NARRATIVES OF CONQUEST
RENATO REDENTOR CONSTANTINO
June 28, 2004
"This question I put to the defenders of this war," said George Boutwell, the first president of the Anti-Imperialist League of the US, in response to America's annexation of the Philippines over a century ago.
"What is the end that you seek?" asked Boutwell. "Is it the vassalage of these people? If so, then you are the enemies of the republic and the betrayers of the principles upon which the republic thus far has been made to rest."
Boutwell's premise is elementary. You cannot build your happiness on the unhappiness of others. But imperial ambitions die hard. Literally.
"Empires do not last, and their ends are usually unpleasant," Chalmers Johnson reminds us. Johnson, the eminent scholar who, having been born before World War II, had personal knowledge, "in some cases, personal experience - of the collapse of at least six empires: those of Nazi Germany, imperial Japan, Great Britain, France, the Netherlands, and the Soviet Union."
Including the rest of the twentieth century, Johnson adds three more that met not too long ago their demise - the Chinese, Austro-Hungarian, and Ottoman empires. Including the twenty-first century, will the empire called America be affixed to this growing list? Who's to know?
Plenty of benevolent intentions to study, plenty of ghastly means and consequences to learn from and confront. If we want to.
In 1971, Sergeant Scott Camile of the 11th Marine Regiment in Vietnam testified: "The way that we distinguished between civilians and VC [Vietcong], VC had weapons and civilians didn't and anybody that was dead was considered a VC. If you killed someone they said, 'How do you know he's a VC?' and the general reply would be, 'He's dead,' and that was sufficient."
"There was no dilemma when it came to shooting people who were not in uniform, I just pulled the trigger," said Specialist Corporal Michael Richardson in Iraq last year.
Richardson admitted shooting injured soldiers during combat and leaving them to die. "I didn't help any of them. I wouldn't help the fuckers," said Richardson. "There were some you let die. And there were some you double-tapped . . . You didn't want any prisoners of war. You hate them so bad while you're fighting, and you're so terrified, you can't really convey the feeling, but you don't want them to live . . . If they were there, they were enemy, whether in uniform or not. Some were; some weren't."
"You can't distinguish between who's trying to kill you and who's not," said US Sergeant First Class John Meadows last year in Iraq. "[T]he only way to get through shit like that was to concentrate on getting through it by killing as many people as you can, people you know are trying to kill you. Killing them first and getting home."
Getting home. Such an honorable excuse.
According to Dr. Henry C. Howland, a former US Army Surgeon during America's brutal seizure of the Philippines, the violent dementia that causes the American soldier to commit atrocities is due to "chronic homesickness." Along with the treacherous nature of Filipinos resisting the US occupation. "After so many betrayals," rationalized Dr. Howland, "the men decide that the only chance of pacification lies in a wholesale cataclysm; an inundation of human blood that will purge the islands of treachery."
Early 1900; Sergeant Howard McFarlane of the US 43rd Infantry in the Philippines: "On Thursday, March 29, eighteen of my company killed seventy five nigger bolomen and ten of the nigger gunners ... When we find one that is not dead, we have bayonets."
Captain Elliot, of the Kansas Regiment: "[The Philippine town of] Caloocan was supposed to contain seventeen thousand inhabitants. The Twentieth Kansas swept through it, and now Caloocan contains not one living native. Of the buildings, the battered walls of the great church and dismal prison alone remain."
October 1901, Brigadier General Jacob H. Smith, commander of the US Sixth Separate Brigade in the Philippines: "I want no prisoners. I wish you to kill and burn: the more you kill and burn the better you will please me. I want all persons killed who are capable of bearing arms in hostilities against the United States." Asked by an officer about the age limit of the "enemy combatants" he considered "capable of bearing arms," Smith replied, "ten years."
The American empire. It has many names. Champion of human rights. Benevolent superpower. Leader of the free world. Liberator. Friend.
An Indian saying: "The cobra will bite you whether you call it cobra or Mr. Cobra."
1. "The President's Policy: War and Conquest Abroad, Degradation of Labor at Home," George S. Boutwell, Address at Masonic Hall, Washington, D.C., January 11, 1900, Libery Tracts No. 7 (Chicago: American Anti-Imperialist League, 1900).
2. The Sorrows of Empire, Chalmers Johnson, Metropolitan Books.
3. Winter soldier investigation, The Sixties Project, Vietnam Veterans Against the War, 1st Marine Division Part II, Testimony given in Detroit, Michigan, January 31, 1971 to February 1 and 2, 1971.
4. "US troops admit shooting Iraqi civilians," Naveed Raj, The Mirror-UK, June 19, 2003.
5. The Ordeal of Samar, Joseph L. Schott, Bobbs-Merrill Company.
6. Republic or Empire, Daniel Boone Schirmer, Schenkman Publishing Company.
7. Little Brown Brother, Leon Wolff, Oxford University Press.