FYI, We Just Won a War in the Philippines
July 1, 2013 11:01 PM   Subscribe

Did you know the U.S. was at war in the Philippines? An excerpt from David Axe's new book. Previously.
posted by destrius (15 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Interesting story, though the $ amounts mentioned are small pocket change in military spending terms.
posted by Bwithh at 11:25 PM on July 1, 2013

The U.S. military battled Islamists in the Philippines beginning in 1899, when the islands — the spoils of the Spanish-American War — became an American territory. The fighting raged in fits and starts for the next hundred years, mostly in the southern region of Mindanao.

This is so astonishingly ahistorical that it makes me angry. It's like saying that Italy's role in the NATO bombing of Libya was a continuation of the Punic Wars.

Axe seems to think of the 21st century American campaign in the Philippines as a victory in a conflict worth fighting. If so,why does he compare it to what is perhaps the single most shameful episode in American foreign policy?

"We have crushed a deceived and confiding people; we have turned against the weak and the friendless who trusted us; we have stamped out a just and intelligent and well-ordered republic; we have stabbed an ally in the back and slapped the face of a guest; we have bought a Shadow from an enemy that hadn't it to sell; we have robbed a trusting friend of his land and his liberty; we have invited clean young men to shoulder a discredited musket and do bandit's work under a flag which bandits have been accustomed to fear, not to follow; we have debauched America's honor and blackened her face before the world." Mark Twain, To the Person Sitting in Darkness
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 11:36 PM on July 1, 2013 [13 favorites]

truthfully i just wanted to post something that could be tagged "milf"
posted by destrius at 11:47 PM on July 1, 2013 [16 favorites]

After reading this article I'm a bit confused. My understanding is that part of the formerly-secular Philippines is to become an Islamic republic (Nominally a "sub-state, but who's kidding?)

I'm pretty sure this was not the US's aim when it started intervening in the conflict, so how is this a victory?
posted by Joe in Australia at 1:51 AM on July 2, 2013

astonishingly ahistorical

I hope, as an excerpt, that the book offers some more context -- as you note that segue is highly misleading, as if the US were on the ground the entire time. In a broad sense, though, we've long supported the independent Philippine governments -- through thick corruption and thin democracy -- so even though the US involvement ratcheted up significantly after 9/11 I don't think it's actually dishonest, just eliding a lot of inconvenient, difficult twists and turns in the relationship.

I think there's a lot of instructive example here, though, in that while the US "won" denial of a terrorist haven, the local Muslim population also "won" a lot more autonomy than they have had even since the last settlement with Manila, and have largely abandoned the guerrilla war for independence. It's a good thing, and it indicates an intelligent approach by Benigno Aquino, who may yet prove the most democratic administration the country has had since the overthrow of Marcos.

On preview: Well, for one thing, it started under the "Long War" folks, and ended under "New Beginning" Obama. I think the aim here is to create an administratively democratic substate that will remain under Philippine military sovereignty and stop exporting terror cells to places like Bali. Similarly, the US is involved in negotiations with the Taliban. It's a much more subtle approach than just claiming we'll be there until the "job's done", whenever that is (never?).
posted by dhartung at 1:59 AM on July 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

We're not going to see any headlines, "US special forces destroy MILF". Pity.
posted by Mokusatsu at 2:20 AM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Robert Kaplan has written recently about American troops (mostly Special Forces) serving in the Philippine islands. And Eric Greitens talk about it in his book "The Heart and the Fist," too.
posted by wenestvedt at 3:25 AM on July 2, 2013

For those interested, John Sayles has portrayed the war twice; once as an Iraq War analogy in his film Amigo and once as one part of his massive, captivating historical novel about the United States in the last years of the 19th century, A Moment in the Sun.
posted by Bromius at 4:54 AM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Holy shit John Sayles wrote a novel?
posted by Potomac Avenue at 6:18 AM on July 2, 2013

"Forty-three MILF fighters"

This would make for such a great exploitation movie, with only minor adjustments to the story.
posted by svenni at 6:29 AM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Holy shit John Sayles wrote a novel?

