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The U.S. occupation of the Philippine Islands came about as a result of military operations against the Spanish Empire during the Spanish-American war of 1898-99. The seizure of the Philippines by the United States, however, was not unplanned. American eyes had been set on the Philippines since before the outbreak of war. To many prominent Americans, establishing a colony in the Philippines was a logical extension of the nation's "manifest destiny" to play a leading role on the world stage. An expanded American presence in Asia was also thought to have significant commercial advantages for the nation, since American companies could then participate directly in large Asian markets.
For all the alleged advantages to possessing the Philippines, no thought was given to whether or not native Filipinos would welcome American as opposed to Spanish rule. The Filipinos were of course never informed of American intentions to stay in the Philippines. This turned out to be a serious error. By 1898 Filipinos had already shed a considerable amount of blood since rising up in 1896 to free themselves from Spanish domination. They would not take kindly to a change in colonial administration from Spain to the United States.
The First Philippine Republic and the End of Spanish Rule
On May 1, 1898, an American fleet under Dewey sailed into Manila harbor and quickly destroyed a small force of Spanish ships anchored there. Plans for Dewey to commence offensive operations against the Spanish in the Philippines had originated several months before, in February, when Assistant Secretary for the Navy, Theodore Roosevelt, had cabled Dewey to say "Your duty will be to see that the Spanish squadron does not leave the Asiatic coast ... start offensive operations in Philippine Islands."
Because a considerable number of Spanish troops remained stationed throughout the Philippines, including a large force in Manila itself, American diplomats urged resistance leader Emilio Aguinaldo to return to the Philippines from exile in Hong Kong. Before journeying to his homeland, Aguinaldo, who was overjoyed at the American declaration of war on Spain, cabled resistance members the following message, which clearly expresses his belief that the Americans had come to liberate his people:
Aguinaldo sent another message several days later expressing the same confidence in American altruism:
Energized by the seemingly fortunate turn of events, the Filipinos immediately went on the offensive. Within weeks Aguinaldo's insurgents had pushed the Spanish back to Manila. Fighting would continue for another two months, until American forces arrived in enough numbers to complete the defeat of Spanish troops holed up in Manila. Aguinaldo and his men were ecstatic with their victory and on June 12, 1898 they proclaimed Filipino independence. The First Philippine Republic had been founded.
What the Americans Promised the Filipinos
The declaration of a Philippine Republic should not have come as a shock to the Americans. No American military commander or politician had formally promised the Filipinos independence after the end of fighting, but this is not the impression that motivated Emilio Aguinaldo and his men. Statements made by several of the participants in these events suggest that by supporting the armed resistance of Filipinos to the Spanish, the United States was de facto guaranteeing the Filipinos their independence. For example, American Consul Wildman in Hong Kong wrote at the time, "the United States undertook this war [against Spain] for the sole purpose of relieving the Cubans from the cruelties under which they were suffering and not for the love of conquests or the hope of gain. They are actuated by precisely the same feelings for the Filipinos." Admiral Dewey emphasized that during the liberation of the islands the Filipinos had cooperated directly with every American request, as if they were working with an ally and not a ruler. To quote the admiral, "Up to the time the army came he (i.e. Aguinaldo) did everything I requested. He was most obedient; whatever I told him to do he did. I saw him almost daily." Finally, as General T.M. Anderson, commander of U.S. forces in the Philippines, later concluded, "Whether Admiral Dewey and Consuls Pratt (of Singapore), Wildman ( Hong Kong) and Williams ( Manila) did or did not give Aguinaldo assurances that a Filipino government would be recognized, the Filipinos certainly thought so, probably inferring this from their acts rather than from their statements."
American Forces Arrive
The first American soldiers under General Anderson had landed in the Philippines in June 1898 as part of an expeditionary force sent by President William McKinley to secure the archipelago for the United States. They did not participate in military operations until August 1898 when Manila was captured. The overwhelming bulk of the fighting had been carried out by the Filipinos themselves. Nevertheless, once the Spanish signaled their desire to surrender. General Anderson ordered Aguinaldo to keep his men outside of Manila while American troops marched into the city. After Manila was secured, Anderson then told Aguinaldo that his men could not enter Manila. The Filipinos were stunned by this and tensions began to rise between the Americans and Filipinos.
