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August 29
Partial Transcript, Abrams Report, April 5, 2005

From the March 5, 2003 Mahablog.

Americans Against Imperialism;
or, Déjà Vu All Over Again
 
 
Yesterday explosions in the Philippines killed at least 21 people (as of this writing) and injured about 150 others. Muslim extremists are suspected.
 
Are you surprised? Upset? Bored? Wouldn't you rather focus on Iraq?  You might think the last entertaining thing about the Philippines was Imelda Marcos and her shoes.
 
But pay attention! Hubris and history are about to collide.
 
Last month the Pentagon announced joint U.S.-Philippine military operations against Abu Sayyaf Muslim extremists. Murders and kidnappings by Abu Sayyaf guerrillas terrorize citizens and keep away tourism and investment, so one would think the Filipinos would be happy for any help to get rid of them.
 
But the Philippines objected strongly to a deployment of 1,000 U.S. troops when it realized the Pentagon planned to order them into combat.
Pentagon officials had described the deployment as "joint operations" that would have drawn Americans into battle. That wording caused an uproar in the Philippines. Newspapers, lawmakers and left-wing groups accused the government in Manila of violating the constitution that bars foreign troops from combat. [Associated Press]
Apparently, last month the Philippines thought it had agreed to joint training exercises, while the U.S. DoD had something else in mind.
 
Make no mistake, the Abu Sayyaf guerrillas are as nasty as they come. In 2001 they kidnapped and beheaded an American tourist, just because. They held two American missionaries, Gracia and Martin Burnham, for several months, eventually killing Mr. Burnham. They are currently holding two Indonesian sailors and four Christian women hostage. Abu Sayyaf may or may not be linked to al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, but the circumstantial evidence against them is somewhat stronger than the evidence against Saddam Hussein.
 
So one might wonder why Philippinos feel so strongly about having foreign troops trampling around in their country when the troops are just going after Bad Guys. Is it just because they are "left wing"?

Déjà Vu
 
You probably know that the United States and the Philippines have long had issues and history. You may not know how much that history has in common with our impending war in Iraq.
 
Here's a quick review, beginning in 1898. During the Spanish-American War, Commodore George Dewey seized the Spanish colony of Manila Bay with the help of Philippine rebels led by Emilio Aguinaldo. When the Spanish-American War ended, Aguinaldo and the Philippine insurgents held most of the islands, while the United States occupied only Manila.
 
After the fall of Manila, Aguinaldo and his supporters organized a republican government. A constitutional convention proclaimed Aguinaldo to be the President of the Republic of the Philippines. The United States refused to recognize the Filipino's authority to govern themselves, however, and chose to annex the entire Philippine Islands as a U.S. territory. Thus Aguinaldo and the insurrectos declared war on the U.S. troops on their islands.
 
"This is not battle, for only one side is engaged -- it has another name. It is massacre." -- Mark Twain
 
To possess the territory the U.S. already had annexed, U.S. troops fought a hellish war against the Filipinos' poorly armed but popular army.

To this day, the total number of Filipinos killed during the war is hotly debated. Some 16,000 to 20,000 Filipino soldiers were killed from 1899-1902. Estimates of the number of civilians who died from famine, disease and other war-related causes during these years range from 200,000 to 600,000. These figures do not include the number of Filipinos who died during the warfare in the southern Philippines that continued until 1914. Of the nearly 200,000 U.S. soldiers who served in the Philippines from 1898 to 1902, only about 5,000 were killed. Highlighting a similarly glaring difference in casualty figures in a speech given in 1902, Twain exclaimed: "This is not battle, for only one side is engaged -- it has another name. It is massacre." [Jim Zwick, "Sitting in Darkness: An Unheeded Message About U.S. Militarism," Baltimore Sun, April 23, 1995.]

