Turn of the Century

Blood of Government w. Paul Kramer

December 22, 2020
Turn of the Century
Blood of Government w. Paul Kramer
Chapters
Turn of the Century
Blood of Government w. Paul Kramer
Dec 22, 2020

The Philippine-American war is often overlooked in US History books, but it was bloody turning point at the edge of the 20th century. The United States military had never traveled so far to invade a country it knew so little about. 

The war itself was brutal for both sides. Americans demolished the Filipino army early, and then local revolutionaries turned to Guerrilla warfare. Professor Paul Kramer joins the show to explain how the years-long war influenced ideas of race and nation. Soldiers, Reporters and civilians adopted harsh views the 'enemy.'  This would have long lasting reverberations; over a hundred years later our languages are still affected by this war.

Paul Kramer writes and teaches U. S. history from transnational, imperial and global perspectives as an associate professor at Vanderbilt University.

He is the author of The Blood of Government: Race, Empire, the United States and the Philippines, and co-editor of Cornell University Press’ series The United States in the World.  He is currently writing books on the practice of transnational history, and on connections between American foreign relations and U. S. immigration policy across the 20th century.

Show Notes Transcript

The Philippine-American war is often overlooked in US History books, but it was bloody turning point at the edge of the 20th century. The United States military had never traveled so far to invade a country it knew so little about. 

The war itself was brutal for both sides. Americans demolished the Filipino army early, and then local revolutionaries turned to Guerrilla warfare. Professor Paul Kramer joins the show to explain how the years-long war influenced ideas of race and nation. Soldiers, Reporters and civilians adopted harsh views the 'enemy.'  This would have long lasting reverberations; over a hundred years later our languages are still affected by this war.

Paul Kramer writes and teaches U. S. history from transnational, imperial and global perspectives as an associate professor at Vanderbilt University.

He is the author of The Blood of Government: Race, Empire, the United States and the Philippines, and co-editor of Cornell University Press’ series The United States in the World.  He is currently writing books on the practice of transnational history, and on connections between American foreign relations and U. S. immigration policy across the 20th century.

Joseph Hawthorne:

Welcome to turn of the century, a podcast about the turn of the 20th century. I'm your host, Joe Hawthorne. And today, we're talking about the language, culture, definitions of race and Empire in the US Philippine American War. The Philippine American war is often overlooked in US history books, but it was a bloody turning point. At the edge of the 20th century, the United States military had never traveled so far to invade a country it knew so little about Thor itself was brutal for both sides. Americans demolished the Filipino army early, and then local revolutionaries turn to guerrilla warfare. Professor Paul Kramer joins the show to explain how the years long conflict influenced racial attitudes, perceptions of the world for both Americans and Filipinos, soldiers, reporters civilians, adopted harsh views of the enemy. This would have long lasting reverberations over 100 years later, our language, some of our ideas about the world are still affected by this time period. Without further ado, let's talk about the blood of government. Welcome back, everyone. Today we're talking about race, politics and Empire with Professor Paul Kramer, Paul writes and teaches us history from transnational, Imperial, and global perspectives is an associate professor at Vanderbilt University. He also wrote an amazing book titled blood of government, which explores these themes through us colonization and war in the Philippines. Welcome, Paul. I'm really excited to be talking today. Thanks for having me. So broadly, I'm curious about the periods of politics change during the Philippine American War, from 1898. To kind of 1902, we'll say 1902 and then through the early part of the 1900s, in the turn of the century. Today, we're going to start by talking about how race and politics and Empire changed during the work. First of all, just to get us started the Spanish American War, and then the Philippine American War, begin 1898 at 99. How would you characterize American and Filipino views of each other going into the turn of the century before the war.

