Professor Paul Kramer re-joins the show to explain how the years-long Philippine-American war influenced racial attitudes. As the conflict continued, soldiers and civilians became more intolerant and violent. From letters to songs to government policy, Kramer demonstrates the war's cultural impact.
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.
Okay, and so I think that's a really interesting ambiguity, like you said, talking about the beginning of the Philippine American War, as opposed to the 1898. Spanish American War. Now, how does how do perceptions of Filipinos and Americans change on the ground? As the war goes on? How can we tell that Americans are using different language or, you know, the public is starting to develop different views of the enemy, let's say How are things changing throughout the Philippine American war? So one of the things that I found in my research is that the war itself, not surprisingly, accelerates and intensifies the hostilities between Americans and Filipinos. Yeah, and, you know, so suddenly, each side is, you know, finding friends and comrades killed. So you see this intensification of rage, and on the Americans side, it's fueled by a bunch of different things. On the one hand,Paul Kramer:
the American soldiers who have felt cooped up in Manila, for, you know, six months, are thrilled to be able to be fighting someone, and there's a certain amount of this that is just pent up martial, masculine rage and aggression that is being laid out, there is a way that there's a sense that, including among the soldiers, that what they're doing is imposing a legitimate tree on Filipinos who will not respect the settlement between the United States and Spain. So there's a sense now of, you know, kind of fighting for a just cause to suppress what they see as a disorderly insurrection against legitimate American rule. And, and then there's also the beginnings of this intense racialization process that I tracked happening throughout the war. And so, you know, many of the soldiers are, you know, they're growing up in an American society that in different ways, and in different regions, and with different textures, is completely awash in racial thinking about the very fundamental nature of society and politics. And, as I said, early on, when the political relationship between the United States and the Philippines is kind of unclear, some of that is held in check, I think, by the sense that Americans of Filipinos might be allies, they might actually be allied against Spain. But once they're in a context of a geopolitical antagonism, and warfare, I really feel like there's a transformative dynamic where a lot of the racist thinking that soldiers were bringing to bear on kind of all aspects of their lives, really gets unleashed in the Philippines. And as I argue, it takes lots of different forms. I mean, you have soldiers that do apply racist language, directed in the United States, against Native Americans or against African Americans, to Filipinos in the context of a war. And some of the soldiers have been fighting in the Indian Wars and the language of kind of for fighting Indians over here, you know, comes fairly naturally to them. But there's also new vocabularies that begin to take up momentum among the troops that are very intensely racist, violent kind of terms for Filipinos that are novel to the Philippines and which suggests that in the Americans are away they're fighting a different group of people in a different context. And so, but in any case, you see that kind of different set of perceptions really appearing in soldiers in the newspapers, in soldiers, letters, homes, their families. One very striking case I found was a soldier whose letters spanned from that lady tinetti period to the early 1899 period. And and you can really see he's, you know, quite taken with Filipino society during the pre war period, and you just see over the course of his letters over several months that he becomes, you know, much more violent and racist in his in his language about the Filipino enemy. And so that's a very striking dynamic. And during this period, the Filipino forces are working very hard to maintain standard formations and to kind of fight in uniform. And their officers have been trained in something by European military experts, and it's very important to have the Philippine Republic that the international community see this war of empire in which the United States is illegitimately imposing its will, on a new republic, and that the way that you do that is you fight using standard formations. In a way where the you know, where the enemy can see you, you can see them, right the end kind of obeying the laws of war, in terms of taking care of prisoners, etc. And this is very self conscious effort by by the Filipino leadership, to not only kind of try to win the battle on the ground militarily, but to win the battle diplomatically by communicating to the world that the Americans here that are the barbarians. And it's Filipinos who represented the civilized standards of warfare and of pursuing legitimate self governance. And they're aware that they're up against very stiff odds, in the context of a world that is organized by white supremacist colonialism, where they recognize that, that, you know, they're going completely against the grain of the dominant understandings of who can and should have their own their own republican society. So, so that's the effort, and yet in the context of emerging or you, you do have this intense racialization of all Filipinos by American soldiers. And, and the other thing that begins to happen is that in the domestic press in the US, which is covering the war, where you begin to see also, the depiction of, you know, Filipinos, as, you know, as barbarians as ungrateful, you know, as incapable of self government. So those discourses begin to give traction to the campaign to descend the war in the American public, which becomes quite contentious. As a lot of Americans are not convinced that this is a war, the US should be fighting,Joseph Hawthorne:
