Photo: General Tomoyuki Yamashita (second from right).
On Friday morning, I participated in a session titled “Circumnavigating the Pacific: The United States and the Philippines, 1898-1945.”
Nancy Buenger, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Minnesota Law School, discussed “Home Rule: Equitable Justice in Chicago and the Philippines, 1898-1917.” Buenger argued that “home rule was a richly ambiguous slogan with an international pedigree,” and provocatively linked the concept with the rich traditions of equity jurisprudence in both Illinois and the Philippines. While many scholars have asserted the connections between domestic and imperial politics, Buenger documented these linkages with evidence ranging from intellectual history to legal biography.
“A Pacific ‘Quest for Power’: Governor General Forbes and the Rise of the Philippine Assembly, 1907-1913,” showed off the research of Anna Leah Fidelis Castañeda, who just completed her S.J.D. at the Harvard Law School. Drawing on a pathbreaking research project on Philippine political development that will mark her as one of the world’s leading scholars of Southeast Asian legal history, Castañeda showed how the members of the Philippine Assembly—Filipino elites who enjoyed limited suffrage rights—employed tactics that would have been familiar to any student of similar assemblies in colonial British North America. “Capitalizing on the need of American colonial actors to maintain ideological coherence, Filipino legislative leaders held their American tutors up to American principles to … hasten the pace of the tutelary program.”
Finally, Christopher Capozzola presented a paper on the tortuous history of postwar justice in the Philippines after World War II. “A Tale of Two Treasons: Adjudicating War Crimes and Collaboration in Manila, 1945,” explored the trial of Japanese General Yamashita Tomoyuki and his unsuccessful Supreme Court appeal in Yamashita v. United States (1945) alongside failed efforts to try Filipino collaborators in the Filipino People’s Court, an extraordinary court that briefly sat at war’s end. “Questions of imperialism and territoriality haunted both judicial undertakings,” I argued, and pointing to the use of Yamashita as a precedent for U.S. military commissions at Guantánamo Bay, I argued that “imperial problematics of territoriality and sovereignty continue to inform the legal structures of American power as it operates outside of U.S. territorial boundaries.
American legal historians have been paying attention to imperialism for some time now, but a full session devoted to some of the newest and most intensely archival research currently being done on the United States and the Philippines offered the audience new perspectives on a maturing subfield of U.S. and Asian legal history.