Who started the guerrilla war

Guerrilla warfare : America's fall from grace

The man was shocked. He had seen the dead, men, women, even children of just ten years of age, murdered "without the least evidence that they were insurgents at all". American soldiers, lined up in the name of freedom, treated the enemy as if he were "barely higher than a dog or a disgusting reptile," wrote the Philadelphia Ledger correspondent. Prisoners were pumped full of salt water to get them to talk. Others were placed on a bridge and shot one after the other.

The gruesome event happened over 100 years ago in the Philippines. In early 1901 the man from Philadelphia came to the conclusion in his report: “Our current war is not a bloodless mirror-fencing or an operetta.” But the story is reminiscent of the wars in Vietnam and Iraq in many ways. How did the US get into this swamp? And hadn't they wanted to free the Filipinos from their oppression?

It started with a triumph: the victory over Spain. The rule of the old colonial power in Cuba was viewed by the Americans as barbarism. In April 1898, President William McKinley gave the marching orders. The US Navy attacked Spanish bases around the world. Cuba was quickly conquered. The Philippines came as a bonus. On May 1, 1898, Commodore George Dewey and his squadron destroyed the Spanish fleet off Manila. The peace treaty of Paris dictated the new world order on December 10th: Spain lost the remnants of its overseas empire. Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines fell to the United States.

What should happen to the more than 7,000 islands of the Philippine archipelago and its seven million people? At first, the American President William McKinley seemed modest: the United States should be content with a naval base. But then the devout Methodist remembered his missionary ambitions. McKinley told fellow believers: "We have no choice but to take care of all of them and to educate and uplift Filipinos, to Christianize and, with God's help, do the best we can for them, our fellow men."

In the judgment of historians, McKinley's bold claim does not get off well. According to Richard E. Welch, who taught American history at Lafayette College in Easton for over 30 years, the president "didn't know the least thing" about Filipinos. How little knowledge he had of the situation in the Philippines was shown by his eagerness to Christianize a people who had been Catholic for centuries. For Welch's colleague Stanley Karnow, who received the Pulitzer Prize in 1990 for his story of the Philippine archipelago, this episode marks a crucial point in America's process of experience: “For the first time US soldiers fought overseas. And for the first time America conquered land that was beyond its coasts - the former colony in turn became a colonialist. "

Three weeks after his triumph over Spain's fleet, Dewey, promoted to rear admiral, received the Filipino guerrilla leader Emilio Aguinaldo on board his flagship. The 29-year-old Aguinaldo came from an influential family. At the age of 17 he had already become the head of the suburb of his home parish. In 1895 he joined the nationalist secret society of the Katipunan, a year later the Filipinos rose against Spanish colonial rule. A bitter guerrilla war broke out.

Aguinaldo was promoted to general within a few months. Despite some successes against the Spaniards, there was no decisive victory. On December 14, 1897, Aguinaldo was forced to sign an armistice. He himself went into exile in Hong Kong.

When the US went to war with Spain, Aguinaldo saw the time had come for his return. After talking to American diplomats, he believed in an alliance against the Spanish colonial rulers. He went on board the "USS Olympia" with great expectations. There are contradicting views on the outcome of the meeting: Aguinaldo told his compatriots that he had agreed with Dewey to join forces against the Spaniards who remained on the islands and then to found an independent republic. Dewey denied that.

When Aguinaldo proclaimed the independence of the Philippines on June 12, 1898, no American representative was present. Rather, the US officially took over sovereignty over the Philippine archipelago on December 21. The insurgents responded by electing a constituent assembly. The Republic of the Philippines was proclaimed on January 23, 1899, and Aguinaldo was its first president.

Meanwhile, heated debates had begun in the American Senate, which had to ratify the Paris Peace Treaty with Spain. The opponents described the agreement as an imperialist attack. Proponents countered that it was "ridiculous" to recognize Filipinos as independent; Rather, America has a duty to "civilize" the backward Filipinos.

News of an attack by Filipino insurgents on US positions in Manila ended the discussion. The historical tragedy: As it turned out later, on the evening of February 4, 1899, there had been a skirmish. But the first shot was fired by an American soldier. "We come as helping angels, not as despots," Senator Knute Nelson assured his colleagues from Minnesota. They ratified the Paris Peace Treaty by 57 votes to 27.

America’s business people were excited. The Philippines was seen as the gateway to China, a huge, new market. "There is no way we can leave the Philippines to France or Germany, our trade rivals in the Orient," President McKinley wrote. But along with the Philippines, the United States inherited from Spain the clashes with the insurgents.

US soldiers had never fought outside of America. And apart from the Indian Wars, they had not yet faced an opponent who was defending the independence of his country. As a result, they had no idea what to expect from their campaign against the "Googoos," as they called the Filipinos.

