The President desires to know in the fullest and most circumstantial manner all the facts…for the very reason that the President intends to back up the Army in the heartiest fashion in every lawful and legitimate method of doing its work. He also intends to see that the most vigorous care is extended to detect and prevent any cruelty or brutality, and that men who are guilty thereof are punished. Great as the provocation has been in dealing with foes who habitually resort to treachery murder and torture against our men, nothing can justify or will be held to justify the use of torture or inhuman conduct of any kind on the part of the American Army.
Cable sent by President Theodore Roosevelt to military commanders after learning that Americans were torturing Phillipinos.
One reason I write about history is because history does repeat itself. It repeats itself with regularity. The Bush Administration, or should I say the Bush/Cheney administration’s feckless foreign policies brought the United States to the practice of torturing prisoners. Lawyers were deployed to give birth to a notion that water boarding isn’t really torture. Oddly it wasn’t the first time this country has invaded a country, and bore the fruits of anomie. The rapine of the Philippines is a subject not often taught in schools, but a report by the military leader there, one Major Cornelius Gardener appeared in the first year of Theodore Roosevelt’s presidency. The report revealed that American troops were treating locals brutally. The report was so incendiary that William Howard Taft chose to quell its publication for almost two months.
General Walter Bedell Smith, Roosevelt’s chief military aid was guilty of promulgating these policies. Think of Smith as the Rumsfeld of the Roosevelt administration. Behind Roosevelt’s back we has trying to destroy the president, but gave Roosevelt a gift when he clandestinely informed Democratic legislators that this had happened under the purview of the President. Once the practice was revealed, even Republican friends and supporters of the practice turned on Smith.
Roosevelt court martialed General Smith while Rumsfeld received the Medal of Freedom. So yes, sometimes things do change.
Of course the Philippine warriors did themselves no favors when they took Americans prisoner that were later mutilated or burned them to death, even after they honored a flag of surrender. Like the invasion of Iraq, the military was taking the gloves off and intending a brutal method of combat that would end the war quickly. Anything goes is the way many military leaders fight hoping that victory will ameliorate any crimes committed on the way to it.
Elihu Root, the Secretary of War, considered the insurrectos little more than primitive savages, not much smarter than animals. The insurrection leader Miguel Malvar asked for independence as a protectorate of the Americans. Rudyard Kipling saw the desire to be free and yet have a safety net and called it the White Man’s Burden. He also saw conquered brown people through the prism of bigotry and ignorance. William Howard Taft called the Philippinos liars and even Satanic. Taft remarked that Philippinos were “dumber than the most ignorant Negro”. Taft offered that these native people to the Philippines would need decades of training before they were able to govern themselves and known what an Anglo Saxon Democracy is. Hitler and Goebels went down the same path. By making certain people felt that Jews and Bolsheviks weren’t fully human.
Perhaps the lesson here is that reducing a whole people to a prejudicial notion, like all Muslims are terrorists helps pave the way to torture. Terrorists, Satanic, liars, subhuman, it doesn’t matter how you couch it, torture is born out of prejudice.
In a Related subject