Images of America: Mark Twain, Critical Patriot

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series American Images

Mark_Twain_by_AF_BradleyOur reactions to Images of America show us what we hold in common as Americans.

One thing we have in common is American literature. And no figure did as much to create a truly American literature as Mark Twain, writer, humorist, lecturer, and activist. So my pick today of a favorite image is a 1907 photo of Mark Twain. It’s one of the 100+ images in our gallery. But I selected Mark Twain more for his role as an ardent critic of American foreign policy than his role in literature. Would you consider him a patriot?

Critical patriotism is one of the 10 core values I write about in United America. A critical patriot is someone who criticizes U.S. policies out of love of country and the desire to have it live up to its high ideals. Critical patriotism can be thought of as tough love. It’s the opposite of blind-love patriotism–the my-country-right-or-wrong variety of patriotism. While many subscribe to this form of patriotism, it doesn’t qualify as a core value.

At first, Twain supported American expansionist policies, such as the annexation of the Hawaiian Islands and the Philippines. As he put it in an 1900 edition of the New York Herald, “I wanted the American eagle to go screaming into the Pacific … Why not spread its wings over the Philippines, I asked myself? … I said to myself, Here are a people who have suffered for three centuries. We can make them as free as ourselves, give them a government and country of their own, put a miniature of the American Constitution afloat in the Pacific, start a brand new republic to take its place among the free nations of the world. It seemed to me a great task to which we had addressed ourselves.”

But, he said, he learned that the real purpose was “to subjugate the people of the Philippines. We have gone there to conquer, not to redeem…. And so I am an anti-imperialist. I am opposed to having the eagle put its talons on any other land.” For the rest of his life he was an anti-imperialist and outspoken critic of U.S. foreign policies and the expansionist policies of other nations–to the point that some considered him to be unpatriotic.

Does a true patriot criticize government policies?

Do you believe “my country, right or wrong”?

If you criticize U.S. policies, do you do so out of love of country?

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