Philippine-American War in the News

What a week for the Philippine-American War in the news! Last October, I wrote a post entitled, “Why a War You’ve Never Heard of Matters More than Ever.” Back then I argued that the Philippine-American War defined the American century, but now I see that it might be redefining the next century, too. Whose century will this one be? I leave that to you.

The war has gotten a lot of attention this week—or maybe notoriety is a better word. If you need to catch up with (1) how this war started; (2) how it grew to include the Philippines; and (3) how the Americans ruled, check out this page of history posts from the website.

But let’s get to this week, shall we?


Pershing and the Moros:

It started with this tweet:

Donald Trump on Pershing

 

This old chestnut, again? My job is not politics, but when politics tries to leverage Philippine-American War history, it’s game on! What President Trump is referring to is his (false) claim that General Pershing used bullets dipped in pig’s blood to pacify the Moros of the southern Philippines. Not true. This myth has been debunked many, many times.

First of all, the Moros were not terrorists:

In the first decades of the 20th century, Muslim Filipinos weren’t targeting American cities or kidnapping tourists. They were attacking American soldiers for one simple reason: The United States had invaded and was occupying their home.

— Jonathan M. Katz in the Atlantic

Therefore, Pershing was carrying out imperial policy, not an Islamophobic agenda. (Not that imperialism isn’t problematic, but you have to remember that it was the official policy of the US government after the 1898 Treaty of Paris, when the Americans bought the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam for $20 million and decided to keep them as “insular possessions.”)

The Moros wanted assurances that the Americans would not try to change their culture or religion; Pershing wanted assurances that the Moros would not challenge US rule. This compact was not as easy as it sounds. One of the cultural practices the Moros wanted to defend was slavery. What would you do? The Americans had already quelled resistance in the rest of the islands, so they decided they could not let slavery stand. And they wanted the Moros to pay taxes, of course. This is where Pershing came in, but his attitude was not what Trump suggests.

Pershing and Moros
Pershing (center, back row) at Gen. Sumner’s conference with sultans of Bayang and Oato, at Camp Vicars, Mindanao. Photo from the John Joseph Pershing Collection at the Library of Congress.

In 1911, Pershing suggested that the Moros use the Qur’an as a guide for their behavior. He even gave a Qur’an as a gift to one of the leaders, documents show. And that’s not all:

[Pershing] studied their language to the point where, he boasted, he could take low-level meetings without an interpreter. In return, Pershing was elected a datu, a position of respect and leadership in Moro society. He was the only U.S. official to be so honored.

— Daniel Immerwahr from Slate

Now, I should be clear: Pershing did use force. A lot of it. Over 500 Moros died at the Battle of Bud Bagsak in 1913. This active siege may have included women and children, which Vic Hurley admitted was the “big problem the Americans faced.” He indicated that this was not Pershing’s preferred way to do battle.

(The more notorious massacre of Moro civilians, the Battle of Bud Dajo, happened during Pershing’s absence from the Philippine campaign, in 1906. You can blame General Leonard Wood for that one. And you can blame General Jacob Smith for the campaign to turn Samar into a “howling wilderness” in 1901-1902. The fact that Smith and Wood’s campaigns were so public—and so publicly criticized—means that Pershing would not have risked the same condemnation willingly. Nor would he have used pig blood bullets.)

Bud Dajo Moro for Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series by author Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
Bodies of dead Filipino Muslims killed at the First Battle of Bud Dajo during the Moro Rebellion. Photo from the Library of Congress.

Pershing did mention in his memoir that others buried Moro fighters in graves with pigs to deter them, but it was not a practice he took part in. Besides, this threat only made sense in American minds—anything done against one’s will would not result in punishment, according to the Qur’an.

Finally, force itself was only one-half of the US military’s policy in the Philippines. If “chastisement” was the stick, “attraction” was the carrot: schools, medicine, infrastructure, limited self-governance, and so on. And then there was another piece, something surprising: forgiveness. The men who most dangerously opposed the Americans—men like Malvar (in Batangas) and Lukban (in Samar)—were granted amnesties in exchange for the surrender of their men and weapons.

General Vicente Lukbán, center, who led the revolution on the islands of Samar and Leyte. He is seated with 1st Lt. Alphonse Strebler, 39th Philippine Scouts, and 2nd Lt. Ray Hoover, 35th Philippine Scouts. Image in the public domain from the Library of Congress, scanned by Scott Slaten.

Another Roosevelt?

