Sunday, November 05, 2006

Quagmire!

One of America's best-known authors and social commentators called this long-running guerilla war against muslim insurgents a quagmire:
We were to relieve them from...tyranny to enable them to set up a government of their own, and we were to stand by and see that it got a fair trial. It was not to be a government according to our ideas, but a government that represented the feeling of the majority...a government according to [their] ideas. That would have been a worthy mission for the United States. But now -- why, we have got into a mess, a quagmire from which each fresh step renders the difficulty of extrication immensely greater.
I'm speaking, or course, of Mark Twain writing about the Philippine Insurrection in 1900.

The parallels, militarily and politically, with Iraq are stunning.

Whereas the "Big Picture" of our own Civil War parallel the situation today as I showed here, in the Philippines the correspondence is at an even much finer level of detail.

It took a long time -- 15 years -- but guess what.

We won.

So rather than seeing this current struggle as intrinsically unwinnable, we can learn from history how to win it.

And the answer isn't more troops.

It's patience and scorched earth.

The real question therefore is not can we win, but do we want to win.

Even the condemnation of the elites, the media, and the Red Cross back then were no different than they are now; the insurgents even hoped to influence our domestic politics by being extremely brutal and cruel, to cause a steady attrition of US forces to allow the anti-war faction to defeat President McKinley's Republicans in favor of the nutty peace wing of the Democrat party, in the form of William Jennings Bryan (who, parenthetically, is remembered best for his attacks on Darwinism, showing that's not an intrinsically right-wing issue):
The Filipino general Francisco Makabulos described the Filipinos' war aim as, "not to vanquish the US Army but to inflict on them constant losses." They sought to initially use conventional (later guerilla) tactics and an increasing toll of US casualties to contribute to McKinley's defeat in the 1900 presidential election. Their hope was that as President the avowedly anti-imperialist William Jennings Bryan would withdraw from the Philippines. They pursued this short-term goal with guerilla tactics better suited to a protracted struggle. While targeting McKinley motivated the revolutionaries in the short term, his victory demoralized them and convinced many undecided Filipinos that the United States would not depart precipitately.
Hear that, Democrats?

You're actively encouraging our enemies to keep fighting by boosting their morale, when we should be united in dashing their hopes.

And whereas we have anti-globalist anarchists and radical environmentalists protesting the US, McKinley was actually assassinated by an anarchist shortly into his second term, when he was succeeded by Teddy Roosevelt.

This was no easy struggle. Overall American casualties totalled more than 4000 after it was all over -- twice the level of Iraq which the media hyperventilates over today:
As of 1900, Aguinaldo ordered his army to engage in guerrilla warfare, a means of operation which better suited them and made American occupation of the Philippine archipelago all the more difficult over the next few years. In fact, during just the first four months of the guerrilla war, the Americans lost nearly 500 men who were either killed or wounded. The Filipino resistance fighters began staging bloody ambushes and raids. Most infamous were the guerrilla victories at Pulang Lupa and Balangiga. At first, it even seemed as if the Filipinos would fight the Americans to a stalemate and force them to withdraw. This was even considered by President McKinley at the beginning of the phase.
Having gained the islands from Spain after the Spanish-American War of 1898, the first phase of the Philippine-American War even also had its own false "mission accomplished" in 1901, when the leader of the nationalists, Aguinaldo, was captured in a daring raid and issued a statement of surrender. But as with Hussein,
The capture of Aguinaldo dealt a severe blow to the Filipino cause, but not as much as the Americans had hoped.
Then fanatical islamic tribesmen would continue to fight for another dozen years, until 1913.

The size of the force that won began at 40,000 troops and never exceeded 126,000 -- which is somewhat less but on about the order of the size of the deployment in Iraq.

And of course, the lethality of the troops in Iraq is orders of magnitude over that of the army a century ago!

The effectiveness of our adversaries, from then until now, however, has hardly changed much at all.

So clearly we have sufficient combat power available to perform the Philippine strategy.

