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The Water Cure
February 21, 2008 8:10 AM   Subscribe

During the Philippine-American War at the turn of the 20th century, American soldiers used a torture method called "the water cure" to extract information from Filipino fighters. [via brijit]
posted by AceRock (26 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite

 
dupe?
posted by doctor_negative at 8:27 AM on February 21, 2008


They also went to the .45 from the standard issue .38 because the .45 offered better stopping power against the Muslim suicide squads that would charge into American lines until they were completely incapacitated. The army needed a weapon that would kill or incapacitate on a singel shot and the .38 just wasn't cutting it.

Interesting how 100 years go by and we're right back water torturing muslim insurgents with a swaggering Republican president at the helm. What is that thing they say about history and repitition? Oh, I forget.
posted by Pollomacho at 8:41 AM on February 21, 2008


Many Americans were puzzled by the news, in 1902, that United States soldiers were torturing Filipinos with water. The United States, throughout its emergence as a world power, had spoken the language of liberation, rescue, and freedom. This was the language that, when coupled with expanding military and commercial ambitions, had helped launch two very different wars.

How I loathe this magazine. I understand that they are trying to draw an analogy to the IRaq war, which was very clearly launched with the help of rhetoric about liberation and bringing democracy to the middle east, but the notion that Americans thought that way in 1902 is laughable.

First, in 1902 many older Americans could probably still recall owning and abusing slaves. Workers were not infrequently beaten by their employers. Nobody cared about the plight of Filipino prisoners, and certainly no one cared if they were being tortured. The U.S. army was slaughtering and torturing Indian "savages" in the West as recently as 1890.

Nobody was shocked by this stuff - no one. The New Yorker is trying to rewrite history in an attempt to paint the current administration and military as usually brutal, when the reality is that the fact that we are debating torture is progress. Compare the conduct in Iraq to Americas conduct in its last real protracted war - Vietnam.
posted by Pastabagel at 8:44 AM on February 21, 2008 [5 favorites]


“The brief campaign was pitched to the American public in terms of freedom and national honor (the U.S.S. Maine had blown up mysteriously in Havana Harbor), rather than of sugar and naval bases, and resulted in a formally independent Cuba”

And:
“ It sips its coffee and reads of its soldiers administering the “water cure” to rebels; of how water with handfuls of salt thrown in to make it more efficacious, is forced down the throats of the patients until their bodies become distended to the point of bursting; of how our soldiers then jump on the distended bodies to force the water out quickly so that the “treatment” can begin all over again. The American Public takes another sip of its coffee and remarks, “How very unpleasant!”

Yes, Pollomacho, the Santayana does come to mind.

I’m curious: where does the “Cure” part of the term originate? One would speculate that it “cures” reticence.
posted by HVAC Guerilla at 8:56 AM on February 21, 2008


Nobody was shocked by this stuff - no one.

This Times Article seems to indicate that some people were quite shocked.
posted by Phlogiston at 9:00 AM on February 21, 2008


Nobody was shocked by this stuff - no one.

Pastabagel, are you speaking from memory? I do not think you even read to the bottom of the first page.
Ultimately, outraged dissenters—chief among them the relentless Philadelphia-based reformer Herbert Welsh—forced the question of U.S. atrocities into the light.
The parallels with Iraq abound.
As the Democratic candidate, William Jennings Bryan, clashed with the Republican incumbent over imperialism, which the Democrats called “the paramount issue,” critics of the war had to defend themselves against accusations of having treasonously inspired the insurgency, prolonged the conflict, and betrayed American soldiers.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 9:01 AM on February 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


And during the Spanish Inquisition, they used thumbscrews, and anal pears.

Moral of the story: Torture used in the past still sucks if used today.

(Though calling it a 'cure' seems particularly screwed up.)
posted by quin at 9:26 AM on February 21, 2008


anal pears

I could google that one, but I'm afraid I'd never look at a Waldorf salad the same way again.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 9:37 AM on February 21, 2008


The Pear.

Do you think there'd be a debate if our "standards" of torture involved implements such as this, the rack, etc.? Is waterboarding acceptable to the powers that be because its impact is primarily psychological rather than physical?
posted by joseph_elmhurst at 9:48 AM on February 21, 2008


Waldorf salad contains pears?
posted by daveleck at 10:01 AM on February 21, 2008


This Times Article seems to indicate that some people were quite shocked.
posted by Phlogiston at 12:00 PM on February 21


No, it says that the Times condemns it, which isn't the same thing. Certainly some people were appalled by it, particularly when they learn the gruesome details, just like people were appalled by slavery and the conduct of the wars against the Indians. That doesn't mean they were surprised by it. In that same article, if you click through to the PDF, describes an Times article highlighting torture committed by police in the US to force confessions. The article then recites the excuses for the "water cure" and the distinctions between it and torture.

