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Houston Texas
December 2006

The Way I See It

By Lope Lindio

I had a chance to review the Philippine history book, In Our Image, by Stanley Karnow, while on an eight-hour long flight to Houston . I was speed-reading through the pages until I got to chapter 4 entitled America Goes Global, and I stayed on hooked until our plane touched down at the IAB airport runway. I find it intriguing and interesting that the Philippine-American War and the present-day conflict in Iraq have much more in common than what would differentiate them even when separated by a span of 104 years.

A rifle shot started the Philippine-American War on 2/4/1899. An American soldier fired at a Filipino sentry guarding the San Juan del Monte Bridge located in the vicinity of Manila . Contrast that to the war in Iraq which was preceded by a wave of about 100 aircrafts sweeping targets and dropping precision-guided and bunker-busting 500 pound-bombs intended to soften Iraq's defenses before the war was official declared on 3/8/2003. These two wars were different but also similar in many respects. A not too important but still a defining similarity is the political party of the US presidents in the Philippine and Iraqi wars, William McKinley and George Bush, respectively. They are both Republicans.

But their similarity extends beyond identical party label. McKinley was said to have risen to the top through luck and pluck and he was noted for speaking in pious platitudes. Bush is no different. His life is mostly luck and guts, starting with his being the son of a dynastic father. This bloodline took him all the way to the top of the heap and reportedly enabled him to turn failure to success, in his personal life, in business, as well as in politics. And like McKinley, his language is usually laced with banal platitudes like democracy and freedom, and ad libbed with pious references to God and his faith. Another footnote common to McKinley and Bush is that they exhibited ignorance of the places where they were taking their country to war. McKinley put the Philippines somewhere away around on the other side of the world while Bush misplaced Iraq and Israel in the map when asked for their location during his first run for the presidency against Al Gore.

When McKinley was visited by a group of clergymen and asked about his plans concerning the future of the Philippines , he confided to them that he prayed hard on bended knees for God's guidance. He got the message to annex the islands and do the best we could for them. This resort to divine intervention and desire for celestial alliance can be said also of George Bush. He has been saying all along that God wanted him to get rid of Saddam and bring Christian values and democracy to the Arab region in order to fulfill some dubious biblical prophecies or admonition.

These wars, wedged by 104 years, have also something else in common. Both started as an offshoot of international incidents tangentially related to them. The Philippine-American war was just a sideshow to the main Spanish-American war that came to a head upon the instigation and maneuvers of imperial-minded warmongers, like of Theodore Roosevelt and Admiral Mahan. These two believed in the US manifest destiny of having possessions or territories in the Pacific, in the same fashion of the European colonial powers at the time. The US was lusting to enhance its influence as an emerging world power. So when the US battleship, USS Maine, exploded while anchored in Cuba , with the attendant loss of 266 men, they exploited this incident and pointed at Spain as the culprit for the sabotage. In fact, a boiler explosion crippled the battleship. But the imperialist coterie around McKinley used the battleship sinking as a battle cry and pretext to declare war against the already faltering Spain , in the Caribbean and in the Philippines . So the US finally got the klieg light on the world stage when it vanquished Spain in a fight called a splendid little war by then US secretary of state John Hay.

On the other hand, the war in Iraq resulted from the 9/11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington DC . The signature and fingerprints of the al Qaeda left no doubt those were handcrafted by no other than Osama bin Laden. Newly appointed Defense Secretary Robert Gates said so during his confirmation hearing a few days ago. Yet President Bush presented startlingly discredited pieces of evidence to connect the attacks directly to Baghdad just so he could get Saddam Hussein involved. Many in the know say he was motivated by a divine flight of fancy of the need for democracy to be exported to the Middle East . He was also encouraged or pressured by his supporters from the religions right and the hard line conservatives. So just like the main Spanish-American war (which led to the Philippine-American war as an appendix) was waged on a pretext of avenging Spanish complicity in the explosion of USS Maine, the Iraqi war was declared on a lie that Iraq had an arsenal of weapons of mass destruction and Saddam was privy to the terrorist attacks against the US by bin Laden.

In the Philippine-American war, Admiral George Dewey assured McKinley, after the defeat of the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay , that he could seize and hold Manila at any time with just 5,000 men. After all, he had the assurance of the American Consul in Manila , Oscar Williams, that 30,000 Filipino insurgents would cheerfully follow our flag. The US Army chief, a certain General Miles, regarded Dewey's estimate too small. General Merritt, who was to command the US army in Manila , threatened to resign if not given more troops because he predicted that the Filipinos would resist the Americans with the intense hatred born of race and religion.

Speed forward the time machine to year 2003. President Bush and the men around him chastised Army chief of staff, General Eric Shiseki, for testifying in a Senate hearing that the troops needed to control Iraq were in the order of several hundred thousand soldiers. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld dismissed Shiseki's estimate as too high. And Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz chimed in, telling the House Budget Committee that "the notion that it will take several hundred thousand US troops to provide stability in post-Saddam Iraq [is] wildly off the mark." All three, Bush, Rumsfeld, and Wolfowitz, were wary of public relations backlash if it would be known to the public that more troops would be needed in Iraq . Besides, they also believed, too rashly and naively it turned out, like the prediction of Filipinos following meekly the Americans during the earlier war, that the Iraqis would be welcoming the invading Americans and trusting their fate in their hands.

These two wars have also something in common with respect to casualties. The Philippine-American war began in 1899 and lasted over three years. Almost every unit of the US Army served in the Philippines during the conflict, as well as a number of state and federal volunteers. Eventually, 125,000 Americans fought in the Philippines , at one time or another and almost 4,000 died. The Philippine population was approximately 6,700,000 at that time. At least 34,000 lost their lives as a direct result of the war, and as many as 200,000 may have died as a result of the cholera epidemic at the war's end. This so-called sideshow war was not a minor skirmish.

As I am writing this article today, when the war in Iraqi is already 3 years and 9 months long, already longer than the 2nd World War in duration, there are 2,924 American military personnel, regular and National Guard enlistees, who lost their lives in Iraq , not counting the wounded, the injured, or those captured during the war. The Iraqi official count of civilian casualties is now about 55,000. International organizations trust more the unofficial count of between 100,000 and 200,000.

Studying these two wars side by side is very instructive. It shows the death and destruction done to people and their spirit when war leaders go to war for the wrong or selfish reasons, or when they let their personal views and ideology get the better of their judgment. As we are getting to the end of 2006, we hear people saying that they are amazed by how quickly the year is ending. Although it's mostly a year-end puzzle, it is also possible that the reason why the year seems to be unfolding too fast to be noticed is because we are living in dangerous times. But to the Iraqis, who are in greater danger, the year must be longer, not shorter.

Like the Iraqis, we will be starting another journey of 365 days of the New Year 2007. We're all unclear if this killing war will still be around when we usher in the next year 2008. But definitely, we will still be in the middle of this ugly Iraq war when we will be watching the TV coverage of the New Year celebrations throughout the world on Sunday, December 31, New Year's Eve.


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