“Jesus was an imperialist”. American Rhetoric During the Conquest of the Philippines

filipinyThe justification of the conquest of the Philippines is the best example of America’s ideological rhetoric, or – as others would like to call it – hypocrisy. Never before was there a better example of a contradiction between the proclaimed values and the reality. A nation that claims to be a perfect example of freedom-fighter conquers another one, which struggles for independence. The justification of this conquest reveals the very core of the US mentality: the certainty that they know what is better for others. In the Philippine case the conquest was justified by religious, racial and cultural reasons. Shocking at times.

US global conquests have one indisputable beneficial influence over US society: they contribute to better understanding of world’s geography. Such names as Vietnam or Iraq are now perfectly know to every American. The same happened earlier with the Philippines.

At the very beginning Americans where completely unaware not only where the Philippines are, but also what they are. As Stuart Creighton Miller writes in his perfectly readable “Benevolent Assimilation” book, in the US in 1899 “no one was sure if the Philippines where island or canned goods”; furthermore, according to legend, US President McKinley “was forced to consult a globe to ascertain the locations of those ‘darned island’”[1]. This unexpected interests in those islands was the result of a brilliant naval victory conducted by admiral Dewey over Spanish flotilla in Manila Bay on May 1st 1899[2]. That clash was a part of war with Spain over Cuba in 1899. Americans decided to liberate Cubans from Spanish colonialism, and conducted a brilliant combined naval operation which finally led to Spain’s capitulation. Dewey’s action was a part of that plan. However, at the same time this victory created a new political reality, where something with the Philippines had to be done. This has evoked discussion and finally led to the decision of annexing the islands.  This uncertainty is best illustrated by President McKinley’s words: “the truth is I didn’t want the Philippines and when they came to us as a gift from Gods, I did not know what to do with them”[3].

Quickly Americans understood why “God gave them” the Philippines. It was obvious: to civilize them! In the end of 19th century  Darwinian attitude was at it’s peak. As one US newspaper wrote, “it is the same old law of the survival of the fittest. The weak must bend to the strong and today the American race is the sturdiest, the noblest on earth”[4]. This was combined with a very specific colonial attitude, known after Rudyard Kipling’s poem “the white man’s burden” (written exactly in that times and reflecting this mentality).

Take up the White Man’s burden–
Send forth the best ye breed–
Go bind your sons to exile
To serve your captives’ need;
To wait in heavy harness,
On fluttered folk and wild–
Your new-caught, sullen peoples,
Half-devil and half-child[5].

It’s main idea was that the non-white races (like the Filipinos) are not capable of governing themselves: “at present they are no more fit to govern themselves, or organize a government, than a parcel of children”[6]. So, the Americans must “persuade a fickle, restless, impulsive, unreasoning people, embittered by many wrongs at the hands of those we ought to expel, to trust us, to learn from us, and under our tutelage to grow into the status of competent citizens in a self-governing state”[7]. Thanks to that “the Filipinos will love us later, for the fullness of the lesson we taught them”[8].

The notion of Filipino “inferiority” was the shared by both the imperialists and those who opposed the annexation of Philippines. The latter were opposing this conquest not because they considered it against US values such as freedom. In general the “anti-imperialists” “favored subtle forms of American domination and looked on the world as a society in which some nations are more equal than the others”[9]. Some of them, like the New England Anti-Imperialistic League opposed conquering Philippines out of US Declaration of Independence values. One of their speakers, pointing at Statue of Liberty, suggested “extinguishing the torch, lowering the lady’s arm, bowing her head, changing the inscription to read ‘Liberty Conquering the World’, or simply shipping the statue back to France”[10]. But they consisted only a small minority. Moreover, they’re arguments were “overcame” by Senator’s Beveridge, who explained that “the Declaration of Independence applied only to ‘self-governing races’ and explained outrage by asking ‘how dare any man prostitute this expression of the very elect of self-governing people to a race of Malay children and barbarism?”[11]. This explanation met with a mass public support.

