As we stare into the deep abyss of a long-drawn asymmetric war in Mindanao, I remember Robert S. McNamara and his lessons of Vietnam in his book In Retrospect: The Tragedy and Lessons of Vietnam:
“By the time the United States finally left South Vietnam in 1973, we had lost over 58,000 men and women, our economy had been damaged by years of heavy and improperly financed war spending and the political unity of our country had been shattered not to be restored for decades.
Were such costs justified?
2. We viewed the people and leaders in terms of our own experience…
This is a lesson we have yet to learn: to view the world from the perspective of the other. To be humble enough to accept that our view is not the only view. We always think that people think the way we think and that we are the “same”. We are not. The Bangsamoro people is different from us and we are invited to also view the world, history from their own perspective. This has been one of the central issues of the Mindanao problem: the denial of the distinct history and future of the Bangsamoro people. A history and a future that is distinct yet closely intertwined with ours.
3. We underestimated the power of nationalism to motivate a people to fight and die for their beliefs and values – and we continue to do so today in many parts of the world.
There is a emerging consciousness of a Bangsamoro community with an aspiration of a separate and independent Bangsamoro homeland. This is a reality. This cannot be denied. It is an imagination that cannot be extinguished by bullets and bombs. It is an imagination that is growing by leaps and bounds and further spurred by the violent denial and rejection by our national leaders and national media as shown by the whole MOA on AD brouhaha. Values and meaning are more powerful than bullets.
4. Our misjudgments of friends and foes alike reflected our profound ignorance of the history, culture and politics of the people in the area, and the personalities and habits of their leaders…
Ignorance and arrogance is a lethal combination. I am aghast by the audacity of some politicians who, while totally ignorant of the history, culture and politics of Mindanao and who have not even “cared” about Mindanao and its problems, heckled the loudest in goading government to unleash the “dogs of war”. The people of Mindanao – Christian, Lumad and Bangsamoro – will never forget them and teach them a lesson in 2010 and beyond. This will be a nightmare that will continually haunt them throughout their public lives.
5. We failed then – as we have since -to recognize the limitations of modern, high technology military equipment, forces and doctrine in confronting unconventional, highly motivated people’s movements. We failed as well to adapt our military tactics to the task of winning the hearts and minds of people from a totally different culture.
This is a lesson that most of our soldiers in the field already know but which most of our “arm-chair” politicians are clueless about. Those who have been in the field for the longest time know that the “hearts and minds” of the people are the battlefields and not some hill or “base camp”. There is a limit to what arms and what war can produce. The problem in Mindanao is a political problem and requires a political answer.
6. We failed to draw Congress and the American people into a full and frank discussion and debate over the pros and cons of a large-scale U.S. military involvement in Southeast Asia before we initiated the action.
This lesson is something we have painfully learned (and which we might pay dearly with the lives and property of our soldiers and civilians in succeeding months) in the past few weeks. Because we have been wanting in getting the Filipino nation in a “full and frank” discussion and debate over the MOA on AD, our people were misled by overly-biased Philippine media, by hysterical senators who warned about dismembering the country, by a Supreme Court that overstepped the bounds of its jurisdiction and local politicians who cloaked their vested self-interests with apparent public interests.
7. We failed to retain popular support in part because we did not explain fully what was happening and why we were doing what we did. We had not prepared the public to understand the complex events we faced and how to react constructively…A nation’s deepest strength lies not in its military prowess but, rather, in the unity of its people.
…Underlying many of these errors lay our failure to organize the top echelons of the executive branch to deal with the extraordinarily complex range of political and military issues, involving great risks and costs – including above all else, loss of life.
It is unfortunate that we are so divided as a people at this point in our national life. The political divisions and distrust drowned the real debate on the substance of the political settlement aimed to solve the Bangsamoro problem. We have conducted ourselves like bratty kids, totally incapable of solving our basic domestic problems. These are sad times for us Filipinos. ###