Kermit Snelson on Mon, 3 Mar 2003 11:32:04 +0100 (CET)

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<nettime> The Military Order of the Carabao

Along with aircraft nose art, here's another one of the US military's many
interesting cultural traditions.


The Empire Strikes Back
by Ian Urbina
The Village Voice
January 29 - February 4, 2003

This Saturday, more than a thousand of America's top military and
government leaders and their guests are scheduled to gather at the Omni
Shoreham Hotel in Washington, D.C., for a secretive tribal rite called the
103rd Annual Wallow of the Military Order of the Carabao.

And they won't be singing "Kumbaya."

In fact, on what these days feels like the eve of war, nothing says
"imperialism" better than the annual Wallow, which celebrates the bloody
conquest of the nascent Philippine Republic a century ago in the aftermath
of the Spanish-American War.

The exclusive Military Order of the Carabao (named after the mud-loving
water buffalo) was founded in 1900 by American officers fighting in the
Philippines, so naturally there will be a lot of singing and cigar smoking
by the 99.9 percent male crowd. Recent guests have included Colin Powell
and General Richard B. Myers, current chairman of the Joint Chiefs of
Staff, and many of the country's top military leaders are listed as
members. (You have to be an officer to even be considered for membership.)

Acting like a cluster of Klingons, the guys will toss around revered
imperial slogans, such as "Civilize 'em with a Krag!" referring to the
rifles used by Americans to kill thousands of Filipinos, who had fought
Spain for their freedom and didn't want to be handed over to another
colonial power.

And there will be rousing speeches, like last year's address by top
honoree James Schlesinger, the Nixon-era CIA director and defense
secretary, who decades later is still an influential hawk urging a new war
with Iraq.

A place was reserved at the head table for President George W. Bush, who
was a no-show, but Schlesinger, who received the Carabaos' Distinguished
Service Award, delivered an appropriately bellicose speech, telling the
crowd, "Someone once said that war is hell, and peace is heaven. But we
know that the opposite is true: War is heaven, and peace is hell."

An aide to Schlesinger told the Voice late last week that Schlesinger said
he recalls saying, "You know, General Sherman had it all wrong. It's not
war that's hell, it's peace that's hell." The aide added that Schlesinger
didn't have time to talk further about the Wallow but that what he told
the crowd was a "humorous remark made in reference to the defense
budgetary situation."

The conclusion is the same in both versions: "Peace is hell." As more than
a thousand Carabaos and their guests roared approval of that notion, it
wasn't difficult for an observer to conclude that an imperial renaissance
is upon us.

The Carabaos rarely rear their heads in public, even though war
correspondents can be chosen as "associates" and a few mainstream
reporters attend their events. But a guest who had been attending the
Wallow for several years was fully debriefed right after the 2002 bash
last February and furnished the evening's seating chart, song lyrics, and
other documents.

As our mole reported, the mood of the Wallow varies from year to year,
depending on how much military spending is going on. The February 2002
crowd, basking in the second year of Bush's rule, was enthusiastic. "This
year was totally different," one attendee said at the time. "With the
current White House and all the overseas activity, military confidence is
way up. I can't tell you how many excited comments there were about the
new budgetary reality."

This Saturday, after another year of even more frenzied military spending,
the Carabaos ought to be friskier than the bulls in Pamplona. "This year
is extremely packed," Rear Admiral Ralph Ghormley, a Carabao official,
told the Voice last week. "In fact, we had to turn away over 100 people
who wanted to attend."

One thing that fires up the bulls never changes: the bellowing of the
Carabao anthem, "The Soldier's Song." At the 2002 Wallow, the room was
already thick with smoke—every place setting had been adorned with (forget
that embargo) an authentic Cuban cigar—when a voice said, "Gentlemen,
please turn to your songbooks," and the U.S. Marine Band, seated to the
side, struck up a tune. The Carabaos, most of whom seemed to know the
words by heart, lustily sang the first stanza's story of the dreaded
"bolo" (the Filipino revolutionaries' machete—they had few guns) and
deceitful "ladrones" ("thieves"):

In the days of dopey dreams—happy, peaceful Philippines, When the bolomen
were busy all night long. When ladrones would steal and lie, and
Americanos die, Then you heard the soldiers sing this evening song:

And then the bulls and their guests rhythmically banged their fists on the
tables during each rendition of the chorus:

Damn, damn, damn the insurrectos! Cross-eyed kakiac ladrones! Underneath
the starry flag, civilize 'em with a Krag, And return us to our own
beloved homes.


The chorus originally began: Damn, damn, damn the Filipinos! The U.S.
soldiers chanted the second line's surviving racial slur about Filipinos
as "khaki-colored thieves" while marching through the jungle. Some
accounts say that, as the Americans marched and sang, some of them carried
ears they had lopped off the Filipinos' heads and kept as souvenirs.

