(TMU Op-Ed) — U.S.-led wars in the Middle East have killed some four million Muslims since 1990. The recently published Afghanistan papers, provided an insight into the longest war in U.S. history and revealed how U.S. officials continuously lied about the progress being made in Afghanistan, lacked a basic understanding of the country, were hiding evidence that the war was unwinnable, and had wasted as much as $1 trillion in the process.
Unfortunately, this phenomenon is nothing new. While most people accept that the United States has been interfering with Muslim populations quite heavily since World War II, the truth is that the U.S. has been fighting “forever wars” against Muslim populations for well over 100 years. (If you want to really go back into history, Thomas Jefferson was also fighting Muslims in the oft-forgotten Barbary Wars in the early 1800s).
The average American school curriculum likely doesn’t feature the fact that the U.S. waged a war from 1899 to 1913 in the southernmost island of the Philippines. Known as the Moro War, it was the longest sustained military campaign in American history until the war in Afghanistan surpassed it a few years ago. As a result, the U.S. and the Philippine governments are still embroiled in a battle with Islamist insurgents in the southern Philippines, which takes the meaning of “forever war” to a whole new level.
Despite over a century passing since the U.S. led a counterinsurgency war against the Islamic Moros, its similarities with the Afghanistan war are incredibly noteworthy, to say the least.
Even reading accounts of the terrain in which both conflicts were fought suggest they were equally as treacherous. As detailed in the memoir of Captain John Pershing, fighting the Moro Wars “entailed guerrilla warfare in a country unknown to us, with its swamps and rivers and its hills and mountains, every foot of which was familiar to the inhabitants and their insurrecto troops.”
While the U.S. often boasts about fighting for freedom, many Americans may be wondering how it is that their freedom came to be located in the Philippines in the first place. Was it worth sending 75,000 American troops in just 1900 alone to the Philippines to fight and die? And was the operation even remotely successful?
More importantly seems to be the indication that the U.S. military was not welcome in the Philippines, much as it is not welcomed by Afghanistan or any other Muslim-majority nation which has to duel with the U.S. Empire. After the U.S. defeated the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay and annexed the Philippines under the 1898 Treaty of Paris, the Moro population were not even consulted. The U.S. then sought to “pacify” them using brute force.
“I want no prisoners,” ordered General Jacob Smith on Samar Island during the war in 1902. “I wish you to kill and burn, the more you kill and burn the better you will please me.”
Fast forward over 100 years later and it is difficult to see how U.S. military doctrine has changed for the better. A video came to light in 2010 of then-General James Mattis saying that it was “a hell of a lot of fun to shoot” people in Afghanistan. Mattis was later rewarded for his heroism and bravery by being crowned Donald Trump’s secretary of defense for a short while.
As you can imagine, General Smith received his wish just as Mattis after him, with perhaps half a million locals dying as a result of the U.S. invasion. At Bud Dajo, some 1,000 Moro separatists, including their families had fled to the crest of a volcano to escape the American invasion. Allegedly, American troops reached the top of the volcano and fired down into the crater until they killed 99 percent of the inhabitants. The colonizers then took the time and effort to pose for a photograph with the hundreds of dead bodies (no, seriously).
It is also worth noting that some 4,000 U.S. soldiers lost their lives during this particular war. This closely mirrors the number of coalition deaths since 2001 in Afghanistan—and for good reason. To minimize U.S. personnel deaths in the Philippines’ war, the U.S. military deployed Filipinos led by U.S. officers into battle. (Sound familiar?)
At one stage, Filipinos ended up doing almost all of the dying as U.S. soldiers slowly left the battle theatre. In fact, the final year of conflict was the bloodiest year of the Moro war. This seems to be the trend in a number of U.S. wars. This is certainly true with respect to Afghanistan, with the U.S. military and its Afghan lackeys on the ground killing more civilians than the Taliban in recent times.
But what is all this senseless violence for? To put it simply, whether in the Philippines, Iraq, Afghanistan, or elsewhere, this rampage is all borne out of the belief that America’s subordinates are not capable of ruling themselves and will ultimately profit from American occupation. This was actually the firm thinking of U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, who saw it as the duty of the United States to maintain the Philippines as a protectorate. This idea was famously (or infamously) termed the “White Man’s Burden” in a poem written by Rudyard Kipling, who sent the poem to Teddy prior to his decision to engage in the Philippine-American war. A 1902 Life Magazine cover even depicted an apparent waterboarding of a Filipino POW by U.S. personnel (the supporters in the background seem to be watching with glee).
When not much has changed, it seems it never will. We can also expect this type of activity to continue for the foreseeable future, given the geopolitical stakes at hand. In the case of the Philippines, it was recently reported that Chinese and Philippine foreign ministers have sealed an agreement for the two nations to pursue joint oil and gas exploration in the hotly contested South China Sea.
As it turns out, the South China Sea could contain anywhere between 125 billion barrels of crude oil and 500 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. The idea that a foreign adversary, especially one rising to prowess on the world stage such as China, could control the majority of these resources unchecked is a major blow to the U.S. Empire.
Whether it is lithium, opium, and geostrategic chess moves in Afghanistan; or natural gas and oil in the South China Sea, Muslim populations will continue to suffer in a colonial terror campaign which has been unfolding for over 100 years.
Think of it this way: if another century passes and your great grandchildren had never heard of the “forever war” that took place in Afghanistan in the early 2000s, all the while watching a new war unfold in the Indo-Pacific region for similar reasons, you would rightfully be fuming in your grave.