A Troublesome Photo

joint exercise II

Philippine joint training exercise with American troops.

The above photograph raised a point of debate in a recent blog. It makes for a good cross-cultural discussion. So please make note of your initial reaction to the photo. Maybe jot your thoughts down, rather like it were a Rorschach Test, an ink blot with elegant pixelation.

I would welcome knowing your initial reaction.

Please note your reaction now.

Now let’s trek through a couple of scenarios for the photo and let’s see if your view changes.

I ran the photograph to illustrate the U.S. and Philippines working together to upgrade Philippine fighting capabilities. I viewed it as a positive statement, the Philippines doing something about its weak military power.  Reader Josephivo viewed the photograph as symbolizing American holier-than-thou preaching to the natives. He viewed it as a negative.

For sure, I know where he is coming from. I rather think that the initial assumption about any American from someone who lives outside the U.S. is “arrogant”, and it is up to us to disprove the point. That’s not easy, especially if we deal in the business of opinions, or if the government is out on another one of its heavily criticized acts. People commonly hold that Americans are their government, and vice versa. There is little comprehension that America is stuffed full of the oddest and most varied collection of individuals on the planet. They just agree to abide by the systems and laws of their Government, and think she is generally pretty good and capable. If she is not, they try actively to change her.

America is the balance point of all the varied voices colliding and emerging in a peaceful, democratic way.

Individual Americans are not “America”. The collective is. It is important to make that distinction when you meet one. Many Americans opposed Iraq II, support Snowden, love the Philippines, think Obama is a socialist, supported Iraq II, oppose Snowden, don’t know where the Philippines is, and think Obama is the best president since Ronny Reagan . . .

And most Americans, as individuals, have great humility, and are kind and thoughtful.

But I digress . . .

Let’s give a little time and attention to the photograph, and try to structure a starting scenario.

  • I believe the Americans are marines. The uniforms are combat-ready and don’t show rank. Perhaps the Filipinos are marines too.
  • The tall white guy doing the instructing is probably a lieutenant based on his age and obvious authority. We’ll call him the Lieutenant.
  • The Americans don’t have helmets; the Philippine troops do have.
  • The Filipino troops are half-attentive. Is language a problem? Do they think the American is blowing smoke? Are they hot and tired from running across the beach and diving into the dirt?
  • Three of the Americans are looking across as if to say “This is important stuff people. Get it.” One is turning away.
  • Just about every one has a rifle.

Let’s shift the training exercise to Pembleton Pendleton, the big marine base in Southern California. We’ll assume that all of the troops are American and the Lieutenant is critiquing their recent beach landing.

Trainees are grubworms, especially in early training. They are bottom of the pile in a disciplined organization and the first thing they are taught is to obey and follow orders. Slackards are punished with screams in the face or reprimand or humiliation in front of their buddies. They learn to pay attention and are harshly condemned if they aren’t focused and don’t get things right. Lives depend on it. The Lieutenant would have no patience with someone who is not getting his message.

He is the leader and the leader is not wrong.

American military training is harsh. It is demanding. It insists on obedience and discipline and performance.

Well, here the situation is different.

Perhaps the Filipino troops are seasoned. And they aren’t underlings. They don’t report to the Lieutenant. They may only be able to understand parts of what he is saying.

So the training is more collegial.

But the Filipinos clearly represent the audience. They are the trainees, clearly there for the instruction.

Let’s shift the scene again. Now we are on the shores of Palawan where Americans and Filipinos are hitting the beach to root out the Chinese who have invaded and set up defensive posts. The Lieutenant is in charge of the joint company, which is dumped on the beaches by landing craft right on the heels of a heavy naval bombardment to soften up Chinese defensive positions.

  • Who is the boss of this unit?
  • What is the attitude of all the troops, toward the Lieutenant?

Coming back to the present time, the circumstance in the photograph, what can we say?

Presume you are the Filipino trooper in the headscarf and sunglasses, right in front. Attentive. Eyes on the Lieutenant.

What are you thinking, do you imagine?

Is the instructor arrogant?

If he is arrogant, is he arrogant because:

  • He is American?
  • He is tall and white?
  • He presumes he is better than everyone else?
  • All teachers are arrogant?

Or are you grateful for the instruction he is providing, because it may keep you alive?

Let me know what you think.

If there is a better way to improve Filipino fighting capability, what might it be?

