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The Philippine Question
May 15, 2003
WHAT the Philippine Centennial could not do, was accomplished, albeit unwittingly, by the US invasion of Iraq. The War on Terror pushed to the surface of collective consciousness that dark period, suppressed for more than a hundred years. I refer to the Philippine-American War, the USA's project empire of the late 19th century. Just like today's occupation of Iraq, that war of conquest splintered post-Civil War America even as it catapulted the USA to world power status.
When the USS Maine was blown up mysteriously at Havana harbor (a terrorist act like 9/11), the USA sent its gunboats to "liberate" Puerto Rico, Cuba, and the Philippines from the tyrannical Spanish Empire. Already, America was drawing a "road map" to reshape the world in its own image.
Pres. William McKinley claimed he heard God's voice who said he must "Christianize and civilize" the Philippines. So, the US waged war to crush our First Republic. Then followed "pacification" under a military commission. (Sounds familiar?)
Unknown to our forbears, as early as 1840, America's policy-makers were already hard at work, squeezing from "Manifest Destiny" all manner of libertarian philosophies, moral justifications to control world trade and become selfappointed tutors of mankind, By the time Woodrow Wilson became president, it was imperative for the world to conform to American principles and policies. Much later, Sec. of State Madeleine Albright pontificated that Americans have the "...duty to be authors of history." Yesterday, Pres. G. Bush declared that suicide bombers will face "...American justice"!
Due to astounding progress in information technology and the innovative "embedded" journalism, the US invasion of Iraq will not be buried in oblivion like the Philippine Question. However, it will not be immune to self-serving distortions that will be immortalized in textbooks and on celluloid. Unfortunately for Filipinos, we have had to burrow through mildewed archives for information about America's only colony, oftentimes incorrectly classified under "Oceania" or "insurrections " and other public crimes.
Those bitter debates in US Congress provoked by the Philippine Question, Mark Twain's brilliant speeches in behalf of the Anti-Imperialist League, letters to the editor from an outraged "Lady of Lexington" are not found in Philippine or American history books. The Eighth Army Corps censored letters sent home by American soldiers fighting in the Philippines, but the Anti-Imperialist League managed to collect some that now give us an insight into America's first attempt at empire:
From Captain Elliott, of the Kansas Regiment, February 27th (1899): "Talk about war being 'hell'... Caloocan was supposed to contain seventeen thousand inhabitants. The Twentieth Kansas swept through it, and now Caloocan contains not one living native... In the village of Maypajo, now not one stone remains on top of another. You can only faintly imagine this terrible scene of desolation. War is worse than hell."
From the Washington Regiment, E.D. Furnam wrote about the battles of February 4th and 5th (1899): "We burned hundreds of houses and looted hundreds more. Some of the boys made good hauls of jewelry and clothing. Nearly every man has at least two suits of clothing, and our quarters are furnished in style; fine beds with silken drapery, mirrors, chairs, rockers, cushions, pianos, hanging-lamps, rugs, pictures, etc. We have horses and carriages, and bull-carts galore, and enough furniture and other plunder to load a steamer."
It leaves you speechless, doesn't it? I wonder if the Iraqis will ever know what hit them.