Saturday, July 30, 2016


Luis H. Francia introduces VESTIGES OF WAR: The Philippine-American War and the Aftermath of an Imperial Dream 1899-1999 edited by Angel Velasco Shaw and Luis H. Francia 
(NYU Press, New York, 2002)


The Rind of Things

In the Belly of the Beast
In 1970 as a Filipino new to the United States (though the United States was not new to me), new to New York City, I was very much in awe of a much-storied metropolis and the glorious traditions that it and the country represented. My arrival however coincided with newspapers and television screens filled with images of dead young American men in body bags, of Vietnamese cities under siege, and of massive protests in the U.S. and elsewhere against American involvement in the quagmire that was Vietnam. The passion and controversy generated by that war in Southeast Asia was especially brought home to me the day that I witnessed the well-publicized beating of anti-war protesters by hard hats in lower Manhattan. The sight of burly construction workers—many with pins declaring “America: Love it or Leave it” —roughing up young people, people my age, horrified me. I found myself asking, what happened to the notion of free speech and the right to peaceful protest, in a land that kept proclaiming itself the vanguard of democracy? And why was this war causing such pain and deep division all across America?

In Manila, it astounds me now to think, I had been largely indifferent to the war—if pushed hard enough I probably would have uttered some meaningless platitude about how its involvement in Vietnam exemplified, albeit paradoxically, America's commitment to democracy. But in Manhattan I could hardly afford the luxury of detachment: thanks to my mother, I was a citizen of the empire, draftable and hence potential fodder for this Pentagon-sponsored madness. What saved me ultimately was my high lottery number. Winding up as a grunt in Southeast Asia would have been cruelly ironic: having traveled across the Pacific only to recross it and fight an enemy with whom, like Muhammad Ali, I had no quarrel, with whom in fact I had more in common than my nominal, would-be comrades-in-arms.

At that time I had little interest in, and knowledge of, America's violent takeover and colonization of a newly emergent Philippine republic at the turn of the 20th century, even though (or perhaps because of) in 1898 my lolo, my maternal grandfather, Henry Joseph Hunt, an Amerikano from the city of brotherly love, Philadelphia, had gone over as a soldier in a duplicitous army, and who may have traded shots with forebears on my father’s side. Having seen action in Cuba he no longer was a raw recruit by the time he was shipped to Manila. He may have even killed some of those “damn insurrectos,” as a Filipino revolutionaries were dismissively referred to at the time. In what I like to think of as a redemptive act, he wound up marrying the enemy, my Lola Agatona (whose mother refused to attend the wedding), and spent the rest of his life in the islands.

And so my family's history is emblematic, in so many ways, of two countries’ star-crossed destinies—three, when one includes, as one must, Imperial Spain. Yet growing up I was barely cognizant of such confluences. Spain was all around me and in me, in the blood, in the medieval Catholic faith I grew up in, in the names we baptized ourselves with, in the Tagalog we spoke with its appropriated Castilian. Like a properly colonial and privileged subject I had no wish then to peer too closely at the underpinnings of that privilege or at that bowdlerized history. I knew something about our colonial past but that was no thanks to my university education, truly a sentimental one, concentrating as it did on the treasures of Western art and philosophy. I learned about the Magna Carta and the U.S. Civil War but not about the Malolos Republic or, say, about British rule in India. My peers and I read the English Romantics and engaged in exegeses of Kierkegaard and Heidegger. But where were Rizal’s novels? Where were other Asian writers and our hometown novelists, dramatists, and poets? The Philippines, much less Asia, rarely intruded into classrooms, possessing only a shadow reality. What shaped the knowledge thrust at us had more to do, as Foucault once pointed out, with relations of power rather than meaning. The question of how a young republic had sprung into existence only to see its independence quickly curtailed was never addressed. It was an area of darkness the curriculum shied away from. But America’s continuing war on the Vietnamese quickly undermined my blithe disregard for my own history.

