[shniad at sfu.ca: [R-G] The Empire Strikes Back]
ehrbar at econ.utah.edu
Wed Jan 29 17:40:05 MST 2003
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The Village Voice January 29 - February 4, 2003
The tribal rites of America's military leaders:
The Empire Strikes Back
by Ian Urbina
This Saturday, more than a thousand of America's top military and government
leaders and their guests are scheduled to gather at the Omni Shoreham Hotel
in Washington, D.C., for a secretive tribal rite called the 103rd Annual
Wallow of the Military Order of the Carabao. And they won't be singing
In fact, on what these days feels like the eve of war, nothing says
"imperialism" better than the annual Wallow, which celebrates the bloody
conquest of the nascent Philippine Republic a century ago in the aftermath
of the Spanish-American War.
The exclusive Military Order of the Carabao (named after the mud-loving
water buffalo) was founded in 1900 by American officers fighting in the
Philippines, so naturally there will be a lot of singing and cigar smoking
by the 99.9 percent male crowd. Recent guests have included Colin Powell and
General Richard B. Myers, current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and
many of the country's top military leaders are listed as members. (You have
to be an officer to even be considered for membership.)
Acting like a cluster of Klingons, the guys will toss around revered
imperial slogans, such as "Civilize 'em with a Krag!" referring to the
rifles used by Americans to kill thousands of Filipinos, who had fought
Spain for their freedom and didn't want to be handed over to another
And there will be rousing speeches, like last year's address by top honoree
James Schlesinger, the Nixon-era CIA director and defense secretary, who
decades later is still an influential hawk urging a new war with Iraq.
A place was reserved at the head table for President George W. Bush, who was
a no-show, but Schlesinger, who received the Carabaos' Distinguished Service
Award, delivered an appropriately bellicose speech, telling the crowd,
"Someone once said that war is hell, and peace is heaven. But we know that
the opposite is true: War is heaven, and peace is hell."
An aide to Schlesinger told the Voice late last week that Schlesinger said
he recalls saying, "You know, General Sherman had it all wrong. It's not war
that's hell, it's peace that's hell." The aide added that Schlesinger didn't
have time to talk further about the Wallow but that what he told the crowd
was a "humorous remark made in reference to the defense budgetary
The conclusion is the same in both versions: "Peace is hell." As more than a
thousand Carabaos and their guests roared approval of that notion, it wasn't
difficult for an observer to conclude that an imperial renaissance is upon
The Carabaos rarely rear their heads in public, even though war
correspondents can be chosen as "associates" and a few mainstream reporters
attend their events. But a guest who had been attending the Wallow for
several years was fully debriefed right after the 2002 bash last February
and furnished the evening's seating chart, song lyrics, and other documents.
As our mole reported, the mood of the Wallow varies from year to year,
depending on how much military spending is going on. The February 2002
crowd, basking in the second year of Bush's rule, was enthusiastic. "This
year was totally different," one attendee said at the time. "With the
current White House and all the overseas activity, military confidence is
way up. I can't tell you how many excited comments there were about the new
This Saturday, after another year of even more frenzied military spending,
the Carabaos ought to be friskier than the bulls in Pamplona. "This year is
extremely packed," Rear Admiral Ralph Ghormley, a Carabao official, told the
Voice last week. "In fact, we had to turn away over 100 people who wanted to
One thing that fires up the bulls never changes: the bellowing of the
Carabao anthem, "The Soldier's Song." At the 2002 Wallow, the room was
already thick with smokeevery place setting had been adorned with (forget
that embargo) an authentic Cuban cigarwhen a voice said, "Gentlemen, please
turn to your songbooks," and the U.S. Marine Band, seated to the side,
struck up a tune. The Carabaos, most of whom seemed to know the words by
heart, lustily sang the first stanza's story of the dreaded "bolo" (the
Filipino revolutionaries' machetethey had few guns) and deceitful
In the days of dopey dreamshappy, peaceful Philippines,
When the bolomen were busy all night long.
When ladrones would steal and lie, and Americanos die,
Then you heard the soldiers sing this evening song:
And then the bulls and their guests rhythmically banged their fists on the
tables during each rendition of the chorus:
Damn, damn, damn the insurrectos!
Cross-eyed kakiac ladrones!
Underneath the starry flag, civilize 'em with a Krag,
And return us to our own beloved homes.
The chorus originally began: Damn, damn, damn the Filipinos! The U.S.
soldiers chanted the second line's surviving racial slur about Filipinos as
"khaki-colored thieves" while marching through the jungle. Some accounts say
that, as the Americans marched and sang, some of them carried ears they had
lopped off the Filipinos' heads and kept as souvenirs.
Bloody ears aren't part of the rites of a modern-day Wallow, but most of the
Cara-baos' other traditions have survived intact. And if this year's
mud-fest holds true to form, the revelry will be even more enthusiastic than
usual, and it will no longer simply feel like nostalgia. The drumbeats of
war against Iraq will sound to this crowd like the rebirth of an American
A typical Wallow features parody songs by members of the Herd that satirize
politicos and often smack liberals who try to slash the Pentagon's budget.
