JPRI Critique Vol. XVIII, No. 2 (March 2012)
Honor in the Dust: Theodore Roosevelt, War in the Philippines, and the Rise and Fall of America's Imperial Dream
by Gregg Jones
"Mr. President, the times call for candor. The Philippines are ours forever.... And just beyond the Philippines are China's illimitable markets. We will not retreat from either. We will not repudiate our duty in the archipelago. We will not abandon our opportunity in the Orient. We will not renounce our part in the mission of our race, trustee, under God, of the civilization of the world. And we will move forward to our work, not howling out regrets like slaves whipped to their burdens but with gratitude for a task worthy of our strength and thanksgiving to Almighty God that He has marked us as His chosen people, henceforth to lead in the regeneration of the world."
Senator Alfred Beveridge, Congressional Record , January 9, 1900
Mine eyes have seen the orgy of the launching of the Sword;
He is searching out the hoardings where the stranger's wealth is stored;
He hath loosed his fateful lightnings, and with woe and death has scored;
His lust is marching on. ...
In a sordid slime harmonious Greed was born in yonder ditch,
With a longing in his bosom--and for others' goods an itch.
As Christ died to make men holy, let men die to make us rich--
Our god is marching on.
Mark Twain, "The Battle Hymn of the Republic, Updated," 1901
Editor's Note: On February 28, 2012, journalist and Pulitzer Prize finalist Gregg Jones visited San Francisco to discuss his new book Honor in the Dust at an event co-sponsored by JPRI, the Asia Society Northern California, and the Mechanics' Institute. Jones's book revisits the largely forgotten story of America's drive for an overseas empire at the eve of the twentieth century, and the brutal consequences for those subjected to foreign domination. He transports readers back to the bracing political debates and military torture scandal that arose amidst a transition in U.S. foreign policy from liberating to colonizing the Philippines; examines the critical election of 1900 when Americans confronted economic anxieties as well as the costs of a controversial overseas war; and recalls the dramatic rise as of the United States as a world power. The issues at the heart of this earlier debate--illustrated, in part, by the contending quotations above--will sound familiar to anyone who has followed contemporary discussions about the perils of military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan. The following is a short excerpt from Honor in the Dust.
American history captivated me from an early age, but I did not learn of the U.S. conquest of the Philippines until I was in my twenties. I wound up in the islands in the mid-1980s, a young newspaper reporter inspired to write the first draft of history as a foreign correspondent. It was while chronicling the death throes of the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos that I became acquainted with the bloody story of how America had acquired the islands after the Spanish-American War in 1898.
A year after arriving in the Philippines, I made a reporting trip to the island of Samar. I went there to write about the Marcos government's military campaign against Communist guerrillas, and the plight of poor farmers caught in the cross fire. I traveled into Samar's mountainous interior by dugout canoe and tramped through steamy jungles on muddy trails. I found a wild and rugged island that had changed little since American soldiers had fought a savage war with nationalist guerrillas more than eighty years earlier.
The military campaign on Samar had been the closing act in the U.S. conquest of the islands, the culmination of America's rise as a world power. But the victory had been tainted by revelations of military atrocities. The disclosures shocked the nation and staggered the young administration of President Theodore Roosevelt. After the fallout of the Samar campaign, many Americans concluded the price of empire had been too high.
I left the Philippines in 1989 and moved on to other stories, but I remained intrigued by this forgotten chapter in our nation's history. When Americans bitterly debated the Bush administration's decision to go to war in Iraq in 2003, I was reminded of our divisive war in the Philippines. The controversy over the U.S. military's use of "waterboarding" in Iraq highlighted other striking parallels with America's earlier experience in the Philippines. Some Americans justified torture in Iraq and Afghanistan as a necessary response to an elusive and treacherous enemy. It was the same argument some put forth in defense of the "water cure" and other extreme measures used by U.S. soldiers in the Philippines under Teddy Roosevelt.
On one level, Honor in the Dust is the story of interrelated dramas that consumed Americans in the spring of 1902: the courts-martial of U.S. military officers accused of war crimes in the Philippines, and the contentious Senate hearings on the conduct of the war. But in a larger sense, this is the story of America's emergence as a world power, and the bitter national discourse that accompanied that rise. The issues at the heart of that forgotten debate will sound familiar to anyone who has followed America's contemporary back-and-forth over military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan. The use of U.S. power, the propriety of torture in the pursuit of American interests, the obligations of national honor--then, as now, as readers will see, Americans held passionately disparate views on these subjects.
Clickon the following link to purchase the book: http://www.amazon.com/Honor-Dust-Theodore-Roosevelt-Philippines/dp/0451229045
Gregg Jones is an investigative journalist and foreign correspondent. His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times , the Washington Post , the Dallas Morning News , and other newspapers in the United States, Britain, and Australia.