There was another misappropriation of Gilded Age history this week: Vice President Pence compared Trump to Teddy Roosevelt. Roosevelt was the one who put 230 million acres of American soil under conservation. He also first signed the Antiquities Act, which “affords the president the authority to designate national monuments—one of the most important mechanisms for conserving wilderness and wildlife habitat,” according to Field & Stream. Trump, on the other hand, directed the Interior Department to consider withdrawing protected status to 27 national monuments in order to make more room for gas and oil production. Not a great likeness there.

Roosevelt at Panama Canal
President Roosevelt running an American steam-shovel at Culebra Cut, Panama Canal. Photo from the Library of Congress.

Pence made his comparison between Trump and Roosevelt while speaking at the opening ceremonies of the new Cocoli Locks at the Panama Canal. This brings up another contrast: Roosevelt oversaw the construction of this massive infrastructure project, but Trump’s promised infrastructure plans are falling apart after his unwillingness to condemn the neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville:

The president’s much vaunted $1tn plan for American infrastructure now lies in ruins. On Thursday, he dropped plans for an advisory council on the issue, following the disbanding of two business advisory councils after an exodus of several chief executives.

There were other ways in which we could compare the two men. Both set out to change the Republican parties that elected them, but Roosevelt’s progressivism ran directly counter to Trump’s proposed tax reform for the wealthy. According to Roosevelt:

A heavy progressive tax upon a very large fortune is in no way such a tax upon thrift or industry as a like would be on a small fortune. No advantage comes either to the country as a whole or to the individuals inheriting the money by permitting the transmission in their entirety of the enormous fortunes which would be affected by such a tax; and as an incident to its function of revenue raising, such a tax would help to preserve a measurable equality of opportunity for the people of the generations growing to manhood.

Roosevelt Rough Riders for Sugar Sun steamy historical romance series for author Jennifer Hallock. Serious history. Serious sex. Happily ever after.
A Puck illustration by Udo J. Keppler (27 July 1898) and a Scribner’s essay.

Roosevelt also had a bombastic foreign policy like Trump has warmed up to, but remember this: though Roosevelt helped start the Spanish-American War (and ordered Dewey to expand the battle to Manila), he actually fought in it himself. He resigned his post, recruited his own unit (1st Volunteer Cavalry or “Rough Riders”), and shipped out to Cuba. Given how many physical ailments Teddy Roosevelt overcame early in his life, if he’d had “heel spurs,” he would not have told a single person about it.


Conclusion:

I am glad to see attention given to the Philippine-American War and the Gilded Age in general, but none of the claims by Trump or Pence stand up to the test of history.

Duterte and Bud Dajo
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte using the above Bud Dajo photos at a press conference. This is why Americans need to know this stuff.

(Featured Photo: American soldiers of the 20th Kansas in trenches in the Philippines during the insurrection. Note the open baked beans can in the left foreground. Photo from the Library of Congress.)

Screw upon a Screw: Sex Education in the Gilded Age

My old tagline included the promise of “serious sex,” and this post has it. Explicit discussion and illustrations follow.

When I started writing historical romance set in the Gilded Age, I needed to know what level of sexual ignorance I was dealing with.

  • Did doctors of the day believe in “virginity tests”?
  • Did they understand a woman’s body and how to bring it pleasure?
  • Did they think that sex should be pleasurable for women in the first place?
  • Finally, how did they feel about masturbation, or self-pleasure?

In my unscientific, random sampling of (cishet) primary sources, the Gilded Age scored 2.5 out of 4, which was a little better than I anticipated. Let’s investigate:

“Virginity tests”:

E.B. Foote quote on Gilded Age sex ed

The hymen does not start whole—a perforation is needed to allow menstrual fluid to escape, after all—but a woman can easily tear and rub away the rest through an active lifestyle. Horseback riding, yes. Sneezing? Eh, probably not. But it was nice that Dr. Foote erred in her favor. It is also nice that he acknowledged that the hymen test was “cruel and unusual.”

However, it is depressing to also note that, due to “popular prejudice,” even the best physicians concealed the whole hymen truth. This led some fearful young women to try to “tighten” their vagina with alum, something I found discussed in a magazine of 1880 erotica (written by and for men). The alum suggestion wasn’t new—women had been encouraged to try this since medieval times—but it didn’t work then, and it still doesn’t. It just dries you out. There is no virginity test other than asking a person.

a woman’s body:

E.B. Foote quote on Gilded Age sex ed

This may be the Gilded Age quote that surprised me the most. I had thought for sure that today’s popular culture would be more knowledgeable than 150 years ago, especially regarding the clitoris, but no! In fact, did you know that even in the eighteenth century, the most widely printed medical book in Europe and America informed men about the clitoris? Yay, cliteracy!

