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This PBS documentary about the Spanish-American War is about as good as
any film I've seen on the subject. It just screams quality throughout
and makes for excellent viewing. Part of the reason it's so watchable
is that if you pay much attention, you'll see that the war was one of
the most amateurish and ridiculous events in American history. While
the US won the war quite handily, it's only because they picked a war
with an incredibly weak and ineffectual enemy--the Spanish. Had this
been a REAL war, the outcome would have been MUCH different. What do I
mean? Well, here are some interesting facts you'll hear from the film:
Teddy Roosevelt's 'Rough Riders', a cavalry unit, went into battle with almost no horses! It seemed they didn't have the ships to bring both the men and their mounts to Cuba!
Roosvelt was in charge of this invading force. His qualifications? He had a nice tailored suit from Brooks Brothers and he was rich.
The US Navy took Manila Bay at the cost of only one US life and the Spanish lost most of their fleet.
Overall, there is a lot to like about the film. My only complaint is a minor one and that is the narration by Leonard James Olmos. I am sure he's a nice fellow and I have nothing against him personally. But, being slightly hard of hearing and with no captions on this DVD, his raspy whispering voice was not especially easy to hear and a stronger voice would have made this a lot easier for the ears.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
This movie documents the end of the Spanish colonial period in the
Philippines (Guam and Puerto Rico also) which existed from the early
1500's until the start of the American colonial period following the
end of the war in 1898. The documentary uses the normal commentary from
academics and historians to tell the story. The film also used
patriotic period music, photographs, and actual and reenacted footage
to add to the visual experience. The film jumps back and forth between
Cuba and the Philippines, so you must pay close attention to details to
avoid some confusion in the described events.
My character of focus in this writing is General Emilio Aguinaldo. Born to a well to do family during the Spanish colonial period, he was admired by his people as a great leader in the fight against Spain (and later the U.S.) He is my favorite subject of the film, as he was very intelligent and acted wisely in his dealings with his colonial oppressors. He was a fighter, but he also knew when to negotiate, and make concessions. One example where he was quite shrewd was to accept his exile to Hong Kong, where he used the time to buy weapons and supplies for his guerrillas. He also recognized that the Philippines needed assistance and the protection of U.S. to help defeat the Spanish and to keep other European imperial interests at bay. He wrote that Dewey had promised in word only that the Philippines would have independence after the war, but unfortunately he found that the Philippines was basically trading one colonizer for another. Like other Filipinos, he first viewed the Americans as liberators and redeemers, but after the war, the U.S. kept its power over the region, and Aguinaldo then conducted a guerrilla war against the U.S. I have some issues with the way the U.S. media depicted the Philippines and its people. Although this is not a problem of this documentary, the film actually does well by showing old film footage and propaganda posters used by the U.S. during this period. The Filipinos were likened to children needing the U.S. to educate and to take care of them, selling the idea to the American public that the U.S. was merely helping and not occupying/colonizing the Philippines. This was referred to as "benevolent assimilation", and not as forced indoctrination (what it really was). In other depictions Filipinos were said to be regarded as Indians or Negroes. Racism is often used as a tool to dehumanize enemies, making it OK for soldiers to hate and kill them. The U.S. proved to be as brutal as the Spanish while trying to quell the Philippine revolution. I was very surprised to hear that Andrew Carnegie offered to buy Philippine independence, but the offer was not taken. I was also pleased to learn that several people in the U.S. supported Philippine independence and were against U.S. imperialism.
In conclusion, I believe that this documentary is a great depiction of the struggle of Filipinos against Spanish and American imperialism. General Aguinaldo was a smart man that was very politically skilled in his endeavors, all of which was for the benefit of his people.
Polin, D. (Producer), & Miller, D. (Director). (1999) Crucible of Empire: The Spanish American War Motion Picture. United States: Public Broadcasting Service
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