75 Responses to “A Troublesome Photo”
  1. Mariano Renato Pacifico says:

    Without me reading your blog yet just by looking at the picture my reactions says the teen American soldiers are calling the shots teaching the “seasoned Filipino soldiers” not to F-up. The Filipino soldiers are standing on one leg the teen American soldiers are on twos and stood erect. The teens appears to be very disciplined than Filipino soldiers.

  2. The Mouse says:

    Never seen an US troop in the Phils yet so cant comment on that. Just on the US civilians in the PH. A good number seem to be the creepy American even by US standard. Of course, not all are like that as evidenced by Norman Black, Tim Cone, Rafe Bartholomew and Marcus Douthit…but the creepy ones are too “public” and stand out so much. Lol

    But based in my observation, leftist often complain about the ugly American but typical Filipinos complain more about the growing number of ugly Koreans.

    I dont know but the Philippines nowadays seem to be attracting the creepy people. Even the Koreans back then (before it was a fashion for them to troop to the Philippines) were “of better quality” than the ones trooping nowadays. I remember two nice Korean families who rented our house.

    • Joe America says:

      You know, that is true. Americans here are not a normal subset of the American population, but rather a set that I would label “distinctive”, ahahahahaha, synonym for creepy perhaps. Soldiers in a civilian setting are also not your typical American. They are testosterone on shore leave.

      • The Mouse says:

        If their public behavior is already creepy, multiply it by 10x when you go to their discussion boards. Lol

  3. Lil says:

    Creepy Americans?!They’re Creepy ass Crackerz! Lol, sorry that’s the trend going in my fb right now leading up to the Zimmerman verdict.
    Incidentally, both me and my American uncle right now are irritated at Obama again. Well, him more than me. He’s one of those who believes Obama is a socialist and totally against him. I give Obummer, er Obama credit for foreign policy and Obamacare laws. But that’s it 😀

    • Joe America says:

      Zimmerman is a case illustrating that the press in the U.S. is no different than the press in the Philippines, with a great nose for finding and enlarging conflict with not a lot of calm introspection. I think leftist Americans are critical of Obama for being too pragmatically middle of the road, so what’s a guy to do? He gets it from the left and the right. And, in fact, he is having a hard time doing HIS agenda because of the Republican penchant for turning even good initiatives into partisan war. I like Obama. Always have. Always will.

      • Lil says:

        I still don’t think he should have made immediately comments like, “If I had a son, he would’ve looked like…” and “the police acted stupidly etc. He should have stayed out of it. Because it does show that you’re picking a side.
        And I beg to differ, Joe. Both the Democrats and Repubs are nasty. I prefer to be a non-partisan voter.

        • Joe America says:

          I agree the whole situation that unfolded with Zimmerman was his fault. But I don’t think he went out to murder the kid, but teach him a lesson. It got out of hand like a chemical reaction gone way afizz. I check out at that point, because both sides are big losers, in a serious way, and I am unable to articulate a rendition that is all-wise. The jury can do it. They have better information, and the judge’s instructions. It’s over as far as I’m concerned.

          Yes, I agree both democrats and republicans are nasty. Reid and Pelosi both rub me the wrong way. But as far as POLICIES go, Obama is not a socialist. He does believe a wealthy state should take care of her disenfranchised because the wealthy, without the government mandate, will not do that. That is the fundamental difference between the two American parties. We can see in the Philippines that the wealth gap can get out of hand. Extraordinary wealth among a few. Extreme poverty among the masses. Government’s job is to mediate between the haves and the have-nots. American educators actually peg Obama as a middle-of-the road pragmatist, and I think that is what he is. The citizens knew he was not a republican, for sure, so they got what they voted for.

          • The Mouse says:

            The way I see it, America has two problems: wealthy who do not want to pay taxes and people who are able to work but doesnt want to and just want to be sponsored by taxpayers.

            What I do not understand about the Zimmerman case is the media loves labelling it as racially motivated. Too much emphasis on race than events.

          • Joe America says:

            @The mouse, paragraph (1) leaves a vacuum of not enough taxes and therefore a big debt, and (2) yes, I agree.

        • manuel buencamino says:

          “Here’s a kid, goes out at half-time to get Skittles and iced tea, puts his hoodie on because it’s starting to rain, doesn’t say anything to anybody, isn’t eye-fornicating anybody, just minding his own business. He doesn’t have a M.O. He doesn’t do home invasions. What the hell are you following this kid for? Goddamn right he fights back. The same law that says you can stand and defend yourself in Florida—Martin is defending himself against a guy approaching him with a gun and confronting him.” – Curtis Sliwa, founder of urban patrol group Guardian Angels.