Labia view in Gilded Age textbook used in Philippines
A complete drawing from the 5th edition (1914) of Human Anatomy: A Complete Systematic Treatise by Henry Morris. This textbook, first published in 1893, was used by the American teachers in the Philippines in the early 1900s.

Fortunately, my heroine Allegra will have a Gilded Age anatomy book (the one above) to guide her explorations. Every virgin should have one! Her hero, Ben, will appreciate her sharing her new knowledge with him, too. This is why I love writing romance, a genre that prioritizes the needs, strengths, and happiness of women. Real romance doesn’t ignore the clitoris! I’m going to cross-stitch that on a pillow someday.

A woman’s pleasure:

Ida Craddock quote on Gilded Age sex ed

 

Pleasure and procreation may coincide, but one is not required for the other—for women. Herein lies a problem with how we teach (or don’t teach) women about their bodies. Even today, students may be taught reproductive biology, but that curriculum illustrates a prudish bias: a woman’s anatomy is described like plumbing, with pipes only used for pumping out children. In this narrative, only the male’s sexual pleasure is required for procreation, leaving the impression that men are the only ones who experience desire (or who should experience it).1

How sex-positive were Gilded Age experts? Did they think women should receive pleasure from the act? Dr. Foote, author of the above quote about the clitoris, believed that all aspects of sexual interaction—from friendly conversation to full, pleasurable intercourse—were absolutely necessary for good health: “I place sexual starvation among the principal causes of derangements of the nervous and vascular systems,” he said.

Now let’s check in with a woman, “sexual outlaw” Ida Craddock, who was sent to jail for sending “obscene” sexual education materials through the mail (to subscribers).2 Craddock’s description of a woman taking an active part in intercourse, even to the point of describing specific motions, is refreshing. She also claims that these motions will improve a woman’s sexual passion, which is encouraging. But—and this is a big BUT—Craddock believes the woman’s passion is irrelevant. A fortunate by-product, yes, but unnecessary. Bummer.

In fact, Craddock believed so strongly that sex was for procreation that her vision of contraception was coitus without orgasm—for both partners—for the entire duration of pregnancy and two years following. She thought this sexual brinksmanship would make both partners stronger. Three years of deliberate sexual arousal without release? No wonder Anthony Comstock, self-appointed male protector of American postal virtue, had her thrown her in jail.3

Overall, I’ll give the Gilded Age half a point here, and that’s being generous.

self-pleasure:

John Harvey Kellogg quote on Gilded Age sex ed

 

Your own pleasure starts with you:

Rosa did not have a lot of experience—none very good, at least—but neither did Jonas, it seemed. And Rosa knew something he did not. She knew what she liked.

“Look,” she said. She parted her lower lips to reveal the ridge that gave her the most pleasure when she was alone.

Or was this too much? To admit such a dirty secret, especially to a man—had she not learned her lesson? When she had tried to show Archie, he had lectured her about sin and a woman’s shame. Now she risked her husband’s disapproval, too.

Jonas looked up. “Show me what you want,” he said.

Tempting Hymn

If Rosa could do it, so could anyone in the Gilded Age, right? Well, maybe not. Masturbation has long been considered a sin in the Judeo-Christian tradition, ever since Onan spilled his seed on the ground (rather than give his brother’s widow an heir) and God smote him (Genesis 38:9-10). In many traditional sources, the act is called Onanism. Thus, we are back to the idea that sex is only for procreation, a mission that made sense for the small, struggling band of Hebrews trying to survive the rough-and-tumble world of the ancient Near East.

A more recent concern by the Catholic Church about masturbation is the idea that it draws away from the sexual relationship—a withholding of yourself from what should be the most intimate aspect of marriage. It is considered “radically self-centered.” While, yes, an addiction to masturbation may be unhealthy, the knowledge of one’s own body cannot help but lead to a better-shared experience. A shocking idea, I know.

And it was shocking in the Gilded Age. Edwardian prophets took the above warnings and turned them into near paranoia. The same level-headed, seemingly enlightened Dr. Foote who criticized the hymen test, described the importance of the clitoris, and said sex was healthy—well, he had only dire warnings about masturbation in 1887: “Many a promising young man has lost his mind and wrecked his hopes by self-induced pleasures.” Another author agreed: “That solitary vice is one of the most common causes of insanity, is a fact too well established to need demonstration here.” (That logic is convenient: it’s so true that I don’t need to prove it. Hmm…)

Dr. Jeffries (1985) listed more terrible symptoms of this vice: a slimy discharge from the urethra, a “wasting away” of the testicles, ringing in the ears, heat flashes, large spots under the eyes, nervous headache, giddiness, solitariness, gloominess, and the inability to look the doctor in the eye. Others added cancer (!), acne (yep, that old hogwash), and a craving for salt, pepper, spices, cinnamon, cloves, vinegar, mustard, and horseradish. That last one is a head-scratcher. So if you wanted to eat anything with flavor at all, that was a giveaway? I’m in trouble.

