The Philippine-American war was an armed conflict between the United States of America and the First Philippine Republic, which lasted from 1899 to 1902. Partially, this confrontation is connected with the ending of the Spanish-American War because Spain imparted the Philippines into the possession of the United States as the result of the war. Despite the fact that the war with the Philippines lasted only for three years, it has left a significant impact on American society. In this paper, the origins and the outcomes of the Philippines-American War will be discussed, with the aim to reveal the imperialistic intentions of the American government, to touch upon the themes of racism, chauvinism, and masculinity, and, additionally, to express my personal impression of the war.
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The origins of the war between the United States and the Philippines are complex and rooted deeply in the America’s imperialistic ambitions. One could refer to the Philippine Revolution of 1896 as an obvious starting point of the conflict. The Philippines were struggling for the independence, while the government of the United States perceived those actions as a rebellion. The formal occasion for the war’s outbreak was the objection of the Treaty of Paris by the First Philippine Republic. This agreement between Spain and the United States had ended the Spanish-American War, and according to it the Philippines were transferred into the possession of the U.S. Although the war lasted for three years, it cost approximately 4000-6000 thousand of American soldiers’ lives and left the massive impact on both countries.
The primary motive of America’s involvement in the war was the imperialistic ambitions of the U.S. government. The population of the Philippines was perceived as unable to govern itself, in the opinion of imperialists (Hollitz 84). As Kirsch observes, “the American (re)mapping of the Philippines was expressed in a wide range of intersecting discourses – commercial, military, bureaucratic, and scientific”, which is another example of the U.S. government’s imperialistic ambitions (4). It is possible to observe that those political interests were tightly connected with other social concerns. Theodore Roosevelt explained those concerns as a feeling of anxiety about the younger American generation, which was mainly focused on the luxury, while the birth rates were diminishing (Hollitz 85).
This idea of strengthening the masculinity became the principal argument of the Philippine war discourse. Hollitz observes that imperialists believed in possession of the colony as a means of preventing the America’s population and political system from degenerating (84). Such rhetoric was used in the contemporary propaganda. The other method of building up the acceptance of the invasion was the creation of the negative perception of the Philippines by the society. The primary contribution was given by the yellow journals, which represented the information in a very negative way, depicting the Filipinos as savage and cruel people.
Another point which is extremely important to notice is that “annexing the Philippines moved U.S. strategic interests into the heart of Asia” (Marolda 5), which reveals the imperialists’ extended strategic interests in establishing the trade with the Asian countries. Moreover, there was a movement which believed that building a base in the Philippines would help to secure the trade route to China (Hollitz 84). It is evident that the imperialistic intentions of the U.S. government were developed to a vast extent.
The previously mentioned emphasis on the idea of masculinity as the driving factor of war propaganda brings out the anti-feminist rhetoric into the discussion. One of the most common argument in favor of invasion in the Philippines stated that the condition of peace makes young American effeminate. Furthermore, another negative perspective on femininity was expressed by Fernald in “The New Womanhood,” in which he declares that only the masculinity fits the position of authority, power, and command (Hollitz 85). In addition to the anti-feminine climate of the time, the evidence of racism was also presented. As Rafael observes in his article, the Philippine people were “subject to American laws but, by virtue of their racial difference, not entitled to the same rights” (3). Such chauvinism was treated as a natural way of ruling the First Philippine Republic.
The legacy of the Philippine-American War impacted the American social and political life to a large extent. First of all, the example of that war created the precedent, which would be later used as an excuse for the United States’ actions across the world. Brewer observes that “to justify interventions elsewhere, future presidents would recall McKinley’s attractive version of U.S. involvement in the Philippines” (22). That precedent influenced the history in general, because since then the American government assumed its capability to interfere in other countries’ political life. But, at least, “the human and financial costs of the war served as a cautionary warning against further adventures of insular imperialism” (Welch 156). The imperialists were preoccupied with the idea of incompatibility of peace and femininity with the nature of a man, and they used those speculations to warrant the invasion of the Philippines.
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In the course of time it became clear that “the United States could have protected its national security without taking over the Philippines” (Bert 69), and, possibly, it is an essential lesson which should be learned from this situation. However, the Philippine-American War had an immense impression on me because it is not only a political event, but an example of the evolution of the masculinity concept. The upheld opinion of the manhood closely tied to war, aggression, and discrimination led to the conflict which could easily be evaded if such ideas were not dominating in the society. In my opinion, it is also an important lesson which should learned from the Philippine-American War.
Bert, Wayne. American Military Intervention in Unconventional War: From the Philippines to Iraq. Palgrave, 2011.
Brewer, Susan. “Selling Empire: American Propaganda and War in the Philippines.” The Asia–Pacific Journal, vol. 11, no. 40, 2013, pp. 1-27.
Hollitz, John. Thinking Through the Past: A Critical Thinking Approach to U.S. History. Vol. 2, 5th ed., Wadsworth Publishing, 2014.
Kirsch, Scott. “Insular territories: US colonial science, geopolitics, and the (re) mapping of the Philippines.” The Geographical Journal, vol. 182, no. 1, 2016, pp. 2-14.
Marolda, Edward, editor. Theodore Roosevelt, the US Navy and the Spanish-American War. Springer, 2016.
Rafael, Vicente L. “The war of translation: Colonial education, American English, and Tagalog slang in the Philippines.” The Journal of Asian Studies, vol. 74, no. 2, 2015, pp. 283-302.
Welch, Richard E., Jr. Response to Imperialism: The United States and the Philippine-American War, 1899-1902. UNC Press Books, 2016.