Bay Area Peace Navy

Fleet Week October 11, 2008
The Bay Area Peace Navy hit the San Francisco waterfront to criticize the centennial of the Great White Fleet and the Philippine-American War!

Roosevelt 1908, McCain 2008: San Francisco and the American thirst for Empire

The Republican National Convention resolutely affirmed that our next president will be a God-fearing patriotic American who is not afraid to extend military might around the world to shine our benevolence upon the heathen. This call to serve as the world’s policeman was eerily reminiscent of events a hundred years earlier, when president Theodore “Teddy” Roosevelt paraded the brand-new U.S. Navy across the Pacific in a bid to be seen as the new top dog on the world stage. Since history can often offer good lessons, perhaps it’s worth examining the events of a century ago.

Between May 6 and July 7, 1908 San Francisco Bay hosted the most powerful naval fleet assembled to date – among them sixteen battleships of the Atlantic Fleet, later known as "The Great White Fleet" because they were painted white except for gilded bows. President Roosevelt had been assistant secretary of the Navy before serving in the Spanish-American War, and was dedicated to expressing American military power around the world. This naval tour was a bold bid to counter a growing Japanese presence in the Pacific. Presidential hopeful John McCain’s grandfather was on that expedition as a junior officer.

Our 1898 war against Spain in Cuba had enormous popular support, but the later conflict involving U.S. subjugation of the Filipinos (the Philippine-American War) was a vicious and ugly campaign that lasted until 1914. As U.S. aspirations towards empire became evident, the patriotic shine wore off, and brave citizens began to raise their voices in protest. Among them was the great American author Mark Twain, who advocated the position that "An inglorious peace is better than a dishonorable war." Twain, with many other prominent figures such as Samuel Gompers of the American Federation of Labor and Jane Addams, first woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, formed the Anti-Imperialist League to challenge this expansionist tragedy.

Openly racist views of the Filipinos underscored public debate and policy. Newspapers and magazines of the day depicted Filipinos as children and monkeys.

Whole villages were relocated into concentration camps, a tactic echoing both the Spanish military practices we had earlier criticized in Cuba and foreshadowing the "strategic hamlets" we would establish in Viet Nam. Estimates of civilian deaths from famine, disease, and other war-related causes range from 200,000 to 600,000.

A hundred years later, these same issues resonate about our role in Iraq. Our detention camp in Guantánamo is a relic of the Spanish-American War. Many of the issues are grotesquely similar - controversy over methods used to extract information from prisoners ("waterboarding" now, back then a similar practice called the "Water Cure"), massacres of Muslim civilians, and racist depictions of the enemy. A naval incident in the Gulf of Iran involving unidentified radio heckling of U.S. ships was eventually blamed on a "Filipino Monkey," a derogatory term from a popular song written around 1900.

In 1981, San Francisco mayor Diane Feinstein instituted Fleet Week, a direct homage to the glory of Teddy Roosevelt's imperial force. At the time, the U.S. Navy had numerous facilities in the region, but with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, San Francisco's naval presence is virtually extinct. All that’s left is the unfunded toxic cleanup, yet the annual event persists, an increasingly obscene expense of tax dollars. The Bay Area Peace Navy, among others, has called for its conversion to a broader and more inclusive celebration of the bay, like Seattle's annual Seafair.

2008 marks the centennial of a dark period in U.S. history, and an electoral opportunity to not set the clock back a hundred years. The Peace Navy will be on the water October 11 with the Fleet Week’s Parade of Ships, our message “No More American Empires.” We urge citizens to reflect on our history and vote for peaceful and constructive approaches in our role as members of a global community.

For more information, contact
Lincoln Cushing, 510-418-5193

The BAPN has endorsed the Free Gaza Movement boat convoy from Cyprus to Gaza August 5, 2008

The BAPN joins Direct Action to Stop the War in demonstrating at Chevron's Richmond Refinery to demand that
Chevron stop contributing to global warming, the war in Iraq, and releasing pollution in Richmond and beyond.
BAPN peaceful demonstration off of the Chevron Long Wharf March 15, 2008

Marv Feldman and kayak Shui Gen and crew Kuani, with "Energy Champion" tanker in background Kuani and kayak Kuani and crew Kuani and crew 2 No Blood for Oil "Energy Champion" tanker and kayak

all photos provided by Bay Area Peace Navy; large format image available by clicking on title

"Coast Guard demonstrates its security readiness in S.F. Bay, Exercise coincides with planned protests Saturday"
By Erik N. Nelson, Oakland Tribune article

see other items on the Bay Area Peace Navy
Photos by Eric Slomanson circa 1990
Haight-Ashubury Free Band, 1990
Peace Navy history by founder Bob Heifetz