A Flagship of Democracy: U.S. Deracialization of Empire in the Philippines and the Making of International Affairs, 1945-1947

Katrina Quisumbing King, Northwestern University

In 1945, World War II ended and as the Allies rebuilt the world, they faced calls to decolonize. During the war, world powers leveraged the explicit racism of their enemies in their war strategy: Japan accused the United States of racism at home and white racial rule over Asia. The United States condemned Nazi Germany, which, in turn, highlighted U.S. racist policies toward Black Americans. Formal racial empire was now unfavorable on the world stage. What would this mean for U.S. rule over the Philippines and the future of U.S. international affairs? I show how U.S. state actors turned an explicit racial project of empire into a project of international relations. They argued that they were on a new kind of mission in the world, one in which the Philippines was central. This argument mirrored the claims of imperialists 50 years earlier when the United States acquired the islands. This time, rather than civilizing brown savages, however, the United States would spread democracy and the Philippines would be its flagship. Although race was no longer an explicit motivation or justification for postcolonial rule, racial claims undergirded calls for modernization and democracy through the form of free trade agreements, military bases deals, war rehabilitation, and naturalization law. In the nearly 50 years of U.S. formal imperial rule over the Philippines, U.S. politicians and elites built a legal architecture for foreign relations and global intervention that would outlast formal empire. The racial management of Filipinos is key to understanding the U.S. rise to power and ongoing imperial activities that may not, on the surface seem to be about race, including Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. By considering the imperial activities of the United States in the Philippines, this project illuminates the central role of race in the United States’ claim to global power.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 71. Perspectives on German and U.S. Imperialism