Paul Kramer:

So starting with the Philippine side, the late 19th century is a time of intense ferment in the Philippines, you're beginning to see intensified revolt by Filipino peasants against the Spanish and Filipino landowners. you're beginning to see petitions by Filipino elites for greater rights within the Spanish Empire that had ruled over the Philippines for hundreds of years. And so you see this set of political campaigns that eventually result in a full blown campaign for independence. And in 1896, you see a Philippine Revolution breakout against Spanish rule that has both elite and popular support. And it does not succeed militarily. So it's defeated, the Filipino leaders go into exile, and Spain agrees in name to some reforms, Filipino groups in exile agree formally not to not to continue revolting. But they do continue to plan to fight for Philippine independence. And this is really a major moment in Asian history in terms of the beginnings of decolonization of indigenous groups pushing for rights, pushing for greater autonomy and ultimately for sovereignty. So from the Filipino perspective, they're looking for allies all over the world to support their campaign for independence. And they look to the United States in some respects, as a model of the former colony that has become a powerful, independent republic. So there's a strain of Filipino thought that looks to the United States as a potential ally, even though the United States has not really stepped out onto the world sleeve. But diplomatically and morally the sense that the US can be a model. There's also suspicion of the United States that Filipinos are aware of Jim Crow, they're aware of genocide of Native Americans, they're aware that the American public has a really violent and oppressive history with regards to people of color. And so there's really kind of mixed mixed feelings about the United States. But that's that's coming at the story from a Southeast Asian context. Looking at the United States, you know, the United States is beginning to become a world power in the late 19th century, particularly through its Industrial Light, which is taking off and its ability to export more goods to other parts of the world. It's becoming a military power, particularly by building up a world class Navy that can project power beyond us borders. And it's a time when the world has been carved up by industrialized empires centered in Europe, seeking colonies, resources, military bases in the prestige and power that comes with governing over non white people. So this is really characterizing the kind of world politics during this period in the United States, like other powers is interested in in trying to get a foothold in regions where it can project power insecure Congress successfully. And in that context, the fact that Spanish power is imploding in different parts of the world presents a kind of opportunity. And this first manifests itself in Cuba, where the third of three Cuban revolts has weakened Spanish power to the breaking point. And it also in the case of the Philippine Revolution, even though the revolution had not succeeded in its first wave, it weaken Spanish power. And there's really a sense that, as the United States is trying to get foothold in different parts of the world, particularly in the Caribbean, which was understood by American policymakers to be a kind of natural Dominion for the United States, as well as Asia, where policymakers were interested in trying to get a military foothold that would allow American exporters to compete in the China market. So any place where there was territory that seemed to be coming available through internal revolt, or through the weakening of an existing imperial power presented certain kinds of opportunities from the Americans perspective. Now, that said, Americans knew very, very little about the Philippines itself coming into 1898. You know, it's it's not clear to Americans, what race Filipinos are at a time when that when racial understandings completely saturate every aspect of the way. White Americans think about membership, political power, sovereignty. So there's a lot of ambiguity. And that is part of what I traced in my research is the ways that Americans impressions of Filipinos change, as the US becomes more diplomatically and ultimately, militarily entangled with the Philippines.

Joseph Hawthorne:

That's amazing. And so, first of all, I'm curious, this just came to mind for me, but you know, I was just thinking, as you were talking about how the Philippines was looking for allies as a Southeast Asian country, that is, you know, trying people trying to become independent, and also trying to figure out what independence looks like, you know, and I was thinking about some of the history of Vietnam and of how Vietnamese independence movement. It kind of had similar views about the United States. And, you know, ultimately, obviously, the US fought a terrible war in Vietnam. But, you know, there was this kind of ambiguity for a long time. Do you think that that's a good comparison? You know, comparing the turn of the century Philippines to, I guess, early to mid 1900s, Vietnam,

Paul Kramer:

