Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Was MacArthur a Japanese Agent?

Was MacArthur a Japanese agent?

For my generation, clickbait.  For the younglings, it’s “Who’s MacArthur”?

Douglas MacArthur was, in the words of an admiring biographer, “the American Caesar”, the brilliant military commander who won the Pacific War (the Japanese end of World War II), ruled postwar Japan with a sure imperial hand from 1945 to 1951, and orchestrated the 1950 Inchon landing master-stroke that turned the tide in the Korean War.

MacArthur was also notoriously vain, vainglorious, manipulative, insubordinate, and ambitious.  Truman relieved him of his command in Korea in 1951 for coloring outside the lines and wanting to take the war up to the PRC border and possibly beyond.  Back home, MacArthur had ambitions of becoming president of the United States but found the road cut off by another triumphant general, Dwight Eisenhower and, in his own words, MacArthur “never died; he just faded away”.

So, that’s MacArthur.

My thoughts turned to MacArthur because of two books.  While prepping for a clutch of pieces I wrote on Charles Pellegrino’s account of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, To Hell and Back, I spent some time slogging through the Japan atomic bombs denialist/revisionist fever swamp.  At the same time, I was also rereading Sterling and Peggy Seagrave’s 2003 classic of Asian conspiracy theory, paranoia, and fact, Gold Warriors.

“Denialists” is my personal terminology for people who deny that the atomic bombings were in any way unjustified or unnecessary; “revisionists” is a widely accepted term for people who assert the opposite.  To further complicate matters, “revisionists” come in lefty anti-US imperialist and righty anti-Communist flavors.

I don’t know how to classify my position in the denialist/revisionist debate.  Put me down as “humanitarian”, I guess: the bombings were inhumane, disproportionate, and useful but not indispensable in ending the war.  In the pure, legal sense, they skate pretty close to acts of terrorism as the U.S. Code defines them today: assaults on soft, primarily civilian targets with minor military value (the US Army Air Force had refrained from bombing Hiroshima, Nagasaki, and two other locations at the direction of the Manhattan Project Target Committee so the power of the atomic weapon could be demonstrated on relatively undamaged cities) with the primary objective of terrifying and demoralizing the target population and government as much as possible.

Or as the Code puts it, "terrorism" involves crimes that:

Appear to be intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination, or kidnapping. 

A major preoccupation of denialists is parsing and dismissing the indications that the Japanese government was seriously attempting to negotiate an end to the fighting as early as 1944 when it was clear that the Japanese imperial project was going nowhere, indeed going backwards at an accelerating rate.

This state of affairs was brought to my attention by a civil yet heated dustup on my Twitter timeline concerning the relative merits of analyses of the role of the atomic bomb in the Japanese surrender offered by denialist Richard Frank in his 1999 book Downfall (hadda drop ‘em!) and Tsuyoshi Hasegawa’s 2005 neo-revisionist Racing the Enemy (Colonel Mustard with a candlestick in the library!, I mean, Soviet declaration of war against Japan and advance toward Manchuria).

By 1945, Japan was getting its ass kicked, the overseas empire was disintegrating, the home islands were going to get bombed to flinders to soften them up for invasion, occupation and a round of war crimes trials & executions by the bloodied and vengeful U.S. conqueror. 
Plenty of incentive for the Japanese elite to cut a deal, in other words. 

One of many flash points for contesting the sincerity and capacity of the Japanese “peace faction” in negotiating a surrender with the United States (and justifying the use of the atomic bombs) for denialists is questioning the authenticity and value of what one might call the “MacArthur memo”, allegedly a 40-page summary of as many as five seemingly viable Japanese peace initiatives transmitted through various third-party channels, prepared by MacArthur and presented to Roosevelt in January 1945, just before the president left for Yalta.  

The existence of this memo was reported almost immediately after the surrender in 1945 by Arthur Trohan, who covered Washington during the FDR years in an adversarial way for the isolationist, anti-Roosevelt Chicago Tribune.

The Trib piece is preserved and enthusiastically glossed on a revisionist/holocaust denial website, IHR.  Apologies!  Trohan, under the headline Japs asked for peace in Jan. Envoys on way – Tokyo; Roosevelt Ignored M’Arthur Reports on Nip Proposals wrote in August 1945:

President Roosevelt dismissed the general's communication, which was studded with solemn references to the deity, after a casual reading with the remark, "MacArthur is our greatest general and our poorest politician."

The MacArthur report was not even taken to Yalta. However, it was carefully preserved in the files of the high command and subsequently became the basis of the Truman-Attlee Potsdam declaration calling for surrender of Japan.
Now that peace has been concluded on the basis of the terms MacArthur reported, high administration officials prepared to meet expected congressional demands for explanation of the delay. It was considered certain that from various quarters of Congress charges would be hurled that the delay cost thousands of American lives and casualties, particularly in such costly offensives as Iwo Jima and Okinawa.

According to Trohan, “The Terms [outlined in the MacArthur memo] were identical with those subsequently concluded by Roosevelt’s successor, Harry S. Truman” i.e. we could have already gotten the same deal in January 1945 that we eventually got in August 1945 after kayaking the four final cataracts of corpses: Iwo Jima, Okinawa, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki.

 In Trohan’s twenty-year anniversary retrospective, he advanced the argument that responding to the Japanese overtures would not only have averted the butchery of the final island battles and the atomic bombings; it would have kept the Soviet Union in its place, both by pre-empting the Soviet declaration of war against Japan that triggered the Red Army advance in Manchuria, and by enabling a transfer of U.S. troops into the ETO so the U.S. could have made a better show of it in the struggle to control post-war Europe.

