William Howard Taft

Remarks at the Banquet of the Washington Corral of the Military Order of the Carabaos

January 22, 1910

Mr. Carabao Paramount and other Carabaos, and those of us who are permitted to enjoy your hospitality:

I am sorry to say that this is the first time I have had the privilege of attending a Carabao dinner. I am also sorry to say, if I understand the situation, that I have not been pressed to come to other dinners until this one because of the reforms that you have initiated so as to be certain that now a dinner shall be "dull and respectable." I don't know whether it was with that in his mind that your presiding officer called on "my Brother Tillman" to open the ball; but after Brother Tillman got to work, the presiding officer looked to me like that farmer who yoked himself with a heifer and, when they started down the hill, overcome with the error he had made, said, "Here we come, damn our fool souls, won't somebody stop us?" I don't know whether he struck the bottom yet or not, but in the interest of humanity I am going to do the best I can to head off that team.

Now my friend, the distinguished Senator from South Carolina, I have known well, have been glad to know, have been honored by his friendship, and I want to assure you that he is a good deal better fellow than you sometimes think from what he says. He is not always one who sits and talks, thinking about the race question and miscegenation and amalgamation and that sort of thing. He does have other thoughts, but when he gets on his feet and starts on that slippery subject, it requires a good deal of force or a good deal of poise to keep him from going farther than he really wanted to go himself.

Now he tells my friend from Cuba that we are going to annex Cuba. Well, I don't think so. He thinks that because Cuba has a race question, we have got to mix their race question with our race question and have a sort of result with sulphur rising from it that is going to consume the world. I don't believe that. I don't believe the Senator does, except as these words roll from his lips, and they have rolled from his lips now since '99 on the Senate floor, and from the stump, and have never accomplished anything in the election, and yet he can not get over it.

The Philippine question or the Philippines as a subject present themselves to me in two different lights—in three perhaps: One in the picturesqueness of the reminiscences that come to you as you look back to the three or four years of life that you spent in that beautiful country under conditions sometimes of privation, sometimes of discomfort; but the discomfort, the privations disappear in your memory; and when the beauties and the strangeness of those islands and the life in them come back to you, and you do feel—I feel it myself—I know it exists, that "Call of the East" that Kipling speaks of in his poem, that makes you yearn to be back again on that beautiful Luneta in Manila, and see the sun go down over the mountains of Marivailes—a picture matchless in all its coloring rises in your memory to make you thank God that you have had the opportunity to be there. [See APP Note.]

Now in the history of our stay in the Philippines there were times when the army was to the front, when nothing but war was there; when the Filipino fighting as best he could and taking the instruments that the Lord had given him, among which were stealth and easy change from being a friend to an enemy and back again—there arose between the army and those little people a feeling of enmity, a feeling of contempt on the part of the American soldier for soldiers who would resort to the ruses that they resorted to, and which led to the killing of our brave men. It was inevitable that for a time a bitterness should exist and a contempt arise that should find its expression in some of these poems to which my friend the Senator has referred. Then you came, after the war disappeared, into contact with that people, and found them after all a simple people, a courteous people, a people under the influence of the tropical sun, not too energetic, but a people who, childlike in their dependence, if they gave it to you, could win your affections as few people could—at least that is the way I felt. I know they had a verse out there, "He may be a brother of William H. Taft, but he ain't no friend of mine"; but that was because I occupied a different relation to him from that which the army occupied toward him.

Then there comes what the army did there. My friend, the Senator, thinks it was nothing to be proud of. That is because my friend the Senator does not know what the army did, and what the navy did in a less way. It was upon the army that there fell the burden of eliminating an insurrection that extended the islands' full length, and they had to be divided up into five hundred different posts and they had to put small detachments of the army under command of lieutenants and second lieutenants, and even sergeants, and trust to the ability of the non-commissioned officer and the young commissioned officers to carry on independent campaigns in the neighborhood of the post to which they were assigned in stamping out this insurrection. No army, and I assert it without any fear of contradiction, could have offered that knowledge, that independence of judgment, that self-reliance on the part of those young officers that enabled it as a whole ultimately and quietly and softly—and—I had almost said—peaceably to bring about a condition of pacification in the islands and to stamp out an insurrection so difficult to overcome. And in those campaigns there was an opportunity for individual bravery and courage that is not exceeded by any opportunity in the Civil War or any other war that this country was engaged in.

