"The major said that General Smith
instructed him to kill and burn, and said that the more he killed
and burned the better pleased he would be; that it was no time to
take prisoners, and that he was to make Samar a howling wilderness.
Major Waller asked General Smith to define the age limit for killing
and he replied 'Everything over ten.' "
Major Littletown Waller (1901)
We have already discussed the larger
economic arguments supporting the growth of American imperialism.
The major economic reasons for the growth and expansion of an American
empire were to obtain and ensure access to foreign markets for Americans
to sell their surplus production, sources of cheap natural resources
and raw materials to fuel America's expanding industrial economy,
and places to invest profits and surplus capital that would provide
higher returns than investing in the American economy. Because America
confronted the growth and expansion of European empires in Africa
and Asia by the early 1900s, American political and economic elites
concluded that the only way for America to compete was to expand
its political and economic control over Latin America and Asia and
create its own empire. For many Americans, this expanding empire
would create the "new frontier" which would fuel continuous
economic growth and expansion. American empire promised to protect
and expand American freedom and opportunity. But how did this expansion
of empire affect those peoples and countries dominated and controlled
by the United States. This was a central question supporters of
American empire and economic expansion were forced to answer in
order to gain American support for American imperialism.
We can begin to answer this question
by looking at America's efforts to conquer and control the Philippines
as a colony in the early 1900s. Beginning in the 1890s, the Filipino
people were fighting for their independence from Spanish control
and domination. In 1898, the United
States entered this conflict by going to war against Spain. With
a quick and decisive victory, the United States forced Spain to
give up Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines to American control.
But the Filipinos did not want to be ruled by the United States.
Just as they fought for their independence from Spain, so too did
they fight for their independence from the United States. But American
leaders refused to accept Filipino demands for independence. Instead,
the United States fought a long and bloody war with the Filipino
Revolutionaries, killing over 600,000 Filipinos in more than ten
years of war. What follows is a brief history of the Filipino struggle
for independence against American rule and domination.
History as told from a Filipino Viewpoint
The U.S. Occupation (1898-1946)
The first Philippine Republic was short-lived. Spain had lost a
war with the United States. The Philippines was illegally ceded
to the United States at the Treaty of Paris for US$20 million, together
with Cuba and Puerto Rico.
A Filipino-American War broke out as the United States attempted
to establish control over the islands. The war lasted for more than
10 years, resulting in the death of more than 600,000 Filipinos.
The little-known war has been described by historians as the "first
Vietnam", where US troops first used tactics such as strategic
hamletting and scorched-earth policy to "pacify" the natives.
The United States established an economic system giving the colonizers
full rights to the country's resources. The Spanish feudal system
was not dismantled; in fact, through the system of land registration
that favored the upper Filipino classes, tenancy became more widespread
during the US occupation. A native elite, including physicians trained
in the United States, was groomed to manage the economic and political
system of the country. The U.S. also introduced western models of
educational and health-care systems which reinforced elitism and
a colonial mentality that persists to this day, mixed with the Spanish
feudal patron-client relationship.
Militant peasant and workers' groups were formed during the U.S.
occupation despite the repressive situation. A movement for Philippine
independence, involving diverse groups, continued throughout the
occupation. A Commonwealth government was established in 1935 to
allow limited self-rule but this was interrupted by the Second World
War and the Japanese occupation. The guerilla movement against Japanese
fascism was led mainly by socialists and communists, known by their
Shortly after the end of the Second World War, flag independence
was regained although the U.S. imposed certain conditions, including
the disenfranchisement of progressive political parties, the retention
of U.S. military bases and the signing of economic agreements allowing
the U.S. continued control over the Philippine economy.
The Philippine Republic (1946 - )
The political system of the Philippines was basically pattered after
the U.S., with a bicameral legislature and a president elected every
four years, limited to one re-election. Philippine democracy remained
elitist with two political parties taking turns at the leadership.
In 1972, Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law as his second term
was about to end, amid a resurgence of a nationalist movement that
was questioning treaties on the US military bases and the U.S. economic
Political repression reached its height under Marcos. His preferential
treatment for foreign investors further contributed to the deterioration
of the Philippine economy, particularly with the use of government
funds and foreign loans for the Marcos family and their cronies.
