Christopher Capozzola’s Bound by War: How the United States and the Philippines Built America’s First Pacific Century provides a stunning analysis of U.S.-Philippine 20th century relations, and it does so through the prism of the military and migration. This book successfully weaves together the stories of U.S. and Filipino military leaders and everyday soldiers and sailors. It argues that a “Pacific perspective” reveals surprising, lasting, and ultimately, unequal connections between the two countries. The book is ambitious in scope, and it tracks how consistently U.S. military leaders established their careers in the Philippines, and how Philippine leaders’ relationships with the U.S. military shaped the country’s options and orientation. It is also a history about immigration, and Filipinos’ military experiences facilitated their migration to the United States as stewards, sailors, and workers. This will be the go-to work on U.S.-Philippine relations for years, and it does so with an original take and a close eye on high politics and everyday experiences.
JKL: Your first book, Uncle Sam Wants You: World War I and the Making of the Modern American Citizen, was about World War I, the military, and U.S. citizenship – and while this book looks at a century of U.S.-Philippine relations, it is also fundamentally about the military and citizenship. Can you tell us how you came to write this book after completing Uncle Sam Wants You? What inspired you to write Bound by War?
CC: I didn’t really know what form this book would take when I started working on it, but in retrospect I can see some of its origins. While I was finishing my first book, which focused on the history of citizenship, there was a burst of exciting new scholarship in U.S. history and American Studies on citizenship and empire. I was also teaching an undergraduate seminar on the history of migration, at a moment when immigration history was moving past paradigms of push-and-pull or uprooted-and-transplanted to think about the connections between immigration and foreign relations. In the early 2000s, of course, the United States launched a devastating war in Iraq that summoned histories of empire and occupation. And the movement for equity for Filipino World War II veterans continued on Capitol Hill. As I came to understand the interwoven nature of those strands of history, I felt there was a story that needed to be recorded and shared.
This will be the go-to work on U.S.-Philippine relations for years, and it does so with an original take and a close eye on high politics and everyday experiences — Jana Lipman
JKL: I wish I had had the chance to read your book before I wrote my chapters on the Philippines! It provided such an excellent political and military history of the U.S. and Philippine governments over a long durée. What were the challenges of writing a story that spanned more than a century?
CC: At one point, I had a plan for a book that ended with Philippine independence in 1946. But I realized that the book’s core themes of the book, such as the role of the U.S. military in Asia or the labor history of U.S. armed forces, could not be told in a narrow time frame. Crossing the 1946 divide was also necessary to bring histories of colonialism and migration together with the history of U.S. foreign relations. The task was made possible by the richness of those subfields. The challenge, of course, is to do justice to the nuances in those historiographies.
JKL: I would love to hear more about your research in the Philippines. What types of sources did you find in the Philippines? What were the research challenges and research “finds” in the Philippines, and how did it compare to your research in the United States?
CC: The enduring legacies of colonialism become apparent as soon as you walk into the archives of either nation. The record of the U.S. colonial state in the Philippines is more extensively preserved and more readily accessible in the United States—though history books are of course distorted by that fact. In Bound by War, I have attempted to create what I call a Pacific archive, gathering materials not only from official repositories, but from local sources, community organizations, and personal memories, spanning from Vallejo, California, to Seattle, Honolulu, and Manila. For me this was an intellectual necessity: a Pacific history required a Pacific archive. It was also a restorative political project that aims at redressing the enduring inequalities of the colonial archive.
For me this was an intellectual necessity: a Pacific history required a Pacific archive. It was also a restorative political project that aims at redressing the enduring inequalities of the colonial archive.
JKL: I was a bit overwhelmed by the myriad of military forces Filipinos could join and work for the U.S. military: the Scouts and the Constabulary during the colonial occupation, the USAFFE, the guerillas, the U.S. Navy (and even more).
Why do you think the United States created so many different units for Filipinos? And what have been the consequences of having so many avenues for how Filipino military service in the United States?
