PEACE PROBE by Gene Stoltzfus

Philippines: Dear Lance Corporal Smith, by peaceprobe
January 9, 2007, 8:55 am
Filed under: Militarism, Philippines

Dear Lance Corporal Smith,

When I arrived in Manila five days ago I heard your name, Marine Lance Corporal Daniel Smith, in conversations everywhere and saw you in headline news. You are now a celebrity but I am sure you would prefer if all the furor over your arrest and conviction by Philippine authorities for the rape of a young Filipino woman would just go away. Your commanders also hope it will go away. Did you know that your late night secret removal from a Manila jail to the US Embassy by joint US and Filipino authorities has stirred up feelings of loathing, anger and distrust towards your government and the government here. When you enlisted in the Marines so many months ago could you have thought your life would change forever? I write to share some thoughts about how to turn your horrible situation into good. If you already understand why this mess is so big just skip to the last paragraph.

People here think your late night removal from jail after your conviction was a sleazy way to get you back into US authority. Matters of rape are always serious and demand a response from law but you should know that much of the anger here is not directed at you personally. You were just a Marine whose ship had temporarily docked in a former American Naval Base, Subic Bay. However, the entire incident has opened and irritated old wounds stretching back through more than a century of unequal partnership between the US and the Philippines.. I cannot list all of those wounds and certainly your basic military training did not inform you of that troubled history. For example, did you know that once just over a century ago another soldier, a General also named Smith, ordered the extermination of every Filipino on Samar a Philippine island far to the south of Manila. So you see the name, Smith is known here. Like King Herod in the time of Jesus, the name Smith is remembered here and is synonymous with death. But it’s not fair to make you the scapegoat of unhealed wounds – long forgotten or perhaps never known by your commanders. People here, however, have not forgotten

I really don’t know you personally Corporal Smith but I believe you deserve fairness. Like your colleagues in the US Marine Corps,,I have been working around the world for many years. Like you, I have been trained in struggle for peace and security. In fact for the last 20 years I have been working to develop a peacemaker corps that is as trained in the arts of unarmed peacemaking and nonviolent change as you are in soldiering. I am pleased to say that I have even met quite a few Marine soldiers like you who are exploring the possibility of someday laying down their gun to become unarmed peacemakers. My colleagues have been captured, killed, wounded, maligned, misinterpreted, and harassed in the line of duty, so our work is not safer than your work. We are taught to keep our hearts soft and mellow to God’s nudges, especially in times of violence and crisis.

Which gets me back to your situation. I know your commanders are desperate to free you from the Philippine law. I have just learned that Admiral William Fellan, Commander of the Pacific had ordered the suspension of joint exercises with Filipino troops scheduled for early this year as part of an effort to free you from Philippine jurisdiction. And another thing – the Admiral also ordered the suspension of a US special survey team to help assess the damage from a recent typhoon here. You know very well that the American people are generous, especially in times of disaster. To me and maybe even to you, it feels mean and petty to suspend emergency humanitarian relief efforts because of anger over your conviction for rape.

Or perhaps this suspension of aid is because two years ago, the Philippine government withdrew its forces from Iraq after kidnappers there demanded their removal to free a Filipino contract worker who was a hostage? You know Corporal that was a big problem here because the Filipino people were very uneasy about sending troops to Iraq. The government here was forced by public opinion to withdraw. It didn’t make your President feel very good.

The size of this response to your conviction surely surprises you too, Lance Corporal Smith. I know a little bit about hostage taking because some of my peacemaking colleagues were also taken hostage in Iraq and one was killed. You are caught in the midst of the feelings of millions. But I have been thinking. Is there a way that you can take this horrible mess and turn it into good. And I have an idea.

You have a lot of spare time. How about going online to write letters and send messages of appeal to your fellow soldiers and their commanders to respect the law wherever they serve. Remind them of international covenants. Remind them of the rights of prisoners still held in Iraq and around the world. Remind them of Abu Gharib, where the lower ranks like you were left to take the blame and the punishment for prisoner abuse. Remind them of the sordid history of rape and soldiering. Remind them that it’s still happening. Remind them to study the deaths of 25 Iraqis at Haditha Iraq now that your fellow soldiers there are being investigated. But Lance Corporal Smith don’t just remind them. Challenge them!

Turn your own horrible action into a call for change. Insist that wherever American soldiers go, the quality of treatment of local people is more important than the quality of your ability to handle a gun or defeat those you call the enemy. Remind them that if this kind of behavior continues without training, without guidance, and without a moral vision, it will bring down our nation. When you enlisted in the Marines, Corporal Smith you agreed to uphold the constitution and thereby the moral vision of your nation and people everywhere. You can turn dilemma into an opportunity. Thank you for listening. I really do wish you well. I believe you can turn this around and there are a lot of people who would be pleased to help you.

Gene Stoltzfus


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