The Peaceniks of 1898

The Spanish-American war had been "a splendid little war," in Teddy Roosevelt's words, and a popular one. Newspaper readers thrilled at the exploits of Roosevelt's Rough Riders in Cuba and Dewey's decisive victory at Manila. It was during this time that the Pledge of Alliegiance (the original one, without God) was written, and state legislators made the morning flag salute a legal requirement in public schools. Unlike the terrible Civil War of recent memory, the Spanish-American War was (to Americans ) far away, bloodless, and grand. It was a great time for flag wavers, who cheered the annexation of the Philippines as well as Cuba, Guam, Puerto Rico, and Hawaii.
 
But a minority were appalled at the idea of America as an imperial power. In 1898 the American Anti-imperialist League organized to favor independence for Spain's former colonies, and the Philippines was their primary concern. The League's position was not so much pro-Filipino as it was pro-America. Imperialism, they said, violated pro-democrtic and anti-colonial traditions. A nation could not be a republic and an imperial power at the same time. One of the founders, Herbert Welsh, said the League
... was laboring not merely to have right done to Aguinaldo and justice dealt out to the Filipino people, but its higher aim was and is to prevent the departure of our people and government from the time-honored and deeply revered principles of civil and political equity upon which the nation was founded.
League members, who included Jane Addams, Andrew Carnegie, Mark Twain, William James, and Samuel Gompers, worked hard to get their message out through mass meetings and written literature (notably anti-imperialist poems).
 
However, most Americans fancied themselves to be the benevolent protectors of the backward Filipinos (who were often depicted in newspapers as savages in grass skirts) and considered the anti-imperialists to be traitors. How dare they speak against their country in a time of war, the "patriots" huffed. Rumors flew that the anti-imperialists were supporting the Filippinos to kill American soldiers. Other rumors, of atrocities committed by American soldiers, were dismissed by the "patriots" as just anti-imperialist propaganda. 
 
Unfortunately, the latter rumors were true.
Colonel Frederick Funston boasted he would 'rawhide these bullet-headed Asians until they yell for mercy' so they would not 'get in the way of the bandwagon of Anglo-Saxon progress and decency.' The United States did in the Philippines precisely what it had condemned Spain for doing in Cuba. Soon stories of concentration camps and 'water-cures' began to trickle back to the United States ...Mark Twain ... suggested that Old Glory should now have 'the white stripes painted black and the stars replaced by the skull and cross bones.' [S.E. Morison, H.S. Commager, W.E. Leuchtenburg, A Concise History of the American Republic. Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 490]
In 1902 President Theodore Roosevelt declared that the Filipino-American war was over, although at the time the U.S. held only the northern half of the Philippines. In the next few years the anti-imperialists struggled in vain to focus public attention on the fighting still going on in the southern islands.
 
In 1906, however, a massacre of at least 900 (reported at the time as 600) Filipino Muslims on the island of Jolo finally made the front page. The dead included women and children, killed indiscriminately by troops under the command of Gen. Leonard Wood. Anti-imperlialists published pamphlets and distributed a photograph of the carnage.
 
A U.S. Congressman read this poem to the House of  Representatives:
 
Chased them from everywhere
Chased them all onward
Into the crater of death
Drove them -- six hundred.
"Forward, the Wood Brigade;
 Spare not a one," he said;
"Shoot all six hundred."
          *****
Flashed all the sabres there
Flashed as they turned in air,
Sabring the women there,
Charging the children, while
All the world wondered.
Stifled by the cannon smoke
Men, women, children choke.
Women and children
Reeled from the bay'net's stroke,
In death not sundered;
Families slaughtered there,
All of six hundred.
             ******
What shall such bloodthirst slake?
Go ask Hell Roaring Jake
Whether Wood blundered.
Honor the charge they made,
Honor the Wood Brigade,
For that six hundred.
 
Fast Forward a Century

MAKE no mistake about it. George Junior, the world's "chief of police," already declared in no uncertain terms what our officials -- both civilians and military -- have been obscure about, leaving many, including perhaps those in the administration, to second-guess the real intent of the deployment of US troops in Mindanao as part of the expanded "war on terrorism."