          And yet Zimmerman walked because in Florida “in any violent confrontation ending in a disputed act of lethal self-defense, without eye-witnesses, the advantage goes to the living.”

          • Joe America says:

            That is certainly a legitimate view. But the jury goes by the facts presented, the arguments made, the law as instructed by the judge, and makes a decision. So the choice I suppose, for those feeling outraged, is to riot and kill more people, or change the law. Or move to somewhere without that kind of law.

            As I said, I left the case behind, because I can’t reconcile it. I’m looking forward to reading what the jurors have to say. They can better respond to you than I can.

        • Mariano Renato Pacifico says:

          Actually it is not the wealthy paying taxes. It is the illegal immigrants that are paying taxes to the nose with a noose.

    • Mariano Renato Pacifico says:

      I thought that Zimmerman would have been found guilty because he did not backdown instead he stalked Trayvon.

    • Mariano Renato Pacifico says:

      When O.J. was acquitted the whites did not protest. When Rodney-beaters were acquitted, as usual, blacks rioted. In America, whites are perceived to be the discriminator that is why Whites Never Protest when One of Them are Found Guilty of something.

      • Joe America says:

        Well, in reflecting on that, I suppose it is because we whities don’t bear the pains of discrimination, or have cops cruising our street raising hell about our drug deals. We sell in the living room, or the beach condo, not the street corner.

  4. Greg Hill says:

    First thought? Not one of the Filipinos is texting (SMSing).

    • Joe America says:

      🙂 The Rorschach test confirms that you have a sense of humor.

    • Mariano Renato Pacifico says:

      HA! HA! HA! It took me time to digest. Yeah! Yeah! Yeah! Srprise! Surprise! Surprise! Not one Filipinos are not texting!!! What a huge surprise. Wherever I go in the Philippines from Newspaperboy to peanut vendor to man in white shirt and tie they are all texting.

  5. AJ says:

    The pinoy dude with the shades is looking down. I think he might’ve been impressed by the American guy in the middle’s shoes or the barrel of his gun.

  6. “Let’s shift the training exercise to Pembleton, the big marine base in Southern California.” … That would be US Marine Corps Base Camp PENDLETON.

    • Joe America says:

      Achhh. Bob PEMBLETON was a guy in basic training with me at Ft. Leonard Wood, Missouri. Pentacostal. Brain freeze. Thanks for the correction.

      • Interestingly enough, during the Viet Nam War era, US Military Personnel would come to the Philippines to learn Jungle Warfare & Survival from Filipinos. The site, in Subic, is still there and is now a Tourist Attraction run by some of the same guys who trained US troops. We (USMIL) have come full circle constantly adapting that knowledge to an ever changing battlefield. The former students have become the teachers…

        I have no “reaction” to the photograph. It is simply a group of US Marines instructing allied troops. You’ll see similar pictures taken in every OCONUS Command be it Iraq, Afghanistan, Kenya, Colombia, Thailand, etc…

        • Joe America says:

          Interesting, the full circle of training. I was not aware of the training here. We did our jungle training in a mocked-up village at Leonard Wood. It had your basic grass hooches and a lot of holes in the ground from which bad guys would occasionally and lethally emerge. Yes, that’s a healthy perspective on the photo. It shows people working diligently, and I think everyone there probably finds it one part surreal and one part very important. In other words, meaningful.

  7. JosephIvo says:

    In hindsight, I saw through this picture all those arrogant white Kano’s (Australians, English, German… included) in Dumaguete were I worked a few years. Looking down, giving orders, knowing it better. Dressed out of place, often with a little subservient Filipina (luckily missing in this picture). Always complaining about bad experiences in the Philippines. So often I had to change table not to hear their same old derogatory stories again.

    Look at the second white guy behind the tall one, thinking “… again they don’t understand it and the lieutenant’s message is so clear…” The other Americans are more in sync, not too tense, not looking down on the Filipinos.

    Even more, I saw myself in this picture, a white consultant in the Philippines telling (=instructing) how it has to be done. It didn’t work, I got a lot of real interest even initial enthusiasm but afterwards nothing happens. To change Filipino behavior you need a different approach.

