“A howling wilderness” was what General Jacob Smith ordered his troops to make of Samar, Philippines. He was taking revenge for the ambush of fifty-four soldiers by Filipino revolutionaries in September 1901.
After the invaders killed most of the island’s inhabitants, three bells from the Balangiga Church were looted as war trophies; two are still displayed at Warren Air Force Base, Cheyenne, Wyoming. Very few Americans know this. Nor would they have any clue about the 1913 massacre of thousands of Muslim women, men and children resisting General Pershing’s (image right) systematic destruction of their homes in Mindanao where President Rodrigo Duterte today resides.
Addressing this dire amnesia afflicting the public, both in the Philippines and abroad, newly-elected president Duterte began the task of evoking/invoking the accursed past. He assumed the role of oral tribune, with prophetic expletives. Like the Filipino guerillas of Generals Lukban and Malvar who retreated to the mountains (called “boondocks” by American pursuers from the Tagalog word “bundok,” mountain), Duterte seems to be coming down with the task of reclaiming the collective dignity of the heathens – eulogised by Rudyard Kipling, at the start of the war in February 1899, as “the white men’s burden”.
About the Author
E. San Juan, Jr, an emeritus professor of Ethnic Studies and Comparative Literature, was a fellow of W.E.B. Du Bois Institute, Harvard University, Fulbright lecturer of American Studies at Leuven University, Belgium, is currently professorial lecturer, Polytechnic University of the Philippines, Manila