The Last Ship Leaving

While some mistakenly blame the Trump administration for China’s meteoric rise to economic and military hegemony around the globe, it’s not a recent phenomenon.

Where there is a vacuum, China will fill it.

As a matter of fact, I can name at least two instances in the 1990s where I had a front row seat to our gradual abdication as a “player” on the world scene: the Philippines and Panama.

Ironically, I happened to be on the last ship leaving each country after the formal cutting of our official ties. 

This is my story.

 

 

“We’re goin’ ‘ome, we’re goin’ ‘ome,

Our ship is at the shore,

And you must pack your ‘aversak

For we won’t come back no more!”

 

— Kipling, “Trooping” (1890).

 

We called it “Subic,” but the earlier Spanish referred to it as “Subig,” true to its ethnic Tagalog language origin. After existing for almost seven decades as an exotic, naval backwater in the middle of “monsoon Asia,” Naval Station, Subic Bay, Republic of the Philippines, became by 1968 America’s premier overseas base in the Pacific Ocean if not the world. This tremendous expansion can be attributed to Subic’s utilization as an entrepot for both ships and military personnel en route to duty in the war zone, only 600 miles across the South China Sea. Subic was, in the parlance of the sailors and Marines passing through on the way to Vietnam, the jumping off place, the last stop before the “heart of darkness.”

There was always a troubled relationship between the United States and what was essentially its last overseas colony, although some residents of modern Hawaii, Guam and Puerto Rico might beg to differ. We got into the “Great Game” of imperialism as a result of our victory over Spain in the Spanish-American War of 1898, receiving several of Spain’s former colonies as war reparations in the Treaty of Paris which officially ended the war. The acquisition of the Philippines was extremely controversial in the United States, with many not understanding how a democracy could justify enlarging its boundaries by acquiring colonies, however far away.

Immediately after the ratification of the Treaty of Paris (1898), a proclamation issued by President William McKinley, sarcastically known to many as the “Benevolent Manifesto,” declared that “the future control, disposition and government of the Philippines are ceded to the United States.”

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