Or, as the subhead in Trohan’s 1965 piece put it, Earlier V-J Day Might Have Kept Russians Out of Berlin and Averted Cold War.  

That’s probably what MacArthur felt, and members of his large and influential military and political coterie.  Reading Trohan’s pieces, you get the clear picture that the story was leaked to him by people in tune with MacArthur’s views.  It should be said that MacArthur’s disdain for the significance of the atomic bombings is legendary; in fact, he is the grandpappy of the right-wing revisionists.

On one level, MacArthur’s grumbling is part of the right-wing revisionist narrative: that Roosevelt was a tool of USSR-adoring comsymps who obsessed about defeating Japan and unnecessarily prolonging the war so Uncle Joe could glom onto more of Europe and Asia, instead of winding down the Pacific struggle quick, clean, and early on in anticipation of utilizing Japan as an asset in the real war--the upcoming Cold War with the Soviet Union and world communism.

On a second, more disturbing level, one gets a hint that MacArthur felt that Roosevelt and his strategists brought about seven months of unnecessary slaughter by persisting in the military campaign instead of negotiating an end to the war in early 1945.   

So when Truman’s team was hyping the indispensable, unavoidable A-bomb, MacArthur’s team leaked the story to Trohan that the bombs were totally unnecessary.

There you have the right-wing revisionist case in a nutshell.  

Too bad, the existence of the MacArthur memo can’t be confirmed.

Trohan describes in 1965 how in 1953 Herbert Hoover “asked MacArthur for a copy of the original.  MacArthur verified the story” i.e. the existence of the memo…but to the delight of conspiracy theorists everywhere, MacArthur said he didn’t have a copy since he had sent his papers to the DoD where, per Trohan, the memo “was lost or removed from the files.”  

Understandably, interest in the purported MacArthur memo drives the denialists crazybananas.

I will now provide an extra helping of crazybananas as part of my effort to make the Internet more interesting: the suggestion that MacArthur’s inclinations in favor of a negotiated peace that found expression in the 40-page memo were colored by Japanese gold as well as more world-historical concerns like nobbling the Soviets, saving Americans lives, and keeping the atomic genie in its bottle.

That’s what comes of reading the Seagraves’ Gold Warriors.  Gold Warriors is an absolutely gonzo tale of thousands of tons of gold and treasure systematically looted by the Japanese imperial family in parallel with the Japanese military advance into East Asia, shipped to imperial vaults in Japan and, when transport to the home islands became too risky, hidden in 175 underground caverns in the Philippines.  It's sensational popular history, but with a couple CD’s worth of documentation; to provide some scholarly cred, Chalmers Johnson reviewed the book favorably with some caveats over at the LRB.

According to the Seagraves, MacArthur became aware of the existence of these troves in late 1945, while interrogating the erstwhile commander of Japanese forces in the Philippines, General Yamashita, and seized the gold on behalf of the United States.  The Philippine stash, combined with hidden treasure acquired after the fall of Japan, served as a massive off-the-books slush fund exploited by MacArthur and U.S. strategists for decades afterwards to secure the rule of pro-US/anti-Communist conservatives in Japan and engage in skullduggery worldwide.

Here’s my serving of alternate history: 

The reliance of MacArthur and, particularly, his intelligence czar, Charles Willoughby, during the occupation of Japan after World War II on Japanese right-wing military and civilian officials, spooks, and gangsters, well, the total, obscene symbiosis between parasite and host, is notorious and pretty well documented.

What if the cooperation with MacArthur began before the surrender, when the Japanese East Asia project was clearly foundering, rats were preparing to leave the ship, and the imperial family had to secure its future?

In my alternate universe, Japanese agents reach out to MacArthur clandestinely in 1944 to negotiate an early, more favorable conclusion to the war and an easy, low-friction occupation, more like a trusteeship.  They increase the attractiveness of the initiative by offering a game-changer: the prospect that MacArthur might have unrestricted and unaccountable access to enormous financial resources-- the wealth plundered from East Asia-- for the use of the American Caesar as his discretion to properly order the peace in Asia...and keep the Soviet Union in check, a joint obsession of Japanese conservatives and MacArthur.

It’s not an issue of bribing MacArthur, in other words; it’s offering him a throne of pure gold as imperator reigning over Asia (discretely assisted by a grateful Japanese elite), as an alternative to ruling Japan from a palace of corpses built by an apocalyptic battle for the home islands and endlessly enlarged by a bitter, region-wide insurgency driven by Japanese military dead-enders and local anti-colonialists.

Wouldn’t be easy to resist, would it?

In my legend, MacArthur finds the offer attractive.  And he supports the peace path by writing his 40-page memo to Roosevelt.

Roosevelt summarily dismisses the memo.  Maybe Roosevelt is in thrall to his advisors and a strategy of conquest and unconditional surrender premised on total military victory.  Maybe he knows about the peace proposals already, resents MacArthur’s presumption, and wants him to butt out of diplomacy and stick to soldiering.

Or maybe Roosevelt knows, through Magic intercepts or some other intel, that MacArthur is playing footsie with the Japanese.  And he finds the idea of MacArthur conducting an independent foreign policy with the enemy intolerable and borderline treasonous. 
So Roosevelt goes to Yalta and pre-empts the MacArthur route by publicly demanding unconditional surrender with no allowance for retention of the emperor, pushes the maximalist military strategy leading up to invasion of the home islands and, as insurance against footdragging by MacArthur, solicits the USSR’s entry into the Pacific War.

