Cat Pohlman, UCSB; Cory Shallow and Lorena Hernandez, Cal Poly
As discussed in the previous chapter on the Spanish-American War, tensions between the United States and Spain arose when the U.S. began publicly expressing support for the Cuban people’s revolution against Spanish colonial control, a revolution that began in 1895.
On February 15, 1898, the U.S. Navy ship U.S.S. Maine exploded in Havana Harbor in Cuba. Although to this day it has never been proven that Spanish forces were at fault, the U.S. immediately blamed the explosion on Spain and two months later on April 19, America declared war with Spain in order to assert control over this so-called “act of aggression.” The next day, Congress passed the Teller Amendment, in which the United States disclaimed sovereignty, jurisdiction, and control over Cuba, and instead promised “to leave the government and control of the island to its people.”
The declaration of war and the amendment, taken together, implied that American officialdom publicly understood the meaning of the immorality of “aggression” and the virtue of “sovereignty.” Yet the U.S. Government completely contradicted and violated its own principles and values one year later when it came to its dealings with another former Spanish colony fighting for its independence from Western colonial rule: the Philippines.
THE PHILIPPINE-AMERICAN WAR The Philippine-American War today remains America’s longest single combat war (14 years), resulting in the deaths of 4,000 U.S. soldiers, and, in stark contrast, up to one million Philippine civilians. Yet it is arguably the least-known war among American school children. The story of America’s encounter with the Philippines began in 1897, a full year before the official cause of the related Spanish-American War.
Concurrent with the Cubans’ revolution against Spain, the people of the Philippines were fighting their own war of independence against Spanish colonial rule, a war which began in 1896. In January 1897, Philippine revolutionaries had asked for help from the United States, believing that American-held ideals of democracy, self-determination, and inalienable rights to life and liberty would motivate the American government to assist them achieve independence. A letter from Filipino freedom fighters reached the U.S. State Department asking America to help to expel Spain from their borders “just as the Emperor Napoleon helped America in the war of Separation from England.”
The U.S. Government chose not to meet with Filipino revolutionaries for more than a year, close to the time that America declared war on Spain in April 1898. By that time the Filipinos had already done the hard work of fighting to liberate all non-Muslim parts of the entire Philippine archipelago, except for the capital city of Manila. Unbeknownst to the Filipinos, however, in the several months prior to the U.S. declaring war with Spain on April 1898, American leadership – namely, President William McKinley, Navy Assistant Secretary Theodore Roosevelt, and Admiral George Dewey – had already begun discussing among themselves the prospects of U.S. control of the Philippines.
In his autobiography Admiral Dewey wrote of the fall of 1897, months before the U.S.S. Maine incident: “(W)e were inevitably drifting into a war with Spain. In command of an efficient force in the Far East, with a free hand to act in consequence of being so far away from Washington, I could strike promptly and successfully at the Spanish forces in the Philippines.” On Roosevelt’s orders, Dewey led the U.S. Asiatic Squadron to Hong Kong in December 1897 (two months before the U.S.S. Maine incident), and there the ships idled in port for months, without any immediate action to complete in China. Simultaneously in Washington, D.C., McKinley and Roosevelt privately discussed America’s economic prospects from control of the Philippines.
Two weeks after declaring war on Spain, based on flimsy evidence that the Spanish were behind the U.S.S. Maine explosion, America conducted its first battle of the Spanish-American War – not in neighboring Cuba, but halfway around the world, in the Philippines: On May 1, Admiral Dewey led the U.S. Navy from Hong Kong to the Philippines and dramatically defeated the entire Spanish Navy in a one-day battle in Manila Bay.
Given the Americans’ awesome display of military power, Filipino revolutionaries, like their top general Emilio Aguinaldo, became concerned about U.S. intentions in the Philippines. Dewey’s representative Captain Edward P. Wood assured Aguinaldo that the U.S. “did not need colonies.” Also that spring, Aguinaldo met with U.S. diplomat E. Spencer Pratt, who implied on two separate occasions that America would respect Filipino aspirations for independence. Aguinaldo trusted the Americans to keep their word.
