Reviewed by T. R. Brereton (Georgetown College, Georgetown, Kentucky)
Published on H-War (September, 2000)
Few American conflicts have been as misunderstood or misinterpreted as the Philippine War, once labeled the Philippine Insurrection. It is certainly more forgotten than Korea, America's other "forgotten" war. Scholarly works on the subject over the last thirty years have mostly perceived the U.S. Army's effort to subdue and pacify the archipelago as America's "first Vietnam," using it as an object lesson in American ignorance, arrogance, and self-righteousness abroad. Only a handful of works take the trouble to view the Philippine War from a non-partisan viewpoint, among them being John M. Gates, Schoolbooks and Krags: The United States Army in the Philippines, 1899-1902 (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1973); Glenn A. May, Battle for Batangas: A Philippine Province at War (Quezon City: New Day Press, 1993); and, of course, Brian M. Linn, The U.S. Army and Counterinsurgency in the Philippine War, 1899-1902 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989).
The publication of Linn's first book, noted above, was an important turning point for military historians of the period, for they were treated to a detailed, objective account of army anti-guerrilla operations on the island of Luzon. Linn's latest effort, under review here, broadens appreciably his earlier work by examining the war in its entirety. Most important, perhaps, is that Linn carefully scrutinizes the performance and effectiveness of the Filipino resistance.
The Philippine War is divided into two parts. Part one charts American military policy as the army waged a conventional campaign through 1899, chiefly on the island of Luzon, and offers the reader a detailed picture of Philippine leader Emilio Aguinaldo's inability to wage this sort of war. Part two covers the subsequent guerrilla campaign on the various islands of the Philippine archipelago, concentrating on operations in Luzon, the Visayas, Panay, and Samar. Both sections are written with flair and confidence, for Linn has exhaustively researched available archival and secondary sources. The Philippine War is, then, the definitive work on the subject.
Linn begins with the controversial Battle of Manila, which has been ably described by David F. Trask, The War with Spain in 1898 (New York: Macmillan, 1981), and Graham Cosmas, An Army for Empire: The United States Army and the Spanish-American War (Colombia: University of Missouri Press, 1971). As American forces occupied Manila after George Dewey's naval victory, they encountered Aguinaldo's Army of Liberation, which hoped to take the city itself and declare a Philippine Republic. A tense stalemate developed that ultimately ended in hostilities, the responsibility for which Linn places on the rebels. He absolves Aguinaldo, noting that conflict with the Americans was not in his political interest. Aguinaldo's own situation, however, was fraught with difficulty. Philippine politics were byzantine and intensely local, and the resistance movement disorganized and divided along class lines. Aguinaldo was a national leader in name only, and he had little control over his subordinates, with whom he frequently quarreled.
Although the rebels probably initiated the war, American soldiers were not without fault. They quickly lost respect for resistance soldiers and referred to them in derogatory terms, while inviting attack by setting up vulnerable and isolated defensive positions outside Manila. The rebels, while well-trained and committed, were simply not prepared to challenge a disciplined army and were easily routed. According to Linn, Aguinaldo was a poor strategist in the conventional sense for he was confused over how to respond. Yet even while attempting to create a European-style army, he simultaneously began making arrangements to pursue a decentralized guerrilla war.
In their armed encounters with the rebels, American soldiers proved to be a "tough, aggressive, capable force" (p. 63). Linn unfortunately does not contrast the Battle of Manila with the Santiago Campaign, and one is left to wonder what degree of lesson-learning took place in between. Linn does note, albeit in passing, the success of American infantry tactics as espoused in the 1891 Infantry Drill Regulations, but this reader would have preferred more attention to the actual conduct of battle than Linn provides. The commander of the American Eighth Corps, Major General Elwell S. Otis, is credited for providing sound leadership and generally good planning, although Linn's opinion of Otis declines as the book progresses.
Despite the combat effectiveness of the U.S. Army in the Philippines, commanders were continually hamstrung by the dual task of occupying and administering territory while fighting hostile forces at the same time. Troops sufficient for both never seemed to be available, and Linn censures Otis for his "inability to shift from the narrow focus and penny-pinching of the peacetime army to the demands of war" (p. 101). Otis' plan for subduing Luzon was stymied by several major and many minor guerrilla attacks, and a general deficiency in numbers made pacification difficult at best. Otis followed a plan similar to Sherman's march to the sea, the point being to separate the Filipino army from its sources of food and supply. The methods by which this was carried out, Linn writes, assured that the "Philippine War would be an extremely destructive one" (p. 94). Unlike Sherman's campaign, however, American soldiers faced difficult terrain, horrible weather, and inadequate logistical support. Despite these problems, and Otis' "reputation for timidity and meddling," (p. 112), Luzon was successfully occupied by the end of 1899.