Dr. Jeffries’s unexplained (and unverified) diagram of what happens to semen after masturbation. Are you wondering how he obtained the first sample without masturbation? Me, too.

Speaking of food, did you know that Corn Flakes were invented in 1898 to keep you from masturbating? For real.4

The John Harvey Kellogg quoted above is the Kellogg of breakfast cereal fame. His obsession with sexual purity was so extreme that he never consummated his own marriage. He and his wife slept in separate bedrooms and adopted their children. By the way, who did Kellogg believe were the worst masturbatory offenders? Foreigners, of course. Russians especially. Add eye roll here.

The cure? Clean living! Rising early in the morning, eating the recommended bland breakfast, abstaining from smoke and drink, keeping busy, avoiding solitude, and circumcision. This is why the procedure became routine in American hospitals in the twentieth century and still predominates today. It is not good medicine but good morals. Or so they said.

There is still a bit of taboo in talking about masturbation today—well, maybe more than a bit. In 1994 President Bill Clinton forced his Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders to resign because she said that masturbation should be taught in schools as a preventative for teenage pregnancy and sexually-transmitted diseases. Still, I think we are a far cry from saying it causes cancer. And we’ve sweetened breakfast cereals beyond recognition, so there, John Harvey Kellogg! More and more parents are questioning routine circumcision for non-religious reasons, though the procedure has traction because it is what people in the US are used to.

All this brings me to an interesting realization: if you asked me which parts of my books would have most shocked real Gilded Age readers, it would have been the openness most of my characters have toward masturbation. And, guess what? I’m not going to stop writing it, historical accuracy be damned. Long live romance!

(Featured photograph is a close up of a Fallopian tube and ovarian ligaments in Henry Morris’s Human Anatomy: A Complete Systematic Treatise by English and American Authors, 5th edition, 1914, p. 1270.)

Footnotes:

1. What follows is a whole domino chain of bad decisions, including a teenage “hook up” culture that emphasizes sexual trophy hunting (most often by boys), rather than two people finding mutual pleasure in a mature relationship built on respect and trust.

2. The law against this distribution of “obscene” materials, the Comstock Law, is still on the books in a modified form. It no longer covers sexual education or contraception, the latter of which became a legally protected right—to married couples, originally—under the 1965 Supreme Court decision Griswold v Connecticut, also known as the Birth Control Revolution. Good thing, too, because this post would have gotten me jailed.

3. And she was not the only sexual rights crusader to have disturbing ideas. Marie Stopes believed in eugenics and forcible sterilization for those “unfit” to carry on their genes. She even “disinherit[ed] her son when he married a woman who had poor eyesight.” Yikes. And Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger dabbled in eugenics, too, by the way. We need to question everything from this period because racism, classism, and ableism were pervasive.

4. The original purity food was the graham cracker, which was nothing like your s’mores building block of today. It was made of unrefined flour with no sugars or spices—deliberately bland. Because that contained sexual desire, didn’t you know?

Guide to the history behind Sugar Sun

Note: If you are looking for only the history that relates to my newest release, Sugar Moon, you may find a pared down list of posts on this page, “Essential History for Sugar Moon.” Enjoy!

At the start of Under the Sugar Sun, Georgina Potter travels to the Philippines to search for her brother, Ben—a soldier missing since the Philippine-American War. The night she arrives, she walks into a fire set by the cholera police to “cleanse” a neighborhood. Right away we are rooted in the history of the American colonial period.

But why were Americans in the Philippines in the first place? How did war with Spain in the Caribbean turn into an empire in Asia?

Here on my blog, I have written a lot of history—no surprise since it is my day job. Here are links to the most relevant posts, complete with illustrations.

