Mohamad Radytio Nugrahanto – Indonesia
At the twilight of 19th century, Spanish Imperialism was on its death row, with much of its colonial possessions were either revolting or taken away by other ascendant empires. One of them was the Philippines, an archipelago colony in South East Asia which was marching toward its independence led by numerous armed freedom fighters who had proclaimed the Philippines as an independent republic. They had managed to defeat most of colonial Spanish garrisons and cemented their rule on the archipelago before another brutal colonial power arrived.
At the Treaty of Paris in 1898, the Spanish empire relinquished its possession of Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines after they had lost the war against the U.S. in Cuba. This provision enabled the Americans to take control over the aforementioned colonies; however, in the Philippines the situation was fast changing, with Spain virtually had no control over the archipelago other than the greater Manila region. The people of Philippines refused to comply with the treaty signed by the colonial powers, claiming that since they have declared independence on June 12, 1898, more than 5 months before the Treaty’s signing on 12 December 1898, the Philippines is already an independent country and thus held the sovereignty over their country. Furthermore, as written by Filipino historian Teodoro Agoncillo, the first Philippine president Emilio Aguinaldo stated that the Americans persuaded him to return to the Philippines to give final blow against the Spanish colonial authority, and he was assured that the U.S. Navy would be sent to protect the freedom fighters and their new republic, not to rule over them. U.S. President William McKinley however, issued what he called as “Benevolent Assimilation” proclamation and after some protracted diplomatic efforts, sent the US military to attack the Philippine freedom fighters. What happened during the next thirteen years, up until the defeat of the last Philippine fighter in Mindanao Bangsamoro Muslim region can only be described as the first genocide of 20th century.
Historian John Gates estimated that of all casualties during the main stage of the war in 1899-1904, 34,000 of non-Muslim Filipions died as a direct result of the war, while about 200,000 died as a result of cholera epidemic up to the end of the war. This may not count other Filipino casualties which resulted from general atrocities of the Americans, who increased the tallies up to 1 million Filipinos. It sums up to staggering 1.2 million casualties in the Philippines’s side, or up to 12 % of more than 9 million Philippines population from the last census during Spanish colonial era. Even when we consider a 1971 findings in “The Theory and Fallacies of Counter-Insurgency” a study by E. Ahmed who examined the history of United States’ counter-insurgency strategies, the number of total casualties reached 3 Million Filipinos, or about a third of its colonial population. This figure, while may not be scientific for the span of war in 1899-1904 and because there were discrepancies in census figures released by Spanish and U.S. colonial authorities, may reflect the reality of the conflicts spanning from 1899-1913, when the last Bangsamoro Muslim fighter in Mindanao was defeated.
Historical data from period of direct war itself supports the 1.2 Million figures. Records found by Howard Zinn, the author of A People’s History of the United States (1980) reveals about 300,000 people, and both civilian and guerrillas were killed in Luzon sub region of Batangas. Another book, American Neocolonialism by William Pomeroy found about 600,000 Filipinos died in Luzon. Pomeryos’ findings was also supported by statement of General Franklin Bell, one of U.S. military leader at the time who recalled the exact number of Filipinos side.