Majority of anti-imperialists “resembled ‘little Englanders’ – to whom Theodore Roosevelt compared them – who opposed British imperialism more out of fear that it would inundate their island with alien races than out of any humanistic concern for the colonized”[12].  For them “uplifting the savages” was senseless, as “the inhabitants resists the civilization of the temperate zones instinctively, because they have not the mental and moral fiber to uphold it”[13]. Senator Tillman from South Carolina insisted that it was “an absurd to talk about teaching people self-government when they were racially unfit to govern themselves”[14]. The anti-imperialist mostly feared that Supreme Court would bestow the citizenship and constitutional rights on another “inferior race”[15]. Furthermore, colonizing island would “bring into American system a lot of Malays, Chinese Mestizos and other inferior race”; therefore, the Americans would have to compete with “those who live on a bowl of rice and a rat a day”[16]. One of the Senators, Johnson “warning over and over again of ‘the immoralities unmentionable ‘ and the ‘nameless contagions’ spawned by ‘Asiatics’, read an article entitled ‘Shall We Annex Leprosy’?”[17]. Grandfather of J.F. Kennedy, Fitzgerald, asked rhetorically “are we to have a Mongolian state in this union?”[18]. For South Carolina’s Senator, John McLaurin “Filipinos were a heterogeneous compound of inefficient humanity (…) such mongrel and semi-barbarous population inferior but akin to the Negro in moral and intellectual development and capacity for self-government could spell down the Republic”[19]. Virginia’s Senator Daniels went even further: “hypnotically inveighed against the ‘mess of Asiatic pottage’, that would be created by expansion – ‘a witch’s cauldron’ of ‘black spirits and white, red, grey spirits… spotted peoples with Zebra sign on them’”[20]. Surprisingly (or maybe not?) is that these notions were followed by some academicians: Stanford’s President Jordan declared that “the degenerated and alien races within our border constitute a menace to peace and warfare”[21]. William Larrabee, former governor of Iowa described Filipinos as “the worst and most unmanageable savages” [22].  Professor Theodore Woolsey of Yale informed the American Academy of Political and Social Science that Filipinos “are incapable of gratitude, profligate, undependable, improvident, cruel, impertinent, superstitious, and treacherous… all are liars even in confessional”[23]. “How could anyone expect Filipino to have the intellect, instinct or morality?”[24] concluded rhetorically Senator Whitelaw Reid.

On the other side of the debate, the strongest desire for keeping the islands came from the zealous Protestant groups. They saw Dewey’s victory as “God’s vengeance” and cast admiral as a Biblical hero either David or sometimes Joshua, Dewey arrived off Manila and “the Spanish fleet went down as miraculously as the walls of Jericho”; his guns were “God’s own trumpet-tones summoning the people out of their isolation”[25]. Against such logic, “to refuse, for selfish reasons, to assume the duty and the responsibility which gracious Providence has thrust upon it would be the render the nation guilty of a great crime in the sight of high Heaven”[26]. Senator Albert Beveridge was particularly keen on this kind of rhetoric: “Almighty God has marked us as his chosen people, henceforth to lead the regeneration of the world”[27]. Another arguments unveils a sense of guilt: “only in carrying out divine purpose can we advocate the adoption of a colonial purpose”[28]. Senator Oliver Platt rationalized the conquest: “Those who believe in Providence see that God has placed upon this government the solemn duty of providing for the people of these islands a government based upon the principle of liberty no matter how many difficulties the problem may present”[29]. The missionaries were backed by some academicians, such as professor Giddings, who argued that “although nonwhite races lacked ‘intelligence and inventive genius’ the were ‘capable of imitation and improvement’; by dealing with the ‘racially inferior types’ it was responsibility of Anglo-Saxons to ensure ‘orderly development’ for such ‘unfortunates’”[30]. But this will take a while, as Senator Taft assured that “our little brown brothers would need fifty or one hundred years of close supervision to develop anything resembling Anglo-Saxon political principles and skills”[31]. Much less sophisticated logic came from religious journals, who responding to adversaries rhetoric, calling such arguments an “imperialism”, answered bluntly: “Jesus favored imperialism. Has it ever occurred to you that Jesus was the most imperial of the imperialists?”. Logically, their readers were warned that “anti-imperialism is the invention of devil”[32]. These kind of argumentation was best summarized by a Jewish publication who complained that “Christ, Mammon, and the dog of war were running ‘shoulder to shoulder with imperialism in the name of religion and civilization”[33].