He's written four. His short story collections are also well-worth reading.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 8:00 AM on July 2, 2013

After living in Manila for two years, I have a few clippings of headlines prominently featuring MILF(s)*. The conflict and its related issues don't really affect daily life of most residents of metro Manila, but much more so in traveling to the provinces, especially as a foreigner.

and also a few giggles
posted by a halcyon day at 8:29 AM on July 2, 2013

"Forty-three MILF fighters"

This would make for such a great exploitation movie, with only minor adjustments to the story.

How about 43 forty-three-year-old MILF fighters?
posted by ChuckRamone at 9:16 AM on July 2, 2013

This sort of narrow, transient overview of America's role in Mindanao is so ridiculous I don't know where to start. (Hopefully I get most of my facts straight. I haven't written about this in a while.)

At the end of the 19th century the Philippines had been a Spanish colony for 300 years and the Spanish had gradually pushed the Islam's influence back from around the Manila area and contained it in the southern island (Mindanao). But Islamic areas were effectively independent of Spain when the Americans decided that, after George Dewey beat the Spanish in Manila Bay, the Philippine independence forces that had also been fighting the Spanish were not ready for independence. The Americans fought the Catholics in the north and the Muslims in the south, subduing the former by 1903 and the latter by 1907 or so, with a combination of guns, schools, and plenty of patronage funds for elites.

At the beginning of the US colonial period, the island of Mindanao was separately administered by the US Army (the rest of Mindanao was run by the Bureau of Insular Affairs and had its own appointed governor, etc...). The Army actually did a decent job and was popular with the local leadership at least relative being directly under Manila's power. But with independence plans in the 1930s and then actual independence after WWII, they gave up their hopes of being a separate US state and acquiesced to the Catholic government in Manila (plenty of monetary compensation continued to smooth the transition).

Mindanao always had a relatively large amount of uninhabited or sparsely inhabited land, and it served as a safety valve for economic and political unrest in the Philippines since at least the 1910s. In-migration to Mindanao intensified after Philippine independence and it gradually led to changing demographics in many of the provinces.

By the late 60s the catholic/muslim balance had tipped toward catholics enough that muslim elites started losing their seats as governor and other offices that got access to a lot of patronage funding. This combined with a Marcos who needed an enemy or two to solidify his power, and soon enough the Filipino army was sent in to fight the rebelling Moro National Liberation Front, the first major muslim separatist group.

The war has been flaring up and settling back down every 5-10 years since then. The MNLF basically got old and settled down with some comfortable settlement money in the 1990s, while the MILF (Islamic now, instead of National) took its place.

There are hundreds of thousands of internal refugees and elites on both sides (army generals and local muslim warlords) have profited, seizing huge amounts of land. The occasional butchery in the news just goes to show the extent the elites will go to maintain their power, and also how fragile their power is. The imposition of patronage-based "democratic" systems over the past hundred years (by the US and Manila) has worn away at traditional power structures and disrupted dispute resolution systems, and reinforced corruption: the conflict in Mindanao has almost nothing to do with religion and everything to do with a complete governance void accompanied by a citizenry that is 95% armed. (illegal trade through Mindanao to Malaysia and Indonesia is a huge business and has contributed to a ridiculous amount of guns on the island)

Maybe the US actually had some kind of affect on the latest peace process, but US forces are a trivial piece of the puzzle compared to the political process in Manila (the 2008 attempt at a semi-autonomous solution was thrown out by the the Philippine Supreme Court), the interests of the rich and powerful, and the work of people on the ground who are actually trying to stop the violence.
posted by ropeladder at 1:06 PM on July 2, 2013 [8 favorites]

re: sayles' amigo fpp

also btw here's a book discussion of david silbey talking about the philippine-american war; oh and in other going ons in the region recently...
posted by kliuless at 3:54 PM on July 5, 2013

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