Mark Twain on Counterinsurgency

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Mark Twain was never shy about sharing his opinions, and now that his 5,000-page memoir is finally being released a full hundred years after his death, the world is getting access to even more thoughts, reflections, and declarations from one of American literature's founding fathers.

So what would Mark Twain have to say about counterinsurgency, the in-vogue military strategy that the U.S. deployed to a measure of success in Iraq and what appears currently to be less success in Afghanistan? It sounds like an odd question to try to read into Twain's memoirs, but in fact the U.S. first deployed large-scale counterinsurgency in the Philippine-American war of 1899 to 1902, a period when Twain was very active. Mike Few of the Small Wars Journal, a blog dedicated to all things counterinsurgency, digs up this passage from Twain, which Few sees as commentary on what we might now call counterinsurgency:

You ask me about what is called imperialism. Well, I have formed views about that question. I am at the disadvantage of not knowing whether our people are for or against spreading themselves over the face of the globe. I should be sorry if they are, for I don't think that it is wise or a necessary development. As to China, I quite approve of our Government's action in getting free of that complication. They are withdrawing, I understand, having done what they wanted. That is quite right. We have no more business in China than in any other country that is not ours. There is the case of the Philippines. I have tried hard, and yet I cannot for the life of me comprehend how we got into that mess. Perhaps we could not have avoided it -- perhaps it was inevitable that we should come to be fighting the natives of those islands -- but I cannot understand it, and have never been able to get at the bottom of the origin of our antagonism to the natives. I thought we should act as their protector -- not try to get them under our heel. We were to relieve them from Spanish tyranny to enable them to set up a government of their own, and we were to stand by and see that it got a fair trial. It was not to be a government according to our ideas, but a government that represented the feeling of the majority of the Filipinos, a government according to Filipino ideas. That would have been a worthy mission for the United States. But now -- why, we have got into a mess, a quagmire from which each fresh step renders the difficulty of extrication immensely greater. I'm sure I wish I could see what we were getting out of it, and all it means to us as a nation.

In other words, he was a skeptic.

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