Though hidden in plain sight, many of the shameful episodes in the history of the country that its citizens believe to be “the best and greatest nation” in the history of the world go unheeded. Even me, myself and I, a student of history and reader of William Appleman Williams and mentored by Howard Zinn was only dimly aware of the United States’s egregious activities in the newly “liberated” Philipines following the Spanish American Cuban war. A quick examination of the bibliography of Gregg Jones’s Honor in the Dust Theodore Roosevelt, War in the Philippines, and the Rise and Fall of America’s Imperial Dream(New American Library) makes it clear there is a substantial record of America’s imperialist adventure in the former Spanish Colony. And as far as I know none of this bad news makes it into the history texts offered in public schools.
Even so, the publication of Honor in the Dust might have gone unnoticed by me, had I not had the benefit of seeing John Sayles’s eye opening film Amigo which presents a snapshot of US armed forces in the Phillipines circa 1900 (think Vietnam, 60 years later.
Additionally, I had a lengthy conversation with John Sayles about his riveting novel A Moment in The Sun (MCSweeney’s).Set in post Reconstruction America, one of the 4 narrative threads in Sayles’s novel deals with the US occupation of the Philipines and the Filipino resistance.
The publisher’s inept description, “Honor in the Dust brilliantly captures an era brimming with American optimism and confidence as the nation expanded its influence abroad.” is convenient if not vague way of expressing the racism and exceptionalism rife in the ruling classes that sponsored acts of belligerence routinely visited upon our Caribbean Basin neighbors (Hence the proverb found in the Spanish speaking Americas, “So close to the United States, so far from God”) On the other, I’d bet the copy writer for this bit of piffle did not in fact read the book. A Boston Globe review does better:
Gregg Jones opens “Honor in the Dust’’ with a prologue describing the harsh treatment of Philippine rebel Joveniano Ealdama at the hands of American interrogators. He was subjected to what is now called waterboarding but was in November of 1900 known as the “water cure’’ or the “water torture,’’ and Jones leaves no doubt that it was widely considered to be torture…
…Jones, a journalist, has produced a deeply researched, well-written addition to the crowded shelves of histories about the Spanish-American War and the William McKinley-Theodore Roosevelt era in international affairs
Currently reading Schmidt Steps Back by Louis Begley (Knopf)