U.S. Government Must Officially Apologize
for Atrocities in Philippine-American War
By Prof. Roland G. Simbulan
National Chairperson, Nuclear Free Philippines Coalition
Fil-Am Day Statement, July 3, 1998 Media Briefing, UCCP Building, 877 EDSA, Quezon City.
On the occasion of "Philippine-American Friendship Day" this July 4, on the year of our Independence Centennial, we are starting a campaign both here and in the United States, to correct and rectify the historical distortions committed against the Filipino people and the nation during the Philippine-American War. This was a "dirty" war treacherously begun when the United States from 1899 to 1902 snatched away the gains of the newly-born Philippine republic, and committed atrocities of genocidal proportions in a conflict which was objectively an American war of conquest.
It is high time that the Filipino people sought an official act of atonement and an official apology from the U.S. government for the American aggression and the countless atrocities committed against Asia's first Philippine Republic, its heroic sons and daughters.
Filipino historians like Agoncillo and Constantino have estimated that more than 300,000 Filipinos, mostly civilians perished as a result of the American onslaught against our new-born Philippine Republic. The most barbaric forms of torture and interrogation such as "water cure" as well as scorched earth military tactics and the brutal "reconcentration" of civilians were applied against the Filipino people. The most inhuman and brutal tactics experimented earlier against American Indian tribes in the American frontier were again applied and practiced by U.S. military veterans of the Indian campaigns. Worse, all of these are treated in all official U.S. documents and history books as part of "the Philippine Insurrection" to disguise the nature of the Filipino people's heroic resistance.
The term "Philippine Insurrection" implies an uprising against an already established American regime in the Philippines where for the most part, the conflict was objectively an American War of conquest, invasion and forcible occupation. We launch this campaign - both here and in the U.S. for an official public apology from the U.S. government, even as we seek the support of the Estrada administration to back up this campaign to rectify that past. Just as Asian countries have successfully sought the official public apology by the Japanese government for its atrocities during World War II, we now likewise seek the rectification and correction of the real "war of independence and liberation" during the Philippine-American War. History must at the least officially take stock of the truth for, it is "the truth that shall set us free."
On this occasion of Fil-Am Day, we specifically recommend the following measures to be taken by the Estrada Administration in the implementation of an independent foreign policy towards the United States:
To seek an official public apology from the U.S. government for the snatching of Philippine independence, and the atrocities and genocide committed during the Philippine-American War;
To officially seek from the U.S. government the correction in all official U.S. documents, historic markers and history books of the term "Philippine insurrection" to describe the 1899-1902 armed conflict between the Philippines and the U.S. and instead change it to "Philippine-American War" between two established sovereign states;
The Philippine government should correct its past records to officially exonerate and vindicate Filipino independence fighters from the masses like Macario Sakay, Benito Natividad, Francisco Carreon, Julian Montalan, Lucio de Vega, Leon Villafuerte, Aniceto Aruga, Cornelia Felizardo, Asedillo among others who were hanged and persecuted as common criminals and felons at Muntinlupa and by the American Colonial Courts in the early 1900s. These records must now exonerate these sons and daughters of our people;
The Estrada Administration must seek the renaming of colonial streets like "Taft Avenue" and others still named after Filipino collaborators and opportunistic elite and instead be named after Filipino freedom fighters like Sakay who have for so long been wronged by official history;
The Estrada Administration should review the former Ramos administration's Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) and take a stand consistent with Pres. Estrada's pro-sovereignty position when he was with the "Magnificent 12" Senators.
U.S. ambassador Thomas Hubbard's recent remarks that he is optimistic about the ratification of the proposed Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) under the incoming Estrada Administration is MISPLACED as it miscalculates the depth and width of present-day Philippine nationalism which seeks a more equitable relationship with all countries based on mutual respect and reciprocity.