When the end comes, it’s not through a peace negotiated by MacArthur; it’s through a post-bomb public capitulation by the Emperor delivered via radio as the Soviets are poised to sweep into Asia.

In the end, Japan gets half a loaf.  Or maybe 90%.  Okinawa, Hiroshima, and Nagasaki are devastated, half a million Japanese citizens die, and the USSR occupies the northern islands.  But the ruling Japanese elite gets MacArthur, retention of the imperial family, and a seamless restoration of conservative Japanese rule facilitated by the captured gold MacArthur is willing to place at its service.

Outrageous?  Yes.  But impossible?

That's a real Time Magazine cover, by the way.  May 9, 1949.  The caption reads "MacArthur of Japan: A decision for the next 1000 years".

Thursday, May 26, 2016

To Hell and Back: Hiroshima and Nagasaki

Update: Here's a link to an interview with Charles Pellegrino that aired on May 26, 2016 on the John Batchelor Show.

I thank Asia-Pacific Journal/Japan Focus for posting an expanded version of this piece on its website on June 1, 2016.

I have a piece up at Asia Times To Hell and Back: Obama, Hiroshima, and Nuclear Denial and a companion piece, To Hell and Back: Hiroshima and Nagasaki, up at CounterPunch, just in time for President Obama’s visit & promised non-apology at Hiroshima.

“To Hell and Back” is a phrase that can bear a pretty heavy metaphorical load when it comes to talking about the atomic bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.  It’s also the title of a book by Charles Pellegrino that is the subject of both of my pieces, and which I quote extensively at AT.

Pellegrino’s book is a moving and grueling close-up look at the horrors experienced by the people of Hiroshima and Nagasaki both on the day of the bombing and in the days and years afterward.  I have the heart of a dried-up raisin but even I got a little teary in places.

There are few opportunities for inspiring “triumph of the human spirit” narratives amid the devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  The bombings were titanic, apocalyptic events that mock human scale and comprehension.  Pellegrino depicts dazed “ant-trails” of survivors threading through the instantaneously blasted landscapes and past heaps of the dead, dying, and horrifically maimed in the shadow of an eight-mile high radioactive cloud. Fate and the desperate efforts of the rescuers saved some, but many lives literally disintegrated in seconds, minutes, days, and years after the bombs were dropped.

Near the hypocenter, the experience of death was overwhelming and random in a dehumanizing way.  For some, it came down to the decision to wear a white shirt or a dark shirt.  The white shirt might reflect the intense, instantaneous radiation of the blast with remarkable efficacy; a black shirt absorbed the radiation and incinerated the wearer.

The bottom line for many survivors is that their families, their communities, their city, most of the world they knew, their health, their spiritual equilibrium, even their social status had been annihilated in an event of overwhelming horror.  The survivors experienced physical and mental trauma; ostracization; guilt; shame; and lingering illness.

Nevertheless, Pellegrino does document instances of courage, compassion, and ingenuity and people sustaining their humanity through acts of love and sacrifice.  

 An inspiration for the title of the book is the “double” hibakusha, people who experienced and survived both the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.  One survivor of Hiroshima goes back home to Nagasaki and tells his co-workers of the awful weapon he had experienced; he warns them if they see a blinding flash—the pika—they must use it as a signal they have a few seconds to seek shelter before the don—the crash, the massive shock wave created by the bomb, arrives.

And so “duck and cover” was born.  

A document of human horror, To Hell and Back is also a memorial to the survivors and their struggle to restore sanity and meaning to their lives with little outside help.  And it also sounds like a backhanded reference to Pellegrino’s own travails at the hands of the nuclear denialists.

His book was originally published in 2010 as The Last Train to Hiroshima.  But the book—and Pellegrino himself-- became a piƱata for indignant veterans, nuclear denialists, and atomic bomb fanboys.

The relatively substantive problem with Last Train was that a guy, who claimed to have been part of the squadron of planes escorting the Enola Gay and provided several pages of gripping detail, had made up his story.  

Pellegrino acknowledged the error and retracted, but it became clear that the intention of his opponents was not to correct errors; it was discredit Pellegrino, the book, and the idea that the sufferings of the victims should be remembered when considering the bomb and its legacy.

The attacks on the book went beyond scientific nitpicking along the lines of “could a human really be vaporized by an atomic bomb?” and snowballed into attacks on Pellegrino, his credentials, and his integrity.  The New York Times provided a platform for the anti-Pellegrino crowd, helping stampede the publisher, Henry Holt and Company, into withdrawing Last Train to Hiroshima.  

The battle continued on various message boards;  Pellegrino held his own, especially after it transpired that the New York Times and other media outlets, while pursuing their ambitions to serve as journalistic gatekeepers and bring a literary malefactor to justice, had themselves been gulled by a series of malicious forgeries supplied by Pellegrino’s enemies.

The attack on Last Train appears to have been very much of a piece, both in themes and protagonists, with longstanding U.S. government and military veteran groups' efforts to suppress the more disturbing issues and viewpoints surrounding the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

On the scientific side, the US government had a vested interest in suppressing the details of pervasive and persistent radiation effects that undercut the usability of nuclear weapons and threatened to deliver a gigantic bill for human and environmental remediation.  