With the self-confidence of the unsuspecting, the US Army went into battle. It began in February 1899 with an open field battle for Manila. The outcome was clear from the start: the rebels had a larger armed force with 15,000 men, but the American expeditionary corps with 12,000 soldiers was superior to them in terms of training and equipment. The American invading forces went ashore in successive waves of attack. But the Americans wanted to fight an enemy whose motives they did not know. The "New York Times" correspondent and Pulitzer Prize winner Stephen Kinzer quotes in his story of American imperialism from the letters of the US soldiers home. In them, they told their relatives and friends that they would fight "until the niggers are killed like the Indians".

The insurgents changed their strategy. Given their inferiority in face-to-face confrontation, they adopted guerrilla tactics. They set traps, fires and explosive charges. They poisoned the enemy, slit his throat and mutilated prisoners. The American officers, including veterans from the Indian Wars, responded with cruel retaliation: When two US companies southeast of Manila were ambushed, the commanding general ordered every village within a radius of 18 kilometers to be leveled to the ground.

This went unnoticed in the world for the time being, because the US Army imposed censorship during the first half of the war. It was only after the 1901 was lifted that the Americans learned how the fighting really went.

The turn of the war was the afternoon of March 23, 1901: Brigadier General Frederick Funston had learned of Aguinaldo's whereabouts on the island of Luzon. With the help of Filipino scouts, Funston managed to arrest the guerrilla leader and his officers. A month later, Aguinaldo issued a statement: he accepted American sovereignty and asked his followers to stop the fight. Thousands answered the call. But the conclusion of General Arthur MacArthur, who was in command in the Philippines, that the insurrection was "almost completely suppressed" was premature: the remaining insurgents fought even more doggedly. On September 28, 1901, they raided a US position in the village of Balangiga on the third largest island of Samar. The brutality of the attack - of 74 Americans survived 20 - caused the war to escalate again.

The American punitive expedition was commanded by Jacob H. Smith. The Colonel had participated in the Wounded Knee massacre on the Dakota reservation at home a decade earlier. That broke the last resistance of the Indians. In the Philippines, Smith ordered his men to kill anyone over the age of ten who was able to carry a weapon. The island was to be turned into "one great desert".

Since the insurgent attackers disguised themselves as civilians, the Americans made no distinction between those involved and those who were not involved. In retaliation, they killed an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 Filipinos, burned fields, slaughtered cattle, and destroyed dozen of settlements.

Until the Balangiga massacre, many Americans at home believed that their soldiers were acting on a higher moral level. Now a spate of revelations ripped the home front out of its ignorance. Reporters learned details of torture practices from returnees. The most notorious method was the "water cure": bamboo sticks were inserted into the prisoner's esophagus. They were used to fill his stomach with dirty water until his stomach bloated in excruciating pain. In order to squeeze the water out again, soldiers finally jumped on their stomachs.

A wave of indignation ran through the American press in 1901: "We are actually so far that we are doing the very things we went to war for the sake of abolishing", protested the "Baltimore American". The Indianapolis News complained that the United States had adopted “methods of barbarism”. And the "New York Post" ruled that the American troops had "made targeted mass murder their strategy". The protest storm was followed by a counter-campaign. The "New York Times" showed understanding for the US soldiers: "Brave officers loyal to their country" had reacted to the "cruel, traitorous and murderous" Filipinos. The Providence Journal cautioned readers to close their eyes to the "insight" that "fire must be fought with fire."

President McKinley was not to see the end of the discussion. He was the victim of an anarchist assassin on September 6, 1901 while visiting an exhibition in Buffalo, New York. His successor, Theodor Roosevelt, was not an advocate of the war in the Philippines, but he won over his friend Henry Cabot Lodge to defend the troops' honor. The Massachusetts Senator admitted in a speech to the Senate that there was such a thing as "the hydrotherapy and cruel treatments to get information." But those who live "in America in a sheltered home, far away from the tumult of the battle and the rigors of war" cannot understand the challenge "to bring the law to a semi-civilized people with all the characteristics and traits typical of Asians" .

The strategy of total war was hardly an issue in the Senate hearings. The committee of inquiry even dispensed with a final report. Only the officers responsible for the "Hell of Samar" and the terror against the civilian population on Luzon were convicted and dishonorably discharged from the army.

On July 4, 1902, American Independence Day, President Roosevelt declared the Philippines pacified. The Filipinos' struggle for independence had failed for the time being, and their most important leaders were either dead or captured. Only in the Muslim south did fighting continue until 1913. It was not until 1946 that the Philippines would gain independence. But “pacifying” the archipelago had become far more costly for the USA than originally planned: In three and a half years, 4,347 of the more than 130,000 US soldiers deployed had died. On the Philippine side, at least 20,000 guerrillas - a quarter of the insurgent army - and, according to recent estimates, up to three quarters of a million civilians died. That would correspond to ten percent of the population at the time.

In view of the number of victims, Stephen Kinzer speaks of "the worst reprisals that American officers have ever ordered". The successful American author draws a conclusion that seems shockingly topical: “The Filipinos will remember these years as one of the bloodiest times in their history. The Americans quickly forgot that the war had ever existed. "

How will the US look to Afghanistan and Iraq one day?

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