The Philippine American War

American Campaign of Brutality

The Philippine-American War was a war of attrition. The Americans identified their objective as the capture of Emilio Aguinaldo, the President of the fledging Philippine Republic. They initially perceived conquest and pacification as dependent on the fall of the Aguinaldo government. Because of their superiority in weapons, they also believed that the war would be short and swift in their favor. But the Americans were shocked at the courage and tenacity of the Filipinos who dragged the Americans into several years of battle.

The Filipinos waged a guerrilla warfare which was suitable for the country’s terrain and their limited firearms. Many of them were peasants by day and revolutionaries by night. They were sustained in their struggle by the unrelenting support of entire towns. Even if the American flag was displayed in the town and the local elite officials publicly acknowledged support to the United States, it did not matter since the guerrillas received food, supplies, and shelter from the people. It was dangerous for an American to stray away from the U.S. garrison lest he be hacked to death by the guerrillas and their sympathizers.

Towards the end of 1900, the Americans declared martial law. To combat guerrilla warfare, they launched a scorched-earth "pacification" campaign. Every Filipino, whom the Americans called "nigger", was viewed as an enemy regardless of whether he or she took up arms. Entire towns were held responsible for the actions of guerrillas. Mere objection to the Americans was termed treason. Villages sympathetic to the guerrilla were burned and people indiscriminately killed. Torture was systematically used to elicit information from suspected guerrillas or their symphatizers. One form of torture was the "water cure" treatment where the victim was forced to drink excessive amounts of water after which he was stomped on the stomach. These atrocities were widely known since the U.S. War Department imposed a blanket censorship, but American soldiers wrote to their families and relatives in the U.S. and related their activities. Some of these letters were eventually published in American local newspapers, thus highlighting the brutality of these "pacification" campaigns.

Part of the strategy was the introduction of "reconcentration", a policy of hauling an entire population into concentration camps to flush out the guerrillas among them and to cut their material support to the resistance movement. In the process of reconcentration, whole towns suffered from starvation and disease. Villagers were taken from their sources of livelihood and were not decently fed. Worse, living conditions were less than adequate, with people confined in overcrowded camps without proper sanitation. Camps then became breeding grounds for the spread of deadly diseases such as cholera.

Major General Franklin Bell wanted to break the resistance movement of the Batangueno Filipino General Miguel Malvar. The Batanguenos were forcibly brought into reconcentration camps. Everything outside the camp was confiscated or destroyed, and anyone caught outside was automatically deemed a guerrilla. In Batangas, casualties as a result of fighting and reconcentration surpassed 100,000.