Imperialism was always seen as positive for Westerners, but as destructive by the peoples of Africa and Asia." To what extent does this statement appear to be true?
Rudyard Kipling's "The White man's burden" seems to be an ironic condemnation of imperialism. Whilst most Westerners of the viewed imperialism as a necessary fact and as a boon to the 'savages', Kipling was a pre-contemporary in more ways than one and saw the 'Whites' as simply one more other race populating the world. The White man in his greed and folly was perpetrating needless wars and occupying another's land as well as stealing their wives, children, property, and money for the benefit of themselves. Kipling, however, was unique in that most Westerners disagreed with him. To them, they were not only doing their duty but many defined their acts as charity. They were educating the illiterate; teaching the savage the ways of Jesus Christ; showing the primitive how to till and cultivate his soil as well as manage his business; and, in all ways, positively affecting the inferior race with the gentility and keener intelligence of the superior. Others admitted their stake of personal self-interest, but pegged on the same rationalizations: they were benefitting the inferior savage by occupying his land.
The fact that this seemed to be the common attitude of the period is clearly seen in literature that has become classic. Pollyanna and Tom Sawyer, for instance, are two classic productions of the period that contain scenes where the town's people meet on ways to fund the missionaries who are sacrificing themselves in teaching God's word to the primitive people. The view that the other was primitive was internalized in the lay Westerner. Many believed, the African et al. was a cannibal. (In fact, the concept that the other was less intelligent and of an inferior race was believed by Darwin who popularized it to a certain extent).
It may be that the very act of stealing a land from another and imposing one's people, laws, and customs in that land is an act that is so horrific and palpably inexcusable that the perpetrators shrank from its existence by not denying it - they couldn't do that -- but by justifying it.
Justification of imperialism has long been a factor in Western history.
Rome was the predecessor with its Carthaginian Empire making huge strides into swathes of African territory. Their claim was that they were extending Roman discipline, order, and law to the conquered and thus their dependencies were benefiting from their imperialism.
Bonaparte wanted to conquer the world. He claims -- as did Hitler later -- that he was unifying the people by doing so and disseminating a common code of law. Hitler would assert that he was populating the world with superior race -- the Aryans -- and ridding it of inferior. Each conquering individual and nation not only excused their acts but also promoted them as profitable to mankind. In fact, as late as 1990, McKinley pronounced that "The American flag has not been planted in foreign soil to acquire more territory but for humanity's sake" (Spivak et al., 271). This sort of imperialism, popularized by Theodore Roosevelt, was of a different sort: it was called neo-colonialism in that rather than actively occupying the other, America exploited the other nation by imposing international monetary institutions, via military threat, missionary interference, strategic investment, and by actively intervening in overthrowing leftist governments even though these may have been democratically elected. The imperialism of the 18th-19th centuries and neocolonialism has the same roots: the arrogance of the West in alleging its superiority over a so-called 'inferior' nation and, thereby, rationalizing its interference in the other's way of life.
This is far easier to do when the occupier sees the other as inferior and rationalizes his act as benign if not benevolent.
Edward Said vociferously condemned imperialism in his book Orientalism (1978) which argued that Western discourse shaped the Orient into an imagined caricature in order to bend it to its own caprices. Orientals were regarded as chaotic, corrupt, irrational, and unable to govern themselves. They benefitted from the sagacious rule of the wiser European who knew the Oriental better than the Oriental…