I think there are some comparisons that can be made, I mean, some rough comparisons with, as you said, the understanding that that there are also substantial differences. But I think, on the one hand, the fact that United States, you know, does come into being as a polity by overthrowing a powerful empire, you know, providing a very potent set of metaphors and narratives for other decolonizing people, particularly given the United States's economic success in the 19th century, and it's particularly its success in consolidating after the wrenching realities of the Civil War. But the sense that you could break away from an existing Empire and become a prosperous, thriving, powerful Republic, was inspiring to lots of people. And I think it, you know, the 20th century, it really becomes important because this becomes a part of American national identity, particularly as the United States becomes a world power and begins to impose its power on other people, that narrative of emancipation of self emancipation, think becomes more important, the more dominating the United States becomes so that that idea that what might appear to be similar forms of domination, colonialism, extraction are really different because the US was a different kind of power becomes very important to American exceptionalism in the 20th century, and the idea that you know, you Yes, the US exercises dominion over the Caribbean, you know, yes, the US is using diplomacy, to project its commercial goods all over the world. But the US is not the Europeans, the US is not the British or the French or the Germans. Later, the Japanese, those ideas that the US was a different kind of empire by virtue of not being an empire becomes very important to Americans national identity, and, and it's an ideology that also gets taken up by lots of other people around the world who are looking for models of how you can be a successful independent state. Um, so I think that's part of what Filipinos and later Vietnamese nationalists are, are picking up. Um, I think there's also a deal of a of very smart diplomacy going on, as well. I think there's some belief that the US is different and might actually be supportive of independent Republic's. But there's also I think, a case where Filipino and later Vietnamese nationalists who are looking for diplomatic support, know what to say to the Americans to flatter them and to make them feel good about themselves. And so I think that's a part of that as well is a is a kind of strategic use of that exceptionalist discourse, to make sure that Americans think that their potential sort of collaborators think the best of them. So I think there's both things wrong.

Joseph Hawthorne:

So I think it's a great transition to talking specifically about the Philippine American War, right at the turn of the 20th, century 1899 898, let's say to 1902. So the war begins very differently than it ends, right. So the, as you just mentioned, Filipino nationalist from a revolutionaries are writing a constitution that clearly includes references to the United States that is trying to ally with the United States. And the United States is sending, let's say, mixed messages about what it intends to do in the Philippines, if there's going to be a Navy base there if they're going to send more troops. So, you know, can you walk us through a little bit of how the war is projected at the beer? How, I guess policy, let's say is projected at the beginning of the war, versus how it changes by 1902? Sure,

Paul Kramer:

well, first, I guess I would start by just taking us to the origins of the war. And the thing I would emphasize is that this is a second war. And I think that's an important point to make. Because in a lot of textbooks, there's this kind of one word turn of the century. And sometimes people will kind of hyphenate it, they'll say, you know, it's the Spanish Cuban, Puerto Rican, so, you know, Philippine war. And they'll stretch it from 1898 to 1902. And that's factually inaccurate, and actually reproduces the kind of Imperial perspectives that Americans had at the turn of the century were in effect from Americans perspectives, by taking the Philippines they were just enforcing the sovereignty claims that came to them from beating Spain, in Cuba, and in the Caribbean, and in the Treaty settlement after after that war. In fact, what's happening is that the Spanish was the US defeats Spain in the in the Caribbean. And there is, you know, sit down between us and Spanish diplomats, from which delegates from any of the Spanish colonies are excluded systematically. So no Cubans no Puerto Ricans, no Filipinos are part of those negotiations in a you know, what was a very standard form of Imperial diplomacy. And the United States, in effect purchases sovereignty over the Philippines from thing and the problem is that that point because of the return of Filipino revolutionaries from exile, and they're successful, leading of a revolution in the spring of 1898, the Philippines is really not held by Spanish power anymore. And, and so Filipino political elites contest whether Spain even has the right to be sitting down with the United States to be negotiating a treaty over the sovereignty of the Philippines and meanwhile, you have Emily Ogun, Aldo, the leader of the rebellion, you know, declaring Philippine independence in June of 1898. Um, and, and initially declaring a military dictatorship under wartime conditions, with the understanding that the Philippines will eventually become a republic under some form of self governing authority. And as you said, the United States has had a very vexed complicated relationship to his movement and to the Philippine Revolution. On the one hand, once the US is involved in a war in Cuba, operating under pre existing war plans, the US Navy At that point under Theodore Roosevelt sells the Pacific squatter under Commodore Dewey out to the Philippines to engage Spanish forces. And Dewey defeats the Spanish Navy very handily, outside of Manila Bay, and at the same time, brings Aldo back to the Philippines. And he's given instructions not to recognize our ganados authority to not recognize him as the legitimate leader of an independent country. On the other hand, diplomats in Hong Kong, that have been meeting with Aguinaldo has have been offering promises of recognition and kind of promises that the United States is going to support an independent Philippines. So I can although has lots of reasons to believe that, that he's being returned by the United States, you know, not to help finish off Spain's, of the United States can colonize, but so that he can lead an independent Philippine government under something like a US protectorate, where the US will, you know, with its naval power, and through diplomacy, extend some kind of protections to this fledgling and vulnerable Republic.

