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"To Sympathize and Exploit": Filipinos, Americans, and the Bataan Death March

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The Bataan Death March of 1942 has entered historical consciousness as one of the ultimate measures of Japanese wartime barbarity. At a level bound up with deference to the veterans who experienced such hardship, a compelling reality emerges: Helpless Americans marched under the watchful eyes and cruel bayonets of the Japanese oppressor, and the Filipinos, in despair over the defeat of their defenders, wept in sympathy as they watched. The pattern reinforces pleasing notions of a benevolent colonial relation, the "good war" against a barbarous enemy, and loyal allies enlisted in a righteous cause. Yet thousands of men, women, and children of three nationalities and various classes participated in the complex drama that came to represent the Death March. Their complexity demands an interpretation that goes beyond the simplicity of "oppressor – victim – sympathetic observer." This article finds another story which does not replace the first but which includes American racism and colonial support for Filipino elites, and Filipino divisiveness, poverty, resentment, and Death March exploitation of American weakness and need.


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