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The War of 1898 and the U.S.-Filipino War, 1899-1902

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  • The humanitarian crisis
  • Prelude to U.S. military intervention in Cuba

IV. The War of 1898

  • A “splendid little war” in Cuba?
  • Aftermath of war: U.S. occupation of Cuba and the Platt Amendment

V. The spoils of war and the Treaty of Paris debate

  • Asserting U.S. control over the Philippines
  • Winning Filipino “hearts and minds”
  • Suppressing Filipino independence
  • “Policies of Chastisement”
  • A “Few Bad Apples”
  • Legacies and lessons

VII. Historical interpretations

  • The War of 1898
  • The U.S.-Filipino War
  • The ongoing debate over empire


Recommended resources

About the authors


Did you know?

  1. In the War of 1898, the U.S. fought Spanish forces in Cuba and the Philippines, siding with rebels fighting for national independence.
  2. The U.S. nevertheless claimed victory alone, excluding Cuban and Filipino rebels from the peace negotiations.  Spain transferred possession of Cuba, the Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico to the United States.
  3. The U.S. subsequently made Cuba a “protectorate,” limiting Cuban independence.
  4. In the Philippines, the U.S. replaced Spain as colonial ruler, despite the fact that rebel leader Emilio Aguinaldo had written a Declaration of Independence modeled after the U.S. declaration of 1776.
  5. Andrew Carnegie, the steel titan, offered to pay the U.S. government $20 million not to keep the Philippines.
  6. In February 1899, fighting broke out between occupying U.S. soldiers and Filipino soldiers, the beginning of a long and brutal war to crush Filipino aspirations for independence.
  7. Whereas the U.S. war against Spain lasted four months (late April-August 1898), the U.S.-Filipino War lasted more than four years.
  8. Attempting to avoid the charge of imperialism, President William McKinley described the U.S. mission in the Philippines as one of “benevolent assimilation.”
  9. The U.S.-Filipino War resulted in the death of an estimated 200,000 Filipinos, mostly civilians, and 4,200 American soldiers.
  10. A U.S. Senate inquiry in early 1902 revealed that U.S. commanders authorized torture practices, such as the “water cure,” and ordered the killing of Filipino civilians and prisoners.
  11. Among the critics of the U.S.-Filipino War was Mark Twain, a vice president of the Anti-Imperialist League, who denounced the war as an unjust attempt to “subjugate the people of the Philippines.”
  12. The U.S. finally granted independence to the Philippines in 1946.

I. Introduction

The War of 1898, commonly known in the United States as the Spanish-American War, marked a new chapter in U.S. foreign policy.  For a quarter century prior to the war, Americans had debated the idea of acquiring overseas possessions.  The war against Spain, fought in Cuba and the Philippines in the summer of 1898, opened the door to expansionist ambitions.  Over the next seven years, the United States annexed the Hawaiian Islands, took possession of the Philippines, Guam, Puerto Rico, and Eastern Samoa, joined other imperial powers in suppressing the Boxer Rebellion in China, made Cuba a “protectorate” of the United States, fomented a revolt in the Colombian province of Panama in order to obtain a ten-mile-wide canal zone, and declared that the U.S. would henceforth exercise “international police power” over the Western Hemisphere, militarily intervening in nations deemed guilty of “chronic wrongdoing.”

The great irony of the War of 1898 is that many Americans supported U.S. intervention in Cuba not for the purpose of taking possession of Cuba or the Philippines, but for anti-imperialist and humanitarian purposes.  U.S. imperial ambitions were initially muted.  The Cuban Revolution, which began in 1895, elicited sympathy among Americans for the cause of Cuba Libre.  The brutal Spanish response to it, which included relocating civilians into fortified towns (reconcentration) where they died by the thousands from disease or starvation, evoked outrage and prompted calls for U.S. intervention.  The mysterious explosion of the U.S. battleship Maine in the Havana harbor in February 1898, erroneously blamed on Spain, was a catalyst to war but not the determining factor.
President William B. McKinley

President William B. McKinley

President William McKinley, in his war message to Congress on April 11, 1898, cited as the main causes for war against Spain the “enormous losses to American trade and commerce” and the need “to put an end to the barbarities, bloodshed, starvation, and horrible miseries now existing there [in Cuba].”[1]  Only after the Spanish surrendered did the McKinley administration reveal its hand and claim the spoils of war.  In the peace treaty that ended the war, signed on December 10, 1898, with no Cuban or Filipino representatives present, Spain transferred possession of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines to the United States.

