The ‘Politics of US Occupation,’ correcting a historical misrepresentation

A video documentary review

The “Politics of US Occupation” by Richard Concepcion, a thesis for his Masteral in Fine Arts at the American University School of Communication last year, is a video-documentary that begins and ends with a rock guitarist playing, yet spans in between a procession of graphic black and white video clips and photos of carnage and some of the characters who played significant roles in the Philippine-American War at the turn of last century. It has footages also of the battle in Manila from 1942 to “liberation” in 1945 and 1946. Providing voice-overs are analyses of professors of linguistics, Asian American Studies, Women’s Studies and political science from different US universities.

Despite its academic background and its being about history, the DVD on “Politics of US Occupation” somehow escaped the automatic label of being boring by striving to be snappy (it lasted only 29 minutes), by incorporating as much images and videos that Concepcion could probably lay his hands on from historical archives in the US, and by remembering to always ground the foray in mass graveyards of 100 years ago into today’s news about “war on terrorism, ” for example.

From that Fil-Am war sprung the ties that bind the current US-Philippine relations, the video-documentary said. It contradicted the common assertion being marketed even by former US president George W. Bush that the two countries’ “special relations” has sprung from the 1946 granting of Philippine independence by its ally, the United States of America.

But no thanks to the US imperialist’s consistent effort to mislabel the Fil-Am war so people will “mis-recognize” or forget it, details of that war seem little known today even among Filipinos. And so, in a bid to contribute a bit in correcting that, Concepcion’s video-documentary featured slideshows of photos of mass graves, of dead Filipinos found on dirt roads and streets, of grinning American generals who each led hundreds of massacres in different Philippine towns from 1900 to 1913, and snatches of letters written by an American soldier to his mom in Maine, for example, where he recounted a morning’s work of 18 of his men who just killed 75 “niggers” and “bolomen” including 10 “gunners.”

Human rights are the least of the US worries in occupying the Philippines since 1899, said political science Professor Kenneth Bauzon of St. Joseph’s College (New York). He said this as a torture method called waterboarding, which was widely used and said to be perfected by the American soldiers on Filipinos, was discussed in “Politics of US Occupation”.

Paul Kramer, history professor at Vanderbilt University, said “This became a major controversy in 1901 to 1902 when it became known that it (watercure) was being used in the Philippines.” It led to few prosecutions, however, as the hearings were “shut down very deliberately early on.”

Despite the US government’s consistent efforts to mislabel its 1898 invasion of the Philippines (it’s done for love?) and the subsequent war with its resisting people (it was mere insurrection?), it appears that that war is crucial not just for Filipinos but for the US, as aside from gaining a colony, it gave the US opportunities to use and perfect some techniques, like in torture as mentioned; in invading other nations which had fierce resistance to US imperialism; and in dividing the people through deceiving some in another island while killing off the others in another island.

Experts said the US has applied the Philippine model like a template in colonizing other people. “We also learn that this turn of the century repression of Catholic and Muslim resistance fighters in the Philippines became the template used by the U.S. in its armed interventions in Latin America and the Caribbean in the 20th century,” Concepcion said.

Indeed, the US experience in the Fil-American war is one of the major influences in the crafting of its current counterinsurgency program.

Extension of Imperialist US’ brutal, racist expansion of frontiers

Most of the US-based professors featured in “Politics of US Occupation” traced a historical similarity in the United States government’s savage wars of annihilation of America’s native Indian population to its “first major foray” in colonialism in the Pacific.

“It was extremely racist, in fact. The fighters themselves were vicious racists who came from the Indian wars,” said Noam Chomsky, referring to the US military who came to the Philippines after slaughtering hundreds of thousands of native American Indians. Chomsky, a Linguistics Professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), has taught now for 55 years.

Gen. Arthur MacArthur, for example, was a veteran himself of Indian wars. He ruled the Philippines as military governor general from 1900 to1901. Gen J. Franklin Bell, another Indian wars veteran, caused 11,000 deaths in Batangas from 1901 to 1902. Gen Jacob Smith, also another veteran of Indian wars, ordered civilian killings in Samar from 1901 to 1902. Gen Leonard Wood, again another veteran of Indian wars, massacred 600 to 3,000 Moros at Bud Dajo in 1906, while Gen. John Pershing massacred 400 to 2,000 Moros in Bud Bagsak in 1913.

The statement that most American soldiers said about a good Filipino being a dead Filipino is “actually carried over to the Mindanao war, called the Moro war, after 1902,” said Asian American Studies Professor Nerissa Balce of Stony Brook University (New York).

If not for love then, as the US government would have us believe, what are their savage invasions for? Balce affirmed that it was all about “the desire for colonies.” She said the US effort to “misrecognize the historical facts of that war” is only part of its trying to “restrict impulse to remember”.

The colonization was part of a move to take further part into China’s market, which had been an ideal since the 18th century, said Chomsky. He added that the US wanted to use the Philippines “as base for further entry into China.”

The explanation of Sergeant Howard McFarland of Company B, 43rd Infantry, in a letter in the 1900s, said that “At best, this is a very rich country; and we want it. My way of getting it would be to put a regiment into a skirmish line, and blow every nigger into a nigger heaven.” They shot and bayoneted 75 Filipinos in just one morning.

Toward the end, what the DVD on “Politics of US Occupation” conspicuously lacks is another just as eloquent tracing of similarity or connection of that Fil-Am War to the ongoing civil war in the Philippines. Here, based on news, the US military troops are still active participants as permanently “visiting troops.” The US government has also tagged as “terrorists” the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army, who, in turn, have been claiming they are actually only “continuing the unfinished revolution” of the turn of century Filipino revolutionaries. (

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