Joseph Hawthorne:

And I'm gonna jump in here, because I think this is a really key time to to, I guess, narrow down a little bit more, because we're talking about more broad policy and more broad of geopolitics on the ground from 1898 to 1899, you know, between the end of the Spanish American War versus will become a Philippine American War, you know, what's the view? Do you think of soldiers and reporters, as the The war is changing from a anti Spanish anti, theoretically anti Imperial War to a war of conquest? You know, how do Americans seem to view Filipinos or vice versa at

Paul Kramer:

that point? Well, this was the period that I really found the most fascinating during this section of my research, because this period of from mid 1890s, and early 1899, is one of incredible ambiguity on the ground in the Philippines. So, you know, after defeating the Spanish Navy, the US military lands, forces in Manila and fights, a kind of arranged battle with Spain, basically, to arrange a kind of honorable handover of the capital, Spanish to understand that they're beaten in the capital, but they collaborate with the Americans to keep Filipino forces out of the capital. So what you have are American occupying forces in Manila. And then you have og and all those forces that have successfully routed Spanish troops in, in Luzon. And they're on the outskirts of Manila. And for the period between, you know, August, when the United States takes over Manila, and the fall, when the United States is negotiating with Spain, about Philippines, there's just a lot of complex suspicious mutual perception by Americans and Filipinos as they're kind of trying to read each other's motivations. I mean, Filipinos are very concerned that the United States continues to project, a language that we're here to liberate. We're here to free you from Spanish oppression, you can trust our motives. We're a, you know, a free Republic, or an anti Imperial Republic. So they're hearing that kind of language that's being, you know, delivered at very high levels by the occupying authorities, you while they can see that the military is entrenching itself is not letting Filipino forces into the city and seems to be kind of preparing itself for a battle against them. So where things start to get, you know, I mean, meanwhile, during this period, you have Filipinos in and around Manila are trying to win the Americans over, they're inviting them over. They're trying to socialize. And so I found this short story that really reflects this where it's the story of an American soldier who, the friends, a Filipino revolutionary, and really begins to see him as appear and, you know, begins to think about the prospects that he might actually be someone who could be a citizen of an independent republic, like, like the American soldier. And so the story turns sour when the Americans mistaken for a Spaniard by some Filipino revolutionaries, is attacked on the road. And out of the blue, the Americans Filipino friend, jumps out, attacks his own companions to save the Americans, and is shot and sacrificed in the process. So it's a story that is about the Americans being willing to the Americans being willing to recognize Filipino polity as a kind of incipient government, but only in the end this They're willing to sacrifice themselves on behalf of the Americans, which I think is certainly an autonomous an ominous turn in the story, but it's just something about the relative open endedness of American soldiers perceptions where the soldiers at the time on the ground are, you know, they're frustrated, they're not sure exactly why they're there. They know they've defeated Spain. They're not sure why they're in Manila, why they're not being sent home, or why they're not getting to do more fighting. Some of them feel that emasculating that they're being denied opportunities to kill more people, you know, part of the promise of the glory of Empire was that you were going to get to actually wage battle in the far flung corners of the world. And so that leads to a lot of tension. And on the Filipino side, of course, there's intense suspicion that the Americans are not living up to their promises. And this becomes very sharp by the end of 1898, when it becomes clear that the United States is actually pushing for sovereignty over the Philippines that they're they're actually struggling with Spain, to get Spain to hand over some kind of sovereign power over the Philippines. And that leads to you know, the simmering tensions between Americans and Filipino soldiers on the ground really burst into flames in the early 1899 period right after the us senate ratifies the Treaty of Paris by one vote after a very heated debate about what colonizing the Philippines who would mean for the United States, one of the most significant debates in the US foreign policy in that period, after the senate passes that treaty, war breaks out when a US soldier fires on Filipino forces outside of Manila. And suddenly the tensions that have been kind of under the surface over the previous months really break into the open. And that's the start of the war.