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January 2007 Issue



by Lope Lindio

President George Bush invariably says that the reason the Iraqis, and to a perceptible degree, the Muslims around the world hate us, is because they “hate freedom or that they don't want democracy to take roots in their region. The basis and the logic of this smart-alecky and frivolous attempt to explain away the failure of his so-called war against terror can just as well be flippantly disputed or dismissed by anyone who closely following the progress of the war. In fact, nobody hates freedom, only bad policies. But better than what Bush or anyone else can say about the offensive action in Iraq is the report of the Defense Science Board on Strategic Communications (DSB), a federal advisory committee established to provide independent advice to the Secretary of Defense. In September 2004, it reported that American efforts have not only failed in the war of ideas or the struggle for the hearts and minds of Iraqis, they have achieved the opposite of what they intended. It went on to say that American direct intervention in the Muslim world has paradoxically elevated the stature of, and support for, radical Islamists, while diminishing support for the United States to single digits in some Arab societies.

The war situation is so bad that the 10-member Iraq Study Group headed by former Secretary of State James Baker, recommended last month for de-escalation of the war effort. Even Saddam's hanging which should have been looked upon as the just payoff for his tyranny, was so bungled that he is now even considered a martyr, instead of being seen for what he is, an unmitigated, unlamented villain.

But this war does not have to be in a deadlock of not winning, not losing, as aptly described by Bush himself. If only the policy planners dusted off the archives of the Philippine-American War (and Japan and Vietnam, too) as part of the war preparation, the U.S. could have been reminded once again that the policies that worked in the Philippines, and in Japan during its occupation after the 2nd world war, would have also succeeded in Iraq. The Filipinos finally gave up their armed resistance only when convinced that the new dispensation was going to respect their religious beliefs. And the coming of a new day of a better life was made evident by the arrival of 500 school teachers from America on board USS Thomas in 1901.
Ever since the atrocities in Mai-Lai , Vietnam , the U.S. has not figured again in any other major scandal of committing war atrocities until the Abu Gharib outrages were uncovered. Pentagon sent Major General Antonio M. Taguba to investigate the alleged prison abuse and torture. The Taguba Report led to the conviction of four American soldiers for detainee abuse. His findings were also cited by critics as representing the apparent broader American attitude and lack of understanding of the dynamics working among Arabs and their neighbors.

The choice of General Taguba to conduct the investigation was a kind of poetic coincidence (or justice, if you are given to dramatics) because he is of Filipino extraction. The water torture and gross personal humiliation he found there were resorted to and perfected on Filipinos during the Philippine-American War as the war became intractable in the face of stiff resistance. General Arthur McArthur (yes, sir, Doug's dad) expressed his frustration in dealing with the enemy when he declared that it would take at least ten years of bayonet treatment to make Filipinos accept American rule, as if the Americans were requested to go there and civilize the inhabitants.

American occupation of Iraq brought death not only to combatants but also collateral killings of innocent civilians, just like in the Philippines . Not only that this wartime loss of lives is enough to make people hate the U.S. , the war itself was kicked off from the wrong foot. President Bush called his war a crusade, a touchy subject that rubs raw nerves because it brings back images of cruelty and destruction when Christians repeatedly came to the Middle East trying to recover the holy land from the Muslims. The Iraqis also resented their being called derisively by the unknowing American soldiers as even if the word itself is complimentary, because they knew it was given a new contemptuous meaning.

The U.S. could have avoided this personal affront to the Iraqis if they recalled that the Filipinos also hated the Americans for calling them goo-goos, savages, or no better than dogs, and even monkeys without tails, understandable they may seem now, given the racially segregated American society then and the crude ways in those days. Yet when the U.S. went to Vietnam , they still never learned a lesson in good manners because they were calling the Vietnamese crooks. Who will be happy being called names? And now in Iraq , they still have not given their soldiers a sensitivity training immersion course to avoid the pitfalls of name calling in the past wars.

The Philippine-American war also saw the introduction of the so-called Strategic Hamlet Program. The Filipinos were enraged and the Vietnamese resentful as well when this strategy was later adopted in Vietnam to isolate populations from communist infiltration. It did'nt really stop collaboration in both places. Whole villages of Filipinos were cordoned off from their brothers who were at war with the Americans but fraternization remained unabated. The relocation of entire populations separated families, and kept the peasants away from their farms and working animals. The reason ostensibly was to protect civilians from harm, but the purpose was really to deprive the fledgling armed forces of the short-lived Philippine Republic, or the marauding guerillas when it went underground, not only political support but more importantly, food supplies.

Yet the abject failures of this isolation strategy in the Philippines and Vietnam did not stop the Pentagon from encasing Abu Hishma, a community in Iraq , in a razor wire fence to contain the resistance suspected to be coming from the village. As reported in the New York Times on 12/7/2003, a certain Captain Todd Brown of the U.S. army explained that you have to understand the Arab mind. He added that the only thing they understand is force. This sentiment is exactly how a certain Brigadier General J. Franklin Bell explained why the death of Filipinos served the legitimate purpose of the war. He said that “it has been necessary to adopt what in other countries would probably be thought harsh measure, for the Filipino is tricky and crafty and has to be fought in his own way.

In the same way that we are now asking why the Iraqis hate us Americans, the same question was asked some hundred years ago by Americans why Filipinos hated them. A journalist of that time, a certain George Kennan, incidentally a staunch imperialist, put it this way: that we have inspired a considerable part of the Philippine population with a feeling of intense hostility toward us, and given them reason for deep-seated and implacable resentment, there can be no doubt. We have offered them many verbal assurances of benevolent intention; but, at the same time, we have killed their unresisting wounded, we hold fifteen hundred or two thousand of them in prison, we have established at Guam a penal colony for their leaders, and we are now resorting directly or indirectly to the old Spanish inquisitorial methods such as the "water torture" in order to compel silent prisoners to speak or reluctant witnesses to testify...that they present generations of Filipinos will forget these things is hardly to be expected.

The excuse of the Bush administration for going to war in Iraq was supposedly to clean the country of weapons of mass destruction. When later events proved this mantra baseless, he changed the marching tune. Now he says that it was really the tyrant Saddam he was going after in order to liberate the Iraqis, and democracy introduced in Iraq .

A hundred and plus some years earlier, another Republican president, William McKinley, went country-grabbing. He waged war to dispossess the Filipinos of their country and proceeded paying the Spaniards twenty million U.S. dollars in the Treaty of Paris even when the Spain already lost control of the Philippines . When the Filipinos spurned the would-be colonials and the Philippine acquisition became morally indefensible and logistically expensive, McKinley, in a manner very much like Bush's spin in Iraq , was heard fighting the war from another paradigm. Now he said that the U.S. was out to liberate the Filipinos from their Spanish oppressors.

The resemblance of these two Republican presidents is so strong as to make you begin to believe if their claim to divine consultation before going to war could really be true, indeed. But their similarity ends where their difference begins. McKinley found a handle to end the war after three years and turn Filipinos worshippers of the U.S. dollar and Hollywood movies. Bush is still at a loss what to do, whether to send more troops, which would mean more casualties, or bring the soldiers home and write his own historical obituary. (

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