When U.S. Secretary of War William Howard Taft arrived in Nagasaki Harbor on July 31, 1905, he and the huge imperial retinue about the SS Manchuria were given a rapturous welcome.
As the ship departed that evening, notes James Bradley in his infuriatingly informative history The Imperial Cruise, Nagasaki’s mayor toasted Taft and his party with champagne. The Sumo-sized American functionary then led the throng in a war chant to celebrate Japan’s battlefield triumphs over Russian forces in Manchuria:
Japanese emperor — banzai [may he live ten thousand years]! Japanese navy — banzai! Japanese army — banzai!
At least some of those who joined in Taft’s celebration would be immolated almost exactly 40 years later, some of them memorialized in the “atomic shadows” etched into walls by the nuclear fireball that vaporized them. As they lifted their hands skyward, those Nagasaki residents couldn’t have imagined that their government’s imperial benefactor would someday annihilate them.
The frenzied reception granted to Taft and his entourage was generated, at least in part, by the celebrity of Alice Roosevelt, Teddy’s oldest daughter, a rebellious girl who was something of a pre-electronic media Britney Spears. (One widely circulated photo depicted the First Wild Child wearing a boa constrictor draped around her neck and shoulders.) But Japan’s government, in which Washington had played a key role, was eager to please its imperial patron.
Teddy Roosevelt, whose geopolitical views were defined by a nearly obsessive preoccupation with what he called “ethnic conquest,” had conferred the status of “honorary Aryans” on the Japanese. In diplomatic machinations he kept secret from his cabinet and the Congress, Roosevelt had abetted the rise of Japanese militarism, goading them into their war with Russia over control of Manchuria.
Japan had a role in TR’s vision for the Pacific. As long as Japan kept Russia in check, did its part to pry open China to Washington’s corporate clients, and didn’t make a play for America’s overseas colony in the Philippines, it could claim dominion over Korea and Manchuria under the terms of a “Monroe Doctrine for Asia,” Roosevelt privately told Baron Kentaro Kaneko, Tokyo’s emissary to the United States.
“Japan is the only nation in Asia that understands the principles and methods of Western civilization,” Roosevelt wrote to Kaneko on July 8, 1905. “She has proved that she can assimilate Western civilization, yet not break up her own heritage. All the Asiatic nations are now faced with the urgent necessity of adjusting themselves to the present age. Japan should be their natural leader in that process, and their protector during the transition stage, much as the United States assumed the leadership of the American continent many years ago, and by means of the Monroe Doctrine preserved Latin American nations from European interference, while they were maturing their independence.”
Kaneko repeatedly urged Roosevelt to make public his support for a Japan-dominated “Monroe Doctrine for Asia.” Teddy unctuously assured the Japanese emissary that while he couldn’t do so as president, he would gladly offer public support once he had left office.
As Bradley points out, if Congress had been aware of Roosevelt’s secret dealings, “perhaps a senator would have challenged Roosevelt to think through the consequences of the United States’ carving out a chunk of Asia for Japan to nibble on. Perhaps a congressman might have inspired Roosevelt to imagine a Japan that later would chafe at Teddy’s leash.”
At the time, however, America’s imperial elite was too enthralled by the Japanese victories in Manchuria — where, as Teddy privately exulted, they were “playing my game” — to consider what would happen when Japan’s imperial ambitions could no longer be restrained by Washington.
“The victory of the Japanese is a distinct triumph for Christianity,” pontificated Reverend Robert MacArthur of New York’s Calvary Baptist Church following the Battle of Tsushima. “The new civilization of Japan is largely the result of Christian teaching. A very great proportion of Japan’s leading men today, especially those who fight her battles on land and sea, with such skill and valor, profess the Christian faith.”
Japan was emulating “Christian” teaching in the sense that any pious adulterer could claim to be acting on Jimmy Swaggart’s example. The Japanese government’s duplicitous and aggressive behavior faithfully mimicked that of the ascendant “Christian” power of the age.