"It's the military-industrial complex's answer to the Gridiron," as one
regular described it, referring to the annual dinner put on by D.C.
journalists and politicians.
The Wallows' guest lists often include not only the most powerful money
people in the nation's vast military industry, but also the top political
figures. An aide to Secretary of State Powell said the general didn't make
last year's Wallow but confirmed his presence at the 2000 bash and told the
Voice that he has often attended them.
Ancient Strom Thurmond was plunked down at the 2002 Wallow's head table,
where he was assigned a cigar alongside those reserved for Schlesinger,
General Myers, Pete Aldridge (the Pentagon's chief of acquisition,
technology, and logistics), Dov Zakheim (the Pentagon's comptroller), Gordon
England (top deputy to Homeland Security czar Tom Ridge), Sean O'Keefe (the
NASA director), and other bigwigs. Marine General Peter Pace, the vice chair
of the Joint Chiefs, and Air Force Secretary James Roche, both Carabaos,
were assigned the roles of hosting tables of their own.
Among the assigned greeters was last year's Grand Paramount Carabao, General
P.X. Kelley, a retired commandant of the marine corps, whose last real tour
of duty was the 1992 GOP presidential primaries, when his pro-war TV pitches
helped deliver the South for George Bush the Elder against isolationist Pat
Buchanan. Joining Kelley on the Reception Committee were General Alfred M.
Gray Jr., the marine commandant during the previous war with Iraq; Admiral
Thomas H. Moorer, a chairman of the Joint Chiefs during Vietnam; and an
assortment of other admirals and generals.
Last year's Grand Paramount Carabao-Elect, presumably the bull who will lead
the charge this Saturday, is Admiral James M. Loy, a former coast guard
commandant who heads the Transportation Security Administration, the agency
now responsible for U.S. airport security. His experience in making fun of
Filipinos may come in handy when his security personnel run into
dark-skinned travelers: Last August, Loy told The Boston Globe that the
controversial practice of profiling "has the capacity to serve as one of the
growth elements" of his brand-new agency.
Carabaos pop up in other situations involving minorities or others fighting
discrimination. The last all-male Advisory Council at the Citadel, the South
Carolina school that was the scene of serious gender discrimination battles
in the '90s, was chaired by retired army general Jack Merritt, a Carabao,
and included at least three other bulls: Moorer, retired marine commandant
General Carl Mundy, and retired Atlantic Fleet chief Admiral Wesley
McDonald. Under Merritt's watch, the Citadel's Advisory Council was finally
prodded into adding its first women members.
All four of those Carabaos were listed as members of the 2002 Wallow's
Reception Committee. When it comes to gays, however, Merritt, for one, has
not been so welcoming. In 1993, during the furor over the military's "don't
ask, don't tell" policy, Merritt, in his role as president of the
Association of the U.S. Army, spoke out against "avowed homosexuals." In
July 1993, during a House Armed Services Committee hearing on whether to
lift the formal ban on gays in the military, Merritt testified, "The dynamic
of the marine and a squad leader, the soldier and his lieutenant, is one of
trust. The first time the lieutenant helps a suspected homosexual, he is in
Merritt and the other Carabaos also have the ear of that committee during
more relaxed times. One of the guests assigned a cigar at the head table at
the 2002 Wallow was Missouri's Ike Skelton, the ranking Democrat on House
Sometimes it's difficult to tell who's working for the government and who's
working for the defense contractors. Pentagon official Aldridge, who decides
which defense contractors get the boodle, used to head a big defense
contractor, the Aerospace Corporation. Schlesinger not only has ties to Wall
Street, but is also chairman of the board of trustees of the Mitre
Corporation, a huge quasi-public operation, registered as a nonprofit
organization, which runs an array of research facilities working with both
the government and defense contractors and which has received billions of
dollars in government contracts.
The Carabao gatherings remain a good place for all these people to meet
because, even though the Philippine war's combatants may have died out, the
organization has relaxed its admission rules so it can always find
high-flying hawks it can turn into bulls. In 1993, any officer who served in
any overseas war, specifically Desert Storm, was deemed eligible to at least
submit an application to join the exclusive group and wallow around every
February in black tie, military dress uniforms, or even kilts.
Saddam Hussein, of course, is likely to dominate this Saturday's sketches,
skits, and songs. Last year's villain was an obvious choice, sparking such
ditties as "Big Bad Bin Laden" and "An Afghan Lullaby." The Carabaos,
founded by officers who thought of themselves as fun-loving, poked fun at
their own obsessions with the "Contractor's Ode to Joy." (Ernie Sult, a
featured voice in that one and a member of the evening's "Taliban Boys
Choir," reportedly brought down the house at a 2001 Gridiron Club gathering
with a Joe Lieberman shtick.) The Carabaos' Star Wars medley featured songs
by "Rummy Skywalker," "Darth Biden," "Mediadroids," "Industrydroids," and
even "Princess Condoleia"though her ode to unilateralism was sung by a
The most fiery musical manifesto, however, remains the original one, "The
Soldier's Song." In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson, hardly noted for a
progressive stance on race, publicly flogged the Carabaos for their insults
to Filipinos. The song already had been softened by the substitution of
"insurrectos" for "Filipinos."