A blithe disregard, I might add, that arose partly from the fact that I grew up simply trusting the movies. John Wayne the Magnificent embodied America. If America and Wayne as the gung-ho soldier with a heart of gold were in Vietnam, as they were in the Philippines, why, there must be a damn good reason! (1) He was there of course for no good reason, just as during the 1899 War men like Col. Frederick Funston and generals Arthur Bell and “Howling Jake” Smith were in the archipelago for no good reason: to make sure that beneath the velvety benediction of Benevolent Assimilation Filipinos felt its spiked fists.

            Exposed in New York to perspectives completely different from those espoused by pro-American papers in Manila and the Marcos regime (2) I came to realize quickly enough not only how wrong and immoral the Vietnam War was, but how equally wrong and immoral its predecessor, with which it had many remarkable parallels and without which America’s agonizing dilemma in Vietnam may never have occurred: the 1899 Philippine-American War. In my belated recognition was a clear case of the tail wagging the dog.

            The interaction across the decades, between the Vietnam of the 1960s and ‘70s and the Philippines at the beginning of the twentieth century, with the United States as the common link, revealed how such categories as “past” and “present” were simply inadequate in encompassing the full range and depth of the ever-evolving narratives of three countries, with the “past” a convenient collection of musty relics, best set aside. It however made more sense to imagine time and its contents as a river of DNA coursing through and indelibly imprinted on our quotidian lives: the past as always present, the present as always past. Only from this perspective could the hybrid, labyrinthine Filipino and Filipino-American identity start to be understood. And only then would exploring—and deciphering—colonial histories acquire an urgency.

            From that perspective then, every story points to other stories, and forgetting or ignoring one greatly increases the risk of misreading all the others: the American war on the Philippines presaging the Vietnam and Korean wars—as well as U.S. intervention in countries like the Dominican Republic in 1916 and Grenada in 1983—itself foretold by chronicles of slavery, the genocidal campaigns against Native Americans, and the annexation of Mexican territories in the enlargement of frontiers (and all with the remarkably consistent views of peoples of color as, variously, “niggers,” “savages,” and “gooks”). All these wars heralded the American Century with its two-headed offspring, industrial capitalism, and military hegemony.

            The 1899 War then marks the leap of a fledgling empire to the Asia Pacific region. How convenient (and necessary) that it be forgotten for the sake of upholding the self-spun myth of a freedom-defending giant! Here is a war that lasted for a decade, cost so much more money and lives than the 1898 Spanish-American War, reduced in scale and intensity to a nonevent.(3) Such has been the fervent aim of a nation of apologists (including not a few scholars whose allegiance seems more to preserving America’s aw-shucks good-guy image rather than to the facts.) As Alfredo Navarro Salanga so eloquently and caustically puts it in his “A Philippine History Lesson” —a poem that leads off this book— “We’ve been bitten off, excised/from the rind of things.”

            Spurred on by the rise in 1972 of repressive rule in Manila and Washington’s generous support of a tyrannical Marcos, I kept glimpsing the dark contradictions of a seemingly exemplary paradigm—that of a colony’s smooth transition to democracy under American tutelage. But an expensive colonial education had done its job well, for a persistent inner voice kept uttering its disbelief that America could be less than benevolent. Not only was American goodwill assumed to be a self-evident truth, it was also the often reiterated premise of a Philippine society whose relationship to America even in a new era rested firmly in the neocolonial mold. The Philippines may have had its independence restored in 1946, but by then its leaders were indeed America’s dutiful little brown brothers, its white oppressors transformed into saviors.

