Paul Kramer, The Blood of Government: Race, Empire, the United States and the Philippines, 2006

The Philippines have long endured the interference of imperial powers. The Spanish were driven out by American forces in what some believed marked a new era of independence for the country, but it was thrown down the rabbit hole of “informal empire” by American forces until 1946. Along the winding path to self-determination, Filipinos themselves negotiated imperial spaces/logics, accepted U.S. racial formations, and the “politics of representation” only to find that American policy makers continued to vacillate on the issue of independence, finally granting Filipinos their autonomy. Protectionist economics and racial nativism combined to create an independence lobby that failed to see Filipinos as equals but rather as interlopers and degenerate peoples that threatened American finance and culture.

Kramer’s work spans the later stages of Spain’s collapse to the 1930s. Kramer clearly illustrates the efforts of US imperialists who consciously promoted the martial skills of Filipino allies during the Spanish American War only to turn on them following its conclusion, presenting them as an unreliable and childlike military force in need of guidance. Interestingly, Kramer attempts to explore the emerging ilustrado diaspora/existence. The creation of the Steamship and Spain’s willingness to allow some Filipinos to migrate to the metropole and other regions, created a diaspora that privileged its cosmopolitanism, envisioning a central role in the administration of an independent Philippines. The Blood of Government places special focus on the work of native writers in all periods who engaged in a multivalent process of refuting imperial claims, sometimes harnessing them for their own particular uses while creating a “Filipino” identity. (For example, as the 1920s and 1930s emerged some writers employed their own version of US tropes to justify independence: “Filipino nationalists responded with a nationalist-colonialist politics that saw non-Christians – and the territory they occupied – as integral to the Philippine nation but subordinate to the political agency of Christians. With regard to non-Christian peoples, Philippine nation building would also be empire building.”) Perhaps one of the most dominant intellectual figures, and one whose interpretation varied with the time period was Jose Alonzo y Rizal, whose early works resonated with ilustrados who embraced his ideas as their own, though later nearly all Filipinos claimed him for their various causes, eventually even paradoxically finding acceptance from US officials in the 20th century.

Much of American policy and relations between Filipinos and American policy makers rested on what Kramer argues were the “politics of recognition,” in which American acknowledged the ilustrado population and its “capabilities” as “little Brown Brothers” under the rubric of “Benevolent Assimilation,” meaning that US officials would recognize ilustrado power/significance of the moment while waiting to bestow on them formal independence when they illustrated the requisite characteristics. One of the many problems with such formulations rests in the fact that though Filipino elites managed some control over representation, the interpretation of such ideas remains relatively uncontrolled; for instance, when the St. Louis World’s Fair of 1903 displayed a Filipino exhibit that highlighted the non-Christian aspects of the archipelago Americans drew the wrong conclusion, disappointing US officials and ilustrados alike. This familial form of inclusionary racism competed with tropes of evolution and tutelage, all justifying US occupation. Each enabled the US to present itself as a benevolent informal empire. [Kramer definitely has in some ways embraced Appleman here in that this seems to be the rub in The Tragedy of American Diplomacy, an inability to locate the frailties or corruption of such an approach]. Controlling the post war Philippines meant engaging ilustrados, convincing them that they were "brothers” and not “serfs” and simultaneously explaining to them why they were unready for the rigors and responsibilities of self-government. It must also be able to explain to racist anti-imperialists why the assimilation of Filipinos would be successful and pose no threat to the United States itself. The result was an inclusionary racial formation that brought metaphors of family , evolution , and tutelary assimilation into a gradualist, indeed indefinite, trajectory of Filipino “progress” toward "self-government.” Throughout the long occupation, US policymakers constantly balanced the need to convince Filipinos of their intentions while convincing hostile elements domestically that its annexation/incorporation proved no threat. Moreover, US attempts to cloak empire as “informal” depended on the participation of Filipino elites such that “the politics of recognition was especially attractive to collaborating elites who could both follow its stipulations and employ them to accelerate or delay the counterimperial transfer of sovereignty in ways that bolstered their own power.” Collaboration provided the cover and hierarchies for imperial control but also hid the permanence of occupation behind this tacit agreement between elites and US officials.

