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The White Man's Burden

By Rudyard Kipling

McClure's Magazine 12 (Feb. 1899).

Take up the White Man's burden--
Send forth the best ye breed--
Go, bind 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--
The savage wars of peace--
Fill full the mouth of Famine,
And bid the sickness cease;
And when your goal is nearest
(The end for others sought)
Watch sloth and heathen folly
Bring all your hope to nought.

Take up the White Man's burden--
No iron rule of kings,
But toil of serf and sweeper--
The tale of common things.
The ports ye shall not enter,
The roads ye shall not tread,
Go, make them with your living
And mark them with your dead.

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!) toward the light:--
"Why brought ye us from bondage,
Our loved Egyptian night?"

Take up the White Man's burden--
Ye dare not stoop to less--
Nor call too loud on Freedom
To cloak your weariness.
By all ye will or whisper,
By all ye leave or do,
The silent sullen peoples
Shall weigh your God and you.

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.

The burdens of imperial overreach will eventually take their toll. It was the fate of Rome, and it was the fate of the British Empire.

In spite of that, I find myself more and more in the "imperialist" camp.

But first, I want to say that Kipling's "White Man's Burden" must be understood metaphorically if it is to be a prescription. A century ago, most well-meaning and educated people in the West were racists, and it is no slur on Kipling to say that. (Kipling, however, was nevertheless capable of recognizing human greatness and strength of character regardless of skin color: "You're a better man than I, Gunga Din.")

The United States is not a "white" nation but a multiethnic one, and that is one of its principal strengths. We have the benefit of a hundred years of learning and insight, and very few would still claim superiority of a "white race".

Today the fault lines are not racial but political. Capitalism versus socialism, individual liberty vs. dictatorship, separation of religion and state vs. theocracy. I believe that our system is superior and should prevail in a conflict with the alternatives. Just as conflict with communism and Nazism could not be avoided by retreating into a shell, so it is impossible to evade the challenge of radical Islam.

What the "neo-Wilsonians" or "imperialists" are advocating may be an even greater project than the defeat and subsequent rebuilding of Japan and Germany, greater than the five decades of armed, often violent opposition to the Soviet Union. In confronting the Islamic power challenge, we face a belief system that is much more deeply rooted than Nazism and Imperial Japanese ideology ever were.

The scope of the task is vast, and will occupy more than one generation. And in the end -- a hundred years hence? Two hundred years? -- the United States will be a spent force, sliding into the gentle twilight that the UK inhabits today.

I hope that by then, other nations will be ready to pick up the baton. China and India are the two prime candidates. Each of these nations possesses a culture of learning and accomplishment. China has less religious strife than India, but they have a longer way to go towards a free market and a civil society that safeguards its citizens from the power of the state. Through our relationship with these countries, we are already helping their people to become freer and more prosperous. However, the forces of freedom in China need much more time to become dominant, and the internal strife in India will continue to keep them occupied for a long time.

If we can subdue the forces of militant Islam for long enough that China or India can blossom into a freedom-loving superpower, then our job will be done. We will be able to be proud of the heritage we leave behind, even as someone else steps up to become the leader. And that new leader will regard us as fondly as we look on the British today.

If the United States additionally succeeds in helping to transform some Muslim nations into something approaching a Western democracy (in politics though not religion), it will be even better. (Although they will not thank us -- the "White Man's Reward").

But if we do not take on the burden, if we retreat into a "Fortress America", then life may be easier and it may be more comfortable -- but we will abdicate our responsibility to influence what comes after us.

I realize that I am talking exactly like one of the "Americans imbued by missionary fervor" that the European press loves to deride, which is ironic, as I am living in Europe. In my case, that sense of mission is a recent discovery, and I know that many -- including many conservatives -- do not share it.

However, I can only say what I believe is the best policy for the U.S. It is to take up the burden, as Kipling urged us to do a century ago -- the Free Man's Burden -- and endure the hardships and the hatred in the belief that we are doing good.