Finally the last paragraph: "when an American allows his emotions to be so wrought upon as to declare that nothing like it could with impunity be employed on the Continent of North America, we commend to that American the counsel of Johnson to Boswell : 'My dear sir, endeavor to clear your mind of cant.'"

Also, note the audience this article is written for. It assumes that the reader will know which Johnson and Boswell they are quoting. This is not a mass market publication that represents the point of view of the populace.

What is shocking today is that we are in some cases still doing it, because the vast majority of people assumed that the U.S. government doesn't torture anyone. It is shocking because most soldiers living and working today do not recall a time when torture was permitted.
posted by Pastabagel at 10:14 AM on February 21, 2008


Okay, I now seen the confusion. 'Shocked' can mean both 'surprised' or 'appalled'. I was assuming from the context of the New Yorker article that they were using it to mean the former, but the comments seem to think that when I wrote "no one is shocked" I was referring to the latter. My contention is that while some people were appalled by this, no one (i.e. very very few people) was really surprised the soldiers were doing it or something like it in the war.
posted by Pastabagel at 10:16 AM on February 21, 2008


Mmmm... anal pears.
posted by DecemberBoy at 11:15 AM on February 21, 2008


The funniest thing was when at the close of the Spanish-American War the United States paid poor decrepit old Spain $20,000,000 for the Philippines. It was just a case of this country buying its way into good society. Honestly, when I read in the papers that this deal had been made, I laughed until my sides ached. There were the Filipinos fighting like blazes for their liberty. Spain would not hear to it. The United States stepped in, and after they had licked the enemy to a standstill, instead of freeing the Filipinos they paid that enormous amount for an island which is of no earthly account to us; just wanted to be like the aristocratic countries of Europe which have possessions in foreign waters. The United States wanted to be in the swim, and it, too, had to branch out, like an American heiress buying a Duke or an Earl. Sounds well, but that's all.
- interview "Mark Twain in Clover / Joseph in the Land of Cornbread and Chicken." Baltimore Sun, 10 May 1907, p. 14
posted by hortense at 11:17 AM on February 21, 2008 [1 favorite]


We also brought 1100 Filipinos to live in St. Louis for the 1904 World's fair as an "anthropological exhibit," and no one was "shocked." Delighted, in fact. It was a huge hit.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:39 AM on February 21, 2008


> My contention is that while some people were appalled by this, no one (i.e. very very few people) was really surprised the soldiers were doing it or something like it in the war.

I'm not really sure this is true; or at least, I don't think it's any more true in 2004 than it was in 1904.

No soldier serving in the Philippine campaign would have ever been ordered in the past to torture someone; there wasn't a U.S. history of accepting torture at that point. Allegations of torture and prisoner maltreatment during the Civil War, which was the last great war in the public's memory at the time, had been roundly condemned as barbaric. And in the Indian Campaigns, torture (along with scalping) was something associated, factually or not, with the 'uncivilized' enemy.

If you had asked any reasonably well-educated person at the turn of the 20th century about America and torture, I'm quite certain that they would have told you that torture was simply not done in or by the United States, that it was something old-fashioned and barbaric that we had decided to move on from, and that basically it was the mark of people less civilized than ourselves. In short, I think they would have made the exact same sort of 'progress' argument that someone today might make (or might have made a few years ago).
posted by Kadin2048 at 12:05 PM on February 21, 2008


the Santayana does come to mind.

The famous Santayana quotation about repeating the past is, in context, a point about the psychological development of the human mind and not any kind of social or political commentary.

For Santayana's views on the Philippine-American War see his poem "Young Sammy's First Wild Oats".
posted by mc2000 at 12:08 PM on February 21, 2008


Pollomacho:
They also went to the .45 from the standard issue .38 because the .45 offered better stopping power against the Muslim suicide squads that would charge into American lines until they were completely incapacitated.
As a Filipino, I take a certain pride from the fact that we're so badass that we required an across-the-board weapons upgrade from the American army.

Also, just to amend the possible interpretation that this particular brand of torture was only practiced by Americans in the Philippines -- it's worth noting that the Japanese were putting Catholics through this in the 17th century. A popular topic in my religion classes in Catholic school were about the beatified Lorenzo Ruiz and how he earned his sainthood partially due to his endurance of water torture.

I do agree with the general sentiment that connections between the Filipino American war and the Iraq War are tenuous at best, but I also still believe that America's first steps as an Imperial empire receive little attention in your country, and more discussion of those years can only help.
posted by bl1nk at 12:38 PM on February 21, 2008 [2 favorites]


I should also point out that it's a misnomer to charactgerize the Philippine American war simply as a war between American colonizers and Muslim insurgents. The Muslim front in the south was far more protracted conflict than the subjugation of the Christian north, but a large part of the ambivalence and protest from American on the homefront was a recognition that Filipinos were a largely Catholic nation and the torture and oppression of other Christians was a far more morally hazardous affair than genocide committed against pagan, savage Native Americans.
posted by bl1nk at 12:42 PM on February 21, 2008


As a Filipino, I take a certain pride from the fact that we're so badass that we required an across-the-board weapons upgrade from the American army.

