Humanitarian Imperialism

Referring to the current troubles in Haiti, Tacitus asks:

One might fairly ask whether such chronically failed states might be better off under some sort of permanent protectorate or even colonial arrangement for the maintenance of peace and good governance.

I don’t know why colonialism and empire fascinates some Americans today (see Max Boot, for example)? I thought Tacitus was better than that, but I guess not.

Does Tacitus really think that making Haiti an American colony would improve the lot of the Haitians without much negative repurcussions?

Let’s even forget US-Haiti history (US fear of the slave revolt; its embargo on Haiti; US recognition about 6 decades after Haiti’s independence; US occupation 1915-34; and US support of the Duvaliers). Will Haitians welcome becoming a US colony?

Does Tacitus even know what a colony is? It seems to me that he has a very romanticized idea about imperialism and colonialism.

Now, I won’t deny that the British did do some good things in India. But there are lots of worse examples where imperial regimes destroyed local infrastructure and society.

Also, in a colonial arrangement, the colonial subjects didn’t have much in the way of rights. Nobody asked them whether they would like the empire to take over their land/region/country. Plus there were independence movements in all colonies, some peaceful, others violent.

Doesn’t Tacitus know about the US imperial adventures in the Philippines? The resistance against the US occupation at the start of the 20th century resulted in the death of about 200,000 Filipino civilians, 16,000 Filipino combatants and more than 4,000 American soldiers.

Tacitus makes the same mistake with Nauru and Australia but then admits that he “had no idea” when someone in the comments detailed the relevant history.

Now, I am no big fan of nation-states and wouldn’t mind the incorporation of failed states into others if it led to the overall good. My requirements include the local population agreeing to becoming part of the other country and being given equal rights as citizens, etc.

The naivety and 19th century mentality of some people is, however, very disconcerting.

By Zack

Dad, gadget guy, bookworm, political animal, global nomad, cyclist, hiker, tennis player, photographer


  1. While I enjoy the works of Rudyard Kipling, a few draw my ire, and I prefer to see the United States steer clear of one in particular. Yes, I suppose that you, the literate reader, know where I am headed, but I will maintain a thin veil of mystery for a few more sentences.

    Kipling exhorts the great powers to “Send forth the best ye breed … To seek another’s profit,And work another’s gain.” These others are refered to as “half-devil and half-child.” This belief implies that colonials are incapable of seeking profit and gain themselves; it also implies that one may curtail their rights for their own good. One may treat them like children. Arrogance!

    Unfortunately, Kipling eloquently blunders on. He calls upon us to shoulder this 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

    He calls upon us to patiently develop the “heathen” peoples. He entreats us to form “permanent protectorate[s]” or “even colonial arrangement[s]” to encourage “peace and good governance,” even if it requires explanations and justifications “…an hundred times made plain.”

    Unfortunately, development of the “heathen” peoples often does not run an altruistic course. English colonists and later American settlers in North America developed the frontier right out from under the Iroqouis, Sioux and other Indian tribes. Europeans developed the mineral resources of Africa with oppressed, black labor. And, the British developed the Chinese opium market. Somewhere in taking up this burden, the great powers seem to forget that bit about seeking profit for others.

    But, even the great powers do not always get that for which they bargain. Sometimes the great powers must engage in…

    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.

    Kipling naively believes that wars bring peace that western farming practices fill mouths and western medicines alleviate suffering. Fair and balanced treaties and laws bring peace. Internal development of strong democratic societies decrease the liklihood of internal strife. Farming practices in tune with native ecosystems and socially controlled population levels prevent and at least limit famines. And, as for medicines, many are found in jungles slated for clearing…

    Kipling’s “The White Man’s Burden” is a well constructed poem commissioned by arrogance, holed by naivety and readily rotted through by greed. In short, the idea of neo-colonial protectorates will not float.

    I close with a lament written in the New York World during America’s late 19th, early 20th century flirtation with empire. Let it serve as a warning to all those who entertain thoughts of neo-colonialism.

    We’ve taken up the white man’s burden
    Of ebony and brown;
    Now will you kindly tell us, Rudyard,
    How we may put it down?

  2. Auto-trackback from

    Slate article was added to memigo. Thanks! (2 other link(s) from this post also found.)
    Follow trackback to find related articles…

Comments are closed.