say this with little partisanship since I was among
those who didn’t favor taking sides in this overseas
sideshow to start with. Those who expect to lose land
to Greater Albania will of course be opposed to the
project. Sorting this out was never our job in principle
but now Uncle has managed to create a situation for
himself, let us call it a misunderstanding. "No,
no, no. That’s not the secret map we agreed
to! It’s this one over here – with not quite so much
Albania in it."
it seems as if it’s already happened before: dejà
vu, which is French for "been there, done
that, didn’t like it." On the record, US policy
makers are often shocked and surprised when their
policies turn out badly. They are so good at it as
to rate some kind of Nobel Prize. The press is even
more shockable when disaster strikes after they’ve
shilled for some scam for months or years.
ANALOGY, PATTERN, AND UNIQUE EVENTS
pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus went around saying
that you can’t step in the same river twice. With
all that water and sand rushing by all the time, the
key word is "same." The river looks the
same, but it’s actually different water molecules,
even if Heraclitus didn’t think in terms of molecules.
Actually, he said panta rhei, "everything
flows," even if this program won’t let me do
the accents correctly.
feel personally close to this problem on grounds of
etymology. Greek rhei derives from reconstructed
Indo-European *srew-/srow-/sru- (the different
vowels are ablaut grades). Hence Sanskrit srávati,
"it flows." In Proto-Germanic a "t"
was inserted for ease of pronunciation, whence the
noun form *straumaz: Gothic straums,
German Strom, Swedish ström, English
stream. In the midst of some state-strengthening
wars, Swedish bureaucrats decided that for purposes
of taxing and conscripting it would be better for
people to have stable last names, instead of Sven
Knutsson’s son being Einar Svensson and his son being
Erik Einarsson, and so on.
not sure this "reform" has caught on yet
in Iceland. But last names became all the go in Sweden
and elsewhere, and sundry words for land features,
occupations, etc., were added into the relatively
limited number of classical and Biblical names popular
in the northland. So ström got to be a
name element, combined with such fitting
terms as lund, qvist, berg, and
others. Then most of the Swedes of any real character
took off for North America. The results are not in
yet, although renting Fargo may be of some
was an involved historical process. Strom Thurmond
and I are very grateful. It would be terrible to be
named Magnús. But that’s quite enough Ionian
philosophy and comparative linguistics. The point
was that some things change and that, despite Heraclitus,
some things don’t change that much. US officials’
constant refrain of being surprised when their heroic
allies turn out badly is one of the latter.
GAP AND OLD RIGHT LAG THEORY
brings us to the Quagmire Gap. Not too long ago, claims
were made that US/NATO intervention and philanthropy
might lead to some Good Nations getting bogged down
beyond their intentions in the country of the Bad.
Cynics suggested on this very website that intervening
in other people’s wars is not an exact science. We
were met with much scepticism.
is much like the Old Right’s problem of appearing
to cry Wolf by announcing that this or that New Deal
policy would end poorly. When the disasters failed
to appear for ten or twenty years, the Old Right was
held to have been wrong. The disasters have of course
appeared, but the timing was the tricky part. We might
think of the last twenty or so years as the Era of
Chickens Coming Home to Roost. It appears, however,
that in foreign affairs the Piper comes around for
UNDER THREE FLAGS (TWO OF WHICH ‘FLEW OVER’ SLAVERY
AT ONE TIME OR ANOTHER)
interesting example concerns the relationship between
US policy makers and Philippine revolutionaries in
1898, the very year in which the overseas US empire
was born. It is not an exact parallel with any later
situation, but it does illustrate the regular pitfalls.
The shifting role of local "allies" is instructive.
be very brief, as war loomed between the US and Spain
in early 1898, US officials anticipated victory, naturally
enough, but also foresaw themselves coming into some
new territorial possessions in the Pacific, which
Spain could be forced to cede. Given their interest
in a neo-mercantilist push into Asian markets – the
Open Door – they became quite keen on having Manila
harbor in the Philippine Islands.
in Cuba, an intermittent nationalist revolt was under
way in the Philippines, led by revolutionaries from
the ilustrado class (persons of education and
property). A few years earlier, Spanish officials
had tried to buy the rebel leaders off with a large
payment of pesos, half of it up front. When these
leaders used the money to buy firearms in Hong Kong,
the Spaniards came to doubt their reliability and
never made the second payment.
aware of the Philippine rebels’ potential usefulness
in a war with Spain, US representatives at Hong Kong
led Emiliano Aguinaldo and other revolutionary spokesmen
to believe that the United States was sincerely interested
in helping their cause. The rebels, who had already
issued a Declaration of Independence the previous
November, logically saw themselves as allies,
once the Spanish-American War began.