Privately, however, U.S. President McKinley and U.S. Admiral Dewey had no intention of letting the Philippines claim independence, and they and others in the U.S. Government coveted the Philippines for its resources, as a strategic military base, and as a U.S. outpost for engaging with China’s huge markets. Philippine General Emilio Aguinaldo extended an invitation to Admiral Dewey to celebrate the formal declaration of Philippine independence on June 12, 1898, but Dewey did not attend. Years later Dewey admitted that he had intended neither on developing close ties with Aguinaldo nor on taking Filipino sovereignty seriously. Around the same time that Dewey snubbed Aguinaldo’s invitation, President McKinley requested that Dewey obtain information about Philippine industry, farming, minerals and natural resources. McKinley also authorized Roosevelt and the U.S. State Department to investigate and report on financial and industrial conditions in the Philippine islands.
Between July and August of 1898, Emilio Aguinaldo, now the new Philippine President, tried advocating for American recognition of the Philippines as an independent country through diplomacy and letters to the United States. Prior to Dewey’s dramatic May 1 naval victory in Manila Bay, Aguinaldo had only asked for guns and troops to help defeat the last of the Spanish, yet the U.S. troops kept streaming into the Philippines.
A PHONY BATTLE, THE BETRAYAL OF ALLIES, HIDING DATA, RACIST SPEECHES, AND LYING TO CONGRESS On August 13, Spanish and American military leaders staged a phony battle in the city of Manila in which American forces, not Filipinos, emerged victorious against the Spanish. This phony battle was arranged between the U.S. and Spain by Belgian Consul Edouard Andre. It was a face-saving gesture for Spain, in which Spanish General Fermin Jaudenes remarked that Spanish forces would submit “to white people, never to niggers.” In order to ensure that the Filipinos would not be a hindrance to the predetermined U.S. victory, the Americans instructed the Philippine army to engage in a far-away mock war exercise at the time of the phony battle. Once the Spanish were “defeated,” U.S. soldiers closed the gates of Manila to the Philippine army.
In the months to come, President McKinley and Admiral Dewey would ignore the Philippine peoples’ claims to independence. In August 1898 McKinley authorized the occupation of Manila by U.S. forces, and that December he ordered the retention of the entire archipelago. The staged battle from which the Filipino forces had been excluded, and the U.S. occupation of Manila and eventually the rest of the islands, were inevitably interpreted by the Filipino forces and the Filipino people as acts of colonial aggression and they gradually led to anti-American tension among the Philippine population, who believed they had already finally won their freedom from 333-year outside colonial rule (under the Spanish).
McKinley, Dewey and Roosevelt subscribed to popular racist notions of the scientific “inferiority” of non-white peoples, like the Filipinos, whom they considered “unfit” for self-rule. In late 1898, from October 8 to November 20, Admiral Dewey commissioned two U.S. naval officers to evaluate the Filipino people’s “fitness” for self-rule. Contrary to Dewey’s expectations, his officers documented a fully functioning Filipino government that was keeping the peace, holding elections, providing police protection, efficiently administering justice through its courts, and carrying out the consent of the governed. These two officers also found that Filipinos overwhelmingly respected Philippine President Aguinaldo and wished for his protection from the U.S. forces, and that the citizens of the Philippines also overwhelmingly believed America did not have the right to annex them. Nevertheless, these findings were subsequently hidden from the American public.
As a result of Spain losing its war with America, the political fates of the Philippines and Spain’s other former colonies (Cuba, Guam, Puerto Rico) were to be decided at the Treaty of Paris at the end of 1898, on December 10. No representatives from any of the former colonies were present at the meeting. Philippine diplomat Felipe Agoncillo had traveled all the way to Washington D.C. to request attendance at the upcoming treaty meeting in Paris, but U.S. President McKinley denied his request, citing Agoncillo’s poor accent in English, and claiming that Filipino presence would be offensive to the Spanish.
