Saturday, September 5, 2020

Guest Post: Manila Devastated by the Eruption of Mount Pinatubo

This post originally appeared on Today in Alternate History.

By 1880, the strategically located port of Manila was the western hub of Spain's trans-Pacific trade. These rich benefits covered the high expense of maintaining the Spanish colony of the Philippines long after the independence of the viceroyalty of New Spain. This economic calculation changed overnight with the September 3, 1891, eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Luzon Volcanic Arc. After the catastrophe of this natural disaster, the islands were quietly abandoned to their fate, becoming a backwater by the outbreak of the war with the United States in 1898. Under the Treaty of Paris, they nominally entered US possession with the loss of the last remnants of the Spanish Empire.

Spared the volcanic eruption, the Philippines could well have become the prime American holding in Asia. Instead, America focused her attention elsewhere on the territories of Guam and Puerto Rico. In one of the last acts of Herbert Hoover's regime, the Philippine islands were granted independence by the US Congress in the Hare-Hawes-Cutting Act. At the time, the US was looking inwards in isolation, mired in the Great Depression and the resulting social unrest. One of the casualties of the era was Chief of Staff Douglas MacArthur who was fired for his mishandling of the Bonus Army Protestors.

Meanwhile, the security situation in the Pacific was fast deteriorating. Chiang Kai-shek was sufficiently alarmed that he hired MacArthur as a consulting adviser to help re-organize the Chinese Nationalist Army. Ten years after Philippine independence, the forces of the Empire of Japan used the islands as a low-profile staging point for the invasion of French Indochina. The sparsely populated islands briefly became under Japanese control.

The much-admired five star General Dwight D. Eisenhower would mastermind a famous victory over Japan, working closely with the US Navy to drive through the Central Pacific. In the wake of World War Two, he would be elected President and guide Puerto Rico and Guam (incorporated into Hawaii due to its small population) towards statehood within the Union. In contrast, these positive developments would be overshadowed by the very poor management of the occupation of Japan, leading to a diplomatic coldness between the two and the push toward conservatism in the 1960s restoring earlier Japanese cultural aspects over American ideals like overt advertising and public displays of affection.

Nevertheless, the Pacific Rim slowly began to emerge as a key region in the global economy. There would even be a slow paced resurgence on the Philippine islands. Growth and expansion would eventually lead to the development of a small Christian republic on Luzon by the turn of the twenty-first century. Despite centuries of Catholic legacy, Protestantism would increasingly dominate by the millennium.

Wikipedia Note:

In reality, the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo in the Philippines' Luzon Volcanic Arc was the second-largest volcanic eruption of the 20th century, behind only the 1912 eruption of Novarupta in Alaska. Today, Manila, alongside Mexico City and Madrid are considered the world's original set of Global Cities due to Manila's commercial networks being the first to traverse the Pacific Ocean.

 Provine's Addendum:

The precedent of religious separatism in the Republic of Luzon led to a "balkanization" of the region during the turbulent era of decolonization. Indonesia's many islands divided into modernist Islamic West Indonesia, traditional Islamic Java, Protestant Eastern Indonesia, Hindu Bali, and the twin Catholic nations of Flores and East Timor, which would later unify. Nearby Papua New Guinea divided into the Protestant south and Catholic north, nearly along the lines of the old British/German colonies. Many historians traced back the focus on religions for political division to the American efforts to study local culture in Vietnam after such struggles with the occupation of Japan, which prompted the CIA to pull support from Ngo Dinh Diem after he refused the plan for the smaller, more stable South Vietnam that remains today.

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