U.S. ambassador Hubbard should be reminded that President Estrada, unlike his predecessors, does not owe his victory as president to the sponsorship of the United States, but to the poor majority of Filipinos who have long been impoverished by U.S.-designed and IMF-packaged policies in the Philippines. President Estrada, in his past declarations and deeds as Senator and Vice president of the Republic, has been known to advocate friendly ties with the United States and other countries but based on the principles of mutual-respect, reciprocal relations and the advancement of Philippine national interest. This was precisely why he had voted to terminate U.S. military bases in 1991.
The Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) cannot be consistent with these principles because:
a) The United States through the VFA can bring into Philippine territory, nuclear weapons without any official declaration on the contrary, in gross violation of the Philippine Constitution;
b) The United States can commit crimes against ordinary Filipino citizens especially women and children, and yet, if certified on official duty, be immune from Philippine courts and laws;
c) U.S. military personnel through the VFA are given special privileges and exemptions concerning visa requirements, harbor and customs regulations and fees, driving permits and licenses, upon the entry and stay in the Philippines (which is not specified or limited), without any reciprocal agreement concerning similar numbers of visiting Filipino military personnel in the United States.
Furthermore, the Visiting Forces Agreement is not consistent with true friendship with other countries, much more with respect to an ally. It is also inconsistent with the desire of an increasing number of American taxpayers from U.S. churches, academe, trade unions, professionals, etc. not to use the U.S. armed forces in foreign conflicts and interventionist policies.
We hope that the Estrada administration will have more dignified foreign policy that does not support the interventionist policies of the United States. The Filipino masses voted overwhelmingly for the Estrada administration so that it can make a difference.
We hope too, that the Estrada administration will undertake an independent foreign policy truly reflective of the Constitutional policies of "national sovereignty, territorial integrity, national interest and the right to self-determination." Finally, we hope that it can effectively enforce the charter's policy of freedom from nuclear weapons, not only nationally, but also regionally in the ASEAN region.
American Soldiers in the Philippines Write Home about the War
During the U.S. war in the Philippines between 1899 and 1904 (which grew out of the Spanish-American War that had erupted in 1898), ordinary American soldiers shared the nationalist zeal of their commanders and pursued the Filipino “enemy” with brutality and sometimes outright lawlessness. Racism, which flourished in the United States in this period, led American soldiers to repeatedly assert their desire “to get at the niggers.” An anti-imperialist movement, which rejected annexation by the United States of former Spanish colonies like Puerto Rico and the Philippines, attempted to build opposition at home to the increasingly brutal war. Although few soldiers joined the anti-imperialist cause, their statements did sometimes provide ammunition for the opponents of annexation and war. In 1899, the Anti-Imperialist League published a pamphlet of Soldiers Letters, with the provocative subtitle: “Being Materials for a History of a War of Criminal Aggression.” Historian Jim Zwick notes that the publication “was immediately controversial. Supporters of the war discounted the accounts of atrocities as the boasting of soldiers wanting to impress their friends and families at home or, because the identities of some of the writers were withheld from publication, as outright fabrications.” But the brutal portrayal of the war that is found in these letters (excerpts from twenty-seven of them are included here) is supported in other accounts.
Private Fred B. Hinchman, Company A. United States Engineers, writes from Manila, February 22d:
At 1:30 o’clock the general gave me a memorandum with regard to sending out a Tennessee battalion to the line. He tersely put it that “they were looking for a fight.” At the Puente Colgante [suspension bridge] I met one of our company, who told me that the Fourteenth and Washingtons were driving all before them, and taking no prisoners. This is now our rule of procedure for cause. After delivering my message I had not walked a block when I heard shots down the street. Hurrying forward, I found a group of our men taking pot-shots across the river, into a bamboo thicket, at about 1,200 yards. I longed to join them, but had my reply to take back, and that, of course, was the first thing to attend to I reached the office at 3 P.M., just in time to see a platoon of the Washingtons, with about fifty prisoners, who had been taken before they learned how not to take them.
Arthur H. Vickers, Sergeant in the First Nebraska Regiment:
I am not afraid, and am always ready to do my duty, but I would like some one to tell me what we are fighting for.
