Monday, March 22, 2004

March 22, 2004

Solidarity and indifference. Relevance and inconsequence.

The truth is, like each day of the year, the twentieth of March is in a mortal struggle with itself.

On this day in 1345, "the planets Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn were in conjunction in Aquarius. Some astrologers saw this as an omen, bringing on the bubonic plague that killed a third of Europeans before it was over."


On March 20, 1896, US Marines invade Nicaragua for the first time. "To protect American interests."

Yes sir.

Just over a month after the United States' annexed the Philippines - A.A. Barnes of Battery G of the 3rd U.S. Artillery wrote to his family on March 20, 1899 about America's mission to liberate the Filipino:

"Last night one of our boys was found shot, and his stomach cut open. Immediately orders were received from General Wheaton to burn the town and kill every native in sight, which was done to a finish. About one thousand men, women, and children were reported killed. I am probably growing hard-hearted, for I am in my glory when I can sight my gun on some dark skin and pull the trigger."

On the same day in America, the San Francisco Call reported a story concerning a US senator's proposal "to increase the regular army to the number of 35,000 additional men if it would be recruited largely from the Negro ranks" because the task of garrisoning America's new possession and of pacifying Filipino "savages" who refused to accept the American yoke were best left to Negroes.

"It has been pointed out," wrote The Call, "that the Negro regiments are not only very efficient, but the Negro, whose progenitors were accustomed to the rays of a fierce African sun, will not be afraid of spoiling their complexion in the Philippines, Cuba, or Puerto Rico."

Impeccable logic.

On the twentieth of March in 1933 in Germany, the Nazis opened their first concentration camp in Dachau.

On March 20, 1946 the Tule Lake relocation center was closed. Located just south of the Oregon border, Tule Lake was a US concentration camp for Japanese-Americans.

On March 20, 1969, John Lennon and Yoko Ono flew on a private plane to Gibraltar. Upon arrival they proceed directly to the British Consulate and get married in a ten-minute ceremony. Hours later, they arrive in Amsterdam where they have reserved a hotel suite for their honeymoon and for the famous "lie-in" where, "from the comfort of their own bed, John and Yoko talked peace to anyone who would listen. Not surprisingly, the whole world did."

Remember The Ballad of John and Yoko?

"Drove from Paris to the Amsterdam Hilton talking in our beds for a week / The newspapers said, say what're you doing in bed / I said we're only trying to get us some peace."

Bed peace; hair peace, said John. It was a restless time. On the same day of their wedding - on March 20, 1969 - US President Nixon "stated flatly that the war will be over by next year."


Thirty four years later in Iraq, on March 20, 2003, another purported cake walk - an act of aggression "of a force and scope and scale that has been beyond what has been seen before" - is initiated again by the US. Exactly a year later, over 10,000 Iraqi civilians are dead and not one weapon of mass destruction has been found.

On the twentieth of March in 2004, a pair of Greenpeace anti-war activists in London scale the Big Ben and unfurl a banner which read "Time for Truth" while millions marched across the globe in a 24-hour protest against America's occupation of Iraq.

It is the global day of action and in Manila a five year-old boy is holding the hand of his father as he walks with 500 other people demonstrating against war. The little boy's name is Rio; he is my son and it his first march. He wonders why there are so many colorful flags and why people are shouting and why people sound angry even though many of them are smiling.

I tell him a story about bullies and braggarts and small people banding together. Rio recognizes the story and proceeds to re-tell the story in a shorter and simpler way. I smile and squint, embarrassed at my clumsiness. I am about to open my mouth to try another story when Rio grips my hand and gives it a tug. "They're moving Tatay. Let's go."

Comments welcome at


1. Dr. Mac's Cultural Calendar. See
2. "Negroes to Fight the Filipinos," San Francisco Call, March 20, 1899,
3. "Nixon Redivivus" Theodore H. Draper, New York Review of Books, Volume 41, Number 13, July 14, 1994,
4. Interview by Jim Lehrer with US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. See
5. "Anti-War Protesters Climb London's Big Ben," March 20, 2004,
6. I flew in from Guangzhou in time to join the rally. My wife and one-year old daughter both had a mild cold; they showed up at the assembly point of the demonstration to see us off.

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