« Politically Incorrect? No, Just Offensive. | Main | Hoyer v. Murtha »

November 16, 2006

Comments

Thanks for this, Dr. ngo. Informative, and reveals a bit of the simplification of history that seems to be required for a certain ideological perspective of US foreign policy.

Ditto here. A detailed response to Trevino's typical vagueness..

Fascinating. Thank you. I was reminded, all through my reading of your account, of how similar was the situation in the Middle East where the British and French were forced out by similar forces -- Egypt conquered by Napolean with less than 5000 men, taken over by the British and held with minimal troops until the local populace realized that far from being outnumbered, ..."no longer could small numbers of well-armed foreigners dominate much larger numbers of "natives" on their home soil, as they had been able to do during the 19th century."

Guys, Trevino is just nuts. ("Blogfather" or no.) Sending an actual expert to demolish his nonsense is overkill. (Regardless of which, thanks to Dr. Ngo for dropping the H-bomb on the molehill.)

Interesting. Thanks for taking the time. I think I need to digest it a bit before saying anything else; otherwise I am likely to require surgery to remove my foot from my mouth.

Why oh why must you continue to rape history, dr. ngo?

Guys, Trevino is just nuts.

Well...there's that too.

Shorter Trevino: "If we can't just kick everyone else's ass at will, what good are we as a nation?"

You notice Norway doesn't ever have this problem.

"The mere capacity to conquer." Jebus effing christ.

Many thanks, dr. ngo: I saw this unfortunate piece of well-composed jingo over at Crooked Timber - where it was being expertly eviscerated - and just knew it was awfully flawed: fortunately the blogosphere has provided a response (yours) much better than I could write. Again, thanks.

"The ability of a society to see through grinding conflicts like the Philippines Insurrection or the Boer War augers well for its future, lest it lose the mere capacity to conquer, and be susceptible to humiliation by any small power with no advantage save mental fortitude."

Three or four years ago, Trevino acquired a well-deserved reputation as a thoughtful and reasonable conservative voice. He deserves some respect for that.

Lately, and actually for some time, my general impression is that he is, unfortunately, at least halfway to a fascist, and as such is not worthy of participating in reasonable debate on matters of importance to this country.

I don't think he's nuts. I think he's fundamentally and morally wrong. I feel no obligation to either consider or respond to his tirades, any more than I feel an obligation to consider or respond to the tirades of others like him.

The problem with the US at this particular point in history is not that we lack moral courage. It's that our leadership lacks moral direction. We haven't lost our nerve. We've lost our way.

I have no time or attention to spare anymore for guys like Trevino. They have nothing to offer this nation but hubris, stupidity, and ruin.

Thanks -

"It is indeed difficult to imagine now the methods that transformed the Philippines for us, and South Africa for the British, from bitter foe to steadfast friend being applied in Iraq. Would that they were." (emph. mine)

The mind boggles.

Trevino can't possibly be ignorant of those 'methods' the people in both countries endured (dictatorship, apartheid, mass imprisonment, massive poverty, judicial and police murders galore) in the name of becoming "steadfast friend." Yet here he is, advocating them.

He once wrote an elegy for his cat that broke my heart. It was an amazing piece of writing: empathic, compassionate, loving.

Now, I love animals, too; and I, too, sometimes find myself preferring them to my own species.

But I've never advocated policies for entire nations' worth of human beings that no sane person would inflict on non-humans.

What a repellent essay.

And don't forget the event that served as the pretext for the Spanish-American War without which the Philippines would have remained in Spanish control, the battleship 'Maine' blowing up and the yellow journalists automatically accusing "Spanish terrorists" of having blown it up with a bomb or a mine, but nobody knew WHAT caused it to explode but nowadays the best guess is that it was an accident on board the ship. Nevertheless, before the public even had the facts it was off to an imperialist war. Not much unlike the "Gulf of Tonkin incident" for plunging headlong into Vietnam instead of just being mostly "advisors", or the "incident" that was used as the pretext for the Mexican War which ended up with America stealing California, New Mexico and Arizona from Mexico years after fomenting the Texan revolution to separate that state from Mexico, or 9/11 which is the pretext for all of America's foreign policy since that awful day.

