Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Quote of the Day: The Philippines War

An article in Slate today compared the Iraq War to our fight against Filipino Insurrectos after the Spanish American War in 1898. President Bush had made the comparison himself in a speech in 2003 in Manila. The Philippines was supposed to be a success story, though America occupied it for almost 50 years; Bush was full of shit.

It's still a great comparison -- just not for the reasons Bush claimed -- but you're not going to like the lessons we learned.

American troops had a song they sang during that war called "The Soldier's Song" which included the line -- and this is my quote of the day -- "civilize 'em with a Krag."

The Krag was a new rifle. The Krag-Jørgensen was designed in the 1880s by two Norwegians -- Army captain Ole Herman Johannes Krag and gunsmith Erik Jørgensen for use in the Norwegian Army. The Danish Army adopted it in 1889 and the U.S. Army in 1892. The American version was manufactured in Massachusetts.

Even today, rumor has it, the semi-secret Military Order of the Carabao, which started in 1900, still gathers to sing "The Soldier's Song". Some of the lyrics are as follows:
In the days of dopey dreams -- happy, peaceful Philippines,
When the bolomen were busy all night long.
When ladrones would steal and lie, and Americanos die,
Then you heard the soldiers sing this evening song:
Damn, damn, damn the Filipinos!
Cross-eyed kakiac ladrones!
Underneath the starry flag, civilize 'em with a Krag,
And return us to our own beloved homes.
The "damn the Filipinos" line was changed to "damn the Insurrectos" after some negative publicity.

In 2003, the Village Voice's Ian Urbina covered one of the Order's events, called Wallows after the grazing habits of the carabao water buffalo for which the group is named. Some of the events have been attended by big-wigs like Colin Powell and General Richard B. Myers (ret.), former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Urbina:
As our mole reported, the mood of the Wallow varies from year to year, depending on how much military spending is going on. The February 2002 crowd, basking in the second year of Bush's rule, was enthusiastic. "This year was totally different," one attendee said at the time. "With the current White House and all the overseas activity, military confidence is way up. I can't tell you how many excited comments there were about the new budgetary reality."
There was another gun the U.S. Army used to "civilize" the Filipinos -- the Colt .45 semi automatic pistol. American soldiers found their .38s lacking in stopping power. The U.S. Army developed this pistol, one of the most iconic American weapons in our history, to fight an insurgency. In other words, Filipino guerillas would charge and keep coming even after being shot. The bigger, heavier caliber could actually stop a charging soldier in his tracks.

There are other bright spots from the War. Slate's David Silbey mentions "'the water cure' -- in which a captive was forced to drink gallons of water and then vomit it back up." And American "concentrations" of Filipino civilians led to a cholera epidemic that killed tens of thousands.

In 1899, the English poet Rudyard Kipling (famous now for "The Jungle Book") wrote a poem called "White Man's Burden" in which he tenderly suggests America civilize the Philippines.

The poem begins:
Take up the White Man's burden--
Send forth the best ye breed--
Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives' need;
To wait in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild--
Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half-devil and half-child.
It's very condescending: England is telling its young, inexperienced son America to be charitable, to care for the Philippines, the half-devil, half-child it stumbled upon during battle with Spain.

Things were exciting back in America, too. In 1897, the U.S. annexed Hawaii. In 1898, during the Spanish-American War, Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders attacked Cuba. In 1899, Chinese peasants started the so-called Boxer Rebellion against foreign Christian exploiters from at least six empires, including the U.S., Austria, Britain, and France.

And then, in 1901, at the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York, President McKinley was shot twice by a Polish anarchist named Leon Czolgosz. Initially, the President survived -- one bullet was removed but the other couldn't be found. An x-ray machine, a new invention, was on display at the Expo, but it wasn't used on McKinley. He died of gangrene a week later, and Czolgosz was put to death by electric chair.

So. Civilize 'em with a Krag. What were those lessons from the Philippines War again? Never mind.

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