Guy Williams, of the Iowa Regiment:
The soldiers made short work of the whole thing. They looted every house, and found almost everything, from a pair of wooden shoes up to a piano, and they carried everything off or destroyed it. Talk of the natives plundering the towns: I don’t think they are in it with the Fiftieth Iowa.
General Reeve, lately Colonel of the Thirteenth Minnesota Regiment:
I deprecate this war, this slaughter of our own boys and of the Filipinos, because it seems to me that we are doing something that is contrary to our principles in the past. Certainly we are doing something that we should have shrunk from not so very long ago.
Sergeant Elliott, of Company G, Kansas Regiment:
Most of the general officers think it will take years, and a large force of soldiers, to thoroughly subjugate the natives. And the unpleasant feature of this is that unless the conditions change radically there will be few soldiers who will care to stay there. There’s no use trying to conceal the fact that many of the men over there now, especially the volunteers, are homesick, and tired of fighting way off there, with nothing in particular to gain. There is not one man in the whole army now in the Philippines who would not willingly give up his life for the flag if it was necessary, but it isn’t pleasant to think about dying at the hands of a foe little better than a savage, and so far away from home. And the thought of its not ending for several years is not an especially pleasant one, either.
Charles Bremer, of Minneapolis, Kansas, describing the fight at Caloocan:
Company I had taken a few prisoners, and stopped. The colonel ordered them up in to line time after time, and finally sent Captain Bishop back to start them. There occurred the hardest sight I ever saw. They had four prisoners, and didn’t know what to do with them. They asked Captain Bishop what to do, and he said: “You know the orders,” and four natives fell dead.
Sylvester Walker, of the Twenty-third Regulars, February 20:
There has not been a night for the last ten days we have not had fighting. Our force is too weak, and we cannot spare any more men, and will have to wait for more troops. Then we will have hard fighting, for there are so many that, no matter how many we kill or capture, it doesn’t seem to lessen their number.
Martin P. Olson, of the Fourteenth Regulars:
We can lick them, but it will take us a long time, because there are about 150,000 of the dagos back in the hills, and as soon as one of them gets killed or wounded there is a man to take his place at once; and we have but a few men in the first place, but we are expecting about 8,000 more soldiers every day, and I hope they will soon get here, or we will all be tired out and sick. . . . This is an awful bad climate and there have been from two to four funerals every day. The boys have chronic diarrhea and dysentery, and it just knocks the poor boys out. You mustn’t feel uneasy about me, because I don’t think there is a Spanish bullet made to kill me; it is disease that I am most afraid of.
Fred D. Sweet, of the Utah Light Battery:
The scene reminded me of the shooting of jack-rabbits in Utah, only the rabbits sometimes got away, but the insurgents did not.
Capt. Albert Otis, describes his exploits at Santa Ana:
I have six horses and three carriages in my yard, and enough small plunder for a family of six. The house I had at Santa Ana had five pianos. I couldn’t take them, so I put a big grand piano out of a second-story window. You can guess its finish. Everything is pretty quiet about here now. I expect we will not be kept here very long now. Give my love to all.
Ellis G. Davis, Company A, 20th Kansas:
They will never surrender until their whole race is exterminated. They are fighting for a good cause, and the Americans should be the last of all nations to transgress upon such rights. Their independence is dearer to them than life, as ours was in years gone by, and is today. They should have their independence, and would have had it if those who make the laws in America had not been so slow in deciding the Philippine question Of course, we have to fight now to protect the honor of our country but there is not a man who enlisted to fight these people, and should the United States annex these islands, none but the most bloodthirsty will claim himself a hero. This is not a lack of patriotism, but my honest belief.
J. E. Fetterly, a Nebraska soldier:
Some think the insurgents are disheartened, but I think they will make a desperate struggle for what they consider their rights. I do not approve of the course our government is pursuing with these people. If all men are created equal, they have some rights which ought to be respected.
