Not the First Time

Wall of fire

The New Yorker has a good recent piece by Paul Kramer about the American invasion of a sovereign nation under false pretenses. The article details the systematic use of attacks against civilians, suspension of judicial norms of fairness, and torture of prisoners to extract confessions, under the justification that the cruelty used wasn’t as bad as that used by the local fighters, who were referred to as “insurgents”. It all took place in the Phillipines in the first decade of the 20th century:

…U.S. naval plans included provisions for an attack on the Spanish Navy in the event of war, and led to a decisive victory against the Spanish fleet at Manila Bay in May, 1898. Shortly afterward, Commodore George Dewey returned the exiled Filipino revolutionary Emilio Aguinaldo to the islands. Aguinaldo defeated Spanish forces on land, declared the Philippines independent in June, and organized a government led by the Philippine élite. During the next half year, it became clear that American and Filipino visions for the islands’ future were at odds. U.S. forces seized Manila from Spain—keeping the army of their ostensible ally Aguinaldo from entering the city—and President William McKinley refused to recognize Filipino claims to independence, pushing his negotiators to demand that Spain cede sovereignty over the islands to the United States, while talking about Filipinos’ need for “benevolent assimilation.”…

… A letter by A. F. Miller, of the 32nd Volunteer Infantry Regiment, published in the Omaha World-Herald in May, 1900, told of how Miller’s unit uncovered hidden weapons by subjecting a prisoner to what he and others called the “water cure.” “Now, this is the way we give them the water cure,” he explained. “Lay them on their backs, a man standing on each hand and each foot, then put a round stick in the mouth and pour a pail of water in the mouth and nose, and if they don’t give up pour in another pail. They swell up like toads. I’ll tell you it is a terrible torture.” …

… The disclosures stirred indignation in the United States but also prompted rousing defenses. Smith was court-martialled that spring, and was found guilty of “conduct to the prejudice of good order and military discipline.” Yet the penalty was slight: he was simply reprimanded and made to retire early. Root then used the opportunity to tout the restraint that the U.S. forces had shown, given their “desperate struggle” against “a cruel and savage foe.”…

… In making this case, Glenn shifted the focus to the enemy’s tactics. He emphasized the treachery of Ealdama, who had been tried and convicted by a military commission a year earlier as a “war traitor,” for aiding the insurgency. Testimony was presented by U.S. military officers and Filipinos concerning the insurgency’s guerrilla tactics, which violated the norms of “civilized war.” Found guilty, Glenn was sentenced to a one-month suspension and a fifty-dollar fine. “The court is thus lenient,” the sentence read, “on account of the circumstances as shown in evidence.” (Glenn retired from the Army, in 1919, as a brigadier general.) Meanwhile, Ealdama, twice tortured by Glenn’s forces, was serving a sentence of ten years’ hard labor; he had been temporarily released to enable him to testify against his torturer…

The Phillipine-American War is still commemorated as a noble act of liberation on monuments placed all around the United States by private citizen groups shortly after the war ended. Many of these monuments conflate the Phillipine-American War and the Spanish-American War. Here in Seattle the United Spanish War Veterans erected such a monument in 1952, in the park that had been known as City Park until the name was changed to Volunteer Park in 1902, in honor of American soldiers who had served in the Phillipines.

For more about revisionist historical markers in the United States, I recommend the fascinating book Lies Across America by James W. Loewen.

Image courtesy of Asiafinest forum


~ by lolarusa on February 28, 2008.

2 Responses to “Not the First Time”

  1. And we’re still there.

    So often we are told that the new technologies and the new age of terrorism require new policies on dealing with them. But this is just another example of how little things change.

  2. Yup, the Philippines was a nasty, bloody exercise in imperialism.
    The one good thing that came of it according to the book I read was that it put Americans off the idea of imperialism permanently. After the Philippines they criticized the European empires instead of trying to copy them.
    Looking at Iraq I guess you’d have to say that the lesson wasn’t really learned that well after all.

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