See, Yet Not-Seen

Every year, in a seminar I teach on Asian-American literature, as part of contextual backgrounding to the works of Filipino-American writers, I ask my students if they had ever heard of a war between the Philippines and the U.S. Two, at the most three, hands (invariably belonging to Filipino-Americans) are raised, while the curious rest shake their heads. This simple fact attests to the near absence of the war in U.S. official narratives and forms part of the mantle of invisibility that shrouds Filipinos and Filipino-Americans—an invisibility that unmoors and renders them contextless. It has been said often enough that Americans are in love with the present, fetishizing it not in any mystic-like sense of being here now, but out of fear of seeing the past gaining. They may suddenly realize the Filipino is here because they were there. This infatuation with ahistoricity has engendered a habit on my part of random cullings from different events and sources, filed in my mental archives over the years, to illustrate how pernicious and insistent such ahistoricity is—the treacherous, instinctive resistance of a society that wishes to see only the rosy hues of a bigger, better, brighter future.

            Let me briefly cite three such items—all commonplace artifacts of late-twentieth- and early-twenty-first century contemporary pop culture, all disconcertingly, simultaneously, funny and sad. In one, the gameshow Jeopardy, a question makes me lean forward: what islands in Asia did the United States win after defeating Spain in the 1898 Spanish-American War? I don’t think any of the three contestants, two young men and a woman, know the answer but in fact one of the men does. The question resonated with comic irony, for, like late-model cars and vacations in Hawaii given away by shows like Jeopardy, imperial domains were simply recast as prizes to be sought.(4)

In the second, a turn-of-the-century photograph in Century—a massive coffee-table tome detailing in photographs a hundred years of American history—depicts a row of nine U.S. soldiers, raincoated and rifles in hand, a thatch hut and tropical foliage in the background.(5) The caption reads: “The presence of American troops in the Philippines foreshadows their future close involvement in the Far East.” The innocuous language glosses over a bloody war; at the same time it raises inconvenient questions such as, where are the native bodies? There’s that hut: are they in it, alive but afraid, or dead and no longer bound by fear? What the soldiers foreshadow is themselves, a murderous future already present in their very appearance. Even the benign, reductive “close involvement” alludes to later wars with Japan, Korea, and Vietnam, eliding the terrible costs of that involvement.   
In the third, in early 1999, as part of the tail-end centennial celebrations of the Philippine declaration of independence, the Leyte Dance Troupe ends its program in downtown Manhattan with a virtuoso ensemble number where the dances swirl various Katipunan flags and conclude with the Philippine national anthem, causing nationalist pride to ripple through the packed house, Then an odd thing happens: after a pause, the dancers commence singing “America the Beautiful.”   
I look on in disbelief. To commemorate the struggle for independence, then end on a paean to the very country that had aborted it! At that moment the whole troupe, along with a far more complex history tantalizingly glimpsed, had stepped back from an opening, sinking into the familiar embrace of anonymity. Seen, yet not-seen: the infuriating paradox of the Other. The mixed signals encoded in a heartfelt display of extended history, and symbolized an altogether depressing exercise in Pavlovian forgetting.

Seen, yet Not-Seen. Thus are a whole country, a whole history, and Filipino-Americans desaparecido, or in the ‘70s parlance of Marcos’s martial-law era, “salvaged” —done in by death squads. Surely there’s a crime here. But if a corpse does not exist, where’s the crime? But we can speak, can we not, as James Baldwin does in The Fire Next Time, of “the crime of innocence”? Such “innocence” denies a people an identity, a history, even a pulse. Seen, yet Not-Seen. Can a nation absent from its own telling just be “gifted” with one, albeit as a kind of Trojan horse? For what we have and continue to see are white narratives in brownface.

