, Philippines. Spain could not sell the Philippines to America because Filipinos had already liberated their country from Spain. America buying the Philippines from Spain was a ruse. It is sad that America has now fallen to the claws of international businessmen. They openly half govern the United States through the Federal Reserve Bank. They are insidious in American politics. May be only an implosion will save America as what happened in the USSR.

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