Between his endless capacity to endure the suffering of others and his clairvoyant ability to determine authentic from ersatz Americans, Trevino's days of being taken seriously have (thankfully) passed.

As mentioned above, anyone who can summon more sympathy for their cat than for a human being has issues.

Why oh why must you continue to rape history, dr. ngo?

Goddammit, Josh, that's my joke!

*sulks*

Well if history goes around being so provocative, surely a right-winger should accept that it's asking to be raped?

I *did* notice their tendency to dress up history, but hadn't realized it was to prevent rape.

Small note: and the Dutch Indonesia, all with minimal casualties. I assume you mean casualties on the invaders side? In that case that is true, but it was not easy. The Aceh wars were our 'Iraq'. Started with not enough knowledge of the area and wrong assumptions, led to decades of war, guerilla fighters not afraid of dying, almost bankrupted the country and made us very vulnerable because we overextended the troops there, we worked with local collaborateurs of some influence who later turned against us... And the resistence/guerilla's/terrorists never gave up; they are still fighting for independence.

Crooked Timber's response: Ruuuule the Western Sea!

"Egypt conquered by Napolean with less than 5000 men"

More like a little under 40,000 men, aforce comparable in size to the army Napoleon had used to defeat Austria in Italy . . .

Well if history goes around being so provocative, surely a right-winger should accept that it's asking to be raped?

Let us not be uncharitable by making such unfair generalizations based on ideological principles. Many of my right-wing friends don't exhibit the oddness that is currently afflicting Tacitus/Josh, and there have been more than a few right-wingers who, in the last year or so, have stayed true to their beliefs and condemned the unethical and immoral on their own side. Several of them here, in fact. They don't deserve to be tarred by that brush.

A clear-sighted and morally astute commentary; thanks, dr. ngo!


104 years after its writing, Mark Twain's A Defence of General Funston remains too hot to handle without gloves.


I suspect that its present-day equivalent is being composed (or has already been) on someone's blog.


104 years from now, that's still gonna hurt.

dutchmarbel "and the Dutch Indonesia, all with minimal casualties." I assume you mean casualties on the invaders side?

Of course! "Casualties" among the natives don't count, but in any event were due to their own stubborn recalcitrance in refusing to accept the blessings of civilization (make that 'civilisation', since the British did more of this than we Yanks). ;}


In that case that is true, but it was not easy. The Aceh wars were our 'Iraq'. Started with not enough knowledge of the area and wrong assumptions, led to decades of war, guerilla fighters not afraid of dying, almost bankrupted the country and made us very vulnerable because we overextended the troops there, we worked with local collaborateurs of some influence who later turned against us... And the resistence/guerilla's/terrorists never gave up; they are still fighting for independence.

All true, which goes to show that even in periods of high imperialism the "calculus" of conquest may be incorrectly calculated. (Cf. the British in their Afghan Wars.) Aceh was indeed a much much tougher nut to crack than the Dutch envisaged. It took far longer to subdue, and even when notionally conquered (after about 30 years), remained a hotbed of resistance and general surliness toward the Dutch, presumably because they had a stronger Muslim/nationalist consciousness than most other Southeast Asians of the time. As I recall, they actually welcomed the Japanese as liberators in 1941-42!

Having said that, the Dutch did finally win, and were helped by the fact that they encountered no real criticism from the other "powers" (the British had effectively signed off on the Dutch invasion in the treaty of 1871) and the isolation of the Acehnese, who despite some pan-Islamic propensities received no aid from their fellow-believers, whether in Southeast Asia or elsewhere.

