CHEYENNE — A novel that deals with the United States-Phillipines war of 1898-1902 and the church bells seized from Balangiga had a timely release this month.
The book, “Insurrecto,’’ written by prize-winning author Gina Apostol, a native of the Philippines, comes out at a time when the U.S. finally relinquished the church bells back to the Philippines.
American troops seized the bells from a Catholic church in the village of Balangiga on the island of Samar as a war trophy in 1901.
Two of the church bells have been at Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne since 1905, when it was an army base called Fort D.A. Russell.
A third bell is with a U.S. army unit in South Korea.
Last week Secretary of Defense James Mattis visited the Cheyenne base to see the bells and set in motion plans for their return to the Philippines, a long-time U.S. ally.
Mattis mentioned the importance of that alliance during his visit.
The bells are to be refurbished before they leave the U.S. but no date has been set for their departure, according to various media accounts.
According to the Manila Times online newspaper, Philippines President Rodrigo Duarte will have no comment on the development until the bells are physically returned to his country.
“The president himself, in his second State of the Nation Address, expressed his desire for the return of these bells, explaining that they form part of our country’s patrimony and they were taken at the cost of bloodshed of thousands of Filipinos,” spokesman Salvador Panelo said.
Panelo also repeated what Détente said earlier: “It ain’t here until it’s here.”
The issue of the return of the Balangiga bells, considered by American veterans as “war booty,” is sensitive, the newspaper reported.
In their quest, the Filipinos and their supporters met a wall of opposition from Wyoming veterans’ groups, as well as from governors and congressional delegations.
In August, Mathis advised Congress of his intention to return the bells.
Duarte reiterated his position that his country could not have rapport, or even talks, with the U.S. until the bells were returned.
During the Philippine-American War, American Brig. Gen. Jacob Smith ordered soldiers to turn Balangiga into a “howling wilderness” after Filipinos killed 48 American soldiers while having breakfast.
All males over 10 years old were ordered killed and three bells were taken from the town church, which was burned.
The Americans said they were ambushed by the Filipinos. and the ringing of a church bell was the signal to attack.
Meanwhile, the “Insurrecto” in Apostol’s novel is Asiana Nacionales, the only woman who actively participated in the rebellions against U.S. military personnel “after a period of occupation marked by cruelty on one end and breathtaking abandonment on the other,” according to a review by Kirkus, an American book review magazine.
Nacionales is not the main character in the book. Instead, she serves as a metaphor “for how the truth of history is repressed until something or someone brings it into the light,” the Kirkus review said.
Apostol’s novel, set in current time, features an American filmmaker and a Filipino interpreter and writer who travel to the East Samar province where the battles took place.
It details their work writing a script for the film and how they come up with two different approaches.
One review said the two characters “exhume a massacre.”
“I think it’s important, for instance, for an American to recognize its multiple histories,” Apostol said in an interview with National Public Radio.
“You know, this history of wanting to be the liberator in the Spanish-American War period, but also recognizing the inhumanity that came from that war. So there’s this tension of the two.”