As I’ve been reading Noam Chomsky’s books, Latin America and the Philippines really jumps out at me. If you want to hear about people who have had it rough, just study their history. This is such a complicated topic, I don’t even know where to begin. I suppose I can summarize what happened rather quickly, though I am simplifying things tremendously.
Throughout the nineteenth century, European powers were expanding throughout the globe, forming colonies which they were exploiting in places like Africa, India, and so on. The United States was expanding as well. Some of you may remember what our history books call “Manifest Destiny”, which basically amounted to us expanding westward out toward California, killing off the native Indians and taking their land. It’s amazing how we’ve sanitized things. Our school texts portray ethnic cleansing and genocide as divinely appointed destiny! No wonder kids hate school.
As we move into the late nineteenth century, early twentieth century, we further expanded. We overthrew the government of Hawaii, and we went to war in the Philippines (Philippine-American War). However, not everyone believed this was “divine destiny”. Take Senator George Frisbie Hoar of Massachusetts. He was warning our nation that we would become, “a vulgar, commonplace empire founded upon physical force, controlling subject races and vassal states, in which one class must forever rule and the other classes must forever obey.” Speaking about the Philippines in 1900, he said that the United States had “crushed the Republic that the Philippine people had set up for themselves, deprived them of their independence, and established there, by American power, a Government in which the people have no part, against their will.”
It was a brutal war. One soldier wrote home, “Our fighting blood was up, and we all wanted to kill ‘niggers’ … This shooting human beings beats rabbit hunting all to pieces.” We built concentration camps there where we kept and tortured hundreds of thousands. We waterboarded them, drowned them, raped them, pillaged them, and the list goes on. Most of us have heard about the Japanese internment camps during World War II, but I had never heard about the Filipino concentration camps.
In November 1901, the Philadelphia Ledger’s Manila correspondent reported,
“The present war is no bloodless, fake, opera bouffe engagement. Our men have been relentless; have killed to exterminate men, women, children, prisoners and captive, active insurgents and suspected people, from lads of ten and up, an idea prevailing that the Filipino, as such, was little better than a dog . . . whose best disposition was the rubbish heap. Our soldiers have pumped salt water into men to “make them talk,” have taken prisoner people who held up their hands and peacefully surrendered, and an hour later, without an atom of evidence to show that they were even insurrectos, stood them on a bridge and shot them down one by one, to drop into the water below and float down as as example to those who found their bullet riddled corpses.”
The Philadelphia Ledger, November 1901
U.S. Colonel Jacob Smith ordered his troops to kill everyone over the age of ten and turn the island into a “howling wilderness.”
U.S. President McKinley, a nasty racist, would pace up and down the White House hallways, night after night, praying to “Almighty God” for guidance as to what he should do with this opportunity to civilize one of the world’s “inferior” races, the so called “white man’s burden.” He’d later be assassinated by Leon Czolgosz, largely motivated by the wars and all the atrocities being committed.
Back home, the House and Senate were elated. The United States was now in the business of empire and conquest. Time to divide up the spoils! If you were able to travel back in time and sit in on Congress, in January 1900 you’d have heard rhetoric like this,
“The Phillipines are ours forever … This island empire is the last land left in all the oceans … Our largest trade henceforth must be with Asia. The Pacific is our ocean. More and more Europe will manufacture the most it needs, secure from its colonies the most it consumes. Where shall we turn for consumers of our surplus? Geography answers the question. China is our natural customer. . . . The Philippines give us a base at the door to all the East . . . Most future wars will be conflicts for commerce. The power that rules the Pacific, therefore, is the power that rules the world. And, with the Philippines, that power is and will forever be the American Republic. . . . God . . . has marked the American people as His chosen nation to finally lead in the regeneration of the world. This is the divine mission of America, and it holds for us all the profit, all the glory, all the happiness possible to man. We are trustees of the world’s progress, guardians of its righteous peace. The Judgement of the Master is upon us: “Ye have been faithful over a few things; I will make you rule over many things.”
