by the US in the Philippines
by Heather Gray
|Filipinos at Cordillera Peoples Alliance Meeting - 1989 (Photo: Heather Gray)|
The Filipino-American War was a profound example of an unprovoked excessively violent war by the United States against the Filipino people in the beginning of the 20th century.
As noted by Filipino scholar E. San Juan, Americans know little about the Philippines and much less about the American war against the Philippines a century ago. He writes:
Smedley states that it is especially important to understand that imperial wars and conquests engaged in by the United States are to benefit the capitalists at the expense of everyone else. Those victims, obviously, include many of the US military and their colonial targets, who die and suffer to serve these capitalist interests.
"War is a Racket" Smedley said:
The Filipino crime, leading to this war by the US against them, was a desire for sovereignty and independence. The US would not allow the Filipinos to have either, then or in the future.
|Heather Gray (lft) with Filipino women in the Cordillera (1989)|
Torture and intimidation models
- Model Number One: Ruthlessly Taking of and Demanding Raw Materials and Access to Markets - in this case Asian markets, specifically China
- Model Number Two: Forced Subjugation through an Imperial Racist Mindset and Actions
- Model Number Three: Mass Killing and Concentration Camps
- Model Number Four: Water Torture
- Model Number Five: Resistance by American Troops and by those in the Invaded Country
- Model Number Six: On-going Control through Low Intensity Conflict, Military Presence and invariably Resistance and Reaction to all of the above.
Americans had three major goals for occupying the Philippines. One was to create a military presence to then access the markets of China. The second was to utilize the Philippine raw materials for US industry. US President William McKinley described the third. After praying to "Almighty God", McKinley said that a message came to him that Americans were in the Philippines to "uplift and civilize and christianize" Filipinos.
In this "unprovoked aggressive" war, there were some 70,000 American troops in the Philippines. This included four Black regiments, two regiments of which had been selected specifically for service in the Philippines.
The US also imposed a press censorship during the war but the press was informed anyway, largely by letters from the soldiers. Black soldiers, for one, repeatedly sent letters to the black press in the US. The Black soldiers in the Philippines, in fact, were consistently faced with the dilemma of being victims of racism from the white soldiers and many were also not thrilled about attempting to subject another people of color to American racism and they wrote about it. Many of these Black soldiers had also fought in Cuba.
In 1971 scholar Willard B. Gatewood published an excellent volume of letters by Black US soldiers in Cuba and the Philippines entitled "Smoked Yankees and the Struggle for Empire: Letters from Negro soldiers, 1898-1902". Below are some extracts from the book that demonstrate the dilemma many Black soldiers faced either to fight with zeal or to side with the Filipinos.
Resources? The Philippines has more than 7,100 islands, is considered a "crossroads of the Orient," is relatively close to China, has valuable minerals in significant amounts including nickel, iron and cooper, and has significant major crops such as rice and other tropical plants.
What appeared to be of most importance to Americans, however, was access to China:
It is also not surprising that white Americans brought with them their racist and white supremacist mindset into the Philippine arena. As Black soldier John W. Calloway, of the 24th Infantry, wrote to the Richmond Planet on November 16, 1899:
The whites have begun to establish their diabolical race hatred in all its home rancor in Manila, even endeavoring to propagate the phobia among the Spaniards and the Filipinos so as to be sure of the foundation of their supremacy when the civil rule that must necessarily follow the present military regime, is established (Gatewood).
I visited the Philippines in the late 1980s and witnessed on-going discrimination against Filipinos by Americans. Filipino males, for example, were not allowed into some American bars around the Subic Naval Base in the city of Olongapo. My guess is that this had something to do with the American males treatment of or interest in and exploitation of Filipino women. As the mayor of Olongapo said once "We don't have prostitution. We have entertainment with sex."
|Aeta children in the Philippines|
In fact, the land ultimately used for the U.S. Subic Naval Base as well as the Clark Air Force Base was the ancestral land of the Aeta people, who are considered Negritos. The Aeta were forced off their land by the Americans and persecuted routinely by the American military throughout the 20th century. There are parallels here to Native Americans being forced off their land in America.
It did not take long before many Black Americans and the Filipinos to establish close bonds. In fact, Manila's Chief of police commended the Black soldiers for their "exemplary behavior" that gave the police less trouble than any of the other American troops (Gatewood).
Most white Americans did not apreciate this Filipino and Black American friendship. It meant their supremacist mindset of controlling everyone was being significantly challenged.
Model Number Three: Mass killing and Concentration Camps
|"Kill Every One Over Ten"_ - General Jacob H. Smith|
U.S. Marines observe their slaughter of over 600 men, women and children at Mount Dajo on the Philippines island of Jolo on March 1906. President Theodore Roosevelt congratulated General Wood on "the brilliant feat of arms". Hundreds of thousands of Filipinos were killed in the U.S. conquest of the islands. It is known as the Moro Massacre.
Mark Twain was furious about the Moro Massacre and wrote passionately about the American hypocrisy.
This incident (was thrust) upon the world last Friday in an official cablegram from the commander of our forces in the Philippines to our Government at Washington. The substance of it was as follows:
I congratulate you and the officers and men of your command upon the brilliant feat of arms wherein you and they so well upheld the honor of the American flag. (signed) Theodore Roosevelt
His whole utterance is merely a convention. Not a word of what he said came out of his heart. He knew perfectly well that to pen six hundred helpless and weaponless savages in a hole like rats in a trap and massacre them in detail during a stretch of a day and a half, from a safe position on the heights above, was no brilliant feat of arms - and would not have been a brilliant feat of arms even if Christian America, represented by its salaried soldiers, had shot them down with Bibles and the Golden Rule.