In truth, Filipinos have always raised their voices. But who has been listening? Whether we scream, whisper, admonish, orate, create, or write, we seem to do so from some distant star, hopeful that the signals we send impinge on some other civilization. A little more than a hundred years from the War, the Filipino/a is still rather like Chang, the displaced mestizo-Chinese father in A Feather on the Breath of God, Sigrid Nuñez’s lyrical novel: “Not as one who would not speak but as one to whom no one would listen.”(6)     

Enlarging the Battlefield

From 1992 to 1998 commemorations (often tagged as “celebrations”) of the different signal events of the nineteenth century took place in the Philippines, the U.S., and elsewhere; they form part of the matrix from which Vestiges of War: The Philippine-American War and the Aftermath of the Imperial Dream, 1899-1999 arises. In a significant act of omission linking it to the dance troupe mentioned earlier, the Philippine government failed to mark the centennial of the 1899 War. What was abundantly clear in all the hoopla was the implied wish that one hundred years of independence be celebrated rather than just its declaration. That, and the desire on the part of the National Centennial Commission, the government body overseeing the celebrations, to have Tom Cruise play Dr. José Rizal in a feature film! 

Oddly enough, one place where such a commemoration took place was at Manhattan’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum. I was able, on the invitation and encouragement of John Hanhardt, its Senior Curator for Film and Media Arts, to put on a four-week program of films and videos, in February of 1999—a program for which I enlisted as my cocurator Angel Velasco Shaw (and who subsequently asked me to coedit this book). Titled “Empire and Memory: Repercussions and Evocations of the 1899 Philippine-American War,” the program, like this book, was meant to not just view the war as historical artifact, but examine its aftermath as the dominant subtext for contemporary perspectives in Filipino and Filipino-American affairs.(7)

The ideological continuum spanned in “Empire and Memory” stretched all the way from the white man’s burden heroically shouldered by Gary Cooper and David Niven in the 1939 Hollywood feature The Real Glory, with its Orientalist tenor, to the quirky reimagining and critique of the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair in Marlon Fuentes's 1995 Bontoc Eulogy. The Guggenheim exhibition in part documented the colonizing gaze, the use of the camera as a genocidal weapon—a function and consequence Nick Deocampo investigates in his essay here, “Imperialist Fictions: the Filipino in the Imperialist Imaginary.” The exhibition also revealed how war affects a whole society, and does not end simply because treaties are signed and armed hostilities cease. In the epilogue to his book, The War Against the Americans: Resistance and Collaboration in Cebu, 1899-1906 (here reprinted as “The Hills Are Still There”), Resil Mojares points out that the war “assumes other forms, becomes an illusion of itself, a subversion of what it intends.(8)” Vestiges of War continues to explore that premise, reframing not just the war but more significantly the war without bullets that goes on in classrooms, in literature, in the media, in popular culture—wherever the many pseudo- or incomplete assumptions about the War, about the history of Filipinos, their context, their ambivalent and often contradictory relationships with the United States, with the West, are accepted as self-evident truths.

By enlarging the battlefield, as it were, we begin to notice the multitude and variety of eloquent and subversive “weaponry.” Thus, the range of works here, by a diverse group that includes not just scholars but poets, novelists, playwrights, visual artists, filmmakers, and community activists. In a war determined by aggressive colonial desire, and followed by occupation, the essence of a relationship that ensues—born out of conflict and the incommensurability of individual lives and nationalist aspirations with grand imperial ambition—cannot be grasped without an understanding of its human and psychic face.     

This book considers socio/political/cultural dimensions—passed down not just by the War but by the weight of four hundred years of Spanish and American colonialism—in Filipino and Filipino-American communities, as well as in the ways Filipinos and Americans regard each other. When Doreen Fernandez in her “Food and War” reads Filipino cuisine as a multicultural text that distill various influences into a menu of hybrid present; when Eric Gamalinda probes the condition of English in the Philippines in his wittily titled “English is Your Mother Tongue/Ang Ingles Ay Tongue ng Ina Mo”; when Vicente Rafael provocatively notes the wry ironies and contradictions of the thoroughly conventional Philippine government celebration of 1898 in his “Parricides, Bastards, and Counter Revolution: Reflections on the Philippine Centennial”; when photographer Emilio Ganot frames his fellow expatriates in Austria in the melancholy embrace of the idea of “Home”; when artists such as the late Robert Villanueva (re)view modernity from a Cordilleran vantage point, and Christina Quisumbing considers the position, displacement, and queerness of today’s Filipina in the diaspora—all engage in a necessary appraisal of our current condition: our intense, and intensely subjective, place in the world.

