Making visible the afterlives of U.S. colonial and occupation tutelage in the Philippines and Japan

This week in North Philly Notes, Malini Johar Schueller, author of Campaigns of Knowledge, writes about benevolent assimilations.

While most liberal Americans condemn U.S. military strikes and occupations as manifestations of superpower domination by force, they view church groups and educational missions as signs of American goodwill and benevolence toward the world. After all, most Americans see Asian, African, and Middle Eastern nations as civilizationally “behind” the U.S. Dedicated teachers and philanthropists, backed by the United States’ government to set up schools, universities, and libraries in occupied areas are thus signs of a kinder, gentler, democratic America that the world emulates. However, it is precisely because benevolent assimilation—as famously articulated by President McKinley was a strategy of U.S. colonialism—that we should be suspicious of such charitable undertakings overseas. This is especially true in cases where the United States wishes to take over hearts and minds. Take for instance George Bush, who shortly after the invasion of Iraq in 2003 devoted his weekly radio address to informing a skeptical nation that the American occupation was designed to build a stable and secure Iraq through the rebuilding of schools via the personal intervention of American soldiers.

Campaigns_of_Knowledge_SMCampaigns of Knowledge tracks this pattern of America as savior, following its politics of violence with the benign recovery of education in two seemingly different locations—colonial Philippines and occupied Japan—in order to demonstrate the similarity of purpose: pacification through schooling. Amidst the throes of the Philippine-American war, American soldiers opened the first school in Corregidor, initiating a comprehensive system of education. Following Japanese surrender, the U.S.-led occupation commenced its educational reform in that country. The object in both cases was to inculcate values of individualism, self-reliance, capitalism, modernity, and a nationalism amenable to American influence. While both Filipinos and Japanese were often seen by educators as “Oriental,” they were contrasting subjects of racial management: Filipinos were undercivilized and had to be educated and civilized; the Japanese were overcivilized and had to be re-educated and decivilized.

Contrapuntally viewing colonial archives such as Senate hearings, educational reports, textbooks, English primers and political cartoons, alongside the cultural productions of colonized subjects including film and literature, Campaigns of Knowledge demonstrates how natives variously appropriated, reinterpreted, rerouted and resisted the lessons of colonial rule. Children’s primers such as Filipino educator Camilo Osias’s The Philippine Reader not only teach English but also articulate a nationalism that both questions and accommodates American rule. The specter of colonial and occupation schooling continues to haunt the imaginations of Filipinos, Filipino Americans, Japanese and Japanese-Americans and the book analyzes the varied nature of these hauntings in autobiographies, novels, films, short stories, and oral histories. Contributing to a transnational intersection of Asian American studies with Asian studies, Campaigns of Knowledge examines figures canonized in the U.S. such as Carlos Bulosan and Bienvenido Santos alongside those canonized in the Philippines and Japan such as Edith Tiempo and Masahiro Shinoda. More broadly, the book demonstrates the centrality of schooling to the project of American empire and the importance of racial difference to this project.

 

 

 

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