Massachusetts Daily Collegian

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A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Feinberg Series brings experts together to discuss U.S. influence in Asia and the Pacific

The series brought three speakers to discuss the U.S. empire in the Philippines, Taiwan and the Pacific overall
Daily Collegian (2012)

Hosted by the history department at the University of Massachusetts, the 2022-2023 Feinberg Series seeks to explore “histories of U.S. imperialism and anti-imperialist resistance.” This past Tuesday, the program brought three panelists for a talk, entitled “U.S. Empire in Asia and the Pacific: Repression and Resistance.”

The talk discussed U.S. empire-building in Asia and the Pacific, ranging from the annexation of Hawai’i and the Philippines to more recent manifestations of American colonialism in the Philippines through Duterte.

Sigrid Schmalzer, a founding member of the Critical China Scholars and a professor of modern Chinese history at UMass, moderated the talk. The discussion brought Moon-Ho Jung (professor of history at the University of Washington), Nerissa S. Balce (associate professor of Asian American studies at SUNY Stony Brook) and Brian Hioe,(the founding editor of “New Bloom,” an online “radical” magazine based in Taiwan).

“To point out the obvious, a democracy rooted in empire and white supremacy is not democracy,” Jung said. “That’s American democracy. From there, we can approach the United States not as a multicultural nation that embraces diversity but as an empire rooted in white supremacy from its founding to today.”

“We can see how anti-Asian racism is not an aberration or an exception in U.S. history,” Jung added. “Rather, anti-Asian racism has been a fundamental element in the making of the United States as a nation and as an empire and the liberal hope of being recognized as full-fledged Americans is beyond an impossibility for Asian Americans. It is a misguided hope that ultimately feeds the racial and colonial order called the United States of America.”

Jung discussed the history of the colonialism of the Philippines by the United States at the turn of the 20th century. In 1898, the U.S. “agreed to purchase — that is to colonize — the Philippines for $20 million,” launching a war in the Philippines for independence, Jung explained.

To control the “unruly masses,” Jung continued, the U.S.-Philippine commission passed a 1901 law called the Sedition Act, which prohibited “any person to advocate orally or by writing or printing or by like methods the independence of the Philippine islands or their separation from the United States by peaceful or forceful means.”

“That law to me is critical to understanding the logic and rhetoric of race and empire defining who is disloyal or un-American or anti-American,” Jung said.

Jung outlined the history of the U.S. in the Pacific and their propaganda against the Japanese in trying to control the Pacific. Detailing numerous intelligence reports from the Military Intelligence Division, Jung explored how the U.S. was able to frame “a Pan-Asian conspiracy,” resulting in U.S. concerns in Hawaii, Mexico and Panama.

Jung told the story of Karl Yoneda, a Japanese-American who, “gravitated to communism because of the movement’s efforts to organize workers of color, including Asian workers, and to take a decisive stand against colonialism.”

Yoneda was arrested by the FBI shortly after Pearl Harbor and was kicked out of the Communist Party of the United States. And yet, Yoneda assisted the FBI to report on pro-Japanese Japanese Americans as he believed the war effort against Japan was “to help smash Japan’s fascist imperialists for democracy.”

He was deeply monitored by the FBI for “subversive activities.” Jung also detailed Artemio Ricarte, a Filipino freedom fighter who was exiled to Japan and later returned to fight for Filipino’s independence with help from the Japanese. Despite their seemingly opposing positions in World War II, both “ended up serving empire.”

Balce detailed her book, “Body Parts of Empire: Visual Abjection, Filipino Images and the American Archive,” a project examining the Philippine state through photography and fiction.

She began with a quote by Gina Apostol, the winner of the 2022 Rome Prize for literature: “I have been unable to find contemporary accounts by Filipinos of the Philippine-American war. It’s told mainly through American soldiers, teachers, government officials. The voice of this war is the voice of the enemy. What I have understood is that our silence or forgetting of our war against the Americans is structural, cultural destruction. It is not amnesia. It is not a disease on our part, it is an aspect of genocide. Forgetting is an aspect of genocide.”

Her commentary touched on two themes, “the violence of the American empire” and that, “fascists like the former Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and the current Philippine President Ferdinand Bongbong Marcos, Jr. and Vice President Sara Duterte are extensions of the American empire,” Balce explained.

Balce views her photography as, “beyond images of Philippine state violence, corruption and government cruelty.” Instead, her work views images as “artifacts — Filipino images as artifacts of insurrection and beauty.” She touched on two pieces, “Insurrecto,” a novel by Gina Apostol, and “Call Her Ganda,” a film by PJ Raval.

Balce ended with a call to action.

“Call your congressman, call your congressional representative to sign the Philippine Human Rights Act calling for sanctions against the members of the previous Duterte government and the suspension of US military aid for the Philippine military and police. Join the boycott against the Asia Society in New York and support the three Filipinx activists who were arrested during the violent dispersal at the museum … Join Filipino community organizations such as Malaya Movement or join US Filipinos for Good Governance.”

Hioe joined from Taiwan, where he discussed how the perspectives of the Taiwanese are ignored.

“Taiwan has a very particular relation to the U.S. empire,” Hioe said. “Even though the U.S. is Taiwan’s security guarantor of China’s invasion, its own stance on Taiwan is ambiguous. The U.S. doesn’t commit to defense of Taiwan but keeps Taiwan in limbo of quote/unquote strategic ambiguity, making it unclear how it will react in the event of a Chinese invasion.”

He detailed the history of Taiwan, specifically its relationship with the Chinese empire. Hioe said that the country is “caught between two empires,” where U.S.-backed governments have led to the “killing of leftists, political dissidents, writers, intellectuals and everyday people caught up in the sweeps of anti-communism,” and China threatens an armed invasion.

Hioe explained that when Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan and there were subsequent talks of World War III between the U.S. and China, the media didn’t talk about who it would impact the most.

“Who would it be caught first in the line of fire,” Hioe said. “It would be Taiwanese people, yet international media discourse passed over this point.”

He discussed that empire-building is not only an American or Euro-centric policy, noting how the U.S. and China both think through an empire lens. For instance, Hioe noted that the Chinese have mirrored U.S. minority oppression, highlighting the Uyghurs imprisoned in China.

Hioe noted that “these issues are shared and that we are all caught between this time of rising tensions between the U.S. and China in which the U.S. empire and its legacy also has effect in terms of the shadow it casts, China attempting to mimic the past actions of the US and the history of empires before that.”

Alex Genovese can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @alex_genovese1.

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