The problem, if there is a real problem, with listening to Dan Carlin is that he gets very dark and dangerous parts of the brain firing off. In Episode 182 of his Common Sense podcast he went off on his frequent hobby horses: our interventionist foreign policy. Not to dumb down such a passionate and flexible mind, and his arguments, but I am about to do that exact thing. He tore into what he saw as TR’s contribution to the corruption of the Constitutional office of the President. He saw TR as radical usurper of Congressional prerogatives and man guilty of setting up the American Empire.
A miss is as good as a mile, and Dan, as he is wont to do, tosses his darts at the wrong target. If TR was an awful President, one of the worst in Mr. Carlin’s estimation, what about the President who really set up the hated machine of what is now called “The Forever War,” William McKinley? Why no love, or rather hate, for the man who gave us the Spanish American war?
Not having the pile of books that Dan can dive into, I will attempt to support my argument via the rickety structure that is the series of tubes known as the Internet; and my own incredibly biased opinion.
Instead of focusing on the proximate cause of the war, Cuba, I will sail much further east. If you are looking for remembering the Maine, or T.R.’s Rough Riders (whose Amateur flailing about, and bacon, was saved by the black professionals of 9th Cavalry) look somewhere else. I am not going to Cuba, I am going to the Philippines.
It is in the Philippines that we see how propaganda can live on much longer than the actual need for it. In the U.S., the not so jolly, not so little war fought in the Philippine Archipelago is still called an “insurrection.” In the PI, they are much more clear about these things, they call it by its proper name “The Philippine-American War.” It was a brutal and nasty conflict that killed a large amount of the Pinoy Nation. No one knows for sure, but some say up to a million Filipinos lost their lives. The U.S. was not exactly counting. They were doing unto the Pinoys what they did to the Apache, the Nez Perce, the Comanches, the Lakota, and other First Peoples of the United States. One reads of the later “battles” of the conflict in the Philippines, and it reads exactly like what happened at Wounded Knee. There were lots of dead natives, and barely a scratch on the U.S. combat effectives.
If anything is remembered of the conflict, it is the Battle of Manila Bay. It was there that the famous words, “You may fire when ready, Gridley,” were uttered. No one bothers to ask what Gridley and his Admiral were doing floating in a bay half the world away from the supposed casus belli. What they were doing was pure and unadulterated back-stabbing imperialism.
The back-stabbing was perpetrated on one of the tragic heroes of the Philippines, Emilio Aguinaldo y Famy. He had fought a bitter independence struggle with Spain. The hostilities ended rather oddly with Aguinaldo in exile, and with Spain paying Aguinaldo’s partisans $800,000 Mexican to just go away to Hong Kong. But when the U.S. came to “liberate” the Philippines, Aguinaldo took up arms again.
The U.S. made very short work of the Spanish colonial forces. Not only had rot affected the combat effectiveness of Spain’s Philippines garrison, but they had been fighting a long demoralizing guerrilla struggle since 1896. By 1898, Spain colonial presence was a thoroughly rotten door that only needed a swift kick to splinter. The U.S. was only too happy to provide the kick.
It did not take too long for the goals of the U.S. government and the goals of Aguinaldo’s Ilustrados to come into conflict. While they both wanted a top-down style government, there was a huge argument on who was to be on top. Aguinaldo would come to grief because a group of Filipinos known as the Macabebe preferred the foreign Americans as their boss to the domestic Ilustrados.
With the Macabebes providing the actual double-cross via Funston’s raiders, Aguinaldo was out of action on March 23, 1901. The resistance to the U.S. occupation slowly fell apart. By April 13, 1902, all formal resistance by the Filipinos had ended with the surrender of Miguel Malvar and his devastated collection of three thousand men.
Informal resistance sputtered on for quite longer especially in the Muslim South; from 1902 until 1913. This was the “Moro Rebellion.” U.S. forces continued the winning strategy of concentration camps and total war that had given them victory in the North. But Mindanao is not Luzon. Moro tribesmen wielding spears and swords offered a fanatical resistance to U.S. occupation. It was an opposition informed by the prerequisites of jihad. The U.S. forces did not cover themselves in glory. In places like the First Battle of Bud Dajo, U.S. forces covered themselves knee deep in gore. Of the 800 to 1000 Moros who took refuge at Bud Dajo, a fortified volcanic crater, a whopping 6 lived to tell the tale.
