AMERICA'S BOY by James Hamilton-Paterson


The Rise and Fall of Marcos and Other Misadventures of U.S. Colonialism in the Philippines
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The sensational careers of Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos are set in the context of Philippine culture and political history. Hamilton-Paterson (Tragic Mountain: The Hmong, the Americans, and the Secret War for Laos, 1942—1992, 1993, etc.) has, unlike many other commentators, elected to try to understand rather than merely condemn the Marcoses for their egregious behavior during their 21-year reign in the Philippines. He certainly denounces the Philippine First Family for a plethora of crudities and crimes—e.g., Ferdinand fabricated his heroic military record in WWII and won elections so tainted that virtually no one believed the results; Imelda made of shopping an aerobic workout and kept on the palace grounds cases of the sandwich spread she’d craved as a child. But Hamilton-Paterson, a long-time resident of the Philippines and wise observer of the local mores, demonstrates convincingly that for much of their tenure the Marcoses enjoyed public favor; they helped elevate their nation economically and technologically. And with devastating clarity, he shows how the US government, which coddled and encouraged Marcos (in 1966 he addressed—and dazzled—a joint session of Congress), abandoned him only when the Vietnam War was over, only when we no longer had such an acute strategic need for his support, only when the media had turned against him. Throughout this illuminating book, Hamilton-Paterson periodically pauses to focus on a small, remote Philippine forest village (imaginary) he calls Kansulay. These lovely and lyrical sections—all in the present tense—reveal that not far from sprawling, madding Manila the old Philippine ways continue; we see that the Marcoses were representative of their class, rather than anomalous. A small problem: too often, Hamilton-Paterson, in a curious narrative decision, elects to block the graceful flow of his prose with cofferdams of quotations, some quite lengthy, from writers with little to add. A fascinating portrait of two extraordinary people, of a culture, of a country—a refreshing reminder of the powerful presence of ambiguity in human beings and in human affairs. (3 maps)

Pub Date: Sept. 14th, 1999
ISBN: 0-8050-6118-5
Page count: 496pp
Publisher: Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1999


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