cover image America's Boy: A Century of Colonialism in the Philippines

America's Boy: A Century of Colonialism in the Philippines

James Hamilton-Paterson. Henry Holt & Company, $30 (462pp) ISBN 978-0-8050-6118-5

Having lived in the Philippines for 18 years, Hamilton-Paterson has acquired a sophisticated understanding of Philippine history and culture. He witnessed the zenith and then the downfall of the Marcos regime. Yet he has observed a persistent nostalgia for the Marcos years among Filipinos. This book, his explanation of these historical crosscurrents, is exceptional for the grace of its writing and for the range and nuance of the author's judgment. Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos emerge not simply as the caricature despots of the popular press but as products of a culture that for centuries had functioned through strong tribal personalities who wielded power and dispensed favors. Imelda's bravura shopping expeditions and Ferdinand's crony capitalism become more understandable, if not justifiable, in this cultural context. As a novelist (Griefwork, etc.), Hamilton-Paterson has a keen eye for the absurd (such as Ferdinand's compulsive falsification of his war record) and for the cynical (such as U.S. complicity in the fraud). He also makes clear that not just Filipino culture but also U.S. Cold War geopolitics were responsible for the Marcoses' long-lived kleptocracy (which is perhaps the best example of Jean Kirkpatrick's famous distinction between authoritarian regimes, which could be supported if they stood firm against communism, and totalitarian regimes). Every page displays Hamilton-Paterson's mastery of his material, and this book will be required reading for anyone interested in the enduring impact of U.S. policy in the Philippines. (Sept.)