In this first beta test of American Imperialism, we not only see the pattern that would become routine in later years; we also see how the opposition to “Manifest Destiny” operated.
The opposition to the 1898 war with Spain was vigorous. Many leading lights of late Victorian America were solidly against the Spanish-American War. Men like Mark Twain inveighed against what they saw as a betrayal of the U.S.’s anti-colonial roots. If Glenn Greenwald has a spiritual and political father, it may very well be Mark Twain. If you doubt that, read Twain’s “War Prayer” ( http://www.midwinter.com/lurk/making/warprayer.html )
If Twain set a pattern, then what of yellow journalist William Randolph Hearst? What of the man who was one of the midwives to the “Jolly Little War”? What of the expansionists who urged the U.S. to “Take up the White Man’s Burden?”
Almost every military adventure the U.S. has participated in began first as an act of high moral dudgeon. This bears an uncanny resemblance to the wars of the Roman Empire. Only once in Roman History, and then only after the fact, did the Romans admit their motives may have been less than pure. That was the Third and Last Punic War. Of course the fact that the casus belli was morally suspect did not prevent the Romans from burning Carthage to the ground, and taking the survivors into slavery. Other than the raising of Carthage, every war fought was pure as virgin snow, and if you objected to that talking point, the Romans would gut you.
It is in those Roman echos that we hear the defense of our current U.S. empire, an empire that began in the Philippines. It is in the PI that one can see the persistence of empire and the longevity of colonialism. In many ways, the PI is still trying to work out its daddy issues with its Tito Sam. Washington has big-footed the political processes of the PI ever since that fateful day of April 13, 1902, when the last vestiges of truly independent Philippine government was snuffed out on.
The conflicted emotions on the U.S. side cropped up early and often. Just a few years after invading the PI, (to offer the benighted people there the benefits of civilization) the U.S. passed the Tydings–McDuffie Act of 1934. In this act, the U.S. set up a Commonwealth of the Philippines with the aim of granting the Island full independence in ten years. The small price that the Filipinos had to pay for liberation was that they would no longer be allowed to come into the U.S. A quota of 50 Filipinos a year would be magnanimously allowed to come to the promised land. Thus, once being “Christianized” and “ civilized”, the Filipinos would not be allowed to work in civilized and Christianize America. There was a “here’s your hat, what’s the hurry” aspect to both the Filipino people and the Pinoy nation that Uncle Sugar affected.
World War Two torpedoed those plans. Nothing makes an Imperial Nation value a territory more than when another Imperial Power tries to grab that piece of land. The blood and treasure spent on recovering the PI to the breast of Lady Liberty warped both Washington and Manila in ways that were never healthy. The horrors of the Japanese occupation and the Liberation by the U.S. put the Pinoy Nation deeply in Tito Sam’s debt. The Philippines may be 80% Roman Catholic, but for a certain generation, their true god is Douglas MacArthur. The Holy Trinity is no mach for the general with the corn-cob pipe. Washington overvalued the PI as a strategic asset, and the PI spiraled down into dependence and Kelptocracy
The deference that Filipinos showed their Ninong in D.C. became sycophantic, it became clinging and unbalanced. This most devout of Roman Catholic nations, became, in slow degrees, the U.S. military’s brothel and adult Disneyland. Two huge military bases were built on Philippine soil, and the PI became a minor pawn in the global machinations of the Cold War. It was almost inevitable that the social distortions would finally create the military dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos.
Marcos and his happy bunch of thieves were allowed to run riot through the archipelago. Whatever was not securely nailed down was whisked away into hidden Swiss bank accounts. The Administrations in Washington turned a blind eye toward the rampant corruption because in the words of FDR (said about a South American dictator), Marcos may have been a son of a bitch, but he was our son of a bitch.
