Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

This #GivingTuesday, whatever is your first priority, your second priority has to be independent media.

2021 has been one of the most dangerous and difficult years for independent journalism that we’ve ever seen. Our democracy is facing existential threats including the climate emergency, vaccine apartheid amid deadly pandemic, a global crisis for biodiversity, reproductive freedoms under assault, rising authoritarianism worldwide, and corporate-funded corruption of democracy that run beneath all of this. Giving Tuesday is a critical opportunity to make sure our journalism remains funded so that we can stay focused on all your priority issues. Please contribute today to keep Common Dreams alive and growing.

Please Help This #GivingTuesday -- Though our content is free to all, less than 1% of our readers give. We’re counting on you. Please help Common Dreams end the year strong.

A U.S. soldier fires an anti-tank rocket during a live-fire exercise in Zabul province, Afghanistan, in July 2010. (Photo: U.S. Army/flickr/cc)

A U.S. soldier fires an anti-tank rocket during a live-fire exercise in Zabul province, Afghanistan, in July 2010. (Photo: U.S. Army/flickr/cc)

US Public Remain the Tacit Accomplice in America's Dead End Wars

Honor the fallen, but not every war they were sent to fight

Not least among the victims claimed by the coronavirus pandemic was a poetry recital that was to have occurred in March at a theater in downtown Boston.

I had been invited to read aloud a poem, and I chose “On a Soldier Fallen in the Philippines,” written in 1899 by William Vaughn Moody (1869-1910). You are unlikely to have heard of the poet or his composition. Great literature, it is not. Yet its message is memorable.

The subject of Moody’s poem is death, a matter today much on all our minds. It recounts the coming home of a nameless American soldier, killed in the conflict commonly but misleadingly known as the Philippine Insurrection.

In 1898, U.S. troops landed in Manila to oust the Spanish overlords who had ruled the Philippines for more than three centuries. They accomplished this mission with the dispatch that a later generation of U.S. forces demonstrated in ousting regimes in Kabul and Baghdad. Yet as was the case with the Afghanistan and Iraq wars of our own day, real victory proved elusive.

Back in Washington, President McKinley decided that having liberated the Philippines, the United States would now keep them. The entire archipelago of several thousand islands was to become an American colony.

McKinley’s decision met with immediate disfavor among Filipinos. To oust the foreign occupiers, they mounted an armed resistance. A vicious conflict ensued, one that ultimately took the lives of 4,200 American soldiers and at least 200,000 Filipinos. In the end, however, the United States prevailed.

Denying Filipino independence was the cause for which the subject of Moody’s poem died.

Long since forgotten by Americans, the war to pacify the Philippines generated in its day great controversy. Moody’s poem is an artifact of that controversy. In it, he chastises those who perform the rituals of honoring the fallen while refusing to acknowledge the dubious nature of the cause for which they fought. “Toll! Let the great bells toll,” he writes,

Till the clashing air is dim,
Did we wrong this parted soul?
We will make it up to him.
Toll! Let him never guess
What work we sent him to.
Laurel, laurel, yes.
He did what we bade him do.
Praise, and never a whispered hint
but the fight he fought was good;

In actuality, the fight was anything but good. It was ill-advised and resulted in great evil. “On a Soldier Fallen in the Philippines” expresses a demand for reckoning with that evil. Americans of Moody’s generation rejected that demand, just as Americans today balk at reckoning with the consequences of our own ill-advised wars.

Yet the imperative persists. “O banners, banners here,” Moody concludes,

That he doubt not nor misgive!
That he heed not from the tomb
The evil days draw near
When the nation robed in gloom
With its faithless past shall strive.
Let him never dream that his bullet’s scream
went wide of its island mark,
Home to the heart of his darling land
where she stumbled and sinned in the dark.

At the end of the 19th century, the United States stumbled and sinned in the dark by waging a misbegotten campaign to advance nakedly imperial ambitions. At the beginning of the 21st century, new wars became the basis of comparable sin. The war of Moody’s time and the wars of our own have almost nothing in common except this: In each instance, through their passivity disguised as patriotism, the American people became tacitly complicit in wrongdoing committed in their name.

It is no doubt too glib by half to claim that today, besieged by a virus, we are reaping the consequences caused by our refusal to reckon with past sins. Yet it is not too glib to argue that the need for such a reckoning remains. Have we wronged the departed souls of those who died — indeed, are still dying — in Afghanistan and Iraq? The question cries out for an answer. In our cacophonous age, it just might be that we will find that answer in poetry.

© 2021 Los Angeles Times
Andrew Bacevich

Andrew Bacevich

Andrew J. Bacevich, a professor of history and international relations at Boston University,  is the author of "America’s War for the Greater Middle East: A Military History" (2017). He is also editor of the book, "The Short American Century" (2012), and author of several others, including:  "Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country" (2014, American Empire Project); "Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War" (2011),  "The New American Militarism: How Americans Are Seduced by War" (2013), "The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism" (2009, American Empire Project), and "The Long War: A New History of U.S. National Security Policy Since World War II" (2009).

... We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Research Reveals How PR Firms Have Spent Decades Fueling Climate Misinformation

"The best time to stop working for fossil fuel clients was 20 years ago, when we had much more time to stop the climate emergency. The second best time is now."

Jessica Corbett ·

Progressives Decry US Gun Control Failures After 'Truly Sickening' Michigan School Shooting

"A 15-year-old shooter may have picked up the weapon, but Congress—through its inaction on gun violence—may as well have handed it to him."

Brett Wilkins ·

New Climate Study Predicting More Rain Than Snow in the Arctic 'Rings Alarm Bells'

"There are huge ramifications of these changes," said the lead researcher, "all of which have implications on wildlife populations and human livelihoods."

Jessica Corbett ·

Durbin Introduces Amendment to End 'Legacy of Cruelty' by Closing Guantánamo

"It's time at long last to face reality and... close the detention facility at Guantánamo. Let's put this dark chapter behind us once and for all."

Brett Wilkins ·

With SCOTUS Set to Hear Abortion Case, Anti-Choice Groups Prepare to Enact 'Post-Roe Strategy'

Right-wing groups are lobbying lawmakers to pass state-level restrictions and ban sales of abortion pills, should Roe v. Wade be overturned.

Julia Conley ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.

Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo