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Roosevelt on Freedom: From Filipinos in 1904 to Muslims Today May 6, 2009

Posted by Daniel Downs in Central America, Democrats, foreign policy, freedom, Muslims, politics, Republicans, secularism.

n what follows, I am going to cite and paraphrase at length from a letter written on April 4, 1904 by President Theodore Roosevelt, a man of extraordinary erudition, wisdom, and courage. Roosevelt wrote more than 100,000 letters and 40 books, but his letter of April 4, 1904 is especially relevant to Israel [and to Moshe Ya’alon’s interview in The Jerusalem Post of May 1, 2009]. The letter concerns the question of Philippine independence and may well be applied to the question of Palestinian statehood [endorsed by Ya’alon]. Of course, I mean no disparagement of Filipinos.

Before continuing, it should be noted that in 1898 the United States acquired the Philippines and Cuba as a result of the Spanish-American War,

Roosevelt’s April letter refers to a petition signed by a number of what he calls “very high-minded citizens” whose intention was to present the petition to the Republican and Democratic conventions in June. The petition urges the United States to “pledge itself to give political independence to the Philippines sometime in the future.”

Roosevelt regarded the petition not only as futile but as “purely “mischievous.” The Republican convention, he says, will not consider it because the Republican administration—meaning his administration—is endeavoring to better conditions in the Philippines and has met with great success in its efforts. Hence “it cannot afford to set back this particular work by doing something which would be worse than foolish.”

“The Democrats,” he continued, “may possibly adopt the program, for they may think they will get some votes by it; and they will be wholly indifferent to the damage done either to the Philippines or the United States, provided that damage does not unfavorably affect their chance in the [forthcoming November] election.” [Is something like this happening among Democrats today?]

Roosevelt questions the double-standards of southern Democrats who support the petition. These Democrats would apply the “consent of the governed” doctrine of the Declaration of Independence “to brown men in the Philippines” when these Democrats owe their presence in Congress solely to the fact that they have nullified the voting rights of the black man at home in violation of the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution.

Roosevelt then questions the seemingly lofty motives of northern Democrats who support the petition. He does so in terms that may be applied, respectively, to many left-wing Israeli and American democrats vis-à-vis the Palestinians and the Iraqis.

It seems, he says, “that very many men who sincerely feel that they are conscientious have in this matter of the Philippines … became absorbed in the essentially … selfish task of sacrificing [their] duty to others to the business of trying to save their own souls. The easy thing, the cheap thing, to do is sign a petition or make a speech in favor of abandoning a difficult and doubtful task, washing our hands of all responsibility of the matter, leaving the Filipinos to the impossible task of working out their own salvation.”

“The hard thing, the wise and brave thing, is to keep on … working for the actual betterment, moral, industrial, social, and political of the Filipinos; the task of laying the foundation of growth which we believe will in the end fit them for independence.”

Roosevelt went on to say that the Filipinos “will not be fit for independence in the next half dozen years or dozen years, probably not in the next score or two score of years. Further than this we cannot say.”

Even though he personally believed the Filipinos would ultimately get their independence, to say this is to express “the belief of what will happen in a future too remote to entitle it to any weight among those working to solve the problems of the actual present …” Any such expression which the petition calls for would be misleading. “A promise of independence to the Filipinos means to them a promise of independence in a reasonably near future, or else [it] would be a promise to do them the utmost damage we can do—for this is precisely and exactly what granting them independence in the near future would mean. We are far more necessary to the Filipinos than the Filipinos are to us.”

“Freedom,” says Roosevelt, “does not mean absence of all restraint. It means the substitution of self-restraint from external restraint, and therefore can be used only by people capable of self-restraint … It is not a matter of reading Rousseau in the closet, but by studying the needs in each particular case.”

Unaffected by the cultural relativism that modulates radical democrats today, Roosevelt boldly asserts that “There are nationalities and tribes wholly unfit for self-government; there are others singularly fitted for it; there are many between the two extremes. Cuba we believed to be fit for it, provided we threw certain safeguards around her, and gave her a short preliminary training…. At the time many unwise people wished to turn Cuba adrift at once, to her own irreparable damage. This we declined to do. We kept her for four years and then gave her independence under certain qualifications. She is now more prosperous than any other Spanish-American republic of approximately the same size.” Of course, Batista and Castro had yet to appear when Roosevelt penned these words,

But consider what he said of Santo Domingo. “In Santo Domingo a hundred years of freedom, so far from teaching the Santo Domingoans how to enjoy freedom and turn it to good account, has resulted so badly that society is on the point of dissolution …”

Returning to the Philippines, Roosevelt points out that “the questions we have to decide are not in the least theoretical. They are entirely practical, and can only be decided if there is knowledge of the facts. The Filipinos are not fit to govern themselves. They are better off in every way now than they were before. They are given a larger measure of self-government than they ever had before, or than any other Asiatic people except Japan now enjoys.”

Roosevelt’s statement applies to the Palestinian Arabs, who prospered and enjoyed more individual freedom under Israeli rule than under the despotic rule of the Palestinian Authority.

Although the Philippines achieved independence on July 4, 1946, political instability and violence still punctuate life in that country. This would not surprise Roosevelt, who was a close student of world history, anthropology, and human nature.

We have no such statesmen like that in the United States, and certainly not in Israel whose political elites—to put it mildly—are backward compared to Theodore Roosevelt. So the leaders of the two countries continue to pursue the mindless and deadly charade of a Palestinian state. They seem to have learned nothing from history—something despised by Shimon Peres.

But are they really ignorant of the fact that a vast majority of the Palestinians are committed to Israel’s annihilation? Are they really ignorant of the fact that these Arabs have taught their children to emulate suicide bombers, and have even used them as bombs to kill Jews? Are they so blind or brainless as not to see that it would take one or two generations to overcome this barbarism, this genocidal hatred?

Or are they simply too timid to face the terrible truth that devastating violence may be required to sear from Muslim consciousness the ethos of jihad, the love of war, that has animated Arab-Islamic culture since Muhammad? Was not such devastation necessary to make warlike Germany and Japan peace-loving?

This is the ugly truth about Islam, so obvious in the Hitlerian statements of Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and manifested in the Arab’s deliberate bombing of school children in Israel.

To negotiate with Muslims is worse than futile: it arms them and disarms us. When Teddy Roosevelt said, “talk softly and carry a big stick,” he was not referring to barbarians.

One last word. The devil has many disguises. He likes to appear as good, compassionate, peace-loving, even as a servant of God. He has disciples even among secularists in democracies. They will be found across the political spectrum—today concentrated among the cultural left. There is a mystery here—the “mystery of iniquity.” Does anyone believe that Israel’s ruling elites—so easy to accuse of folly and cowardice—have succumbed to the devil? Can the devil be defined as absolute egoism parading as altruism?

By Prof. Paul Eidelberg

Source: Edited transcript of the Eidelberg Report, Israel National Radio, September 10, 2007. Presented as a preface to his May 4 commentary on Moshe Ya’alon’s Interview in The Jerusalem Post of May 1, 2009.



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