Arthur Minkler, of the Kansas Regiment says:
We advanced four miles and we fought every inch of the way; . . . saw twenty-five dead insurgents in one place and twenty-seven in another, besides a whole lot of them scattered along that I did not count. . . . It was like hunting rabbits; an insurgent would jump out of a hole or the brush and run; he would not get very far. . . . I suppose you are not interested in the way we do the job. We do not take prisoners. At least the Twentieth Kansas do not.
Burr Ellis, of Frazier Valley, California:
They did not commence fighting over here (Cavite) for several days after the war commenced. Dewey gave them till nine o’clock one day to surrender, and that night they all left but a few out to their trenches, and those that they left burned up the town, and when the town commenced burning the troops were ordered in as far as possible and said, Kill all we could find. I ran off from the hospital and went ahead with the scouts. And bet, I did not cross the ocean for the fun there was in it, so the first one I found, he was in a house, down on his knees fanning a fire, trying to burn the house, and I pulled my old Long Tom to my shoulder and left him to burn with the fire, which he did. I got his knife, and another jumped out of the window and ran, and I brought him to the ground like a jack-rabbit. I killed seven that I know of, and one more I am almost sure of: I shot ten shots at him running and knocked him down, and that evening the boys out in front of our trenches now found one with his arm shot off at shoulder and dead as h___ ; I had lots of fun that morning. There were five jumped out of the brush and cut one of the Iowa band boys, and we killed every one of them, and I was sent back to quarters in the hurry. Came very near getting a court-martial, but the colonel said he had heard that I had done excellent work and he laughed and said: “There’s good stuff in that man,” and told me not to leave any more without orders. Well, John, there will always be trouble here with the natives unless they annihilate all of them as fast as they come to them.
Tom Crandall, of the Nebraska Regiment:
The boys are getting sick of fighting these heathens, and all say we volunteered to fight Spain, not heathens. Their patriotism is wearing off. We all want to come home very bad. If I ever get out of this army I will never get into another. They will be fighting four hundred years, and then never whip these people, for there are not enough of us to follow them up........The people of the United States ought to raise a howl and have us sent home.
Captain Elliott, of the Kansas Regiment, February 27th:
Talk about war being “hell,” this war beats the hottest estimate ever made of that locality. Caloocan was supposed to contain seventeen thousand inhabitants. The Twentieth Kansas swept through it, and now Caloocan contains not one living native. Of the buildings, the battered walls of the great church and dismal prison alone remain. The village of Maypaja, where our first fight occurred on the night of the fourth, had five thousand people in it at that day,—now not one stone remains upon top of another. You can only faintly imagine this terrible scene of desolation. War is worse than hell.
Leonard F. Adams, of Ozark, in the Washington Regiment:
I don’t know how many men, women, and children the Tennessee boys did kill. They would not take any prisoners. One company of the Tennessee boys was sent into headquarters with thirty prisoners, and got there with about a hundred chickens and no prisoners.
D. M. Mickle, Tennessee Regiment, at Iloilo:
The building had been taken possession of by a United States officer, and he looted it to a finish. I suspected something and followed one of his men to the place. I expected to be jumped on by the officer as soon as I found him there, as I was away from my post, but it seems he was afraid I would give him away; in fact, we were both afraid of each other. He was half drunk, and every time he saw me look at anything he would say, “Tennessee, do you like that? Well, put it in your pocket”........The house was a fine one, and richly furnished, but had been looted to a finish. The contents of every drawer had been emptied on the floor. You have no idea what a mania for destruction the average man has when the fear of the law is removed. I have see them—old sober business men too—knock chandeliers and plate-glass mirrors to pieces just because they couldn’t carry them off. It is such a pity.
Theodore Conley, of a Kansas Regiment:
Talk about dead Indians! Why, they are lying everywhere. The trenches are full of them........More harrowing still: think of the brave men from this country, men who were willing to sacrifice their lives for the freedom of Cuba, dying in battle and from disease, in a war waged for the purpose of conquering people who are fighting as the Cubans fought against Spanish tyranny and misrule. There is not a feature of the whole miserable business that a patriotic American citizen, one who loves to read of the brave deeds of the American colonists in the splendid struggle for American independence, can look upon with complacency, much less with pride. This war is reversing history. It places the American people and the government of the United States in the position occupied by Great Britain in 1776. It is an utterly causeless and defenseless war, and it should be abandoned by this government without delay. The longer it is continued, the greater crime it becomes—a crime against human liberty as well as against Christianity and civilization........Those not killed in the trenches were killed when they tried to come out........No wonder they can’t shoot, with that light thrown on them; shells bursting and infantry pouring in lead all the time. Honest to God, I feel sorry for them.
