Wallow- (n) A muddy area or one filled with dust used by animals for wallowing; a state of degradation or degeneracy. (v) To roll oneself about in an indolent or ungainly manner.
As more than 500 U.S. troops disembarked in the Philippines last February, double that number were suiting up on the other side of the world for one of Washington’s more secretive and bizarre tribal rituals. The exclusive Military Order of the Carabao, founded in 1900 by American soldiers who fought in the Philippines in the first years of the American Empire, was holding its 102nd Annual Wallow. Named after the mud-loving water buffalo of the Far East, the Carabaos have much to celebrate these days. Thanks to Operation Enduring Freedom, endless acres of lush new pasture have opened up.
“This year was totally different,” one attendee told us. “With the current White House and all the overseas activity, military confidence is way up. I can’t tell you how many excited comments there were about the new budgetary reality.” Former CIA director James Schlesinger, recipient of the Carabaos’ 2002 Distinguished Service Award, summed it up well in his acceptance speech: “Someone once said that war is hell and peace is heaven. But we know that the opposite is true: war is heaven and peace is hell.” The good times were back, and more than a thousand Carabaos and handpicked guests brayed their approval, leaving us to wonder whether an imperial renaissance is upon us.
Held this year at the swanky Omni Shoreham Hotel, the Carabao Wallow attracts top military brass as well as a bull-necked assortment of politicos and eager defense contractors. Those not in black tie or military dress uniform don a kilt for the four-hour extravaganza. Among the guests, called Hombres, there are precious few women. As recently as 1995, a Carabao scandalized the Herd by arriving with his wife in tow. The couple was forced to eat in the hall.
The evening’s entertainment includes a selection of songs, lovingly composed and performed by members of the Herd, satirizing public figures and current events, with particular emphasis on the lily-livered liberals and their endless efforts to cut the Pentagon’s budget boodle. “It’s the military-industrial complex’s answer to the Gridiron,” as one Wallow regular described it.
Ditties like “Big Bad Bin Laden” and ’’An Afghan Lullaby” aired contemporary concerns, while “Base Closing Blues” evoked the mournful spirit of a blessedly bygone era. But with the greatest appropriation windfall in U.S. military history inching toward approval, it seemed entirely appropriate that this year’s major dramatic theme was Star Wars. “Rummy Skywalker” and “Darth Biden” provided the catchiest lyrics. “Colin Solo’s Solo” drew an appreciative response from the crowd, and “Princess Condoleia,” a stirring ode to unilateralism, was affecting indeed, even with a white guy playing Condoleezza Rice.
Good laughs and stiff drinks were had by all. Many who lived nearby preferred to stay in the hotel: “rather than driving home to their wives, they could just stumble upstairs to their rooms, bottle in hand,” one onlooker reported. Most guests ignored the instructions to leave the bottles on the table after dinner, a policy initiated several years ago after a Carabao allegedly absconded with a lifetime supply of expensive booze.
This year’s guest list didn’t feature the usual heavy hitters—what with the war on terror being waged wide and far. Though invited to the Wallow, Capt. George W. Bush, USAF Reserve, did not attend. Nor did Colin Powell, who sat unobtrusively in the banquet hall in 2000. But the geriatric Sen. Strom Thurmond wouldn’t have missed it for the world. Joining him at the head table were, among others, Schlesinger and Gen. Richard Myers, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Peter Pace, the Joint Chiefs Vice Chair, and Air Force Secretary James Roche, both Carabaos, played gracious hosts at their own tables.
Once seated at his preassigned table, each tipsy reveler readied himself for a traditional rite: the bellowing of the Carabao anthem. By this point, the room was thick with smoke—every place setting had been adorned with an authentic Cuban cigar. A disembodied voice calmly requested “Gentlemen, please turn to your songbooks,” and the Marine Corps Band seated to the side picked up a lusty tune. The Carabaos, most of whom seemed to know the words by heart, launched into the first stanza, ferociously banging their fists on the tables at each and every chorus:
In the days of dopey dreams—happy, peaceful Philippines,
When the bolomen were busy all night long.
When ladrones would steal and lie, and Americanos die,
Then you hear the soldiers sing this evening song:
Damn, damn, damn the insurrectos!
Cross-eyed Kakiac Ladrones!
Underneath the starry flag, civilize ’em with a Krag,
And return us to our own beloved homes!