It is not a mere "exercise" or "war games" (although engaging in war is one of America's games), but a US-led military operation to wipe out the country's "terrorists," for now, represented by the Abu Sayyaf. Contrary to earlier pronouncements, American troops will stay in Mindanao, and, even elsewhere in the country, for as long as it takes, to achieve its objectives and protect, primarily, its own interest. [Carlos Isagani T. Zarate, "Game Na?" INQ7]

I woke up this morning to a BBC news report about poets against (and for) the war in Iraq. MSNBC has a story about a man arrested in an Albany, New York, mall for wearing an anti-war T-shirt ("Give Peace a Chance ... No War in Iraq"). Mr. Zarate, quoted above, worries that innocent Filipinos will become "collateral damage" in the U.S. war on terror.

The scotched joint military operation was to be in the southern Philippines, near the site of General Wood's action in Jolo.

The President speaks about "liberating" the people of Iraq and bringing them the blessings of democracy. At the same time, the Kurds -- the poor unfortunates gassed by Saddam Hussein awhile back who are Exhibit A in the Bush Regime's pretense at humanitarian motives -- are told they will not be allowed to form their own government. (See George Packer, "Dreaming of Democracy," The New York Times Magazine, March 2, 2003; for more on The Gassing of His Own People [the Kurds], see "What Happened in Halabja?")

Some may argue that it's been a century since Jolo. But it has been only 35 years since My Lai. I am not saying that American soldiers are murdering brutes. I am saying that they are human beings, and in the inferno of battle human beings break down and do unhuman things. It is a terrible betrayal of our men and women in uniform to send them into war unless is it absolutely necessary.

It can also be argued that Philippine Muslim extremism was born in the mass graves of Jolo a century ago. What wars will our descendants be fighting that we will have started for them?

marktwain.gif

The War Prayer

I come from the Throne -- bearing a message from Almighty God!... He has heard the prayer of His servant, your shepherd, & will grant it if such shall be your desire after I His messenger shall have explained to you its import -- that is to say its full import. For it is like unto many of the prayers of men in that it asks for more than he who utters it is aware of -- except he pause & think.

"God's servant & yours has prayed his prayer. Has he paused & taken thought? Is it one prayer? No, it is two -- one uttered, the other not. Both have reached the ear of Him who heareth all supplications, the spoken & the unspoken....

"You have heard your servant's prayer -- the uttered part of it. I am commissioned of God to put into words the other part of it -- that part which the pastor -- and also you in your hearts -- fervently prayed, silently. And ignorantly & unthinkingly? God grant that it was so! You heard these words: 'Grant us the victory, O Lord our God!' That is sufficient. The whole of the uttered prayer is completed into those pregnant words.

"Upon the listening spirit of God the Father fell also the unspoken part of the prayer. He commandeth me to put it into words. Listen!

"O Lord our Father, our young patriots, idols of our hearts, go forth to battle -- be Thou near them! With them -- in spirit -- we also go forth from the sweet peace of our beloved firesides to smite the foe.

"O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended through wastes of their desolated land in rags & hunger & thirst, sport of the sun-flames of summer & the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee for the refuge of the grave & denied it -- for our sakes, who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask of one who is the Spirit of love & who is the ever-faithful refuge & friend of all that are sore beset, & seek His aid with humble & contrite hearts. Grant our prayer, O Lord & Thine shall be the praise & honor & glory now & ever, Amen."

(After a pause.) "Ye have prayed it; if ye still desire it, speak! -- the messenger of the Most High waits."

·   ·   ·   ·   ·   ·

It was believed, afterward, that the man was a lunatic, because there was no sense in what he said.

[Mark Twain, 1905]

Copyright 2003, 2004 by Barbara O'Brien

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