Until the 1960s, the Philippines was economically among the most
developed countries in Southeast Asia; today (1991 when this was
written - Ken), it is the second poorest country in the region.
In the early years after the declaration of martial law, opposition
against Marcos was spearheaded by the Left. A new Communist Party
was established in 1968, followed by the New People's Army (NPA)
in 1969. After Marcos's declaration of martial law in 1972, a broader
political grouping called the National Democratic Front (NDF) was
established with an anti-imperialist, anti-feudal and anti-fascist
line. In the southern Philippines, the Muslim fought for secession
through the Moro
National Liberation Front (MNLF).
The assassination of Senator Benigno Aquino Jr. in 1983 precipitated
an economic and political crisis that further broadened the ranks
of those opposed to Marcos. Strapped for funds, the Marcos regime
agreed to a "stabilization plan" from the International
Monetary Fund (IMF) that plunged the economy back to 1975 levels.
In February 1986, after holding blatantly fraudulent presidential
elections, Marcos was overthrown by a civilian uprising supported
by the military. Marcos's rival in the election, Corazon Aquino,
became the new president.
The economic and political crisis in the country continues even
the restoration of formal democratic processes including the ratification
of a new Constitution and the election of a Congress. The new Congress
remains dominated by the elite, including former officials during
the Marcos dictatorship. Economic policies remain essentially conservative
with an Omnibus Investments Code that favors foreign investors and
a limited land reform law. The new government has pledged to pay
the entire foreign debt of US$28 billion, much of which had been
incurred by Marcos under anomalous conditions. In 1990, the government
agreed to another IMF stabilization plan that includes cutbacks
on government budgets; reduction or elimination of subsidies and
increased taxes. Graft and corruption remains endemic and has eroded
support from the middle class.
The new government is essentially a fractious coalition of conservative
forces representing traditional interests as exemplified by their
policies on land reform, labor, foreign investments and their antagonism
toward progressive groups. The perennial attempted coups by right-wing
elements in the military are manifestations of power struggles among
the members of the conservative elites, who ride on continuing discontent
among the people brought about by the slow pace of economic and
political change. Independent and progressive groups that work with
peasants, workers, students and other sectors have sustained the
struggle for more substantial social changes but face increasing
repression, particularly from paramilitary (vigilante) groups formed
with the tacit support of the government.
Serious questions about the dominant models of development, including
those used in health care with its hospital- and doctor-centered
orientation, have spurred new initiatives in health care among alternative
organizations. Community-based health programs are part of the popular
movements that seek to democratize health care even as the struggle
goes on for other structural reforms.
How could America, a democratic
nation that believes in individual's inalienable rights to freedom,
fight a long and bloody war with the Philippines to forcibly deny
them the same basic rights as Americans believe are their inherent
rights? The answer to this question explains the paradox of American
imperialism in the twentieth century: On the one hand we claim we
are struggling to bring democracy and freedom to the world, and
on the other we fight to deny countries and peoples the very freedoms
we claim America stands for. The answer to this question lies in
ideas about American manifest destiny and America's god-given mission
to bring law and order and growth and stability to backward nations.
Let's now look at the arguments for American imperialism in the
early 1900s to better understand this paradox.
In his "America's Destiny"
speech, Senator Albert Beveridge lays out the basic arguments supporting
American imperialism in the twentieth century. Beveridge first argues
that controlling the Philippines will help America gain an economic
foothold in Asia. He argues that "trade and development made
necessary our commercial empire over the pacific." In addition
to helping the American economy and trade, American imperialism
will allow America to carry out its noble god-given destiny of "regenerating
the world." Beveridge and other supporters of an American empire
believed that America had a "divine mission" to bring
our modern civilization, Christianity, our democratic institutions,
and our culture to backward peoples. Beveridge did not perceive
any contradiction between American control over other peoples and
our democratic principles. He argues:
The Declaration of Independence
does not forbid us to do our part in the regeneration of the world.
If it did, the Declaration would be wrong....It was written by self-governing
men for self-governing men.
Because of our racial, cultural,
social, and religious superiority to backward peoples, we had a
mission to civilize and develop them. Beveridge and others believed
that under American guidance, these savage and uncivilized races
and peoples would one day we ready for the democratic rights and
freedoms that Americans had.
Let's now look at how American President
justified American domination and control over other countries.
