1901: Philippines Peace Cost More Lives Than War (WSJ)

Walter Lippmann walterlx at enet.cu
Wed Jul 2 07:29:56 MDT 2003

Wall Street Journal
July 2, 2003

In 1901 Philippines, Peace Cost
More Lives Than the War Itself

Remember the Maine?

It was the catalyst for a brief war and then a longer
occupation of a foreign country that claimed far more
casualties than the war itself.

The American battleship Maine was standing by in Havana
harbor in February 1898, as the U.S. and Spain went
toe-to-toe over Cuba's independence. For several years,
Cuban insurgents had been revolting against Spain's colonial
government, and the country was a wreck. Thousands of
civilians were caught in the crossfire.

Some Americans fervently wanted President McKinley to help
Cuba renounce its mother country. American investors were
losing fortunes in the conflict.

But others, equally fervently, opposed intervening in
another nation's revolution. The U.S. economy had barely
recovered from a recession, and if Spain were able to enlist
Old World allies, America's military could be routed.

President McKinley began putting diplomatic pressure on
Spain to end the war and declared he wouldn't tolerate a
prolonged conflict.

Then, on Feb. 15, 1898, the Maine blew up.

History has never definitively fixed the blame for the
explosion and death of 260 American sailors, but prowar
forces quickly denounced the "cowardly Spanish conspiracy,"
as one newspaper put it. In Congress, militants forced the
moderates into retreat, and on April 25, Congress declared
war on Spain.

It was "a splendid little war," John Hay, America's
ambassador to England, later wrote. It was brief (four
months long), inexpensive, and "only" 460 American soldiers
died in battle. Late in 1898, representatives of Spain and
America met in Paris to negotiate a peace treaty. The U.S.
paid Spain $20 million to vacate not only Cuba, but also
Guam, Puerto Rico and the 7,100-island archipelago of the
Philippines. Although Filipinos were barred from
negotiations, the U.S. decided to take control of their

McKinley, who had earlier confessed he couldn't locate the
Philippines on a map "within 2000 miles," claimed, "there
was nothing left for us to do but to educate the Filipinos,
and uplift and civilize and Christianize them." A policy of
"benevolent assimilation," he called it.

Over the next three years, some 4,000 Americans -- about 10
times the number killed in the war itself -- died trying to
quell Filipino resistance. More than 200,000 Filipinos,
mostly civilians, also died.

In 1901, the U.S. established a civilian colonial government
in Manila, and quickly made advocating independence a crime
punishable by prison.

>From the Filipinos' point of view, their country had simply
been passed from one oppressor to another. Gen. Emilio
Aguinaldo, leader of the country's independence movement,
condemned the "violent and aggressive seizure" of the
Philippines "by a nation which has arrogated to itself the
title 'champion of oppressed nations.' "

The Sedition Law, passed the same year, went so far as to
impose long imprisonment, even death, on anyone who spoke,
wrote or published "scurrilous libels" against the colonial

In America, meanwhile, a debate raged over whether the U.S.
had the right to govern another country without its
citizens' consent. Andrew Carnegie, arguing against the
occupation, said, "Our young men volunteered to fight the
oppressor; I shall be surprised if they relish the work of
shooting down the oppressed."

Mark Twain also sympathized with the Filipinos, pitying them
for having "progress and civilization" foisted on them by
the "Blessings-of-Civilization Trust."

Those who supported America's presence in the Philippines
used both moral and economic arguments. "The Philippines are
ours forever," proclaimed Republican Sen. Albert Beveridge
of Indiana. "And just beyond the Philippines are China's
illimitable markets. We will not retreat from either. We
will not abandon our opportunity in the Orient. We will not
renounce our part in the mission of our race, trustee under
God, of the civilization of the world."

The conflict in the Philippines was neither little nor
splendid. Outmanned and outgunned, Filipino forces used
guerrilla tactics, picking off U.S. soldiers in small

American soldiers responded by turning some areas of the
country into "a howling wilderness," as Gen. Jacob Smith put
it. Col. George S. Anderson conceded that American soldiers
killed indiscriminately during raids on villages. "Many men
were shot as they fled," he said, "but they probably all
deserved it."

Three years after the battle for the Philippines began, the
U.S. declared the war over, and slowly began to withdraw its

Gradually, life began to return to normal. But many
Americans never understood what their country wanted with
the Philippines. As the comic character Mr. Dooley pondered
in 1898, "I don't know what to do with th' Ph'lippeens anny
more thin I did las' summer, befure I heerd tell iv thim ...
'twud be a disgrace f'r to lave befure we've pounded these
frindless an' ongrateful people into insinsibility."

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