The relevance of The Forbidden Book lies not only in the wealth of historical information and insights that it provides. It comes at a time when the U.S. is engaged in another imperialist war, this time in Iraq. Leafing through the book, one finds himself or herself confronted by similarities between the Philippine-American War and the Iraq War.
In his famous article, “The Miseducation of the Filipino,” the late historian and social critic Renato Constantino wrote about the Philippine-American War of 1899-1914 being hidden from the textbooks that we in the Philippines are made to read in school.
The American forces sent to the Philippines in the late 19th century were here to liberate the country from the Spanish colonizers, these books say, and the Filipinos are depicted as having willingly accepted American rule which had the purpose of teaching Filipinos the art of self-government. Buried in the official histories is the fact that the U.S. waged a 15-year war against Filipino freedom fighters who had just won their freedom from Spain with negligible “help” from American troops – as confirmed by British lawyer Richard Brinsley Sheridan who was working in the Philippines when the war broke out.
Recent papers show that nearly 1.5 million Filipinos died in the war against U.S. colonial occupation.
The miseducation about the Philippine-American War, however, started much earlier in the United States. This miseducation of the American people about the Philippine-American War is the subject of The Forbidden Book by Filipino-American scholars Abe Ignacio, Enrique de la Cruz, Jorge Emmanuel, and the late Helen Toribio – launched in the Philippines at the Popular Bookstore Feb. 5, a day after the war’s 106th anniversary.
The book takes its title from a 1900 cartoon showing then U.S. President William McKinley preventing Uncle Sam from reading “The Forbidden Book” on “the true history of the war in the Philippines.”
On Feb. 4, 1899, the U.S. engaged the Philippines in a war on the pretext that Filipino soldiers had fired at American troops at the San Juan Bridge. It was actually the other way around: an American soldier named Willie Grayson had fired shots at four Filipinos crossing the bridge.
The late historian Teodoro Agoncillo, in his classic History of the Filipino People, recounted the incident, quoting Grayson himself thus: “I yelled ‘Halt!’…the man moved. I challenged with another ‘Halt!’ Then he immediately shouted ‘Halto!’ to me. Well I thought the best thing to do was to shoot him.”
The Forbidden Book collects political cartoons in the period of the Philippine-American War which appeared in various American newspapers and magazines. Of these there are 88 colored cartoons and 133 black-and-white cartoons.
In their selection of the cartoons, the authors present both sides of the Philippine-American War: the “pros” and the “antis.” It is clear from the way they explain the book, however, where they stand on the issue.
The authors speak of an “economic transformation” in the U.S. characterizing the period between the end of the U.S. Civil War in 1865 and the beginning of the Philippine-American War in 1899.
“One important consequence of the economic transformation was the need for overseas markets to sell American manufactured goods,” the authors write. “Concerned that the domestic market area was not enough to absorb the products of industry and agriculture, powerful interests lobbied to keep overseas markets open to U.S. business.”
They didn’t make that up. They merely explain the words uttered in 1897 by leading capitalist expansion advocate Sen. Albert Beveridge: “American factories are making more than the American people can use; American soil is producing more than they can consume. Fate has written our policy for us; the trade of the world must and shall be ours.”
By highlighting that point, the authors set the tone for the reading of the book, thereby giving the reader pointers on how to make sense of those cartoons that justify the occupation of the Philippines based on McKinley’s “Manifest Destiny” slogan, based on the claim of “(Taking) up the White Man’s burden–/…(Among) new-caught, sullen peoples,/Half-devil and half-child,” to paraphrase British pro-imperialist poet Rudyard Kipling.
Negroes as savages
The cartoons were illustrated at a time when the Negroes were looked upon by the white Americans as savages, if not beasts, and there are many cartoons included in the book which depict the Filipinos as African tribal babies. One of the cartoons even compares the killing of Filipinos to “killing niggers.”
However, there are cartoons which unveil the lies behind the “Manifest Destiny” slogan, portraying the war as one that is in the interest of the U.S. capitalist establishment but not of the American people and certainly not of the Filipino people.
The relevance of The Forbidden Book lies not only in the wealth of historical information and insights that it provides.
It comes at a time when the U.S. is engaged in another imperialist war, this time in Iraq, which is being justified along the same messianic claims – a war supposedly intending to dismantle tyranny in Iraq, only to replace Saddam Hussein’s tyranny with the tyranny of a clique of leaders ready to accommodate U.S. economic interests in Iraq’s rich resources. Leafing through the book, one finds himself or herself confronted by similarities between the Philippine-American War and the Iraq War.
It is very good that being based in the U.S. did not take the Filipino out of the book’s authors. In coming out with this book, the authors secure for themselves a place in history with other Filipino expatriate intellectuals who continued or have continued to be Filipino – and fight for the Filipino – even “in the belly of the beast,” like Carlos Bulosan and Dr. E. San Juan, Jr.
Author De la Cruz, a former University of the Philippines professor, is now with the California State University’s Asian American Studies. A former professor himself, Emmanuel is with Asia for Asian Studies in California while Toribio taught at San Francisco State University’s Asian American Studies. The book is available in the Philippines at Popular Bookstore along Tomas Morato Street (near the corner of Timog Avenue), Quezon City; or contact Ms. Joy Soriano at (63-2)4557738. Bulatlat