In the aftermath of the War of 1898, U.S. troops continued to occupy Cuba until significant concessions were made, including the right to militarily intervene in Cuba at any time, to approve foreign treaties, and to establish a naval base at Guantánamo.  According to the historian Piero Gleijeses, “U.S. intervention hastened Spain’s departure and robbed the Cubans of their independence.  It was as if France, having intervened in the American war of independence, had demanded a naval base on Long Island and the right to send in troops whenever it deemed it necessary.  Had this happened, the U.S. people would hardly be grateful to the French for hastening the departure of the British.”[2]  And so it was in Cuba.  The Cuban patriots who had fought for independence for three and a half years were obliged to accept their nation’s status as a “protectorate” of the United States.
In the Philippines, the McKinley administration demanded full control over the archipelago of 7,100 islands, refusing to recognize the independent Filipino government established under rebel leader Emilio Aguinaldo.  Less than two months after the peace treaty was signed, the U.S. was at war with its former Filipino allies, suppressing rather than upholding their freedom.  This second war, the U.S.-Filipino War, also known as the Philippine-American War or the Philippine Insurrection, claimed the lives of 200,000 Filipino civilians.

Was the War of 1898 a necessary and just war?

Certainly, it was not a war for self-defense, the traditional grounds for establishing a war’s legitimacy.  Spain posed no threat to the United States and indeed desperately sought to avoid war. 
Can the war be justified on humanitarian grounds, a more controversial standard, as put forth by President McKinley?  This justification has some merit, as U.S. intervention in Cuba did seal the defeat of the Spanish and put an end to the miseries attending the Cuban Revolutionary War, but it is problematic on two counts.
First, it is not clear that war was the only or best option for ending the humanitarian crisis in Cuba, assuming this was a true motive.  As a starting point, the McKinley administration could have negotiated with both sides for the provision of food and medical aid to the civilian population, much as the United Nations does today in war-torn regions.  To end the fighting, the administration could have continued its diplomatic pressure on Spain, which had already produced significant results, including a new autonomy plan for Cuba and an end to the Spanish policy of reconcentration.  To increase the pressure short of putting boots on the ground, the administration could have instituted a naval blockade until Madrid yielded to Cuban demands for independence.

The second and more fundamental problem is that neither humanitarian concerns nor public sympathy for Cuba Libre outweighed U.S. imperial motives, which became evident in the aftermath of the war.  According to the foremost American historian on Cuba, Louis A. Pérez, U.S. leaders throughout the 19th century had opposed Cuban independence, based in part on their desire to annex Cuba to the United States and in part on their belief that the mixed race Cuban population was incapable of running its own affairs.  In early March 1898, President McKinley’s minister to Spain, Stewart Woodford, wrote to Washington, “I do not believe that the population is today fit for self-government.”  He characterized the Cuban insurgency as “confined almost entirely to negroes,” with “few whites in the rebel forces.”  Cuban independence, he cautioned, “would mean and involve continuous disorder and practical anarchy…. Peace can hardly be assured by the insurgents through and under an independent government.”  Woodford recommended that the U.S. annex the island, but neither the Cuban leadership nor the U.S. Congress would have accepted this outcome.  In lieu of annexation, President McKinley and his successor, Theodore Roosevelt, found ways to exert U.S. control over the island without annexing it.[3]  In the end, Pérez writes,

The United States emerged from the war as a colonial power, seizing the far-flung remnants of the Spanish empire in the Pacific and Caribbean with remarkable efficiency of effort and economy of means.  Whether or not empire was the object may matter less than that it was the outcome, as the United States acquired territories in the time-honored fashion of war and conquest … Successively the Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico were seized.  But it was Cuba that mattered most and, indeed, what the war was mostly about.[4]

The War of 1898 and the U.S.-Filipino War are traditionally paired together because the outcome of the first led to the second.  The Treaty of Paris enabled the United States to take possession of the Philippines despite the fact that Filipino rebels had been fighting for independence since August 1896.  As in Cuba, the U.S. informally allied with the rebels in defeating the Spanish, then claimed victory alone and took control.  In the case of the Philippines, the U.S. insisted on replacing Spain as colonial master.  This was the simple reason for the U.S.-Filipino War that broke out in February 1899.