Under McKinley and Roosevelt, the U.S. government offered a detailed tutorial in the ruthless acquisition of territory through aggression, and the pitiless exercise of power to suppress uprisings against imperial rule. The Philippines provided the classroom, and the Japanese would prove to be eager and observant students.
After Washington wrested the Philippines from Spain, Admiral George Dewey (whose assault on the decrepit Spanish fleet — ancient wooden vessels tied up in rows in Manila Bay — wasn’t much different from the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor) sent a pair of emissaries to compile a report on the Filipino civic culture. Under the leadership of Emilio Aguinaldo, hailed as the “George Washington” of the Philippines during the war with Spain, the Filipinos had developed all of the institutions of representative government, and were firmly committed to the rule of law.
The report commissioned by Dewey was quickly buried by the War Department. After all, the prevailing doctrine held that the inhabitants of the Philippines — like other non-Anglo-Saxon peoples — weren’t fit for self-government, and wouldn’t be ready until after at least a few generations of benevolent, paternalistic rule by their racial superiors.
This meant, Admiral Dewey would later write, that the U.S. Government would have to “establish our authority by force against the very people whom we sought to benefit.” After learning of the victory of Teddy Roosevelt — an apostle of imposing Anglo-Saxon “authority” by force — in the 1900 presidential election, Private Robert Austill, who was serving in the Philippines, paraphrased Dewey’s conclusion in terms that were both earthier and more candid: “The people of the United States want us to kill all the men, f**k all the women, and raise up a new race in these Islands.”
It was the islands Washington coveted as an outpost for the projection of military power into Asia. The Filipinos were an encumbrance.
"We do not want the Filipinos," declared the San Francisco Argonaut in 1898. "We want the Philippines. The islands are enormously rich, but unfortunately they are infested with Filipinos. There are many millions there and, it is to be feared, their extinction will be slow."
Fortunately, the Filipinos are not extinct, despite the U.S. Government’s devoted efforts. In a 41-month period from 1898 to1902, roughly 20,000 Filipino guerrillas were killed. At least ten times that number of civilians were slaughtered as well. Some chroniclers estimate that more than two million Filipinos were liberated of their mortal cares during America’s lethal application of muscular Christianity in the islands.
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“The United States later fought World War II over a period of fifty-six months with approximately four hundred thousand American deaths,” observes Bradley, who has written two acclaimed books about the Pacific War (Flags of our Fathers and Flyboys). “So Adolf Hitler and Hideki Tojo, with their mechanized weaponry, killed about the same per month — seventy-two hundred — as American civilizers did in the Philippines.”
Among the benefits of Christian culture the American Army shared with the Filipinos was the ancient ritual called the “water cure.”
During World War II, American P.O.W.s were subjected to waterboarding by Japanese interrogators who, as convicted war criminals, experienced the long drop to the end of a hangman’s rope.
Decades earlier, American soldiers sent to “pacify” and “civilize” the archipelago — "We come as ministering angels, not as despots," warbled Senator Knute Nelson in praise of that noble venture — would chant a marching cadence called “The Water Cure” in happy anticipation of their ministry:
Hurray, hurrah. We bring the Jubilee. Hurray, Hurrah. The flag that makes him free. Shove in the nozzle deep and let him taste of liberty. Shouting the battle cry of freedom!
We’ve come across the bounding main to kindly spread around Sweet liberty whenever there are rebels to be found. So hurry with the syringe boys. We’ve got him down and bound. Shouting the battle cry of freedom!…
Oh pump it up in him till he swells like a toy balloon. The fool pretends that liberty is not a precious boon. But we’ll contrive to make him see the beauty of it soon. Shouting the battle cry of freedom!
Grover Flint, a first lieutenant in the 35th Infantry who served in the Philippines for a year and a half, later described how America’s Ministering Angels used the “water cure” to fill Filipinos to the brim with liquid liberty:
“He [the victim] is simply held down, and then water is poured into his face, down his throat and nose from a jar, and that is kept up until the man gives some sign of giving in or becoming unconscious, and when he becomes unconscious he is simply rolled aside and he is allowed to come to…. His suffering must be that of a man who is drowning, but he can not drown.”
