House bill

Alaska House bill would start process to rename highway after convicted war criminal


Knik River Bridge, Glenn Highway (Emily Russell/Alaska Public Media)

The Glenn Highway, which connects Anchorage to Glennallen, is named after Edwin Glenn, who oversaw US Army expeditions to Alaska in 1898 and 1899. Glenn was convicted of war crimes in the Philippines the following year his departure from Alaska.

A bill making its way through the state legislature would begin the process of renaming the freeway. But a member of the House calls House Bill 352 a case cancel culture.

Glenn was a career army officer. In the late 1800s he oversaw two expeditions to Alaska. Then he went to the Philippines, which at the time belonged to the United States – a trophy of the Spanish-American War. Filipinos were fighting for their independence.

Anchorage historian David Reamer said that Glenn soldiers ordered to hose down a Filipino.

“When we say he was a torturer, we say that because he admitted it,” Reamer said. “He admitted to doing these things. He confessed to ordering it. He admitted to supervising it. He was there at times of torture. ”

Waterboarding simulates drowning and can cause lasting physical and psychological damage.

Soldiers who witnessed what happened spoke about it after returning home, leading newspapers to report it. This led President Theodore Roosevelt and his Secretary of War, Elihu Root, to order an investigation.

When Glenn was court-martialed, he admitted what he had done but denied it was torture. He was convicted, paid a fine, and suspended from command for a month.

Now Alaska lawmakers are considering a bill that would provide a process for renaming the Glenn Highway. The state would need to consult with tribes, Alaska Native organizations and area communities to get feedback on the new name.

Big Lake Republican Rep. Kevin McCabe opposed the bill at a meeting of the House Transportation Committee on March 1.

“It’s cancel culture. I want this recorded,” McCabe said. “It cancels someone who, when he was waterboarding, didn’t think it was torture. You look like you’re tearing your nails out and that sort of thing. Waterboarding is still accepted today.

This is no longer true since former President Barack Obama banned government agencies from using waterboarding.

McCabe said Alaskans don’t know what Glenn did because they didn’t witness it.

“If I look at this bill, if you want to know the truth, it’s a bill here to smear the name of a guy who is long dead,” he said. “Who cares? The guy is long gone. That’s all this bill does is smear his name.

Joshua Albeza Branstetter is a member of AKAPIDA, the association Alaskan Asian, Pacific Islander, Desi American. He said renaming the Glenn Highway would recognize the role Filipino Americans have played in the state for 100 years.

“But for this highway to be named after someone who was, for lack of a better term, canceled by the US military and by Teddy Roosevelt, who endorsed the findings of his war crimes case in a war that claimed the lives of over 200,000 Filipinos,” he said. “That history in turn has been erased from our school books.”

Lisa Wade is a member of the Chickaloon Native Village. The highway was unofficially named after the village it passes through, before being named in honor of Glenn.

“This bill represents much more than just a name change,” she said. “To me, this doesn’t represent the culture of undoing. It represents an opportunity. It represents an opportunity to show respect and maybe even some reconciliation for the past wrongs that have been perpetrated against the Indigenous peoples of the Alaska at the time this highway was created, and even the harm done to other Filipinos as well.

She said the tribes in the area don’t usually name things after people, but use the names of geographical features. She said that when the highway was built, her tribe suffered a lot.

“And the story is not one-dimensional,” she said. “However, this story has long been told from a single dimension and has resulted in the invisibility of beautiful and unique Indigenous peoples in the face of the glamorization of people like Edwin Glenn.”

State officials estimate that renaming the highway would cost $2 million, to change signage and other things. But since the bill itself would not rename the road but simply set up a process to do so, it would cost the state nothing if the legislature passed it. This means that the bill has no cost listed on what is called a tax note.

For Anchorage Republican Rep. Tom McKay, that part doesn’t make sense.

“It said there was a zero tax note, but we renamed it there would be a tax note, because we had to pay for all the road signs to be changed, the maps would have to be changed.”

Anchorage Democratic Rep. Zack Fields introduced the bill.

“These tribal people have certainly been in this corridor for a lot longer than I have and perhaps we should seek their advice on whether the Chickaloon Highway or the Katie John Highway or some other name might be the most appropriate,” said Fields.

The transportation committee has not yet scheduled a vote on the bill.

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