Nonfiction Recommendations from the Hallock Classroom

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I am lucky. I get to teach important stuff that few survey classes touch. By the time US history teachers get to the Spanish-American War, they have one eye on the Great War and everything it sets in motion, and the other eye on the AP test coming up likely in a matter of weeks. Most students I talk to bemoan the fact that they barely cover Vietnam, and their teachers are likely a lot more familiar with Vietnam than the Philippine-American War. If they cannot cover My Lai, Woodstock, and Agent Orange, how can they find time for Balangiga, the Lodge Commission, and the water cure? (Well, some students do, and in the eighth and ninth grade no less!)

I teach trimester electives to mostly high school seniors about American empire and war in the Philippines (and China, Hawaii, Japan, and Pacific islands), in Vietnam (and Cambodia and Laos), and in Iraq (along with Iran, Afghanistan, and more). I try to add value with my own synthesis and analysis, but simply assigning the right readings is the first step to knowledge. I thought I might share some recommendations, not all of which are pictured above. Note that I make no money off the sales of these books, nor have I received any free copies or compensation for endorsing them.

Colorized photograph of the Luneta provided as Sugar Sun series location by author Jennifer Hallock
Park with gazebos and benches in Manila, Philippines (1901). To the right is the Luneta Beach. The Ermita Beach went on south behind the tree. Roxas Blvd. of today goes along where the water line and beach is in this picture. Luneta Park area was filled in where the Manila Hotel, Elks Club, Army & Navy Club, and US Embassy are today. Original at the Library of Congress, provided by John Tewell.
How to hide an empire

This book by Daniel Immerwahr is, in his own words, not really new information—but considering how deftly he weaves together the many threads, you might think it is. How to Hide an Empire is a sweeping history of US expansion since independence, when what we call a republic was actually as much undefined territory as it was incorporated state. It’s eye-opening in a red-pill Matrix way, yet it manages to be entertaining and even funny. How did American Pacific empire between with bird shit? True story. How did overseas US bases inspire the Beatles and Sony? And what does the base system look like now, and why don’t Americans hear about it more in the news?

I would recommend this book to everyone from young adults on up, but I think it is especially important for US citizens. Though I use it as “homework,” it does not feel like it to my students. Many of them choose to read the portions we have not assigned in class because it is that good.

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The Malecon Drive ran parallel to the Manila Bay, opening at its southern end to the Luneta, early twentieth century. Photo courtesy of the White House Historical Association.
overthrow

While How to Hide an Empire paints the forest vividly, with the occasional tree, Overthrow by Stephen Kinzer is a neat row of evergreens at a Christmas tree farm. And just like that row planted by some agri-corp eager to make a profit off idealistic, family-farm nostalgia, Kinzer lays out difficult truths of big business behind seemingly altruistic goals. Each chapter takes the reader through the spy-thriller-esque story (but darker) of every time the US has overthrown a foreign government.

Sometimes the role was at least in part unofficial—a cabal of American-born landowners overthrew the queen of Hawaii, but they probably would not have succeeded had the US envoy not landed the Marines on shore in support. But sometimes the role was very much official, such as when the CIA overthrew the popularly-elected prime minister of Iran in 1953. Kinzer has individual titles that dig more deeply into individual cases, such as his books on the debate over the seizure of the Philippines, the coups in Iran and Guatemala, and the unbelievable Cold War origins when the leaders of US covert and overt foreign policy were brothers! And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

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Vintage postcard of Samar with a view of the wooden causeway connecting town to the port. Scanned image of the early 20th century card by Leo D. Cloma.
The 9/11 report: a Graphic Adaptation

The authors of the first published 9/11 Report intended to make the text readable because they wanted to reach the widest range of Americans possible, to answer the “Why?” questions better than the television networks were doing. But it was a big book, with, you know, lots of words. In my class I use this visual adaptation, and it is often the first time that my students have a teacher using a graphic novel as an instructional tool. They find that disconcerting because my students—wonderful as they are, and they are wonderful—like order and predictability. Shaking up the strict left-to-right line-by-line structure does put them off their game at first, but they get the hang of it. And they love the massive amounts of information this graphic novel version gives them in just a few days of assignments.

The vietnam reader

I teach a high school course, not university, on America in Vietnam, so I do not have the time to dig deep into the masterworks of nonfiction or fiction on the war in one trimester. This collection includes excerpts in a single volume, including: memoirs like If I Die in a Combat Zone (Tim O’Brien), Born on the Fourth of July (Ron Kovic), A Rumor of War (Philip Caputo); reporting and oral histories like Dispatches (Michael Herr), Nam (Mark Baker), and Bloods (Wallace Terry); and fiction like The Things They Carried (Tim O’Brien), Going After Cacciato (also Tim O’Brien), and more. The collection also includes essays on the major films of the war, along with relevant song lyrics. If you want the flavor of a little bit of everything, like a buffet on the American experience of the war, this single volume will do it. I have used it for so long that my book has literally broken into two halves. (No, I am not careful with my spines, don’t @ me, bibliophiles.)