Was the U.S.-Filipino War a necessary and just war?

Undoubtedly it was not.  In denying the Filipinos the right to form their own government the war was fundamentally unjust in its purpose.  U.S. conduct in the war was also reprehensible, similar to the savage U.S. wars against Native Americans in the West and unlike the brief war against Spain.  The U.S. treated Spanish soldiers respectfully and even paid for their return to Spain.  The U.S. war against the Filipinos, in contrast, was characterized by racism, torture, wanton violence, atrocities, massacres, and an egregious reconcentration policy similar to that of the Spanish in Cuba.

The McKinley and Roosevelt administrations did their utmost to obfuscate the central motive of the U.S.-Filipino War – the quest for empire – as it contradicted American democratic principles and freedom-loving rhetoric.  On December 21, 1898, prior to the outbreak of war, President McKinley declared that “the mission of the United States is one of benevolent assimilation, substituting the mild sway of justice and right for arbitrary rule.”  Should the Filipinos reject American rule, however, he warned that the U.S. would maintain “the strong arm of authority to repress disturbance and to overcome all obstacles to the bestowal of the blessings of good and stable government upon the people of the Philippine Islands under the free flag of the United States.”[5]

The suppression of Filipino freedom, as such, was carried out in the name of extending American freedom, as if placing the American flag on a foreign territory made it free and democratic.  This conflation of national hegemony with democratic principles became a model for rationalizing future U.S. foreign policies.  Indeed, in the second half of the 20th century the conflation became axiomatic, with Washington supporting dictatorial and repressive regimes in the name of protecting the “free world.”
The U.S. war in the Philippines continued for three and a half years before President Theodore Roosevelt declared it over in July 1902, even though fighting continued in outlying islands for another decade.  To keep the brutal nature of the war hidden from the American public, the McKinley and Roosevelt administrations engaged in censorship, official denial, media spin, glittering generalities, and intimidation of war critics.  Many citizens nonetheless challenged the fiction of “benevolent assimilation” and denounced the imperial war as un-American and unjust.  Some joined the Anti-Imperialist League, formed in June 1898 in opposition to overseas expansionism and colonial conquests.
Mark Twain

Mark Twain

The famous writer Mark Twain, a vice-president of the League, told the New York Herald upon his return from Europe in October 1900:

I have read carefully the treaty of Paris, and I have seen that we do not intend to free, but to subjugate the people of the Philippines.  We have gone there to conquer, not to redeem…. It should, it seems to me, be our pleasure and duty to make those people free, and let them deal with their own domestic questions in their own way.  And so I am an anti-imperialist.  I am opposed to having the eagle put its talons on any other land.[6]

In Congress, Senator George Hoar of Massachusetts attempted to head off the war by introducing a bill to recognize Filipino independence.  Had it passed, the war would not have happened.  Indeed, Filipino rebel leader Emilio Aguinaldo wanted desperately to continue the friendly, informal alliance he had with Americans during their mutual fight against Spain in 1898.  He was even willing to allow the U.S. a military base in the Philippines.  Had the McKinley administration offered even the limited independence of a “protectorate” status, as was done in Cuba, the Filipino “insurrection” would not have taken place.

The fact that the U.S. finally granted independence to the Philippines in 1946, after forty-eight years of colonial rule, raises the question of why the U.S. fought to make the Philippines a colony in the first place.  The answer to this question requires some understanding of the imperial mindset of the era.  Few people at the time could foresee the demise of imperialism and its racist underpinnings – the “white man’s burden” – in the second half of the 20th century.