According to sources, president McKinley was very doubtful about annexing the islands. He was hesitating and delaying the decision for a very long time[34]. He described his doubt in his Congress speech: “I walked the floor of the White House night after night until midnight; and I am not ashamed to tell you, gentlemen, that I went down on my knees and prayed Almighty God for light and guidance more than one night. And one night late it came to me this way—I don’t know how it was, but it came: (1) That we could not give them back to Spain—that would be cowardly and dishonorable; (2) that we could not turn them over to France and Germany—our commercial rivals in the Orient—that would be bad business and discreditable; (3) that we could not leave them to themselves—they were unfit for self-government—and they would soon have anarchy and misrule over there worse than Spain’s was; and (4) that there was nothing left for us to do but to take them all, and to educate the Filipinos, and uplift and civilize and Christianize them, and by God’s grace do the very best we could by them, as our fellow-men for whom Christ also died. And then I went to bed, and went to sleep, and slept soundly, and the next morning I sent for the chief engineer of the War Department (our map-maker), and I told him to put the Philippines on the map of the United States”[35]. After sounding out the God, McKinley announced famous proclamation, The Benevolent Assimilation: “It should be paramount aim of the military administration to win confidence, respect, and affection of the inhabitants of the Philippines by assuring them in every possible way that full measure of individual rights and liberties which is the heritage of a free people, and by proving to them that the mission of the United States is one of benevolent assimilation, substituting the mild sway of justice and right for arbitrary role”[36].

And so America went on war with the Filipinos who understood such values as freedom, independence or sovereignty little bit too literally. No matter of the fact that on the eve of US invasion the Filipinos independently liberated themselves from Spaniards, now they had to be liberated from they’re own freedom for their good. But they didn’t understood “benevolent assimilation” logic and didn’t give in. So the war broke up, a very brutal one, and lasted until 1903. For Americans in that time it was unimaginable that somebody would reject their “benevolence”. As one of the editors wrote, “It seems strange to Americans that the Filipinos are bitterly opposed to our sovereignty. They must know it is likely to be a great improvement over former conditions”. The situation is depressing one from every point of view”[37]. Americans were frustrated that “the Filipinos became intoxicated on words, particularly by the ‘oratorical use’ of terms such as ‘independencia’ without understanding their meaning’, said the first civilian governor of the Island, William Taft[38]. As one editor commented, “they had a right, of course, to make war upon us, but no right to wage it according to the rule of uncivilized peoples”[39]. “They certainly are an irritating people – reported one officer, after describing the resistance he encountered while spreading “benevolence”. This happens because, “we should remember that, after all, the Filipinos are much like children, requiring to be petted and pampered, else they become stubborn and rebellious”[40]. And they were stubborn, indeed. The Filipino independence movement lasted long, and the war in the islands, from 1899 till 1903, was one of the cruelest in American history. The actions conducted by US Army were brutal and even criminal at times (e.g. Samar). Furthermore, it is commonly accepted that America “lost it’s innocence” during the Vietnam war (1965-1975). It was then when it came out that American soldiers instead of bringing peace, freedom and democracy, behave like occupants, destroying the country they’re supposed to liberate, kill their inhabitants and annihilate local infrastructure. Vietnam war was a turning point in US history, American (at least some) understood that their influence is not always beneficial to others. But this happened later. But it not Vietnam where America “lost it’s innocence”, but the Philippines during 1899-1903 war. What the Americans did in Vietnam, they had done as well in the Philippines 60- years earlier. But contrary to Vietnam’s atrocities, it is very little known. What is remember is that America has brought modernity into the Philippines, build the rudiments of state, administration and civil society. Fulfilled the “benevolent assimilation” of the Filipinos into US values. This term and this kind of language is now politically incorrect. But the mentality remains the same.