Moreover, although the Dutch may well have overextended their forces (never very numerous), much of the fighting was carried out by their "Indische" troops/mercenaries. The
archives of the KITLV
have wonderful photos from the 19th and early 20th-century "Indies"; one of these, showing Ambonese soldiers in Aceh, is reprinted in">http://www.amazon.com/Emergence-Modern-Southeast-Asia-History/dp/0824828909/sr=8-4/qid=1163796336/ref=sr_1_4/103-1869215-3298255?ie=UTF8&s=books"> The Emergence of Modern Southeast Asia: A New History, p132.

Oops. Screwed up the link to the KITLV archives. This ought to do it. Or maybe this?

Nice post, couple points:

Only a 90% miss rate in musketry by Filipinos would be darned impressive, actually. Historians have estimated in the battle of Gettysburg 200 rifle bullets were fired for each hostile casualty, and that's a battle where the combatants couldn't take cover and fire back at the same time.

The controversy about the Boer concentration camps was not because the British regarded the Boers as "lesser peoples;" if they had been black Africans it would not have been much of an issue. Indeed, the reason the concentration camps were controversial at the time was largely because these hostile internment techniques were now being used on white European Christian Afrikaners. Sort of breaking the color barrier in reverse, really.

In a similar vein, one wonders if the Philippines would have attracted such criticism from American anti-Imperialists as it did if those under the initial hostile American occupation had not been largely Christianized.

We're traders, not fighters :) and most mistakes a country can make can be found somewhere in our history...

We eventually won by acquiring good knowledge about the area and deciding to go with the tribal heads ('sheiks') and against the religious leaders.

Yes, we had local troops. After the Independence we actually took in the Christian Moluk troops and their families to keep them save until they could return. The return home became unrealistic, and that unkept promise actually led to the latest terrorist actions in the Netherlands (in the 70's) by the Molukkans. These days it is often forgotten that our national terrorist attacks in our modern time were by christians.

They ware not religiously inspired, but factors that contributed to their acts were cultural isolation, discrimination and poor perspectives. I think this pdf document gives a good overview.

Only the amazon link works... Do you mean the KNIL? Or the KITLV?

Indeed, the reason the concentration camps were controversial at the time was largely because these hostile internment techniques were now being used on white European Christian Afrikaners

And their women and children, to 'persuade' the insurgents to give up their resistance.

Historians have estimated in the battle of Gettysburg 200 rifle bullets were fired for each hostile casualty, and that's a battle where the combatants couldn't take cover and fire back at the same time.

A large number of weapons recovered after US Civil War battles were unfired, and there are stories that many soldiers (if not most) would fire purposefully high. Human beings don't like to kill each other very much, it seems.

jre,

Thanks very much for the link to the Twain piece. {Ssssssssssssss...!!}

"In a similar vein, one wonders if the Philippines would have attracted such criticism from American anti-Imperialists as it did if those under the initial hostile American occupation had not been largely Christianized."

They were Catholic, which didn't count as Christian for a great many American Protestants (still true in extreme cases even today). I think our duty to "Christianize" the Philippines was one of the arguments put forward for colonizing them, if I remember correctly.

Some miscellaneous responses:

BruceR: The estimate (cited from memory, by the way) was not a 90% "miss rate," but a guess that 90% or more of the shots from Filipino rifles (more Mausers than muskets, IIRC, but there were both) were in fact aimed (inadvertently) well over the heads of the intended targets. I've got no idea what the "strike rate" was among the 10% (?) that at least figured out how to use the front sight of the rifle, but it cannot have been high, to judge by low American casualty figures.

DJ: You are right that McKinley famously later claimed - to a group of Methodist ministers - that one reason for the US annexing the Philippines was to "Christianize" them, implying that as Roman Catholics the Filipinos were not already Christians. And most of the American Protestant denominations sent missionaries to Catholicized provinces of the country - all except the Episcopalians, who only sent missionaries to the "pagan" provinces of northern Luzon. (Which is why the Filipina maids worshipping at the Anglican cathedral in HK today are nearly all from Mountain Province, whereas the Catholic cathedral draws from the lowlands.)

