How ‘The White Man’s Burden’ endures in Trump
This week, President Donald Trump pardoned three U.S. officers accused of war crimes in Afghanistan and Iraq. It made me think of Rudyard Kipling’s “The White Man’s Burden,” that ode to Western imperialism.
Remember how it goes? “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 he us from bondage, / Our loved Egyptian night?”
Kipling actually wrote it to the Americans. At the turn of the century, the British Empire was waning, and America was rising, but the Yanks were squeamish about going out into the world and civilizing savages in Asia and Africa, “half devil and half child.” America did eventually pick up the slack, as we know, but still likes to complain. Trump, with his talk about “shithole” countries, is less elegant than his predecessors, but we all know what he means.
Let’s take a look at the news. All three pardoned soldiers were accused of war crimes while on civilizing missions. Here it is, straight from the pages of the New York Times:
“Lieutenant Lorance was convicted in 2013 for ordering the shooting of a group of civilians in Afghanistan, and tried then to cover it up. He was given a full pardon.
Chief Gallagher was charged with the murder of a captive in Iraq but was acquitted this summer of all charges except for the minor charge of posing for a photo with a corpse.
Major Golsteyn was awaiting trial on charges that he murdered an unarmed Afghan in 2010.”
This, of course, demonstrates a complete disregard for war crimes and the integrity of the military justice system, but that is not the worst thing about this. As the victims in all cases are from “shithole” countries, it signals a disregard for the life and dignity of the Other.
Trump’s decision is shameful, and rather candid, I must say. The world to him, as it was for Kipling, is composed of two parts: Human beings and savages. Principles and values do not apply equally here. A double standard is not a fault, it is an operational necessity.
In addition to moral objections we should all have, this is also dangerous from a practical point of view. A disregard for Muslim lives and dignity among the liberal powers of the West is the quickest way to ensure Salafi radicalization throughout the Muslim world, another mega trend of this century, I’m afraid. As a recruitment item, it feeds right into the narrative created by the atrocities in Bosnia, or the treatment of Uyghurs in China. Trump seems to revel in this narrative, feeding tropes like the white man’s divine vocation in protecting oilfields in the desert. Jihadists looking for fresh recruits are surely overjoyed to see a President Trump.
With ISIL still around, we in Turkey are on the front lines of the war for Muslim minds, and if we fail to deal with this direct threat to our common values, we will lose many more battles. Trump may pride himself that he has ended the physical “Caliphate,” but he, perhaps more than anything else, ensures its survival into the next generation.
Americans always have difficulties in understanding the dynamics of our part of the world, as our Israeli friends could attest to. Yet even by those dismal standards, Trump is a spectacular failure.