are there specific, and you mentioned one before, but other specific examples of speeches or other letters, other language that really stuck out to you that, you know, either could kind of shock you or just really, you know, you felt like was a strong example of the change going on during this time?Paul Kramer:
Well, I think the the one that struck me was, I guess, seeing the emergence of this racist slur among the soldiers, which is the term boo boo, which begins to appear in their letters, and, you know, in the jocular songs that they would think of each other in the battlefield, the origins of the term remain ambiguous, you know, my theory is that it comes from a kind of turn of the century popular song Yeah, that the American soldiers are are listening to as they're kind of coming over on boats and but there are many other series for where this term comes from. But it becomes part of this kind of manly, insider racist vocabulary that the soldier start to use amongst themselves, and it helps them kind of sub humanize not only Filipino soldiers, but also Filipino civilians. And and so one of the consequences of this racializing of the war is that the barriers between civilian and combatant that were supposed to be the ones under which US forces operating begin to erode, as the American forces begin to see themselves as not just fighting against a, you know, an armed military force representing some kind of polity, but they begin to see themselves as fighting against an entire population. And this really accelerates with the decision by Filipino leadership to adopt guerrilla warfare that by November of 1899, the US forces are you know, proving to be capable of overpowering the forces of the Philippine Republic, which is retreating. And very reluctantly, forces of the Philippine Republic decide to adopt a guerrilla warfare strategy where they melt into the countryside begin to you know, soldiers begin to disguise themselves as civilians, they begin to rely very heavily on the support of of peasants and people in civil society, to provide intelligence and food and shelter and support. And so it becomes really impossible for these occupying American forces to tell who they're fighting. And this really stalls the US campaign, it proves to be militarily a very successful strategy, by the Philippine Revolution, rather by the Filipino public's forces, but in terms of this intense racialization of War really ends up providing the occasion for American soldiers to say, well, we really are fighting against an entire population a kind of Savage, barbaric, backward and treacherous population of people that will provide us food and shelter and then turn on us secretly, you know, help us with translation and serve as guides and carriers and then attack our forces. So. So what you really see by the, you know, 1900 19, no, one period is not just everyday units decentralized throughout the Philippines, but even at the command level, you have us officers, essentially saying, it's no holds barred, you know, you can really destroy civilian property, you can attack and imprison and even torture Filipino civilians to get intelligence from them, because you can't really know who the enemy and in this process racialization process and the the turning of the US war to really extreme violent dimensions against the population really go hand in hand and kind of spiral with each other.Joseph Hawthorne:
And so kind of to jump off of that, then how did they spiral, you know, how did what kind of became what became a racialized war, a war, you know, in the minds of many soldiers of like a war of the races is, you know, what was the effect on the psychology of soldiers, the language of soldiers, and even the public back home?Paul Kramer:
Well, I think among soldiers, it kind of creates a permission structure for them to carry out the most extreme forms of violence against people they encounter, you know, they're able to not sort of see a Filipino civilians, they may be encountering, you know, as people that are kind of outside the combat, but people that are enemies that can be justifiably fought and killed. And, and so this really intensifies the, the, the process whereby you have, you know, soldiers that are, you know, burning villages down, you know, capturing and torturing, you know, the mayors of towns who they think are eating the revolutionaries, I think for the, you know, American forces, they're able to really see themselves increasingly, as, you know, pushing back the frontiers of civilization in ways that many imperial powers kind of understood colonial violence, you know, as a war that was being waged on behalf of the civilized world, to push back the frontiers of enlightenment, the rule of law, rationality, you know, property regimes, all these things that, essentially the, you know, European colonial powers, believe that they will bring into their colonial spaces through violence, I think a lot of us soldiers begin to understand what they're doing in similar terms. And for people back home, it's very similar, you know, as a debate against the take off, where you have a very lively and robust, anti war community, very diverse in its politics, that begins to contest the war to sort of say, look, this is essentially the United States, you know, fighting