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Saturday, February 9, 2019

February 9-10, 2019: The Philippine American War: Legacies

[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’ve AmericanStudied a handful of contexts for that largely forgotten, brutal turn of the 20th century conflict, leading up to this weekend post on the war’s legacies for 20th and 21st century histories!]
On some significant ways the Philippine American War has echoed down through subsequent histories.
I feel like I’ve written variations of this sentence about as often as any in this space, but I like repetition, and I also like saying the same thing more than once, so: first and foremost, the Philippine American War stories and histories deserve better remembering because they happened, because they affected so many people (in both nations), and because they have been far too under-remembered in our collective memories to date. I know it’s a typical historian’s move to argue for how one historical event or moment affects and informs others (and I’m about to do so, to be clear), but at the same time each such event and moment is plenty complex and multi-layered enough to need engagement and analysis on its own terms. I hope I’ve offered starting points for such engagements and analyses in the course of this week’s posts, and of course each of them—and many other details and contexts besides—has plenty of room for further investigation and thought. Sounds like a future Guest Post for any interested PhilippineAmericanStudiers…
But another reason to better remember specific histories is that, yes, they do in fact affect and inform others, both past and ongoing. For one thing, recognizing that the war was in many ways (as I’ve argued throughout the week) one of both invasion and occupation of a foreign nation by U.S. forces has a great deal to tell us about foreign policy in the 20th and 21st centuries. That’s true of the many other, largely forgotten such invasions and occupations, including those in Nicaragua in the same years as the Philippine war and the Dominican Republic in the early 1960s. But it’s also true of other declared wars (or in some cases “police actions”), from Korea and Vietnam to Afghanistan and Iraq. Each of those conflicts had its own complex origins and contexts, but in each case the U.S. forces became (whether immediately or over many subsequent years) occupying armies, fighting against “insurgencies” that could just as easily be defined as opposing forces contesting authority in those nations. Linking all these conflicts into an overarching pattern shouldn’t flatten their specifics and distinctions—but it should make us recognize and question the pattern nonetheless, a troubling history of occupation that the Philippines presaged to be sure.
Better remembering the Philippine American War also helps highlight more positive and inspiring legacies, however. For one thing, it reminds us that American identity has always been constructed in direct conversation with international relationships—of course the relationship between the U.S. and the Philippines was a dark and fraught one for much of this period; but nonetheless the islands became a political and legal part of the U.S. in the era and would remain so until after World War II, and that relationship shaped the U.S. just as much (if in less overtly destructive ways, again) as it did the Philippines. And for another thing, those interconnected histories and identities led to the early 20th century’s significant increase in arriving Filipino Americans, a burgeoning American community that featured striking stories like the military and social ones I highlighted yesterday, the political and activist ones of figures like Pablo Manlapit and Antonio Fagel, and the literary voice and career of Carlos Bulosan, among many others. While each of those figures has his own individual identity and story, each also represents one part of the ongoing legacy of the relationship (including but not limited to the war) between the U.S. and the Philippines.
Valentine’s series starts Monday,
PS. What do you think?

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