– Senator Albert Beveridge of Indiana, January 1900
Isn’t it amazing how so many religious people are racists? In fact, nearly every racist I’ve ever met has been devoutly religious. Jesus taught to love, to give freely, and condemned the Jewish people for how they treated the Gentiles. All were equal in God’s sight and God is love. But for whatever reason, religion seems to appeal to racists, who twist and mangle the Christian message as they glorify in genocide, torture, and conquest.
Throughout the early twentieth century, wars like this were waged all over Latin America. I’ll help you all out by giving you a small little map.
With our guidance, this area became a hotbed of crony capitalism. Our military was sent in and after we set up our puppet governments, U.S. corporations moved in and took over everything. United Fruit would own 80% of all farmland and would grow whatever crops were most profitable for export. We’d grow bananas and coffee, and the people would have nothing else to eat. They had to rely on imports to feed their population, and whether they had money or not to buy imported food depended on volatile market conditions for their exports.
All mines were taken over by companies like Bethlehem Steel. Standard Oil came in and controlled all Latin America oil, exporting it for massive profits. Wall Street banking establishments took over the banking system and we buried their nations in debt. Other U.S. corporations took over the railroads. We owned everything and we exploited the people as far and as hard as we could. We squeezed every penny out of the peasants and there were constant rebellions. We had to send troops down there constantly to put them down.
We waged war in Honduras in 1903, 1907, 1911, 1912, 1919, 1924, and 1925; in Cuba in 1906, 1912, and 1917; in Nicaragua in 1907, 1910, and 1912; in the Dominican Republic in 1903, 1914, and 1916; in Haiti in 1914; in Panama in 1908, 1912, 1918, 1921, and 1925; in Guam in 1920, and so on.
If we weren’t consistently invading them to put down rebellions, we just kept permanent military bases there. We had bases in Nicaragua from 1912 to 1933; in Haiti from 1914 to 1933, the Dominican Republic from 1916 to 1924, in Cuba from 1917 to 1922, and Panama from 1918 to 1920.
What were these petty tyrants like? What kinds of governments were we artificially propping up? You’d find dictators like General Juan Vicente Gomez of Venezuela. American and British Oil Companies loved this guy.
Surrounded by beautiful women, this petty tyrant fathered some ninety-seven illegitimate children and had a net worth of some $200 million dollars. He would hold lavish parties where he invited all his best friends, his Gomecistas, who were his “partners” in the systematic exploitation of the Venezuelan people. They bought up the choice properties and sold them to foreign companies, accumulating vast fortunes for themselves. If anyone caused trouble, he sent his local caudillos (strongmen) to personally solve the problem. If the peasants organized and rebelled, he called the U.S. President personally and we would send our military to help put down the conflict.
The United States top military commander for the area was Major General Smedley Butler. At the age of sixteen he was sent to the Philippines in the war talked about earlier. He took part in the tortures, pouring water down poor Filipino throats, watching them expand “like toads”. He ended up winning two Medals of Honor, the Army Distinguished Service Medal, the Navy Distinguished Service Medal, and even the French Order of the Black Star. He wrote a book about his conquests entitled War Is a Racket. At the end of his illustrious and highly decorated service, he reflected on his career in uniform.
“I spent thirty-three years and four months in active military service as a member of this country’s most agile military force, the Marine Corps. I served in all commissioned ranks from Second Lieutenant to Major General. And during that period, I spent most of my time being a high class muscle-man for Big Business, for Wall Street and for Bankers. In short, I was a racketeer, a gangster for capitalism.
I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street. The record of racketeering is long. I helped purify Nicaragua for the international banking house of Brown Brothers in 1909-1912. I brought light to the Dominican Republic for American sugar interests in 1916. In China I helped to see to it that Standard Oil went its way unmolested …
During those years, I had, as the boys in the back room would say, a swell racket. Looking back on it, I feel that I could have given Al Capone a few hints. The best he could do was operate his racket in three districts. I operated on three continents.”
– U.S. Major General Smedley Butler, War Is A Racket
His mother would be proud. Remember everyone, this is “Manifest Destiny”. We’re a “city on the hill”. We’re the “chosen nation” to lead the “regeneration of the world” (Sen. Bevridge’s words). We’re the “guardians of the righteous peace.”