The Americans Double-Cross Aguinaldo
What Aguinaldo and his men had not been told was that the United States never entered the Philippines with the intention of "liberating" the native population and then withdrawing. Filipinos had done the fighting and dying. They had, in fact, liberated themselves from Spanish rule while U.S. and Spanish representatives negotiated an end to the war and the future right to territories that neither the Americans nor the Spanish controlled.
Nevertheless, President McKinley made it explicit in Washington that he did not intend to give up the Philippines once the war with Spain had been concluded: "Incidental to our tenure in the Philippines is the commercial opportunity to which American statesmanship cannot be indifferent. ... The United States cannot accept less than the cession in full right and sovereignty of the island of Luzon."
McKinley later explained his motives in deciding to seize the Philippines out of a sense of Christian mission:
The missionary zeal of President McKinley, as well as a patronizing sense of the inferiority of the Filipino people, was shared by other leading political figures. For example, Indiana Senator Albert Beveridge argued that "[God] has made us the master organizers of the world. ... That we may administer ... among savages and senile peoples."
Double-Cross Complete: The Treaty of Paris
Tensions between the Aguinaldo government and the U.S. Army in the Philippines simmered between August 1898 and February 1899. There was not yet any general outbreak of violence in the islands. General Aguinaldo continued to hold out hope that the U.S. would reverse its imperialist course and would grant the independence to the Philippines that he thought American involvement in the war had promised. With the formal signing of the Treaty of Paris on December 10, 1898, however, it became obvious that the U.S. intended to stay. One of the treaty's provisions was that the United States purchased the Philippines from Spain for $20 million, this despite the fact that Spain no longer controlled the Philippines and the Filipinos had formed their own republican government months earlier.
President McKinley finally disabused Aguinaldo of his hopes on December 21, 1898 when he issued the so-called "Benevolent Assimilation Proclamation". This proclamation, which McKinley ordered broadcast all over the Philippines signaled once and for all that the United States had no intention of leaving. In the proclamation, McKinley stated:
The Philippines would thus not receive the independence that they had fought so hard to achieve. Instead, it was made apparent to Aguinaldo and his followers that they had simply assisted the transition of rule in the Philippines from one foreign power to another.
War Breaks Out by Mistake: The Americans Deliberately Escalate
Hostilities in Manila between Aguinaldo's resistance fighters and American troops erupted on February 4, 1899. That day, U.S. troops were extending the American perimeter around Manila when a Filipino man who approached U.S. lines was shot by a sentry. After this open fighting between Aguinaldo's men and American soldiers began along the perimeter. According to the Military Governor, General Elwell Otis, this fighting had not been planned:
Studies have since established conclusively that although the Battle of Manila was deliberately brought on by General Otis. In this context it is worth quoting from one study. According to Lichauco and Storey's, The Conquest of the Philippines,
The next day (Feb. 5) General Aguinaldo sent a member of his staff under a flag of truce to interview General Otis and to tell him that the firing of the night before had been against his orders and that he wished to stop further hostilities. To bring this about he proposed to establish a neutral zone wide enough to keep the opposing armies apart. But to this request Otis replied that the fighting having begun must go on 'to the grim end'. This refusal was followed by an attack on the Filipino forces which lasted all day and resulted in killing some three thousand natives."
The battle was an initial defeat for the Filipinos, but it started a war that lasted until 1913.
The Pacification of the Philippines
At the outset of the fighting, American troops in the Philippines numbered around 40,000, but by 1902 this number had risen to 126,000. During the first phase of the war, Aguinaldo's men fought and lost a succession of formal battles against the U.S. Army. In 1900, however, Aguinaldo abandoned head-on conflicts with the Americans and resorted to the guerrilla warfare tactics that had served him and his men so well against the Spanish.
For all the talk of bringing "civilization" to the Philippines, American commanders responded to the Filipino insurgency with the utmost brutality. Over the course of the next decade, and especially in the first few years of the conflict, it became commonplace for entire villages to be burned and whole populations to be imprisoned in concentration camps. No mercy was accorded to Filipino prisoner, a large number of whom were shot. This certainly was not in keeping with the spirit of "benevolent assimilation" proclaimed by President McKinley.
