, , ,

We have been recently treated to a bit of public discussion about those who re-write history in order to clean up its unsavory parts.  Republicans read on the floor of the House a copy of the Constitution that never existed, excising the mention of  slavery and the counting of unfree men as only  2/3 of a free man.  Huckleberry Finn has been published with the word nigger replaced with slave over 200 times  (Slave Jim?)  That these two instances have gotten some attention is a good thing even if only in a small way; both re-writings proceeded after all.

History as the story told by the winners is nothing new, of course and if not re-written, is first-written so as to empower the winners and belittle the losers, that is, to continue the battle by other means.

Mention to almost any American the US War in the Philippines and you will most likely met with blank looks.   Add “The Spanish American War,” and a few may recognize the reference — at least the Spanish part of it and probably Cuba and perhaps the Philippines.  They might even know the dates 1898, the sinking of the Maine, President McKinley, Theodore Roosevelt’s Rough Riders and the charge up San Juan Hill.  That will just about wrap it in most cases.

Mention that the United States waged a 4 year war in the Philippines, at the cost of some 300,000 Philippinos — predominantly civilians– and an involved citizen may look aghast and ask to know more.

Add the information that  Emilio Aguinaldo, one of the top Philippine generals fighting the Spanish, was promised by Admiral George Dewey that the United States would recognize Philippine independence, under the protection of the US Navy, that  Aguinaldo believed the Admiral and came back from exile in Hong Kong under Dewey’s auspices, with military honors, to be double crossed within months when the US engineered a false battle and surrender of Manila by the Spanish, the curious citizen may look for something steady to take a grip on.

San Franciscans will likely be unhappy to learn that Funston Avenue and Fort Funston are named after Frederick Funston, best known for his unilateral declaration of martial law in San Francisco, and ordering of dynamite to fight the fire in The City, after the 1906 earthquake –not such a well thought out idea, according to many.   He was also a Medal of Honor winner for his actions in the Philippines, where he executed POWs, tortured civilians and raped women — without apology.  In one battle he ordered his regiment to take no prisoners and later said he had personally strung up 35 civilians. Nor should they be happy at the Dewey Monument, celebrating the Battle of Manila Bay,  standing proudly to this day in the middle of Union Square, downtown San Francisco.

“A man is thrown down on his back and three or four men sit or stand on his arms…and then water is poured into his face, down his throat and nose from a jar…”

Americans in the Philippines used water-boarding (the water cure) as a matter of standard operating procedure.   One soldier testified to a Senate panel that he had given the water cure to 160 Philippino prisoners.  Of those 134 died. [See The Water Cure – A Marching Tune at the end of this review.]

Some prisoners were bound and turned slowly over hot coals.  Entire camps of POWs were shot on the orders of US commanding officers. Rape and wholesale burning of villages was common.  The Americans picked up the infamous Spanish “re-concentration” camps and ordered hundreds of thousands into them.

To learn these things, and 380 pages more of forgotten, or never known, history, to have your well-informed mind utterly altered, get and read Imperial Cruise by James Bradley.  I  can’t think of another book which has presented me with more genuine, and dispiriting, surprises about a formative era of the America we know. Each surprise is well documented with the words of Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, McKinley, congressmen,  Harvard professors and ordinary soldiers –from their letters, books by and about them and newspaper accounts of the time.

The book is organized around a well publicized 1905 cruise sent by President Roosevelt, from San Francisco around the Pacific, touching the Hawaiian Islands — annexed in 1898 by the US– the Philippines, Japan, Korea, and China.  It was headed by the then Secretary of War, William Howard Taft — later to become President– and President Roosevelt’s wild daughter, Alice, (Princess Alice to the enraptured American public)  who bedazzled journalists and citizens all along the voyage, and kept their attention from the secret deals Taft was carrying out on behalf of his boss — most controversially  granting, without the benefit of a Senate approved treaty, permission for the Japanese, dubbed as “Honorary Aryans,” to expand into  Korea.  At the same time the secret talks were going on, Roosevelt was representing himself as an “honest broker” between Japan and Russia following the Russo-Japanese war, the largest armed conflict in the world until WW I.

Along this slender thread, Bradley strings the beads of the real story: of the countries they were visiting and why,  the history of each and the relations to America and other contending Imperial powers,  and most importantly the shining diamond of Manifest Destiny and White Racial superiority which guided Roosevelt’s imperial ambitions, and which he shared with most of the leading citizens of the time, including his professors at Harvard University.  Almost alone amongst the wealthy, Andrew Carnegie, along with Mark Twain and a few thousand others in the Anti-Imperialist League,  saw and protested the violent projection of American power under the claim of  benevolent civilizing duty.