    There was the language barrier, although they usually like my international pidgin English a little over-articulated and with a very limited vocabulary. But the same words have different meaning, e.g the word yes can mean “yes I understand” or “yes I will consider but seldom “yes I will do”, confusing at first for a non Filipino.
    It was difficult to read the important subtleties of their non-verbal language, the eye movements, the smile as submission, the touching on a neighbor to seek strength.
    The cultural differences, the seeking of comfort in the group, the absolute power of the hierarchy, the value of knowing over understanding and certainly over doing…

    When a “Kano” can do it, that’s not very convincing but when another Filipino can do it, it is. Most things people know already, often they only need reassurance that they can. If the superior does not invite to take initiative nobody will dare to do something differently. So the only effective approach is to train a trainer in the hierarchy. (Solves the language and cultural barriers too.) But I miss this superior feeling of standing in front of a large group and knowing it all a lot better.

    • Joe America says:

      Ah, I was hoping you would weigh in. Thanks for the elaboration on what it is like to be in the “Lieutenant’s” place, and for explaining first hand that there is a glitch in the synchronization of “imperatives”. No does not mean no, and yes does not mean yes, necessarily.

      I reflect on my last question, are there better ways, and you point to one way. “Train the trainers” rather than train the troops directly. Develop a corps of Filipinos who have been in combat, and have teaching ability, and put them through a rigorous leadership and “combat execution” program in the States. Somehow, the American leading Filipinos is awkward.

      You also cause me to wonder if the training sessions cause friction or camaraderie between the two military groups. Are the upper military leaders establishing a way to break through the cultural hitches?

      • The Mouse says:

        I would want to know how US servicemen feel about the Philippine “touchy” camaraderie? Hehehe

        • Mariano Renato Pacifico says:

          This is one thing I like about Filipinos. They are touchy-feeling slap-in-the-back let us drink Tanduay kind of demeanor.

  8. edgar lores says:

    1. I view the photo from the perspective of discipline.
    1.1. On the right side, 6 lean and neatly dressed dudes and on the left side, 13 paunchy and sloppy dudes.
    1.2. The Filipino guy at the end (#11) seems to be lean but still has a mini-paunch. 🙂
    1.3. The dudes on the right all seem to be wearing standard gear. The guys on the left have accessorized: bandanna (1), head stocking (1), sunglasses (3 pairs) and gloves (1). Only one American, the one at the far end, is wearing shades.
    1.4. On the part of the Filipinos, I see full attention – brows furrowed in concentration and pursed lips – on the speaker. The Americans have heard it all and their thoughts are elsewhere. One is looking towards the back.

    2. Composition-wise, the horizontals are earth, river, mountain range and cloudy sky. The river marks the upper third of the photo.
    2.1. The verticals are the standing dudes and the scraggly cogon grass at the center. The speaker marks the right-hand third of the photo. He is taller than the mountain, his head in the clouds.
    2.2. The strong horizontals and verticals are dramatically broken by (a) the downward-pointing powerful weapon and (b) the upraised palm and pointing fingers of the speaker. The cogon stalk in the right hand of the soldier at the forefront ‘points’ to the upraised hand and emphasizes the drama of the gesture.
    2.3. The phone antenna in the left trouser pocket of the speaker provides a short counterpoint to the cogon stalk.

    3. Finally, no one has eaten. How do I know? No one, but no one is smiling.

    • Mariano Renato Pacifico says:

      The 2nd soldier on the Filipino side is holding a Garand Rifle? Mama Mia!
      I hear sometime ago, I do not know if it still holds true to this day, that Filipino soldiers have to gather and turn in bullet shells for them getting bullet replenishment.

    • Joe America says:

      You get a new title, Humorist in Chief. Numbers 2 and 3 brought tears to my eyes. Ten smileys to you. 🙂 * 10

      • edgar lores says:

        On Number 3:

        1. My number 3 was facetious. I should have been more specific and said no one has had lunch. On reflection, it might be true. Actually, I believe I can ‘prove’ it is true — as an exercise in logic and deduction. Consider:

        1.1. I postulate that the speaker is facing in a slight south-westerly direction. The light is coming from the sun in the east, and the shadow he casts points to the west.
        1.2. The photo was taken early to mid-morning, I would say between 7:00 to 9:00 am. Why? It could not have been earlier because the sun is bright and some soldiers are wearing shades. It could not have been later because the shadows are fairly lengthy.
        1.3. Further proof: The mountain range in the background runs from north-to-south (or south-to-north) along the longitudinal axis of the island of Luzon, assuming Luzon. Luzon is a safer bet than Palawan because of the facilities and the nearness of Subic.
        1.4. Is it possible that the speaker is facing in a north-easterly direction? No, because it is his right hand that is upraised, and that is on the far side of the sun.
        1.5. It is also possible that the photo could have been taken from mid to late afternoon, with the sun in the west and the shadows tending east. Yes, possible but, no, it wasn’t. Why? The soldiers are relatively fresh, with no dirt and sweat on them. In addition, all of the soldiers are clean shaven — none sports a 5-o’clock shadow.