"Slaughter" is a good word. Certainly there is not a better one in the Unabridged Dictionary for this occasion (Mark Twain).
|Young girl observes dead children in camp on the island of Negros-1989 (Photo: Heather Gray)|
This model of having concentration camps continued in the Philippines. The picture above is taken at a camp on the island of Negros where certain mountainous areas were evacuated by the Philippine military and/or paramiitary as they sought revolutionaries. This was during the 1980s Anti-Communist Campaign initiated by retired US General John Singlaub, President of the World Anti-Communist League, to destroy, intimidate and/or assassinate those engaged, for one, in the anti-US bases campaign. I was told this camp in Negros was the largest refugee camp in the Philippines since WWII. When I first walked into this room I saw it was filled with young children who were covered and on small beds. I thought they were asleep but then realized, and was told, they were all dead. The destabilization of being forced away from the security and sustenance of their homes resulted in the death of these young children. The young girl overlooking this tragedy is honoring one of her siblings along with meditation, incense and candles. As in the early 1900s, this was a "suburb of hell." One mother in the camp told me that American missionaries had offered to sell her a Bible. She told me she said to them, "I can't afford to buy food or my children much less a Bible"
E. San Juan addresses the varied reports on the estimates of killings during the Philippine American War.
Current controversy among scholars surrounds the tally of Filipino victims of US pacification. Journalist Bernard Fall cited the killing three million Filipinos in "the bloodiest colonial war (in proportion to population) ever fought by a white power in Asia," comparable to the carnage in Vietnam. Describing it as "among the cruelest conflicts in the annals of Western imperialism," Stanley Karnow, author of the award-winning "In Our Image", counts 200,000 civilians and 20,000 soldiers (1989, 194), while others give 600,000. Filipina historian Luzviminda Francisco arrives at the figure of 1.4 million Filipinos sacrificed for Uplift and Christianization-in a country ruled by Christian Spain for three hundred years. While Kipling at the outbreak of the war urged the US to "take up the White Man's burden" and tame the "new-caught sullen peoples, half-devil and half-child," Mark Twain wrote some of his fiery pieces denouncing "Benevolent Assimilation" as the "new name of the musket" and acidly harped on the "collateral damage" of the US "civilizing mission": "Thirty thousand [US soldiers] killed a million [Filipinos]. It seems a pity that the historian let that get out; it is really a most embarrassing circumstance" (1992, 62) (San Juan).
Model Number Four: Water Torture
The Americans began to utilize the deadly "water torture" against Filipinos - forcing huge amounts of water into their stomachs to then attempt to gather information. US General "Howling Jake" Smith insisted on its use in Samar. The US, however, was not pleased with Smith about this and court-martialed him, but the charges and punishment were flimsy at best:
U.S. soldiers torturing a Filipino in 1901. When the U.S. military waterboarded Filipinos - the practice was accepted. When the Japanese later waterboarded U.S. personnel in World War II_ America tried them for war crimes. (Ohio State University)
(Regarding the criteria for torture, as referred to by the United Nations, waterboarding fulfills all four criteria for torture): (1) (It) "causes severe physical and/or mental suffering" and can lead to death; (2) (It is) done intentionally, (3) for a specific purpose and (4) by a representative of a state - in this case the US. (Wikipedia)
|Troop C, 9th Cavalry, at Camp Lawton, Washington - before being sent to the Philippines in 1900. (T. Preiser - Special Collection - Suzzallo Library - University of Washington)|
David Fagan, one of the Black soldiers, deserted from the US ranks to fight alongside Filipinos and "for two years wreaked havoc upon the American forces" (Zinn). Fagen remains the most famous of the Black soldiers to fight with the Filipinos. He was from Tampa, Florida.
Close to area in the Cordillera where President Aguinaldo was captured.The painting in the background depicts Aguinaldo on the left. (Photo: Heather Gray)
Obviously this warning was heeded, as in 1901 the Americans created the Philippine Constabulary, comprised of Filipinos, who would work at the behest of and ruthlessly serve US interests during the U.S. colonization of the Philippines as well as the Filipino elite. The US maintained military bases throughout most of the 20th century that were also intimidating to many Filipinos.
With its creation of the Philippine Constabulary (PC), the United States launched its Low Intensity Conflict (LIC) strategy in the Philippines - in other words "don't get the US hands dirty, let someone else do the brutal work." So while it might be "low" intensity for the United States, it is exceptionally "high" intensity for its victims. The PC is still in existence today, and its reactionary and mercenary origins have remained intact. Throughout the 20th century it has played a key role in suppressing peasant revolts and anti-US intervention movements.
In addition, the US police departments are also described as LIC models as they generally serve the interests of the wealthy elite and most certainly not the masses which is similar to mission of the Philippine Constabulary. Some have said, wisely, that the US police departments and LIC practices are the legacy of the American "slave patrols" that worked on behalf of America's slaveholders.
The Philippine Constabulary and the Joint US Military Advisory Group have been a deadly mix in the Philippines for more than a century.
To the surprise of the US government, in the early 1990s the Philippine Senate overturned the MBA, which called for the closing of the Subic Naval Base and the Clark Air Force Base. But under George W. Bush in the early 2000s, after 9/11, US troops were sent into the Philippines to, it was said, counter the Muslim activism in the Philippines. This was likely an excuse to maintain the US military presence in the area.
The invasion of the Philippines by the United States in 1899 was an unprovoked war as was the case in the invasion of Iraq in 2003 under the George W. Bush administration. Both resulted in an expression of racial bias and unrestrained violence and arrogance and both have made huge amounts of money, for one, for corporate America and in particular its military industrial complex. President Eisenhower wi