Here’s one of the first important U.S. military documentaries on Hiroshima/Nagasaki, A Tale of Two Cities from 1946.  There’s a lot of image management going on; for instance, the Nagasaki bombardier missed the designated bull's eye by 3 miles, which is spun as a judicious decision to drop the nuke right between two major targets to git ‘em both!

What’s very interesting is the very early interest in poo-pooing radiation effects.  Physicists suspected from the outset that radioactive contamination from a nuclear blast was a pervasive, unmanageable problem; the Pentagon has always been, in a rather unscientific and immoral way, committed to advertising the fiction that contamination issues are manageable and the health impacts minimal.

The movie pushes the “clean blast” story (bomb detonated above ground to minimize fallout, which is I think a bit of a stretch; some scientists decided a ground detonation would soak up too much of the shock wave to yield a psychologically satisfying degree of devastation & proposed an airburst instead); presents the statement of a Jesuit priest that he worked in Hiroshima with no ill effects after the attack; and offers the reassuring observation that that it was back to business as usual on the roads of Nagasaki after the massive radiation release: “people using them without ill effects shortly after the explosion”.

Since Hiroshima and Nagasaki, the US military has been kept busy in its crusade to assert the sanitary and housebroken character of nuclear events.  In 1954 it faced a particular challenge when eggheads miscalculated the yield of the Castle Bravo shot, a sizable chunk of Bikini Atoll was vaporized into radioactive dust, the Lucky Dragon No. 5 got contaminated, and Godzilla was born (no lie; read it here).  

Managing and covering up the consequences of atmospheric nuclear releases is also very much a contemporary problem for the US, as I’ve discussed in my CounterPunch piece on the U.S. apparent coverup of the radiation problems of the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, which was contaminated offshore of Fukushima during post-earthquake/tsunami rescue operations.  

My piece picks apart the peacetime radiation effects issue in history, from one of the most significant fallout events in U.S. history—in Albany, New York, of all places!—and the Chernobyl disaster, in addition to Fukushima, to describe the U.S. government “long war” on unfavorable radiation effects science and its concerted effort to minimize the accounting of radiation casualties to the absolute, irrefutable bare minumum.

The Reagan has never been completely decontaminated, several hundred members of the crew and other U.S. military personnel are suing for compensation for medical issues, and the Reagan has been sitting in the naval base at Yokosuka for a suspiciously long time for an aircraft carrier that’s supposed to be pivoting all over the western Pacific at this crucial juncture (the USS Carl Vinson John Stennis out of San Diego & aircraft carriers transiting from the Middle East are picking up the d*ck-swinging slack).

But Hiroshima/Nagasaki denialists are only peripherally interested in issues of radiation effects.  They want to suppress or minimize all accounts of human suffering in order to pre-empt discussions of the morality of U.S. tactics in the ultimate “good war”.

Like the coverup of radiation effects, feel-good denialism has been a factor in attitudes toward Hiroshima and Nagasaki from the git-go.

Douglas MacArthur believed that the A-bomb got too much credit, especially since it threatened to dilute the glory of Douglas MacArthur’s victory in the Pacific, and his team devoted a significant effort to poor-mouthing the strategic significance of Hiroshima and Nagasaki as well as dismissing the magnitude of human suffering it caused.  In the words of MacArthur’s point man for spinning the public health effects of the attacks, Crawford Sams, the A-bomb was “a poor killer”.

Milestones in U.S. denialism include MacArthur’s imposition of censorship on reporting from Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the suppression of gruesome footage of the medical consequences of the bombings, recorded shortly after the surrender both by a Japanese newsreel company and the U.S. Army’s own lavishly-funded Technicolor documentary unit.  

As chronicled by Greg Mitchell, the footage has emerged fitfully and incompletely. 

Erik Barnouw of Columbia University edited the two hours and forty five minutes of the Japanese footage into a 15 minute piece shown on US television in 1969:

Some of the U.S. Army footage, known as the McGovern footage after the unit director, found its way onto the Internet: 

Be warned before clicking: these two videos, especially the McGovern footage, are essentially medical atrocity videos.

But also, if you can sit through the videos, you notice that to the amateur observer much of the movie documents horrific burn trauma that, aside from footage of people whose eyes got melted by the flash, doesn’t look demonstrably and exclusively like radiation effects.

It just looks awful and inhumane.  And that’s probably why it was suppressed.

Key punctuation points in the war against humanitarian and pacifist attempts to detail the horrors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki were the campaigns against plans for a revisionist setting for the Enola Gay exhibition at the Smithsonian Institute in 1994 and 2003.

Many of the same protagonists emerged with the same themes to savage Pellegrino in 2010.

One of the interesting and melancholy developments is that the denialist campaign to minimize the human consequences of the atomic bombings seems to be losing some of its heat in 2016.  Not necessarily because understanding, reflection, and compassion (in Japanese omoiyari, a concept embraced by some hibakusha that Pellegrino celebrates in his book) are finally prevailing; it’s because the World War II generation is dying and it’s easier to ignore a bygone horror when the living, human legacy of injury and suffering is no longer before our eyes.

The good news is that Pellegrino’s book is back, new and improved, expanded, documented, fact-checked, and footnoted and published by Rowman & Littlefield thanks to the efforts of Mark Selden of Cornell.  You can do the publisher a solid by buying the book direct from the R&L website.  And for the most complete and authoritative reporting on nuclear/radiation issues in Japan, bookmark Selden’s Asia-Pacific Journal/Japan Focus e-journal.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Mindanao, Duterte, and the Real History of the Philippines

"US is responsible for at least a quarter of a million conflict deaths in the Philippines while the PRC has accounted for ze..." "Hey, look at that ship over there!"

