(Updated 9/13) Nothing new under the sun with Obama and Cheney: This 9/11 as a day to reread Rudyard Kipling and think about proportionality

By Benjamin G. Davis, Associate Professor of Law, University of Toledo College of Law

With Cheney – key architect of the torture – speaking yesterday about Obama recognizing the ” pacific role of American power” and President Obama laying out the plans for addressing the problem of ISIS a couple of conversations today drew me to a couple of things that are most appropriate for this day of remembrance.

I. Rudyard Kipling

Cheney and Obama harken back to the British during its period of empire.  And no one put it better then Rudyard Kipling.  I may be called a racist as a black man being willing to go there, but reading again Rudyard Kipling’s White Man’s Burden was stinging for me today.  It might be worthwhile to read and reflect on it in international law and national security law classes today.

Here is the poem in its entirety. (hat tip: http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/5478/)

“The White Man’s Burden”: Kipling’s Hymn to U.S. Imperialism

In February 1899, British novelist and poet Rudyard Kipling wrote a poem entitled “The White Man’s Burden: The United States and The Philippine Islands.” In this poem, Kipling urged the U.S. to take up the “burden” of empire, as had Britain and other European nations. Published in the February, 1899 issue of McClure’s Magazine, the poem coincided with the beginning of the Philippine-American War and U.S. Senate ratification of the treaty that placed Puerto Rico, Guam, Cuba, and the Philippines under American control. Theodore Roosevelt, soon to become vice-president and then president, copied the poem and sent it to his friend, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, commenting that it was “rather poor poetry, but good sense from the expansion point of view.” Not everyone was as favorably impressed as Roosevelt. The racialized notion of the “White Man’s burden” became a euphemism for imperialism, and many anti-imperialists couched their opposition in reaction to the phrase.


Take up the White Man’s burden—

Send forth the best ye breed—

Go send 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—

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) to the light:

“Why brought ye us from bondage,

“Our loved Egyptian night?”

Take up the White Man’s burden-

Have done with childish days-

The lightly proffered laurel,

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!

Source: Rudyard Kipling, “The White Man’s Burden: The United States & The Philippine Islands, 1899.” Rudyard Kipling’s Verse: Definitive Edition (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1929).