Thursday, July 10, 2008

Further to "Late Victorian Holocausts"

So, yesterday's post referred to Mike Davis's Late Victorian Holocausts, wherein it is argued that because of deliberate policies, born out of a fanatical adherence to liberal political-economic theory, imperialist arrogance or racism, or out of all three factors, the Western capitalist democracies, especially Great Britain, were responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of people.

I'd said yesterday that if what Mike Davis (and numerous other scholars) says is true, then that genuinely puts us all, the USA, Great Britain, France, etc., up there with Nazi-level or Stalinist human rights atrocities.

By that I mean that when we watch our World War Two (the "good" war) movies wherein the British and Americans are the good guys and the Nazis are the bad guys, we have to remember that these ideas are incomprehensible to people from India, or China, or the Philippines. For people from these and other countries, WE are the actors that are the equivalent of the servants of Hitler or Stalin.

Here's an article on the US pacification of the Philippines during the years 1899-1902:

The American reaction was swift and the slaughter by US forces is legendary. Philippine scholar Luziminda Francisco refers to that brutal imperial American war that launched the 20th century as the "first Vietnam War" in which estimates of from 600,000 to a million Filipinos died. She states that the estimate of up to a million deaths might "err on the side of understatement" as one US congressman, who visited the Philippines at the time, was quoted as saying "They never rebel in Luzon (Philippines) anymore because there isn't anybody left to rebel...our soldiers took no prisoners, they kept no records, they simply swept the country and wherever and whenever they could get hold of a Filipino they killed him."

In response to a massacre of 54 Americans by the Filipino resistance in Samar, Francisco describes how US General "Howling Jake" Smith launched a "reign of terror" on the island. "Kill and burn..." Smith said "the more you kill and burn the more you'll please me." When asked the age limit for killing, he said, "Everything over ten." The order from Smith was that Samar becomes a "howling wilderness" so that "even the birds could not live there." The Americans had begun to utilize the deadly "water torture" against Filipinos - forcing huge amounts of water into their stomachs to then gather information - and Smith insisted on its use in Samar.

According to Davis (who mentions that the Filipinos' original campaign for independence from Spain was originally inspired by poor harvests in 1898) the US campaign led to the deaths of one million out of a population of only seven million. Not only do 99 percent of Americans fail to comprehend that this makes them Nazi-level villains for the Filipinos, 98.99 percent of Americans probably have no knowledge of their nation's place in the history of the Philippines.

[And obviously, Canadian government mass graves for residential schools victims shows that we'd be no better if it were our place to conquer heavily-populated parts of the world.]


Boris said...

I read LVH years ago - Davis' other works are equally high calibre.

It's not so surprising that this interpretation escapes most history books when you consider much of the history we get from that time was written by the colonial-imperial powers, and not the colonised. I think another element is the complexity of understanding the types of genocide the West participated in. Things like the Holocaust are simple and clearly intended to exterminate a population. The others were externalities to imperial liberal economic models. The idea that these early globalisation models have very negative side effects, like their present incarnations, are unpalatable to so many Westerners.

thwap said...

Thanks for the comment Boris. It still surprises me though, how these Western liberal historians can be so very blind to something like the deaths of 20 million people.

They mention the railroads that the British built and say that they mitigated famines, but Davis says there's absolutely no evidence of that; rather, the railroads made the food go all the other way, out of the country towards the ports and on to Europe.

Thanks for commenting.