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Tuesday, February 5, 2019

February 5, 2019: The Philippine American War: Emilio Aguinaldo

[On February 4th, 1899 Filipino rebels launched an attack on American troops in Manila, the opening salvo in what would become the Philippine American War (or Philippine Insurrection—see Thursday’s post for more on that distinction). So this week I’ll AmericanStudy a handful of contexts for that largely forgotten, brutal turn of the 20th century conflict, leading up to a weekend post on the war’s legacies for 20th and 21st century histories!]
On three telling 1890s stages in the career of the Filipino revolutionary leader.
1)      Freedom fighter: Born in 1869 to a Spanish colonial official father and a mixed-race Chinese Filipina mother in the town of Cavite el Viejo, Aguinaldo initially followed in his father’s footsteps and became the town’s “Municipal Governor-Captain” at the age of 25. But just four years later, in March 1895 he joined the Katipunan, a Masonic-inspired secret society dedicated to overthrowing Spanish rule and establishing Filipino independence; and in August 1896 he helped lead Filipino forces in the Philippine Revolution against the Spanish. If we see the Philippine American War as tied to the Spanish American War (as I argued in yesterday’s post that we should), then it would make sense to define those interconnected military conflicts as originating with the Philippine Revolution (along with, for example, José Martí’s revolutionary efforts in Cuba). And Aguinaldo’s revolutionary leadership was a key ingredient to those vital historical origins.
2)      U.S. ally: The Philippine Revolution failed, and in late 1897 Aguinaldo and other revolutionary leaders went into voluntary exile in Hong Kong. But almost immediately Aguinaldo organized a “Hong Kong Junta” to carry on the revolutionary agenda, and so when the Spanish American War began the following year he was ready and willing to serve as a U.S. ally against the Spanish forces on the islands. The U.S. was clearly just as ready, as only two weeks after the May 1st Battle of Manila Bay, Commodore George Dewey transported Aguinaldo on the USS McCulloch from Hong Kong back to Cavite el Viejo. By the end of May Aguinaldo was leading nearly 20,000 Filipino troops against the Spanish in the Battle of Alapan (this less than half a year after the end of the Revolution, so it seems clear that many of the same forces took part in both), and his military leadership and victories would prove vital to the U.S. triumph over the Spanish on the islands and in the war overall.
3)      Insurgent enemy: Aguinaldo saw his efforts as working toward a different goal, however. After that victory at Alapan he raised the Philippine flag for the first time, and shortly thereafter he issued the Philippine Declaration of Independence and installed himself as the first President of the Philippine Republic. Aguinaldo’s leadership and troops were crucial to the U.S. war effort, and so the U.S. military leaders did not challenge these political steps; but they foreshadowed, and indeed in many ways began, the divisions that would explode into the Philippine American War just half a year later. For more than two years Aguinaldo would lead the Filipino forces in that war, first in his official role as president and then (after U.S. forces chased him from Manila) as the leader of an insurgent resistance to the U.S. occupation. In March 1901 Aguinaldo was captured by U.S. forces, and in April signed an oath of allegiance to the U.S.; but fellow revolutionary leaders would carry on the insurgency for another year (and, by some measures, another decade after that), extending this final 1890s stage to Aguinaldo’s complex and crucial legacy.
Next war context tomorrow,
PS. What do you think?

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