And this Signal Corps which was referred to to-night in a jocular way, may point to a record of loss in death and wounds in those islands that I think has been equaled by no other signal corps, and perhaps by no other corps in any other army.

Now the Senator says that he has been allowed to think, but the officers of the army have not been. Well, I confess that under the circumstances, with the result of the fight, I think the army is ahead of the Senator. What we went to the Philippines to do was to defeat the fleet of an enemy in a war that was begun as no other war in the history of the world—no other foreign war—from pure altruism; and we got into the islands and we had them on our hands before we knew what the consequences were to be. And when they came into our hands there seemed to us—at least to those of us who were responsible—and my friend the Senator has had the advantage for the last fifteen years—I hope he may continue to have it for fifteen years—of not being at all responsible for the Government—the obligation of doing the right thing. The question was, "What are we going to do?" Are we going to let those islands go into chaos; are we going to turn them back to Spain with the charges against the domination of Spain that were made? Or are we to take them ourselves and develop them as best we may under our institutions? Now my friend the Senator is troubled about taxation without representation, and about the Declaration of Independence. I am not going into those arguments and I am not going to point out to my friend the Senator some of the most glaring instances that I could point out in his view of the Constitution in South Carolina and his view of the Philippines. What I do say is, and I say it with a knowledge of McKinley, and I know the Senator and I share in the respect for President McKinley's memory, that President McKinley went into those islands with great reluctance and assumed the burdens which were most heavy to him of introducing a government there which should be the best for the islands. Now, of course it is a matter of dispute how good a government we have there. Having taken part in its formation, perhaps it is improper—or at least I speak as a prejudiced witness—but I believe that the ten years of government in the Philippines has made that people a far happier people than they would have been under any other conditions that might have been presented by our taking a different course. They enjoy to-day a free trade tariff on the one hand and the right to sell in a protected market on the other. That was long coming, but we have ultimately secured it. We have saved the rice of our friend the Senator from South Carolina. We were asked to stave off a little bit of the injury to the tobacco and the sugar of other parts of the country. They are now beginning, as I believe, an industrial progress there that means an elevation of those people intellectually and spiritually in such a way that we can continue to extend to them, from time to time, additional self-government. We now have put them under one chamber which is elected popularly, sharing the government with a commission upon which there are a number of Filipinos.

Now the cost has been considerable. Five hundred million dollars has been mentioned. My impression is that the cost is not so much, and that will have to include what is the cost of a war, and a war always costs most heavily. But the actual cost depends upon how you count the army, whether you would count it that we would have an army of the present size if we did not have the Philippines, or would not. Personally, I should have an army of this size, whether we have the Philippines or not, and therefore I don't think the cost goes beyond six or seven million dollars a year. Counting it the other way it is very considerably more.

Now a third question which arises is the effect of the Spanish War and our going to the Philippines upon the country at large, upon our standing before the nations of the world, and upon our opportunities for usefulness as a prosperous, powerful country. And I think in that record perhaps the Spanish War and what followed are more important than in any other aspect. I know it is easy to make fun of a proposition that we as a nation have an obligation because of our power and wealth to assist other nations that may be thrown upon us in such a way as to call for our aid and support; but I do believe in the brotherhood of nations, and I do believe that nations are like members of a community and. a neighborhood where the wealthy and the powerful and the more fortunate owe it to the weaker and the less fortunate to assist them when circumstances point in that direction.

As a matter of fact the result of the Philippine War, our ownership of the Philippines, our ownership of Porto Rico, our friendship for and close relation to Cuba, our assertion of an interest in South America and an interest in the Isthmus bringing us into close relations with Central America, and our assertion of a right to the "open door" in China, have put us in a position forefront among the nations of the world; and I believe we have no right to neglect the opportunity to take such a position or the opportunity to use that position for the progress of civilization in the world. Now the result of that war, short as it was, involving as little blood as it did, was remarkable. The expansion of the United States as a great world power dates from that time. We are not going about seeking to aggrandize ourselves, seeking for territory in China or anywhere else.

We are building the Panama Canal now for the benefit of the world, and at the same time to aid us in our commerce and to strengthen and double the force of our Navy. The broadening of our people with regard to those problems, the liberalizing of the army, or making the army a body—and especially the officers—a body of well-read gentlemen, men of affairs—all date from that time.

