Against our traditions we are now entering upon an unjust and trivial war ... At first our citizens spoke out against this thing, by an impulse natural to their training. Today they have turned, and their voice is the other way. What caused the change? Merely a politician's trick--a high-sounding phrase, a blood-stirring phrase which turned their uncritical heads: Our Country, right or wrong! An empty phrase, a silly phrase. ... And every man who failed to shout it or who was silent, was proclaimed a traitor--none but those others were patriots. To be a patriot, one had to say, and keep on saying, "Our Country, right or wrong," and urge on the little war. Have you not perceived that that phrase is an insult to the nation?
For in a republic, who is "the Country"? Is it the Government which is for the moment in the saddle? Why, the Government is merely a servant--merely a temporary servant; it cannot be its prerogative to determine what is right and what is wrong, and decide who is a patriot and who isn't. ...
In a monarchy, the king and his family are the country; in a republic it is the common voice of the people. Each of you, for himself, by himself and on his own responsibility, must speak. And it is a solemn and weighty responsibility, and not lightly to be flung aside at the bullying of pulpit, press, government, or the empty catch-phrases of politicians. Each must for himself alone decide what is right and what is wrong, and which course is patriotic and which isn't. You cannot shirk this and be a man. To decide it against your convictions is to be an unqualified and inexcusable traitor, both to yourself and to your country, let men label you as they may. If you alone of all the nation shall decide one way, and that way be the right way according to your convictions of the right, you have done your duty by yourself and by your country--hold up your head! You have nothing to be ashamed of.
Only when a republic's life is in danger should a man uphold his government when it is in the wrong. There is no other time.
This Republic's life is not in peril. The nation has sold its honor for a phrase. It has swung itself loose from its safe anchorage and is drifting, its helm is in pirate hands. The stupid phrase needed help, and it got another one: "Even if the war be wrong we are in it and must fight it out: we cannot retire from it without dishonor."
The preceding was written a century ago. Mark Twain was discussing a fictionalized version of the Philippine-American War. There are obviously many differences between that war and the current conflict, but Twain's words seem more than applicable today. Here are some historical parallels to consider:
Teddy Roosevelt 'declared major combat operations over' in 1902. In 1907, the last significant Philippine general was captured and executed. The Muslim Moro Rebellion was finally suppressed in 1916. In the end, 4,234 American soldiers were killed. Philippine military deaths are estimated at 20,000 while civilian deaths numbered as many as 1,000,000.
By all accounts, both sides in the conflict were brutal, but the Americans were guilty of torturing prisoners:
"When I give a man to Sergeant Edwards, I want information. I do not know how he gets it; but he gets it anyway"
--Lieutenant Arnold of the Fourth Cavalry