Bradley,  whose father was one of the Marines raising the iconic flag on Iwo Jima, and who began the book in an effort to understand how the world had come to such a terrible war, must have been as surprised at his findings as we are to read them.  Racial beliefs filled the halls of Harvard and Yale where the ruling classes came from.  The myth of the Aryans, the most perfect race on earth, as having  been solely responsible for civilization everywhere, and democracy where it existed, was wide-spread and unquestioned by most.  Ralph Waldo Emerson was not exempt, influenced, as were so many, by Tacitus’ Germania, an account of the Germanic Teutons, the only remnant of the original Caucasus Aryans who had not been weakened by race-mixing.

“It is race, is it not?  That puts the hundreds of millions in India under the dominion of a remote island in the north of Europe. .. I chanced to read Tacitus ‘On the Manners of Germans … and I found abundant points of resemblance between the Germans of the Hercynian forests, and our Hoosiers, Suckers and Badgers of the American woods.

Lewis Morgan, the founder of anthropology in the United States, cited by Darwin, Marx and Freud, and bright light along with Roosevelt himself, of American Progressivism, proposed:

“The Aryan family represents the central stream of progress , because it produced the highest type of mankind, and because it has proved its intrinsic superiority by gradually assuming  control of the earth.

Roosevelt’s favorite Harvard professor, Nathaniel Shaler, taught

“… white supremacy based on the racial heritage of England [and that] non-Aryan peoples lacked the correct ‘ancestral experience’ and [were] impossible to Americanize.”

Manifest Destiny was not, as I recall being taught in school, some secular idea of land being available from sea to shining sea.  It was a profoundly racial and Christian certainty of superiority that saw its destiny not in California and Oregon but as guiding the chosen people west across the Pacific, through Asia and back to the mythical homeland of the Aryans in  the Caucuses mountains just north of present day Iran.

Before a Senate committee looking into alleged atrocities in the Philippines, General Arthur MacArthur,  who had fought there and would later become its Military Governor, [and yes was the father of General Douglas MacArthur of WW II and Philippine fame] testified:

Many thousand years ago our Aryan ancestors raised cattle, made a language, multiplied in numbers, and overflowed … inundated and fertilized the globe with blood and ideas, the primary basis of all human progress, incidentally crossing the Atlantic and thereby reclaiming, populating and civilizing a hemisphere. … As to why the United States was in the Philippines, the broad actuating laws which underlie all these wonderful phenomenon are still operating with relentless vigor and have recently forced one of the currents of this magnificent Aryan people across the Pacific  — that is to say, back almost to the cradle of the race….

This should give you a sense of what Bradley has unearthed and how relevant it is to the situation we now find ourselves in, with Presidents appallingly anxious to invade other countries, persisting in occupations that evidently are defeating their stated purposes, and with American troops stationed at 737 bases around the world. History after all is not just some stories about how people unrelated to us behaved in the past, told for our amusement and sense of our own moral superiority.  History is the most accurate account we have of human behavior in particular times and places, but which if understood rightly, tells us about human behavior as it repeats time and again, changing only slightly in place after place.  It’s unlikely the United States, or any other country, will duplicate specifically the Manifest Destiny argument, or the great Aryan myth.  It is certain, that without stronger rational understanding of what has been possible, and therefore is possible again, the siren call of the primitive emotions of our superiority and their inferiority will hurl us on the rocks of conflict and division once again.

Don’t miss reading this book!


The Water Cure — A Marching Tune

Get the good old syringe boys, and fill it to the brim.
We’ve caught another nigger and we’ll operate on him.
Let someone take the handle who can work it with a vim.
Shouting the battle cry of freedom.

Hurray! Hurrah! We bring the Jubilee!
Hurray! Hurrah! The flag that makes him free.
Shove in the nozzle deep and let him taste of liberty.
Shouting the battle cry of freedom!

We’ve come across the bounding main to kindly spread around
Sweet liberty whenever there are rebels to be found.
So hurry with the syringe boys. We’ve got him down and bound.
shouting the battle cry of freedom!

Oh pump it in him till he swells like a toy balloon.
The fool pretends that liberty is not a precious boon.
But we’ll contrive to make him see the beauty of it soon.
Shouting the battle cry of freedom!

Keep the piston going boys and let the banner wave.
The banner that floats proudly o’er the noble and the brave.
Keep on till the squirt gun breaks or he explodes, the slave.
Shouting the battle cry of freedom!

Hurray! Hurrah! We bring the Jubilee.
Hurray! Hurrah! The flag that makes him free.
We’ve got him down and bound, so let’s fill him full of liberty
Shouting the battle cry of freedom!