The U.S. War Against Asia
by William P. Meyers

Note: This is a work in progress, and one I am not likely to finish (short of receiving a grant or an offer from a larger publisher) for some time. Everything posted here should be considered a draft. [Main Page, U.S. War Against Asia]

The U.S. Conquest of the Philippines

Off the Asian mainland there is an extensive group of islands including Sakhalin and the Kuril islands in the north that runs south to Australia. One set of these islands is now known as the Philippines. To the north of the major Philippine island of Luzon are some small islands and Taiwan (formerly Formosa). To the south of the major Philippine island of Mindanao are islands now identified with Indonesia.

The islands of the Philippines (there are over 7000) were settled by various peoples migrating from Asia and other islands over a long period of time. The predominant group were Austronesians from Taiwan, but over time they separated into numerous ethnic groups. There also were trade routes that brought “modern” mainland Asians to the islands over time. Europeans first recorded arrival was in 1521. By 1565 Spain was the effective ruler of the Philippines and soon Roman Catholicism became the dominant religion.

By 1880 a campaign for more rights for native Filipinos was well underway. It should also be noted that the Moslem areas of Mindano and Sulu in the southern islands were never successfully ruled by Spain. “Spain never had an easy time in pacifying its Philippine colony and in the course of over three centuries of colonial rule, scarcely a year went by which did not witness rebellion in one form or another somewhere in the archipelago.” In 1896 the Philippine Revolution was launched by the Katipunan (founded in 1892) and allied groups. In 1897 a Provisional Republican Government was established.
[Fast p. 299-300].

By the 1880's American businessmen had also become interested in the Islands. To understand why some U.S. businessmen coveted the Philippines you have to understand the importance of sugar in the global economy of that era. The growing, processing, and marketing of sugar was a globally important business and had been for several centuries. In the 17th century much of the wealth of England, France and Spain was minted by growing sugar cane (Saccharum officinarum) in the Caribbean using the labor of slaves who had been captured in Africa. Sucrose or cane sugar is found in many plants, but the industrial alternative to production from sugar cane in the 19th century was production from sugar beets. By the beginning of the 20th century total sugar production was in the vicinity of 6 million tons annually and sugar consumption in the United States had reached over 2 million tons, only 275 thousand tons having been grown in the continental United States.

Sugar cane could only be grown in the extreme southern parts of the United States, notably in Florida and Louisiana. To keep the price of raw sugar and their profits high Louisiana sugar farmers had lobbied for and received very high tariffs (import taxes) on imported raw and manufactured sugar. This put them at odds with the sugar manufacturing industry, who had been united into a near-monopoly, the Sugar Trust, by 1890. “Under normal conditions prior to the American-Spanish War, with labor abundant, the average cost of production sugar in Cuba was believed to be about 2.125 cents per pound.” But the tariff jacked up the price of raw sugar entering the U.S. [1902 Encyclopedia, p. 6067-6070]

The Sugar Trust wanted to bring a massive amount of sugar production inside the tariff barriers. It found allies in men who believed in expanding U.S. territories. The situation of the Hawaiian Islands was discussed in the prior chapter. A target of opportunity was Spain’s remaining New World possessions, notably Puerto Rico and Cuba. Most of the Americas were already independent from Spain, which was economically weak, and had a weaker military still. In addition there were independence movements within each island.

Cruel Spain! The greed of U.S. businessmen for possessions, especially sugar plantations, could be masked in a righteous campaign to “liberate” Cuba, the Philippines and Puerto Rico from Spain. The explosion (probably self-inflicted) that sank the US battleship Maine while anchored in Havana harbor on February 15, 1898, gave the United States, headed by President William McKinley, a pretext for war. The Sugar Trust had helped elect McKinley; when Spain met American demands in negotiations, McKinley simply made more demands. On April 11, 1898, the United States of America declared war. [Bailey p. 617-618 and Fast p. 145-157]

Back in the Philippines the Spanish Empire was already in deep trouble. The Philippine independence movement controlled essentially all of the islands except the city of Manila.

Admiral Dewey had a war fleet of six ships at Hong Kong (funny how everyone reads this fact and never asks, what was an American war fleet doing in Hong Kong, China in 1898 anyway?) which had been instructed by Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt on February 25, 1898 to attack the Philippines if war did break out. Dewey entered Manila harbor on May 1; the next morning the modern American fleet destroyed the larger but ancient Spanish fleet. Dewey brought with him Emilio Aguinaldo, who had been in exile in China. But Dewey was not in a position to take the fortified Spanish soldiers, who were already holed up trying defend themselves from the Philippine army. On August 13, 1898, with reinforcements from the United States, the Philippine and US Armies captured Manila. But, by pre-arrangement, the Spanish surrendered to the Americans, not the Filipinos. [Fast p. 301]

Dewey had promised Aguinaldo that the U.S. intended to help the Filipinos gain independence from Spain. Filipinos thought they had gained their independence. On June 12, 1898 the Filipinos declared their independence and the establishment of the Philippine Republic. But the Sugar Trust knew better. The people living in the Philippines had simply changed masters.

Dewey’s battleships remained in Manila harbor and U.S. troops occupied the city, which was surrounded by Filipino soldiers. In December 1898 Spain ceded the Philippines to the U.S.A. in the Treaty of Paris. Fighting between the American invaders and the Filipino people began February 4, 1899, initiated by the American commanders, who wished to influence the vote to ratify the Treaty of Paris in the U.S. Senate on February 6th. The treaty was ratified by a single vote.

