Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Looking Back: Last night I was reading a bit about General MacArthur in the Philippines -- General Arthur MacArthur, that is: Douglas's father. Following the Spanish-American War, MacArthur was installed as the governor general of the archipelago. Accounts differ, and it's probably unfair to blame MacArthur when President McKinley saw himself as a "Christianizing" force, but the occupation was clearly a struggle. As this article notes, a three-year "great insurrection" under the guidance of Emilio Aguinaldo claimed more than 4,000 American lives:
Thousands more died later of diseases they had contracted in the Philippines. The American casualty count in the Philippines was almost 10 times what it was during the Spanish-American War. Some 20,000 Filipino soldiers were killed. Nearly 200,000 civilians died in the insurrection, either from the actual fighting or from the disease and pestilence it spawned.
The insurrection, declared over by McKinley's sucessor, Teddy Roosevelt, in 1903, would actually continue for another decade.

The cookie-pusher that McKinley and, later, Roosevelt relied on to try out a bit of the carrot on the Filipinos (and ostensibly rest MacArthur's stick) was civil administrator (and later governor general) William Howard Taft. It worked, except when it didn't:

Under Taft's leadership, the Americans sponsored huge programs in education, public health and economic improvement. Meanwhile, MacArthur's army ruthlessly pacified the country, ignoring its civilian advisors. Filipinos were alternately terrified, gratified and confused.
Cost estimates run to $600 million for the pacification of the Philippines, well over $12 billion in 2002 dollars. The Philippines did finally, famously, get democracy, although along the way it became proverbial for banana republic ways under Marcos (who, like Saddam, was once a U.S. ally of convenience).

On top of that, McKinley comes across as the foreign policy airhead that Dubya is caricatured to be. (For example, McK's great goal, to Christianize the Philippines, was something the Spanish had taken care of 250 years earlier.) In addition, he clearly misread the situation. Having fought for several years against Spanish colonial masters, the Filipinos felt that the U.S. victory over Spain might end their struggle. McKinley was thus unwise to announce a policy of annexation and "assimilation." As Gates makes clear, independence for the Philippines, while reserving a naval presence for the U.S. (which MacArthur deemed necessary, and his son proved essential), was certainly on the table:

McKinley, however, was reluctant to move too quickly, for he knew that many other Americans rejected the colonial ambitions of their compatriots. Thus, although he dispatched troops to the Philippines, the President did not have a firm policy regarding the disposition of the islands. He might take a naval base and leave the Philippines in Spanish hands; he might become the champion of Philippine independence; or he might take the entire group of islands as an American colony. Much depended on the response he received from the American electorate regarding the various options.
It has often been said that the turning of Filipino rebel guns, once pointed at Spaniards, on the U.S. garrison forced McKinley's hand, but it's probably more accurate to say that McKinley's creeping colonialism didn't inspire confidence in Aguinaldo's anti-colonial forces.

But, to paraphrase Arlo Guthrie, I didn't come her to talk about the Philippines; All this is in preface to what I really wanted to say: I think we're doing pretty well in Iraq, by historical standards. Ted Kennedy says it's turning into Vietnam, but it's not. It isn't even turning into the Philippines.


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