From Liberators to Killers: American Attitudes Toward Filipinos
The attitudes of American commanders involved in pacifying the Philippines are remarkable for both their disdain for the people they had allegedly "liberated" and their willingness to resort to the most ruthless methods in suppressing resistance. For example, General J.M. Bell, wrote in December 1901:
That same month, General Bell issued Circular Order No. 3 to all American commanders in the field:
Even worse, perhaps, is the fact that the policies instituted by General Bell and other American commanders were endorsed by Secretary of War Elihu Root. In an amazing letter to the Senate dated May 7, 1902, Root argued that
Like many of their officers, American troops also showed incredible callousness toward the Philippine civilian population. A man named Clarence Clowe described the situation as follows in a letter he wrote to Senator Hoar. The methods employed by American troops against civilians in an effort to find insurgent "arms and ammunition" include torture, beating, and outright killing.
Another soldier, L. F. Adams, with the Washington regiment, described what he saw after the Battle of Manila on February 4-5, 1899:
Similarly, Sergeant Howard McFarland of the 43rd Infantry, wrote to the Fairfield Journal of Maine:
These methods were condoned by some back at home in the U.S., as exemplified by the statement of a Republican Congressman in 1909:
The Example of Samar: A "Howling Wilderness"
Early in the morning on September 28, 1901 the residents of the small village of Balangiga (located in the Samar Province) attacked the men of U.S. Army Company C, Ninth U.S. Infantry, who were stationed in the area. While the Americans ate breakfast, church bells in the town began to peal. This was the signal for hundreds of Filipinos armed with machetes and bolos to attack the garrison. Forty-eight U.S. soldiers, two-thirds of the garrison, were butchered, in what is called the Balangiga Massacre. Of the Filipinos who attacked, as many as 150 were killed.
American troops began retaliating as soon as the next day by returning to Balangiga in force and burning the now abandoned village. General Jacob H. Smith, however, sought to punish the entire civilian population of the Samar province. Arriving in Samar himself toward the end of October, Smith charged Major Littleton Waller with responsibility for punishing the inhabitants of Samar. Smith issued Waller oral instructions concerning his duties. These were recounted as follows (see below) in Smith and Waller's court martial proceedings the following year in 1902. These proceedings, indeed attention to the entire matter of U.S. Army conduct in the Philippines, were driven by the appearance of an interview with General Smith in the Manila Times on November 4, 1901. During this interview, Smith confirmed that these had truly been his orders to Major Waller.
Smith carried out his mission by having U.S. troops concentrate the local population into camps and towns. Areas outside of these camps and towns were designated "dead zones" in which those who were found would be considered insurgents and summarily executed. Tens of thousands of people were herded into these concentration camps. Disease was the biggest killer in the camps, although precisely how many lives were lost during Smith's pacification operations is not known. For his part, Major Waller reported that over eleven days between the end of October and the middle of November 1901 his men burned 255 dwellings and killed 39 people. Other officers under Smith's command reported similar figures. Concerning the overall number of dead, one scholar estimates that 8,344 people perished between January and April 1902.
The Death Toll of American Occupation
The overall cost in human lives of American actions in the Philippines was horrific. One scholar has concluded concerning the American occupation that "In the fifteen years that followed the defeat of the Spanish in Manila Bay in 1898, more Filipinos were killed by U.S. forces than by the Spanish in 300 years of colonization. Over 1.5 million died out of a total population of 6 million."
A detailed estimate of both civilian and American military dead is offered by historian John Gates, who sums up the subject as follows:
Yet another estimate states, "Philippine military deaths are estimated at 20,000 with 16,000 actually counted, while civilian deaths numbered between 250,000 and 1,000,000 Filipinos. These numbers take into account those killed by war, malnutrition, and a cholera epidemic that raged during the war."
That U.S. troops slaughtered Filipino civilians out of proportion to the conventions of so-called "formal" warfare was remarked upon during the Senate investigation of the war's conduct. As one official from the War Department estimated,
INVESTIGATING WAR CRIMES: THE U.S. SENATE INVESTIGATING COMMITTEE
The United States Senate Investigating Committee on the Philippines was convened from January 31, 1902 after word of the Army's Samar pacification campaign reached Washington via the Manila Times story of November 4, 1901. Chaired by Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, the committee heard testimony concerning crimes that had allegedly been committed by U.S. troops and officers in the Philippines. The policies behind the U.S. occupation were also examined.