Just as the Spanish army and navy had been no match for the U.S. war machine, the army of the Philippines was not equipped to take on America in open battle. Dewey positioned his ships to fire 500 lb artillery shells into the Filipino trench works around Manila. The Filipinos outnumbered the American soldiers but did not have adequate numbers of rifles, much less artillery. Thousands were killed in the first day of battle. After that the Filipinos fought a mobile, or guerrilla, warfare. The American commander, General Elwell Otis, predicted a quick victory. [Fast 302-303]

American troops quickly captured Malolos, capital of the Philippine Republic, but Aguinaldo declared his camp to be his capital. In the jungles of Luzon the military advantage of the Americans was greatly reduced. Unfortunately the American officers realized the mobility of the Army of the Philippine Republic was based on the support it had among the peasants and in the villagers. The foe was not just an army; it was an entire people. In the summer of 1899 Otis asked for more troops. On June 10th the Filipinos under generals Ricarte and Noriel actually won the battle of Laguna against 4000 American troops. After the American reinforcement was complete in October, the American strategy focused on capturing Aguinaldo and the establishment of garrisons throughout the islands. Villages were burned and civilians murdered. [Fast 303-306]

Meanwhile, despite press censorship, the American people began to hear of war atrocities through letters written home by soldiers. The War Department simply denied the stories. General Otis had been an Indian fighter; these were the new Indians, described as savages requiring savage methods.

Despite near universal popular support the Philippines army was not winning the war. A naval blockade prevented them from obtaining rifles and ammunition. Men fought armed only with spears and bolos. General Otis was forced to resign, but General Arthur MacArthur, another experienced Indian fighter, was even crueler. At the same time William Howard Taft was sent to establish a civilian government. He was able to recruit some of the wealthiest Filipinos to be U.S. puppets. [Fast 306-308]

The Filipino insurgents hoped the U.S. presidential election of 1900 would topple President McKinley. The problem with that was the Democratic candidate, William Jennings Bryan, had voted for the Treaty of Paris and did not want to lose the possible votes of “patriotic” voters. Also the main support of the Democratic Party was in the Old South, which had succeeded in re-establishing white supremacy. Southern voters had no problems with killing non-white Filipinos. [Fast 308]

The election over, genocide began. All Filipinos that did not come over the the American side were declared guerillas. Artillery was used against villages. Concentration camps were created. According to a U.S. Congressman: “Our soldiers took no prisoners, they kept no records; they simply swept the country and wherever and whenever they could get hold of a Filipino they killed him.” Prisoners of war were subjected to mass executions. One general, “Howlin Jake” Smith [See Jacob Hurd Smith], ordered his men to kill “everything over ten.” [Fast 310]

In April 1901 Aguinaldo was captured, yet the fighting continued and the genocide continued. President William McKinley was assassinated by an anarchist and died on September 14, 1901. The new President, Theodore Roosevelt, simply continued the genocide. Entire islands were depopulated. In the Batangas campaign alone at least 100,000 Filipinos died.

Finally, General Malvar, with the last well-organized Filipino troops, surrendered in April 1902. While some guerrilla warfare continued, the U.S. simply declared the fighters to be bandits. Some American troops were sent home while others led newly-created brigades of recruited Filipinos. Wherever the guerrillas were successful the tactics of concentration camps and genocide were resumed by the Americans. In January of 1905 a state of insurrection was again declared. [Fast 310-318] The success of Japan against Russia also gave the Filipino insurgents a moment of hope [Fast 320]. But after 1906, after General Sakay surrendered, open rebellion was largely confined to Moslem resistance in Mindanao, which continued until 1916 [Fast 321]

The Philippine Islands became a profitable U.S. plantation, with sugar as the major export, not unlike the Caribbean islands during the era of slavery.

Governance was directly from the United States. An elected Assembly was set up as a parallel to the U.S. House of Representatives, but it had little real power. The Governor-General and his Philippine Commission, all appointed by the President of the United States, did as they were told by whoever happened to be President during this era.

In 1916 the Jones Act (passed in the U.S. Congress) promised eventual independence and allowed for an elected Philippine senate.

A sort of independence would be granted by Congress in 1933 over Herbert Hoover’s lame duck veto. After this was rejected in the Philippines the Tydings-McDuffie act of 1934 was passed allowing for a ten-year transition to quasi-independence. Foreign policy would be controlled by the United States and other rights to intervention would be maintained. A Commonwealth was established under these rules in 1935.

The Philippines were arguably still a portion of Asia treated as U.S. territory when the Japanese invaded on December 8, 1941. The U.S. at the time had extensive military operations in the Philippines that were being prepared for a war against Japan.

During the war Japan granted the Philippines official independence, but the puppet government was expected to side with the Japanese against the U.S. The re-conquest of the Philippines, marred by massive war crimes committed by American troops under the command of General Douglas MacArthur, restored U.S. power. In 1946 the U.S. granted the Philippines official independence, but again under the proviso that a puppet government would side with the U.S. on any international questions.

[Fast references: Conspiracy for Empire by Luzviminda Bartolome Francisco and Jonathan Shepard Fast, published by Foundation for Nationalist Studies, Quezon City, the Philippines. Copyright 1985.]

See also: Henry Ware Lawton

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