II. From continental to overseas expansion

Over the course of the nineteenth century, the United States expanded westward across the North American landmass.  This was not a uniform process.  The U.S. acquired new territory through negotiation, intimidation, purchase, aggression, and the removal of Native Americans to reservations.  Expansion was intertwined with notions of Anglo Saxon racial superiority and a sense of “entitlement justifying Anglo dominance over other, supposedly lesser peoples,” including American Indians and African and native-born slaves.[7]  Continued expansion, and the violence that accompanied it, are central not only to nineteenth American history, but to U.S. national identity as well.

Theodore Roosevelt, Asst. Sec. of the Navy

Theodore Roosevelt, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, future president, and author of The Winning of the West

Those who favored overseas expansion, such as Theodore Roosevelt, believed that Anglo Americans had the right to dispossess Native Americans of their lands.  According to the historian Walter L. Williams, “Roosevelt’s basic claim was that Indians did not own their homelands, and thus had no right to oppose white expansion.”  The denial of land ownership rights was later extended to the denial of the right of self-governance.  The U.S. moved from making treaties with independent “domestic nations” to exerting complete control over them.  “By the end of the century,” writes Williams, “the federal government held virtually unlimited power over American Indians.”  Indian tribal lands were essentially colonies of the United States and Native Americans born on reservations had no citizenship rights.

American westward expansion established the basis for obtaining overseas possessions in three ways:  it created the legal framework for acquiring and administering colonial possessions; it established in the public mind an exception to the principle that “all men are created equal” and have the right to self-government; and it fostered acceptance of “uncivilized” methods of warfare against “savages,” in which no prisoners were taken and noncombatants were massacred.  Roosevelt deemed such warfare “justifiable revenge” for enemy atrocities.[8]

By 1850, the United States had completed its “manifest destiny” by expanding from the Atlantic to the Pacific. With the exception of filibusters – lawless adventurers intent on taking over territory and expanding slavery into the Caribbean and Latin America – the nation largely focused on the growing discord between the North and South over the issue of slavery.  After the Civil War, U.S. policymakers were absorbed in the process of Reconstruction of the South.  One conspicuous exception was Secretary of State William Seward, who entertained the expansion of territory and acquisition of overseas markets from Canada to China.  In 1867, Seward promised an audience in Boston, “Give me…fifty, forty, thirty more years of life, and I will give you possession of the American continent and control of the world.”[9]  He succeeded in purchasing the Russian territory of Alaska and annexing the Midway Islands.  Under President Ulysses S. Grant, the U.S. tried to purchase the Dominican Republic in 1870, but the Senate defeated this attempt to incorporate non-whites into the union.  The next generation of policymakers would be more receptive to expansionist designs.
What drove U.S. overseas expansion?

Historians have associated the U.S. drive for overseas expansion in the late 19th century with a number of factors.  Without attempting to prioritize them, these include:

  • the closing of the frontier
  • the search for new markets and resources abroad
  • the quest to make the U.S. a great international power
  • a desire to spread American influence across the globe
  • a belief in Anglo-Saxon superiority
  • a tradition of “manly honor”
  • domestic politics

The closing of the frontier was announced in the U.S. Census of 1890.  The Indian wars in the West had ended and the frontier was regarded as “settled.”  The historian Frederick Jackson Turner contemplated the meaning of this change in an academic paper, “The Significance of the Frontier in History,” delivered in 1893.  Emphasizing the importance of western expansion in the formation of the American character, Turner speculated that Americans would continue to seek expansion, extending “American influence to outlying islands and adjoining countries,” and demanding a “vigorous foreign policy.”[10]

The second industrial revolution in the United States laid the material groundwork for the American pursuit of empire, providing both the means for overseas enterprises and a need for more consumer markets.  Between the end of the Civil War and the War of 1898, the United States was transformed from an agrarian and rural nation to an increasingly industrialized and urban one.  The economic depression of 1893 reinforced the idea that the U.S. needed new markets abroad.  While populists and socialists proposed to solve the crisis of overproduction by redistributing income and wealth to citizens at home, politicians such as Albert J. Beveridge of Indiana called for the acquisition of overseas markets.  In April 1897, he declared, “American factories are making more than the American people can use; American soil is producing more than they can consume.  Fate has written our policy for us; the trade of the world must and shall be ours.”[11]
Henry Cabot Lodge