For six months officers and political figures involved in the Philippine adventure, both pro and anti-imperialists, testified as to the brutal nature of American anti-insurgent operations. Although attempts were made to justify the amount of damage U.S. troops were doing, as well as the number of Filipino lives lost, the evidence provided by several individuals was damning.
Major Cornelius Gardener, for example, a West Point graduate and the U.S. Army's Provincial Governor of the Tayabas province in the Philippines, submitted the following evidence via letter on April 10, 1902:
The letters of American troops home to the U.S. were also introduced as evidence of war crimes. In this case, a letter written in November 1900 by one Sergeant Riley described an interrogation torture procedure used on Filipino captives:
Committee proceedings adjourned on June 28, 1902. For two months after this the legal team presenting evidence for the committee compiled its report. This report was released on August 29, 1902 under the title Secretary Root's Record: "Marked Severities" in Philippine Warfare, An Analysis of the Law and Facts Bearing on the Action and Utterances of President Roosevelt and Secretary Root. The report was a damning indictment of U.S. policy in the Philippines and the almost criminal conduct of the war by War Secretary Elihu Root, who multiple times had expressed support for the extreme measures implemented by the U.S. Army.
Altogether thirteen conclusions were drawn from the evidence, the most significant of which were:
1. That the destruction of Filipino life during the war has been so frightful that it cannot be explained as the result of ordinary civilized warfare.
2. That at the very outset of the war there was strong reason to believe that our troops were ordered by some officers to give no quarter, and that no investigation was had because it was reported by Lieut.-Colonel Crowder that the evidence "would implicate many others," General Elwell Otis saying that the charge was "not very grievous under the circumstances."
3. That from that time on, as is shown by the reports of killed and wounded and by direct testimony, the practice continued.
4. That the War Department has never made any earnest effort to investigate charges of this offence or to stop the practice.
5. That from the beginning of the war the practice of burning native towns and villages and laying waste the country has continued.
6. That the Secretary of War never made any attempt to check, or punish this method of war.
7. That from a very early day torture has been employed systematically to obtain information.
8. That no one has ever been seriously punished for this, and that since the first officers were reprimanded for hanging up prisoners no one has been punished at all until Major Glenn, in obedience to an imperative public sentiment, was tried for one of many offences, and received a farcical sentence.
9. That the Secretary of War never made any attempt to stop this barbarous practice while the war was in progress.
11. That the statements of Mr. Root’s, whether as to the origin of the war, its progress, or the methods by which it has been prosecuted, have been untrue.
12. That Mr. Root has shown a desire not to investigate, and, on the other hand, to conceal the truth touching the war and to shield the guilty, and by censorship and otherwise has largely succeeded.
13. That Mr. Root, then, is the real defendant in this case. The responsibility for what has disgraced the American name lies at his door. He is conspicuously the person to be investigated. The records of the War Department should be laid bare, that we may see what orders, what cablegrams, what reports, are there. His standard of humanity, his attitude toward witnesses, the position which he has taken, the statements which he has made, all prove that he is the last person to be charged with the duty of investigating charges which, if proved, recoil on him."
ONLINE READINGS (DOCUMENTS AND STUDIES)
Apolinario Mabini, The Philippine Revolution
Don Emilio Aguinaldo, True Version of The Philippine Revolution
1) Marcial P. Lichauco and Moorfield Storey, The Conquest of the Philippines by the United States, 1898-1925 (NY: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1926), pp. 36f.
2) Lichauco and Storey, The Conquest of the Philippines by the United States, 1898-1925, p. 46.
3) Lichauco and Storey, The Conquest of the Philippines by the United States, 1898-1925, p. 47.
4) Lichauco and Storey, The Conquest of the Philippines by the United States, 1898-1925, p. 47.
5) Lichauco and Storey, The Conquest of the Philippines by the United States, 1898-1925, p. 48.
6) Lichauco and Storey, The Conquest of the Philippines by the United States, 1898-1925, p. 51.
7) Lichauco and Storey, The Conquest of the Philippines by the United States, 1898-1925, p. 70.
11) Lichauco and Storey, The Conquest of the Philippines by the United States, 1898-1925, p. 92.
12) Lichauco and Storey, The Conquest of the Philippines by the United States, 1898-1925, p. 93.
13) Lichauco and Storey, The Conquest of the Philippines by the United States, 1898-1925, p. 120.
19) Lichauco and Storey, The Conquest of the Philippines by the United States, 1898-1925, p. 120.