CC: The VA has been overwhelmed as well! If you want a narrow explanation of the institutional forms that Filipino military service took, you can find it in domestic political contests over U.S. colonial rule in the Philippines. Tensions between military and civilian rule generated the Philippine Constabulary, for instance, while the partisan politics of Philippine independence prompted the creation of a nominally independent Philippine Commonwealth Army in the 1930s. But that’s only a partial explanation. Ambiguity was itself a tool of colonial rule, from the legal category of “national”—neither subject nor alien—to “unincorporated territory”—neither a part of the United States nor apart from it—to the fictive racial category of “Malay”—neither included in the privileges of whiteness nor fully excluded from them. Thus it is not surprising to see ambiguity doing political work in Filipino military recruitment as well.
JKL: Can you explain how Filipinos were able to naturalize after the 1918 Naturalization Act? (95) I was under the impression that Asians couldn’t naturalize because of the 1790 naturalization law, which allowed only “white persons” to become U.S. citizens. When and how were exceptions made for Filipinos?
In an era of Chinese Exclusion, the Gentlemen’s Agreement, and the Asiatic Barred Zone, these World War I-era provisions made Filipino sailors unique among would-be migrants from Asia.
CC: Indeed that was a surprise to me as well. Thanks to the research of several scholars—most notably in “Baptism by Fire,” Lucy Salyer’s brilliant 2004 Journal of American History article—we learned the outlines of this history. The Naturalization Act of 1918 enabled immediate naturalization by “any alien” in service, terms that appeared to pre-empt provisions in citizenship laws from 1790 and 1870 that excluded Asian migrants from naturalization. The Supreme Court ultimately ruled in Toyota v. U.S. (1925), however, that the older anti-Asian restrictions prevailed. But the 1918 law included an explicit exception: Filipinos honorably discharged after three years of service in the Navy or Marine Corps could naturalize. In an era of Chinese Exclusion, the Gentlemen’s Agreement, and the Asiatic Barred Zone, these World War I-era provisions made Filipino sailors unique among would-be migrants from Asia.
JKL: I was really struck by your chapter on World War II, and the way in which it demonstrated changing political loyalties of Filipinos. You write, “It proved possible to switch sides: to march in a Japanese parade and head of the guerrilla camps in the hills; to work for the occupation government and rush to the Americans when they returned.” Can you elaborate on this point? In many ways, your book argues for a continuity in how the U.S. and the Philippines were “bound by war” from 1898 to the present. In what ways was World War II a turning point, or not?
CC: The Second World War of course remade economies, landscapes, and diplomatic relations throughout the Pacific. And yet, as you’ve gathered, this is really a book about continuity. As the quote above suggests, many Filipinos experienced the war years as a clash of two empires: the United States and Japan. Likewise, even as formal independence in July 1946 transformed Filipinos from colonial subjects to aliens, it marked no sharp break: the U.S. military remained in the Philippines with access to 23 military and naval bases, and military and naval service continued to provide a privileged path to migration and citizenship until the 1970s, when the Immigration Act of 1965 began to make its impact.
JKL: One of the book’s most important contributions is the way in which it explores how the military was a pathway for Filipino immigration to the United States, especially after World War II. Can you talk more about how the U.S. military facilitated Filipino migration in the post-war era?
CC: Looking solely at the terms of the Tydings-McDuffie Act of 1934, which noted even in advance of independence that Filipinos would be “considered aliens for the purposes of the immigration … laws of the United States,” or considering the provisions of Luce-Celler Act of 1946, which imposed miniscule immigration quotas on the Philippines, it would seem that paths to migration were blocked in this era. But wartime service in the U.S. Army’s Philippine Scouts and postwar service in the U.S. Navy made it possible for thousands of Philippine citizens to migrate and naturalize. That military framework had enduring consequences, affecting who would migrate, shaping where Filipino American settlements emerged, and structuring the transpacific politics within those communities.