The U.S. government and the Manila elite are pretty interested in hyping the naval confrontation with the PRC, while going all "bygones" on the bloody, corrupting, ongoing, and (for some elite Filipinos empowering and enriching) U.S. deep penetration of the Philippines' political and security regimes.

Duterte upsets this script, because his political career has been spent on Mindanao and he's been exposed to the pointy, crappy end of the U.S. military spear for over a decade.

I wrote about Duterte's direct, unhappy experience with U.S. milsec shenanigans in the matter of bomb-building US spook Michael Meiring at Asia Times.

I also put up a long piece on China Matters that discussed the fact that Meiring is just one of many old and current skeletons ready to come clattering out of the closet if Duterte diverts the political discourse away from "US and Philippines: Shoulder to Shoulder Against China in the SCS!" to an examination of serial U.S. meddling in the Philippines in the name of security, counterinsurgency, and anti-terror over the last 115 years.

Duterte’s an interesting cat.  Nicknamed The Punisher, he’s a horndog, bully, a bruiser, and an enthusiastic vigilante.

The US media seems to have pigeonholed him as “The Philippines’ Donald Trump with Death Squads,” an indication of instinctive unease with a populist political force that doesn’t declare allegiance to the modern liberal playbook—and who condoned death squads in his city.

He’s also a lawyer, albeit one who shot a fellow student and was therefore not allowed to march at his graduation.

Duterte won the presidential election despite the open opposition of the Roman Catholic hierarchy.  He alleges he was abused by a Jesuit priest at school and has a combative relationship with the Catholic Church, as in "f*ck the Pope" combative. 

His local political base is on Mindanao, which is about 20% Muslim.   He was mayor of Davao City, whose population of 1.4 million makes it the biggest city on Mindanao and the fourth-largest in the Philippines.

Mindanao has a lot of history--a lot of bad, bloody, history--involving the United States, history that has shaped Duterte's attitude toward the U.S.

In many ways, Mindanao provides an alternate narrative to the largely Roman Catholic post-colonial elite that dominates Philippines political discourse.

Spanish subjugation of the Philippines involved forced conversion to Catholicism in a chain of Muslim sultanates that once ran all the way up from the Straits of Malacca to modern Manila.
 Mindanao, under the Sultan of Sulu, proved less tractable.

Much less tractable.

I think the struggle to reduce Mindanao, first by the Spanish, then by the Americans, and now by the central government in Manila must rate as the lengthiest insurrection in world history, spanning 400 years.  Resistance often included a significant Chinese component.  I highly recommend the encyclopedic Wikipedia entry on the Spanish-Moro conflict to interested readers.

With the American victory in 1898, the Philippines became America's stepping stone to empire (and China; the U.S. presence in the Philippines was seen as a key leverage point for the pivot, excuse me, the "Open Door" policy that would properly integrate China into the family of nations). 

And the footprint lay heaviest in Mindanao, which bitterly resisted the United States in the Moro War of 1898-1902 (officially; President Roosevelt declared "Mission Accomplished" in 1902 but unrest and massacre continued well beyond that punctuation point).

Subjugating the Moro was the brutal colonial-racist yin that came with the triumphant yang of superseding Spain as a burgeoning imperial power.

 The turn of the 20th Century was the Golden Age of American political cartooning--blatantly racist political cartooning, I might add--and provides a multitude of instructive images of Uncle Sam in the Philippines...

1) as godlike imperator;

2) benevolent savior (here he is rescuing the Philippines from the twin threats of mangy Spanish imperialism and Aguinaldo's revolution, rather unkindly representing the Europeanized Philippine nationalist as a ravening wolf):

3) benevolent colonial patron (in this picture he's demonstrating to the rebels in the Philippines the advantages enjoyed by more tractable Cuba);

4) long-suffering colonial (school) master;

 And 5) the cockeyed optimist who got more fight (and less gratitude) than he bargained for.

Sometimes, you get it all at once.

Here, Uncle Sam is presented as laboring under the heaviest white man's burden, the "primitive races", as Great Britain forges ahead on the path to universal human uplift with the lighter load of colonial subjects of the ancient civilizations.  The "uncivilized" character of the Philippines was essential to the U.S. colonial narrative, by the way.  It enabled the U.S. to brush aside nascent Philippine national organs and concrete national aspirations in order to justify the unilateral imposition of U.S. rule over a "multi-tribal" congeries of "primitive savages".

Okay, that's enough imperial/colonialist/racist bullsh*t.

This whole period of American history merits, I think, its own Foucault to document the queasy, improvised formation of the "modern" consciousness that emerged in the 1890s and 1900s, midwived by technology, mass media, and an effort to process and comfortably pigeonhole the immense horrors people could commit, document,and propagate in the industrial age.

I wrote about this phenomenon in a U.S. domestic context, that of the Guldensuppe case, a rather ordinary crime passionel of 1897 that William Randolph Hearst concocted into a modern sensation, "The Crime of the Century" with the help of steam-powered presses, the bicycle, the telegraph, and the electric chair--and an audience agog at the realization that updates on murder and massacre could be delivered nearly instantaneously into its hands wrapped in the daily paper.

