Mine eyes have seen the orgy of the launching of the Sword;
He is searching out the hoardings where the stranger's wealth is stored;
He hath loosed his fateful lightnings, and with woe and death has scored;
His lust is marching on.
I have seen him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps;
They have builded him an altar in the Eastern dews and damps;
I have read his doomful mission by the dim and flaring lamps-
His night is marching on.
I have read his bandit gospel writ in burnished rows of steel:
"As ye deal with my pretensions, so with you my wrath shall deal;
Let the faithless son of Freedom crush the patriot with his heel;
Lo, Greed is marching on!"
We have legalized the strumpet and are guarding her retreat;
Greed is seeking out commercial souls before his judgement seat;
O, be swift, ye clods, to answer him! be jubilant my feet!
Our god is marching on!
In a sordid slime harmonious Greed was born in yonder ditch,
With a longing in his bosom-and for others' goods an itch.
As Christ died to make men holy, let men die to make us rich-
Our god is marching on.
Either Twain was incredibly prescient, or the sad truth of human nature is that some things never change; or both. Greed and aggression, unfortunately, seem to be eternal. When comparing the events that inspired Twain to write these words to the sad state of current world events, the circumstances seem quite familiar.
In Twain's day, the US had purchased the Philippines and other territories from Spain, following the Spanish-American war. No one thought to consult any Filipinos about this, in fact, they had already declared their independence from Spain. But by 1898, US military forces were occupying Manila, following the defeat of the Spanish by Emilio Aguinaldo and his guerilla fighters. There was never an official declaration of war, but hostilities began when an American soldier shot a Filipino soldier who was crossing a bridge into US occupied territory.
Conquering the Philippines required about 126,000 US soldiers. For purposes of comparison, there are currently around 147,000 American troops deployed in Iraq, according to MercuryNews.com. The US soldiers in the Philippines would be regularly engaged in war against the Filipino forces for the following decade. To many Americans of the time, it must have seemed like there was no end in sight to this war and occupation.
By 1900, the Filipino army began using guerilla warfare tactics, which made the American occupation increasingly difficult. This angered the Americans, who became even more ruthless: taking no prisoners, burning entire villages, shooting surrendering Filipinos, and forcing civilians into concentration camps, where they died by the thousands. The suffering of the civilians was much worse than that of the actual Filipino guerillas.
The US declared the insurgency officially over in 1902, following the surrender of Aguinaldo, and later that of General Miguel Malvar, who succeeded him. Still, some Filipino historians consider the war to have continued for nearly a decade, "since bands of guerillas, quasi-religious armed groups and other resistance groups continued to roam the countryside, still clashing with American Army patrols."
Some Americans, including William Jennings Bryan, Andrew Carnegie and the aforementioned Mark Twain, strongly objected to the annexation of the Philippines. Twain felt the war betrayed the ideals of American democracy by not allowing the people of the Philippines to choose their own destiny. He used his influence with the press to speak out against the war:
"There is the case of the Philippines. I have tried hard, and yet I cannot for the life of me comprehend how we got into that mess. Perhaps we could not have avoided it -- perhaps it was inevitable that we should come to be fighting the natives of those islands -- but I cannot understand it, and have never been able to get at the bottom of the origin of our antagonism to the natives. I thought we should act as their protector -- not try to get them under our heel. We were to relieve them from Spanish tyranny to enable them to set up a government of their own, and we were to stand by and see that it got a fair trial. It was not to be a government according to our ideas, but a government that represented the feeling of the majority of the Filipinos, a government according to Filipino ideas. That would have been a worthy mission for the United States. But now -- why, we have got into a mess, a quagmire from which each fresh step renders the difficulty of extrication immensely greater. I'm sure I wish I could see what we were getting out of it, and all it means to us as a nation."
Hmm. I wonder what Mr. Twain would say about the current Iraq debacle. I've revised his quote to make it applicable to our current war:
"There is the case of Iraq. I have tried hard, and yet I cannot for the life of me comprehend how we got into that mess. Perhaps we could not have avoided it our sorry excuse for a president was hell-bent attacking Iraq -- but I cannot understand it, and have never been able to get at the bottom of the origin of our antagonism to the Iraqis, especially since they don't have any ties to al Qaeda, and never had any WMDs. I thought we should act as their protector -- not try to get them under our heel. We were to relieve them from Saddam's tyranny to enable them to set up a government of their own, and we were to stand by and see that it got a fair trial. It was not to be a government according to our ideas, but a government that represented the feeling of the majority of the Iraqis, a government according to Iraqi ideas. That would have been a worthy mission for the United States. But now -- why, we have got into a mess, a quagmire from which each fresh step renders the difficulty of extrication immensely greater. I'm sure I wish I could see what we were getting out of it, and all it means to us as a nation."
Numerous atrocities were committed by both sides during the war. One US general said that Filipino insurgents tortured American prisoners in "fiendish fashion." Some men were buried alive, or up to their necks in anthills to be slowly devoured. Others were castrated and some may have been deliberately infected with leprosy.
American attacks on the Filipinos often included scorched earth campaigns where entire villages were burned and destroyed. They used the "water cure" as a favorite torture method. Soldiers also rounded up Filipino civilians and forced them into "protected zones" (a charming euphemism for concentration camps), where they died of disease and famine.
In 1889 Colonel Jacob H. Smith told some reporters that fighting the Filipinos was "worse than fighting Indians," and that he had already adopted appropriate tactics that he had learned fighting "savages" in the American west, without waiting for orders to do so from General Elwell S. Otis. A headline appeared in the New York Times which read "Colonel Smith of 12th Orders All Insurgents Shot At Hand," followed by an article praising this barbaric order as "long overdue." His war crimes were never investigated.
Other soldiers wrote about war crimes in letters to home, many of them bragging about their brutality toward both Filipino soldiers and civilians. Many of these letters, or portions of them, were printed by anti-imperialist editors. As news of atrocities committed in subduing the Philippines arrived in the United States, support for the war decreased. The War Department was forced to investigate each press clipping, a job that went to General Otis. Each clipping was forwarded it to the writer's commanding officer, who would then convince the soldier to write a retraction. At least one soldier, Private Charles Brenner, refused. Otis ordered him court-martialed "for writing and conniving at the publication of an article which... contains willful falsehoods concerning himself and a false charge against [his commanding officer who had given the order to "Kill them! Damn it, Kill them!"]."
However, the judge advocate in Manila said that "such a trial could open a Pandora's box, as "facts would develop implicating many others."" Otis did not go through with the court-martial, and wrote the following statement to Washington: "After mature deliberation, I doubt the wisdom of court-martial in this case, as it would give the insurgent authorities a knowledge of what was taking place and they would assert positively that our troops had practiced inhumanities, whether the charge should be proven or not, as they would use it as an excuse to defend their own barbarities;" then he went on to justify the war crimes: "and it is not thought that his charge is very grievous under the circumstances then existing, as it was very early in the war, and the patience of our men was under great strain." Because that makes it all ok.