Senator Henry Cabot Lodge

To obtain and protect new foreign markets as well as expand American power and influence, Admiral Alfred T. Mahan called for the creation of a larger navy and a network of naval bases and seaports.  His influential book, The Influence of Sea Power upon History (1890), found a receptive audience among other American expansionists, most notably, future president Theodore Roosevelt and Senator Henry Cabot Lodge of Massachusetts.  Both Roosevelt and Lodge believed that great nations must acquire overseas territory and, without a large navy, this would be impossible.  Senator Lodge, in extolling his “large policy,” rattled off the territorial acquisitions necessary to transform the United States: Hawaii, Cuba, Puerto Rico and a trans-isthmian canal across Nicaragua.  He warned his colleagues that time was running out, as other nations were obtaining colonies and spheres of influence:  “The great nations are rapidly absorbing for their future expansion and their present defense all the waste places of earth…. As one of the great nations of the world, the United States must not fall out of the line of march.”[12]

European imperialism was at its height in the late 19th century, facilitated by coal-powered ships, railroads, more lethal weaponry, and advances in medical science (disease prevention).  A conference held in Berlin in November 1884 set the stage for the “Scramble for Africa.”  By 1900, 95% of the continent had been carved up into European colonies, with Great Britain and France leading the way.  On the Asian continent, Britain ruled the vast Indian subcontinent, France claimed Indochina (Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia today), the Netherlands controlled Indonesia, Russia expanded to the Pacific, and Japan, the only non-European imperialist nation, dominated Korea. In the Pacific, the imperial powers were racing to take possession of various island groups, with the U.S. laying claim to the Hawaiian Islands and eastern Samoa.  Great Britain and France rationalized their conquest and control over other lands and peoples in the language of racial and cultural superiority, declaring it their duty to civilize the “lesser nations” and uplift the “lower races.”  This was also true of the Japanese, who considered themselves superior to other Asian peoples, not unlike the way Anglo Americans deemed themselves superior to Latin Americans.
The construction of a multi-ocean U.S. naval fleet in the 1880s and the formal acquisition of Eastern Samoa in June 1889 encouraged American imperial dreams and ambitions.  Imperialist voices became bolder and more numerous.  U.S. diplomat Henry Sanford, writing in The Forum (June 1890), contended, “The scramble in Africa for ‘protectorates’ and possessions, and for the extension of ‘spheres of influence’ and action, by the commercial powers of Europe, is the event of the century…. Are we to avail ourselves of the opportunity at our hand, or shall nations reputed less enterprising than we alone reap benefits from it?”[13]  Secretary of the Navy Benjamin Tracy declared in 1891 that in order to gain “a pre-eminent rank among nations, colonies are of the greatest help.”[14]  General Thomas Jordan, a veteran of both the Mexican War and Civil War, published an article in The Forum (July 1891), titled “Why We Need Cuba,” which called for immediate annexation of the island.  Rear Admiral S. B. Luce, the first president of the Naval War College, writing in the North American Review (December 1891), expressed the lofty sentiment that “the course of empire” obliged the United States to contribute “her share to the further extension of civilization, to the spreading of the gospel, and conveying to less favored nations the most enlightened views of civil government.”  Luce also believed that war was “one of the great agencies by which human progress is effected.”[15]
View from the Middle East: France in Morocco and England in Egypt

View of imperialism from the Mideast: The French in Morocco, the British in Egypt

The imperialist self-image: “Civilization versus Savagery” (Puck magazine)

The quest for empire in the late 19th century was undergirded by Social Darwinist theories of superior and inferior races.  Both Europeans and Anglo Americans deemed it their duty to “civilize” the “lesser races,” which meant in practice ruling over them.  Supporters of imperialism also created racial hierarchies in which the Anglo-Saxon race (for the British and U.S. imperialists) appeared at the top.

