Sunday, July 09, 2006
[wvns] Philippines: Guilt, Shame, or Amnesia?
US Genocide in the Philippines: A Case of Guilt, Shame, or Amnesia?
By E. San Juan, Jr.
Except during the sixties when the Filipino-American War of 1899-1902
was referred to as "the first Vietnam," the death of 1.4 million
Filipinos has been usually accounted for as either collateral damage
or victims of insurrection against the imperial authority of the
United States. The first Filipino scholar to make a thorough
documentation of the carnage is the late Luzviminda Francisco in her
contribution to The Philippines: The End of An Illusion (London, 1973).
This fact is not even mentioned in the tiny paragraph or so in most
U.S. history textbooks. Stanley Karnow's In Our Image (1989), the
acclaimed history of this intervention, quotes the figure of 200,000
Filipinos killed in outright fighting. Among historians, only Howard
Zinn and Gabriel Kolko have dwelt on the "genocidal" character of the
catastrophe. Kolko, in his magisterial Main Currents in Modern
American History (1976), reflects on the context of the mass murder:
"Violence reached a crescendo against the Indian after the Civil War
and found a yet bloodier manifestation during the protracted conquest
of the Philippines from 1898 until well into the next decade, when
anywhere from 200,000 to 600,000 Filipinos were killed in an orgy of
racist slaughter that evoked much congratulation and approval....
Zinn's A People's History of the United States (1980) cites 300,000
Filipinos killed in Batangas alone, while William Pomeroy's American
Neo-Colonialism (1970) cites 600,000 Filipinos dead in Luzon alone by
1902. The actual figure of 1.4 million covers the period from 1899 to
1905 when resistance by the Filipino revolutionary forces mutated from
outright combat in battle to guerilla skirmishes; it doesn't include
the thousands of Moros (Filipino Muslims) killed in the first two
decades of U.S. colonial domination.
The first Philippine Republic led by Emilio Aguinaldo, which had
already waged a successful war against the Spanish colonizers, mounted
a determined nationwide opposition against U.S. invading forces. It
continued for two more decades after Aguinaldo's capture in 1901.
Several provinces resisted to the point where the U.S. had to employ
scorched-earth tactics, and hamletting or "reconcentration" to
quarantine the populace from the guerillas, resulting in widespread
torture, disease, and mass starvation. In The Specter of Genocide:
Mass Murder in Historical Perspective (2003), Prof. Gavan McCormack
argues that the outright counterguerilla operations launched by the
U.S. against the Filipinos, an integral part of its violent
pacification program, constitutes genocide. He refers to Jean Paul
Sartre's contention that as in Vietnam, "the only anti-guerilla
strategy which will be effective is the destruction of the people, in
other words, the civilians, women and children." That is what happened
in the Philippines in the first half of the bloody twentieth century.
As defined by the UN 1948 " Convention on the Prevention and
Punishment of the Crime of Genocide," genocide means acts "committed
with intention to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical,
racial or religious group." It is clear that the U.S. colonial
conquest of the Philippines deliberately sought to destroy the
national sovereignty of the Filipinos. The intent of the U.S.
perpetrators included the dissolution of the ethnic identity of the
Filipinos manifest in the rhetoric, policies, and disciplinary regimes
enunciated and executed by legislators, politicians, military
personnel, and other apparatuses. The original proponents of the UN
document on genocide conceived of genocide as including acts or
policies aimed at "preventing the preservation or development" of
"racial, national, linguistic, religious, or political groups." That
would include "all forms of propaganda tending by their systematic and
hateful character to provoke genocide, or tending to make it appear as
a necessary, legitimate, or excusable act." What the UN had in mind,
namely, genocide as cultural or social death of targeted groups, was
purged from the final document due to the political interests of the
nation-states that then dominated the world body.
What were deleted in the original draft of the UN document are
practices considered genocidal in their collective effect. Some of
them were carried out in the Philippines by the United States from
1899 up to 1946 when the country was finally granted formal
independence. As with the American Indians, U.S. colonization
involved, among others, the "destruction of the specific character of
a persecuted group by forced transfer of children, forced exile,
prohibition of the use of the national language, destruction of books,
documents, monuments, and objects of historical, artistic or religious
value." The goal of all colonialism is the cultural and social death
of the conquered natives, in effect, genocide.
In a recent article, "Genocide and America" ( New York Review of
Books, March 14, 2002), Samantha Power observes that US officials "had
genuine difficulty distinguishing the deliberate massacre of civilians
from the casualties incurred in conventional conflict." It is
precisely the blurring of this distinction in colonial wars through
racializing discourses and practices that proves how genocide cannot
be fully grasped without analyzing the way the victimizer (the
colonizing state power) categorizes the victims (target populations)
in totalizing and naturalizing modes unique perhaps to the
civilizational drives of modernity. Within the modern period, in
particular, the messianic impulse to genocide springs from the
imperative of capital accumulation -- the imperative to reduce humans
to commodified labor-power, to saleable goods/services. U.S.
"primitive accumulation" began with the early colonies in New England
and Virginia, and culminated in the 19th century with the conquest and
annexation of Puerto Rico, Cuba, Guam, Hawaii, and the Philippines.
With the historical background of the U.S. campaigns against the
American Indians in particular, and the treatment of African slaves
and Chicanos in general, there is a need for future scholars and
researchers to concretize this idea of genocide (as byproduct of
imperial expansion) by exemplary illustrations from the U.S. colonial
adventure in the Philippines.
E. San Juan, Jr. was recently Fulbright Professor of American Studies
at the Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium, and visiting professor
of literature and cultural studies at National Tsing Hua University in
Taiwan, Republic of China.
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