How War Abroad Affects Us at Home and the Case of the Philippine Islands

Introduction

It seems to me, the significance of understanding history and all that it encompasses is to have a broad understanding of what we do, our patterns, how the patterns of world affairs affect the whole, how it affects us at home and also those overseas. It might do us well to take at least one example in history, look at it broadly, and make some observations relevant to our current situation here at home and in world affairs. The Philippines is a good case in point because it is an example of our first overseas venture into war.

Casualties of the Philippine-American War
Casualties of the Philippine-American War | Source

The Philippines Islands

The Philippines is a chain of more than 7,000 islands in Southeast Asia, with three major islands and island groupings known as Luzon (in the north), the Visayas (in the central region), and Mindanao (in the south). Due to European influence and colonialism, the northern region is primarily Catholic, while the south has held onto Islamic roots that date back many hundreds of years.

Pre-Spanish Philippines

Many thousands of years ago, the Philippines were connected to the Asian mainland. During this time, bands of Negritos (similar to African pygmies) migrated to the Philippines and lived a simple tribal life on the Islands. The land bridge which connected the Philippines to the Asian mainland was eventually swallowed up by the ocean; soon, the sea-faring Indonesians, a Polynesian people, came to the Islands and settled, living peacefully with the Negritos.

There was, not far in the distance, a Malay empire which had developed, which had a diverse cultural influence of Islamic, Indian, and uniquely Malay character. These people migrated to the Philippine Islands also, and brought with them their law, government, and education; however, they also peacefully co-existed with the other early inhabitants.

There was much trade and cultural interchange during this time, to the point that the Philippines had influences from across Asia.

Negritos were the earliest inhabitants of the Philippine Islands that still inhabit the Philippines to this day.
Negritos were the earliest inhabitants of the Philippine Islands that still inhabit the Philippines to this day. | Source
Painting portraying the Battle of Mactan in which native Filipino chieftain, Lapu Lapu, defeated world explorer, Ferdinand Magellan.
Painting portraying the Battle of Mactan in which native Filipino chieftain, Lapu Lapu, defeated world explorer, Ferdinand Magellan. | Source
Jose Rizal was a Filipino reformist that exposed the abuses of Spanish colonial rule in the Philippines.
Jose Rizal was a Filipino reformist that exposed the abuses of Spanish colonial rule in the Philippines. | Source
Emilio Aguinaldo was a Filipino general in the Philippine Revolution against Spain and in the fight again US invasion in the Philippine American War.
Emilio Aguinaldo was a Filipino general in the Philippine Revolution against Spain and in the fight again US invasion in the Philippine American War. | Source
Famous American author and humorist, Mark Twain, was a staunch critic of the US invasion and occupation of the Philippines at the turn of the 20th century.
Famous American author and humorist, Mark Twain, was a staunch critic of the US invasion and occupation of the Philippines at the turn of the 20th century. | Source

Spanish Invasion and Colonization and the Advent of America

It was in 1521 that the Portuguese explorer ventured to circumnavigate the globe for Spain. He traveled as far as the Philippines, where he conquered and converted a segment of the population in the central islands, but by the time he set foot on the little island of Mactan, he encountered the native chieftan, Lapu-lapu, and a formidable group of island warriors that brought down the conqueror, ending his voyage short, leaving his haggard crew to finish the journey around the globe. Magellan's body was never recovered.

It was not until 1565 that the Spanish returned to the Islands to complete the conquest: This time with success.

The Spanish colonization of the Philippines was wrought with abuses committed by the clergy, blatant racial discrimination, cruel exploitation of farm laborers, forced labor, and corrupt and pompous governors. And there was an almost total absence of representation of the native population in the government, and any native officials were at the lower and local levels of government, and certainly none were at higher levels that could influence the colonial power of Spain.

In 1886, a Filipino mestizo by the name of Jose Rizal began writing about the abuses of the clergy and Spanish government, and pushing for agrarian reform. Rizal was a well-educated man, a linguist, as well as a physician; he mingled with European intellectuals and even had influence on political movers in the colonizers' home country of Spain. Needless to say, the Spanish government was not happy with Rizal's political activities, and exiled him. When Rizal published two novels ridiculing Spanish clergy and government, it seemed it was all the colonizers could take. When revolution broke out, led by the revolutionary group called the Katipunan, Rizal was blamed for involvement in the revolution by Spanish authorities, though in actuality he was not involved in the armed struggle; Rizal's emphasis was always on reform and not revolution. In 1896, Rizal was executed by firing squad: Refusing to wear a blindfold, the young, passionate reformist said he wanted to see the sun shine on his homeland one last time.

Unfortunately for the Spanish, the execution of Rizal did not deter the rest of the population and its fervently revolutionary element. The Katipunan were ignited by the unjust execution of the native hero, Jose Rizal.

Andres Bonifacio and Emilio Aguinaldo were the leaders of the revolution which ensued in 1896 and was complete by 1898. By 1898, America had declared war against Spain and began to take her territories, including Cuba and the Philippines. Under the pretext of helping the native Filipinos and restoring their independence, America joined the fight against Spain in the Philippines; however, the American government's intent was really to retain the Philippines for herself, to make it the equivalent of an American colony. Therefore, there was the Philippine-American War between the US and the Philippines between 1899-1902. Mark Twain was one of the most fervent critics of the war, though at first supporting it and believing it to be a humanitarian venture; he realized at some point that it was merely a business venture and America brought its own cruelty and torture to the Islands to match the former Spanish oppressors. Thus, Twain brought the fight to government and business with his Anti-Imperialist League. However, to no avail, and the Philippines became a territory of the US after much bloodshed and torture.

