The U.S. and the Philippines, a Century Ago: Dashed Dreams of Empire

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A long time ago, and far away, the U.S. invaded and occupied the Philippines. There are parallels to recent U.S. military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, down to torturing the enemy.

Journalist Gregg Jones has written Honor in the Dust: Theodore Roosevelt, War in the Philippines, and the Rise and Fall of America’s Imperial Dream, in part, to remind us that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Battleland conducted an email chat with him earlier this week. Read the full post here. An excerpt from Jones’s response after the jump.

History is littered with examples of great powers that become overconfident and engage in “imperial overreach.” Arrogance breeds intellectual laziness, and that fosters a disregard for the lessons of history. This isn’t unique to America—you can trace this continuum back through the ages. I think that history shows us that a nation is in peril when its citizens come to believe they are so powerful and omniscient that there is no need to look or listen before acting.

We Americans aren’t alone in preferring to forget painful episodes in our history. Many Japanese deny that their country committed war crimes in World War II. Many Belgians refuse to accept that King Leopold’s colonial regime perpetrated genocidal excesses in the Belgian Congo. Many British choose to forget the injustices and brutality of the Boer War (which played out at the same time as America’s war in the Philippines). And so on.

I believe it’s vital for Americans to know the history of their country, warts and all. The world’s great religions teach the virtues of reflection and self-examination. Business schools train future executives and entrepreneurs to critically analyze case studies. So why would any American consider it unpatriotic to study the entire expanse of their history? I’m not advocating an exercise in self-flagellation, but, rather, a study of our history as part of the never-ending quest for the “more perfect union” envisioned by the framers of our Constitution in 1787.

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