1896 election history for Sugar Sun history
The bid for empire started with an election about making America great (again?), with jobs, industrialism, and trade. Sounds familiar. Find out more.
Spanish American War Part 1
American imperialism was a cause and effect of the Spanish-American War. Why fight at all? It’s the economy, stupid!? Find out more.
Spanish-American War Part 2
Navy accidents, fake news, and a New Yorker bent on war. I mean the Spanish-American War of 1898. What were you thinking? Find out more.
Spanish-American War Part 3
Mission creep was a thing before we had the phrase. How the war in the Caribbean turned into an empire in Asia. Also, imperial euphemisms. Find out more.
New imperialism in the Philippines
What was so “new” about American imperialism in the Philippines? Also, how Mark Twain is still relevant today. Find out more.
Why the Philippine-American War matters now.
The good, bad, and ugly of your great-great-great grandparents’ Vietnam War: the Philippine-American War. Also, why it matters to you now more than ever. Find out more.
The Pulahan War parts 1, 2, and 3.
The Pulahan War was a millennialist insurrection, like ISIS. Why don’t we study it more? Find out more in Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.
Insular euphemisms for imperialism.
Euphemisms for imperialism but not immigration reform. They called that what it was: Chinese exclusion. Find out more.
Baseball history in the Philippines
Baseball was a perfect metaphor for American colonial rule. Find out more.
Cholera epidemic in 1902 Philippines
Cholera has long been a sideshow of war. For the Americans in Manila, it was a challenge to modernity and “benevolent assimilation.” Also, silly naval surgeons. Find out more.
Army life in the Gilded Age
Soldiers in…negligées? My research rabbit hole on daily life in the U.S. Army in 1901. Find out more.
Benguet road to Baguio
For the Americans sweating it out in Manila, all roads led to Baguio—once they built them, that is. Find out more.
Missionaries in the Philippines
Learn about the real missionaries of Dumaguete, the backdrop for Tempting Hymn, and their best legacy: Silliman University. Find out more.
Balangiga occupation and attack
A case study in occupation, and a town that every American should know. Essential reading for the upcoming Sugar Moon. Find out more.
return-Balangiga-bells-photo-company-C-survivors
The US returned war booty known as the bells of Balangiga in December 2018, over 117 years too late. Why now? Find out more.
Ninth Infantry in Boxer War and Philippines
Talk about mission creep: a war against Spain fought in Cuba blossomed into a new war in the Philippines that lent soldiers to fight yet another campaign in China. Find out more.
Thanksgiving with the 30th Volunteers in Pasay
Spend the holidays with the 30th U.S. Volunteers in Pasay. Find out more.
Deaf education in the Gilded Age
Take a peek inside deaf education in the Gilded Age with heroine Della Berget, modeled on real-life adventuress, Annabelle Kent. Find out more.
Marijuana in the Gilded Age
Who won the 2016 election? Marijuana, of course. But beware! Gilded Age America preferred cocaine tooth drops. Find out more.
Gibson girls tackle international travel
Three intrepid Gilded Age women take on illiteracy, disease, and the perils of international travel. Find out more.
Gilded Age in Newport and Manila
The wealth of the Gilded Age reached both sides of the Pacific, but nowhere was it gaudier than at Newport. Find out more.
Sex Education in the Gilded Age
What did Gilded Age authorities teach about sex, virginity, and pleasure? The results may surprise you. Find out more.
New Year's 1900 and 2017
War, natural disaster, terrorism, technology, and health care: all concerns of New Years Day 1900. Find out more.

I hope you have enjoyed my snarky view of history, and I hope it enriches your reading of the Sugar Sun series.

Research Notes: Harper’s History of the War in the Philippines

Do you remember the days of card catalogs? Or the days when, if your library did not have the book you wanted, you had to wait weeks—maybe months—for interlibrary loan? (And that was if your library was lucky enough to be a part of a consortium. Many were not.) Even during my college years, I made regular trips to the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., because that was the only place I knew I could find what I needed. Since I could not check out the books, I spent a small fortune (and many, many hours) photocopying. I still have their distinctive blue copy card in my wallet.

The point is that “kids these days” are lucky. Do I sound old now? Sorry, not sorry—look at the wealth of sources on the internet! With the hard work of university librarians around the world, plus the search engine know-how of Google and others, you can find rare, out-of-print, and out-of-copyright books in their full-text glory.

Today, I (virtually) paged through an original 1900 copy of Harper’s History of the War in the Philippines to bring you some of the original images that you cannot find anywhere else. For example, you may know that almost every village in the Philippines—no matter how remote or small—had a band of some sort, whether woodwind, brass, or bamboo. In fact, these musicians learned American ragtime songs so quickly and so enthusiastically that many Filipinos thought “There’ll Be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight” was the American national anthem. You may know this, but can you visualize it? You don’t have to anymore. Here is an image in color:

Filipino street band 1900 full color image from Harper's Magazine in Gilded Age American colony
Full color image from the Harper’s History of the War in the Philippines, accessed at Google Books.

