Iron Pants

Iron Pants: Oregon's Anti-New Deal Governor, Charles Henry Martin

I picked up Iron Pants: Oregon’s Anti-New Deal Governor, Charles Henry Martin at the WSU Press table during Wordstock this spring for Dad, and he lent it back to me after a weekend, having already polished it off (it is only a couple hundred pages). I’ve been delinquent about reading it — I’ve got a huge stack of partially-read stuff — but when I got into the early chapters, I was ready to write a post about some parallels the author seemed to be clearly drawing between Martin’s era and ours.

I thought the book was a new title when I bought it, but when I didn’t see it in WSU Press’s New Releases section, or in their online catalog, I looked at the Amazon page and realized that I was completely wrong. The book had been published in June 2000!

That makes passages like this — discussing Martin’s service in the Philippines during the Spanish-American War and the crushing of the Philippine insurrection and which I’d taken as somewhat influenced by the current situation in foreign affairs — even creepier (the quotes are from letters written by Martin in 1899 to his wife, Louise; Emilio Aguinaldo was the leader of the Phillipine insurgency against the Spanish and then the Americans, General Elwell S. Otis was the commander of the American forces):

Martin believed the situation had gone terribly awry. The U.S. Army fought a war of liberation against the Spanish. What was wrong with the Philippine people? Liberators should be met “with [a] surging mass of Filipinos on the way to make peace.” What do we get for an answer to our efforts, Martin asked. “Give us our independence or we [will] fight you to the death.” What if the fight replicated the American Revolution? We are told that history repeats itself,” he said. “Is Aguinaldo to become a George Washington & General Otis a Sir Henry [Thomas] Gage?”

While the standoff continued, General Otis clung tenaciously to the belief that Aguinaldo had no legitimate claim to power. Captain Martin nurtured his private doubts. “We are now face to face with the Filipinos who as we now know hate us and will fight us if we remain here.” The liberating mission that began the war changed so that “our actions of May are not our actions of December.” Would the rest of the world view the United States as just another imperialist power? Martin feared so. “I am not so sure that Aguinaldo’s able papers will not convince the people of the world that we have been guilty of bad faith,” he fretted. The precarious position of U.S. forces worried him. “Here in the walled city we are surrounded by 13,000 disarmed Spaniards & 35,000 of their sympathizers. In our front are 30,000 Filipinos.” Tempers reached the breaking point. One night, when someone killed a dog in one section of Manila, U.S. troops three miles away, hearing the shot, opened fire on Aguinaldo’s forces. Martin feared that “a few hot headed fools” would precipitate a bloodbath.”

After the Philippines, Martin went to China to quell the Boxer Rebellion.