“splendid little war” (A People’s History…Ch. 12)

This shooting human beings beats rabbit hunting all to pieces.

Thanks, American soldier fighting in the Philippines at the turn of the 20th century.

We have pacified some thousands of the islanders and buried them; destroyed their fields; burned their villages…subjugated the remaining ten millions by Benevolent Assimilation, which is the pious new name of the musket…And so, by these Providences of God – and the phrase is the government’s, not mine – we are a World Power.

Thanks, for real, Mark Twain for this excoriating indictment of American foreign policy. Not that it’s come to affect much. Only certain words create real worlds.

This struggle on the island has been naught but a gigantic scheme of robbery and oppression.

Call it treason, but I’d drop the t and call it reason: this describes America to that t.


I’m hitting the point in this book where I regret going chapter by chapter in reflecting on it (or responding to it in a way that feels appropriate to that particular slice of American historical pie). Because it’s a stinging reminder of what I already knew: America is not – and it never really has been – great. Unless you define greatness by the sheer volume of people oppressed, exploited, and/or massacred. If so, then America is indeed up there as one of the all-time greats. Hall of Fame level imperialism.

Ch. 12 illuminates various wars in the late 1800s/early 1900s, particularly in Cuba and the Philippines. This was in an era where “racism, paternalism, and talk of money mingled with talk of destiny and civilization.” In other words, as I asked about Ch. 11, what’s changed? We still intervene where we don’t really belong – citing duty, our benevolent role in the world, self-defense, peacekeeping, or some such nonsense – only because we stand to gain something. (Something always means money.) We’re great storytellers/liars/self-deceivers though, so we package our military efforts as mutually beneficial campaigns – nay, universally beneficial. Because America, let’s remember, represents the interests of planet Earth, not “a few good men” in American government and business. (I can handle the truth, I just don’t know what to do about it.)

This has been a poor man’s war – paid for by the poor man. The rich have profited by it, as they always do…

We know this. It’s a tale as old as time, all beast, no beauty. So it goes…

But what if the idea that history repeats itself is only true because we accept the idea as true? Truth persists as a bias, not an objective reality. We might be quick to say that the empirical evidence is in favor of this continued negative assumption, but why not build a case for love as human nature? That’s real Power.

Otherwise, we’ll be left with perpetual warfare, which is also a perpetual veil for internal domestic strife. Chicago’s a murder capital? Yeah, but Aleppo…

…the blood tribute paid by labor to capitalism, brings forth no shout for vengeance and reparation…Death comes in thousands of instances in mill and mine, claims his victims, and no popular uproar is heard.

…the movement of war was “a favorite method of rulers for keeping people from redressing domestic wrongs.”

Consumerism is the perfectly designed ally to capitalism, and it’s a marriage that’s divorced us all from ourselves.

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