Smaller bands than the one pictured above played at some of the hottest restaurants in Manila, like the Paris on the famous Escolta thoroughfare. I have seen the Paris’s advertisements in commercial directories, but I had never seen a photo of the interior of it (or really many buildings at all) since flash photography was brand new. Harper’s had a budget, though, so they spared no expense to bring you this image of American expatriate chic:

American expatriates navy officers at Paris restaurant in Manila Philippines in Gilded Age colony
Image from the Harper’s History of the War in the Philippines, accessed at Google Books.

Not every soldier or sailor ate as well as the officers at the Paris. The soldiers on “the Rock” of Corregidor Island, which guards the mouth of Manila Bay, had a more natural setting for their hotel and restaurant:

Corregidor Island hotel in mouth of Manila Bay Philippines during war between Philippines and United States during American colonial period
Image from the Harper’s History of the War in the Philippines, accessed at Google Books.

Another interesting image is of a “flying mess” (or meal in the field). Notice the Chinese laborers in the bottom right-hand corner. Despite banning any further Chinese immigration to the Philippines with the renewal of the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1902, the US government and military regularly employed Chinese laborers who were already in the islands.

American Army soldiers field mess during war between Philippines and United States in Gilded Age
Full color image from the Harper’s History of the War in the Philippines, accessed at Google Books.

But enough politics. It’s almost the weekend, so this relaxing image might be the most appropriate:

Filipina girls women in hammock posing for American photographer during colonial Gilded Age
Image from the Harper’s History of the War in the Philippines, accessed at Google Books.

Want to learn how to find such cool sources yourself? Next weekend, on April 22nd at 1pm, I will give my research workshop, The History Games: Using Real Events to Write the Best Fiction in Any Genre, at the Hingham Public Library, in Hingham, Massachusetts. The hour-long workshop is free, but the library asks that you register because space is limited. Follow the previous library link, if interested. Hope to see you there!

(Featured banner image of card catalog from the 2011 Library of Congress Open House was taken by Ted Eytan and is used under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license.)

Sugar Sun series location #7: Balangiga

Sugar-Sun-series-Philippines-Visayas-map
Most of the Sugar Sun series takes place in the Visayan Islands in the central and southern Philippines.

My upcoming book, Sugar Moon, will be firmly rooted in history that I believe every American should know: the ambush of a company of American soldiers on September 28, 1901, in Balangiga, Philippines. Most people have never heard of it. What happened that day in Balangiga—and in the months of American counterattacks afterward—has been overshadowed by other towns that Americans do know, ones with names like My Lai and Fallujah. Had we learned the lesson of Balangiga, though, these two towns in Vietnam and Iraq might never have hit the headlines. In fact, they might not be noteworthy at all.

Fishermen in Balangiga Samar where Army Ninth Infantry was attacked during war between Philippines and America in Gilded Age
My photo of fishermen in Balangiga, at the junction of the Balangiga River and the Leyte Gulf. From there, it is not far until you are in the Pacific Ocean.

How did I stumble upon Balangiga? When I started plotting my story about an American schoolteacher and a Filipino sugar baron—the story that became Under the Sugar Sun—I did a lot of research at Ateneo de Manila University, where I read through old issues of the Manila Times on microfiche. (By the way, if you want to entertain me, give me two rolls of that microfiche and leave me there all day. It’s like giving a child an iPad. History is my babysitter.) One of the articles I stumbled across was entitled: “Sister Hunting for Brother: His Name is E.L. Evans and He is Supposed to Be in the Philippines.” From there, I conjured up the idea of a missing brother to bring Georgina Potter to the Philippines. Yes, she was hired by the American colonial government to start a school in the Visayas, but her real motive in coming—and for letting herself get entangled with a jerk named Archie—was finding her brother, Ben Potter.

Character board for Sugar Moon upcoming book in steamy Sugar Sun historical romance series set in Philippines
A character board for Sugar Moon. From left: a Filipina in 1900 who inspired Allegra Alazas; actor Chris Geere, one of my possible “castings” for Ben; a local house; and Mount Suiro on Biliran Island, location of some adventures. Sorry, no more spoilers!

Why was Ben missing? Maybe because he was in a significant battle? Or, at least, a very confusing one? In Under the Sugar Sun, Georgina goes to Army Headquarters in Fort Santiago in Manila to find out, and she lays out all the news articles from a battle in Balangiga. A clerk tries to help her, to no avail:

“Your brother should be in here one way or another.” The clerk put his finger on the article with the list. “Name and rank?”

If it were that easy, she thought, she would not have bothered crossing the Pacific. “Sergeant Benjamin Potter.”

“I see a Ben Cutter,” the clerk said. “That’s probably him.” He sounded sure, as if the U.S. Army made such mistakes all the time. Maybe they did.