As I wrote at the end of the piece:

Relishing his victory over The World and Joseph Pulitzer in New York City, Hearst quickly moved on to leverage his talents, ambitions, and media assets on a truly global stage.

His chosen sensation: the sinking of the USS Maine in Havana Harbor in 1898.  The objective: war between Spain and the United States.

The outcome: well, the rest is history.  Modern history.

And modern war, represented by the first U.S. overseas counterinsurgency operation, against the Moro on Mindanao and other islands of the Philippines' Islamic South.

The US Army, initially at sea in an Asian land and facing an enemy quite different from the professional, surrender-friendly units it had encountered during the Mexican and Civil Wars, adapted by bringing in the genocidal, total-war tactics practiced against the Native Americans inside the continental U.S. and developing a new set of best practices.

New ways to kill were needed.  Famously, tales of Moro warriors not going down even when shot multiple times by .38 rounds occasioned the adoption of heavier rounds (after a grisly episode of testing on human cadavers and in the Chicago stockyards to find what would stop and kill consistently even if the head or heart were not struck) and eventually, development of the Colt .45 semi-automatic as the standard military sidearm.

New ideas about killing also emerged.

The Moro rebellion exploded the traditional U.S. idea of warfare, the roles of soldiers and noncombatants, and what could and should not be done; and a racial/genocidal narrative arose to replace it with invincible and startling speed.

Over at Japan Focus, Paul Kramer has a great piece documenting the birth of what one might term homo Americanus imperialisimus, with flummoxed good ol' boys evolving into professional genocidaires within weeks of their arrival in "the boondocks".  Kramer, by the way, identifies the evocative wildlands term "boondocks" as the one neologism coined by the war.  I think one should also add "running amok" an individual ecumenical murder/suicide spree (which, along with the socially moderated and ritualized martyrdom operation against the U.S. infidels, known as juramentado, appalled and terrified American soldiers) to the list.

The U.S. war in the Philippines flirts with genocide, especially in the wholesale indiscriminant slaughter ordered or condoned by some military commanders.

Hundreds of thousands of Filipinos died during the thirty years it took the U.S. to crush the resistance.  One figure goes as high as 1.4 million over the thirty-year duration of the conflict--more than Iraq and Syria combined, at least to date.

In the Philippines, the U.S. media was learning how to report a U.S. imperial action: what to report, how to report it, and what the reader was supposed to feel...

...even as the U.S. Army started to get a grip on the propaganda levers it needed to yank to sell or at least sustain a long, brutal, and not terribly popular overseas war of choice.

The press got involved in one of those new frontier challenges: how the military should go about extracting intelligence from uncooperative detainees.

It turns out that, based on claims of military necessity, by simultaneously stripping detainees of the protections afforded civilian prisoners and military detainees, and through a dose of callous racism, the answer was Torture!

Extracting information became a matter of considerable impatience and few scruples.

Interrogations employed various modes of physical abuse, including an early form of waterboarding called "the water cure".  I'm not up on the distinctions, but current waterboarding appears to be a refinement of the traditional technique.  Today, the victim is placed on a slanted board and treated with a relatively limited amount of water to simulate drowning while introducing the same response of uncontrollable panic.

In the Philippines, it appears that the victims were simply laid flat and drowned for real by funneling large quantities of water down their throats.  When their stomachs bloated from the water, I believe the boot was applied and the drowning sensation reproduced in reverse.  Salt water was sometimes used.  (There are even worse ways.  The KMT secret police under Dai Li used liquefied feces instead of water).

Wikipedia states the U.S. adopted an ongoing Spanish practice in the Philippines, though it should be said that water torture was practiced inside the U.S earlier in the 19th century and is, apparently, one of those near-universal exercises in creating human misery.  

The issue of waterboarding in the Philippines introduced a round of public debate, disquiet, and public wristlapping that will be familiar to students of the Guantanamo issue.  An American officer was courtmartialed for waterboarding, given a one-month suspended sentence and a $50 fine.

Correspondents in the Philippines witnessed and reported these novel monstrosities.

Life Magazine depicted a session of the water cure applied to a stone-thrower on the cover of its May 22,1902 issue.  Despite the realism of the scene, there seems to be some ethical commentary involved.  The approving onlookers appear to be representatives of imperial/colonial militaries through history welcoming the U.S. into the fraternity of abusers.

 The practice was also photographed:

I get a sense of undiluted reportage here, a relatively unmediated glimpse of America's new imperial order, together with a certain voyeuristic bewilderment: are we supposed to show this behavior?  condemn it?  excuse it? is it good?  is it bad?  does it work?  should I be doing this?

Eventually, of course, the decision was made to "just hide it" rather than give the American public the opportunity to examine and reflect upon the consequences of U.S. imperial adventures.  Today, the CIA destroyed the tapes of waterboarding and interrogation at Guantanamo, "lost" the CIA Inspector General's copy of the Senate torture report, and the US government has gone to court to block photos of ill treatment, abuse, and perhaps torture committed at the Abu Grahib detention facility in Iraq.

But back the 1900s, the Philippine "water cure" had entered the discourse to the extent that a left-wing cartoonist depicted the torture to mock Theodore Roosevelt for torturing the United States into a renunciation of the ideals of the Declaration of Independence in favor of imperialism (symbolized by the "Imps" assisting him.  Identifying the imps would be an interesting parlor game.  I think the imp in the lower left sitting on Uncle Sam's arm is Chauncey Depew, Cornelius Vanderbilt's attorney, president of the New York Central, and Senator from New York; Nelson Aldrich (Nelson Rockefeller's grandpappy), sitting on the right leg; and maybe Henry Cabot Lodge leaning on the "Roosevelt Platform".).