Thus, the U.S. was willing to have the PI slide into a fairly typical third world dictatorship so it could keep its military toys stationed in the tropics. The U.S. did OK, the PI did not. The years of Martial Law by Marcos corrupted the politics and the culture of the PI in ways that are still being felt. Thanks to our assist, the PI is a desperately poor, dysfunctional, and hierarchical nation that is spinning out of control. Even in “Imperial Manila” the infrastructure is a cruel joke. A heavy rain can cause massive flooding. A week of heavy rain caused epic flooding that brought the northern island of Luzon to its knees in 2009. In the outlying provinces the infrastructure exists only on paper. The actual money spent to “complete” the roads, bridges, electrification, etc. was stolen outright by corrupt government officials.
The only things that got Washington out of the PI were the end of the Cold War and Mount Pinatubo. Washington began to wonder if keeping the bases was such a great idea after the Soviet Union evaporated. Washington was even less enamored when those same bases got covered in millions of tons of volcanic ash. Clark Air Base was a total loss. What Pinatubo did not ruin, the looters stole. With only Subic Naval Base on the table, negotiations between Washington and Manila went flying off the rails and straight into a ditch. The UP educated section of the Filipino elites were angrily talking about the need to “kill the father;” and the government of the PI was making noises of its own. With such nationalist notions swimming about in the public consciousness of the PI, Uncle Sam decided to dash out the nearest exit with all his toys.
But it was all too soon before both the U.S. and the PI had their Brokeback Mountain moment of “ I wish I knew how to quit you.” Uncle Sugar was back in PI to assist the nation in the “War on Terror.” It was not long before the old status quo was reestablished. Proof positive of this was illustrated by a very nasty rape “allegation” involving U.S. Marines and a young teen-aged Filipina. The “alleged” gang rape of the young woman magically disappeared after her family was granted some money and a get-out-of-poverty jail cards (U.S. green cards). Thus was an “alleged” gross violation of a young woman’s rights and dignity smoothed over.
Looking back over more than one hundred years of U.S. colonial misadventure in “The Peal of the Orient”, one can see the disconnect between U.S. avowed goals and grubby reality. The U.S. went to the PI to “pick up the White Man’s burden” and to “civilize the degenerate brown races.” What really occurred was the feckless creation of a dysfunctional client state whose only real export is its own people. It is said that the PI spent four hundred years in a Spanish convent, and Fifty years in Hollywood. Unfortunately for the PI, the years in Hollywood have been spent making an Irwin Allen disaster flick.
The long and tangled history of the United States in the Philippines is illustrative of how the US interventionist foreign policy really works. Interference by Washington in the Affairs of the Pinoy Nation have made an epic mess. The PI is less of a nation and more of a therapy session between Imperial Manila and its neglected and needy citizens. The recriminations, backbiting, co-dependency and dysfunction of the relationship is depressing to watch. The only thing that is worse is watching the relationship between the paternalistic and negligent United States and the always-desperate-and-chronically-needy PI. Washington only seems to care about the archipelago when it fits into some broader foreign policy concern. The PI is a useful pawn to push around the Asian chess board. Of course, the best and brightest of Foggy Bottom never consult Manila on whether it wants to participate in the game. The interest, needs, or desires of the Pinoy Nation are either made subservient to the needs of U.S., or totally ignored. It has been this way for a long time, ever since 1898.
It was in that fateful year that the experiment in American Empire began in earnest. The P.I. was the beta test of U.S. hegemony. It is in that island chain’s history that we can see how that hegemony really works, or more exactly fails to work. For the most part, it is hard to see what, if any, benefit the vast majority of Pinoys have accrued from the long association. A small, connected elite have gotten fabulously wealthy but the poor have only grown more numerous and more desperate. Adding the pluses and minuses it appears a wash at best.
If after more than 100 years in the PI, the best the U.S. interventionists efforts can manage is a shrug of the soldiers; then what of the rest of the developing world? That is a question best not answered if one believes in U.S. exceptionalism. The answer is not pretty, gentle reader; it is not pretty at all.