The situation for the Philippine resistance was much worse. As noted, Aguinaldo had little more than titular control over the resistance, and his authority was frequently challenged or ignored. Aguinaldo's chief subordinate, Antonio Luna, was by far the most troublesome, while the army itself was "riddled by factions" (p. 105). The nature of Philippine politics also thwarted Aguinaldo's efforts to achieve national unity. This is nowhere better described than in Linn's coverage of the campaign in the Visayas. The inhabitants of these and other islands and provinces considered themselves more-or-less autonomous, and took instructions from Aguinaldo only when it suited their own interests. At the local level nearly everywhere in the Philippines blood feuds, petty rivalries and class antagonisms frequently erupted into chaos which, of course, magnified the army's task of pacification while weakening Filipino solidarity. Once American forces had seized Luzon, and after the inopportune death of Luna, Aguinaldo was unable "to revive the fighting spirit of the Army of Liberation" (p. 137). It was in this defeat, however, that Aguinaldo probably had his best chance for ultimate victory, by pursuing a protracted guerrilla war. Otis still had "no clear program" for how to govern the islands, and he even admitted that his campaign had resulted only in the occupation of large amounts of territory "'without strategic importance'" (pp. 117, 121).
After some initial reluctance, Aguinaldo declared guerrilla war in November, 1899, which his subordinates quickly and easily adopted. While doing so played to the strength of the rebels, for Aguinaldo it meant the loss of what little control he had over the independence movement. Linn strongly suggests that Aguinaldo's decision was sound and consistent with a modern guerrilla strategy of "a war of attrition, of wearing down an opponent over a long period through exhaustion, disease, and steady bloodletting" (p. 187). The flaw in his strategy, however, was to fight a protracted war for a short-term result; in this case, convincing the American public to elect William Jennings Bryan over William McKinley. Aguinaldo evidently made no contingency plans in case this failed, and thus deprived the resistance with any sort of long-term unifying goal.
Still, the rebels plied their strategy to great effect, and resistance leaders went so far as to publish handbooks and manuals on guerrilla fighting. While they were hindered by a lack of suitable weapons and ammunition, Filipino soldiers had the great advantage, gleaned from years of fighting the Spanish, of excellent intelligence. Deception was also key; while "friendly" local governments met the demands of American pacification, real power lay in the hands of guerrilla-led "shadow governments." But if insurgent operations depend on the cooperation of local populations, then Filipino guerrillas violated a key principle of insurgency by following a systematic campaign of terror against those populations. Given the choice, many Philippine villages accepted assimilation and the protection it provided. Here Linn overturns suggestions that most Filipinos supported the guerrillas, noting the readiness of civilians to at least tolerate occupation, a general absence of political awareness, and the reluctance of rebel leaders to institute popular reforms such as land redistribution. "Once driven out of their home area, [guerrillas] became outsiders elsewhere" (p. 197). Linn credits the success of American anti-guerrilla operations largely to the use of garrison duty, which gave commanders valuable local information, maintained the American presence, and kept guerrillas on the run. Linn seconds Gates' Schoolbooks and Krags by noting the effectiveness of internal improvements and education. American military governors generally adopted a "live and let live" program that granted local governments considerable freedom, since civilians and politicians alike knew the Americans were watching.
Although it was not official policy, American commanders were also implementing General Order 100, which prescribed how guerrillas, civilians, and private property should be treated during war. Much has been made of Major General Arthur MacArthur's adoption of G.O. 100, after he succeeded Otis in May, 1900. Linn makes it clear that this was little more than a formality, and that MacArthur's solution had "little originality" since it was already in practice (p. 210). MacArthur simply stepped up the punitive measures of G.O. 100 and adopted a "hard" policy of pacification that punished civilian supporters of the rebellion, destroyed guerrilla shadow governments, and purged legitimate governments of rebel sympathizers. Linn therefore does not credit MacArthur for hastening the end of the Philippine War. He suggests there was "little support" for MacArthur among his subordinates, and that "he was a distant and unloved figure . . . [who] rarely ventured from Manila and seldom met even his senior commanders" (p. 218). Despite this, the resolute application of G.O. 100 had immediate results: the first month of 1901 saw the surrender of increasing numbers of rebel leaders, culminating with the capture of Aguinaldo in April.
Linn's overview of the guerrilla campaign is astute and concise, and in the remaining chapters of the book he brings unprecedented detail to American operations throughout the archipelago in the final years of the war. Along the way he tackles complicated and thorny issues such as the Balangia Massacre, promises to turn the Philippines into a "howling wilderness," and the Waller Affair, among others. Such incidents are grist to the mill of moralistic authors who are more apt to uphold lurid but suspect anecdotal accounts of American atrocities than examine the facts. Fortunately for Linn, and for his readers, there is plenty of evidence to dispel most accusations of atrocities, and Linn has combed through all of it.
The Philippine War is unusual in that "a vast mythology that continues to this day" (p. 311) has been built up around alleged wrong-doing by American soldiers, to the extent that myth has become preferable to truth. Anyone who has read Stuart Creighton Miller's review of Linn's The U.S. Army and Counterinsurgency in the Philippine War in the Pacific Historical Review knows the extent to which some prefer the myth. Certainly Linn does not excuse documented atrocities, although he convincingly demonstrates that many of the more celebrated accounts have been embellished or even fabricated in the service of a particular point-of-view. He is also careful to note that American soldiers generally acted according to the accepted laws and conduct of war in force at the time. Actions that may be seem repellent and even criminal to the modern observer were often justifiably motivated, and it is important to remember that perceptions of morality change. Context always matters.
While no book can serve as the final word on any subject of historical interest, Linn's latest effort will undoubtedly remain the definitive work on the Philippine War for a long time to come. It is unquestionably a "must-have" for historians of the U.S. Army, and Linn deserves our hearty appreciation.
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T. R. Brereton. Review of Linn, Brian McAllister, The Philippine War, 1899-1902.
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