Note in the upper right corner the American flag has been replaced by a banner declaring "Slavery & Polygamy Protected by Sultan of Sulu Per Roosevelt".  

In 1898, the Sultan of Sulu had been commanded to support the U.S. takeover of the Philippines per the instruction of the Ottoman Empire in Istanbul thanks to the diplomatic efforts of U.S. Secretary of State John Hay, thereby making the U.S., in the eyes of the cartoonist, a partner in the sultan's unchristian and undemocratic decadence.

Disquiet about the lengthy, brutal, and distant war entered into media and public attitudes.

One of the most infamous massacres was the so-called "First Battle of Bud Dajo" , better known as the "Moro Crater Massacre" in 1906.  US forces pursuing Moro miscreants on Sulu Island cornered them in a community that had sheltered in the crater of the long-dormant Bud Dajo volcano, pulled Navy guns and a machine gun up to the lip of the crater, and blasted away, killing 800 to 1000 men, women, and children.  Reportedly only six Moro survived.  Fifteen American soldiers died.

The governor of the Moro Province, Major General Leonard Wood, tweeted the battle (actually, sent out a stream of cable dispatches celebrating the operation and the valor of his troops).  However, the massacre was also extensively reported by a press corps that was insufficiently house-trained ("embedded" is the correct term, I guess) and excessively ambivalent about the war effort, especially since President Roosevelt had declared an end to the war four years earlier.  

Despite excuses that will appear familiar to connoisseurs of military buckpassing today--Moro fighters were disguised as women, collateral damage resulted from men using women and children as human shields, and so on--the massacre was a public relations disaster for the Army.

Mark Twain was incensed at the massacre and wrote an interesting account of how the reports of the battle played out in the papers in the United States.  Equally interestingly, he apparently shrank from publishing this account before his death (it was suppressed until it recently appeared in his posthumously published Autobiography), even though he had published a jeremiad against King Leopold's crimes in the Congo the previous year.

Perhaps the one lasting consequence of the massacre in the U.S. was that it shadowed Wood's subsequent career and is one reason why, despite the aggressive support of his patron, Theodore Roosevelt, we didn't get President Leonard Wood.

Although the Moro Wars were considered over by 1913, continual unrest plagued the region through the US colonial period, the Japanese occupation, and independence.  

Then, in 1969, dozens of Moro soldiers in the Armed Forces of the Philippines were killed at a base on Corregidor in the Jabidah Massacre, an incident that has been successfully hushed up to the point nobody knows what happened.

But the best guess is that problems arose with a group of ethnic-Moro soldiers organized by the Philippine government to try and detach Sabah Province in Malaysia (a part of the Sultan of Sulu's domain that had ended up under Malaysian rule at decolonization) for incorporation in the Philippines.  

If truth be told, Mindanao looks more like Malaysia than the Philippines, especially the Malaysian province of Sabah across the strait.  “Bangsamoro”, the term used by Muslim autonomy/independence advocates, means “Moro people”.  “Bangsa” is a Malay term.  

In fact, there’s always a “Malaysia annex Mindanao” “Philippines annex Sabah” “Independence for Mindanao/Sabah” buzz going on, though the current Philippine government has apparently set its Sabah ambitions aside.

Even the Sultanate of Sulu is trying for a comeback:


Nobody was prosecuted, no explanations were made, and the Philippine/Christian brutality and impunity toward Moro Muslims exhibited by the  Jabidah Massacre is acknowledged as a key factor in the emergence of the modern Moro insurgency.

Interestingly, “Moro” is a synthetic ethnicity of relatively recent vintage.

When the Spanish set up their colony in the Philippines, they gave the name Moor to their opponents who resisted conversion to Catholicism, not because they were dusky but because they were Muslim, like the North African Arabs the Spanish armies had just defeated on the Iberian peninsula. 

Here's a map showing the distribution of Muslim peoples in Mindanao about the time the U.S. took over in 1900.

"Moro" appears to be one of the modern ethnic identities that is evoked and strengthened by government oppression of stateless polities in a dynamic similar to that of the Uyghurs, Tibetans, Balochs, and the Kurds. 

Another key factor, though one that doesn't seem to get bruited about very much, was the support of Muammar Gaddafi for the Moro Islamic Liberation Front.

With that context, let's take another look at Rodrigo Duterte.

Duterte is not native to Mindanao.  His family comes from a central Philippine island group, the Visayan Islands.  Christians from Visayan Islands and other regions were settled in Mindanao by the U.S. and Philippine governments as part of a strategy to demographically submerge the Moro, distribute prime land and resources to settlers and corporations, and economically and politically marginalize the Moro and criminalize their resistance in a manner that will be familiar to observers of tactics in Tibet, Xinjiang, and Palestine.

It appears to have been successful to the point that Moros are perhaps 17% of the population of Mindanao today, down from 90%  in 1900.

 A 2015 news article/puff piece provides a useful perspective on Dutarte and his attention to the Mindanao/security issue beyond the usual “murderous buffoon” framing.  I'm quoting it at great length because I don't think you'll see a lot of this perspective in the Western press:

As the leader of a city which had its painful share of violence and terrorism believed perpetrated by Islamic extremists where 45 people were killed in three bombing incidents in 1993 and 2003, Davao City Mayor Rody Duterte still remains hopeful that a negotiated settlement would end the conflict in the Southern Philippines which has dragged on for generations.

