Sunday, April 08, 2007

The White Man's Burden

If you haven't heard the buzz yet, Kevin Garrad, an American solider in Iraq, was saved when an AK-47 round passed through his iPOD before being stopped in his flak jacket (ordinarily, at close range, flak jackets won't stop an AK round).

But perhaps the most amazing part of this story is the swarm of debate it has unleashed. On one hand, the majority of people (myself included) have found it a pleasant curiosity, a novel and perhaps somewhat humorous by-line in the whole Iraq fiasco. On the other hand, some have used this as a soap box on which to bellow out their dogma (both pro and anti war).

I think there's a third alternative that sits between the pro/anti stance and that is understanding that this is just another example of the white man's burden.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. The US meant well in Iraq but has paid an awful price for being naive about "bringing freedom and democracy to the Middle East." Freedom is something that has to be found, it can't be imported. Like nature, politics and religion abhor a vacuum. If there's no hunger, no desire for freedom, something else is going to fill that void. And all of your well-meaning sincere efforts and mine won't make a damn bit of difference.

Initially, I was all for the war and liberating the Iraqis. Now... I'm in stasis. I'd like to see freedom succeed, but I'm no longer as naive as I was.

Rudyard Kipling penned The White Man's Burden over a hundred years ago. Somewhat ironically it is almost universally interpreted as encouraging pro-American imperialism when, in fact, it is a facetious, scathing, sarcastic review of the folly of forcibly spreading Pax Americana (the American peace).

Take up the White Man's burden--
Send forth the best ye breed--
Go bind 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--
The savage wars of peace--
Fill full the mouth of Famine
And bid the sickness cease;
And when your goal is nearest
The end for others sought,
Watch sloth and heathen Folly
Bring all your hopes to nought.

Take up the White Man's burden--
No tawdry rule of kings,
But toil of serf and sweeper--
The tale of common things.
The ports ye shall not enter,
The roads ye shall not tread,
Go mark them with your living,
And mark them with your dead.

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!) toward the light:--
"Why brought he us from bondage,
Our loved Egyptian night?"

Take up the White Man's burden--
Ye dare not stoop to less--
Nor call too loud on Freedom
To cloke (1) your weariness;
By all ye cry or whisper,
By all ye leave or do,
The silent, sullen peoples
Shall weigh your gods and you.

Take up the White Man's burden--
Have done with childish days--
The lightly proferred laurel, (2)
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!

This could have been written about Iraq today. I bet Kevin is thankful he didn't have to pay the white man's burden.

The lesson learnt in Iraq:
You can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make it drink...


Crushed by Ingsoc said...

Then again, maybe the horse has a good reason for not drinking?
It is aboit imposing an ideological system - liberal emocracy- which is OUR idea of freedom.
Not everybody's.
Napolean tried to impose his idea o freedom on everybody whether they wanted it or not two hundred years ago.

james higham said...

Freedom is something that has to be found, it can't be imported.

Very much. No point casting pearls before swine [just an expression, you understand, nothing more].

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