F. A. Blake, of California, in charge of the Red Cross:
I never saw such execution in my life, and hope never to see such sights as met me on all sides as our little corps passed over the field, dressing wounded. Legs and arms nearly demolished; total decapitation; horrible wounds in chests and abdomens, showing the determination of our soldiers to kill every native in sight. The Filipinos did stand their ground heroically, contesting every inch, but proved themselves unable to stand the deadly fire of our well-trained and eager boys in blue. I counted seventy-nine dead natives in one small field, and learn that on the other side of the river their bodies were stacked up for breastworks.
Colonel Funston, Twentieth Kansas Volunteers:
The boys go for the enemy as if they were chasing jackrabbits........I, for one, hope that Uncle Sam will apply the chastening rod, good, hard, and plenty, and lay it on until they come into the reservation and promise
We Are Repeating the Mistake We Made in the Philippines 100 Years Ago
By William Loren Katz
Mr. Katz has been affiliated with New York University for more than twenty years and is the author of forty books on US history.
Weapons of mass destruction, a slam-dunk war followed by a no-end-in-sight occupation? We’ve been here before when a century ago the U.S. first sent an army overseas to accomplish regime change and liberate a resource-rich land from tyranny.
It began in February, 1898 when an explosion sunk the U.S. battleship Maine in Havana harbor. Since Cubans lived under a cruel Spanish colonialism, a pro-war U.S. press felt free to claim that Spain unleashed a weapon of mass destruction, and to whip up "Remember the Maine" fever. No weapon was ever found -- it was a boiler explosion that sank the Maine -- and though Spain agreed to President McKinley’s main demands, Congress declared war with a promise to free Cuba.
Secretary of State John Hay called it "a splendid little war" because in less than a hundred days the U.S. liberated 13 million people and 165,000 square miles of colonies from Puerto Rico to Guam and the Philippines, and with only 379 combat deaths. But disease and embalmed meat war profiteers sold to the Army killed another 5,462 U.S. soldiers.
Leading the hawks in 1898 was a young, flamboyant Teddy Roosevelt, an assistant secretary of the Navy who claimed war stimulated "spiritual renewal," and the "clear instinct for racial selfishness." Not a man to hide in the National Guard, TR personally led his "Rough Riders" at San Juan Hill, and returned from Cuba with one regret –"there was not enough war to go around."
Now he was riding to the White House.
For two years General Emilio Aguinaldo and his freedom-fighting guerilla army had fought Spain’s cruel occupation fully ready to govern a free Philippines. But before he left for Cuba, TR sent Admiral George Dewey’s U.S. fleet to Manila Bay where it sank the Spanish fleet. Dewey assured Aguinaldo the U.S. "had come to . . . free the Filipinos from the yoke of Spain." But U.S. troops landed on Luzon, prevented Aguinaldo from entering Manila, and Washington appointed a puppet government.
Filipinos first welcomed Americans as liberators. But in June when Aguinaldo issued a declaration of independence, the pro-war U.S. press began to demonize Aguinaldo, and a U.S. general told Congress that Filipinos who wanted freedom had "no more idea of its meaning than a shepherd dog."
President McKinley said he spent many sleepless nights agonizing about the Philippines. The president called his program "benevolent assimilation." The influential San Francisco Argonaut was more candid: "We do not want the Filipinos. We want the Philippines. The islands are enormously rich, but unfortunately, they are infested with Filipinos."
