The Philippines in Oliver Stone’s Untold History

Oliver Stone is turning over stones with this book, “The Untold History of the United States”, he co-wrote with American University historian, Peter J. Kuznick . I’m a big fan of Stone’s work. He’s always been outside, on the edge of things when it comes to films. But this is where he shines. The 750 page book is a great resource that supplements the documentary series he created and narrates. I haven’t seen the entire documentary (shown in Shotime) just bits of it on Youtube. I’m sure it’s as fascinating as its companion book.

I’m far from finishing the book (kindle version cost around 15USD). It’s a voluminous literature that guarantees a long read. The good thing is that we crossed paths with the US at the beginning of their venture into imperialism. So you can read about our part in this “untold history” in the first chapter where the authors wrote about how the imperialists longed for the country’s possession behind pretensions of protection and goodwill. While there’s nothing here that Philippine history buffs doesn’t already know, the thought that this book is out for young Filipinos and Americans to discover is quite an exciting prospect. Stone deserves praise and thanks for an effort that intends to challenge the orthodox historical narrative. JFK, Platoon, Nixon, W., the list goes on. Clearly, Stone’s not the type of person that’s going to shy away from controversy. He sure got some cajones to be doing all these.

Some excerpts about the Philippines in the book:

On the initial encounter between the US and Spain:

The United States declared war against Spain on April 25, 1898, purportedly to deliver Cuba from Spanish tyranny. The fighting began thousands of miles away in Manila Bay, where, on May 1, Commodore George Dewey destroyed the Spanish fleet. One anti-imperialist noted, “Dewey took Manila with the loss of one man — and all our institutions”. The war was over in three months.

Secretary of State John Hay called it “a splendid little war”. Not everyone thought the war so splendid. On June 15, 1898, Anti-Imperialist League tried to block US annexation of the Philippines and Puerto Rico. Its ranks included such prominent individuals as Andrew Carnegie, Clarence Darrow, Mark Twain, Jane Addams, William James, William Dean Howells and Samuel Gompers.

On Aguinaldo’s war:

Under the leadership of Emilio Aguinaldo, the Filipinos had been rebelling against Spanish rule for years and they naively believed the United States would help them gain independence. They drafter a constitution and established a republic on January 23, 1899, with Aguinaldo as president. On February 4, US forces opened fire in Manila US newspapers reported this as an unprovoked Filipino attack on unarmed US soldiers in which 22 were killed and 125 to 200 wounded. Filipino losses were estimated in the thousands, Newspapers predicted that the attach would rally support for the imperial cause and ensure Senate approval of the bitterly contested treaty, according to which the United States was to pay Spain $20 million for the Philippines. The New York World observed that the United States was “suddenly, without warning, face to face with the actualities of empire…. to rule, we must conquer, we must kill.”

On the debate back home:

The Chicago Tribune described the Senate debate as the bitterest contest “since the impeachment trial of Andy Johnson.” Senator George Frisbie Hoar of Massachusetts warned that the United States would become, “a vulgar, commonplace empire founded upon physical force, controlling subject races and vassal states, in which one class must forever rule and the other classes must forever obey.” After much arm-twisting and assurance that this did not entail permanent US control of the Philippines, the treat was ratified by a margin of one vote over the two-thirds needed,. Hoar later observed the United States “crushed the Republic that the Philippine people had set up for themselves, deprived them of their independence, and established there, by American power, a Government in which the people have no part, against their will.” Senator Richard Pettigrew called the betrayal of Filipino independence “the greatest international crime of the century.”

On what Mckinley’s presidential opponent proposes:

Thus, the 1900 presidential election between McKinley and William Jennings Bryan took place with US troops tied down in China, Cuba, and the Philippines. At the Democratic National Convention, Bryan defined the contest as a fight between “democracy on the one hand and plutocracy on the other,” and he launched into an impassioned attack on imperialism. In his booming baritone, he aligned his opposition to imperial conquest with the philosophies of Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln, quoting Jefferson: “If there be one principle more deeply rooted than any other in the mind of every American, it is that we should have nothing to do with conquest.” The voting publick, by a narrow margin, seemed to at least acquiesce in the new imperial course laid out by McKinley and his advisers.

On Balangiga:

Filipinos overwhelmingly supported the rebels and provided them food and shelter. The Americans, some of whom employed the tactics they had perfected fighting Native Americans, responded with extraordinary brutality. Following one ambush, General Lloyd Wheaton ordered all towns within a twelve-mile radius destroyed and all inhabitants killed. When rebels surprised the Americans stationed at Balangiga on the island of Samar, killing fifty-four of the seventy-four men there, Colonel Jacob Smith ordered his troops to kill everyone over the age of ten and turn the island into “a howling wilderness.”

And there’s more. I highly suggest this book to anyone interested in history. Grab one. Do it!


5 responses to “The Philippines in Oliver Stone’s Untold History

  • Big Brad

    Stone needs to go back making movies.

    • mjrowland

      He is making movies. As stated above, much of the material for the book was also used for Stone’s documentary series. Although the book cover U.S. history from about 1890-present, whereas the film series only covers from about 1939-present. Unfortunately, a lot of the stuff about the U.S.-Philippine joint history, such as the Tydings-McDuffie Act, the Pacific War, the Bell Trade Act and neocolonial encroachments onto Philippine sovereignty, the Marcos period, etc. are not mentioned in the series.

      However, it’s still worthwhile, considering the important yet underreported facts that the series mentions. I particularly liked how Stone and Kuznick pointed out that FDR and Wallace represented a strong anti-imperialist current, whereas Churchill, Turman, et al. represented a pro-imperialist current. Stuff like that never gets discussed in an American history class.

      I’ve written a review of the series here at If you’re interested in a copy of the program, let me know.

      • De AnDA

        It’s great that they placed worthy attention on Wallace both on the tv series and the book. He’s a great man. Just imagine what America would be today if he made it to the white house. Very different for sure.

        On Stone, I’m a fan of his films, so it’s easy for me to embrace this new venture of his. He’s an honest man who speaks from experience. One of the greats.

        You have a great site. That’s a lot of work and research you put in there.


        • mjrowland

          Even though Stone’s made a lot of misses, he’s also made enough hits to earn my admiration, as well. Garrison’s speech at the end of ‘JFK’ really did change my life in the sense that it made me more historically conscious and politically active.

          His son is also a very interesting man, as well. A recent convert to Shia Islam, he’s been working the past couple years as kind of a de facto ambassador to Iran in trying to establish more of an understanding between them and America in order to prevent war. There’s a really good series of interviews with him on You Tube here:

          • De AnDA

            He’s always been a maverick. A crusader. Come to think of it, almost all of his recent films are based on contemporary history. He never shy away from controversy. What a stud this guy is. He could go full blast commercial, direct a Marvel superhero film or something, but he picks these controversial subjects for his projects.

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