By Mumia Abu-Jamal from death row
"Our boys were sent off to die with 'beautiful ideals'
painted in front of them. No one told them that 'dollars and cents' were the real reason they were marching off to 'kill and die.'"
--Gen. Smedley Butler, 1934
It is easy for millions of Americans to believe that the Iraq war, or for that matter, any other war this century, was fought for high-sounding ideals, like freedom and democracy.
It is easy. Yet it is wrong.
In the earlier half of the 20th century, when the U.S. invaded the Philippines, it proclaimed its duty as bringing "civilization" to the benighted peoples of the islands. There, Filipino rebels were waging an independence war against the Spaniards and were on the verge of winning their freedom. Lo and behold, the U.S. stepped in and proclaimed that they too were on the side of "freedom." Spain, reading the handwriting on the wall, rather quickly capitulated. Under the fog of "freedom," however, lay other motives, ones expressed openly by Indiana Sen. Albert Beveridge, who announced:
"The Philippines are 'ours forever ... and just beyond the Philip pines are China's illimitable markets....' The Pacific is 'our ocean.'" [Howard Zinn, "A People's History of the United States" (1995), p. 306]
The Filipinos clearly had other ideas, for they had just ended a war for independence, after all, with one waning empire. They were in no mood to join another. But the Americans, using their media and their politicians to promote "civilization" as their "mission," brought in troops, who were ordered to "Burn all and kill all." The U.S. military killed over 600,000 Filipinos to "civilize" them. The great American novelist, Mark Twain, so outraged by the American actions there, joined the Anti-Imperialist League, became its vice president, and would later exclaim:
"I have seen that we do not intend to free but to subjugate the Philippines and so I am an anti-imperialist. I am opposed to having the eagle put its talons on any other land. ... I have a strong aversion to sending our bright boys out there to fight with a disgraced musket under a polluted flag." [Philip Foner, "Mark Twain: Social Critic" (1958), p. 260]
For decades the U.S. supported the corrupt and brutal Marcos regime in Manila, where freedom was a joke and democracy an illusion. It took a broad rebellion by Filipinos to remove him from power.
The native dead from the Vietnam War rarely enter American debate, even though some 2 million men, women and children lost their lives. When U.S.-backed dictatorships unleashed their CIA-trained death squads on their own people, killing hundreds of thousands since the 1970s in Central America, who among us bothered to even count these peasants? When the U.S. bombed its way into Panama in 1989 to remove Noriega--and install its own kleptocracy--thousands of Panamanians were slain during the invasion. How many? The U.S. hadn't bothered to count.
During the first Gulf War, in 1991, the U.S. killed an estimated 150,000 Iraqis. But like the Panamanians, the Central Americans, the Filipinos before them, they were faceless, nameless and largely forgotten. In U.S. military parlance, they are "collateral damage."
So too, the bombing campaign of the most recent Iraqi War was brought to you by Raytheon, Lockheed and the imperial press corps, complete with uniforms. They can tell you how many bombs were drop ped, where they were dropped, indeed how much each bomb weighed and cost. Yet who they hit, and how many they killed is not news. As non-Westerners, as nonwhites, they are expendable; forgettable.
Do you really think that there will be a "democratic" Iraq?
What if a majority of Iraqis want to found an Islamic state? U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld had already announced that such a polity would be "unacceptable." "Democracy" thus may really mean, "Do what the Americans want you to do."
For the better part of a century, the words "democracy," "civilization" and "freedom" have been code words for something else indeed. They have been code words for Empire. And what is Empire? It is the looting and exploitation of the world for profit. Let us return briefly to Sen. Beveridge for the flavor of the Philippines invasion and slaughter, to reflect the real reasons for that war, as well as an inkling of the latest invasion of Iraq:
"The Philippines give us a base at the door of all the East. ... No land in America surpasses in fertility the plains and valleys of Luzon. Rice and coffee, sugar and coconuts, hemp and tobacco ... The wood of the Philippines can supply the furniture of the world for a century to come. At Cebu the best informed man on the island told me that 40 miles of Cebu's mountain chain are practically mountains of coal. ...
"My own belief is that there are not 100 men among them who comprehend what Anglo-Saxon self-government even means, and there are over 5 million people to be governed.
"It has been charged that our conduct of the war has been cruel. Senators, it has been the reverse. ... Senators must remember that we are not dealing with Americans or Europeans. We are dealing with Orientals." (Zinn, p. 306)
This greed, this pervasive racism fueled American colonialism at the beginning of the 20th century.
Unfortunately, if you look far enough, it is with us still.
Copyright 2003 Mumia Abu-Jamal
To download Mp3's of Mumia's commentaries visit
Mumia Abu-Jamal is the author of three books:
'Live from Death Row',
'Death Blossoms', and
'All Things Censored'.
Write to Mumia directly at:
Mumia Abu-Jamal AM 8335
175 Progress Drive
Waynesburg, PA 15370