Duration of Philippine-American War: 1899-1913

By Jim Zwick (February 4, 1999). Copyright © 1999 Jim Zwick. All rights reserved.

The centennials of the Philippine Revolution and the Philippine-American War have led to a long-needed reexamination of Philippine and U.S. history. Only in March of 1998 did the U.S. Library of Congress finally abandon its antiquated "Philippine Insurrection" subject category in favor of two new ones: "Philippine Revolution, 1896-1898" and "Philippine-American War, 1899-1902." But as the Philippine Daily Inquirer's editorial of Feb. 4 pointed out, the Revolution continued beyond 1898, and the war lasted much longer than three years.

I first came upon these problems while researching Mark Twain's writings on the war. He wrote the satirical story "The War Prayer" in 1905, and in March of 1906 he wrote a scathing indictment of the U.S. troops who massacred 900 Muslim Filipinos -- men, women and children -- at Bud Dajo. The Filipinos were trapped in the volcanic crater and fired upon for four days from the heights above until all were reported killed (one young girl survived). Twain continued to comment on the war and U.S. imperialism until at least 1908, but the events of those years that inspired his writings were not covered in any history of the war I could find.

Although the war was never declared in the first place, U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt declared it over on July 4, 1902. The date was not only symbolic but politically expedient. Less than a week before the U.S. senate had concluded embarrassing hearings that delved into U.S. Army atrocities during the war. The hearings included testimony by soldiers about use of the "water cure" torture and Gen. Jacob Smith's order to "kill and burn" and turn Samar into a "howling wilderness." Roosevelt was faced with growing domestic opposition to the already unpopular war. If it was over, the revelations of atrocities would no longer be politically relevant.

But the war continued, and further denials of its existence were necessary. On November 26, 1902, the Philippine Commission passed a "Brigandage Act" that defined any further resistance to U.S. rule as "banditry." As Orlino Ochosa has discussed in his book, "Bandoleros": Outlawed Guerrillas of the Philippine-American War, 1903-1907, the last holdouts among the Filipino officers on the northern front were hanged as bandits in 1907. Their deaths provided the U.S. with the opportunity to establish the Philippine Assembly that year. Its creation had been delayed until "pacification" was complete in the northern islands. But that wasn't the end, either.

The war had a second front that is rarely recognized in U.S. or Filipino scholarship. Warfare with the Muslim Filipinos was avoided in 1899 through the Bates Agreement which promised them autonomy in exchange for recognition of nominal U.S. rule. Once the warfare in the north began to subside, the U.S. abrogated that agreement in 1903 and commenced military operations aimed at exerting full U.S. control over the southern islands. Two of the worst massacres of the war took place in the south in 1906 and 1913 (about 500 Muslim Filipinos were reported killed at Bud Bagsak in June 1913), and Moro Province remained under U.S. military government until the end of December 1913.

It is true that the U.S. established stable colonial control of the northern islands while the war in the south was taking place. But to accept that the Philippine-American War ended any earlier than December 1913 would seem to require complete dismissal of the U.S. military's divide and conquer strategy that took advantage of still existing divisions within the Philippine population.

During the centennial we should also examine the later years of the war. It had a devastating impact on a truly national scale in the Philippines, and it was not only America's "first Vietnam" but the longest war in U.S. history.

Jim Zwick is the author of Militarism and Repression in the Philippines (1982), the editor of Mark Twain's Weapons of Satire: Anti-Imperialist Writings on the Philippine-American War (1992), and has published articles about the Anti-Imperialist League and Mark Twain's anti-imperialist writings in Amerasia Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, Over Here: Reviews in American Studies (UK), the Mark Twain Journal, Filipinas Magazine, and elsewhere. From 1989 to 1994 he also edited the FFP Bulletin published by Friends of the Filipino People.


josé miguel said...

In this post, the Philippine Daily Inquirer's editorial of Feb. 4 pointed out, the Revolution continued beyond 1898, and the war lasted much longer than three years.

The sentence started with the word 'revolution' which is usually associated with a political conflict between the government and the governed within a nation. Relatedly, it is also associated with the conflict between a colonizer and the colonized. Then the sentence ended with using the word, 'war' which is usually associated with a hostile conflict between nations.

The editor should have decided which is which.

But based on the post, which we can also base on many other available sources, the conflict is apparently between two nations. We have separated ourselves from Spain as their colony and established our own nation. It implies that we were already an established sovereign nation with boundaries, before the Americans invaded us.

The Americans did not colonize a loose collection of people. No! They were trespassing in our territory. They were intruders.

Therefore as a sovereign nation, they do not have the right to any of their claims of being our colonizer, mentor, protectorate, or grantor of our independence.

Language influences our perception of reality which influences our actions.

josé miguel said...

Designating the term 'revolution' to our struggle to free ourselves from being a colony of a nation as Spain, to being an independent nation is appropriate. This is already settled.

However, to also designate the term 'revolution' to the conflict between two sovereign nations- one is an invading nation as the Americans, and the other is us, the Filipinos, a defending nation, is irrational.

Such designation of the term to our conflict with our invaders leads our focus away from a foreign enemy. Since it is a revolution as in the revolutions in history of the world, focus of conflict would naturally lead us to an internal social situation. Thus the usual terms like, insurgency, counter-insurgency, politics, opposition, administratiion, rebels, masses, the rich, class conflict, military, civilians, loyalists, or reformists are used. It is simply a conflict among compatriots. We are so divided and ruled by others.

Why can we not instead use the terms: us the Filipinos; they the foreigners; resistance to invasion; treason; defend our integrity; defend our sovereignty?
Can we not unite as one people of different classes with diferent functions as we rule ourselves?

The foreign invader- the Americans, though still in existence today, is too unthinkable in the context of a revolution. There are just no terms for it available in the language of a revolution.

Thus if the term 'Filipino-American War' in the 1900s seems to us as just a fable, continuation of the American invasion today out of that war becomes romantic, absurd or simply archaic.

It is no wonder that for a Filipino soldier among us, to describe our mission as counter-insurgency has become instinctive. But to think of mission as to defend our nation against foreign invaders is taboo or outlandish.

Why did this happen?