Cover of Life magazine portraying American military's use of  water torture, or "water cure", during the Philippine American War. Brings to mind current issues of our government using "water boarding" in our current foreign conflicts.
Cover of Life magazine portraying American military's use of water torture, or "water cure", during the Philippine American War. Brings to mind current issues of our government using "water boarding" in our current foreign conflicts. | Source

Effects of American Colonization of the Philippines on America: Some Conclusions, Observations, and Things to Consider

As is a usual side effect of war and colonialism, there was an influx of immigrants from the subjugated country to the colonial power's home. Much of the immigration from the Philippines into the US in the first half of the 20th century was contracted, cheap farm laborers who were terribly exploited and who lived in substandard conditions in the US. Out of this experience came the famous Filipino-American writer and political activist, Carlos Bulosan who was persecuted and eventually destroyed by the FBI.

It is important to understand the full scope of the Philippine experience including how US foreign policy helped to shape immigration trends that influenced the environment of America itself.

So, in the first half of the 20th century, such immigrants as students, nurses, and poor laborers came from the Islands to America; and for the most part it was a rough go; poverty, discrimination, and violence were a part of life for the average Filipino in America at this time. But it is important to remember this phenomenon is not unique to Philippine-American relations, but occurs, in some form or another, in any foreign venture in which the US is engaged. It is extraordinarily important to understand how these actions of the government affect the whole global community. The places and people change, but the story fundamentally remains the same: We hear of torture, the high death toll, questionable motives for war, economic influences, former colonization of lands in which we are at war, and the plight of immigrants coming to the US facing ever more challenges which include a local backlash and the psychological and material after-effects of war.

It is relevant that we are currently involved in several wars, at least two have lasted around a decade. It is undeniable such involvement across the globe will affect us here at home. It is important to be conscious of, and to bring an understanding to, the changing homeland environment. We have the children of war coming to our shores and we have a responsibility to understand what we've had a hand in creating for them, and what will be created for them now.

Source

References

Zaide, Gregorio, Philippine Political and Cultural History, 1950, 1957. Philippine Education Co.

Zaide, Gregorio, The Philippine Revolution, 1968. Modern Book Co.


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Comments 8 comments

NateB11 profile image

NateB11 5 months ago from California, United States of America Author

Thanks, Robert. Much appreciated.


Robert Sacchi profile image

Robert Sacchi 5 months ago

An interesting article about the history of the Philippines up to the 20th century.


NateB11 profile image

NateB11 3 years ago from California, United States of America Author

Thank you, conradofontanilla. I think I've heard of that author. I will have to find that book.


conradofontanilla 3 years ago

I recommend another reference, "A History of the Filipino People" by Teodoro A. Agoncillo. Agoncillo is a more incisive historian than Zaide. He wrote Philippine history in the point of view of the Filipino.


NateB11 profile image

NateB11 4 years ago from California, United States of America Author

Thank you, Tletna, for the the very thoughtful observations of my article. I admit I did leave out a very important of part of US-Philippine historical relations, the period from World War Two on, particularly; relations changed significantly at that time, here and abroad. I was trying to focus on a particular thing, but it is true the examination could be expanded greatly. Also, I actually agree that the on-going and complex after effects of war here at home could be even more deeply examined, as you say, especially including vets who have been deeply affected by the horrors of war. Thank you. This might be very good material for a follow up!


Tletna 4 years ago

I believe you should have better covered the time periods between the end of Spanish rule through to modern times (currently 2012). I believe this especially applies to the world wars, World War 2 most of all.

From what I gather, while the US has definitely exploited the Philippines, it has also been its greatest ally. If the US harmed the Philippines in any way it was from not protecting them well enough against the Japanese during WW2 (just as the US failed to protect Cuba from a probably well-intentioned but still iron-fist-philosophy dictator like Fidel Castro).

Since much of the currently increasing prosperity of the Philippines is due to business with the US and China (who are also profiting off of mutual trade and the placation or occasional oppression of their own citizens), I would say that your article, while correct and very informative in some ways, is incomplete and slanted in a very anti-American manner.

I also noticed that you sort of rushed the conclusion at the end. I would agree that war affects us at home whether we are invaders or invaded. It will affect society if we send soldiers off to war and some die, others grow wiser, tougher but also traumatized, and less come back to their original lives as if nothing had happened. Then if this is followed by some immigrants/refugees who have nowhere else to go, it complicates issues more. Yes, this will definitely affect our society. However, I don't believe you analyzed this with enough depth or detail.

I would like to see a related or follow-up article some day that actually discusses the positive contributions to the Philippines made by the US past and present, how the US helped and hurt (or didn't defend well enough) the Philippines during the WW1 / WW2 eras, and finally a much deeper and more thorough discourse on how war actually affects us at home.


NateB11 profile image

NateB11 4 years ago from California, United States of America Author

I didn't cover the World War Two era, it was different. I also don't declare that America is the only one guilty of bloodshed; unfortunately, it is the blight of all humanity; and in fact, that's my point, I just used this one example; could have been talking about almost any country, that's why I talked of patterns, it keeps repeating itself; and has an effect at home, etc. However, going to war with someone and then saving them from the damage is like stabbing someone and then bandaging the wound; or eating a half rotten egg or voting for the lesser of two evils; it really doesn't do away with the corruption. Thanks for stopping by, commenting and voting. I appreciate your interest and consideration.


swb78 profile image

swb78 4 years ago from Gainesville Georgia

I would only argue one point, as someone who has been to the Philippines, we saved them from speaking Japanese for eternity! Moreover, America is not unique in it`s propensity to engage in war--every nation in human history has blood on its hands--every one. The biggest difference is when America gets done kicking a**, she gives back the land and helps to rebuild it, unlike socialists and communists who have the innocent blood of millions on there hands, and, billions in confiscated private wealth. Let`s just get a little perspective--good article. Voting up. WP

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