This book continues the process both of deconstruction and decolonization, in the spirit of the late nationalist historian Renato Constantino, who delineated quite accurately the imperative for doing so in his classic essay, “The Miseducation of the Filipino” (reprinted here). I see another enlargement: the inclusion of the miseducated American, who at best has vague notions of his or her relationship vis-á-vis Filipinos. If he or she thinks of it at all, it’s warm and fuzzy: legions of U.S. pooh-bahs have invariably invoked the deceptive label “special” in discussing that relationship, a word that at once absolves the sins inflicted on an emergent republic and elevates an erstwhile oppressor to privileged status.

Tellingly, a central figure in this so-called “special” relationship has been the American soldier—hardly a symbol of peace but historically entrusted to carry on “the charge of national symbolism and kinship,” as Oscar Campomanes notes in his contribution here, “Casualty Figures of the American Soldier and the Other: Post-1899 Allegories of Imperial Nation-Building as ‘Love and War’.” By the end of World War II, in the eyes of the Filipino, he had been transformed from occupier to “liberator” —a metamorphosis looked at by Bienvenido Lumbera in “From Colonizer to Liberator: How U.S. Colonialism Succeeded in Reinventing Itself After the Pacific War.” Arguably, in fact, the American GI has been the cornerstone of U.S. ties to Asian countries like Korea and Vietnam. (Linkages to these countries, cast as personal stories, are examined in this book’s “Kindred Distance” by Yong Soon Min and “The Hairy Hand” by Nguyen Qui Duc.)  
It may have seemed, with the 1991 rejection by the Philippine Senate of the bases treaty with the United States, that the deployment of the U.S. soldier as a leitmotif in the relationship between the two countries has ended. But in line with the U.S. maintaining its superpower status, that proved to be a temporary hiatus. The Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA), forged in 1998 between the two governments, gives U.S. warships and troops access to Philippine ports—a deal Daniel Boone Schirmer connects to a dubious tradition of American hegemony in his essay here, “U.S. Racism and Intervention in the Third World, Past and Present.”

In 2002, in the aftermath of the 9/11 tragedy, President Arroyo has invoked the VFA and the Mutual Defense Treaty to invite U.S. troops to help fight the Abu Sayyaf—a Mindanao gang that may have had ties to Al Qaeda but is now a kidnap-for-ransom outfit. The Philippine government and the Bush administration are using the so-called “global war on terrorism” as a Trojan horse, pushing their own agendas. Malacañang has offered another front in exchange for U.S. aid, which all but dried up with the 1991 rejection of the bases treaty. Washington sees the gang as an easy target, a possible opening for the Pentagon to regain control of the bases. D’Asia vu. Clearly, soldiers—old or not—never die; nor do they just fade away. With the complicity of Manila, they simply stay.

Against the Dying of the Light 

Is this book partisan? How can it not be? To acknowledge that the U.S. occupation of the Philippines was immoral and illegal right from the very beginning implies the necessary refusal to be silent about it (spurning thus the role of victim, rather than harping on it, as many are wont to interpret such truth-telling). It is simultaneously to resist the tremendous pressure to let the war go quietly into that Dylanesque good night, to instead “rage against the dying of the light.” Above all, Vestiges is a multilayered act of resistance, that remembers, reimagines, and reinserts the War and its aftermath as a drama still playing out, this time with the Filipino/Filipino-American full-fleshed, onstage, onscreen, on the page.

