THE POET AS THE JOURNALIST
At best, Taguba said, “Rumsfeld was in denial.”
--from Seymour Hersh's article on Gen. Taguba in the New Yorker
What renders Taguba’s uncompromising report an act of poetic justice that everyone, especially Filipinos, should applaud is that here was a brown-skinned man refusing the traditional role of loyal, hear-no-evil, see-no-evil, speak-no-evil subaltern: he would be no Gunga Din, no Tonto to a masked man.
--from Luis H. Francia's article (replicated in full below) in the INQUIRER
Meritage Press author Luis H. Francia is also a journalist. Here's a reprint of a timely column he wrote for the Philippines' Inquirer below -- I think it's "must reading", along with the referenced New Yorker article HERE regarding U.S. Army Major General Antonio Taguba and Iraq.
Rumsfeld's and generally (pun intended) the Bush Administration's treatment of Gen. Taguba is the seed, btw, for a new poetry manuscript I've just begun. Its working title? COLLATERAL DAMAGE. Anyway, here's Luis' article in its entirety
Salt of the Earth
By Luis H. Francia
New York—Last January, U.S. Army Major General Antonio Taguba retired after thirty-four years of active service, even if he might very well have added at least one more star to his current two, given the arc of his career. Until the spring of 2004, not many had heard of the general, who was a Manila boy for the first eleven years of his life. Those who did know him seemed to have the highest respect for his intelligence, integrity and professionalism. That spring, however, the general’s anonymity came to a spectacular end when his classified report, on the use of torture at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, was leaked to the press, making headlines around the world and exposing the brutality and humiliations inflicted by American military guards on Iraqi prisoners.
The report scandalized those who never thought Americans would stoop to such inhumane tactics; on the other hand, it confirmed the view of people, myself included, who believe that not only did the United States have no business invading and occupying Iraq, it was doing so in less than honorable fashion. And, perhaps most importantly for the boots on the ground, the accounts—especially of acts of sexual humiliation--further inflamed the Arab world, bolstering the ranks of jihadists.
The sordid, vivid images of the abuses repelled. How could such acts of sadism be part of the “export of democracy”? In fact, the history of U.S. military campaigns against nonwhite combatants is characterized by a brutality that feeds on an underlying and persistent racism that comes through in the language used to describe the enemy other, from “the only good Injun is a dead Injun” in the genocidal wars against Native Americans, to “savages,” “googoos,” “Japs,” “Chinks” and “gooks” in the various wars in Asia, beginning with the 1899 Philippine-American War, to “ragheads” in the case of the Iraqis.
One sad consequence of the general’s report was that it also effectively curtailed his career. Last month, a long New Yorker piece by Seymour Hersh provided, mainly through interviews with the general himself, the back story to Taguba’s investigation and its far-reaching implications. The article’s subhead read: “How Antonio Taguba, who investigated the Abu Ghraib scandal, became one of its casualties.”
In the article, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld comes across as a manipulative, self-serving politician, a trapo, seeking to avoid responsibility for the failures in Iraq, both moral and military, while his coterie of top Pentagon officials perform as ass-kissing palace courtiers. Taguba tells Hersh, “[Rumsfeld] and his aides have abused their offices and have no idea of the values and high standards that are expected of them.”
Early on, the general realized that, as he put it to Hersh, “I was already in a losing proposition. If I lie, I lose. And, if I tell the truth, I lose.” He did what anyone with a conscience would have done: lose, honorably. As messenger of unpalatable truth to power, he was shot, though here of course the messenger himself crafted the message. What renders Taguba’s uncompromising report an act of poetic justice that everyone, especially Filipinos, should applaud is that here was a brown-skinned man refusing the traditional role of loyal, hear-no-evil, see-no-evil, speak-no-evil subaltern: he would be no Gunga Din, no Tonto to a masked man.
Filipinos have been in the ranks of the U.S. military for more than a century now, fulfilling their roles and functions--somewhat similar to those of the Gurkhas in the British military—valiantly, professionally and quietly. The general’s own father, Tomas, served in the Philippine Scouts during World War II, was taken prisoner after the fall of Bataan, and took part in the infamous Death March. He managed to escape and join the American-led Filipino resistance to the Japanese occupation.
I doubt that it was easy for Taguba to put together his report. I also doubt that he ever wavered once he decided to go ahead with his damning conclusions. I can’t say for sure, not having had the opportunity to meet and talk to him (as I certainly hope to one day), so I can only conjecture that what helped propel him towards Newton’s “great ocean of truth” were not just his strict upbringing but at least two experiences mentioned in the Hersh piece.