There are many great works on the war not in this volume, probably because an excerpt would not do them justice. I highly recommend A Bright Shining Lie (Neil Sheehan) for understanding how “body count” and “search and destroy” were the exact opposite of what counterinsurgency strategy should be, as told through an engaging biography of a deeply flawed veteran and intelligence officer named John Paul Vann. For the Vietnamese perspective, When Heaven and Earth Changed Places (Le Ly Hayslip), puts you in the shoes of a woman in Central Vietnam who simply wants to stay out of the line of fire. There are more books written by other Vietnamese authors recently, which is terrific, but I still go back to this one because it is such a simple premise and yet so universal.

An American Requiem

I borrowed this memoir by James Carroll, one of several he has written, from my local library. Yours probably has it too. Its full title is An American Requiem: God, My Father, and the War that Came Between Us. As you can tell from the subtitle, this book is also partly a biography of his father, the founder of the Defense Intelligence Agency at the Pentagon. Carroll grew up an Air Force brat tooling around East and West Berlin in fast cars, then went to seminary and became a Catholic priest. (Not surprisingly, that is why I initially picked this up. Carroll took off his collar and was eventually granted a dispensation, and his more recent works, like The Truth at the Heart of the Lie, deal with the issues he sees with the priesthood as currently constituted. I recommend those too, as well as his latest fiction, The Cloister.)

Carroll became an anti-war activist, and though he was not quite as important to the resistance as the Berrigan brothers, Daniel and Philip, his bravery was not in doubt. He had a lot at stake in challenging his own family’s privilege, yet he did it. At his first Mass at an Air Force chapel on base, he made a statement against the use of napalm and Agent Orange—the bread and butter of the USAF during the war. I cringed as I read through this scene, and not because I don’t agree with Carroll. It was really uncomfortable, yet bold.

What I also love about this memoir of the early period of the war is how clearly Carroll shows the complicity of the American Catholic Church, especially Archbishop Francis Cardinal Spellman, in the war. Spellman helped handpick President Diem, and even after Diem’s removal and assassination, he and his subordinates continued to support the war effort unquestioningly. One of Carroll’s first novels, The Prince of Peace, carries this Cold War loyalty as a big theme.

That’s the list…for now

I also teach about America’s involvement in the Middle East and Southwest Asia, including especially Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan. Other than the Overthrow volume, though, I tend to use a lot of chapters from other works, not a single volume. As I find other relevant works, I will add them here. I should also point out that this reading list is not sufficient for understanding the full story of American history. The focus of my teaching is about US imperialism and neocolonialism, helping people understand the American footprint abroad. There are many, many more important books for understanding domestic history. To start this journey, I recommend Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America (Ibram X. Kendi) and Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West (Dee Brown).

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Sugar Moon acknowledgments

Sugar Moon is a work of fiction, but the attack in Balangiga, the American counterattack on Samar, and the Pulahan War were all true events that happened between the years of 1901 and 1907. I relied heavily upon the outstanding scholarship of Rolando O. Borrinaga, George Emmanuel R. Borrinaga, Bob Couttie, Brian McAllister Linn, and Daniel C. Talde. I am also grateful to Scott Slaten and the whole Philippine-American War Facebook Group for their photographs, stories, and shared knowledge about this period.

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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.

Some characters in this novel are based on real people but they have been renamed, conflated, and woven into a simplified account that serves my story. Ben Potter is loosely based upon Sergeant Frank Betron. This American soldier studied arnis from the real police chief in Balangiga, Valeriano Abanador. He also may have had a brief romance with the church caretaker, Casiana Nacionales. Betron remained in the Philippines after his escape from Balangiga, possibly to look for Casiana. He failed to find her, married a woman from Cebu, and settled elsewhere in the islands. Casiana, also known as Geronima or Susana, is one half of the model for Valentina. Accounts place her in Balangiga during the attack, but it is not known whether she stayed to cover the departure of the other women or to help coordinate the ambush by sneaking weapons into the church. The other model for Valentina is a real Pulahan priestess, resistance fighter, and healer, Bruna Fabrigar.

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It is no accident that my hero, Ben Potter, is drawn to smart, passionate women—but only Allegra wins this soldier’s heart. Actually, this phrase is doubly appropriate: “soldier’s heart” was the contemporary term for combat-related posttraumatic stress disorder. Ben’s struggle is inspired by first-hand accounts from three of my best friends: two U.S. Army veterans of the Vietnam War, Jim (MACV-SOG, I Corps) and Rudy (11th Armored Cavalry, III Corps); as well as Rich, a Marine survivor of the 1984 terror attack on the U.S. Embassy in Beirut. I have taken Ben’s story in directions that none of these men would have imagined, but I could not have imagined any of it without their help.

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Allegra Alazas was a scene-stealer in Under the Sugar Sun, and I always knew the next novel would be hers. Her iconoclastic character was sparked by the sly half-smile of a Filipino woman in a lantern slide taken by E. W. Goodrich, Tremont Temple, Boston, and housed at the University of Michigan Philippine Photographs Digital Archive. Allegra is not based on any single person—she has always had a voice of her own, right from the beginning—but she would be honored by any resemblance shown to the brilliant Regina Abuyuan. Gina was a writer, editor, school founder, teacher, pub owner, mother, wife, advocate, and friend. We love and miss you, Gina.

