13. Fagen meets El Presidente

Aguinaldo took another sip of tea. "There you have it, David. An ancient story of the strong imposing their will over the weak and an oppressed people ready to die for freedom. Surely this is a tale you are familiar with. Americans have as much blood on their hands as anyone when it comes to the colored races."

El Presidente stood up and leaned over the little table. "David, you too are oppressed in your own country. White people call you a sulking brute. They burn you on their crosses and kill your children. What future do you have in your own homeland? The doors to fulfillment and prosperity are forever closed to you in America. Is it your destiny to live out your life among people who despise you? Do you think America's attitude toward the colored man will magically change for the better? Look around you, sir. Look at the charred villages of the innocent peasants. Look at the mass graves containing hundreds, no thousands of Filipinos. What kind of war is it when every captain or lieutenant is also a sheriff, judge and executioner? American soldiers enjoy killing colored people, David. Things will not change for the better in America. They will get worse."

Aguinaldo sat down and stared across the table, his glittering eyes burning a hole in the Negro private's heart. Fagen's head pounded from the vitality of the man's eloquent speech. El Presidente was certainly not like any other Filipino he'd ever met, or any American for that matter. Consumed by the general's passionate intensity, Fagen's own thoughts were a tangled maze of confusion and indecision.

"General I'm sorry, but you're scaring the hell out of me. You're a man who eats supper with presidents and admirals. You're a President yourself. You command an entire army. I'm just a private soldier. I can't unscramble this mess we're in. Even if I knew how, nobody would listen. What do you want from me?"

Aguinaldo reached out, refilled the teacups, and then said, "Come with us, David."


"That's right, come with us. Right now. Tonight. Join my army. We welcome you with open arms. Come and fight with us."

Fagen couldn't believe his ears. The words burst upon him like a thunderclap. All night he'd expected to be killed, at the very least held for ransom, and now he was invited to join the rebel army. Shocked, he turned away from the Filipino's penetrating gaze. "You're asking me to betray my country? To become a deserter and a traitor?"

"One man's traitor is another man's freedom fighter, David. Think of it this way, you have the opportunity to help a nation achieve its independence. Picture the countless generations of children born into freedom because of your actions. What more lofty pursuit? By helping us you help your own country too. This war is illegal and immoral. Your great nation betrays you and all its citizens by its involvement here in the Philippines. This will not last. Soon America will see the error of its ways and make peace. Those responsible for her misguided policies in Asia will be vilified. The patriotic few who stood against the horror of this war will be hailed as heroes. Your joining our fight for freedom will be a signal to other brave men like you that it's possible to love your country and at the same time hate its politics. What is your answer, David?"

Clarita joined them, smiled and then touched Fagen's cheek with her cool, dry palm. He was afraid to look at her, afraid even to move. The only sound the popping of green wood in the campfire. Had a soldier ever been in a more difficult position? Say yes, and his life was changed forever. He would embark on a future he couldn't even imagine. Say no, and his life was changed forever anyway. How could he go on with the sure and certain knowledge Aguinaldo was right? America had betrayed the Filipinos. They had no business enslaving a people ten thousand miles from their shores. As a result, untold thousands of innocent souls had been lost, and it seemed inevitable many more would die before the bloody campaign ended.

Fagen's life had already been permanently altered. He'd seen enough bloodletting to guarantee that. A soldier never really forgets the things he sees in combat. Fagen tried to imagine himself back in the civilian world carrying around the memories of war. He recalled what Sergeant Rivers had said to Miss Merilee Shaw of the Anti-imperialist League. Had he been right? Was the Army training a generation of white men to kill the colored man at home?

What would life be like for a Negro on the streets of America when the war was over? Would every small town police chief become the black man's judge, jury and executioner? Mr. Ben Tillman, Senator from South Carolina, had said just the year before there were already too many niggers living under the American flag. Could a colored man ever achieve the merits of first-class citizenship in a country where his protection under the law was not assured? If Sergeant Rivers and Aguinaldo were right, things could get worse for the Negro, a lot worse.

Fagen's thoughts shifted suddenly to Ellis Fairbanks sitting alone in the dim light of his quarantine tent, and he yearned for his company. He missed his cousin's guileless, trusting outlook on life and realized how much Ellis' naive, simple-hearted acceptance of man's follies influenced the way he perceived the world. He knew the answer to Aguinaldo's question. David Fagen had no choice in the matter.

"I can't do it, General. America has betrayed the Filipino people, but it hasn't broken its promise to me. I agree this war is wrong, we shouldn't be here interfering in your lives. I hate what my country does, but it's still my country, and I can't forsake her."

Aguinaldo looked at the man across the table, the flicker of a smile in his eyes. "I would have been surprised if you'd answered any other way," he said. "Men do not renounce their flag for light and transient reasons."

"What happens now?"

"We say goodbye, Private David Fagen, and hope we do not meet again until this contentiousness between our two nations is resolved. We are soldiers, you must do your duty, and I mine. In the meantime, my sincerest wish is something of what we discussed here tonight will remain with you."

At that Aguinaldo stood at attention and saluted. Caught off guard, Fagen scrambled from his chair to return the courtesy. "Go with God," the general said, and then he turned on his heel and walked away.

<< Previous   View List of Excerpts Next >>


1. Fagen arrives in the Philippines

2. White soldiers bring their prejudice with them

3. Fagen hears another side of the story

4. Dinner with Colonel Funston

5. Fagen's first taste of combat

6. Fagen meets Clarita

7. More than fair?

8. The water cure

9. Fagen gets his fortune told

10. Imperialism exposed

11. Sergeant Rivers speaks his mind

12. Genocide

13. Fagen meets El Presidente

14. Bad news comes to Fagen

15. Fate takes over

16. San Lazaro leper hospital

17. An offer Fagen can't refuse

18. Funston makes a plan

19. "Capitan" Fagen

20. Funston assembles his team

21. Morality, ethics and war

22. Jungle encounter

23. Commencement

24. Benevolent assimilation

25. Colonel Bloody Shirt pays a call

26. Fagen declares war on God

27. Major Baston tastes his own medicine

28. Funston on the march

29. Fagen goes home