        2. Elementary.

        • Joe America says:

          Sherlock Holmes intensified his sensory skills with drugs. It is singularly deducible that you do it with skotch because these are not the normal perceptions of sober man.

  9. chonoon says:

    So what is the big deal…soldier is a soldier why try to dig what is inside their mind? they join for a number of reason ; education, money, or travel or just like to be a soldier like father or grandfather. They been through training with Filipino instructor, they been through with bilingual instructor, and the final phase working with a unit that does not speak their language and like every soldier they like a little individuality. As for men wearing sunglasses not everyone has 20/20 vision. About Zimmerman he was condemn by the media and the govt. he shot Martin like rabid dog in WWB in a GC. and the congressmen and the president say if I have a son he would look likeTrayvon.

    • Mariano Renato Pacifico says:

      1. You nailed it right on the head. Obama is fanning the fire of hatred.
      1.1 The American media painted two protagonists with colors to fan the fire of circulation, readership and bottom line just like the Philippine Media.
      2. Soldiering in the Philippines is employment of last resort not as a career.
      3. Sunglasses make them cool

    • Mariano Renato Pacifico says:

      Shebamethembas !!! Holder is black. He’ll find Zimmerman guilty. The hispanics will rise up because Zimmerman is half-spanics. There will be another re-try again, this time hispanic DOJ !!!

    • Joe America says:

      @chonoon, some interesting points.

      (1) the idea is not to try to understand the soldiers, but ourselves. Do we react for the wrong reason perhaps, such as having preconceived biases that all Americans are arrogant (maybe they are just doing their job, but the photo shows them arrogant), or maybe they ARE arrogant and we can be thinking about a different way to strengthen the Philippines (train a cadre of trainers and let Filipinos train their own).

      (2) You are right about the sunglasses. No big deal.

      (3) I agree the media raised the angers on the Zimmerman case to an unnecessary level focused on race rather than murder or self defense.

      (4) I think Obama was trying to express the compassion he has for any death, but he did it wrongly in this instance and fueled the race matter.

  10. The Mouse says:

    I love the pics to the right. Hahaha. I’ve seen these in forums before but those are classics.

    I wonder how many maids will the Singapore military will need and how many civilian “cargador” will the Philippine military need should hostilities arise. Hahahaha

    • Mariano Renato Pacifico says:

      The Philippine Military Academy graduates have their visas ready if war flares out. And the Hamilton class frigate and the dozens of brand new helicopters? they are there to transport the PMAyers to safe zones away from combat zones to America just like Romulo Espaldon during the time of Marcos’ demise. Romulo Espaldon sailed to Palau Island and took a flight to America where he was greeted with marching band.

  11. Mariano Renato Pacifico says:

    ABCNews moderator must be a Filipino. Been banned, excommunicated and disowned by the moderator. What is left for me is Huffingtonpost.

  12. Relating this post to teaching in the Philippines, students don’t like hard-nosed, straightforward, honest, demanding teachers or supervisors. They like “mentors” who are like their parents; mentors should be gentle, considerate and easy to them. Thus, the American way of teaching and supervising, as i see in movies, won’t be effective to them.

    Bottomline: Most Filipinos are sensitive in any setting 🙂

    Regarding the professionalism and grit of the AFP, that shore landing photo broke all my faith in our military men especially the leaders. HAHAHA

    • Mariano Renato Pacifico says:

      Spot on, bavariano. Me, too, I like my teacher like a mentor to be compassionate, gentle, considerate and a friend not like a drill sergeant.

      American teachers are way too personal and compassionate. Some of American teachers have sexual relationship with their students and others bore their students child. That is why teachers in America are paid low because there are so many wanting to teach with extra benefits.

      I guess I need to go back to high school.

    • Joe America says:

      Actually, I had not thought too much about the teaching styles, but you have a point. Probably some of both is needed, demanding for the disciplines, like on attendance and behavior, but open as far as comments and ideas are concerned. I’m part way along drafting a course outline for teaching “creative solutions” that I hope to do as a blog. I think someone at Dep Ed needs to ask the question, “how can we teach skills at organized, creative problem solving”? Force thinking rather than rote feedback.

      The AFP gentleman was probably attending a ceremony of some kind, judging by the non-combat shoes. Maybe there was nobody strong enough to carry the big American dude wading in the waves.

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