Such treatment was appropriate, insisted Gen. Frederick Funston, whose troops — with his knowledge and support — executed helpless POWs, tortured civilians, massacred non-combatants, and raped countless women.
The Filipinos, explained this exponent of pagan barbarism, are “an illiterate, semi-savage people, who are waging war, not against tyranny, but against Anglo-Saxon order and decency.”
The “decency” of which Funston spoke so piously was famously displayed in a village called LaNog, the entire population of which was murdered on the orders of Captain Fred McDonald — except for a single comely mestizo woman who was gang-raped by McDonald’s officers and then turned over to the enlisted men for similar treatment.
A particularly vigorous display of “Anglo-Saxon decency” took place in March 1906, when the Army mowed down roughly 1,000 Muslim men, women, and children who had taken refuge in the crater of an inert volcano.
“I congratulate you and the officers and men of your command upon the brilliant feat of arms wherein you and they so well upheld the honor of the American flag,” Roosevelt wrote, without a whisper of irony, in a congratulatory cable to the commander.
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Mark Twain, who lent his gifted pen to the service of the anti-imperialist cause, pointed out that penning six hundred “helpless and weaponless” Filipinos “in a hole like rats in a trap” and then gunning them down at leisure over a 36-hour period “from a safe position on the heights above” could hardly qualify as a brilliant feat of arms. This would have been true “even if Christian America, represented by its salaried soldiers, had shot them down with Bibles and the Golden Rule instead of bullets.”
On the home front, Roosevelt and his comrades relentlessly de-humanized the Filipinos — or, as they were commonly called, “Pacific Negroes.”
The 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair would be a propaganda triumph for Roosevelt. Hundreds of thousands flocked to exhibits promoting America’s imperial thrust into Asia, and depicting Filipinos (as well as Chinese and “uncivilized,” non-westernized Japanese) as evolutionary throwbacks in need of Washington’s stern but enlightened rule. Millions received this indoctrination second-hand through press coverage.
“As a keepsake souvenir to take home to the kids, fairgoers could purchase an ‘Album of Philippine Types,'” recalls Bradley. “Each Filipino type was represented by two photographs that looked like mug shots, which they were — Roosevelt’s scientists had searched Bilibid Prison in Manila to find ‘typical’ Pacific Negroes. Fairgoers viewed more than one thousand photographs depicting a Philippines populated by robbers, murderers, and rapists.”
Filipinos conscripted into America’s imperial military were among the troops who marched past Roosevelt’s reviewing stand during his second inaugural in March 1905. TR was heard commenting that these assimilated “Pacific Negroes” were “rejoicing in their shackles.”
I wonder if Japan’s short-lived conquest of the Philippines produced similar expressions of self-satisfaction from its imperial ruling class.
I also find myself wondering how many of the Americans who perished in the Bataan Death March had been given a copy of the Roosevelt administration’s “Album of Philippine Types” as children in order to advance their education regarding their duty to promote “Anglo-Saxon civilization” at bayonet point.
And I detect nearly toxic levels of irony in the fact that at least some of the Americans who would later perish in the Pacific War saw the World’s Fair exhibit celebrating the achievements of the “Japanese Empire” — Washington’s sub-contractor in “civilizing” Northern Asia.
“In 1905, when he green-lit Japanese expansion, Roosevelt was forty-six years old and Baron Kaneko was fifty-two,” notes Bradley. “Roosevelt would be dead fifteen years later, while Kaneko would live to hear Franklin Roosevelt condemn Japan for doing what Theodore Roosevelt had recommended.”
Kaneko died on May 16, 1942, just weeks before the Battle of Midway effectively ended Japan’s dream of dominating the Pacific.
To his credit, Kaneko exercised whatever influence he could muster to encourage peaceful relations between Japan and the United States; he opposed war with America as late as 1941. Had he lived three years longer Kaneko may have witnessed the aftermath of the August 9, 1945 atomic assault on Nagasaki, where just a generation earlier the skies were rent by American-led war chants in praise of the Imperial Japanese Military.