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America and the Philippines: Modern Civilization and City Planning

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The Battle of Manila Bay in the Philippines on May 1, 1898, fundamentally changed the course of American history and America’s relationship with Southeast Asia. In the ensuing months, Spanish colonialism in the Philippines collapsed and was replaced by American sovereignty. As an upshot of this transition, the United States changed from being a republic based on the consent of the governed to, for the first time, being a ruler of a distant territory. Notably, too, its self-perception altered. America no longer viewed itself as “just another nation.” Now, America recognized itself as being a world power (Figure 1). It also viewed itself as being a nation fulfilling its destiny, a perceived birthright based in part on its history of continuous territorial expansion so as to redeem and enlighten “barbarous races” with the gift of civilization.1 Crucial to this bestowing of civilization, at least in the context of the Philippines after 1898, was the development of modern cities through the practice of urban planning.

With the signing of the Treaty of Paris in December 1898 and its subsequent approval after bitter debate by only one vote in the US Senate on February 6, 1899, the US took formal possession from Spain of the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam. In light of declaring independence from more than three hundred years of Spanish colonial rule on June 12, 1898, and establishing a Republic with Emilio Aguinaldo as president on January 23, 1899, many Filipinos opposed the new US presence. Tension between local citizens and the Americans ultimately led to armed combat. From February 1899 to July 4, 1902, when the US declared itself the victor, the Philippine-American conflict saw American soldiers and Filipino nationalists fight for control. Despite the American declaration, intermittent armed conflict continued in specific locales for several years afterward.

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