As Kramer argues in his introduction, one of the innovations that The Blood of Government provides involves the transnational character of US- Filipino relations. Kramer continually illustrates how domestic events in the United States came to bear on the Philippines. More than the thoughts/concerns of policymakers emerge, as Kramer illustrates the influence of California’s harsh nativist movement on labor and broader immigration issues. Additionally, domestic agricultural producers by the 1920s viewed the Philippines as a competitor, lobbying for its independence. Ironically, independence came not as a result of US acknowledgement of “progress” or “capability” but as the culmination of racial nativism and agribusiness/labor protectionism. Racial exclusion developed as the primary catalyst for Filipino independence, an independence that was signed in 1932 but in reality delayed true autonomy for nearly 10 years.

Another of Kramer’s key points regards the effect such racial formulations had on Filipinos and the U.S. Few in the US, racist anti-imperialists being an exception perhaps, recognized the multi-directional nature of empire. The uni-directional approach that so many assumed found itself foundering on increased immigration to the United States as racial nativists viewed this migration hostilely as part of the “third wave” of Asian invasion [obviously nativists failed to distinguish between diff. nationalities/ethnicities within Asian culture]. The sexual threat that Filipino men represented to their white counterparts sparked violence and in some cases death. Of course, this sort of sexual fear drove many nativists of the period. Moreover, Filipinos of the 1930s and 1940s had been raised under “benevolent assimilation” which cast American in idealistic and unrealistic terms. The history of struggle against American forces no longer existed (erasure through education) such that Filipino immigrants to the US articulated a sanitized version of US-Philippines history, while remaining shocked at the overt racism that few American educators bothered to mention. Additionally, as has been mentioned, decades of colonial nationalism and an inclusionary racial formation, encouraged elites to adopt similar mechanisms of control, replacing the former US hierarchies with their own that privileged Christian Filipinos over others comparing its non-Christian/Muslim/Animist counterparts as akin to Native Americans, meaning Filipino elites played the role of white imperialist.

The only real criticism one might profer here (there are probably more but this is the most visible) remains that though he discusses the non-christian peoples of the Philippines, he never really explains who they are, what they do. Granted it would seem they remain a primarily agrarian society but is that how they were or simply how they were envisioned/portrayed? Do they have a voice? Kramer gets at neither of these issues, only acknowledging the marginalization of such groups. Still, though significant, it fails to undermine the work, which ambitiously traces the transnational history of U

Footnotes —

Kramer, Paul, The Blood of Government: Race, Empire, the United States and the Philippines, Univ. of North Carolina Press: Chapel Hill, NC, 2006, 324.

Kramer seems to credit the work of Propaganda writers who wanted independence from Spain for this as they constructed an identity that though in many ways inclusive also remained guilty of the “colonial nationalism” that emerged more clearly later, “Where the ilustrado diasporic experience had led some to challenge notions of mestizaje, the Propaganda campaign also racially heightened the salience of Hispanic culture that the ilustrados - but not all of the islands’ inhabitants – shared. Where ilustrado activists held up their civilization before Spain and Europe more broadly in a quest for recognition and assimilation, Philippine peoples that could not measure up to these standards became increasingly problematic.”, 67. Kramer argues that the residue of such arguments meant that there was a “reinscription” of internal categories of difference.

The family metaphor proved useful as its both inclusionary and yet hierarchical.

Basically, that the Philippines had gone through an evolutionary process of being imperialized by increasingly “civilized” nations. The Spanish though viewed by Americans as imperfect remained better than indigenous populations but still “degenerate.” Thus, policy balanced this almost liminal state. In some ways, its related to the idea of “blood compact”, the notion that interbreeding with Europeans would somehow improve the Filipino race both physically but also culturally, though this “blood compact” is turned on its head by 1920’s American nativists who fear infection of Filipino blood.

Kramer, Paul, The Blood of Government, 161.

Kramer, Paul, The Blood of Government, 19.

It is worth noting that the discourse around “capability” fluctuated and even contradicted itself. For example, the establishment of a legislative assembely in 1907?? Symbolized for many Filipinos that they had illustrated the capabilities for self-rule while American policy makers viewed such as another test of such capabilities along the way. In this way, US officials used the “discourse of capability” to cloak the permanence of occupation.

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