The American Legacy
220 East Fourth Street ~ New York, New York 10009
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Year One of the Empire
by Elinor Fuchs and Joyce Antler
This play came out of the discovery of a little-known chapter in American history, the three-year war fought by the United States in the Philippine Islands from 1899 to1902. We two authors were not yet the theater scholar and historian we later became, but were young Americans living through the national anguish of Vietnam. We wanted to say something about the history of our own time through the medium of theater. As we followed clues in our reading about the Philippine "insurrection," we realized that Vietnam was not unique in American history.
In 1898 the U.S. waged its "lovely little" war against Spain to free Cuba from Spanish rule. Though the war's avowed purpose was "Cuba Libre", its architects made no promise not to take the rest of Spain's island empire: Puerto Rico, Guam, Wake Island, and the Philippines. Not long after Admiral Dewey sank the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay however, Americans were surprised to learn that their brief welcome as liberators had expired; they now faced resistance as occupiers.
Bitter opposition to the U.S. "annexation" of the Philippines and the ensuing war to enforce it developed at home. The distaste for empire was summed up by a first-term Republican senator from Illinois in an attack on his own party leadership: "You do not speak their language, you do not know their schools, you cannot read their newspapers. Who wants to go, covered with the gewgaws and flubdubs of royalty and have the natives keep the flies off your sacred person while you listen to the interpreter?"
Southern Democrats scathingly pointed to the racial implications of the new colonialism. "Pitchfork" Ben Tillman, U.S. Senator from South Carolina, needled his Yankee colleagues: "We inherited our race problem, but you are going out in search of yours." He charged that a disguised materialism was at the bottom of the entire affair.
On the other side were the expansionists, all Republicans, Henry Cabot Lodge, junior Senator from Massachusetts, Theodore Roosevelt, who was swept into office as Governor of New York after his "Rough Riders" military performance in Cuba, the senator-to-be from Indiana Albert J. Beveridge, who openly proclaimed that God had chosen America to "lead in the regeneration of the world," and William McKinley, who had defeated William Jennings Bryan to win the presidency in 1896.
McKinley dismissed domestic objections and Philippine resistance in a sentence: "We were obeying a higher moral obligation, and did not require anybody's consent." McKinley was returned to office for another four years in a campaign that rode a wave of popularity for his new vice-presidential nominee, Theodore Roosevelt. That year, 1900, marked, according to The Nation magazine, "Year One" of the American empire.
It took us four years to complete the play; it was published by Houghton Mifflin in1973. In the summer and fall of 1980, it was performed at the Odyssey Theatre Ensemble in Los Angeles. The conditions that brought the play into being seemed unlikely to repeat themselves, and after 1980 the play settled into an honorable oblivion. Now another bitterly-debated war has brought it back.
Our text is composed entirely from the historical record, culled from the widest array of archival materials: press reports, Senate debates and hearings, court-martial transcripts, personal correspondence and autobiographies, popular humor, army marching songs, political pamphlets, and more. We have done much cutting and shaping, but the only language that is ours is the occasional line for continuity. Even our title comes from a 1900 magazine editorial. As the saying goes, you can't make these things up. We have been asked why we wrote a play and not an historical narrative. We made the play with the conviction that theater is an ideal medium through which to capture the myriad individual choices that comprise "history." We wanted to convey the experience of the intentions, appetites, arguments, fantasies, bargains, accidents, and blunders that combine to become the historical record, in effect, a national "fate."
- Elinor Fuchs and Joyce Antler
New York and Boston, 2007
Joyce Antler teaches American Studies at Brandeis, where she is the Samuel Lane Professor of American Jewish History and Culture, and Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies. She is the author or editor of ten books, including The Journey Home: How Jewish Women Shaped Modern America, Lucy Sprague Mitchell: The Making of A Modern Woman, and most recently, You Never Call! You Never Write! A History of the Jewish Mother, published by Oxford University Press. A former chair of the Massachusetts Foundation for the Humanities, she is a founder and former chair of Brandeis’ Women’s and Gender Studies Program and the Graduate Consortium of Women’s Studies at M.I.T., and is a founder and Academic Chair of the Jewish Women’s Archive. She will be a Visiting Fellow at NYU’s Goldstein-Goren Center next year.
Elinor Fuchs teaches at the Yale School of Drama, where she is a professor of Dramaturgy and Dramatic Criticism. She is the author or editor of six books, including The Death of Character, for which she won the George Jean Nathan Award for Dramatic Criticism, Land/Scape Theater, co-edited with Una Chaudhuri, which won the ATHE Award for Excellence in Editing, and Making an Exit, a memoir about her mother. She has been a frequent contributor to American Theatre magazine, and wrote theater criticism for The Village Voice for twelve years. For her writing she has been the recipient of two Rockefeller fellowships and a Radcliffe College Bunting fellowship. Before earning a Ph.D. in Theatre at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, she worked as an actor and as a researcher and writer of television documentaries.
Michael Hardart and Gregory Jones
Photo by Alex Roe