JKL: Not surprisingly, one of my favorite aspects of the book is how you juxtaposed Filipino labor within the U.S. military and Filipino workers in the United States who might not initially be “seen” as military workers. How do you understand the relationship between the two?
CC: Well, Jana, your first book, Guantánamo: A Working-Class History between Empire and Revolution (2008) was a real inspiration for me as I worked on Bound by War. We both end by telling the story of Angelo de la Cruz, a Filipino contract worker who was abducted in Fallujah in 2004. His captivity prompted a national crisis in the Philippines and a diplomatic controversy between the Philippines and the United States. I was struck that he was a migrant—someone whose migration to Iraq reflected the demands of U.S. foreign policy and the incentives of U.S. military labor recruitment. At the same time, his labor took place entirely outside the United States and was understood as mere work, not as military service. In our contemporary moment—which devalues work while privileging service—the stories of noncitizen military laborers should give Americans pause.
We also just don’t know enough about them. In the last decade, we have been blessed with several excellent works of political science and anthropology that examine military contract labor. Immigration historians can do more to unearth the long history of this phenomenon and to consider its impact across borders, generations, and cultures.
JKL: The Filipino veterans fighting for their military benefits are some of the key protagonists of your book. Why do you think their fight was so important?
What does their multigenerational and multiethnic coalition tell us about immigrant political participation?
CC: Filipino World War II veterans and their advocates are indeed the key protagonists in the book, in part because they pose questions central to political history. How did they come to find themselves fighting under the American flag and yet be denied rights of naturalization and veterans benefits after the war? How did they navigate the political cultures of two nations across the span of multiple decades to win naturalization rights in 1990 and equity compensation in 2009? What does their multigenerational and multiethnic coalition tell us about immigrant political participation? Answering those questions is a central aim of the book. But I wanted to do it without inscribing Filipino veterans into a narrative that puts the armed service of people of color into a redemptive nationalist project.
JKL: Many people might not know that immigrants, who are not U.S. citizens, can serve in the U.S. military. Over the last few years, the Trump administration has made it difficult, if not at times impossible, for these servicemen and women to naturalize and become U.S. citizens. How is your book relevant to the stories of immigrants in the U.S. military today?
CC: Non-citizens who join the U.S. armed forces are currently eligible to begin applying for citizenship almost immediately after enlistment, and since 2001, nearly 100,000 service personnel have chosen to do so. This policy reached public attention during the early phases of the Iraq War. On the one hand, news of fast-track naturalization and even posthumous naturalization offered evidence of the war’s unpopularity to critics of President George W. Bush. On the other hand, enlistment contributed to a politics of immigration that demanded legal reforms such as the DREAM Act.
I hope that people who have read Bound by War can pipe up and ask, where’s the path for people like Angelo de la Cruz? And why must we tangle citizenship up with war and militarism in the first place?
In recent years, the opportunity for service by noncitizens remains, but paths to naturalization have narrowed. In 2017, for instance, the Defense Department phased out enlistments in the MAVNI program, which granted temporary visas to willing recruits with needed skills such as languages. Deportation policies that block naturalization for noncitizens with criminal convictions have even led to the deportation of immigrant veterans, as traced by journalist J. Malcolm Garcia in Without a Country: The Untold Story of America’s Deported Veterans (2017).
It remains to be seen whether comprehensive immigration reform will emerge from the new administration and its allies on Capitol Hill, but it’s almost certain that military service will be included as one path toward citizenship for Dreamers and others. I hope that people who have read Bound by War can pipe up and ask, where’s the path for people like Angelo de la Cruz? And why must we tangle citizenship up with war and militarism in the first place?
Purchase the Book Here: https://www.basicbooks.com/titles/christopher-capozzola/bound-by-war/9781541618268/
See Christopher Capozzola Interview Jana K. Lipman: https://www.iehs.org/authors-on-authors-christopher-capozzola-interviews-jana-k-lipman/