Saturday, October 30, 2021

On Kipling’s “Lesser Breeds Without the Law”

When some Haitians crossed the American border with Mexico and made it into Texas (in the first week of October), the conservatives went ballistic. They screamed and wept that their country was being invaded. They claimed that their country would be destroyed if the Haitians were not thrown out immediately. Their government listened. I think many of the Haitians have been deported to Haiti. But what do these conservatives have to say about the mindless destruction that America’s political and military interventions have caused in Haiti? Are they not culpable for the crimes that their government commits in other countries? 

In his poem, “Recessional,” Rudyard Kipling shows his contempt for the people of Africa and Asia by calling them the “lesser breeds without the Law.” In another poem, “The White Man’s Burden,” Kipling glorifies the Europeans with these words: “Take up the White Man’s burden—Send forth the best ye breed.” I wonder why Kipling is still being taught in schools and colleges of Asia? Why are they making movies based on his books? Kipling was a notorious defender of colonialism and slavery. He should be quietly dumped into the dustbin of history and forgotten.

After winning the Second World War, America became the leader of the West. The Kiplingesque notions of “the white man’s burden” and bringing law to the “lesser breeds without the law” became the drivers of America’s foreign policy after 1945. The Americans were convinced that they were exceptional, that they were the “masters of the universe.” They recognized some connections with Europe but they wiped out the historical connection between their country and Asia, South America, and Africa. 

Like the Spanish and the British in the Age of Imperialism, the Americans, after 1945, were convinced that it was their destiny to civilize the world. The result of this Kiplingesque thinking was hubris and tyrannical tendencies which led America to start a series of wars: Vietnam, Cambodia, the Korean Peninsula, Cuba, Chile, Dominican Republic, Haiti, Panama, Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Somalia. These wars were fought with three aims—first, to take control of natural resources; second, to expand America’s geopolitical power; third, to transform the world into America’s image. Now it is clear that all three aims have failed.

When I look at the destruction that has been caused in these wars, I have to ask myself: “Who is the lesser breed?” Kipling was obsessed with the imperialistic European vision. He did not care to investigate the perspective of the non-European people. There is nothing new about the American or Western notion of being an exceptional civilization. All civilizations harbor similar notions—they have their nationalistic mythologies and heroic founders. America is as imperfect as any other country, including Haiti where they have been intervening continuously since 1950.

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