In the U.S., the proponents of empire incorporated racist views into the quasi-religious concept of “manifest destiny,” a phrase coined in 1845 to justify U.S. expansion across the North American continent.  Congregationalist minister Josiah Strong, in his 1885 book, Our Country, proclaimed that Americans were a “Chosen People” destined to rule the earth.  “Is it manifest,” he asked rhetorically, “that the Anglo-Saxon holds in his hands the destinies of mankind for ages to come?  Is it evident that the United States is to be the home of this race, the principal seat of his power, the great center of his influence?”  That same year, the historian John Fiske wrote an essay in Harper’s New Monthly Magazine titled “Manifest Destiny,” predicting that the U.S. would surpass “in power and dimensions any empire that has yet existed,” and that this empire would stretch “from pole to pole” in the 20th century.[16]

The rhetoric of empire-building was laced with references to “manly honor” and “national manhood.”  As the historian Kristin Hoganson writes, “honor appealed to men frustrated by the restraints of an ever more corporate economy and the commercial values of the era.  It also proved enticing to those who were disturbed by changing gender roles, for honor served as the keystone of a chivalric edifice that enshrined men’s public authority and women’s domesticity.”  Progressive-minded women at the time were challenging prevailing gender norms regarding a woman’s role in society as well as demanding the vote.  By 1900, four western states had established full woman suffrage.  Hoganson argues that the advocacy of empire-building and war served to demonstrate masculine virility and reinforce the “manly ideal of politics.”[17]
For Theodore Roosevelt, the manly ideal in politics included readiness for war.  Indeed, Roosevelt viewed war as a crucible that forged one’s manhood and strengthened the nation.  As he privately noted, “I should welcome almost any war, for this country needs one.”  In May 1897, he told Naval Academy graduates that “the minute that a race loses its hard fighting virtues … it has lost its proud right to stand as the equal of the best…. Cowardice in a race, as in an individual, is the unpardonable sin.”[18]
In 1892, imperialists gained valuable political leadership when the Republican Party adopted overseas expansionism as part of its campaign platform, euphemistically described as “the achievement of the manifest destiny of the Republic in its broadest sense.”[19]  Two years earlier, the party had lost its majority in the House of Representatives, dropping 85 seats.  The party’s standard campaign tactic of “waving the bloody shirt” – identifying the Republican Party as the party of unity and patriotism, and the Democratic Party as the party of secession and treason – had run its course.  Republican leaders sought to revive their political fortunes in part by rallying Americans to the cause of overseas expansion.  Such efforts were interwoven with a rising tide of nationalism in the 1890s, including the formation of patriotic societies, flag rituals, and Americanization programs for new immigrants.  The strategy appears to have worked, as the party added 45 seats in the House in 1892, and 111 in 1894, giving it a solid majority in Congress in the last years of the 19th century.
The great debate over American empire
Americans generally supported the expansion of U.S. trade and influence in the world, but not all were prepared to follow in the footsteps of Old World empires in acquiring colonies.  Although the U.S. had expanded across the North American continent, this “settler colonialism” diverged from formal imperialism by the fact that the “settlers” forced indigenous peoples to move to reservations – a kind of ethnic cleansing of the land.[20]  Becoming a formal imperial power along European lines would mean ruling over other peoples without their consent, thus rekindling the original contradiction of the Declaration of Independence, which was to proclaim “all men are created equal” while denying citizenship rights to African Americans and Native Americans.
Numerous opponents of imperialism viewed the quest for empire as contrary to the American ideals of freedom and democracy, “a flagrant violation of fundamental principles upon which the government of the United States was based,” in the words of the historian E. Berkeley Tompkins.  “They emphasized that the United States had stood as the champion of liberty, democracy, equality, and self-government throughout the world and that imperialism, by its very nature, was a denial of the universal validity of these tenets.”[21]
Senator George Hoar

Senator George Hoar

Senator George Hoar, speaking in Worcester, Massachusetts, on November 1, 1898, warned that becoming an imperialist power would transform the United States “from a republic founded on the Declaration of Independence … the hope of the poor, the refuge of the oppressed – into a vulgar, commonplace empire founded upon physical force, controlling subject races and vassal states, in which inevitably one class must forever rule and other classes must forever obey.”[22]  Anti-imperialists also opposed empire building on practical grounds, asserting that its presumed benefits were overstated and its costs were significantly understated.  Acquiring overseas possessions, they argued, would involve the U.S. in foreign wars, entangle the U.S. in European affairs, divert attention from domestic reforms, and foster large standing armies, high taxes, military secrecy, press censorship, and excessive executive power.

