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New International, April 1948


M. Young

Books in Review

Fighting Filipinos


From The New International, Vol. XIV No. 4, April 1948, pp. 127–128.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


The Philippine Story
by David Bernstein
Farrar, Straus & Co., New York 1947, 276 pp.

As a historical survey of the Philippines, through the years of Spanish, American, and Japanese imperialist domination, David Bernstein’s story is valuable for its wealth of encyclopedic fact on the development of this sprawling archipelago, in spite of the fact that the author – an ex-newspaperman and liberal advisor to the Philippine government during the war – has no insight into the politics of imperialism and even shows traces of the White Man’s Burden philosophy.

The first portion of the book deals with the Filipino struggle against Spanish misrule and corrupt exploitation under soldiers of fortune and the clergy. The story is given of the first national hero of the Philippines, Jose Rizal – well-born, conservative intellectual who rejected revolutionary methods of struggle against the overlords – whose execution by the Spanish was the spark that set off the national revolt in earnest toward end of the nineteenth century. The principal leaders of this new movement were Bonifacio and Aguinaldo, who organized a central revolutionary committee for raising an army of 30,000 men. Despite a temporary deal between Aguinaldo and the Spaniards, this rebellion was still raging when America declared war on Spain in 1898.

When, at the conclusion of that war, a U.S. military governor was proclaimed supreme ruler of the islands, the insurrectos decided that it mattered little to them whether their oppressors spoke Spanish or English; the revolt continued, this time against the Americans. They were brutally crushed by 85,000 troops. Thus began the “American experiment in benevolent assimilation,” as President McKinley sanctimoniously put it. The major portion of the book deals with this “experiment.”

Bernstein plumps heavily for the fiction of “liberal imperialism” and, of course, he has accomplishments to point to: the use of Filipinos in administrative posts in the government, mass education, etc. But back in 1898 a franker statement of U.S. aims in the islands was made before Congress by Senator Lodge:

“We make no hypocritical pretense of being interested in the Philippines solely on account of others. While we regard the welfare of these people as a sacred trust, we regard the welfare of the American people first. We believe in trade expansion.”

The war years are dealt with rather cursorily, but the capitulatory role of the Filipino bourgeoisie is duly noted. A serious shortcoming of the book, however, is the author’s failure to deal with the peasant and labor movements more than in passing. The Hukbalahap, embracing tens of thousands of peasants, and the growing Congress of Labor Organization certainly deserve at least equal space with the intra-cabinet gossip that is given in such detail. The Huks, the militant peasant army that threw as much fear into the hearts of the Filipino bourgeoisie as it did into the hearts of the Japanese invaders, certainly deserve more than the meager paragraphs donated to them. This is merely a further indication of the author’s reliance for progress from “above.”

A revealing section of the book consists of an analysis of the economics of liberation, and if there remains anyone who still doubts the deceptive and spurious nature of the recently granted independence, let him pore over Mr. Bernstein’s notes on the Trade Bill of 1946. He will be forced to conclude with the author that here again the United States is indulging in “nothing more than a streamlined and unsubtle demonstration of economic imperialism.” And once more is established the irrefutable evidence that President Manuel Roxas, former collaborator with the Japanese, and elected president with the aid of General MacArthur, acts as a mere tool of American imperialist interests in the Philippines.

Twice in their history the hopes of the people of the Philippines of achieving genuine independence were shattered against the rocks of American imperialism-the first time in 1896 when American military rule replaced Spanish oppression; the second time in 1945 when Japanese imperialist rule was replaced by the American variety. This historical duplication is serving as the basis for educating vast numbers of Filipinos in the basic facts of imperialist politics: that of they are to write a happy ending to The Philippine Story, they must rely only upon themselves to do it.

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