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Column: Let The Bells Of Freedom Ring

One hundred years ago, during its war on Spain the U.S. invaded the Philippines, sprayed bullets far and wide, and put the entire country under martial law.

The result was costly for the U.S. - it created a habit of imperialist agression that is still with us today. And it was also costly for the Philippines: an entire generation suffered from the violence associated with a brutal occupation, or the resulting disease and political turmoil.

In Balangiga, the U.S. Army made slaves of the residents and turned the place into a work camp.

With indefatigable spirit, the local residents decided not to take it any more. Church bells of the local Catholic parish began to ring, signalling a revolt, and 45 U.S. soldiers died.

In response, the American commander gave orders to murder - "everyone in sight," which they promptly did. The result was as many as 50,000 dead men, women and children.

But, like the FBI at Waco, the U.S. military in the Philippines had only one end in mind - total victory.

Adding insult to massacre, the U.S. Army then stole the church bells and took them to Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wyoming, where they hang today.

But now the parish in the Philippines wants them back as a symbol that all this is just ancient history. They even built the belfry at the parish in anticipation of the bell's return.

But as we've seen in the Waco case, the U.S. government is notoriously unwilling to admit error, particularly bloody, egregious error. Hence, so far, the bells have not been forthcoming, despite the efforts of many groups to intervene and put to an end the parading of objects of worship as war loot.

No, instead the U.S. Congress has passed a resolution forbidding the return of war booty without its authorisation.

In case you think the Filipinos are making an unjust demand, consider the context. There was no justification for either the U.S. presence in the Philippines or the violence with which the U.S. carried it out. At stake was little more than a militarised trade dispute between Spain and the U.S., while Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines were caught in the crossfire.

An American officer testified in a letter to the Philadelphia Ledger on November 11, 1901: - "Our men have been relentless, have killed to exterminate men, women and children, prisoners and captives, active insurgents and suspected people, from lads of ten up, an idea prevailing that the Filipino was little better than a dog."

This gentleman was writing in defence of the war.

Neither was this the attitude of a few recalcitrant soldiers. Using religion as his cover, President William McKinley later justified his behaviour in similar terms.

Recall that the Philippines was largely Catholic, which the U.S. Protestant ruling elite did not consider to be a Christian religion. And what better way to treat these supposed non-Christians than to starve and kill them?

In a similar way, the Branch Davidians in Waco were considered to be a dangerous and uncivilised cult that needed to be mainstreamed or exterminated. They resisted and suffered, as so many before them have suffered for their beliefs, religious or otherwise.

In his book The Costs of War, Joseph Stromberg, says overall 270,000 soldiers and civilians died from gunfire, starvation, and the effects of concentration camps.

The Philippines oppression continued for most of the first half of the century, in which the U.S. continued to enforce its rule.

Why? The short answer is that the government wanted to expand its power and that of its connected interests, regardless of the costs. Why did the U.S. Army kill so many? The people resisted. Why did the Army steal the bells? Arrogance - the same impulse that led the FBI to plant the U.S. and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms flags over the razed Waco compound. The BATF is an agency of the U.S. Treasury.

The U.S. can't give back the lives of the people of the Philippines that it took in 1898, but it can damn-well give back the church bells that it stole.

And it sure-as-hell must do what it can to make it up to the surviving Branch Davidians who suffered under the same regime 100 years later.

So let the bells of freedom ring.

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