Warriors of Samar is the third book to be written based on voluminous research which Bob Couttie conducted, and which I helped sponsor as a film producer in search of a movie, during the 1990s and early 2000s. The other two books are academic works, impressive in their thoroughness and thoughtfulness: Hang the Dogs by Bob Couttie, and The Balangiga Conflict Revisited by Rolando Borrinaga.
Why, then, a third book from the same research?
The books by Bob and Rolly have done an exceptional job of exploring all of the myriad aspects of the academic debate over what happened that day in Balangiga. Both books are excellent, in depth explorations of the event and its causes. They are both proper historical non-fiction that provide full citations for every piece of evidence, and they discuss various theories of what might have happened, comparing those theories and commenting on them. The result is a fascinating look at the event from all angles.
Warriors of Samar, on the other hand, is “creative non-fiction” — which means that I attempt to tell the story not as a discussion of all the different angles and possibilities. Rather, after having read all there is to read, I have gone ahead and made choices about what I think actually happened, and why, and I tell that story without “making stuff up” — but probing inside the perceptions and consciousness of the different characters in an effort to bring the story to life. It is speculative because no on today can know for sure that anyone in 1901 was thinking. But it is non-fiction in that the events and characters are real, and depicted as honestly as I can.
In the end, I want to explore some questions that have tantalized me for decades.
What actually happened?
Why did it happen?
What would it have been like to be there?
Warriors of Samar shares the story as I have come to understand it. I have not invented any facts, characters, or incidents. I have sometimes created dialogue to illustrate a point, but have done so in a limited fashion and only when the dialogue is illustrative of established facts. When I have felt it helpful and appropriate to do so, I have tried to peer ever so slightly into the consciousness of the players on the stage, but have done so with restraint and avoidance of taking excessive liberties in the realm of mind reading.
Much of what has been written to date about Balangiga is rooted in a partisan point of view, representing either a pro-American viewpoint which saw the event as a treacherous sneak attack, or a partisan Filipino point of view which saw it as a heroic uprising against an unjust oppressor. I like to think that my orientation is rooted in affection and respect for both sides. While I am deeply skeptical of America’s reasons for being in possession of the town of Balangiga on that faraway day, I view the ordinary soldiers who were on the ground there as just that — ordinary men reflecting the values of their time, placed in extraordinary and confusing circumstances. As for the Filipinos, the facts bear out that in this particular town, on this particular day, they were indeed oppressed, outrageously so, by the misguided policies of an American officer whom fate had placed as their overlord, and who utterly failed to grasp the limits of his exercise of authority. But even that does not necessarily make Captain Thomas Connell an evil villain, for he too was a victim of values and ways of thinking that did not originate in his own mind or spirit — they were implanted there by circumstances.
In the end, I hope that my account honors both sides where honor is due, and yields insight not through extensive analysis and commentary — but through clear-eyed depiction of events as they unfolded. Character is revealed through action and choices, and in this story there are many choices made, and actions taken, and both individual and national character is revealed through those choices and actions.
I want to thank Bob Couttie for his research, advice, and tolerance when my views diverge from his, and Rollie Borrinaga whom I know and respect mostly through his writings and through Bob Couttie, and my many friends and colleagues both Filipino and American for their continued interest in this unique, tragic, and — as I believe the facts reveal — heroic moment in our shared history.