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  • "Thin, Wistful, and White":James Fugate and Colonial Bureaucratic Masculinity in the Philippines, 1900–1938
  • Karen R. Miller (bio)

In February 1910 the New York Times reported that seven American military officers stationed in the Philippines would be retired from the service for failing a test of their physical fitness. These officers, between forty-eight and sixty-three years old, were unable to pass a three-day, ninety-mile endurance test on horseback. One fell to the ground after suffering from heatstroke, another had to be "dosed with some medicine," and a third finished the ride but landed in the hospital. The four remaining officers did not even try. "No matter what," the Times concluded, Americans could not "keep in first-class condition" in "the tropics."1

Stories like this, about unmanly white American men who managed the United States' empire but were unable to dominate colonial space, distilled American anxieties about the crises, paradoxes, and contradictions that sat at the heart of ongoing colonial rule. This attention to frailty and sickness represented a change from what readers of American newspapers had been offered between 1898 and 1902. During those years, as the United States fought wars of overseas colonial conquest, newspapers provided portraits of strong white American men easily overtaking a weak Spanish military and brutally, but successfully, suppressing persistent Filipino challenges to US rule. These representations did not stand unchallenged—anti-imperialists, for example, argued that white men in tropical climates might resort to savagery and were likely to succumb to disease.2 Filipinos nationalists also portrayed US occupiers far less sympathetically. By the middle of the decade, however, after popular sentiment in the US turned away from the continued annexation of overseas territories, these negative portraits won the day. Narratives about the difficulties faced by whites who lived and ruled in the tropics were widely available in the United States.

The horse-mounted endurance test, first introduced by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1907, was designed to humiliate and discipline military men [End Page 921] whose seemingly disabled bodies symbolized the unmasculine work of colonial management rather than the muscularity of active combat. He claimed to have conceived of it when he saw a "fat colonel" unable to mount a horse from the ground. He thus suggested that he was responding to out-of-shape officers' literal physical weaknesses, implying that American men lacked the strength and dexterity they needed in combat.3 Rather than a reflection of an accepted understanding of colonial manliness, however, Roosevelt's test should be seen as an offensive ideological maneuver. It was an effort to undermine leaders who disagreed with his interest in orienting the armed forces toward conflict with other imperial powers. It was a strategy calculated to reclaim an idealized discourse about American imperial masculinity that had been popular earlier in the decade. And finally, it was a tactic designed to draw attention away from colonized people's resistance to US rule.

A range of American military officers and journalists questioned Roosevelt's priorities, arguing that physical prowess and military preparedness were not the only attributes the state should value. Instead, they claimed, men whose sole jobs were to manage, oversee, and administer large, bureaucratic organizations were indispensable. One journalist, for example, predicted that the test would undermine military readiness because invaluable officers "will be recommended … for retirement on the ground of physical disability."4 A group of army officers argued that the test had been implemented with many exceptions, indicating widespread ambivalence about its aims and an implicit rejection of the notion that US global power was based solely on combat-ready masculinity.5 This incongruity between the test and the actual work of colonialism was especially acute in the Philippines, where, by 1907, soldiers' and officers' roles had largely shifted from conquest to management.6 Continuing Filipino resistance to American rule also exposed the contradictions between colonizers' claim that American power was "benevolent" and the reality of its brutal and extractive nature.7 It called into question the premise that US rule was a fait accompli, suggesting instead that American power was fractured, provisional, and deeply uneven.

In attempting to reject these critiques and suggesting that a lack...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1080-6490
Print ISSN
0003-0678
Pages
pp. 921-944
Launched on MUSE
2019-12-24
Open Access
No
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