In fact, the Army did print various lists with different spellings of names: Dettron or Bastron for Sergeant Frank Betron, the model for Ben Potter. This is one of the reasons why I chose this setting for my character. It makes sense that if he survived, he still might not want to be found. Moreover, several survivors stayed in the Philippines afterward—in Betron’s case, maybe to find a woman from Balangiga. Now, there’s a story there!

So, it was decided: Ben served in Company C, Ninth Infantry, which saw action in China during the Boxer War, and then returned to the Philippines to be stationed in Balangiga. Poor Ben. Poor Balangiga.

Company C occupied this town, and occupation is ugly. It doesn’t matter how you justify it—in this case, blockading the southern coast of Samar so that the guerrillas in the mountains could not be resupplied, a legitimate military purpose. It also doesn’t matter if the occupation starts off peacefully, which it did in Balangiga. It is not going to stay that way. The lesson of occupation throughout world history—no matter whether we are talking about ancient Greek occupation of Jerusalem, Israeli occupation of Lebanon, the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, or the American occupation of the Philippines—things will go downhill.

The Americans called the Filipino guerrillas insurrectionists, and they labeled what happened in Balangiga a massacre, implying that the perpetrators had no just cause. On the other side, Filipinos call their soldiers revolutionaries, and they see the event itself as a just uprising. If you want to avoid all judgment, it was an incident, or more specifically an ambush. I am greatly indebted to Philippine historian Rolando O. Borrinaga and British writer Bob Couttie for their first-hand research and outstanding work on Balangiga. In my version of the story, I have taken some liberties—merging characters to simplify things for the reader, renaming a few people—but I hope that my unwitting mentors will find that I got the big brush strokes right. All errors are my own, of course.

Recommended reading is Borrinaga and Couttie on Balangiga Samar Ninth Infantry attack during war between Philippines and America in Gilded Age
Two outstanding scholars on the Balangiga Incident, Rolando O. Borrinaga and Bob Couttie. Bottom right is my photo of the monument to the attackers in Balangiga town.

As we will see in Sugar Moon, at first things went okay. Uneasily, but okay. An American officer played chess with the parish priest. The man Sergeant Benjamin Potter is based on studied martial arts with the police chief. Individuals got along. But here’s the rub: if the townspeople became too friendly with the Americans, they would face retribution from the revolutionaries up in the mountains. So the town tried to play it cool, stay neutral.

Southern Samar coast in the Philippines is jungle and good cover for guerrillas during war between Philippines and America in Gilded Age
The southern coast of Samar is not the easiest place to patrol. This is the Cadacan River near Basey. Image courtesy of Iloilo Wanderer on Wikimedia Commons.

But the Americans noticed some strange things happening—like sweet potatoes planted in the jungle for the guerrilla soldiers, or townspeople not cutting down banana trees that could provide the guerrillas cover—and the Yanks thought they had been betrayed. They ordered the town to cut down essential food sources, to “clean up” the town. If the town complied, not only would they need to destroy their own property, they would also endanger the understanding they had with guerrillas. I think you probably see where this is going. The reality of a town like this during occupation is that it will be caught in between two armies, and if neither army can truly protect the civilians against the other, the people must try to play one off the other. That is a dangerous game.

The captain of Company C doubled down. He imprisoned the town’s men in conical tents that looked like Native American teepees. These Sibley tents were supposed to sleep 16, but were each jammed full with between 70-90 men and boys who had to sit on their haunches all night. They were not fed dinner, and in the morning they were forced to cut down the food their families depended on. This went on for several days.

Sibley tents pictured by Winslow Homer used by Ninth Infantry American army in war against Philippines in Gilded Age
Several African-American Union Army Teamsters rest on a Sibley tent in 1865, giving some sense of their size (and age). It is a crowded sleep for 16 inside, let alone 70 or more. Winslow Homer’s The Bright Side, is in the public domain. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Americans did not see the town turning against them. They only saw their own frustration: they felt alone, vulnerable, on the edge of a hostile island, a day’s travel away from the nearest garrison. Yet they did not expect the ambush. My character Ben will narrate the whole debacle through his flashbacks, which starts with him trying to court a local woman. He’s a proper gentleman, don’t worry, but he’s smitten.

On Sunday, September 28, 1901, the morning after the town fiesta, the police chief attacked the American sentry. A church bell rang. Warriors rushed out of the jungle line east of town. Others dressed as women streamed out of the church with machetes. The American soldiers were eating breakfast. Dozens would die immediately and gruesomely. A little more than half would manage to escape, and several of them would die along the way of their wounds or from other attacks. In total, 48 of 77 Americans would die.

