SITTING IN DARKNESS: Americans in the Philippines by David Haward Bain

SITTING IN DARKNESS: Americans in the Philippines

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The Vietnam War sent a number of Americans back for another look at what history books have traditionally called the Philippine insurrection--the 1899-1902 resistance, by nationalists under Emilio Aguinaldo, to American rule after the Spanish-American War: a resistance broken when the elusive Aguinaldo was captured, in a ruse, by fiery ex-explorer/adventurer/Cuban-mercenary Frederick Funston. Bain, author of the post-Vietnam Aftershocks (about a refugee's murder by a disturbed vet), was put onto the parallel by Mark Twain's sardonic anti-imperialist essay, ""To the Person Sitting in Darkness"" (whence the title); and, after studying up on the history, he set out in 1982, with his photographer-brother Christopher and four friends, to retrace Funston's wilderness trek to capture Aguinaldo. The book is structured first around the two opponents (""An American and His Country,"" ""A Filipino and His Country""), then in terms of the two journeys (""Casiguran Sound, 1901,"" ""Casiguran-Casapsapan Bay, 1982""). It might best have been called--for good and bad--""To the Filipinos, With Regrets.' Bain's sincerity warrants respect, and his lengthy opening account of Funston's restless, headstrong life up to the pursuit of Aguinaldo is interesting as a depiction of an American type--in his small size (5'4"", less than 100 lbs.) and swagger, almost a caricature of that type. But what Bain has to say is a platitude--""he was a cad . . .and he was a hero. Like all of us, he was a product of his times""--which, for Bain, also answers Filipino criticism of Aguinaldo as a tool of the elite. (After his capture, he acceded to American rule.) Whether or not, moreover, Bain hoped to learn something from retracing Funston's trek, we never hear (it mostly seems a penitents' pilgrimage, as someone thought of a Sunday); at any rate, he doesn't--the six Americans undergo the usual tropical-wilderness hardships, plagued by the repeated abandonment of their Filipino guides (who, for one thing, insist on rice, not granola). And while Funston had food- and follower-problems too, there's no explicit or implicit equation. What is explicitly juxtaposed, however, is American conquest of the Philippines (TR is Funston's ""ideological twin,"" McKinley is TR's sneaky abettor) and the horrors of Marcos rule; the book concludes with Aquino's murder and his plea that, if the US must interfere--""interfere for good, not evil."" Polemical history (see rather, for any serious purpose, Stuart Creighton Miller's ""Benevolent Assimilation""), and a less-than-dramatic narrative--with, however, some emotional appeal to the American conscience.

Pub Date: Sept. 28th, 1984
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin