East and West

The late Michael Kreca’s article “The Needless US Pacific War with Japan,” posted on LRC today, begins like this:

Rudyard Kipling

Rudyard Kipling

East is East and West is West and never the twain shall meet…” – Rudyard Kipling

When Kipling penned those immortal words during the height of Pax Britannia in the 19th century, he believed East and West were so different in their respective civilizations and outlook that there would be no basis for any real understanding between the two hemispheres. True or untrue, at the times they each have met, it has often sadly been in the cauldron of warfare …

Okay, but two quibbles. First, the “East” in Kipling’s poem refers to the Muslim world, not to East Asia; and second, the whole point of the poem is to deny that there is “no basis for any real understanding” between the two cultures – instead, the reiterated message of Kipling’s poem is that “there is neither East nor West, border, nor breed, nor birth, when two strong men stand face to face, tho’ they come from the ends of the earth.”

(Needless to say, Kipling is not exactly consistent in maintaining this attitude of equality and mutual respect between cultures; indeed he’s probably best known for his jingoistic imperialist side. But he had other sides as well.)


One Response to East and West

  1. Joel Schlosberg January 26, 2010 at 12:03 pm #

    The leftist (and, in fact, socialist, like Eric Flint) science fiction writer Mack Reynolds had a series that was an ironic reversal of imperialism inspired by Kipling’s “White Man’s Burden”, which is both the source for the titles and quoted at the beginning of the first book, starting with “Blackman’s Burden” and “Border, Breed nor Birth” (both novels were combined in one volume as an Ace Double, with two different great covers as the format allowed).

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