A War of Frontier and Empire: Short Review

A War of Frontier and Empire: The Philippine – American War, 1899-1902, by David J. Silbey (New York: Hill and Wang, 2007), 254.

David Silbey’s work is a short, clearly written over-view of the conflict between Emilio Aguinaldo’s Philippine Republic and the military forces of the United States. Silbey’s intent is to place the war accurately within its historic context. His thesis is that the war was not an insurrection or a revolt against imperialism, but rather “was classically a war, and remarkably unlike an insurgency. The two sides were both states substantially sovereign, using conventional armies, fighting conventional battles, with conventional lines and weapons.” He does not deny that the Filipinos reverted to a guerrilla war strategy in 1900, but only makes the case that the important decisive aspect of the war, to Americans and Filipinos at the time, was the conventional fighting in 1899.

Other than its thesis, which is original and probably somewhat controversial given that it stands opposite the classic military history, which focuses on the insurgency, and the new left version of America’s war in the Philippines, this book is somewhat unremarkable. The author is an associate professor of European History at Alvernia College in Reading Pennsylvania, and may be working outside of his field tackling a difficult American military history subject. His research is adequate to the task at hand –that is producing a readable general history. It does not match that of the top works on the subject –John Gates’ Schoolbooks and Krags, and Brian Linn’s The Philippine War (reviews coming soon on both of these works), but is none-the-less a good introduction to the subject.


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