In 1898, President McKinley argued that God had told him, in answer
to his prayers, that it was America's duty to control the Philippines.
They were unfit for self-government--and
they would soon have anarchy and misrule worse than Spain's war.
[Therefore]...there was nothing left for us to do but to take them
all, and to educate the Filipinos, and uplift and civilize and Christianize
them as our fellow-men for whom Christ also died.
Like Beveridge, McKinley did not
see any large American selfish motives for controlling the Philippines.
But, of course, in return for our control and guidance, the United
States and American economic interests would benefit by dominating
and exploiting the Filipino economy and natural resources. American
economic benefits were just our just reward for our efforts to "uplift
and civilize" the Philippines.
Like McKinley, President Roosevelt
and later President Wilson argue that American control and domination
of Latin American countries, the Philippines, and China are not
for our own selfish interests but in the interests of these backward
countries. In his "Corollary to the Monroe Doctrine,"
President Roosevelt argued that "it is not true that the United
States feels any land hunger or entertains any projects as regards
the other nations of the Western Hemisphere save such as are for
their welfare. All that this country desires is to see the neighboring
countries stable, orderly, and prosperous." Because these backward
countries need to develop their economies and natural resources,
Roosevelt argues that it is in their interests as well as the interest
of the United States that America ensures that these countries governments
and societies maintain law and order and social and economic stability.
President Wilson justified the United States invasions of Mexico,
Nicaragua, and Haiti, arguing that "I am going to teach the
South American republics to elect good men." Loewen argues
that under Wilson, the United States intervened in Latin America
more often than at any other time in our history.
But there is a serious contradiction
in these American arguments for imperialism. What would the United
States do if these so-called "backward" or underdeveloped
countries refused to accept American domination? What if they did
not want America's guidance, and did not want American culture,
civilization, democratic institutions, and way of life? What if
these countries and peoples demanded the freedom to choose their
own culture, develop their societies in their own way, and control
their own economies and natural resources? American imperialism
refused to recognize that these countries and peoples had this right.
We believed that our society was and should be the model for all
countries to follow, and that they should accept our benevolence
and guidance to become modern, civilized, economically developed,
and democratic. In refusing to allow the Philippines their independence,
and the rights to control their own country and society, we killed
600,000 Filipinos. In the name of bringing democracy and civilization
to the Philippines, we killed hundreds of thousands, believing that
we knew what was best for them.
But these contradictions in the
argument for American imperialism did not go unnoticed. Some Americans
challenged the growth and expansion of an American empire, arguing
that a democratic nation could not take and hold colonies and deny
to other people the very rights Americans believe they themselves
are entitled to. The Anti-Imperialism League tried to convince Americans
that controlling the Philippines as a colony threatened not only
the basic rights of Filipino people but also threatened American
democracy itself. They declared:
We hold, with Abraham Lincoln, that
"no man is good enough to govern another man without that man's
consent. When the white man governs himself and also governs another
man, that is more than self-government--that is despotism."....Those
who deny freedom to others deserve it not for themselves, and under
a just God cannot long retain it."
The Anti-Imperialist League argued
that American democracy was threatened by American imperialism.
If our government could decide which countries and peoples were
ready for democratic self-rule, what would stop the United States
government from deciding that the American people themselves couldn't
be trusted with democratic self-rule? If our leaders truly believed
in democracy, and the inherent right of all people to shape and
control our lives, how could they deny these rights to other peoples?
As we shall see, increasingly throughout
the twentieth century, the United States government denies the American
people the democratic right to shape and control their government
and society. Throughout the Cold War, the American government lied
to the American people, spied on Americans who challenged government
policy, and even killed Americans who challenged the government.
Whether it was about Vietnam, the Soviet Union, El Salvador, Guatemala,
or the Philippines, the United States government lied to the American
people believing that we could not be trusted to make the right
decisions to guarantee American political and economic dominance
in the world. I believe that the growth of the American empire in
the twentieth century, and the expansion of American economic and
political domination over large parts of the world, threatened and
weakened American democracy and American's faith in their government,
their society, and their future. The irony of American imperialism
is that we believed we were bringing our democracy and freedom to
others, but in the end denied other countries and the American people
the very freedoms we claimed America stood for. This is the tragic
irony of what Williams calls "empire as a way of life."