“The people of the United States want us to kill all the men, f*** all the women and raise up a new race in these Islands.”*
American soldier serving in the Philippines, commenting on the message filtering down to troops from their superior officers, circa 1900
“I knew enough about the Philippines to have a strong aversion to sending our bright boys over there to fight with a disgraced musket under a polluted flag.”*
Celebrated American author Samuel Clemons, aka Mark Twain, speaking in New York
At the turn of the 19th Century, America defeated Spain in a one-sided war advertised by the government as a fight to liberate the Cuban people from Spanish depredations. Revolutionaries in the Philippines, also tired of being ruled by far-off Spain, joined America’s cause when the U.S. Navy anchored off Manila, a strategic Spanish possession. They did so with the expectation Filipinos would be given the opportunity to govern themselves when the conflict ended, in keeping with stated American values.
Instead, the alliance devolved into a brutal fight over control of the geographically important Archipelago, in which the better trained and equipped U.S. troops were given licence to kill and torture. Honing techniques the American military would later deploy in Viet Nam, soldiers roamed the countryside in search and destroy missions, indiscriminately killing, raping, torturing captives, often to death, and burning entire Filipino villages suspected of harboring the enemy.
The U.S. Colonel who tamed the Tagalog rebels, lionized at home as ‘Fighting’ Frederick Funston, pillaged his way up the military promotional ladder to General and a Medal of Honor. Theodore Roosevelt, the president who never met a war he wouldn’t fight in personally, declared it would take more than 30 generations for the savage islanders to be on a level with Americans and capable of governing themselves. The American public, who swallowed the official bullshit with no aftertaste, viewed the conflict as being in the country’s national interest. The hundreds of thousands of brown people who died, in their polluted view, possessed ‘limited intelligence and ability’. Collateral damage.
The Third World has been enduring America First for a very long time.
During the Philippine adventure, as in Viet Nam, the U.S. did its own dirty work, with Presidents William McKinley, Teddy Roosevelt and later Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, suffering the political consequences of the moral outrage heaped on them by progressive thinkers like Samuel Clemons, a staunch anti-imperialist. Similarly, Bush 45 and Barack Obama had to answer for Iraq and Afghanistan.
A hundred-plus years and many wars later, it is hard to ignore the cliché and truism—”History repeats itself.”—when considering the current conflict in Yemen, wrought by the Saudis with the full complicity of America.
But who is answering for the catastrophic despoliation of Yemen being wrought upon millions of brown people by proxy for America’s national interest? Where are the voices of outrage in the midst of the world’s greatest humanitarian crisis?
The Saudi-piloted murder planes, until recently being refueled by the U.S. air force, and the bombs falling from them upon innocent men, women and children, some of them riding in school buses, bear the Made-In-America stamp.
Death and mayhem in the Middle East mean billions of blood dollars for America and jobs for U.S. workers, rationalizes the Bloviator-in-Chief. Donald Trump’s coverup of the Khashoggi killing told the world all it needs to know. America sanctions murder for the right money.
The Trump administration can’t be blamed for the cause of the conflict, which dates back centuries and is rooted in religious rivalry and intolerance. But there can be no question the U.S. trains and props up a despotic Saudi regime that tortures, decapitates and dismembers its opponents and only this year gave women the right to drive.
It does so, the U.S. government tells its people, because it is in America’s national interest. Saudi Arabia is a bulwark against the nuclear wannabe mullahs of Iran. A kind of the enemy of my enemy is my friend rationale. And because they have oil money to pay for American weapons.
The Senate makes noise about limiting U.S. support for the murderous tyrant known as MSB as people starve in real time. Is anybody questioning the wisdom of providing billions of dollars in sophisticated weaponry to a psychopath who runs a country that spawned the 9/11 attackers? A country that is a friend of terrorist enemies.
If so, I haven’t heard about it on American media, currently obsessed with the top-rated multi-network reality show, Donald Trump’s Blackening of the White House, starring a villain who makes J.R. Ewing look like Mr. Rogers. Collectively, the media virtually ignores the killing of Yemenis as it does all but the most egregious interruptions in regular programming.
It takes a natural disaster of historic proportions in the homeland to shift the focus for a day and get anchors away from Washington and New York desks and out to affected locations in tight black t-shirts or stylish rain gear and boots. Only mass shootings in double digits can avert the media’s focus from its ratings winner. Or the killing of one of its own, especially if it involves a grisly dismemberment and a djellaba-wearing villain the American public can get behind hating.
It is a sure bet that most Americans are only vaguely aware of the country where the Made-In-America humanitarian disaster is unfolding, beyond that it is somewhere far away, maybe the Middle East, or Africa. On the periphery of their personal device-addled brains they know Arabs are fighting each other. They don’t know why or much care.
It doesn’t occur to them that it is not in Yemen’s national interest to have a proxy war on its soil. That Yemenis, though Muslim and brown, are parents and daughters and sons, grandparents and uncles and aunts, who want what Americans want–food, lodging and neighbourhoods where kids can play without fear of foreign made bombs, mines or machine gun bullets.
CNN managed to squeeze in a short segment last week on the Yemen man-made catastrophe at the end of one of its Trump’s Blackening of the White House episodes. After a voice-over warning about disturbing content, cameras took viewers into an emergency facility where doctors were unable to save a tiny famine-ravaged boy, following outside as his grieving Dad left cradling the body to his chest. Another scene showed children with ghastly wounds from bombs, shrapnel and snipers’ bullets.
But the most haunting images were of emaciated kids with sunken eyes, bloated bellies and skeletal arms and legs. Not a ratings winner with viewers slumped in easy chairs and on couches or bar stools, drinking beer and eating burgers, pizza and potato chips, growing more obese on four thousand calories a day.
Millions of people are homeless and hungry and the United States, using the same old ‘national interest’ trope it has relied on for a hundred-plus years, is complicit. That is not fake news or an alternative fact. It is the plain truth.
I suppose it shouldn’t be surprising that the country that elected a world class narcissist to its highest office is a country of navel-gazers bordering on mass narcissism. It is only natural to have a leader like Trump when the electorate has a propagandized view of the havoc wreaked in the name of America’s national interest.
Christian evangelists, so concerned about human life in the womb they will support a soulless, venal liar if he will give them judges that further their cause, care diddly squat about the brown kids their government is helping kill. Franklin Graham and Jerry Falwell Jr., well-fed and safe in their gated communities, prefer to rail against the “war on Christmas.”
Putting America First, the oft-stated goal of white supremacy groups like the Ku Klux Klan, has cost millions of brown, yellow, red and beige people their lives. As I have stated in previous blogs, there can be no argument that the U.S. is a great country, but to be the ‘greatest country’ requires more than self-proclamation. It means learning from past wrongs and making things right in the present. It’s well past time that Americans stop parroting the party line and start walking the righteous walk.
(*Quotes from the Statesman and the Storyteller, an exhaustively researched book on turn of 19th Century America by Mark Zwonitzer.)