OTOH, BruceR may be on to something indirectly. The Filipino elite was not just Catholicized, but more generally Westernized - they spoke Spanish and shared with Europeans of the time much of the rhetoric (and some of the values) of democracy, respect for education, and self-government. Between the time Dewey sailed into Manila Bay (1 April 1898) and the Philippine-American War broke out (4 February 1899), they had not only declared independence but convened a national assembly and written a constitution. So it was not hard to muster an argument that they were "civilized" already, if one was so inclined.

dutchmarbel It's KITLV (not KNIL). I hope the revised URL (in the "Oops" comment) works for you.

dr ngo: both links were bad, which is why I linked to the kitlv I know, which has a dutch url and thus ends on .nl

Wow. It's almost like Dutchland (Dutchania?) is like an entirely separate country! How cute! :D

[BTW, the first link in the "Oops" comment is bad because there's an extra space between the http:// and the www.kitlv.nl . It's otherwise correct.]

I got errors on *all* the links and noticed only the last one ending on .org :)

On the second 'oops' link delete .org and put nl. Now, what is the dutch for 'Ambonese soldier in Aceh"?

If you're still responding, Dr. ngo, what's the probable number of Filipino deaths attributable to the American conquest? I remember you saying that the total killed by American bullets couldn't really be in the hundreds of thousands, but the number of dead from disease and/or famine would be in that range.

What are the numbers? And what's the connection between the conquest and the non-violent death toll? That is, how did the American conquest cause it to increase?

In as many or as few words as you care to write, of course.

I think I remember you saying, that is. Corrections are welcome.

Not meaning to jump in, but rather to make sure dr ngo steps in to correct me ;^) but that number is very controversial because at the same time as the revolution, there was a cholera epidemic. Some have argued that the cholera epidemic should be viewed as related to the pacification process. What is interesting to me is that in a context of pacification, acts made with altruistic motives can serve to worsen the suffering.

On mortality during the Philippine-American War, the state-of-the-art source is Ken De Bevoise, Agents of Apocalypse: Epidemic Disease in the Colonial Philippines, Princeton UP, 1995. His ballpark figure for total "excess mortality" between 1899 and 1903 is 775,000, out of a population of around 7 million (excluding the Muslim south). I.e., the Filipinos were literally decimated.

His book, as the subtitle suggests, is mostly about disease, including the cholera mentioned by LJ, above. Individual chapters on that and other diseases (smallpox, malaria, beriberi, VD) attempt to specify the connections between the war and the diseases, generally leading to the conclusion that "the American war contributed directly or indirectly" to the total, without (wisely) attempting to specify the direct/indirect proportions.

He does not address the question of combat deaths (as far as I can tell from rapid re-perusal of a book I read a decade ago). Other sources, as I recall - and I regret that my notes are still in some disarray - put the "body count" recorded by American troops at a very small fraction of this total. The figure of 16,000 springs to memory.

Filipino nationalists today tend to pooh-pooh this low number as a complete whitewash, but I think it's reasonable, in an order-of-magnitude kind of way. For one thing, I've looked at the kind of field/combat reports from which such totals are drawn, and they're very matter-of-fact about patrols and casualties. One senses that there was no particular attempt to conceal Filipino deaths; rather, they would be openly counted as proof of troop activity. But what one gets, outside a few provinces of intense, and apparently unrepresentative, conflict (e.g., Batangas and Samar) is daily or even weekly reports of patrols encountering nothing or no one. For example, in the province of Albay - relatively wealthy, fairly populous - there were no Filipino casualties recorded in 1899 (the Americans had not arrived yet), 82 in the first 5 days of the American invasion in February 1899, and a total of just 15 more over the next year and a half!

My other reason for accepting the broad plausibility of these figures has to do with the nature of the war itself. There were virtually no pitched battles after the first few months (weeks?) of the war. Much of the fighting that ensued was in the nature of skirmishes or ambushes, involving dozens, rather than hundreds or thousands, or men at a time. The US had no bombers (of course), and deployed very little artillery, since there was no target worth shooting at most of the time. Neither in the American records nor Filipino accounts (contemporary written records of the "insurgents" or later memoirs) do we find reports of major battles or massacres. (The well-known "Balangiga massacre" was actually one of the few times that Filipinos successfully ambushed a group of American soldiers - and even then there were fewer than a hundred casualties.)