Michał Lubina

[1] Stuart Creighton Miller, Benevolent Assimilation. The American Conquest of the Philippines, 1899-1903, New Haven 1982, p. 18.

[2] Lidia Mularska-Andziak, Wojna o Kubę i Filipiny (A War over Cuba and the Philippines), [w:] Konflikty kolonialne i postkolonialne w Azji i Afryce (Colonial and Postcolonial Conflicts in Asia and Africa), ed. by Piotr Ostaszewski, Warszawa 2006, p. 63.

[3] (29.06.2011).

[4] (29.06.2011).

[5] (29.06.2011).

[6] Stuart Creighton Miller, op. cit., p. 118.

[7] Michael Bourgeois, All Things Human. Henry Codman Potter and the Social Gospel, University of Illinois 2004, p. 141.

[8] Stuart Creighton Miller, op. cit., p. 82.

[9] Robert L. Beisner, Twelve Against the Empire. The Anti-Imperialists 1898-1900, New York 1968, p. 105

[10] Stuart Creighton Miller, op. cit., p. 109.

[11] (29.06.2011).

[12] Stuart Creighton Miller, op. cit., p. 129.

[13] (29.06.2011).

[14] Stuart Creighton Mille, op. cit., p. 26.

[15] Ibidem, p. 15.

[16] Ibidem.

[17] John Tayman, The Colony. The Harrowing True Story of the Exiles of Molokai, New York 2006, p. 182.

[18] Stuart Creighton Miller, op. cit., p. 15.

[19] (29.06.2011).

[20] Stuart Creighton Miller, op. cit., p. 124.

[21] Allen H. Merriam, Racism in the Expansionist Controversy of 1898-1900, New York 1971, p. 369.

[22] Stuart Creighton Miller, op. cit., p. 124.

[23] (29.06.2011).

[24] Stuart Creighton Miller, op. cit., p. 125.

[25] Ibidem, p. 125.

[26] Ibidem, p. 17.

[27] (29.06.2011).

[28] Stuart Creighton Miller, op. cit., p. 17.

[29] Ibidem, p. 21.

[30] (29.06.2011).

[31] (29.06.2011).

[32] Stuart Creighton Miller, op. cit., p. 18.

[33] Ibidem, p. 140.

[34] Lidia Mularska-Andziak, op. cit., p. 64.

[35] (29.06.2011).

[36] President McKinley’s Benevolent Assimilation Proclamation, December 21, 1898.

[37] (29.06.2011).

[38] Stuart Creighton Miller, op. cit., p. 167.

[39] Ibidem, p. 171.

[40] Ibidem, p. 171.

“Jesus was an imperialist”. American Rhetoric During the Conquest of the Philippines Reviewed by on 29 czerwca 2011 .

The justification of the conquest of the Philippines is the best example of America’s ideological rhetoric, or – as others would like to call it – hypocrisy. Never before was there a better example of a contradiction between the proclaimed values and the reality. A nation that claims to be a perfect example of freedom-fighter