Seconded. My oldest son in learning Modern Arnis from the top guy in the South East U.S.

Man, if you ever want to mess someone up BAD, and FAST, Arnis is it, and you can improvise with almost anything you have at hand....
posted by Scoo at 1:04 PM on February 21, 2008


I dunno, torture aside, I've always thought the parallels were pretty striking. War of convenience. Begun in large part because of trumped up charges of wrongdoing and a complicit press eager to move print that manufactured outrage. A "splendid little war," that was over quickly and followed by grand rhetoric about spreading democracy but actually leading to essentially a forced vassal state (in the case of cuba) and a protracted, costly, and bloody insurrection that lasted five years and literally decimated the population of the Philippines*. Yeah, the comparison to our current adventure is spurious.

* OK, Mr. Pedant, decimate means to reduce by a tenth, and the population of the Philippines dropped from 9 mil to 8 mil, so that's 11%. Sorry
posted by absalom at 2:18 PM on February 21, 2008


The funniest thing was...

When God told President McKinley to "educate the Filipinos and uplift them and civilize and Christianize them" when many Filipinos had been Catholics for 350 years.

2003 Slate piece on parallels between America's conflicts in Iraq and the Philippines. (Shockingly, President Bush elided some of the less-positive aspects of our involvement in the Philippines, like the entire insurrection. You'd think someone with a Yale History BA would know more history.)

connections between the Filipino American war and the Iraq War are tenuous at best
[T]hough successive U.S. generals proclaimed victory at hand, American soldiers kept dying in ambushes, telegraph lines kept getting cut, and army convoys kept getting attacked.
Oh yeah, totally different.
posted by kirkaracha at 2:25 PM on February 21, 2008


" Also, just to amend the possible interpretation that this particular brand of torture was only practiced by Americans in the Philippines -- it's worth noting that the Japanese were putting Catholics through this in the 17th century"

Lest you think Catholicism holds the high ground here, see under: Inquisition, The.

Lots of the 'optimisation' of this procedure was carried out under its glorious auspices.


The methods of torture most used by the Inquisition were garrucha, toca and the potro. The application of the garrucha, also known as the strappado, consisted of suspending the criminal from the ceiling by a pulley with weights tied to the ankles, with a series of lifts and drops, during which arms and legs suffered violent pulls and were sometimes dislocated. The toca, also called tortura del agua, consisted of introducing a cloth into the mouth of the victim, and forcing them to ingest water spilled from a jar so that they had impression of drowning. The potro, the rack, was the instrument of torture used most frequently.

posted by lalochezia at 4:27 PM on February 21, 2008


kikaracha - your claim is pretty superficial and can basically be applied to equate the Philippine-American War to -any- insurgency in history.

Cases in which the Philippine-American War does -not- map to Iraq.

Iraq is massively complicated by the conflicting interests between Sunni, Shia, Kurdish communities (and factions within those communities), and the conflict's Gordian Knot is in resolving the competing tensions between these groups. The Philippines, at the time of conquest, was certainly split between Muslim and Christian populations, but these groups were not as violently opposed to each other as the Sunni's and Shia's are right now. Yes, there are/were ethnic tensions between Chinese/Malay Filipino and Spanish/Malay mestizo groups, but these also map to merchant/craftsman vs. farmer/landowner social castes and one group did not have to acquire/safeguard power by violently oppressing the other.

Insurgents in the Philippines did not benefit from external support of neighboring nations. The counterinsurgency strategy largely focused on acquiring support/strongarming communities within the country. Hamleting and concentration camps were generally effective in the Philippines (terrible and regrettable, yes, but still effective) but can't be re-applied to Iraq.

Most rebel/insurgent activity in the Philippines was aimed at the American occupation and did not target fellow Filipinos (except in cases of banditry guised as insurgency); and being a collaborator with the American occupation wasn't an invitation to place yourself on some fanatic's death list.

There wasn't a massive degree flight of intellectuals and middle class Filipinos from the nation during the war. The country was not abandoned to the poor, the fanatics and militias.

Yes, certainly, from an American perspective, where it's just about how many of your troops are being killed, how your politicians may have been clueless about the facts on the ground, and how atrocities commited in the earnest drive for victory -- they're somewhat similar. But only in the sense that America follows the same logic in prosecuting counter-insurgency regardless of the insurgency that is faced.
posted by bl1nk at 5:01 PM on February 21, 2008




That's incredibly disgusting.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 11:48 AM on March 8, 2008


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