against polity seeking its freedom in ways roughly parallel to the American revolutionaries. There's a lively, robust community of anti war activists in the United States, very diverse in their politics, who really see the war, the United States is fighting the Philippines as a legitimate that the United States wants to continue to think of itself as a republic. And these support republican movements and policies and seek self governance wherever they are. And so that movement is very vocal and active in campaigning against the war. And it's a really contested issue in 1899, you know, 1900, all the way released through 1902. And in the context of that opposition, you have the defenders of the war, that are also turning to racist vocabularies to say, look, the parallel between Filipinos and the American revolutionaries was false that that form of Republican freedom was never intended for people of color. You know, the revolutionaries were Anglo Saxons, they had the genius of freedom and civilization in their bones. Filipinos, they say are easy attics, there are barbarians who were nurtured under Spanish despotism. They're not prepared for self governments. So, they essentially try to disrupt the analogy that the anti imperialists are are mobilizing in part by using these very intense, racist languages that you know, Filipinos are don't cause to United society there. They're broken up into tribes that are at each other's throats. And what the United States is really doing is bringing civilized unity to the Philippines, that the US will conquer the Philippines, govern these scattered tribes bring them into some kind of national unity. And when Filipinos are ready to the standards that the Americans define, at that point, the United States will benevolently grant them their freedom. And so racism becomes very important in terms of justifying why the United States is fighting in the Philippines, and how the United States is fighting. And soJoseph Hawthorne:
I think that's, you know, a good nuance to pick up on if you're listening and haven't stayed this for a long time, you know, because there's a subtle shift that's happening right from the beginning of the war, where there's just kind of ambivalence, unsure quality on both sides of Americans and Filipinos. And then like you're mentioning, there's a clear debate and kind of laying the foundation of colonization of Empire and the foundation of, you know, justifying invading a place 1000s of miles away.Paul Kramer:
Yeah, and one of the things that I tried to do in my research in which many other historians have done as well is just to reconstruct how contested this war was that the Americans really were at odds with some of the fundamental principles that were animating the conquest of the Philippines. And some of those motivations to be sure were very self centered and very self motivated. I mean, there were fears that if the United States, conquered the Philippines, it would lead to the militarization of American society where military forces would suppress freedom in the United States in the same way. And of course, this is a time when the US military is being used to suppress labor rules to suppress strikes. And so that fear was not an idle fear was a self centered fear for some of the anti imperialists, they're racist, and they're afraid that, you know, the United States should not be getting entangled with non white people any more than it needs to. And they make quite explicit analogy, saying, you know, look, uh, you know, white supremacy, is facing all kinds of challenges from the assertions of black people in the wake of reconstruction. And, you know, the United States basically can't handle another non white dilemma. And so again, you know, a kind of anti imperialist claim that was linked to, you know, really self centered, racist kind of values. But that said, there were other NTP realists who really did affirm the right of Filipinos to govern themselves, and really tried to kind of universalize some idea of what political freedom might look like. And they did that with them were often very ethnocentric terms, but you really see a lot of variety among the anti imperialists. And it's, I think, you know, partly in the context of those arguments that you have the supporters of the war, in a current age attorney to these very tried and true political ideologies, essentially saying, look, if you're not white, you don't have any claim to self govern. And at a moment, when you're seeing the dismantling of the reservation system, you're seeing the beginnings of Jim Crow consolidation, the consolidation of Asian exclusion, those arguments become quite compelling to many Americans. And the fact that the that Filipinos are being racialized in the context of war, I think really shifts the balance in some respects, against the anti pirellis. I mean, I think that in the fact that ultimately, the Philippine Revolution is is, you know, it the Philippine Republic's forces are not militarily successful, it really does change the political.Joseph Hawthorne:
Yeah. And I think that's, that's a good teaser for talking about the future of both the Philippines in the US and the US Filipino, you know, colonization project or empire building that happens in the first half of the 20th century. But that is something to look forward to, in in the future. So we will really, really grateful to talk about the war itself. Paula is really a whirlwind of a discussion to just to go through all these topics and really was, you know, three, four, maybe you say four and a half, five years, but I think that's a good place to to wrap it up for today. So thank you, Paul. My pleasure. Thank you.