America's Boy
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America's Boy

James Hamilton-Paterson

OK. Spot quiz. Whaddya know about Ferdinand Marcos? Well, you'd most likely answer, he was President of the Philippines for a while during the 70s and 80s; he is in the running for the most corrupt man of the 20th century; he liked a little bit of martial law now and again and, oh he was married to that woman with the show fetish. Correct on all counts. As you might imagine the details behind the life of such a man make for intriguing reading. From his aquittal for murder at the age of 19, through the numerous White House visits, to the death of Ninoy Aquino and his eventual fall from power all the significant episodes in the life of Ferdinand Edralin Marcos are worked into this fascinating book by James Hamilton-Paterson.

It's clear the author dearly loves the Philippines and for a foreigner he has a gift for personalising the wider events of his adopted country throughout the last century by continually detailing the impacts of certain policies on his home town of Kansulay. One of the villagers remembers a nearby electoral stop many years ago by Imelda on behalf of her husband, "She was very...feminine," he recalls. And though neither Imelda nor her husband did anything for him or his fellow villagers following that stop the same landowner/tenant relationship practised by them in the sugar estates of Negros Central was played out, and continues to be played out in the fields around his home.

Hamilton-Paterson shines a light on a number of aspects of the Presidency and discovers a far more complex motivation behind the corruption. In tune with fellow dictator Mobuto Sese Seko in Zaire, Marcos was not simply lining his own pockets or attempting to build the fattest bank account in Switzerland. He was merely oiling the machine - a machine rendered rotten by larceny and largesse that spawned hundreds and thousands of grabbing hands, each of which having to be pacified with wads of pesos. The author also confronts the post '86 Philippines' refusal to afford Marcos anything other than the title of thieving dictator. For beind the kleptocracy and dastardly behaviour there was a liberal legacy that no President of the Republic before or since has been able to match.

Hamilton-Paterson has delivered a flowing narrative that is an easy and enjoyable read and despite the reader's frustration with the appalling rule and shock at the occasional bloodshed the author manages to paint a rather charming portrait of a staggeringly eventful life, from the teenage Marcos defending himself in front of the country's Supreme Court to the affairs with movie actresses to rinsing out the Americans for all the money he could get. Who, after all, could not warm to the man who when told by his wife she was being groped by President Lyndon Johnson on the White House dance floor replied "Ignore it, Meldy. It's in a good cause."

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