- Sport and the American Occupation of the Philippines: Bats, Balls, and Bayonets by Gerald Gems
Gerald Gems's new book is difficult to evaluate separately from his earlier work, The Athletic Crusade: Sport and American Cultural Imperialism (2006) where a chapter on the Philippines serves as a seminal work on sport and colonialism in the former U.S. colony. [End Page 105] He does the opposite in his recent work, writing mainly about the Philippines and allotting a chapter on the topic of sports. Gems, however, tries to link the ideological, religious, political, economic, and cultural dynamics of the American colonial rule to sports. This objective, which serves as the main structure of the book, is accomplished with mixed results. On one hand, the episodic structure of the book tends to repeat some facts from one chapter to others. The chapters, which are each designed as a complete work, are useful materials for teaching colonial history and sports studies. However, readers who specialize in the field might feel that they have to drag themselves through a series of introductory sections and some recurring figures and events. At some crucial sections, sport is not seamlessly integrated with the other aspects of colonialism despite its centrality in the overall narrative of the book. Generally, the discussion fails to lift sports from a historical phenomenon to an analytical framework that provides an interesting and insightful angle into the analysis of the American occupation of the Philippines at the turn of the twentieth century.
On the other hand, Gem's writing could have been shaped by the location of sports in colonial literature: marginal and often overshadowed by more visible expressions of power and struggle that are plentiful in an era of war and military occupation. Given this condition, the book is notable for its rootedness and for not overly emphasizing the role of sports in the U.S. colonial rule of the Philippines. Rather than constructing a continuous but narrow storyline, the discussion leads the reader through piles of political, economic, and cultural narratives into hidden bivouac areas where sports lie underneath the aftermath of historiographical apathy. The book is about the centrality of sports in the process of colonization but also highlights its marginality in most historians' assessment of the American occupation of the Philippines and of imperialism, in general.
Sport and the American Occupation of the Philippines is notable for making events come alive and for bringing important figures of history down from the pedestal to portray them as human beings whose lives and personalities are often flawed and multifaceted. The author manages to reveal interesting insights into many well-known individuals' overall characters, as well as their contemporaries' opinion of them, making the discussion very informative and engaging. "A combination of intellect, wealth, social networks, overwhelming ambition, and sheer tenacity assured that [Theodore] Roosevelt would assume a prominent role in society" (42) is how Gems describes the future American president who would play an important role the United States' occupation of the Philippines. Roosevelt's close confidant, Gen. Leonard Wood, who ultimately rose to become a governor-general of the U.S. colony, is depicted as "brusque and humorless, intense and aloof, haughty and confrontational, even imperious, with a sense of superiority" (45). Moreover, the author does not just highlight the specific sports that these important historical figures played or followed but also links their personalities to the sociopsychological and moral structures that are associated with sports. By turning politicians into fencers and generals into football players, Gems successfully presents the embeddedness of sports not only in history but also in the individual biographies of its main characters. [End Page 106]