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Death in the Philippines

In response to:

An American Sissy from the August 13, 1981 issue

To the Editors:

The 3,000,000 figure for Filipino deaths during the Philippine-American War [Gore Vidal, “American Sissy,”NYR, August 13, 1981, and exchange with Robert Creamer in NYR, October 22, 1981] is five times greater than the largest I have ever seen in seventeen years of studying that war, and my respect for Bernard Fall’s scholarship convinced me that he could not possibly have made such a preposterous error. My first thought was that Mr. Vidal had seen a misprint, but that was not the case. When one consults the work cited (Nation, Aug. 2, 1971, p. 77) one finds Mr. Vidal fatally gored by his own source. Plain for all to see is Professor Fall’s estimate—300,000 dead, not 3,000,000. We may never know why Mr. Vidal made his error or why he so steadfastly defended it when challenged. We do know, however, that the Philippine-American War, though bloody, was far less devastating than Mr. Vidal assumes….

…Estimates of the casualties cannot be made with great accuracy because we do not know the exact size of the Philippine population at the beginning of the war. The only data that exist are the estimates made as a result of Spanish census efforts before the war and those presented in the American census of 1903….

If one adds all of the 137,505 cholera deaths of 1902, the maximum number of war-related deaths between 1898 and 1903 would appear to be 321,000. Although the death of so many people as a result of a misguided imperialist adventure is to be deplored, the maximum figure falls far short of many estimates one sees in print today, including Mr. Vidal’s monumental error. The minimum figure may well be closer to 200,000….

John M. Gates

The College of Wooster

Wooster, Ohio

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