The Successful Iraq
How the United States defeated an insurgency in the Philippines.
News of both Samar and the cholera led to an outcry back in the United States. How could America, there to civilize the Filipinos, be responsible for such catastrophes? Senate hearings started in January 1902, and stretched into the spring. They were inconclusive, as were the courts martial of a number of soldiers involved in Samar, including Jacob Hurd Smith. With the winding down of the war, America lost interest, and Theodore Roosevelt, now president after McKinley's assassination the previous fall, was able to declare victory in July.
What does this tell us about today? Interestingly, many of the same issues that have dogged the current American campaign in Iraq dogged American efforts in the Philippines. These include the inability to recognize that the war was not over simply because we thought it should be over, the difficulty in adjusting to a new kind of war, the constant interaction of domestic politics and military affairs, and the divided command structure in the Philippines. And yet, the United States in the Philippines won not only the conventional war but the insurgency. Why?
The answer is relatively simple. The Americans, while they sought to win militarily, also worked to convince the Filipinos that there were advantages to being ruled by the United States. Actions such as the regularization of trade, the building of roads and railways, the revamping of the legal system, the constructing of hospitals and schools, and the awarding of amnesties to surrendering insurgents induced a substantial proportion of the population, revolutionaries, elites, and average Filipinos alike, to make their peace with the Americans. The counterinsurgency in the Philippines resembled a political campaign more than a military one, an election rather than a battle. It was successful enough that when, more than 40 years later, the son of Arthur MacArthur returned to the Japanese-occupied Philippines at the head of a vast American armada, Douglas MacArthur was greeted as a liberating savior. Victory, indeed.
David Silbey is an associate professor of history at Alvernia College and the author of A War of Frontier and Empire: The Philippine-American War, 1899-1902.