Last December I went back to the Philippines, and the urban rot of Manila, the separation of the castle-dwelling rich looking down upon the miles of tin shantytowns disgusted my heart. The Philippines is a place of my heritage and it was there in the Philippines that I saw the future of Iraq. It was there that I saw imperialism fast forwarded a century. Pollution. Low-paying jobs. Prostitution. Religious hypocrisy. Escapism. All are accurate nouns tied to the Philippines’ capital city.
And only a few hundred miles out in around the Taal Volcano and on Marinduque Island where corporations and the virus of westernization had not cripplingly spread, the Philippines became the Philippines I felt I knew, filled with happy singing people with toothless and tooth-bearing smiles at age 1 to age 80. There you could walk through clouds of mist not clouds of exhaust. There you could sleep without nightmares brought on by loud incessant bursts of karaoke. If only Manila had been so lucky. Yes, Manila, that modern degenerating city where I had to wear a breathing mask and found it stained with exhaust soot after only two weeks. Yes, Manila, where the more affluent crowd into malls to buy idolized trash while young girls, well on their way to a life of prostitution, beg for pesos on busy highways. Yes, Manila, that future Baghdad, where World War II bunkers have been turned into golf course scenery. If I were an Iraqi, poor and left with no choice but to live where I was born, I would fight the Americans, the British and every one of their little allies. In Iraq, I would fight them with whatever I had, stones or roadside bombs.
I am a pacifist at heart, but not so much so that I will accept the obliteration of a culture and of a people. If I were an Iraqi, I would fight the Americans and the British for every ounce of my own dignity.
In truth, the United States is fighting for all the wrong reasons. Greed. White man’s burden. Military positioning and security. Every one of the reasons is veiled by ideas all too similar to the Philippine-American War that happened at the beginning of the 20th century. If only we had learned our history.
Seeing what I saw in the Philippines, I would fight the invading forces, knowing that it would be so crucial a century later. I would fight for myself and the future. Not for the terrorist warlords, not for religion, but for the chance that future generations might be able to escape the effects of imperialism.
A similar lack of popular understanding about the reasons why Filipinos fought against Americans a century ago and why Iraqis are fighting the invading American boot forces is apparent. Another parallel between the Philippine-American War and the Iraq war is the disregard for human life. In the bloody guerilla conflict in the Philippines, 4,234 Americans lost their lives. More than 200,000 Filipinos lost theirs. 200,000 is the low estimate. The war in Iraq is steadily on its way to reaching and surpassing those numbers.
In our military prisons, we are torturing individuals like we tortured Filipinos. “A People’s History of the United States,” a 1901 Philadelphia Ledger report, documented Filipinos being pumped with salt water and innocent men shot full of bullets to provide as warnings against “insurgents.” In our prisons we use a technique called “water-boarding” to torture prisoners. We have murdered some detainees.
President William McKinley claimed the same religious zealotry that President George W. Bush openly embraces. McKinley said he came to his decision about taking the Philippines this way: “I went down on my knees and prayed Almighty God for light and guidance more than one night. And one night late it came to me this way Ö that there was nothing left for us to do but to take them all and to educate the Filipinos and uplift them and civilize and Christianize them.”
Bush is all too similar to McKinley. The president’s mastermind adviser, Karl Rove, has been transparent about his love of McKinley.
Bush claims he talks to God and we are fighting a battle of good and evil. We need to pay attention to our art as well as our history. Bob Dylan’s “With God on Our Side” is a song that needs to be played more than our national anthem.
A century ago, the president saw the Philippines as a resource; a fertile gateway to trade with Asia. Today, the president sees Iraq as an oil-fertile gateway to the even oil-richer Middle East. What are our true motives in the Iraq war and why are my friends and relatives being sent to kill people in their homelands? How many times will we ignore history and allow it to repeat itself? I don’t blame Iraqis for fighting Americans in Iraq; I would do it the same.
Karl Noyes is the Editorials and Opinions editor. He welcomes comments at [email protected]