U.S. and Spanish representatives did sign the Treaty of Paris in December, formally transferring political control of Cuba, Guam, and Puerto Rico to the United States, and selling the Philippines to the United States for $20 million, all without the inclusion of Cuban, Guamanian, Puerto Rican or Filipino voices in the process. In order for the treaty to become U.S. law, however, the Constitution required a two-thirds majority vote by the Senate. This would not be easily achieved. Due in part to the terms regarding the fate of the Philippines, U.S. citizens, including prominent figures like novelist Mark Twain, industrial tycoon Andrew Carnegie, and former U.S. President Grover Cleveland, and the majority of the Senate, strongly opposed the ratification of the treaty. They argued that this was a hypocritical act of colonialism on the part of the United States, and that America had no right to deny sovereignty to the Filipino people. They viewed America as a democracy, not as an empire that rules foreigners without their consent. These opponents of annexing the Philippines called themselves “anti-imperialists.”
McKinley understood that he had to sell the idea of U.S. imperialism – a notion that blatantly contradicts American ideals of sovereignty – to the American people in order to win the Senate’s ratification of the Treaty of Paris. In late December he resorted to racist ideology, openly arguing that Filipinos were naturally incapable of self-rule. He referred to America’s takeover of the Philippines not as un-democratic colonial domination, but as “benevolent assimilation,” implying that America’s purpose in the Philippines was to give the Filipino people things which he believed they were not capable of obtaining themselves: stable government, civility, and freedom. He argued that the Philippine Islands needed these “gifts” and that it was America’s moral obligation to “bestow” them on the Filipinos, who would benefit from becoming like Americans. In his “Benevolent Assimilation” speech, McKinley said that “the future control, disposition, and government of the Philippine Islands are ceded to the United States,” and that the U.S. aspired for the “bestowal of blessings of good and stable government upon the people of the Philippine Islands under the free flag of the United States.”
On December 23, 1898, McKinley for the very first time instructed one of his generals to take over a Philippine city outside the capital city of Manila. In response, Philippine President Emilio Aguinaldo issued a retaliatory proclamation protesting against the “intrusion of the United States government on the sovereignty of these islands.” The U.S. general considered Aguinaldo’s proclamation to be a “virtual declaration of war.”
Then on February 4, 1899, an American soldier at a U.S. Army base in Manila fired a first shot at two Filipinos walking along the perimeter of the base who verbally mocked the soldier’s English-language orders to halt. This triggered an exchange of fire between the two sides. The incident was used by President McKinley as an excuse to convince the Congress to ratify the Treaty of Paris and to initiate war against the Philippine people, as he lied to Congress that the Philippine people had struck the “first blow” against Americans. Thus began the Philippine-American War.
McKinley later justified launching his war by arguing that the Filipinos “were unfit for self-government. There was nothing left for us to do but…educate…and uplift and Christianize them.” His remarks ignored the facts, such as: Dewey’s own October-November 1898 research proving the Filipino peoples’ fitness for self-rule; 80 percent of Filipinos having been Christians for centuries due to Spanish colonization; the University of Santo Tomas in Manila being older than any American university; and to this day, Filipinos still enjoying the distinction of having established the first-ever republic in Asia (i.e., in 1898 – before China, Japan or India).
Perhaps America’s true motivations for war in the Philippines were most succinctly articulated in a January 9, 1900 speech by U.S. Senator Albert Beveridge (R-Indiana) to Congress: “The Philippines are our forever…and just beyond the Philippines are China’s illimitable markets… We will not renounce our part in the mission of our race…(W)e are not dealing with Americans or Europeans. We are dealing with Orientals…They are not capable of self-government…We must never forget that in dealing with the Filipinos we deal with children…This question is…racial.”
