The Empire Strikes Back

The Tribal Rites of America's Military Leaders. No Wonder They're Bullish on War.

Saddam Hussein, of course, is likely to dominate this Saturday's sketches, skits, and songs. Last year's villain was an obvious choice, sparking such ditties as "Big Bad Bin Laden" and "An Afghan Lullaby." The Carabaos, founded by officers who thought of themselves as fun-loving, poked fun at their own obsessions with the "Contractor's Ode to Joy." (Ernie Sult, a featured voice in that one and a member of the evening's "Taliban Boys Choir," reportedly brought down the house at a 2001 Gridiron Club gathering with a Joe Lieberman shtick.) The Carabaos' Star Wars medley featured songs by "Rummy Skywalker," "Darth Biden," "Mediadroids," "Industrydroids," and even "Princess Condoleia"—though her ode to unilateralism was sung by a white guy.

The most fiery musical manifesto, however, remains the original one, "The Soldier's Song." In 1914, President Woodrow Wilson, hardly noted for a progressive stance on race, publicly flogged the Carabaos for their insults to Filipinos. The song already had been softened by the substitution of "insurrectos" for "Filipinos."

(With apologies to Maurice Sendak)
illustration: Jeff Crosby
(With apologies to Maurice Sendak)

Despite such songs, the Carabaos have their defenders. "The historic songs do reflect a racism prevalent in the military and in society at large at the beginning of the 20th century," one person heavily involved in the Philippine Scouts Heritage Society acknowledged to the Voice. (The society honors those Filipinos whom the U.S. convinced to fight against their revolutionary brethren.) That person said he has attended a Wallow "and saw absolutely no evidence that such attitudes toward Filipinos exist."

The general public isn't able to see a Wallow, or even read stories about one so that it can make up its own mind about that. For the most part, the Herd thunders only in closely guarded seclusion.

"Look, we have never given out press passes," Ghormley, the group's official historian, told the Voice. "We have never been fond of having press there. Now, some journalists have come—in fact some are even members—but we do not give out passes to any of the press."

Apart from brief mentions in obituaries, just about the last time a Carabao reared his horned head publicly was in 1985, when General Dynamics Corporation was caught billing the government a little more than $1000 so that its employees could wallow with the Herd.

But with so many government officials openly donning desert gear and strapping on six-shooters these days, the Carabaos may not need to be so circumspect on Saturday night when the U.S. Marine Band strikes up the tune to "It's a Long Way to Tipperary," a popular World War I anthem for solders who were pining for the gals back home. The Carabaos' version is "It's a Long Way to Old Manila," in which they pine for "the happy Empire Day."

Ian Urbina is a journalist based at the Middle East Research and Information Project in Washington, D.C.

"The Forgotten History of U.S. Imperialism in the Phillipines" by Luis H. Francia

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