In 1898 the United States of America paid the Spanish government $20 million for control of Guam, Puerto Rico and the Philippines. In 1899, a violent three-year war ensued between American and Filipino forces that resulted in almost 8,000 American casualties and an estimated 1.3 million Filipino casualties. It was a war in a far away country that the majority of the American public did not know much about. Sound familiar? To Filipino-Americans, October is National Filipino History Month, and sometimes a brief look into the past can prove to be very relevant to current events.
According to the Filipino American National Historical Society, which established National Filipino History Month in 1988, Filipino people have lived in North America since 1763, when the Spanish held the Louisiana territory as a colony. Yet it was the Philippine-American War that brought about much greater contact and integration between the two cultures, according to the FANHS.
The circumstances of that little spoken-of conflict and the current conflict in Iraq have very interesting parallels.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported in 2003 that President George W. Bush said to Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Abu Mazen, “God told me to strike at al-Qaeda and I struck them, and then he instructed me to strike at Saddam Hussein, which I did, and now I am determined to solve the problem in the Middle East.” This comment was later widely published in American newspapers and was a topic of national news at the time.
According to Howard Zinn, author of A People’s History of the United States and currently a professor at Boston University, President William McKinley, who served from 1897 to 1901, also made a similar religious comment to a delegation of visiting ministers on the eve of the Philippine-American War.
“That there was nothing left for us to do but to take them all and to educate the Filipinos, and uplift and Christianize them.”
According to the official website of the U.S. Department of State, “The United States did not ‘create’ Osama bin Laden or al-Qaeda. The United States supported the Afghans fighting for their country’s freedom — as did other countries, including Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, China, Egypt, and the UK — but the United States did not support the ‘Afghan Arabs,’ the Arabs and other Muslims who came to fight in Afghanistan for broader goals.”
However, the New America Foundation has been one of many organizations to report otherwise. “Osama bin Laden was cultivated, funded, and armed by the CIA to help further America’s foreign policy objectives at that time. In 1979, bin Laden and several hundred of his loyal workmen in the Saudi construction industry moved to Afghanistan to fight Soviet ‘infidel invaders.'” While this accusation has been widespread in the years since 9/11, the debate is ongoing.
The Philippine-American War began in an identical manner. Emilio Aguinaldo, an exiled Filipino who had led rebellions against the Spanish, was sent back to the Philippines in 1897 with American arms and funds to continue his rebellions, according to Zinn. As soon as the Philippines were sold to the United States in 1898, Aguinaldo used his American arms to wage a guerilla war against the U.S. Army stationed in the newly acquired colony.
These few facts about the conflicts, more than 100 years apart, draw striking similarities. In a time of remembrance, as October is National Filipino History Month, it is important to regard the facts of the past and realize how they can be replayed in current times.
Shane Madden is a fourth-year student majoring in History with a minor in Journalism. He can be reached at SM560676@wcupa.edu.