The Long View: Hearts and minds

Hearts and minds

First posted 00:58:43 (Mla time) December 15, 2005 
Manuel L. Quezon III 



THE Portuguese dictator Antonio de Oliveira Salazar drew a commentary in the Times of London in 1961: “Who has not often felt the distaste with democratic politics which Salazar expressed when he said that he ‘detested politics from the bottom of his heart; all those noisy and incoherent promises, the impossible demands, the hotchpotch of unfounded ideas and impractical plans… opportunism that cares neither for truth nor justice, the inglorious chase after unmerited fame, the unleashing of uncontrollable passions, the exploitation of the lowliest instincts, the distortion of facts… all that feverish and sterile fuss?'”

From the time of Alexander the Great, the impatience of the soldier with talk and more talk has entranced millions. The inability of elected leaders, the institutions they belong to, and the public (when it has the opportunity to select those leaders), to choose rational, responsible people to wield authority often leads to temptation to do away with those who govern, and isolate those who choose the ones who rule. “Line them up against the wall, and shoot them!” How often have we heard that? Far too often — and, perhaps, far more often now than at any time since the Ferdinand Marcos years.

Benito Mussolini wrote a summary of our government’s — and really, any government’s — policies in reaction to the increasingly threatening attitude of the more troublesome in the opposition (if not exactly the people). He began by posing a question: “Was there ever a government in history that was based exclusively on the consent of the people and renounced any and every use of force? A government so constituted there never was and never will be. Consent is as changeable as the formation of the sands on the seashore. We cannot have it always. Nor can it ever be total. No government has ever existed which made all its subjects happy. Whatever solutions you happen to give to any problem whatsoever, even though you share the divine wisdom, you would inevitably create a class of malcontents.”

He went on to ask another question, and answered it by insisting on a harsh solution: “How are you going to avoid that this discontent spread and constitute a danger for the solidarity of the state? You avoid it with force — by employing force inexorably where it is rendered necessary. Rob any government of force and leave it only with its immortal principles, and that government will be at the mercy of the first group that is organized and intent on overthrowing it.”

The danger, of course, is that the solidarity of the state (as Mussolini put it) or national security (as the government expresses it) depends on the armed forces. There is difficulty, though, in a divided armed forces, and there are enough crudely written manifestos floating around to suggest that this may be so. The attitude of the soldier who would tear up the oath to the Constitution and the Republic was best exemplified in an interview Francisco Franco (future Generalissimo of Spain) gave during the Spanish Civil War. The Q&A went like this:

Q. How long, now that the coup has failed in your objectives, is the massacre to go on?

Q. What would your government do, if you won?

A. I would establish a military dictatorship.

Q. What would happen to the politicians of the republic?

A. Nothing, except they would have to go to work.

Q. Why were you able to collaborate with the government in apparent loyalty for so long?

A. I collaborated loyally as long as I thought the Republic represented the national will.

Q. What about the February elections? Don’t they represent the national will?

A. Elections never do.

A struggle for the “hearts and minds” of our soldiers, by all accounts, has been going on for some time. It’s no coincidence that Fr. Romeo Intengan, S.J. has published the outline for an essay on the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), focusing, in particular, on the question Mussolini asked: How is the state to defend itself?

Intengan suggests: By knowing how seductive the enemy is, pointing, in particular, to the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP). Its “Lt. Crispin Tagamolila Movement,” he warns, is actively enlisting members of the AFP to the cause of revolution. Intengan views the repeal of the Anti-Subversion Law during the Fidel Ramos administration as a great error; and suggests that internal security has been neglected too long. While he recommends — as many sensible people have recommended — a reexamination of the National Defense Act because it is now outmoded in its concern with external aggression, one has to wonder if his concern with internal security is the answer. As far as protecting the state, it just might be; but it might be an effort along the lines of patching up a battleship just as the sailors are plotting mutiny.

The real concern is the one brought up by Intengan, but for reasons very different from what others may be considering. By this, I mean the obvious concern in Intengan’s paper over the way our soldiers might be seduced and corrupted by communist thought; though laced as his paper is with Social Democratic thought, he is arguing over which brand of Socialism should be triumphant, and obviously he believes the CPP version (“Stalinist,” he describes it bluntly) is wrong.

Which brings up the most pressing question of all. With some soldiers saying they have the answers, and too many Filipinos saying they want the soldiers to provide leadership, do we really know what our soldiers think? Or those claiming to think for them have in mind? If the manifestos circulating are any guide, their thoughts can only fail to inspire. Those who would lead must tell us more. To ask a people to take a leap of faith into the arms of those with bayonets is a dangerous proposition even in the worst of times.

Manuel L. Quezon III.

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