OPINION: Was US expansionism in the Philippines premeditated?

Buddy Gomez — Cyberbuddy

Posted at Oct 09 2020 09:14 PM | Updated as of Oct 10 2020 02:44 AM

A history class in the Texas A&M San Antonio campus joined the observance of Filipino American History Month (FAHM) last Monday evening and again on Wednesday via cyberspace. The classroom colloquium was virtual. 

Let me first express my gratitude to Dr. Francis Galan (professor of History) and to Col. Nonie Cabana (Ret.) US Air Force Logistics specialist, both of the Texas A&M (SA) Faculty for creating this academic event. Dr. Galan is of Cuban parentage while Col. Cabana is a Fil-Am immigrant whose father served in the US Navy.

I welcomed their invitation to participate and contribute to this cyber classroom exercise in the hope that, somehow, a bit of resonance might generate interest beyond the rather scant mention of the Philippines and the Filipinos as passing content in US History studies. After all, just like Spain, the Philippines is an inevitable part of America’s story.

There is considerable salience to this historical reality. It is time to review them. Or, in instances where ample recognition has not been adequately rendered, perhaps observances such as the annual FAHM and beyond can shine deserved light upon them. 

The Philippine islands provided the landscape for America’s debut into international politics and dominance, especially in Asia and the Pacific. That happened on May 1, 1898 in Manila Bay. Remember George Dewey? He who sank into oblivion the Spanish flotilla. (“If the Philippines did not exist, America would have had to invent one!” was a sincere sentiment expressed to me by the late Dr. Guy Pawker, a longtime Foreign Policy and Asia of Rand Corporation.) 

The celebrated hero of the Battle of Manila Bay, Admiral George Dewey, was honored with a ticker tape parade in New York City, with a “Triumphal Arch” to boot right on Madison Square. September 30, 1899. Dewey’s parade was only third time NYC ever held such a celebration, then. The first was in 1886, the dedication ceremonies for the Statue of Liberty and the second time was to celebrate the Centennial of George Washington’s presidency, 1889.

As if that were not enough, in the first US Presidential elections of the 20th century, the Democratic Party even attempted to enlist and hail George Dewey as their Presidential candidate against re-electionist William McKinley. For a while, the temptation lingered but Dewey withdrew and instead endorsed McKinley. “Benevolent Assimilation” for the Philippines became an American Foreign Policy doctrine.

In the November 1900 US elections, the Philippines was a very dominant political issue eliciting much passionate acrimony. The acquisition of the Philippines is an indispensable juncture in the study of the development of US foreign policy. History buffs, myself included, will remember the birth of the “Anti-Imperialist League,” as a consequence. 

It is in this reference, rather teasingly although not empty rhetoric, that as an aside early in the discussions last Monday evening, I posited the question: “Was US Imperialism in the Philippines Premeditated?” I was really hoping to excite the imagination of anyone among Dr. Galan’s student-participants to read up on the event, or perhaps even delve into the subject sufficient to make of it a future graduate thesis. I believe the concept of “premeditation” bears academic exploration. 

Let me digress a bit. I recall that over a decade ago, the Texas Board of Education was in the process of revising or updating a particular history textbook. Republican members in the Board objected to the use of the word “Imperialism,” recommending instead the use of “Expansionism.”
 
The triumvirate most responsible for the US trajectory into international politics (“American Imperialism”) as a prelude to the Spanish-American War counted upon Theodore Roosevelt Jr., then Asst. Secretary of the Navy; Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, Senator from Massachusetts; and Capt. Alfred Thayer Mahan, the most influential and important American strategist of the 19th century. He is the author of the celebrated “The Influence of Sea Power Upon History.” (1890). To his biographer, Mahan is America’s “exponent of sea power and apostle of expansion.”

I am unable to wean myself from my contention that Manila and the Philippine Islands must have played a role in Captain Mahan’s equations. These were integral to the Roosevelt-Lodge recommendatory calculations upon which President McKinley based executive action vis-a-vis Dewey’s Manila expedition, before and after victory. I assign great significance to an unexplored, unmentioned fact that Captain Mahan visited Manila twice, both before he wrote his magnum opus. And before then, the US Navy had two well-documented visits to the Philippines, as well. These activities do fall under ‘intelligence gathering’ and ‘reconnaissance’ as tools of policy formulation, I suppose. Or am I being paranoid!

Going back to the subject of elections, November 3 looms. 
Indeed, excitingly profound implications await life in America. It is noteworthy that the Democratic Party’s candidate for President Joe Biden found the time and created the opportunity to partake of the spirit of the observance of Filipino American History Month by issuing the following statement: 

“Whether fighting in our armed forces or fighting to advance social justice across the US, Filipino-Americans have enriched and strengthened every aspect of our country.”

I believe that former Vice President Joe Biden must have in heart and in mind not only memories of World War 2 Bataan, the USAFFE (United States Armed Forces in the Far East); not only of social justice achievements by way of agricultural labor activism but also of Filipinos representing the largest immigrant enlistment group/component in the history of the US Military; and likewise the stellar role now being played by Filipinos and Fil-Americans as front-liners and caregivers in the service of combatting the raging coronavirus.

I will devote the rest of my October month’s weekly blogs to sequels with threads to the foregoing Filipino-American historic moments.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: 

Tomas 'Buddy' Gomez III began his professional media career in ABS-CBN's (previously Chronicle Broadcasting Network) DZQL-Radio Reloj in 1957, after which he spent 25 years with the Ayala Group.

In 1986, the then Pres. Cory Aquino appointed him Consul General to Hawaii and later served as her Press Secretary.

During the Ramos administration, he was chairman and president of state-owned IBC-13 Network.

After government service, he became an ‘OFW’ in the U.S., working as front-desk clerk and then assistant general manager of a hotel. He also worked as a furniture and antique restoration specialist.

He is now retired and lives in San Antonio, Texas.
 

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.