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Gina and I with friends Ben, Paul, Derek, and Regine at the Fred’s Revolución in Escolta.

Allegra’s attitudes toward colonial education policy came from the many questions that arose during my research, especially about the thoroughly inappropriate children’s readers imported from the United States. In 1907 the first Philippine primers were published by the World Book Company—though unlike Allegra’s series, these were written entirely by Americans. Sometimes history needs a shove in the right direction. See scholars Roland Sintos Coloma, Kimberly A. Alidio, and A. J. Angulo to learn more.

Also essential to creating Sugar Moon were my language gurus: Liana Smith Bautista (Cebuano); Stephen Fernandez and Adriana Sanchez (Spanish); Scott Giampetruzzi and Andres Reyes (Latin); and Suzette de Borja (Waray). I cannot thank my beta readers enough: Teresa Noelle Roberts; Priscilla and Jim Lockney; and the members of the Weare Area Writers Guild. Also, a big thanks to the authors at NECRWA and #romanceclass for being mentors and friends.

This book would not have been possible without the editing, advice, design, technical expertise, and support of my husband, Stephen. He is the hero who makes my dreams possible—at the cost of many hundreds of hours he would have otherwise set aside to play guitar. If he does not become the next Richard Thompson, you have just read why.

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Essential History for Sugar Moon

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I began writing Sugar Moon in 2013. I began writing this blog in 2016. In both cases, that’s a long time ago. It includes years of writing about the Philippine-American War, and in particular the Balangiga incident—a central event shaping the character of my redemption-seeking, whistleblower character, Ben Potter.

Let’s say you know nothing about what happened in Balangiga—or even nothing about the Philippine-American War. Don’t worry, you won’t need to in order to read Sugar Moon. But let’s say you’re a history geek like me? Well, I’ve written a lot of content just for you!

I have tried to organize this by the most logical questions. Read the captions, and if you want to know more just click on the link below the image. Geek out!

Question 1: Where is this book set?
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Most of the Sugar Sun series takes place in the Visayan Islands in the central and southern Philippines.
Question 2: Why were Americans in the Philippines?
Question 3: What happened in Samar?
Question 4: WHAT WAS THE US ARMY LIKE IN 1901?
Question 5: What else should I know about the world of Ben Potter?
Question 6: What should I know about the world of Allegra Alazas?

And you can find out more about Allegra, her home, her family, and her background by reading through these annotated glossary posts:

Question 7: Where can I find the book?

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Question 8: What are people saying about Sugar Moon?

On Frolic, Joanna Shupe called it one of the best historical romances with sports! Reviews on Amazon and Goodreads help new readers find my books, and I appreciate the time it takes to write them.

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I hope you enjoy the book too! I wish you a great history-ever-after!

Pizza, puppy, parol, and phunk

Mr. Hallock and I have a tradition we created our first year of marriage: pizza for Christmas. We spent the 1998 holiday in West Beirut, then our home. Since our neighborhood was predominantly Muslim, everything was open! (Also, the Lebanese knew that Santa can sell anything. For example, our local manousheh joint, Faysal’s, dressed an employee in a perfect jolly red suit and handed out chocolates.) Stephen and I were not big chefs or bakers yet (well, I’m still not), so we were hardly going to make a big dinner for two. We did the obvious thing: we ordered a pizza. Not obvious to you? As we sat and scarfed down a great New York-style pepperoni and mushroom pie, we decided we would always have pizza (or something styled after pizza) for Christmas. We have not broken that tradition in 20 years. There is dough resting on the kitchen table as I type…

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A 1960s Christmas postcard from the Philippines, courtesy of the fabulous Pinoy Kollektor website.

The holidays have also been about our nuclear family, i.e. our dog(s). We sadly said goodbye to seventeen-year-old Jaya two years ago, and before that to fifteen-year-old Grover. This is our first Christmas with a little pipsqueak called Wile E. Dog. Her auntie and uncle brought her pigs’ ears, so she’s been just fine with the madness of the holidays.Wile-E-dog-pig-ear

And, yes, we have a parol—adjusted to 110v by our amazing Ate Edith! We give passing traffic seizures, but, hey, it’s festive.

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Finally, one of my favorite holiday traditions: good funky Christmas music. My favorite funk? Bootsy Collin’s Christmas is 4 Ever.

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One thing you will have to do without this season is Sugar Moon. It is still coming soon, but rewrites are thorough and ongoing. We are hoping for early 2019, certainly in the first half of the year. [Updated to add: We actually managed this deadline, and Sugar Moon hit ebook shelves in April 2019. Read more about the history behind this book and what readers thought.] If you want something Christmas-y, also please check out the epilogue of my latest novella, Tempting Hymn, or the Noche Buena scene of Under the Sugar Sun. Merry, merry.

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Procrastination Station: Vintage Postcards

I have ten more comments to write for the end of the Fall Term, so of course I have been making ads out of vintage postcards from the American-era Philippines. As one does.

For more on the locations pictured here, please see my illustrated, annotated locations posts. Enjoy!