Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Christopher Capozzola's "Bound by War"

Christopher Capozzola is professor of history at MIT. Author of the award-winning Uncle Sam Wants You, he is also a cocurator of “The Volunteers: Americans Join World War I, 1914-1919,” a traveling exhibition that originated at The National WWI Museum and Memorial to commemorate the centennial of the First World War.

Capozzola applied the “Page 99 Test” to his new book, Bound by War: How the United States and the Philippines Built America's First Pacific Century, and reported the following:

From page 99:
Despite their enthusiastic endorsement of Filipino service [in World War I], military officers and Wilson administration officials hesitated when it came time to stand up the [Philippine National] Guard. U.S. Army soldiers who had waited years for promotion opportunities and battlefield glory dreaded the prospect of staying behind in the Pacific to train troops who would likely never see combat, and with more American troops leaving the Philippines on every ship out of Manila, Army officials wondered whether they could really spare experienced officers for training. […]

The bigger obstacle was Jim Crow. The National Defense Act [of 1916] clearly stated that federalized Guard troops would carry their ranks with them into the U.S. Army, so federalizing the Philippine National Guard could potentially mean placing Filipino officers in command of white men. Woodrow Wilson had brought to Washington an administration committed to Philippine independence, but he also drew the color line within the federal bureaucracy. Equally committed to white supremacy and global warfare, and dependent on the votes of southern Democrats on Capitol Hill, Wilson and his officers confronted an impossible dilemma: either leave power in Manila in the hands of an armed and trained Filipinized military unsupervised by the "older and stronger brother" of the U.S. Army—or incorporate the Filipino troops.

Rather than confront this dilemma, they avoided it. Civilian politicians in Washington dragged their heels, military officers in Manila dug theirs in, and only a few insistent voices joined [Filipinos' demands] for action.
The Page 99 Test captures the big themes of Bound by War: two nations, a war, and what's at stake when the United States mobilizes soldiers for service without extending equal rights to them.

You've probably never heard of the Philippine National Guard. That's because it only existed for three months, at the very end of World War I. As an unincorporated territory of the United States, the Philippines didn't have a state militia. Wartime officials in the Philippines—especially leaders of the colony's independence movement—wanted to create one. But the dilemma posed by including soldiers of color into an all-white officer corps delayed its establishment. The Guard first gathered for training on November 18, 1918. That's right: one week after the armistice that had ended the First World War.

On the one hand, this is a familiar story: of dedicated military service of people of color, and of the deeply-rooted racism that accompanied the administration of President Woodrow Wilson. And yet, from a Pacific perspective, this history looks different. Filipinos fought hard to establish the Guard, not because they wanted to win equal citizenship with white Americans, but because they believed the creation of a national army was a stepping stone to Philippine independence. The Philippine National Guard embodies the contradictions of the United States: a nation that thinks like a republic and acts like an empire. I wrote Bound by War to explore these contradictions from the point of view of the ordinary soldiers who served in America's forgotten Filipino forces.
Learn more about Bound by War at the publisher's website.

--Marshal Zeringue