The Blue Raccoon

Thursday, December 31, 2009


The above image came from Arnaldo Dumindin's online history of the Philippine-American War, 1899-1902. I think of this conflict for several reasons, as the last granules of 2009 and the 21st Century Aughts slip away. The image at left is the unfortunate Chandra Levy.

First, I'm reading historian James Bradley's "The Imperial Cruise: A Secret History of Empire."

The book describes Teddy Roosevelt's effort through his Secretary of War William Howard Taft who was dispatched in 1905 on a Pacific cruise. The voyage resulted in secret and unconstitutional treaties that caused our engagement there and laid fuses for what ignited the Pacific Theatre of World War II, an almost every major conflict following, resulting in tens of millions dead.

It was the culmination of the "White Man's Burden" philosophy that guided the U.S. westward, "following the sun."

Quoting the U .S. military commander Gen. Arthur MacArthur (Douglas MacArthur's father), Bradley "pointedly describes a too familiar situation. “General MacArthur described a depressing quagmire where the U.S. Army controlled only 117 miles out of a total of 116,000 square miles, a hostile country where Americans could not venture out alone and a shell-shocked populace whose hatred for their oppressors grew each day,” he writes. “The Imperial Cruise” is all too persuasive in its visions of history repeating itself."

Well, as Mark Twain -- who opposed this imperialist gambit -- observed, history doesn't repeat itself, but it often rhymes.

If you don't believe it, look the recent headlines. It's chilling.

There's a familiar scene at the end of Charlie Wilson's War in which Wilson tries to get Congressional appropriations for building schools in Afghanistan. It's a powerful glimpse into why we're there now -- because of the mess the Soviets left, and how our covert assistance helped dislodge them and ultimately cause the collapse of Communist rule. But an exasperated Wilson, when told he can't get the money, says this is what always happens. We go in and change the world and then we leave. 'We always leave."

That's a bit disingenuous. The U.S. today maintains bases in Germany, Japan and Korea, and we're still in Central Europe following the horrors of Serb-Croat atrocities and civil war.

In fact, and these are 2004 figures, the "Pentagon currently owns or rents 702 overseas bases in about 130 countries and HAS another 6,000 bases in the United States and its territories."

There's a bit more up-to-date information here.

We invaded the Phillippines for little cause, after buying the country for $20 million, and then unsatisfied with Filipino administration and courts, decided to go and slaughter them into our way of doing things.

Of course, we did the same thing to Native Americans, and a photograph reproduced by Bradley in Imperial Cruise of native dead in a trench at Wounded Knee, bears startling resemblance to the one shown above, that also appears in the book. Mark Twain complained of U.S. imperialism, but wouldn't admit that we did the same damn thing to the Indians. And then there's the whole slavery thing. But facing fault there would cause the nation to admit, like the Fonz, that it was w-w-w-r -wr-wrong. There's lately come various apologies for various crimes and errors on our part, but of course, this doesn't help the 600,000 Filipino war dead. Or the millions of Indians wiped away. That we weren't any better than other colonial powers of the period is a difficult view to take.

This is tough reading.

I think of all this, too, because we are at the end of the Aughts. They started with anxiety about The End of the World -- remember Y2K? Then came 9/11 and that wiped away the Chandra Levy Washington D.C. murder mystery and the threat of killer sharks.

Now, at the end of the Aughts, there's still anxiety about the end of the world, with real and imagined fears of nuclear potential in Iran and Korea, and terrorists. Following 9/11, there was supposed to be a new serious to the media, but instead, thanks to TMZ and millions of blogs, no, we're instead distracted by narcissistic party-crashers at the White House and Tiger Woods' peccadilloes.

There's been a whole slew of movies about the world ending in various ways from comets to zombie-causing plagues. Seems like every other program on the History Channel is about decoding Nostradamus or the Bible or some other hidden mystery that indicates the end is nigh.

Conspiracy theory has become a kind of civil religion. The political world is wildly divided and toxic. One side regards the other as some form of alien life form. (Indeed, some people believe they really are from out of space, or inside the Earth)

And the people who believe this stuff breed and vote.

Anyway, the Teens of the 21st century look more and more like the beginning of the 20th.

Happy New Year. I'm going to get a few stiff drinks.

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