One was Taguba’s finding out, in 1997, about his reticent father’s wartime exploits and the subsequent two-year research that resulted in his father being awarded on his eightieth birthday with the Bronze Star and a prisoner-of-war medal at a ceremony in Hawaii. The other is Taguba being subjected to discrimination as a young man in uniform.
Hersh quotes Taguba as saying, “without bitterness”: “Let’s talk about being refused to be served at a restaurant in public. Let’s talk about having to do things two times, and being accused of not speaking English well, and having to pay myself for my three master’s degrees because the Army didn’t think I was smart enough. So what? Just work your ass off. So what? The hard work paid off.”
Having spent his adolescent years in Hawai’i, where Filipinos rank low in the social hierarchy, the general must have already been made painfully aware of both racial and class discrimination even before joining the military. Hersh didn’t render explicit the connection between Taguba the person of color and Taguba the investigator, and of course he didn’t have to, since his focus is on how Taguba’s report came to be. But the subtext is there: the person who experiences the sting of racism firsthand tends to be particularly attuned to its occurrence elsewhere, especially in instances where the jailers (or colonizers or occupiers, all of whom play nearly identical roles) are overwhelmingly white and the subject population overwhelmingly not.
The attitude towards the prisoners at Abu Ghraib is perhaps best summarized by what a senior general in Iraq told Taguba, that these people “were only Iraqis,” the implication that they were somehow not fully human loudly echoing innumerable earlier assessments, from Balanggiga to My Lai, and particularly General William Westmoreland’s infamous statement during the Vietnam War, that “The Oriental doesn't put the same high price on life as does a Westerner. Life is plentiful. Life is cheap in the Orient.”
A full-page photograph of Antonio Taguba accompanies the Hersh piece. Take a look at it: No question General Taguba is a brown man, salt of the earth. He faces photographer Mary Ellen Mark squarely, his countenance calm and open. Neatly dressed in a suit and tie, with an American flag pin on his lapel, he reminds me of the earlier generations of manong who also looked directly and unashamedly at the camera, though those manong, being younger then, had a hint of swagger and bravado in their stance, necessary plates in their protective armor against the pervasive xenophobia of pre-war America—something that has been revived in post-9/11 America.
Now that he is no longer on active duty, Manong Taguba has apparently begun to quietly campaign on behalf of Filipino veterans of World War II, whose ranks are being depleted at the rate of eight deaths a day on the average, and who continue to be denied full benefits for their service to Uncle Sam. In 1942 close to 300,000 Filipinos resisted the Imperial Japanese Army, either through the United States military, or as American-led guerrillas.
In 1942 President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had guaranteed that these soldiers would be granted full benefits, same as any other American veteran, but his successor, Harry Truman, signed into law the Rescission Act of 1946 that stripped these benefits away from the Filipino vets. In the immediate aftermath of the war, Manila was hardly in any position to protest this appalling reversal.
Some benefits have since been restored, but not full equity. According to Rudy Asercion, a friend and colleague of General Taguba and U.S. Navy veteran living in San Francisco, approximately 18,500 veterans are still alive – 4,500 in the U.S., and the rest in the Philippines. Asercion comes from a family with a long and proud history of U.S. military service: his grandfather was the first Filipino chief bandmaster in the U.S. Navy; his 24-year-old father, Dick, vacationing in the Philippines when the war broke out, was captured and killed by the Japanese.
A member of the American Coalition of Filipino Veterans, the Veterans War Memorial Commission, and public relations director of American Legion District 8, Asercion has been a staunch advocate for full equity since 1989. He believes a bill being considered by Congress--S.1315, the Veterans Benefits Enhancement Act of 2007, sponsored by Senator Daniel Inouye, a WWII veteran from Hawai’i—has a very good chance of being signed into law later this month.
It contains a modified version of the Filipino Veterans Equity Act, proposed in previous years but never passed. What passage will mean in terms of actual monetary benefits remains to be seen, given the spiraling costs of the war in Iraq and the consequent budget deficit. The proposed law hopes to remedy the miscarriage of justice that has stood for sixty-one years. It will be too late, of course, for all those brave men and women who have since turned into dust.
And there’s the rub: such a long and shameful treatment of loyal veterans is in some ways as bad as if not worse than the abuses of Abu Ghraib.
Copyright by Luis H. Francia and the Inquirer
Labels: COLLATERAL DAMAGE