Dewey’s fleet easily sunk the antiquated Spanish fleet
off Manila on May 1. But with only 10,000 US soldiers
available against 20,000 Spaniards, the 14,000 Filipino
insurgents looked very useful indeed. As luck would
have it, the land battle of Manila was brief, fought
on August 31, just long enough to save the Spanish
officers’ honor. Thereafter, US and Filipino forces
occupied differing sectors surrounding Manila and
eyed one another warily.
of State William R. Day was having misgivings: "To
obtain the unconditional personal assistance of General
Aguinaldo… was proper, if in so doing he was not induced
to form hopes which it might not be practicable to
gratify."1 A fallback
position was being readied, or perhaps the consul
at Hong Kong and Dewey in Manila had pragmatically
offered more than Washington wanted them to. Deniability
is a wonderful thing.
Philippine rebels wished to believe that the great
liberal Republic had providentially needed their help
as allies in a war which otherwise had little to do
with their country. The US authorities wanted some
room in which to decide just how much of the island
chain they needed to annex. The internationally salonfähig
powers, Spain and the United States, would decide
the fate of the Philippines. Under international law
there was no point in consulting the Tagalog-speaking
WARS FOR THE PRICE OF ONE
course these two viewpoints could not be reconciled.
On February 4, 1899, shots fired between Filipino
and US forces led to a full-scale battle with casualties
on both sides. Thus began the Philippine-American
War, which the US in an inherited Indian-fighting
jargon called the Philippine Insurrection.
shall not burden the reader with the 200,000 Filipino
deaths from all causes relating to the war – battlefield
deaths, massacre, disease, disruption of food production
– other than to mention them. The war became a classical
colonialist counter-insurgency of the sort Spain had
been waging in Cuba, when the US went to war with
Spain. In due course, the US prevailed but at a cost
in lives and treasure several times the costs of the
war with that country.
the fighting continued, Philippine representative
Agoncillo sent six memos to the US Senate stating
the legal position. In one of these he wrote: "Secretaries
of State of your country (including Mr. Jefferson
and Mr. Pinckney) have denied the right of an ally
of America to acquire by conquest from Great Britain
any American territory while America was struggling
for independence…. We deny similarly the right of
the United States to acquire Philippine territory
by cession from Spain while the Filipinos were yet
at war with that power."2
pretty good argument, to be sure, but great powers
hate it when their own precedents are quoted against
them, and Agoncillo got no response. By 1902, Teddy
Roosevelt, now President, ended the war by proclaiming
it was "over." Having taken the islands
by cession from Spain and payment to that power, the
US regarded the whole thing as an internal matter
on US territory. You don’t negotiate with rebels.
HAPPY ENDING INTERRUPTED BY THIRD EMPIRE
the islands became America’s India. By the late 1930s,
interest-group politics had paved the way for Philippine
independence. Sugar and other interests resented Filipinos’
exemption from tariff restrictions. As an independent
nation, the Philippines’ producers would be subject
came the US-Japanese War (a subset of a larger catastrophe)
and displacement for several years of US colonialists
by Japanese colonialists. The old nationalist general
Aguinaldo collaborated quite happily with the Japanese,
as did many other Filipinos who had collaborated with
the Americans and, before them, with Spain. Interestingly,
wartime collaborators suffered little loss of prestige
later. The Filipinos had learned that you collaborate
with the occupying power, until the next one comes
won’t rub it in. Picking sides in foreign quarrels
is tricky. Allies are fickle and have their own agendas.
Fighting for or against Greater Albania may be in
some Americans’ interest. I doubt it’s in the interest
of the American people, broadly conceived.
Martial Spirit (Boston: Literary Guild of
America, 1931), p. 252.
in Leandro Fernández, The
Philippine Republic (New York: AMS Press,
1968), p. 120.