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Policing America's Empire: The United States, the Philippines, and the Rise of the Surveillance State (New Perspectives in Southeast Asian Studies) [Paperback]

Alfred W. McCoy , R.Anderson Sutton , Thongchai Winichakul
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

15 Oct 2009 New Perspectives in Southeast Asian Studies
At the dawn of the twentieth century, the U.S. Army swiftly occupied Manila and then plunged into a decade-long pacification campaign with striking parallels to today's war in Iraq. Armed with cutting-edge technology from America's first information revolution, the U.S. colonial regime created the most modern police and intelligence units anywhere under the American flag. In "Policing America's Empire" Alfred W. McCoy shows how this imperial panopticon slowly crushed the Filipino revolutionary movement with a lethal mix of firepower, surveillance, and incriminating information. Even after Washington freed its colony and won global power in 1945, it would intervene in the Philippines periodically for the next half-century - using the country as a laboratory for counterinsurgency and rearming local security forces for repression. In trying to create a democracy in the Philippines, the United States unleashed profoundly undemocratic forces that persist to the present day. But security techniques bred in the tropical hothouse of colonial rule were not contained, McCoy shows, at this remote periphery of American power. Migrating homeward through both personnel and policies, these innovations helped shape a new federal security apparatus during World War I. Once established under the pressures of wartime mobilization, this distinctively American system of public-private surveillance persisted in various forms for the next fifty years, as an omnipresent, sub rosa matrix that honeycombed U.S. society with active informers, secretive civilian organizations, and government counterintelligence agencies. In each succeeding global crisis, this covert nexus expanded its domestic operations, producing new contraventions of civil liberties - from the harassment of labor activists and ethnic communities during World War I, to the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, all the way to the secret blacklisting of suspected communists during the Cold War.

Product details

  • Paperback: 672 pages
  • Publisher: University of Wisconsin Press (15 Oct 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0299234142
  • ISBN-13: 978-0299234140
  • Product Dimensions: 22.9 x 16.6 x 4.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 283,306 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


"This forceful book lays the Philippine body politic on the examination table to reveal the disease that lies within - crime, clandestine policing, and political scandal. But McCoy also draws a clear line from Manila to Baghdad." - Sheila S. Coronel, Stabile Center for Investigative Journalism, Columbia University "In this stunning book, McCoy reveals how empire shapes the intertwined destinies of all involved in its creation. Written with deft strokes, this is an instant classic of historical writing." - Lloyd Gardner, author of The Long Road to Baghdad: A History of U.S. Foreign Policy from the 1970s to the Present"

About the Author

Alfred W. McCoy is J.R.W. Smail Professor of History at the University of Wisconsin - Madison. His books include The Politics of Heroin and A Question of Torture.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This great book is huge fun, and is really informative about Philippine politics. It goes beyond the author's famous earlier work `An Anarchy of Families', which put flesh on the now- prevailing view that the fundamental structure of Philippine politics is `bossism', with political strongmen's empires and family fortunes being built regionally on the basis of `guns, goons and gold'.

McCoy here suggests that Philippine politics is now permeated at national level by `narco-politics' and protection money, linking national politicians and a crooked police and criminals in a Chicago-like demi-world of violence and criminality, which all too often erupts in very open scandals to amaze and disgust the public.

Scandals interest McCoy. He notes that scandals are of surprisingly little interest to most historians, perhaps because the impact of a scandal depends on the emergence of a previously unknown fact, ignorance of which the historian can hardly pretend to. Thus the historian may miss the fact that the sheer surprise impact of scandals is often a key driver of politics. The Philippines' US-style court system, rambunctious press, extensive NGO community, all amplify the importance of scandal.

