Friday, March 20, 2015

The Annexation of the Philippines: An Aberration in US History?

Few stories in U.S. history amaze me more than the war in the Philippines.

That a nation whose founding document is the Declaration of Independence could go to war to free Cuba from Spain and end up with...the Philippines?

I sense that if you told this to the average 7th grader--or even high schooler--they'd look at you like you were crazy.

And if we can believe the results of surveys which ask Americans who is the current Vice-President or in which half of the 19th century does the Civil War occur, then I suspect few adult Americans have a clue that once the Philippines was a colony of the United States. Nor do they likely know how the U.S. came to acquire Puerto Rico and Guam. Or what that has to do with the Philippines.

This episode in American history is one that--I have NO research on this, mind you--I suspect gets far less attention than it deserves. It's in the textbooks, of course, but it seems that much more attention is given to World War I. In seven years of observing student teachers, I have seen only one lesson on the topic.

I'll grant you that World War I is a big deal. Okay, a really big deal. But in a way, I think the Philippines is even more important. If only because they'll learn about World War I somehow. But I fear that if I don't teach about the Philippines, they'll never learn about it. Anywhere.

So what to do about it?

First, it is a great opportunity to show idealism and realism (see my last post) at work. As I alluded to in that post, there are "idealistic" reasons for annexing the Philippines that we would understand as profoundly racist and paternalistic today. In fact, the famous Rudyard Kipling poem, "White Man's Burden" that many of us probably associate with the British in India is actually about the United States and the Philippines! The poem was first published with the subtitle, "The United States and The Philippine Islands." (Check it out here.)

I have always assigned students some kind of essay assignment in which they have to build a case for being an anti-imperialist or in support of annexation of the Philippines. This can also be done as an in class debate or discussion, too. The key problem to avoid is presentism: students have to understand the debate in the context of the 1890s. This means that, yes, there will be racism. Of course, there were some opposed to annexation of the Philippines on grounds that sit better with 21st century sensibilities. But it is important for students to understand that at least some folks were opposed to it precisely because they didn't want the possibility of Filipinos becoming Americans.

As always, I like to frame the lesson (usually 2-3 days) around some key questions, such as these:

1. Can a democracy rule another people?
2. Why doesn’t the U.S. Constitution deal with the rights of people in acquired territories?
3. In what ways did the problems in Cuba affect our national self-interest?
4. Which perspectives (realism or idealism) guided U.S. policy towards the war with Spain?
5. How did U.S. involvement in the Philippines compare to U.S. policy regarding Hawaii?

And a tangent….

6. What is the role of the press in a democracy?

This article from the February 1998 issue of Social Education is easily adaptable to middle or high school level students as a background reading for a lesson.

I begin my lesson by going through this handout this handout, which asks students to first consider the irony of a country based on consent of the governed having colonies. Then students consider pros and cons, by using documents. See the documents in some of the links below for that. For a "key" see here

One really interesting way to begin your lesson might be to pose this question:
If the U.S. granted independence to the Philippines on July 4, 1946, why did the Philippines decide later to move their independence day commemoration to June 12?
The answer -- June 12, 1898 -- is when the Philippine leader, Emilio Aguinaldo, declared independence from Spain, prior to becoming a U.S. colony. This seemingly small detail, it seems to me, speaks volumes about the difference in perspectives between the Americans and the Filippinos.

If you are looking for some documents and/or more specific lesson ideas to use with students, check out these:
  • Lesson from the History Project at UC-Davis for HS students
  • full lesson w/documents from History Matters
  • blog about the US and Philippines - couldn't figure out who created this, but it has some good background info and interesting film clips
  • historical background from U.S. Dept. of State
  • full lesson plan from Edsitement - lesson in which students play roles of advisors to the President; includes documents
  • Lessons from SHEG (Stanford History Education Group - I especially like these lessons. There are four lessons total: one on the explosion of the Maine, one on the Spanish-American War, a third on political cartoons from the Philippine-American War and a fourth on some of the atrocities which took place in the Philippines. The collection of political cartoons are fascinating. Check them out at the end of this post.
  • Lesson from Zinn Education Project - I was excited to find this one, because it makes use of a reading from a book I found years ago, History Lessons: How Textbooks from Around the World Portray U.S. History (also check out the chapters on the Cold War and Vietnam!). Unfortunately, once you are registered for the Zinn Education Project and download this lesson, it doesn't provide the resources! But I have found this book at my local public library, so perhaps you can, too. It is definitely worth checking out. Also, the described lesson is really an adaptation of the lesson described in the next site, listed below.
  • Lesson from the American Social History Project - part of this lesson relies on a 30 minute documentary called Savage Acts. You can see a clip of it here. Better for high school. But the lesson also has a nice collection of political cartoons and other primary resources. And the lesson reminded me that American world fairs had exhibits of "exotic peoples," including a Filipino village at the World's Fair in St. Louis in 1904. This will surprise your students.
  • This 5 minute youtube video does a nice job of explaining about the Philippine Village at the St. Louis Fair. (Be forewarned the words, "bare-breasted women" occurs, and there is a brief shot of an image depicting the same. Use your best judgement if showing to students. Even just the first 2 minutes would be good, and then you could avoid the bare-breasted woman that comes in at about the 2 min, 20 sec mark.)
This brief story from NPR discusses the 2004 commemoration of the St. Louis Fair, in which descendents of the Filipinos at the exhibit discuss the experience.
One intriguing way to conclude your lesson: consider the title of this post. Ask your students, should we the annexation of the Philippines an aberration? Or the beginning of U.S. imperialism? Or as a new manifestation of imperialist expansion, begun with the conquest of Native Americans? Is the U.S. still imperialistic?

I will conclude this post with the image on the right that's easily worth a 1000 words: I found this hard-to-believe-it's-not-being-facetious-advertisement while searching for the Kipling poem.

Also, check out the political cartoons below, and my earlier post about putting the Annexation of the Philippines into a larger context.

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