How did such a small force back then pacify those difficult natives?

By not being politically correct:
The shift to guerrilla warfare, however, only angered the Americans into acting more ruthlessly than before. They began taking no prisoners, burning whole villages, and routinely shooting surrendering Filipinos. Much worse were the concentration camps that civilians were forced into, after being suspected of being guerrilla sympathizers. Thousands of civilians died in these camps. In nearly all cases, the civilians suffered much worse than the actual Filipino guerrillas.

The subsequent American repression towards the population tremendously reduced the materials, men, and morale of many Filipino resistance fighters, compelling them in one way or another to surrender.
...
Philippine military deaths are estimated at 20,000 with 16,000 actually counted, while civilian deaths numbered between 250,000 and 1,000,000 Filipinos. These numbers take into account those killed by war, malnutrition and a cholera epidemic that raged during the war. The American military and Philippine Constabulary still suffered periodic losses combating small bands of Moro guerillas in the far south until 1913.
That's how insurrections were always defeated since time immemorial.

If that's not how we're going to fight, we should not only bring the troops home now, but also disband the armed forces and start digging our own shallow graves.

There was at least a spark of self-confidence in the American Way still alive then; McKinley is reported to have said:
"The truth is I didn't want the Philippines, and when they came to us as a gift from the gods, I did not know what to do with them.... I sought counsel from all sides - Democrats as well as Republicans - but got little help. I thought first we would take only Manila; then Luzon; then other islands, perhaps, also. I walked the floor of the White House night after night until midnight; and I am not ashamed to tell you, gentlemen, that 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 - I don't know how it was, but it came: (1) That we could not give them back to Spain - that would be cowardly and dishonorable; (2) that we could not turn them over to France or Germany - our commercial rivals in the Orient - that would be bad business and discreditable; (3) that we could not leave them to themselves - they were unfit for self-government - and they would soon have anarchy and misrule over there worse than Spain's was; and (4) that there was nothing left for us to do but to take them all, and to educate the Filipinos, and uplift and civilize and Christianize them, and by God's grace do the very best we could by them, as our fellow men for whom Christ also died. And then I went to bed and went to sleep and slept soundly."
The last part about Christianize, however, is considered by some historians to be probably (but not necessarily) apocryphal.

Doesn't that just sound though like a summary of Iraq? Can't give it back to Baathists, can't give it to the UN, unfit for self-rule...the solution is the same as the Ann Coulter prescription quoted on my masthead!

As backward and primitive and non-Western as the medieval Arabs of Iraq are, surely they are not worse off as raw material than stone-age Pacific islanders, which should put to rest the "not able to have liberal government" arguments often heard.

It will just take time, and the result should be judged by Philippine standards of success. Clearly the Philippines (which we didn't gave independence to until 1946 -- a 48 year gestation period!) have problems, but nobody loses sleep over them here now, do we?

It's not like domestic opinion back then was particularly unified; the rich elites, the press -- and Democrats -- were of course opposed:
Some Americans, notably William Jennings Bryan, Mark Twain, Andrew Carnegie, and other members of the American Anti-Imperialist League, strongly objected to the annexation of the Philippines...Anti-imperialist movements claimed that the United States had betrayed its lofty goals of the Spanish-American War by becoming a colonial power, merely replacing Spain in the Philippines. Other anti-imperialists opposed annexation on racist grounds. Among these was Senator Benjamin Tillman of South Carolina, who feared that annexation of the Philippines would lead to an influx of non-white immigrants, thus undermining white racial purity in America.
Look at that, they even had their Pat Buchanan paleo-conservatives opposed to the war then as we do now as well!
As news of atrocities committed in subduing the Philippines arrived in the United States, support for the war flagged.
Abu-Ghraib!

Except then, the torture was real. The infamous "water torture" involved forcing dirty, salted water under pressure through a funnel into a captive's stomach, for example.

