THE SECOND OF FEBRUARY
RENATO REDENTOR CONSTANTINO
February 2, 2004
The second day of the second month of 2004. What lessons will the day harbor and reveal 20, 50, 100 years from now? Who knows what the day will bring?
Today, there are other stories to tell. Stories of loss and celebration and terrible things.
Forty five years ago on the evening of February 2, Richard Valenzuela, stocky Jiles P. Richardson and Charles Hardin Holley boarded a small chartered plane bound for eternity. They had just played at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake, Iowa and, like most of the people lucky enough to have attended a gig of "The Winter Dance Party Tour," a magical traveling concert that intended to cover 24 cities in three weeks, the crowd went wild with the performance despite the freezing cold.
Valenzuela wasn't supposed to be on the chartered plane but won a seat on the aircraft after betting that night on heads at the toss of a coin. Richardson, who was running a fever after the Surf Ballroom concert, was given a seat on the plane by a friend who took pity on his condition. Holley was just dying to fly after spending too much time riding a cold bus hired for the tour. The year was 1959. The plane carrying the performers would crash minutes after take-off, killing the performers and the pilot and immortalizing rock 'n roll greats Ritchie Valens, Buddy Holly and the Big Bopper.
February 2 means many things to different people. On this day in 1933, Adolf Hitler ordered the dissolution of the German Parliament just two days after he was elected Chancellor. On February 2, 1848, the US-Mexican war ended with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo where Mexico ceded a humongous portion of its territory to the US, including what is now California and all lands north of the Rio Grande. The US 'agrees' to pay a measly $15 million in claims.
The mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell, who once said "War does not determine who is right - only who is left," died on February 2 in 1970 at the age of 98. Propaganda plaything G.I. Joe also debuted as a popular toy on Feb. 2, 1964 and helped immensely to erase the insight behind the counsel of Russell, who also famously said "Many people would sooner die than think; In fact, they do so."
In 1862, on the second day of February, the journalist Samuel Clemens published his first report in the Virginia City Enterprise. Eight years later to the day, Clemens would marry Olivia Langdon. The world would come to know Clemens more by his pseudonym, Mark Twain, author of novels such as Huckleberry Finn. Twain: a fierce anti-imperialist who was among the staunchest opponents of America's annexation in 1899 of the fledgling Philippine Republic - the first republic in Asia.
Twain, who ages ago wrote with acute wit and prescience, "Sphere of Influence: a courteous modern phrase which means robbing your neighbor -- for your neighbor's benefit."
On February 2, 1899, US Colonel Frederick Funston gave secret orders to the 20th Kansas Volunteer Infantry stationed in the Philippines to bring about a conflict with Filipino revolutionaries. Several regimental commanders gave similar instructions on the same day to their officers and soldiers. Two days later, the American commanding general gave the order to "open fire."
Filipinos, defending the freedom they had just wrested from Spain, fell like flies before the firepower of the US Army and Navy, prompting a leader of the revolutionaries to call the next day for a "cessation of hostilities and the establishment of a neutral area between the troops." To the Filipino leader's request, however, the American commander replied, the fighting having begun "must be carried on to the grim end."
Why is not such a hard question. In a testimony to the US Congress on the Filipino-American War, no less than Gen. Arthur MacArthur revealed that "We had a pre-arranged plan. Our tactical arrangements there were very perfect, indeed ... I simply wired all commanders to carry out pre-arranged plans, and the whole division was placed on the firing line." Presaging close to a century the scorn heaped by Washington today on an ignorant and craven US public, a shrewd American senator projected "As soon as one American soldier fell in an attack by the Filipinos, sentiment would vanish, and the American people would stand behind the Army as they had always done."
Through shrewd cold-blooded plotting by the McKinley administration and its US sugar interest patrons, America had "bought" the Philippines from Spain weeks earlier for $20 million through the infamous Treaty of Paris. A treaty which would be useless unless it was ratified by the US Senate, which was then generally against America's occupation of the Philippines.
Until, of course, the "pre-arranged plan" that MacArthur had spoken of went into play.
By February 5, a day after the order to open fire was issued, American papers were already screaming 'They fired on the flag!' 'America has been attacked,' and 'Savages are killing our boys!' And by February 6, just four days after US commanders in the Philippines received instructions to provoke hostilities with Filipino revolutionaries, the US Senate passed the Treaty of Paris by a vote of two-thirds plus one and the Philippines formally became a colony of the United States.
Lies, plunder and hideous valor nailed to the mast of imperial warships. Machinations over a hundred years old and yet all too familiar.
"The past is never dead," William Faulkner once said. "It's not even past."
1. Lies my teacher told me: Everything your American history teacher got wrong, James Loewen, Touchstone, 1996.
2. Republic or Empire, Daniel Boone Schirmer, Schenkman Publishing Company, 1972, reprinted in the Philippines. See the chapter "The treaty passes" in the said book in http://www.boondocksnet.com/ai/dbs/re09b.html