On an earlier blog entry here you may have read my open letter, Dear Lance Corporal Smith, which appeared early in January. I challenged the Corporal in the letter to transform his situation into a moment of opportunity for himself and his nation by requesting that his superiors rise to the challenge in training and all war making to develop soldiers of the future who cannot and will not violate the integrity and rights of the cultures where they are sent to perform. I also challenged him to consider another kind of soldiering, nonviolent peacemaking. After its posting the letter received a number of responses, some challenging the appropriateness of my letter, and others thanking me for it. Now I am back on the subject once again with a few more musings. I have not received a note from Smith nor have his guards at the US Embassy responded, to my letter.
Here is the story in brief. When I arrived in Manila on the first day I was greeted by news stories about a US Marine rapist who had been arrested by Filipino authorities, tried and convicted in a Filipino court process. However, in a startling late night operation the young Marine had been moved from a Filipino jail to the US Embassy as his case wound it way through the appeals process. The move opened 108 year old wounds about the nature of the Filipino nation and the continuing ability of an imperial grasp to reach within Filipino checks and balances of justice to make things work out for super power needs.
I suspect that somewhere in the belly of the State Department inside the machinery of what is called US foreign policy there was a debate, papers were written and strong arguments made on the appropriateness of such a move. Something similar may have happened within the Filipino government. In the end on both sides there was an agreement to act as the Christmas holidays approached. It was short term needs on both sides that won out over long term healthy process and democracy. The Filipino government needed the support of the American administration one more time because of its weakened condition of public support from its people. The American government needed to get rid of or take control of a cover up of one more military calamity. In the long run everyone is a loser but politics is not very often the art of building deep foundations of trust and deep roots for justice. In our time it is the art of finessing problems in the months and years between elections. Politics is the art of painting the foundation in the hope that no one will notice the termites.
The political analysis was pretty obvious, but how to respond as a helpful actor. The outrage of Flipinos was everywhere. The silence of the international community deafening. Where I came from no one had even heard of the incident and probably never would unless as sometimes happens in human affairs, this rape case becomes one of those flukes of opportunity to tell the truth of life and death in war like Abu Ghraib or My Lai. Suddenly and unexpectedly a single event works its way to the top of world consciousness. This leads to investigations and hearings.
This was the Philippines that I had left 25 years ago, but with a twist. In those days people would say with heads hung low, “Its so hard to fight the empire.” Then they might go on to do just that in their little ways. This time there was a convergence of groups and individuals, a kind of festival uprising like happens in the Philippines when things move ahead a little. Therefore for the first time the people and the state said no, not here, you don’t rape us any more. How many times had there been rapes of Filipino women by American soldiers over the last 108 years. Never once had one of those soldiers been brought to justice under Filipino law. Now it happened. Victory? Yes! But very muted victory because the long reach persists through the late night removal to the US Embassy..
I have been taught that an adult relationship invites looking into the face of unfairness, pain of the past, admission of error. Then there is a process of reconciliation, occasional flashes of light which lead to new confidence and sometimes a new relationship of hope. And this means victims no longer rely upon the habits of victimhood and the abusers forsake the fleeting security of forced relationships. The incident shouted to me from another distant war in Iraq. Old victims need to talk to new victims so that all of us, the children of the invaded and the children of the invader are not trapped forever in a relationship of dysfunction. Some folks my think it hysterical and silly that a convicted rapist could be the instrument for more respectful soldiering. But its not beyond the reach of possibility in this age of surprise.
It is, of course, ridiculous to think that an Iraqi government would invite Filipinos to come and make some suggestions for them on how to limit the social and physical destructiveness of foreign soldiers. It’s ridiculous but of course most of the break throughs in the last century were ridiculous so my little suggestion is my way of keeping hope alive. I have learned to expect surprises and hope for them just like those Filipino festivals of hope that culminate in various manifestations of People Power.
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