Google Cultural Institute shows Ayala Museum Balangiga attack in war between Philippines and America in Gilded Age
One of many wonderful dioramas designed by the Ayala Museum and now viewable through the Google Cultural Institute.

Americans blamed the Filipino revolutionaries—General Lukban’s men in the interior of Samar—but the truth Borrinaga and Couttie uncovered is that the town actually planned the attack themselves. They may have borrowed some men from villages outside Balangiga proper, and they may have coordinated with the revolutionaries, but this was a town fighting back against the soldiers who had imprisoned them.

After that, all hell broke loose. If there is something more violent than the rising up of an occupied people, it is the revenge exacted by a conventional military force armed to the teeth. The American commander in Samar ordered his men to turn the entire island into “a howling wilderness” by striking down all men and boys capable of carrying arms, which he defined as all those over ten years old. (This is in violation of General Order No. 100, which served as the American law of war at this time.) American soldiers made a special trip back to Balangiga to burn down the town and kill anyone in sight. Months of revenge resulted in the deaths of thousands on Samar, maybe as many as 15,000, according to Borrinaga. The destruction was so widespread that it sowed the seeds for a whole new war only three years later.

Google Cultural Institute shows Ayala Museum Howling Wilderness American attack on Samar during Philippine-American War in Gilded Age
Another of the many vivid dioramas designed by the Ayala Museum and now viewable through the Google Cultural Institute. Also included are a photo of General “Hell-Roaring Jake” Smith and the New York Journal editorial cartoon of his order. Both are in the public domain and are found on Wikipedia.

This was the My Lai moment of the Philippine-American War, and it was just as explosive to the American public as that incident in Vietnam was. For the first time, with the advent of the trans-Pacific telegraph cable, the American public could follow events with an immediacy that had been previously impossible. The excesses of the Army now blanketed newspapers and magazines Stateside. Though military authorities tried to censor the press by controlling the telegraph lines out of Manila, reporters got around this by traveling to Hong Kong to wire their stories. The courts-martial of several American officers made daily headlines, and Senate hearings began on the issue of American atrocities in the Philippines.

Picture of Ninth Infantry Army soldiers survived Balangiga attack war between Philippines and America in Gilded Age
The survivors of Balangiga in April 1902. Photo in the public domain, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

But how do you criticize the methods of occupation without questioning the whole endeavor to begin with? You can blame a few “bad apples” to satisfy the public, but is it enough? The general in Samar received a slap on the wrist from the court-martial that followed, and though popular outcry in the US later forced President Roosevelt to demand the general’s retirement, the punishment still didn’t fit the crime. The general retired with a full pension. Similarly, the American lieutenant in command at My Lai, convicted of murdering 22 Vietnamese civilians, served only seven months of house arrest and then was pardoned. In both cases, “marked severities” divided the American public.

PTSD Post Traumatic Stress Disorder suffered by American soldiers during war in Philippines in Gilded Age
A military hospital in Manila. Photo in the public domain.

My character Ben tried hard to be better than the rest, but what happened in Balangiga tortures him. You are not supposed to have liked him in Under the Sugar Sun, and he does not like himself much, either. He suffers from Post Traumatic Stress disorder, something that two of my very best friends share with him. Soldiers with PTSd struggle with guilt, depression, substance abuse, anger management, insomnia, and other health problems. I am greatly indebted to these friends for letting me put some of their worst fears on the page. I hope they will also appreciate the redemptive journey Ben goes through and the healing power of love that he finds. They would tell me this is far too simplistic a cure, but I think they want Ben to have a happily-ever-after, so it’s okay.

George Santayana wrote in 1905: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” It is fitting he said so at the outset of what was later called the American Century. The vigorous debate about the use of military force abroad—and it’s aftereffects like PTSd—are familiar to people today. But they were not really a part of American discourse until the Philippine-American War. America’s professional army was born out of this war. Before 1898, the entire US Army was smaller than today’s New York City Police Department. Most of the Spanish-American War had to be fought with state volunteers whose enlistments lasted only a year. When hostilities broke out in Philippines, Congress promptly doubled the size of the regular army once, and then doubled it again. For the first time in its history, America had a significant standing army stationed far from its borders.

Maybe it is not good enough to just remember the past. You should experience it yourself. That’s the garden where empathy grows. That’s where you get all the feels. I hope Sugar Moon helps.

Photograph of an American concentration camp in war in Philippines during Gilded Age
Photograph of an American reconcentrado camp, the exact tactic we blamed Spain for in Cuba.