Social customs there were few, ladies all would smoke and chew,
And the men did things the padres said were wrong.
They did things that weren’t nice, but the padres cut no ice,
So you heard the soldiers sing this evening song:
Underneath a nipa thatch, where the lazy chickens scratch,
only refuge after hiking all day long.
When I lay me down and slept, slimy lizards o’er me crept,
Then you heard the soldiers sing this evening song:
Insurrectos come and go, but there’s one thing we now know:
Filipinos are among our fondest friends.
Though we love them to the hilt, still and all we love the lilt
Of this Soldier’s Song whose memory never ends:
Damn, damn, damn the insurrectos!
Cross-eyed Kakiac Ladrones!
Though we used to hate their hides,
Time has turned a lot of tides,
Which is why we sang the song in dulcet tones!
Fiery musical manifestoes like this one are hard to come by these days outside of museum displays. And “The Soldier’s Song” is by no means short on history. Its dulcet tones were first hummed by the “hikers”—soldiers dispatched to the Philippines in 1899 by President William McKinley to bring the Filipino independence movement to heel. Wielding smokeless Krag rifles, the forebears of today’s Herd trampled what they called the “Philippine Insurrection” under heavy hoof. Historians estimate that 16,000 Filipino guerrillas and 200,000 civilians—in addition to 10,000 American soldiers—were killed in a campaign that dragged on until 1916. As in a later colonial adventure in Southeast Asia, U.S. commanders made few distinctions between “amigo” and “insurrecto.” Villagers who did not enter “reconcentration camps” similar to Vietnam’s “strategic hamlets” were considered fair game by Carabao bulls.
Though unruffled by the continued American occupation of the Philippines, President Woodrow Wilson waged a halfhearted campaign against “The Soldier’s Song” in 1914, publicly lambasting the Order for its insults to Filipinos. He loftily reminded the Carabaos of “the high conscience with which they ought to put duty above personal indulgence, and to think of themselves as responsible men and trusted soldiers, even while they are amusing themselves as diners out.” When no one listened, Wilson blocked his Secretary of the Navy from accepting a promotion to lead bull of the Herd. Ironically, the offending anthem’s lyrics had been softened just several months before Wilson heard it (the original chorus went, “Damn, Damn, Damn the Filipinos”). Although not otherwise distinguished as a crusader against racism, Wilson may well have been an early specimen of the hated liberal-milquetoast type, the sort of guy Carabao idol Donald Rumsfeld would have stuffed in a gym locker had they been together at Princeton.
“The Soldier’s Song” emerged mostly unscathed from this early encounter with diplomatic propriety, only to meet with another slight alteration in the early Nineties. A guest from this year’s Wallow recounted the sad tale of a “shit-for-brains” who invited a friend from the Filipino government to the annual sing-along. The Filipino, duly horrified, promptly filed a complaint, while the unlucky Carabao was abruptly thinned from the Herd. Following this incident, the above stanza lauding the Filipinos as “our fondest friends” was added. The only foreigner registered for the 2002 Wallow was a Saudi lieutenant colonel named Nayef Al Saud.
For the most part, the Herd thunders in closely guarded seclusion. Apart from the obituaries, the last time a Carabao reared an antlered head in the press was in 1983, when General Dynamics was caught billing the government hundreds of dollars so that its employees could mingle with the Wallowers. This wasn’t a new stunt. The same year, the multimillion-dollar defense contractor had run up the taxpayers’ tab while pressing the flesh at the Iron Gate Dinner in New York, a similar function hosted by the Air Force Association.
In 1999, the presence of independent counsel Ken Starr at the Wallow created a bit of a stir. With the evening’s first toast to Bill Clinton, then grudgingly acknowledged as commander-in-chief, all eyes watched Starr for signs of insubordination. As glasses were raised, Starr dutifully stood, uttering the requisite “Hear, hear.” He did not, however, salute.
But the 2002 Carabao model need not be so circumspect. For now, as the Herd sang at the Omni Shoreham, we live:
In the Good Old Wallow Time,
In the Good Old Wallow Time,
Each Bull and Calf,
Will sing and laugh,
As we pass the flowing stein.
We’ll recall the ways
Of the Empire Days,
In Song and toast and rhyme.
For the Herd is all together
In the Good Old Wallow Time.