Despite such songs, the Carabaos have their defenders. "The historic songs
do reflect a racism prevalent in the military and in society at large at the
beginning of the 20th century," one person heavily involved in the
Philippine Scouts Heritage Society acknowledged to the Voice. (The society
honors those Filipinos whom the U.S. convinced to fight against their
revolutionary brethren.) That person said he has attended a Wallow "and saw
absolutely no evidence that such attitudes toward Filipinos exist."
The general public isn't able to see a Wallow, or even read stories about
one so that it can make up its own mind about that. For the most part, the
Herd thunders only in closely guarded seclusion.
"Look, we have never given out press passes," Ghormley, the group's official
historian, told the Voice. "We have never been fond of having press there.
Now, some journalists have comein fact some are even membersbut we do not
give out passes to any of the press."
Apart from brief mentions in obituaries, just about the last time a Carabao
reared his horned head publicly was in 1985, when General Dynamics
Corporation was caught billing the government a little more than $1000 so
that its employees could wallow with the Herd.
But with so many government officials openly donning desert gear and
strapping on six-shooters these days, the Carabaos may not need to be so
circumspect on Saturday night when the U.S. Marine Band strikes up the tune
to "It's a Long Way to Tipperary," a popular World War I anthem for solders
who were pining for the gals back home. The Carabaos' version is "It's a
Long Way to Old Manila," in which they pine for "the happy Empire Day."
Ian Urbina is a journalist based at the Middle East Research and Information
Project in Washington, D.C.
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Village Voice January 29 - February 4, 2003
Brown Man's Burden
SIDEBAR to "The Empire Strikes Back: The Tribal Rites of America's Military
Leaders" by Ian Urbina
by Luis H. Francia
In 1896, Filipinos rose up against their Spanish overlords, in the first
Asian revolution against a Western colonial power. They had largely
succeeded in defeating the Spanish when the United States, eager to join the
ranks of empire, declared war on Spain in 1898. The two main fronts were
Cuba and the Philippines, but the Asian part of the war all but ended with
the May 1 Battle of Manila Bay, when American warships, under the command of
George Dewey, decimated the decrepit Spanish flotilla, with hardly a loss of
American life. It is this short-lived, three-month-long Spanish-American War
that Americans are taught to remember.
What they are not taught about is its more vicious sequel, the 1899
Through the Treaty of Paris in December 1898, and for $20 million (or about
$3 for each of the country's 7 million inhabitants), Spain had ceded the
Philippines to the U.S. rather than to its brown-skinned inhabitants, who
had, after all, proven ungrateful for their more than 300 years of colonial
tutelage by establishing the Philippine Republic. The new nation, headed by
Emilio Aguinaldo, refused to acquiesce to this early instance of
U.S.-induced regime change. The resulting war officially ended in 1902 but
dragged on in guerrilla skirmishes until 1910.
The costs to the U.S. were much larger than those of the Spanish-American
War: by 1902, 4234 American war dead and 2818 wounded; $600 million in
military expenditures; and at least $8 billion disbursed in pensions. The
burden on Filipinos was enormous: at least 250,000 to 1 million mostly
civilian lives (a seventh of the population), indicative of the ferocity of
the American campaign the nature of which is celebrated in the songs of
the Military Order of the Carabao, founded in 1900. There were massacres,
well known to Filipinos, in such places as Balangiga and Bud Dajo, that
foretold My Lai more than half a century later. Many American officers were
veterans of genocidal campaigns against Native Americans, with whom the
pesky guerrillas were equated.
Vigorous public opposition to the war as morally unjust and to U.S.
annexation was spearheaded by the Boston-based Anti-Imperialist League,
whose most eloquent spokesman was Mark Twain. At first applauding the U.S.'s
seemingly altruistic intervention in the Filipinos' struggle against Spanish
rule, Twain later wrote against hypocritical U.S. foreign policy, pointing
out the existence of "two Americas: one that sets the captive free, and one
that takes a once-captive's new freedom away from him, and picks a quarrel
with him, with nothing found on it; then kills him to get his land." Rudyard
Kipling, on the other hand, penned "The White Man's Burden," exhorting the
U.S. to take over the islands. President William McKinley, duly persuaded,
said it was America's duty to "civilize and Christianize" the natives,
ignoring the fact that they had been largely Catholic for over three
American colonization of the Philippines lasted until 1946, when formal
independence was "given," though "restored" would have been more accurate.
By then, the archipelago had become the cornerstone of American imperial
dreams in the East, with two of its largest overseas bases there: Subic Bay
Naval Base and Clark Air Base.
The war, meanwhile, has been actively forgotten, interred in textbooks and
encyclopedias as the "Philippine Insurrection" as though it was simply the
violent refusal of a few malcontents to continue in their roles as
plantation workers. Today, with American troops in their country once more,
many Filipinos are uncomfortably reminded of a time when their aspirations
to self-determination were hijacked by the U.S. in its self-proclaimed role
as a champion of democracy.
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