It was only giving back what they were dishing out, however.
Mark Twain famously opposed the war by using his influence in the press.
Ah, the press!
Emilio Aguinaldo managed to smuggle in four reporters—two English, one Canadian, and a Japanese into the Philippines. The correspondents returned to Manila to report that American captives were “treated more like guests than prisoners,” were “fed the best that the country affords, and everything is done to gain their favor.” The story went on to say that American prisoners were offered commissions in the Filipino army and that three had accepted. The four reporters were expelled from the Philippines as soon as their stories were printed.
...
To counter the bad press back in America, General Otis stated that insurgents tortured American prisoners in “fiendish fashion”, some of whom were buried alive, or worse, up their necks in anthills to be slowly devoured. Others were castrated, had the removed parts stuffed into their mouths, and were then left to suffocate or bleed to death. It was also stated that some prisoners were deliberately infested with leprosy before being released to spread the disease among their comrades. Spanish priests were horribly mutilated before their congregations, and natives who refused to support Emilio Aguinaldo were slaughtered by the thousands. American newspaper headlines announced the “Murder and Rapine” by the “Fiendish Filipinos.” General “Fighting Joe” Wheeler insisted that it was the Filipinos who had mutilated their own dead, murdered women and children, and burned down villages, solely to discredit American soldiers.
...
Sergeant Hallock testified in the Lodge committee said natives were given the water cure, “…in order to secure information of the murder of Private O'Herne of Company I, who had been not only killed, but roasted and otherwise tortured before death ensued.”
The insurrection also had widespread popular support; final victory was achieved by the following:
As one historian wrote about Marinduque, the first island with concentration camps: "The triple press of concentration (camps), devastation, and harassment led Abad (the Marinduque commander) …to request a truce to negotiate surrender terms… The Army pacified Marinduque not by winning the allegiance of the people, but by imposing coercive measures to control their behavior and separate them from the insurgents in the field. Ultimately, military and security measures proved to be the (essential element) of Philippine pacification." This assessment could probably be applied to all of the Philippines.
And General Pershing, who was military governor of the Moro province brought their revolt to an end by 1913 through a thorough process of disarmament begun in 1911:
Law enforcement in the Moro Province was difficult. Outlaws would go to ground at their home cottas, requiring an entire troop of police or soldiers to arrest them. There was always the danger of a full-fledged battle breaking out during such an arrest, and this lead to many known outlaws going unpunished. In 1911, Pershing resolved to disarm the Moros.
1911 was the year, of course, that the famous M1911 .45-calibre semiautomatic handgun was devised, specifically to deal with the muslim fanatics of Moro Province.

Replaced in the peacetime 1990s with a more "modern" 9mm pistol, combat units have demanded the return of the venerable M1911, or at least a new .45 of similar design -- and they are getting it.

P.S.: before anyone comments that Pershing intimidated the muslims by using bullets dipped in pig blood and put their dead bodies in pigskin bags, that's likely apocryphal; please provide a good primary source. But it certainly makes a fine idea going forward!

3 Comments:

Blogger Technologist said...

I think that your suggestion is horrible.

The last thing I want is 150,000 US soldiers coming home after killing one Iraqi civilian each - it seems this is what you are suggesting. Our life in the US might never be the same again.

2:47 AM, November 06, 2006  
Blogger The_Bad said...

Get a grip on reality: war is horrible. It's not a pretty business. As horrible as you might find RDS's suggestion, it is a method in which to win. Shouldn't our goal be success over being nice?

2:21 PM, November 06, 2006  
Anonymous Leo Bloom said...

I read this most of this thinking it was satire. Gradually I realized you were serious. The whole Phillipines episode was one of the stupidest endeavors we ever embarked on. We "won"? Exactly what did we win? The Philipines was an albatross all the way through WWII, just as Iraq will be, best case.

The problem with you guys is you want to have all this grit and determination and you spend 0 time trying to figure out if what you are doing is actually helping or hurting. Your tellingly abstract explication of the glories of the Phillipines is a perfect emblem of your general mental unfitness.

1:40 PM, October 02, 2007  

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