American troops guarding the bridge over the River Pasig on the afternoon of the surrender. From Harper’s Pictorial History of the War with Spain, Vol. II, published by Harper and Brothers in 1899.
The Guerrilla War, 1900–02
The American occupation provoked strong opposition in much of the archipelago. As American troops entered the countryside, Filipino guerrillas ambushed patrols, attacked supply lines and communications, sniped at sentries, assassinated collaborators, sabotaged economic and social reform projects—and then disappeared into the population. Many insurgents believed that sustained guerrilla warfare would lead the American public to repudiate McKinley in the upcoming 1900 presidential election and induce the rapid withdrawal of the U.S. forces. Drawn largely from the same elites who controlled provincial towns, the guerrilla leadership had strong local connections that allowed it to raise recruits, secure supplies, and hide among the population. However, the most notable aspect of the guerrilla resistance was its regional variations. In almost half of the archipelago’s provinces no armed clashes between Americans and rebels occurred, and in other areas the occupying soldiers were more popular than their irregular opponents. Many of those who resisted the Americans had little or no connection to Aguinaldo. They included Muslims who sought martyrdom through ritual suicide attacks; indigenous religious cults; peasant movements that sought land reform; brigands; and local political factions that controlled armed gangs. In occupying the Philippines, the U.S. military stepped into a society that was breaking apart from ethnic, religious, and class rivalries. The U.S. armed forces attempted to put it back together again, village by village.
American pacification in the Philippines was characterized by a combination of conciliation and coercion. Heeding McKinley’s orders to act as an agent of benevolent assimilation, Army leaders sought to win Filipino support for colonial rule by progressive reforms in sanitation, health care, education, government policies, and the legal system. Otis deployed his forces into hundreds of company garrisons throughout the archipelago. The Army built roads, schools, markets, and wells, soldiers taught Filipino students in newly established schools, and Army doctors vaccinated thousands of civilians. Otis himself rewrote much of the archipelago’s law code, and other officers worked to create civil governments that would provide essential social services to their citizens.
Although such reform activities proved attractive to many Filipinos and gained Americans crucial support in some areas, in others the guerrillas fought on. The Americans had to employ considerable military coercion as well. Soldiers conducted extensive small-scale military operations, most of them patrols of fewer than 100 men, which scoured the surrounding countryside. Aided by Navy gunboats and mounted units, mobile forces soon developed practical and simple tactics for fighting in the jungles, swamps, and paddies. Against particularly skilled or elusive opponents, some soldiers focused on destroying homes, crops, and livestock—both as retribution and to deny the guerrillas supplies and shelter. By mid-1900, such destructive measures had become more and more common in some areas, leading to a sharp contrast between the benevolent policies articulated by the Army high command and the punitive sanctions that were practiced. Otis’s successor, Gen. Arthur MacArthur, recognized the depth and complexity of the guerrilla resistance, but was unwilling to follow the advice of many field officers and adopt more stringent pacification measures.
In December 1900, his resolve stiffened by McKinley’s reelection and increasing pressure from both the U.S. government and his field officers, MacArthur announced the implementation of more punitive measures against guerrillas and their supporters. He lifted many of the legal prohibitions, allowing officers to arrest, jail, fine, and deport suspects, and letting soldiers destroy the crops, livestock, and houses of guerrillas or their supporters. In early 1901, the tide of war clearly turned. American soldiers, most of them veterans of more than a year of fighting, swept through formerly invulnerable insurgent strongholds. Relying on increasingly effective intelligence, they broke up the insurgent logistical and recruitment networks. They were joined by an increasing number of Filipino soldiers, police, and militia. Insurgent leaders and their guerrillas began to surrender. Aguinaldo was captured in April and issued a proclamation urging his followers to surrender. Resistance would continue until May 1902 in some areas of Luzon and on the island of Samar, but the Philippine War was effectively won by the summer of 1901. On July 4, 1902, Pres. Theodore Roosevelt declared the “insurrection” officially over. The American-led constabulary brought a higher level of peace than had previously existed in the countryside, all but ending centuries-long problems of banditry, communal feuds, sectarian rebellions, and other violence.
Consequences of the Philippine War
The long-term consequences of the Philippine War are still debated. Revelations of American troop misconduct—the devastation of villages, the torture of suspected insurgents, and the summary execution of prisoner—were widely reported in the anti-imperialist press and prompted a Senate investigation in 1902. Although the U.S. administration and the military argued that only a few soldiers misbehaved, their opponents argued that the war had been won only by the indiscriminate slaughter of Filipino civilians. The administration’s assertions initially prevailed, and public outrage quickly turned to other concerns, such as regulating trusts and patent medicines, and debating issues of urban reform. However, the anti-imperialist argument revived with the isolationism that took hold after World War I and became the dominant intellectual paradigm during Vietnam, so that by the 1980s textbooks in the United States portrayed American troop behavior as racist, cruel, and murderous. Overlooked were the military’s social reforms in law, education, commerce, health, and transportation, which contributed to a general improvement in the welfare of the population. Overlooked too were the many examples of friendly relations between soldiers and Filipino civilians and the fact that tens of thousands of Filipinos assisted American military forces. Recently historians have accepted a more balanced interpretation of the war that emphasizes the localized nature of Philippine resistance and America’s ability to combine coercion and conciliation.
In many respects, however, the war and the ensuing occupation demonstrated the perils of imperial overreach. The Philippines did not prove to be an economic bonanza. Private financial investment in the islands was modest in scope, and influential Americans viewed Philippine products, particularly sugar, as unwelcome competition. Coupled with these fears were those of Filipino immigration and job competition, a concern that attracted a substantial racist presence to the anti-imperialist movement. As a result, a large number of Americans—farmers, laborers, supporters of Asian exclusion, liberal Democrats, isolationists— urged that the United States cut its ties to the Philippines. Nor did the islands provide sufficient economic or strategic entry into the Far East. With Japan’s emergence as the dominant power in the western Pacific in 1905, the islands became a strategic liability. They were too weak to serve as a base for offensive purposes and their defense drew matériel and personnel away from other, more important areas. By the 1930s American military and political leaders sought to undo the war’s result and to grant independence to the Philippines even before some Filipino leaders desired it. The Japanese attack in the Pacific at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, in December 1941 inflicted a humiliating defeat and taught Americans to reassess the high cost of empire.
Bibliography Gates, John Morgan. Schoolbooks and Krags: The United States Army in the Philippines, 1899–1902. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1975. Linn, Brian McAllister. Guardians of Empire: The U.S. Army and the Pacific, 1902–1940. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997. ———. The Philippine War, 1899–1902. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2000
Further Reading Birtle, Andrew J. U.S. Army Counterinsurgency and Contingency Operations Doctrine, 1860–1941. Washington, D.C.: Center of Military History, 1998. Boot, Max. The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power. New York: Basic Books, 2002. Trask, David F. The War with Spain in 1898. New York: Macmillan, 1981. Welch, Richard E. Response to Imperialism: The United States and the Philippine-American War, 1899–1902. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1979.