They called us names

The midterm elections in the United States of America in the year 2006 showed that the majority strongly repudiated Pres. George W. Bush’s war in Iraq. The Democrats gained control of both the Senate and House of Representatives and were poised to conduct investigations about the “origins and conduct” of war. Once again, history showed that it has an uncanny manner of repeating itself.

In January 1902, the US Senate was delving into “ the origins and conduct of the Filipino-American War” which was, by the way, still raging in this archipelago despite official claims that it had ended. Because the “Philippine question” was a hot electoral issue, the hearings were closed to the public and publication of its findings was gravely suppressed. However, there were leakages of the shocking brutality of that war of conquest and its atrociously racist underpinnings. During the US congressional inquiries which lasted all of five months, senators interrogated American soldiers about why and how they tortured and executed Filipino prisoners of war and captives,  whether or not they were combatants. American soldiers systematically put thousands of villages to torch, they looted wantonly, ravished and raped, confiscated and stole with total impunity.

After all that, was legislation ever passed to avoid future wars of conquest and intervention? I doubt it. Although reduced to mere historical footnotes, data about the Filipino-American War can shatter the myth of USA’s benevolence, innocence, good intentions and fair play which we were foolish enough to believe and cherish for more than a century. To justify what American officialdom called “ our dirty little war”,  Generals Elwell Otis and Arthur MacArthur, and William Howard Taft (later Governor-General) presented elaborate theories of America’s mandate for global dominance based on white Anglo-Saxon superiority. From the perspective of the Monroe Doctrine, the Filipino-American War was part of the relentless Westward expansion that traversed the Pacific Ocean, a fitting sequel to the Indian Wars of annihilation.

During the Senate investigation, Sen. Joseph Rawlins (Democrat-Utah) asked Gen. Robert Hughes, commander of troops around Manila, why they burnt Filipino villages. Women and little children were the principal victims of scorched earth, protested Sen. Rawlins, to which the stiff-lipped Gen Hughes replied that the worst punishment you could inflict on a male combatant was to kill his family. Infuriated, the Democrat senator invoked rules of civilized warfare, but the general snapped back, “Those people [Filipinos] are not civilized.”

By the time the hearings ended in June 1902, American military personnel as well as civilians had purposely portrayed Filipinos as uncivilized, of an inferior colored race who are not entitled to political rights ascribed to civilized peoples, nor to any humanitarian consideration. Political self-determination was only for the whites of European descent,  just as wartime ethics were only for European combatants. To them, Filipinos looked like Indians whom they called Red Skins, or to little black Africans. When Filipinos saw that Americans were false friends, they continued to defend the revolution and the  First Philippine Republic and were called insurgents by the Americans. The Filipino-American War was one of extermination, just like the Indian Wars.

Letters to home of American soldiers are revealing primary sources. For example, in his first missive, a soldier from Oregon said Filipinos looked Chinese, but eight months later, in February 1899, there was a radical shift in his perception when the Filipino-American War began. Filipinos were no longer Chinese-looking but  “niggers” and “nigger-hunting” was their favorite sport. Another letter to home said: “ We received some Krag Jorgenson (sic) rifles today. So now, we can reach Mr. Nig at his own distance.” I wonder what the American soldiers in Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, etc wrote home.