A U.S. army of 70,000 [including 6,000 Black troops] was sent to pacify the islands and, as more than one white soldier said, "just itching to get at the niggers." General William Shafter told a journalist it might be necessary to kill half the population to bring "perfect justice" to the other half.
After General Jack Smith promised to turn the Philippines into a "howling wilderness" most casualties were civilians. Smith defined the foe as any male or female "ten years and up," and told his soldiers: "I want no prisoners. I wish you to kill and burn; the more you kill and burn the better it will please me."
U.S. officers encouraged the use of torture, murder of prisoners, and massacre of villagers, including women and children. A Kansas soldier wrote "The country won’t be pacified until the niggers are killed off like the Indians."
Another white soldier reported brutal "sights you could hardly believe" and he reached this conclusion: "A white man seems to forget that he is human."
The U.S. had entered a quagmire. "The Filipino masses are loyal to Aguinaldo and the government he leads," conceded U.S. General Arthur MacArthur. He thought the foe "needed bayonet treatment for at least a decade." His time assessment proved prophetic. In early 1901 a U.S. journalist concluded "that the Filipino hates U.S. . . permanent guerrilla warfare will continue for years."
He reported endless guerilla attacks that took one or two U.S. lives at a time and created a "spirit of bitterness in the rank and file of the army." A U.S. Red Cross worker reported "American soldiers are determined to kill every Filipino in sight" and said he saw "horribly mutilated Filipino bodies."
In March, 1901 U.S. officers saw victory when Aguinaldo was captured, agreed to swear allegiance to the United States, and to persuade his officers to accept amnesty. But quagmires can sink fond hopes. Six months later guerillas on Samar attacked a U.S. garrison and massacred 45 U.S. officers and enlisted men with bolos and bare hands. The occupation’s most shocking defeat exposed U.S. propaganda about a defeated foe and a easy occupation. The U.S. media compared Samar to General Custer at the Little Big Horn, pro-imperialist editors talked about being "hoodwinked," and The San Francisco Call reminded Americans "a conquered people" do not remain conquered for long. "It is utterly foolish to pretend . . . the end is in sight," admitted General Adna Chaffee.
By 1902 U.S. Senate hearings and scores of Army court martial trials found that U.S. occupying forces were guilty of "war crimes." General Robert Hughes admitted he ordered the burning of villages and murder of women and children. When asked by a Senator if this was "civilized warfare," he answered, "these people are not civilized." The Baltimore American wondered why the U.S. carried out "we went to war to banish."
President Teddy Roosevelt followed McKinley to the White House and continued to justify the occupation, dismiss Filipinos as "Chinese half-breeds," and to insist this was "the most glorious war in our nation's history." Congress spent $170 million on its occupation.
Mark Twain, two former presidents and other prominent citizens formed an Anti-Imperialist League that had tens of thousands attending protest meetings and signing petitions that denounced U.S. atrocities and imperial designs. One prominent African American bravely declared:"We shall neither fight for such a country nor with such an army," and many others spoke out as well. The African American press stood united against a U.S. government that exported its racist "deviltry" overseas, and some labor unions began to connect the dots between overseas imperialism and government suppression of strikes at home.
Nearly three thousand military actions continued until 1911, took 200,000 Filipino lives, and the U.S. suffered 4,234 combat deaths. More than a dozen US servicemen defected to Aguinaldo, and half of these were African Americans although soldiers of color comprised less than ten percent of the US army of occupation.
Filipino independence came in 1945 but bitterness continued with Washington support for brutal dictators such as Ferdinand Marcos who looted his country for twenty years. Vice President George Walker Bush arrived in Manila to praise Marcos "adherence to democratic principles" and the next year a massive, nonviolent uprising forced Marcos to flee.
On October 18, 2003 President George W. Bush came to Manila to promote his war on terrorism. For the Philippine Congress, he rewrote history when he said: "Together our soldiers liberated the Philippines."
Our first overseas venture a hundred years ago offers insights into our occupation of Iraq. People always prefer self rule to a foreign master. Resisting self-determination was unpleasant long ago, and it has not and will not be pleasant now. Presidential lies come around to bite again.