Some may think resistance and scholarship incompatible, that scholarship must be unencumbered by politics or social realities, or any other agenda, except to tell like it is or was—though “objectivity” invariably acts as a synonym for insidious subjectivity. Having experienced institutional ignorance and racism first-hand; having read and learned from such scholars as Frantz Fanon, Edward Said, and Reynaldo Ileto; having contemplated and been moved by the writings of Pablo Neruda, James Baldwin, Mahmoud Darwish, and Emmanuel Lacaba; having seen (and continuing to see) America’s obsessive paranoia—witness its irrational fixation on a missile-defense shield—and self-appointed role as global policeman and arbiter of human rights, I can only say that such a view is not merely anemic and irrelevant, it is indicative of a deeply rooted sense of denial.

The book I hope unsettles many readers, for its partisanship towards a fuller understanding of why precisely America came to figure so prominently in the lives of Filipinos—in their waking hours, their dreams and nightmares—over the last century. As for myself, I am inexorably motivated not just by the profound intersections between personal and public histories but by the desire—and the obligation—to see that the truths pointed to by this book endure, to more fully understand the milieu and history I find myself simultaneously burdened and blessed with. And so Vestiges of War is partisan in the way survivors are partisan, thankful they are alive, taking steps to assure not only that they continue, but that their stories blossom into vigilant insight and mercy.

And when we speak we are afraid
Our words will not be heard or welcomed
But when we are silent we are still afraid.
So it is better to speak remembering
We were never meant to survive.
—Audre Lord, from “A Litany of Survival”

1)     I mean only that Wayne (1906-79) had been in the Philippines cinematically, in They Were Expendable and Back to Bataan, 1945 World War II films set in the Philippines. In the latter, Wayne leads the Filipino and American underground resistance to the Japanese. The ideologically curious screenplay has a guerrilla leader named Andres Bonifacio, an ironic nod to and dubious co-optation of nationalist aspirations. And the soundtrack mixes in the strains of the Philippine national anthem that would have in earlier times summoned Filipinos to fight American adventurers.
2)     Marcos, with U.S. financing and eager to show his anti-Communist sympathies, authorized the sending of Philcag, a noncombatant unit of army engineers, to Vietnam in 1967, later expanded to five construction battalions.
3)     And it was. In the Military Records Bureau of the National Archives in Washington, the War has been demoted to the footnote status of “the Philippine Insurrection.” And yet, as Oscar Campomanes points out in his essay published in this anthology, the War saw the cumulative deployment of 126,000 men, cost $600 million, and entailed pension costs of $8 billion.
4)     The price paid the Spanish for the archipelago, $20 million, as agreed-to in the 1898 Treaty of Paris, came to about $3 per Filipino, based on an estimated 7 million population, though not near enough to preserve the rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, of between 250,000 and a million mostly civilian casualties. Applying the same ratio to the 2000 U.S. population of 290 million, the casualties would have been between an almost unimaginable 10 million and 40 million.
5)     Bruce Bernard, ed., Century (New York and London: Phaidon Publishing, 1999), 19.
6)     Sigrid Nuñez, A Feather on the Breath of God (New York: HarperPerennial, 1996), 22.     
7)     L.H. Francia, “Rising from the Trenches,” program essay for “Empire and Memory,” the Solomon Guggenheim Museum, Feb. 17-Mar.13, 1999. At the end of the 1980s, when the many thoughts I had on the War started to coalesce around tangible projects, (one of which was to write a nonfiction book on the War, focused on my grandfathers) such as the program that eventually became “Empire and Memory,” I had wanted the exhibition to include a set of essays in booklet form. Later Angel Velasco Shaw and I toyed with the notion of including films on Vietnam that had been shot in the Philippines—essentially to link the countries’ violent experiences with the United States, and to point out how an Asian country that had once been invaded by U.S. troops was now being used to re-create conditions of another Asian country undergoing a similar conflict—Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now being a prime example. But format and budget limitations prevented such options.

8)     Resil Mojares, The War Against the Americans: Resistance and Collaboration in Cebu, 1899-1906 (Quezon City: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1999), 205.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

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