Tom Engelhardt: Pentagon Officials Are Remembering Our History the Wrong Way

Roundup: Historians' Take

Tom Engelhardt, in the, a weblog of the Nation Institute (Feb. 20, 2004):

Let's remember, when we do our historical multiplication tables, that everything happening now began somewhere, some time. Take the construction and engineering company Kellogg, Brown & Root, now serving (and feeding) our troops in Iraq in so many overpriced ways . It was founded as Brown & Root in Texas in 1919; sponsored the political career of, and was then sponsored in its search for government contracts by Senator Lyndon Baines Johnson; after being swallowed up by Halliburton, a burgeoning oil-services firm, in 1962, it followed vice president, then president LBJ into Vietnam where it was deeply involved in constructing"infrastructure" - bases and the like - for the U.S. military. As Jane Mayer reminds us in her recent New Yorker article on Halliburton and its former CEO, our present vice president, in those rebellious and sardonic days Brown & Root was known to many American soldiers by the familiar nickname,"Burn and Loot."

And so it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut might say. And so it continues to go, as KBR, still part of Halliburton, supports the American effort in Iraq to the tune of multi-billions in support of another vice president with an even closer relationship to the company. What pet names our soldiers in Iraq have bestowed on KBR this time around I don't know, nor do I know who built the"infrastructure" for our first great offshore imperial venture, our annexation and conquest of the Philippines over a century ago, though Filipino columnist Renato Redentor Constantino might well.

The war in Vietnam we're re-imagining and arguing over in this presidential season is but a pale shadow of the grisly event itself, and our no less grisly military years in the Philippines, which paved the way for Vietnam, are long gone from American memory, though, as Constantino wants to remind us below, they shouldn't be.

And yet it would be incorrect to say that no one remembers this ancient history. Perhaps it's just that the wrong people remember it the wrong way. Take the following recent remarks by former general and would-be viceroy of Iraq Jay Garner , who was quickly replaced by L. Paul Bremer in the early days of our Iraqi debacle:

"'I think one of the most important things we can do right now is start getting basing rights' in both northern and southern Iraq, Garner said, adding that such bases could provide large areas for military training. 'I think we'd want to keep at least a brigade in the north, a self-sustaining brigade, which is larger than a regular brigade,' he added.

"Noting how establishing U.S. naval bases in the Philippines in the early 1900s allowed the United States to maintain a 'great presence in the Pacific,' Garner said, 'To me that's what Iraq is for the next few decades. We ought to have something there ... that gives us great presence in the Middle East. I think that's going to be necessary.'"

Back in the years between the conquest of the Philippines and the war in Vietnam, the Pacific was sometimes spoken of here as"America's lake" and in the World War II years there was even a tin-pan alley tune with the pop title,"To be specific, it's our Pacific." Somehow,"America's desert" doesn't have quite the same ring to it, and I don't think the title,"To be specific, they're our oil reserves" would fly.

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