Historian Daniel Immerwahr’s look at the painful history
between the US and its former colony, the Philippines
Gen. Douglas MacArthur wades ashore during initial landings at Leyte, Philippine. File photo from Wikimedia Commons
Northwestern University professor Daniel Immerwahr said a long-ago research trip to Manila set him on a course leading to his new book, “How to Hide an Empire,” which examines how the U.S. came to possess islands, atolls and other territories far from the conventionally taught 48 state U.S. mainland. The Philippines, which gained independence in 1946, suffered a good deal under the American flag, including what Immerwahr described as the “bloodiest thing that ever happens on U.S. soil” during World War II.
“It’s not that I hadn’t known that the Philippines had been a colony of the United
States,” Immerwahr said. “I knew that perfectly well. But something about being there made a difference. It was something like reading the lyrics and hearing the music and suddenly it clicked for me. As I looked at the Philippines, it was so evidently marked by the legacy of being part of the United States. What I realized is that we U.S. historians haven’t been telling the story right.”
This prompted him to read a lot of Philippine history and to try to figure out what U.S. history would look like if the Philippines were part of the story.
“The way the history of the overseas territories is often told, is through a chapter set in 1898,” Immerwahr said. “So unless you are in one of these places and know the history as local history, if you‘re just reading U.S. history textbooks or anything like that, you’ll hear about the war with Spain in 1898.”
But few of the high school or college textbooks deal with what is often referred to as the war between the Philippines and America— which went on until 1913 — or the overt racism that characterized much of it.