Wednesday, December 07, 2005

MARK TWAIN VS. MAX BOOT. At OpinionJournal Max Boot sings -- as Homerically as such as Boot can manage -- the praises of Leonard Wood, a doctor-soldier who assisted greatly in the subjugation of the Philippines and Cuba during America's earlier age of empire. "Never has Wood's example been more timely," says Boot. Here's part of that example as described by Boot himself:
...[Wood] dealt ruthlessly with all opposition. The primary threat [in the Moro district of the Philippines] came from juramentados, knife-wielding assassins who thought that they could win a place in paradise if they died fighting Christian infidels. To defeat them, Wood shelled numerous cottas (forts) containing not only enemy fighters but also women and children. His scorched-earth policy sparked controversy but achieved results. Moroland had been temporarily pacified by the time Wood left for Manila to take over as military commander of the entire Philippines in 1905.
Let us pause briefly to think what America's new bestest friends, the Iraqi People, would think to hear such activities described as exemplary behavior of conquerors toward the conquered. Then let us hear the same incident as reported by a very different sort of journalist from Boot -- Mark Twain:
A tribe of Moros, dark-skinned savages, had fortified themselves in the bowl of an extinct crater not many miles from Jolo; and as they were hostiles, and bitter against us because we have been trying for eight years to take their liberties away from them, their presence in that position was a menace. Our commander, Gen. Leonard Wood, ordered a reconnaissance...

Our soldiers numbered five hundred and forty. They were assisted by auxiliaries consisting of a detachment of native constabulary in our pay -- their numbers not given -- and by a naval detachment, whose numbers are not stated. But apparently the contending parties were about equal as to number -- six hundred men on our side, on the edge of the bowl; six hundred men, women and children in the bottom of the bowl. Depth of the bowl, 50 feet.

Gen. Wood's order was, "Kill or capture the six hundred."

The battle began-it is officially called by that name-our forces firing down into the crater with their artillery and their deadly small arms of precision; the savages furiously returning the fire, probably with brickbats-though this is merely a surmise of mine, as the weapons used by the savages are not nominated in the cablegram. Heretofore the Moros have used knives and clubs mainly; also ineffectual trade-muskets when they had any...

General Wood was present and looking on. His order had been. "Kill or capture those savages." Apparently our little army considered that the "or" left them authorized to kill or capture according to taste, and that their taste had remained what it has been for eight years, in our army out there - the taste of Christian butchers.
One hates to use the phrase, tainted as it is by the touch of the Ole Perfesser, but: read the whole thing.

In any contest between a propagandist and a genius, you may be sure the early returns will favor the former; but thereafter the tide may turn. Boot regrets history's neglect of Wood, though I would say in this case history is actually maintaining an embarrassed silence on him. I suspect Clio's treatment of Boot will be less kind.

1 comment:

  1. Twain is awe inspiring when he is angry and that piece is one of the best. It gives the same feelings as Dylan's Masters of War.