Friday, September 30, 2005

Back to Iraq

So this past week one of Kate’s regular fellow-gamers shipped out, heading for Baghdad. Actually, he’s heading for West Texas first, apparently because after being in Texas for a while, Iraq starts looking good. His area of expertise is setting up health and sanitation systems, something that’s in desperate need both in Iraq and in the states bordering the Gulf. This is his second trip –he did his bit in Gulf War I a few years back. For the past couple years, he’s been in this on-again off-again status about deployment, but the boot finally dropped.

My thoughts are with him, and also on the conflict he’s going into. And it does make me think of another war in Southeastern Asia. No, not Vietnam. I'm thinking of the Philippines. 

The Philippine-American war is truly a forgotten war, as it is known as that only in the Phillipines. When its called anything in the States its called the Philippine Insurrection, and treated as a footnote to the Spanish-American War, even though the Philippine conflict lasted longer and produced more casualties on all sides. Yeah, that’s one similarity to the present state of affairs. One of many.

The Philippine-American War took place during that wonderful euphemism of history that we called “The Age of Imperialism” in our history books, an uptick of military activity between the Civil War and WWI. Its like we caught a case of Imperialism like one gets a mild dose of the clap, but a shot of patriotism cleared it right up. Actually, it represents the time when we stopped just invading neighboring countries (Canada, Mexico, most of Central America) and started taking our tour world-wide.

OK, here’s the short form – you remember the Spanish-American War? The Maine and San Juan Hill and the Roughriders? No? OK, that’s a discussion for another war. Let’s just say that in the course of that war we invaded the Philippines, another Spanish holding, and with the help of the locals, routed the Spanish there as well. The locals were under the impression that we would kick out the ruling elites, then leave (promises were apparently made). Instead we set up bases for the long haul, and the liberators became occupiers. 

Any of this sound familiar?

The Philippine-American War had a relatively short pure-military phase and a much longer guerilla phase. It was declared unilaterally over by the American side, though the locals continued the fight. A lot of progressives argued against involvement in the Philippines, including major writers of the period (such as Mark Twain). The war resulted in the Americans putting up permanent bases. And over a period of decades the Americans kept handing offices and responsibilities back to the Philippine people, while restricting the true power to the parts that were still American-controlled or American-influenced

Atrocities by the Americans were common – there was such a market in “trophy skulls” (heads of defeated rebels) that graveyards in San Francisco were raided to keep up with the demand. If there was an Internet in those days they would have traded them for porn.

Eventually, the plan was to hand over power to the Philippine people (actually, the ruling elites, but still locals) by the mid-forties. The Japanese (also in a period called “Imperial”) upset that timetable and Americans left (temporarily). They returned and retook the islands with the help of the (you got it) local rebels, who were then sold out AGAIN to put power back in the hands of the ruling families. Even today, there are parts of the Philippines that one does not go to, for fear of guerilla activity (though most of the cities are under control, and the nation has a relative democracy in place, punctuated by corruption and strongmen like Marcos).

Now the point of all this, is that, from a US government point of view, it all worked out. The US has ended up with an ally in the Western Pacific that we have relatively tight control over, that allows us heavy use of our military power (The Philippines were a major jumping-off point for troops heading for Viet Nam). There continue to be flare-ups in hostilities, and the ruling elites have moved into the leadership positions established by the Americans. And the same thing could happen in Iraq.

The trouble is, it may take a century to get there, as well.

More later,