June 22, 1898 [Troop Ships for the Philippines]

The motion picture continues to move beyond the everyday—and the daydream—to serve as a document. Here, as American troops set off for the Philippines, I felt for once a kinship with President McKinley, whose official opposition to these empire-building adventures has proven as ineffective as my own private misgivings. The innocuous scene, as the men march onto the ship, on its surface almost dull in its presentation, belies the yellow journalism that screams beneath—no: above, loud in our ears from Hearst's gaping mouth.

And while the picture seems merely an embarkation recorded, it remains the viewer's task to supply meaning. We have told ourselves that we are engaging in yet another crusade for independence, as well as a new and inevitable civil war, both of which will heal our own nation. But only a fool ignores the swelling pride that comes with this, the colonial urge fulfilled—at a smaller scale than Victoria managed, to be sure, but we Americans are good at making much with whatever's available—for who among us cared about the people of the Philippines before this moment? But no matter: We have found an opportunity to measure our international worth against the long shadow of Great Britain, the last true colonial power; and as we rattle our swords and prepare to liberate a downtrodden people, we also reassure ourselves that we too have finally, if I may appropriate an American sacred document, seized the opportunity to assume among the powers of the earth the separate and equal station which we believe the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle us—with all due apologies to that first empire-builder, Thomas Jefferson, whose own vision extended "from sea to shining sea"—and further apologies to Katharine Lee Bates (that rapt Wellesley woman); but as I watched the brief parade of Philippines-bound soldiers, I wondered not where they were going but where we are bound—and to what we bind ourselves.


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