I'm quite prepared to accept the possibility that many deaths at American hands went unreported, but even doubling or tripling the official body count would leave the total killed by Americans at under 10% of the total excess mortality of this period.

OTOH, it is clear - as De Bevoise points out - that the American occupation, besides being of dubious political or moral justification in general, was bad for Filipino health. American soldiers brought in new strains of disease (though not actually new diseases, according to DB). By making people flee their homes, they spread disease. By, in some cases, "reconcentrating" them in restricted areas, they created pools of infection. By killing carabaos (water buffalo) for food or sequestering them for transport, they upset agriculture even more, leading to acute grain shortages and massive malnutrition; beri-beri mortality is one direct result, along with a greater susceptibility to many other diseases. The list goes on, and saying that the US "killed" only 16,000 (or 50,000) Filipinos does not clear the US of a significant portion of the responsibility for hundreds of thousands more unnecessary deaths in this period.

I hope this answers your questions.

dr. ngo: thanks so much for this -- the original post and the comments. It's fascinating.

Very small side note: according to Peter Fleming, Chinese soldiers in the civil war often believed that the figures on the backsight referred to the muzzle velocity of the bullet rather than the range at which the sights were set - hence, logically, they normally set their sights to '1000' and shot far too high.

I didn't know much about the US-Phillipines, except that it always made me think of the US as the Borg ("benevolent assimilation").

I know learned amongst others that it is a very good illustration of the difference between people directly killed and 'excess death' due to war. Tnxs dr ngo

Now, what is the dutch for 'Ambonese soldier in Aceh"
Ambonese soldaat in Atjeh. That didn't get much result in the images though. searching for KNIL and Atjeh got more pics of militaries around that time.

'know' should be 'now', and is a terrible dutchism in any case...

Thanks, Dr. ngo. That answered my questions.

Over on his blog, Trevino has responded in typically pompous and superficial fashion.


Including the link would probably help:

http://joshua.trevino.at/?p=173

An embedded link would be even better!

Over on his blog, Trevino has responded in typically pompous and superficial fashion.

Now the time I spent reading that is two minutes of my life I'll never get back.


As an avid loser, I am too timid and defeat-oriented to see the noble struggle to master embedded links through to the traditional preferred end state of victory.

Gawd, did you notice how he makes a big deal of dr. ngo using a pseudonym (et tu, Tacitus?) and capitalizes NGO every time? Once a playground bully, always a playground bully.

A much better waste of time is here

Possibly Trevino was motivated by this:

Count me among the Kipling fans (as previously mentioned, I believe), but also, among those somewhat more modern, of A.E. Housman, e.e. cummings (my favorite, and a major influence on the lower-case “dr ngo”), T.S. Eliot, and Dylan Thomas.

lj: excellent!

IIRC, 'NGO' is not a pseudonym, but rather his initials.

Oh, and notice that Trevino refers to him as an 'academic', rather than an historian (who happens to specialize in the region AND events in question.)

Finally, why does this particular Trevino blog have an Austrian domain?

Gawd, did you notice how he makes a big deal of dr. ngo using a pseudonym (et tu, Tacitus?)

And to complete the hat-trick of asinine pomposity, it's not even really a pseudonym...

God*dammit*! pwned again by f***ing matttbastard! *curses*

Anarch: I iz on ur interwebz, drivin u crazy!

daaaaaaaaaaaamn!

You best site very nices. Thanks owneri. Beti.

Micro-managing my own intellectual heritage beyond belief (imagine me sitting here in my "Does Anal-Obsessive Have A Hyphen?" T-shirt):

In my comment of November 19, 2:14 AM, above, I quoted some figures for casualties in the province of Albay. Silly me, misreading my own notes - this should have been for one district (Tabaco) of the province of Albay. Same general point, but ever so slightly less strong. Sorry.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Blog powered by Typepad