Monday, December 26, 2005

Future American Leaders Are In Iraq

ROBERT D. KAPLAN writes today in the LA Times about the Future of America in Iraq --
"IF YOU WANT to meet the future political leaders of the United States, go to Iraq. I am not referring to the generals, or even the colonels. I mean the junior officers and enlistees in their 20s and 30s. In the decades ahead, they will represent something uncommon in U.S. military history: war veterans with practical experience in democratic governance, learned under the most challenging of conditions."
Many in the Philippine Archipelago will find such a statement prescient, yet possibly forgetful of a past in which "experience in democratic governance" was by no means uncommon for several idealistic and dedicated generations of American soldiers, teachers, civil administrators, and yes generals and presidents. There is perhaps no greater examplar of this than WILLIAM HOWARD TAFT, the first civilian governor-general of the Philippines, who went on to become U.S. President (1908-1912) and after Harding appointed him to it, the Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court until he died in 1930. He was, by all accounts, a great friend of the Filipinos, and commited much personal and intellectual energy to the success of America's democratic experiment in the Philippines. The accompanying picture is of the future U.S. President (all 340 pounds of him) during his first visit to what is now the city of Baguio. He dictated a telegraph to Secretary of War Elihu Root about riding horseback up twenty-five miles to an altitude of 5000 ft. to Baguio, where his fellow Philippine Commissioner Dean Conant Worcester had just established a "colonial hill station" in its cool mountain aerie. Elihu Root's laconic response? "HOW IS HORSE?"

Here is how one of my favorite chroniclers of the American colonial period of the Philippines, VIRGINIA BENITEZ LICUANAN, describes those days in her 1982 book, "Filipinos and Americans--A Love-Hate Relationship" --
If there is any project undertaken by American colonizers in the Philippines that vividly brings out all the best in American traits it is Baguio. Baguio is the only American made city in the Philippines. All other Philippine cities are of Spanish origin or organized later after the American regime.

But Baguio was dreamed up by Americans, discovered by Americans, built by Americans and, it truth be told, maintained in the beginning mainly, if not solely for the comfort of and enjoyment of Americans.

And in so embarking on this thoroughly American enterprise, the men who created a dream city in a remote mountain region, exhibited all the characteristics that have been considered the best in Americans -- first, the spirit of adventure that impelled American pioneers to set out to unknown parts heedless of all danger; then the boundless energy that made it possible for them to undergo all kinds of physical hardship and the just as boundless enthusiasm which accompanied them on the way; then the practicability with which they made their plans and the ingenuity with which they executed them and finally the amazing determination which at times seemed like plain cussed stubborness, that made them stick to their original purposed in the face of all obstacles.

The men who played the leading roles int he making of Baguio had double the usual quota of American pioneer spirit, energy, enthusiasm, practicality and downright stubborn determination.

It is fortunate for the historian that these men somehow found the time in the midst of all their Empire building to record their day to day activities and one has only to read the journals and letters of Forbes, Worcester and their contemporaries to feel the surge of their energy, enthusiasm and even more appealing, their typical American humour, reaching out across the years to infect the reader with their z for life. One hears the shouts of their laughter across the dividing barrier of Time, making them seem less like "White Colonizers" than an exuberant gang of likeable boys excitedly playing a new game.

There is Worcester riding up the steep trails of the Benguet mountains for the second time in July 1901 with enough energy left over to play a practical joke on the army men who were sent to escort him and who made th mistake of referring to him as a tenderfoot. With the sadism of a typical practical joker, Worcester led them up and down tortuous trails, through a driving rain, then inspected their equipmentand purposely finding thay had not brought spare horse shoes, gave them a lecture on preparedness and sent them all the way back to the lowlands to get the required shoes for the horses!
America would spend half a century in the Philippines, an experiment in the planting of Democracy that is already over a century in the running. Perhaps they will have to stay as long in Iraq. Like gazing down on the winding zigzag road called Kennon, that today snakes up from the lowlands to the City of Baguio, I see the past with great emotion, -- its twists and turns for both Filipinos and Americans -- and the future with the equally great emotions of hope and love supernal. As the old song says, "It's a long, long road to Freedom." We are accompanied by the ghosts of the past to meet the challenges up ahead. [There is much that happened to Taft and his compatriots, after he left the Philippines, in both Politics and the Law, specifically in the elections of 1912, that bears review for utility in the immediate future of America, the Philippines and Iraq!]

points to related posts at The Belmont Club, "But He'll Remember With Advantages" and Kesher Talk--Thanking the Military.


Rizalist said...

A Warm Welcome Traveler. Have you news from the Front? Then share it!

PhilippinesPhil said...

I've lived in this great country for going on four years now-it's a great place! I have high hopes for it.

Interesting analogy you have, comparing American occupation of Iraq and the Philippines. There are indeed many parallels, but there are also some differences.

We can't wait to get the bulk of our forces out of Iraq, and we've already handed the reins of rule over to the Iraqis, and as quickly as we could unhand them.

Compare that to here, where we kept putting off the requests of the Filipinos for increased autonomy. In the 1920's Leonard Wood came back, did an assessment of Filipino readiness for complete self-rule, and said in effect, "NO WAY! You're NOT ready!"

Personally, I wish we had not done the EASY thing here of just allowing the continuance of the same folks who were in charge under the Spanish. Status Quo.

We didn't encourage or prepare any other Filipinos to take on leadership , and it seems that first American "mistake" resulted in the country following similar negative practises seen during Spanish rule. Status Quo.

Ambassador Bremer took a lot of heat for it, but by forcing Iraq to start from scratch--in the formation of the government, police, and the army--hopefully he will have prevented the "business as usual" aspect of what happened here. NO Status Quo.

I hope you don't think I'm criticizing Filipinos; far from it, it was OUR mistake I'm talking about.

Good site. I'll be checking back in. Mamaya!

AmericanPainter said...

The Philippines certainly deserved better than we gave her in the early part of the 20th century. It was purely a lack of respect and a “better than thee” attitude. I’m sorry for the way we mistreated her.