This does not include the number of casualties throughout the sequence of the war. Historical treatises estimate about 5,000 battles that took place during the process of American colonization of Philippines, and while some of those are surely part of Luzon and Batangas campaigns, others were the battles that happened throughout the Philippines. Moreover, each battle was filled with hallmarks of genocide, as told by many testimonies of firsthand accounts:
From The Conquest of the Philippines by the United States, 1898-1925 regarding general J.M. Bell, one of regional military campaign’s leader :
“I am now assembling in the neighborhood of 2,500 men who will be used in columns of about fifty men each. I take so large a command for the purpose of thoroughly searching each ravine, valley and mountain peak for insurgents and for food, expecting to destroy everything I find outside of towns. All able bodied men will be killed or captured. ... These people need a thrashing to teach them some good common sense; and they should have it for the good of all concerned “
Another testimony, by Sergeant Howard McFarland of the 43rd Infantry, wrote to the Fairfield Journal of Maine:
“I am now stationed in a small town in charge of twenty-five men, and have a territory of twenty miles to patrol.... At the best, this is a very rich country; and we want it. My way of getting it would be to put a regiment into a skirmish line, and blow every nigger into a nigger heaven. On Thursday, March 29, eighteen of my company killed seventy-five nigger bolo men and ten of the nigger gunners. When we find one that is not dead, we have bayonets”
U.S. Soldier L. F. Adams that was enlisted with the Washington regiment, described what he saw after the Battle of Manila on February 4-5, 1899:
“In the path of the Washington Regiment and Battery D of the Sixth Artillery there were 1,008 dead niggers, and a great many wounded. We burned all their houses. I don't know how many men, women, and children the Tennessee boys did kill. They would not take any prisoners.”
On the Island of Samar (south of Luzon), regional military campaign’s leader General Jacob H. Smith gave the following order (as reported by Manila Times):
"'I want no prisoners. I wish you to kill and burn: the more you kill and burn, the better you will please me,' and, further, that he wanted all persons killed who were capable of bearing arms and in actual hostilities against the United States, and did, in reply to a question by Major Waller asking for an age limit, designate the limit as ten years of age. ... General Smith did give instructions to Major Waller to 'kill and burn' and 'make Samar a howling wilderness,' and he admits that he wanted everybody killed capable of bearing arms, and that he did specify all over ten years of age, as the Samar boys of that age were equally as dangerous as their elders."
And a testimony found by Philip S. Foner and Richard Winchester and in written in their book, The Anti-Imperialist Reader: A Documentary History of Anti-Imperialism in the United States:
From 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. “
But why the United States doing such an atrocities? I mean, from one of U.S. Senate Investigating Committee hearing’s excerpts below:
"Of late by reason of the conduct of the troops, such as the extensive burning of the barrios in trying to lay waste the country so that the insurgents cannot occupy it, the torturing of natives by so-called water cure and other methods, in order to obtain information, the harsh treatment of natives generally, and the failure of inexperienced, lately appointed Lieutenants commanding posts, to distinguish between those who are friendly and those unfriendly and to treat every native as if he were, whether or no, an insurrection at heart, this favorable sentiment above referred to is being fast destroyed and a deep hatred toward us engendered. “
-Major Cornelius Gardener, the U.S. Army's Provincial Governor of the Tayabas province in the Philippines –
We are able to know that their extrinsic motivations were to gain control over the archipelago and suppress dissent against U.S. rule. But what is their intrinsic motivation(s) to do organized things that –as shown by statements, testimonies, and statistical data – becoming a textbook example of genocide?
These testimonies demonstrate that even in the battle, U.S. Army showed no respect towards rules of war. In every battle, there were surrendering soldiers and after each battle there were many surrendering Filipinos killed. With nearly 5,000 battles, we can reasonably see an up to 1.2 million casualties, about 12 % of Philippines population or about 10 % of Hitler’s casualties 40 years later in largescale transnational war.
It could be racism, as shown in one of the testimonies where U.S. Soldiers were calling the Filipinos “nigger”; it could also be from a sense of superiority, as shown in “benevolent” claims of president McKinley that the Filipinos need to be “helped” ; it could also be plunder, as shown by the soldiers’ recognizing the Philippine land is indeed rich.
But more than all, an excerpt from Philippine member of House of Representative Antonio L. Tinio’s speech may be the best answer to the question: “Our history teaches us that American imperialism, which was bent during the 19th century on expanding its economic and military might by dominating the territorial spoils of Spain, has never left our land even after it “ended” its occupation. It has persisted until now, and even seeks to further entrench itself in the name of political, military, and economic positioning and domination. “
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