Bloody ears aren't part of the rites of a modern-day Wallow, but most of
the Carabaos' other traditions have survived intact. And if this year's
mud-fest holds true to form, the revelry will be even more enthusiastic
than usual, and it will no longer simply feel like nostalgia. The
drumbeats of war against Iraq will sound to this crowd like the rebirth of
an American Empire.

A typical Wallow features parody songs by members of the Herd that
satirize politicos and often smack liberals who try to slash the
Pentagon's budget. "It's the military-industrial complex's answer to the
Gridiron," as one regular described it, referring to the annual dinner put
on by D.C. journalists and politicians.

The Wallows' guest lists often include not only the most powerful money
people in the nation's vast military industry, but also the top political
figures. An aide to Secretary of State Powell said the general didn't make
last year's Wallow but confirmed his presence at the 2000 bash and told
the Voice that he has often attended them.

Ancient Strom Thurmond was plunked down at the 2002 Wallow's head table,
where he was assigned a cigar alongside those reserved for Schlesinger,
General Myers, Pete Aldridge (the Pentagon's chief of acquisition,
technology, and logistics), Dov Zakheim (the Pentagon's comptroller),
Gordon England (top deputy to Homeland Security czar Tom Ridge), Sean
O'Keefe (the NASA director), and other bigwigs. Marine General Peter Pace,
the vice chair of the Joint Chiefs, and Air Force Secretary James Roche,
both Carabaos, were assigned the roles of hosting tables of their own.

Among the assigned greeters was last year's Grand Paramount Carabao,
General P.X. Kelley, a retired commandant of the marine corps, whose last
real tour of duty was the 1992 GOP presidential primaries, when his
pro-war TV pitches helped deliver the South for George Bush the Elder
against isolationist Pat Buchanan. Joining Kelley on the Reception
Committee were General Alfred M. Gray Jr., the marine commandant during
the previous war with Iraq; Admiral Thomas H. Moorer, a chairman of the
Joint Chiefs during Vietnam; and an assortment of other admirals and

Last year's Grand Paramount Carabao-Elect, presumably the bull who will
lead the charge this Saturday, is Admiral James M. Loy, a former coast
guard commandant who heads the Transportation Security Administration, the
agency now responsible for U.S. airport security. His experience in making
fun of Filipinos may come in handy when his security personnel run into
dark-skinned travelers: Last August, Loy told The Boston Globe that the
controversial practice of profiling "has the capacity to serve as one of
the growth elements" of his brand-new agency.

Carabaos pop up in other situations involving minorities or others
fighting discrimination. The last all-male Advisory Council at the
Citadel, the South Carolina school that was the scene of serious gender
discrimination battles in the '90s, was chaired by retired army general
Jack Merritt, a Carabao, and included at least three other bulls: Moorer,
retired marine commandant General Carl Mundy, and retired Atlantic Fleet
chief Admiral Wesley McDonald. Under Merritt's watch, the Citadel's
Advisory Council was finally prodded into adding its first women members.

All four of those Carabaos were listed as members of the 2002 Wallow's
Reception Committee. When it comes to gays, however, Merritt, for one, has
not been so welcoming. In 1993, during the furor over the military's
"don't ask, don't tell" policy, Merritt, in his role as president of the
Association of the U.S. Army, spoke out against "avowed homosexuals." In
July 1993, during a House Armed Services Committee hearing on whether to
lift the formal ban on gays in the military, Merritt testified, "The
dynamic of the marine and a squad leader, the soldier and his lieutenant,
is one of trust. The first time the lieutenant helps a suspected
homosexual, he is in trouble."

Merritt and the other Carabaos also have the ear of that committee during
more relaxed times. One of the guests assigned a cigar at the head table
at the 2002 Wallow was Missouri's Ike Skelton, the ranking Democrat on
House Armed Services.

Sometimes it's difficult to tell who's working for the government and
who's working for the defense contractors. Pentagon official Aldridge, who
decides which defense contractors get the boodle, used to head a big
defense contractor, the Aerospace Corporation. Schlesinger not only has
ties to Wall Street, but is also chairman of the board of trustees of the
Mitre Corporation, a huge quasi-public operation, registered as a
nonprofit organization, which runs an array of research facilities working
with both the government and defense contractors and which has received
billions of dollars in government contracts.

The Carabao gatherings remain a good place for all these people to meet
because, even though the Philippine war's combatants may have died out,
the organization has relaxed its admission rules so it can always find
high-flying hawks it can turn into bulls. In 1993, any officer who served
in any overseas war, specifically Desert Storm, was deemed eligible to at
least submit an application to join the exclusive group and wallow around
every February in black tie, military dress uniforms, or even kilts.


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."

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

Copyright © 2003 Village Voice Media, Inc.

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