"If there is anybody who wishes that this bloody problem would end soon, it is I because I am both Moro and Christian," Duterte said.

"I feel the fear of the Christians and share the dreams of the Moro people who feel that they have been dispossessed of their land and identity," the City Mayor said.

Duterte admits publicly for the first time that his maternal grandmother had a Moro lineage.

"There is a part of me which is Moro," he said.

Duterte's ties with the Muslims of the South were made even stronger because his eldest son, Paolo who is now Vice Mayor of the City, embraced Islam when he married a Muslim Tausug girl.

"I have grandchildren who are either Muslim or Christian. Would I want to see a situation in the future where even my own grandchildren would be dragged into this conflict?," he asked.
Following the bombings, the national government approved the city's recommendation to organize Task Force Davao, a military composite group which established check points all over the city to control the entry of bombs and guns.

When Duterte ordered that the City will no longer allow the entry of powerful firearms usually brought in by bodyguards of politicians mostly Muslims from the Cotabato and Maguindanao provinces, everybody followed.

"This city is open to everybody regardless of tribe or religion for as long as you abide by the law," Duterte once declared when the issue of the presence in the city of members of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) was raised.

MNLF Chairman Nur Misuari has a wife who lives in Davao City.

Top ranking officials of the MILF are also believed to have homes in Davao City where their children live while studying in colleges and universities in the city.

Davao has thus become a model "peace city" today where members of warring groups - the Moro rebels, the New People's Army (NPA), policemen and soldiers - live and abide by the strict rules of the city under the leadership of Rody Duterte.

It was also chosen as one of the Safest Cities in the World to Live In.

Muslim businessmen, mostly Maranaos, swear that they are never harassed in Davao City while selling their wares, unlike elsewhere in the country where they are the favorite prey of corrupt policemen who mulct them of their little earnings.

But Duterte's dream of peace transcends the boundaries of his city.

"For as long as the misunderstanding between government and the Moro groups continue, we will always be unstable," he said.

Duterte is aware that the problem is not simple.

He says the Moro people are largely misunderstood because they embrace a religion which is not known to many Filipinos in other parts of the country.

Feeling that they do not belong to the mainly Christian Filipino society and that they were never given much importance by the Central Government in its national policy formulation and decision making, the Muslims of the South have always struggled for independence and self determination.

"The danger here is that unless these legitimate issues are addressed, there is the grim scenario of the younger Moros gravitating towards radical Islamic organizations," Duterte said.

"I will be the last person who will agree to the dismemberment of this nation," he once declared.

Duterte maintains that while he understands the resentment of the Bangsamoro to being called Filipinos based on the belief that it is a Spanish imposed name, he believes that Christians and Muslims in this country belong to one race.

"We can call ourselves by any other name but the fact that we are brothers will always remain," he said.
He said that while the Philippine peace negotiators have the noble intention of forging peace with the MILF in the Southern Philippines, they failed to consider some cultural realities involving the Moro tribes of the South.

"The Moros of the islands are distinct culturally from the Maguindanaos, Maranaos and Iranuns of mainland Mindanao. Offering a generic solution to their peculiar problems and concerns may not work at all," Duterte explained.

The Tausugs will never be comfortable being under the leadership of the Maguindanaos or Maranaos, a situation which is also true inversely, Duterte explained adding that this could be the reason behind the failure of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) which was first headed by Misuari.

Duterte also said that while he hopes that the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL) will pass Congress, his lawyer's instincts tell him that the measure will be questioned before the Supreme Court because of some Constitutional infirmities.

It will be difficult to reconcile a parliamentary autonomous government with a Presidential central government, he said.

Duterte, a San Beda law graduate, said there must be a back up plan should the BBL fail to pass the Constitutionality test.

"We cannot afford to fail here," adding that Federalism and a two Federal States set up for the South could prove to be the best solutions.

A Federal Parliamentary form of government in the Philippines would not only serve the interests of the neglected regions of the country but also accommodate the desires of the Bangsamoro of the South.

A Federal State for the Maguindanaos, Maranaos, Iranuns and other Moro tribes of the main island and another Federal State for the Tausugs, Sama, Yakan and other island tribes could address the cultural issues.

Duterte said that what happened in the past could not be undone but that there is a need for national reconciliation.

"All that we could do to our Muslim brothers and sisters now is to give them what is due them which includes respecting their unique identity and respecting their claim to what is rightfully theirs,' he said.

Concerning the Moro disdain for the term “Filipino”, I have to say I did find it odd that an Asian nation decided to keep King Philip II of Spain as its namesake, but I guess naming America after some Italian sailor is just as weird.

All in all, a thoughtful perspective on coexistence and reconciliation in a difficult and complicated neighborhood--made more difficult and complicated by a century of massacre and meddling by the US and Manila-- that Duterte has been governing for a couple decades with considerable success.  

How 'bout that.

Having said that, I would not take that “Safest City in the World” designation to the bank.  Apparently an on-line poll was successfully freep'd with 800 responses.

By now, it should be clear that there's more to the Philippines than Manila, more to its politics and society than upper class Catholicism, and more to its security concerns than partnering with the United States to push back against the PRC in the South China Sea.

There's Mindanao, there's Moros, there's separatism, there's issues of justice that have been papered over by the Manila establishment to present a neat neo-liberal narrative that complements the US pivot to Asia.

And there's Duterte.