Race-Making and Colonial Violence in the U.S. Empire: The Philippine-American War as Race War by Paul A. Kramer expounds on the attempts of the Philippines to earn recognition of not only their independence, but of their status as an organized, ‘civilized’ government that could maintain order well enough to conduct its own affairs. The United States’ assertions that they were attempting to ‘civilize the barbarians’ in the Philippines (a citation here would essentially include the entire article) might provide reason to believe that if the fledgling institution could show their ‘civilized’ qualities, the U.S. might be content to recognize them as an independent nation. Kramer’s overall point that the war was primarily a race war, however, suggests otherwise. Indeed, following the fighting with Spain, the people of the Philippines did their best to demonstrate their ‘civilization’ by rebuilding telegraph lines, railroads, and other modern paraphernalia (pp. 181-2). Unsurprisingly, this meant absolutely nothing to the people of the United States. Mostly irrelevant as their efforts seem in retrospect, the endeavor was a pertinent reflection of a notion which permeated much of world politics at the time—the idea that industrialization and technological modernity indicated social complexity, ‘civilization’, and racial competency whether in the form of supremacy or equity (ie. The U.S. and Philippines respectively).
This judgement ran as an undercurrent to the political and social interactions of countries all across the world. From Cornelius Vanderbilt and the industrialization of Germany to the Philippines’ recognition efforts and Jaffa’s rise to significance in the Middle East, political, economic, and racial power—or the illusion of such power—stemmed from this idea of modernity. In some cases it was justified; Germany’s economic importance to Europe was very real, and the same can be said for the United States. The problem arose when these Western powers used their modernity to justify their atrocities committed in the name of civilization and such claims were revealed for the paltry excuses they were when the evidence to the contrary was both conspicuous and conspicuously ignored. The painting of the people of Jaffa congregating along the bare shoreline of their harbor to gaze upon the wonders of the steam engine in the distance is a cogent reminder not of the power of the West, but of the blinding effects of bigotry and bias.