Thursday, September 02, 2004

Max Boot - Pacifying The Phillippines, English Language

Max Boot in today's LA Times:
There is plenty of precedent for guerrillas trying to affect a U.S. election. In 1900, American troops were embroiled in another nasty counterinsurgency halfway around the world that was not going as well as planned. After the Democratic nominee, William Jennings Bryan, promised to pull out of the Phillippines, the insurrectos launched a fall offensive in order to secure his election.

They failed. Republican William McKinley was reelected, and the U.S. went on to pacify the islands.

Before I get on to my criticism of Max Boot, and the abuse of the English language and history by referring to pacifying the Phillippines, an interesting observation arises from this. First, granting (for a moment) the Phillippine insurrection was motivated "to secure...election" of William Jennings Bryan, if Filipinos could have looked into a crystal ball at that time, it would be hard to fault them for resisting and hoping to influence a U.S. election, since they would have seen that over the course of their pacification, from 1899-1903, 200,000 Filipino civilians died, along with another 25,000 rebels (insurgents/resisters/local militia).

American occupation forces identified their objective as the capture of Aguinaldo. They initially perceived conquest and pacification as dependent on the fall of the Aguinaldo government. Because of their superiority in weapons, they also believed that the war would be short and swift in their favor. But the Americans were shocked at the courage and tenacity of the Filipinos who dragged the Americans into several years of battle.

The Filipinos waged a guerrilla warfare which was suitable for the country’s terrain and their limited firearms. Many of them were peasants by day and revolutionaries by night. They were sustained in their struggle by the unrelenting support of entire towns...receiv[ing] food, supplies, and shelter from the people. It was dangerous for an American to stray away from the U.S. garrison lest he be hacked to death by the guerrillas and their sympathizers.

Towards the end of 1900, the Americans declared martial law. To combat guerrilla warfare, they launched a scorched-earth "pacification" campaign. Every Filipino was viewed as an enemy regardless of whether he or she took up arms. Entire towns were held responsible for the actions of guerrillas. Mere objection to the Americans was termed treason. Villages sympathetic to the guerrillas were burned and people indiscriminately killed. Torture was systematically used to elicit information from suspected guerrillas or their sympathizers. One form of torture was the "water cure" treatment where the victim was forced to drink excessive amounts of water after which he was stomped on the stomach. One U.S. soldier bragged in a letter that Americans were shooting Filipinos "like rabbits."

Part of the strategy was the introduction of "reconcentration", a policy of hauling thousands of Filipinos (whom Americans referred to as their "little brown brothers") into concentration camps to flush out the guerrillas among them and to cut their material support to the resistance movement. In the process of reconcentration, whole towns suffered from starvation and disease. Villagers were taken from their sources of livelihood and were not decently fed. Worse, living conditions were less than adequate, with people confined in overcrowded camps without proper sanitation. Camps then became breeding grounds for the spread of deadly diseases such as cholera.

The guerrilla war for independence did not immediately end with Aguinaldo’s capture on March 23, 1901; the insurrection lasted until July 1902. In the end, it took over three years to “pacify” the Philippines. More than 120,000 American soldiers served in the Philippines, 4,200 of whom died. It was estimated that 25,000 Filipino rebels and 200,000 civilians also died.

Let's leave aside the imaginative scenarios, and the torture and murder of hundreds of thousands of Filipinos by a Republican hero and American president, and get to the point of this essay. Does pacification mean concentration camps, torture, murder, burning villages, declaring any dissent as treason, and systematic wiping out of locals and villages to secure an environment for American investment and markets? Methinks pacification is not the right word, or we should change our opinion of the "sense" of this word (i.e. negatively like 'cleansing').

Further, should we be bringing up this adventure in any way other than with profound sorrow and regret? Do we really consider the systematic rape, torture, murder, and repression of Filipinos (our "little brown brothers") as a success to be emulated?

Last, there are some very clear parallels from the passage quoted above, in terms of the assumptions and the consequences of those assumptions by the president and military planners, and the current situation in Iraq. So there is no excuse for President Bush to claim that he could not have been prepared for the events there.

In the Phillippines adventure, we had such superior firepower, we felt the war would be easy. Only after we made our initial advance, did we determine they had no intention of fighting us in a conventional way that would reflect our superiority, and instead melted into towns and the populace and engaged in guerrilla warfare.

When all was said and done, this shameful adventure should have taught us something, just as Vietnam should have taught us something. But, it seemingly hasn't. Not only that, but our leaders seem to want us to believe that they're not even aware of the mistakes made in these adventures, which seem to be largely the same as we've made in Iraq. We never should have invaded Iraq as we did, and when we did, and even having done so there is no excuse for our poor planning.

And, to my knowledge, there is no basis for Max Boot's claim that the Filipinos actively sought to influence the 1900 U.S. presidential campaign. I'm not saying it isn't true, but from a short, cursory search, I find no evidence for this claim, and Boot offers none in its defense.



Today, the Right continues their campaign to rehabilitate military action in the wake of Vietnam, even by attempts to redefine and rewrite the history of Vietnam itself. Max Boot, unwittingly, has even brought up our epic failures and atrocities of the Phillippines, which have been largely ignored to date, as part of this effort. The clear lesson of history, of both of these campaigns, is that military invasions and brutalization of local peoples by foreigners (we being the foreigners in these cases) ought only be justified under the most stringent requirements, where our safety is imminently threatened, with full private and public review, and if we do take action every effort should be made to have every expert voice heard so that we do it right, and always act with an eye towards peace.

The world hasn't changed that much since the last century turned, as we can see. The battles that Mark Twain and William James, among others, were fighting against deviant political, corporate, and military elites, and for human decency, respect, and dignity, are still going on full bore. Don't fool yourself. That's why there is 500,000 people in the streets of New York, and millions more around the world before the Iraq invasion.

For a short synopis of the Anti-Imperialist League, and its initial platform, follow this link. For an update of what you can do today, start here.