McCoy shows how the Philippine Constabulary's apparatus of investigation, illegal arrest, and torture, began to be built almost as soon as the U.S. conquered the Philippines. The Constabulary `went bad' almost from the beginning, with its powers used in partisan battles between American players, but were expanded during the long struggle against the communist insurgency.
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Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  11 reviews
20 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Significant Work 14 Jun 2010
By Mark Straka - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
[Disclaimer: I haven't finished reading it yet; thus a streamlined review] A well-reasoned, well-researched, and well-written work that is destined to become a foundation stone in the study of the development (or metamorphosis) of the American nation since the invasion of the Philippines in 1898. The work is formidable and highly enlightening for both academics and for all those who have struggled to understand the stark discrepancy between the mythical America as imagined by citizens indoctrinated with the ideologies of Jefferson, Lincoln, and the contemporary ideologues on the one hand, and the America as manifest in its heavily armed and brutal police forces, its global military, its advanced and ever-advancing weaponry, its global surveillance network, and its CIA.

Strongly recommended.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars High-quality research, brilliant insight, intriguing analysis, great storytelling. 31 May 2011
By Matt - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
What a terrific book. McCoy manages to merge rigorous historical research, insightful analysis, comprehensive summaries and overviews, and good story-telling in this master study of the modern Philippines.

The book is focused on the critical position of policing in Philippines society, as conveyed in the title. In the first chapter, McCoy discusses and justifies a focus on policing: he discusses the often overlooked but still important matters of policing and scandal in any general society, why policing (and scandal) maintains an uncharacteristically central role in Filipino society, and how the Filipino history is also crucial for an understanding of US history - in summary: empire affects both the colony and the imperial country.

When recounting a historical event, McCoy tells the story in an entertaining yet neutral manner. Perhaps, since truth is stranger than friction, he is aided by the sheer absurdity often inherent in scandals and instances of blackmailing, bribery, and general corruption; but nevertheless I found many parts of the book to be quite amusing. Another great aspect of this book if the "Conclusion" section at the end of each chapter: as this subsection title suggests, McCoy concludes each chapter by giving a rough summary of the history covered in that chapter, and he describes how and why these events connect to the larger themes mentioned above - policing, government legitimacy, and the consequences of imperial conquest.

Again, McCoy does a particularly excellent job of making connections between specific historical events (often police scandals), and larger historical and political questions. In particular, in Chapter 9, McCoy breaks from the Philippines temporarily to discuss policing in the US in the period of approximately 1905 - 1975. He illustrates how policing innovations in the US in fact have roots in the US policing of the Philippines - a historical aspect of US society that is by no means common knowledge. He also describes (in 9 and in other chapters), how the Philippines continues to be a testing ground for new US police and military strategies, and how US innovations in the Philippines are still filtering back into the US. Several aspects of recent history and current events (Iraq, Afghanistan, and the so-called War on Terror) are also analyzed from the viewpoint of surveillance advancements on the fringes of empire finding their way back to the US mainland.

Highly recommended.
5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Phenomenal Historical Perspective 15 July 2010
By KC - Published on Amazon.com
This was so compelling I could not put it down. I have recommended it to all my students. After reading this I have further insight into the US democratization and colonialization of the Phillippines. The modern day parallels between the Phillippines and our current wars are striking and McCoys book helps contextualize this.
5.0 out of 5 stars Fact-based, which will anger some people 5 Feb 2014
By Constitutional Lawyer - Published on Amazon.com
McCoy's book is history based on fact, not "history based on patriotism". For the latter, one will find many, many political tracts masquerading as "books" (John Phillip Souza marches to be played in the background as one reads the latter must be purchased separately, however). For the latter purpose, perhaps some high school "history" books from the 1950s are still available ?

McCoy's analogies to the current use of surveillance techniques are eye-opening, as well; but his history (here) is solid as a stand-alone. As usual, those who prefer patriotism to facts will not like this book or any fact-based history book at all.
5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding 23 July 2010
By reader - Published on Amazon.com
Wow! Im was very impressed with this. An all round interesting read. Some of McCoys best work yet!
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