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Alfred Russel Wallace : Alfred Wallace : A. R. Wallace :
Russel Wallace : Alfred Russell Wallace (sic)

America, Cuba, and the Philippines
(S559: 1899)

Editor Charles H. Smith's Note: A letter to the Editor printed on page 3 of the Daily Chronicle (London) issue of 19 January 1899. To link directly to this page, connect with: http://people.wku.edu/charles.smith/wallace/S559.htm

    Sir,--Will you allow me a little space in your widely circulated paper to express the disappointment and sorrow which I feel--in common, I am sure, with a large body of English and Americans--at the course now being pursued by the Government of the United States towards the people of Cuba and of the Philippine Islands.

    I do not for a moment intend to imply that we Englishmen have any right to criticise the action of the American Government on account of any better conduct of our own Government in past times. It must be admitted that we have acted in a similar, or even in a worse manner towards weak or inferior populations--notably in South Africa, China, and India. Yet the tu quoque argument is in this case an especially weak one on account of the antecedents of the two nations. Politically, Americans look down upon us on account of our continued submission to a monarchical Government and a hereditary aristocracy, and, with these, to a long-established and powerful militarism. We have not the advantage of a "declaration of independence" recalling to our rulers those great principles of freedom and humanity which should be the foundation of all government--that all men have an equal right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and that Governments can only derive their just powers from the consent of the governed. From a nation which has twice fought and conquered for these great principles we have a right to expect a higher standard of international ethics than that which prevails in countries still to some extent dominated by aristocratic influences and feudalistic institutions; and many of us had hoped to see the great principles of the declaration of independence applied in the protection of the Cubans and Filipinos from external enemies, while leaving them free to establish their own internal government in accordance with their several national peculiarities of race, customs, language, and religion.

    It is generally admitted that a people who fight strenuously for liberty against powerful oppressors deserve to obtain it; and that such a people should be presumed, till the contrary is proved, to be fit to possess it. Both the Cubans and the Filipinos have done this, and both with a large measure of success, which could never have been attained without courage, patriotism, and a considerable capacity for organisation and combined action. America's demand was that Spain should withdraw her army and officials from Cuba, giving the people complete independence. This was refused, and America declared war against Spain for the liberation of Cuba from terrible and inhuman oppression, and by the right of the conqueror has forced her to give up all her possessions in the West Indies. We had hoped that this war would be the one exception which we could adduce as a war waged solely for right and justice. Yet now that the last Spanish soldier has left Cuba an American army is still to occupy it, "to preserve order." That has always been the excuse of conquerors, but it is hardly the method for liberators, because military occupation by an army differing from the natives in race, language, and religion, in customs and in prejudices, is the surest way to provoke disorder. Inevitable misunderstandings will lead to harshness and oppression on the one side, with resistance on the other; and this resistance will form the excuse for further restriction of liberty, leading probably to permanent occupation.

    The case of the Philippines is in some respects even more regrettable than that of Cuba. The war there was only for the purpose of crippling the Spanish power and thus leading to an early peace. Considering the inferiority of race, the success of the natives against their Spanish rulers was even more remarkable than in the case of the Cubans, a large proportion of whom are of pure Spanish blood. In the Philippines the two higher native peoples, the Tagals and Bisayans, with numerous Chinese and Spanish half-breeds, constitute almost the whole civilised population, are fairly educated, and by their successful resistance to the established rule and military organisation of Spain have gained the right to freedom and self-government in their native land.

    The Americans, however, claim "the rights of sovereignty obtained by treaty," and have apparently determined to occupy and administer the whole group of islands, with a population of over 6,000,000, against the will and consent of the people. They claim all the revenues of the country and all the public means of transport, and they have decided, according to the latest advices, to take all this by military force if the natives do not at once submit. Yet they say that they come "not as invaders and conquerors, but as friends," in order "to protect the natives in their homes, their employments, and their personal and civil rights," and for the purpose of giving them "a liberal form of government through representative men of their own race." But these people who have been justly struggling for freedom are still spoken of as "insurgents" or "rebels," and they are expected, apparently, to submit quietly to an altogether new and unknown foreign rule, which, whatever may be the benevolent intentions of the President, can hardly fail to become a more or less oppressive despotism.

    It may be asked what else can the Americans do? They cannot allow Spain to come back again, or permit any of the European Powers to take possession of the islands, since having conquered Spain they are responsible for the future of the inhabitants. This will be admitted. But surely it is possible to revert to their first expressed intention of taking a small island only as a naval and coaling station, and to declare themselves the protectors of the islands against foreign aggression. Having done this, they might invite the civilised portion of the natives to form an independent government, offering them advice and assistance if they wish for it, but otherwise leaving them completely free. It might be advisable at first to leave the great island of Mindanao, mostly inhabitated by Mohammedans, to form its own separate government; and some guarantees might properly be asked for the fair treatment of the uncivilised portion of the population; such as the presence of a few American residents as protectors of the aborigines.

    By some such method as here suggested, the great Republic of the West might aid in the production of a new type of social development adapted to the character of the Malayan race. They might thus benefit humanity by giving full play to the benign influences of freedom and responsibility in the case of one of the lower races, which have never had a fair opportunity of profiting by the example and the advice of a higher race in order to develop their own characters free from the depressing influence of even the most benevolent of conquerors.

    In conclusion, I again emphasize the fact, that we, as a nation, have no right whatever to claim any superiority as regards our treatment of those less civilised people with whom we come in contact. Our conduct towards the Boers and Zulus in South Africa, the Burmese, and many of the hill tribes on our Indian frontier, and the Chinese in our wars growing out of the opium trade, has been certainly not better than what the Americans have done or are likely to do in Cuba and the Philippines. But many of us have always protested against our own unfair dealings with those inferior races, and have denounced the conduct of our Governments as unworthy of a civilised and professedly Christian people. And if we now venture to express our disappointment that our American kinsfolk are apparently following our bad example, it is because, in the matter of the rights of every people to govern themselves, we had looked up to them as being about to show us the better way, by respecting the aspirations towards freedom, even of less advanced races, and by acting in accordance with their own noble traditions and Republican principles.

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