Now I deprecate the tone of my friend Senator Tillman's statement that we are ashamed of all this. Well, I am not ashamed of it, because if it had not come that way I should not have been in the White House, I know, and if he expects me to shed tears over that he is mistaken. I think I know our army and navy well enough to know that while they sing these songs that at times hold up to ridicule our "little brown brothers" in the Philippines, they look back to that service with pride, and with the belief that they accomplished what no other army could have accomplished in the same time and under the same circumstances, with as little blood and as little oppression. It may be as I say that I am a prejudiced witness. I am. Nevertheless a witness may be prejudiced but he may have such an advantage in opportunities for observation which are denied to those who are only free from prejudice, as to make his evidence better than the judge who sits on the case. I am sorry I did not have the opportunity of welcoming to the Philippine Islands my Brother Tillman. There were some of his Democratic brethren whom I entertained there with great pleasure and into their sphere of vision I think we introduced some things that changed their aspect, changed their views I should say, of the situation there. They deplored what we had to do, but they thought we were doing it well. The truth is, while my friend the Senator comes from South Carolina and the South, I think I know something of the attitude of his brethren in the South with reference to the Philippine Islands and this general policy of expansion, and I think we could have a vote on that alone without introducing the race question and all that sort of thing—the wisdom of our taking the Philippines as we have taken them, and developing them as we are developing them, teaching them English and extending to them, as they show themselves fit, self-government. Then the time may come, and I hope it may come soon, when they shall be ready to take over a government like that of Australia or Canada, and I say so not because we might not be willing to part with them, but because they will find that under the present arrangement, under the tariff as arranged there and the tariff as arranged here, it is greatly to their advantage to retain some sort of bond, no matter how light, which will justify their continuing to enjoy the benefit of our markets with a free trade tariff toward the Orient.

And now, my friends, I have talked a good deal longer than I intended to; but my friend the Senator whispered to me that he would not have said a word if he had not desired to start me up, so I had to gratify his desire and show him that he was successful. I thank you my friends for giving me this opportunity to bring back the reminiscences of the Philippines. There were times in the Philippines when the nervous strain upon those who were responsible was tremendous and the more tremendous because we were so far removed, it seemed, from Washington and the people of the United States. There were times, and there were many, when the beauties of life in that country, when the associations that we made there, when the feeling that we did have a people who were grateful at times and who listened to us as children, depending on us and having confidence in us—gave us a pleasure in doing the good which we thought we were doing, a pleasure that knows no measure, for there is nothing in life equal to the consciousness of having attempted to do good for a people and having in. a measure succeeded.

There is one other thought that I wanted to give you, and that was in relation to the carabao. He too received, I must say, unmerited condemnation from my friend the Senator, not for lack of sympathy with the dumb beast, but again for lack of opportunity for observation. There is no animal that is the friend of the Filipino like the carabao. He moves slowly, he moves deliberately, but he moves always in the right direction, and he gets there after a time without respect to obstacles. It is unwise in dealing with the Filipino or in dealing with anything in the tropics to suppose that you are going to make headway suddenly. The carabao represents the right policy in working out the problems in the East, and I congratulate you on having selected that animal as an indication that you know how to accomplish things in the Philippines Ill as I was in 1902, for three or four months, and confined to my bed in the First Reserve Hospital in the Philippines, Mrs. Moses sent me a full set of Kipling's volumes, and in the head note to one of the chapters entitled "Naulahka" I found a verse that gave me a great deal of consolation, and if I can remember it I want to recite it as a justification for your selection of this animal as typical of your policy and our policy and our hopes and yours in the Philippines:

Now it is not good for the Christian's health to hustle the Aryan brown;
For the Christian riles and the Aryan smiles and he weareth the Christian down;
And the end of the fight is a tombstone white, with the name of the late deceased;
And the epitaph drear, "A fool lies here who tried to hustle the East."

APP Note: The president spoke at the New Willard Hotel in Washington, D.C.

The Military Order of the Carabao was founded in 1900 to lampoon another military group that called itself the Order of the Dragon.  The carabao is a small water-buffalo peculiar to the Philippines. The Order of the Carabao persisted into the 21st century as an association of members of the military who have had extended foreign service.

The reference to Marivailes is a non-standard spelling of Mariveles, a municipality in the Philippines and also the name of a Volcano.

The Naulahka is a lesser-known work by Kipling; the word is an Indian word for 900,000 rupees.

William Howard Taft, Remarks at the Banquet of the Washington Corral of the Military Order of the Carabaos Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/365248

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