Sunday, August 06, 2006

In the Penny Press! Taft, Philippino Independence - and Vomit!

Today's installment of In the Penny Press starts off with VOMIT and moves on from there!

The VOMIT comes from the latest issue of the New Yorker, in which the short story is "In the Reign of Harad IV" by Steven Milhauser. I read the story with mounting dislike, and when I was finished, I realized why: it has NO DIALOGUE. I checked twice: it has no dialogue at all. Which caused me to vomit.

Once I recovered, I moved on to the latest issue of the New Republic, in which Jackson Lears reviews the new biography of William Jennings Bryan. Lears goes on and on (as the biography in question does, and, come to think of it, as Bryan always did) trying to rehabilitate the man's reputation. And in the course of that long and utterly futile effort, THIS little thing comes up:

He [Bryan] put himself at McKinley's disposal in 1898, when the president proclaimed his intent to free Cuba from Spanish domination. Bryan enlisted in the Nebraska National Guard, raised his own regiment, and sat out the Spanish-American War far from combat (McKinley made sure of that). But when war ended in the Caribbean, it continued in the Philippines, which American advocates of empire had decided to annex - overlooking the awkward fact that Filipinos were as committed to fighting for their independence against the Americans as they had been against the Spanish. Annexation required ten years of armed struggle against Filipino men, women, and children who were determined to resist 'the blessings of libery and civilization' that the Republican Party platform pledged to bring them.

I always knew that between us, it would come down to the question of Filipino independence.

I honestly don't know where to even START with this summary of Lear's. Almost literally every part of it is wrong (well, except for Bryan's physical cowardice). McKinley didn't 'proclaim his intent' to free Cuba from Spain ... he was dragged kicking and screaming into doing ANYTHING about Cuba. And that business about the war ending in the Caribbean but continuing in the Philippines ... what the heck is that? The United States navy rolled up the Spanish navy like a cheap rug in 1898, and when it was over, Spain paid up (these were more civilized times): a wopping indemnity, plus territories - including the Philippines. That's not a continuation of war. That's war, followed by something that's NOT war ... geez. And then there's that stuff about 'American advocates of empire' - believe me, there WEREN'T any such advocates at the time. The largely accidental acquisition of Spanish dependencies was mostly embarrassing for America ... it was accepted mainly because there wasn't any clear alternative (I know, I know - the first 'alternative' that springs loudly to your mind is 'why not just let them be free?' ... but you have to understand, these were DARK-SKINNED people! At the time, it just wasn't done. There was a minor mania of colonization infecting the great powers at the time, embodied in Kipling's metrically great but politically unpraisable poem 'The White Man's Burden')(it's a GOOD poem, dammit! But the only place I can SAY that is here). You couldn't give the dependencies back, of course, but you likewise couldn't just make them STATES, like Iowa or Georgia. It presented problems that baffled the best minds of the administration (including McKinley's vice president, Theodore Roosevelt, and his war secretary Elihu Root).

But in any case, don't you believe a word of that crap about 'annexation required ten years of armed struggle against Filipino men, women, and children'! For TWO years, American military forces fought against an isolated rebel contingent led by a young egomaniac - who, when he was captured (just to further underline how LONG ago one hundred years can be, what an entirely different world I'm talking about - the man who captured the rebel leader became a HUGE celebrity, had quickie biographies written about him that sold out in bookstores, was talked about as a presidential candidate ... and now nobody knows his name), told his followers to lay down their arms, which they did (no women, no children, geez ... just an isolated group of opportunistic malcontents). And in the meantime, the Filipino people were getting schools, roads, sanitation, and health care from their American 'oppressors.' And if you didn't KNOW all this stuff about the complex reality of the whole subject, Lears' stoopid kids-crayon reduction of it all might actually convince a reader that he knows what he's talking about. Infuriating.

Of course part of what gets my ire up about all this hundred year old trivia is that when McKinley was assassinated in 1901 and Roosevelt became president, he appointed Taft governor-general of the Philippines, and Taft did good and honorable work there (HILARIOUS to think that in Lears' weird version of things, Taft was FIGHTING his whole time there, instead of going to dinners and horsing around with villagers and hosting costume parties)(and once - true story! SLEEPING through a hurricane).

It raises interesting questions about colonialism, I think. Of course the whole idea of colonialism is entirely passe these days, but I often wish it weren't. I mean, is there anybody in the West who DOESN'T think that the world would be much better off if Iraq, Iran, and Israel were still being run by colonial governors in sensible shoes? It's no more natural for a nation to know at birth how to govern itself than it is for a person - I don't see why it's become taboo to say that.

And so we come to the end of an uncharacteristically brief installment of In the Penny Press - just a touch of vomit and a bit of Taft-defending! Comparatively painless ...


Anonymous said...

After checking out a few of the articles οn уouг web page,
I really like your technique оf writing a
blog. I аdded it tο my bοokmaгκ
webpagе list anԁ will be chеcκing back іn thе near
future. Take a lοoκ at my website as well and let me knοω
how yоu fеel.

Ηavе a look at my page: chatroulette

Anonymous said...

We ѕtumbled over herе from a different page and thought Ӏ might as well check things οut.
Ι lіke ωhat I sеe so i am just following you.

Look forward to cheсkіng out your web рage yet again.

Look into mу blog post: Private Online chat

Anonymous said...

Cаn you tell us mοre about this? I'd like to find out more details.

Feel free to surf to my web blog: russian website

Anonymous said...

I used to be able tо find good іnfoгmаtion from yοuг

My blоg pоѕt: ejaculation Training