CONCENTRATION CAMPS, OFFICIAL ORDERS TO COMMIT OTHER WAR CRIMES, AND A BROKEN TREATY In the defense of their liberty and sovereignty, up to one million Filipinos died at the hands of the U.S. Army in the Philippine-American War, from 1899 to 1913. One tactic enacted by U.S. forces was “re-concentration” camps, in which entire civilian populations were forced into crowded and filthy makeshift camps in order to prevent their possible support of Filipino freedom fighters. Hundreds of thousands of Filipinos died miserably from starvation, infectious diseases and malnutrition in these brutal prisons. President McKinley first heard of “re-concentration” camps in late 1897, at which time he publicly condemned the Spanish for this cruel practice in their repression of freedom fighters during the Cuban revolution. Now such immoral camps were somehow official U.S. policy in the Philippines. Marinduque, Batangas and Samar are just a few examples of this notorious chapter in United States history.
For example, in letters home, U.S. soldiers described the campaign on the island of Samar, in which U.S. General Jake Smith ordered his men to “kill and burn…take no prisoners…(and to kill) everything over ten.” One soldier wrote that within six months Samar was “quiet as a cemetery” after the U.S. Army “systematically burn(ed) every village, destroy(ed) food and… kill(ed) any work animals found.” Regarding the town of La Nog on the Panay Island, soldiers wrote home explaining how they were ordered to kill every native in the town and burn it to the ground, which they did. According to one soldier, “About 1,000 men, women and children were reported killed.” U.S. General J. Franklin Bell estimated that on the island of Luzon alone, over 600,000 Filipinos had died as a result of the war by 1901.
Journal entries and letters from U.S. soldiers on the ground also included other gruesome descriptions, such as official orders of gang-rapes, executions of war prisoners, and outright torture. Some of the officers themselves – including generals – participated in these instances of rapes, torture and executions of unarmed Filipinos. But information like this was kept from the American public thanks to the effectiveness of press censorship.
“Shove in the nozzle deep and let him taste of liberty” was a line from a popular U.S. Army marching song, The Water Cure. The “water cure” – similar to the U.S. Army use of “waterboarding” during the 2003-2011 Iraq War – was a method of extracting information from the enemy. It was a method of torture in which soldiers held Filipinos down, forced water into their lungs, then violently expelled the water from their bodies such as stomping on a Filipino’s stomach. A U.S. Lieutenant Flint stated, “A man suffers tremendously; there is no doubt about that. His suffering must be that of a man who is drowning, but he cannot drown.” Another U.S. soldier, testifying at a 1902 hearing in Washington regarding war crimes, admitted to “water curing” 160 Filipinos, of which 134 died.
Although the United States had agreed at the outset of the war in 1899 to respect the sovereignty of Muslim-controlled areas in the Southern Philippines (i.e., the Bates Treaty), U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt decided to break the treaty in 1904 and instead claimed the Muslims’ lands for the United States. That same year, Filipinos were displayed to the American public like zoo animals at the 1904 Louisiana Purchase Exposition, also known as the 1904 St. Louis Fair. At the fair’s popular “Philippine Reservation,” “savage”-looking indigenous natives were on display in their native attire and in specially-designed sets that supposedly resembled their native habitat, while young American-educated government diplomats from the Philippines also introduced themselves to the crowd. This produced a similar two-fold effect on the American culture at large, justifying a vicious war that in the long term was supposedly a “favor” to the Filipino people in terms of bringing “civilization” to them,” while also presenting living trophies that celebrated America’s new imperial power.
Although many public U.S. history books date the end of the Philippine-American War at July 4, 1902, in fact the fighting continued for 11 more years. One notorious example was the massacre of several hundred Filipino civilians at the mountain of Bud Dajo on Jolo Island in March 1906, of whom the commanding officer was congratulated by President Roosevelt for upholding “the honor of the American flag.” The last battle of the war was on June 1913, when the U.S. Army similarly massacred a few hundred Filipino civilians at the mountain of Bud Bagsak, also on Jolo Island.