Monday, January 5, 2009

More Freedom, Whether You Want It Or Not

There was one more bit I wanted to quote from James Traub's The Freedom Agenda, and rather than insert it into a post that was already too long, I thought I'd give it a post of its own:
And so, having taken the islands, it was our duty to "impart to [the Filipino people], if it be possible by contact and sympathy, and example, the drill and habit of law and obedience which we long ago got out of the strenuous processes of English history." As England did for us, so we would do for the Philippines.
The quotation is from Woodrow Wilson, writing in 1902. I'm not sure Traub's summary accurately restates Wilson's assumptions, though Wilson does seem to come perilously close to it.

Traub is assuming an analogy that breaks down under the lightest scrutiny: England was to the United States as the United States was to the Philippines. A better analogy would be: England was to the American Indians as the United States is to the Philippines. The settler-colonists who broke away from England in 1776 were the English; they brought English history and law with them.

The English did not bring "the drill and habit of law and obedience" to the Indians; they drove them from their land, killing them off as convenient. The Americans treated the Filipinos somewhat differently, killing off a few hundred thousand of them in a brief period and then organizing what could probably be called a puppet government of collaborators under American governance, with (as Traub put it) "a strict control over the franchise." (See my earlier post for more details.)

Maybe I shouldn't assume that Traub actually believed what he wrote there; maybe he was just paraphrasing Wilson's position as he understood it. Given the attitudes he exhibits in the rest of his book and his slapdash approach to history, though, I think he agreed with Wilson, or with what he thought Wilson was saying.