Michał Lubina

Doktor nauk społecznych UJ, pracownik w Instytucie Bliskiego i Dalekiego Wschodu UJ, magister rosjoznawstwa oraz studiów dalekowschodnich UJ, absolwent Interdyscyplinarnych Studiów Doktoranckich UJ. Kilkukrotny stypendysta Ministerstwa Nauki i Szkolnictwa Wyższego ( w latach 2009/2010 w Pekinie). Laureat grantu Narodowego Centrum Nauki na badanie współczesnych stosunków rosyjsko-chińskich. Oprócz tego w kręgu jego zainteresowań badawczych znajduje się przede wszystkim Azja Południowo-Wschodnia, w szczególności zaś Birma. Jest autorem czterech książek. Pierwszej w Polsce historii Birmy („Birma. Historia państw świata w XX i XXI w.”, Trio, Warszawa 2014) oraz monografii „Birma: centrum kontra peryferie. Kwestia etniczna we współczesnej Birmie 1948-2013″; (Kon-Tekst, Kraków 2014), pierwszego poświęconego temu zagadnieniu opracowaniu w języku polskim oraz – również pierwszej w Polsce – książki o współczesnych stosunkach rosyjsko-chińskich („Niedźwiedź wcieniu smoka. Rosja-Chiny 1991-2014″, Akademicka, Kraków 2014), która stała się naukowym bestsellerem. Niedawno wydał „Panią Birmy. Biografię polityczną Aung San Suu Kyi” (Wyd. PWN, Warszawa 2015). Ponadto jest autorem dwóch przewodników turystycznych po Litwie i Rosji (współautorstwo) oraz internetowych przewodników po Chinach, Hongkongu, Laosie i Bangladeszu. Publikował artykuły w „Rzeczpospolitej”(Plus/Minus), „Tygodniku Powszechnym”, „Wprost”, „Do Rzeczy”, „Nowej Europie Wschodniej”, „Nowej Konfederacji” i "National Geographic Traveller". Znajomość języków: angielski, rosyjski, ukraiński, chiński(komunikatywnie). Mieszka w Krakowie. Ekspert CSPA: Birma, Chiny-Rosja.

komentarze 3

  • Dobry artykuł.
    Fascynujące jest to dawne podejście, traktowanie różnic między kulturami jako czegoś trwałego i wynikłego z różnej natury ludzi różnych ras. To nieuwzględnianie, że Filipińczycy mogą się po prostu nauczyć jak tworzyć nowoczesne państwo. Zresztą to podejście pokutuje do dziś chociażby w przekonaniu o istnieniu czegoś takiego jak charakter narodowy – trwałego, gdy zostanie wykształcony podobnie jak charakter człowieka.

    • @ ril.
      Abstrahując od brutalnego podboju Filipin przez USA, jest faktem, że pod względem ekonomicznym była to „złota epoka” tego archipelagu. Zaraz po uzyskaniu niepodległości Filipiny były drugim po Japonii najbogatszym krajem Azji (licząc w PKB per capita). Dziś są nawet za Chinami, Tajlandią i Indonezją. Poza tym Filipiny to najbardziej niebezpieczny kraj na Dalekim Wschodzie, przodujący pod względem przestępczości. Co mogło mieć na to większy wpływ niż mentalność tych ludzi?
      Coś takiego jak charakter narodowy istnieje, jakkolwiek jest on zmienny. Czasem półżartem mówię, że przykładem tego są łagodni Duńczycy. Ten naród w ciągu ostatniego tysiąclecia przeszedł duchową przemianę – niczym z Rambo do Rimbaud’a – dlatego zamiast z rozbójniczymi wyprawami Wikingów, dziś kojarzą się z baśniami Andersena, klockami Lego i maślanymi ciasteczkami. :-)

  • Bardzo ciekawy artykuł o w sumie niezbyt znanym u nas fragmencie historii. Metody faktycznie podobne jak 6 dekad później we Wietnamie, tyle że w latach 60-tych świadomość była inna, a poza tym we Wietnamie było obecnych wielu niezależnych dziennikarzy, no i telewizja. Ta ostatnia ukazała światu, jak wygląda prawdziwe oblicze amerykańskiej krucjaty o wolność i postęp. Poza tym Wietnamczycy – jakkolwiek skolonizowani przez Francję – zawsze stawiali obcym bardziej zaciekły, niezłomny opór: Chińczykom, Mongołom, Francuzom, Japończykom, Amerykanom. Nie dali też sobie zaszczepić przekonania o wyższości Zachodu. Nie widać u nich mają kompleksów, jakie widać u Filipińczyków, którzy nieraz dowartościowują się mówiąc o swoich prawdziwych lub zmyślonych europejskich przodkach.

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