Racism cut both ways in the debate over empire.  It was a foundational assumption among expansionists, as control over “lesser races” was deemed necessary and proper.  It was also part of the anti-imperialist lexicon, evident in debates over the annexation of the Dominican Republic, the Hawaiian Islands, and the Philippines, when anti-imperialists decried attempts to incorporate “alien races” into the United States.  One of the most outspoken opponents of imperialism, Carl Schurz, former U.S. senator from Missouri and chief editorial writer for Harper’s Weekly, believed that “tropical people” were a poor fit for assimilation into the U.S. as they “had nothing in common with Americans.”[23]  Samuel Gompers of the American Federation of Labor declared that the federation had worked for years to exclude “Orientals” from the United States and that the proposed annexation of Hawaii would “obliterate the beneficent legislation [Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882] and threaten an inundation of Mongolians to overwhelm the free laborers of our county.”[24]  Such fears were later quelled by the Supreme Court, which ruled in the Insular Cases of 1901 that the U.S. could rule over unincorporated territories, such as the Philippines and Puerto Rico, without granting citizenship rights to their inhabitants.  The legal structure for administering colonial possessions was thus secured.

Queen Liliuokalani

Queen Lili’uokalani of Hawaii

The debate over empire intensified in the wake of an American takeover of Hawaii in January 1893.  With the aid of the U.S. minister to Hawaii, John Stevens, and U.S. Marines from a nearby cruiser, a group of prominent American landowners known as the “missionary boys” ousted the hereditary ruler, Queen Lili’uokalani.  No blood was shed, as the queen chose to avoid violence by temporarily stepping down; she placed her hopes for reinstatement in an appeal to Washington.  Stevens immediately extended U.S. recognition to the new government and declared Hawaii to be a protectorate of the United States. The takeover created a storm of controversy in Washington.

President Grover Cleveland

President Grover Cleveland regarded the American takeover of Hawaii as illegal

Incoming Democratic President Grover Cleveland was hesitant to approve the request for annexation.  The queen had been a friend of the U.S. and Stevens had no authorization to depose her.  Cleveland ordered an investigation headed by James H. Blount.  After months of taking testimony from both sides, Blount surprised observers by concluding:  (1) Americans in Hawaii had acted wrongly in deposing Queen Lili’uokalani; (2) the American minister to Hawaii, John Stevens, had acted without authorization in ordering American troops to back the coup; and (3) the queen should be reinstated to her throne.  American leaders in Hawaii, however, ignored President Cleveland’s request to step down and instead declared Hawaii to be an independent republic.  Anti-imperialists in Congress prevented Lodge and company from annexing the islands until the War of 1898, when possession of the islands was deemed necessary for U.S. naval operations in the Philippines and Pacific Ocean.

The U.S. quest for Cuba
Turning to Cuba, American policymakers had long been fascinated with the island, a Spanish colony since the days of Columbus.  In 1823, Secretary of State John Quincy Adams compared Cuba to a ripe apple that, once severed from Spain, would inevitably “gravitate only towards the North American Union.”[25]  In 1848, the Polk administration tried to buy the island for $100 million.  Six years later, the Pierce administration raised the purchase offer to $130 million, with no more success.  Yet U.S. leaders could live with Spanish control over the island.  What they could not accept was the transfer of Cuba to another imperial power or, most tellingly, Cuban independence, as either would jeopardize U.S. plans for eventual annexation.  As Louis Pérez notes, “Only the possibility of transfer of Cuba to a potentially hostile foreign country seemed to trouble the United States more than the prospect of Cuban independence.  Cuba was far too important to be turned over to the Cubans.”[26]
The long-running desire among U.S. leaders to acquire Cuba was underpinned by the racist-tinged belief that Cubans were incapable of self-government and that any attempt by the mixed population to run their own affairs would end in anarchy, insurrection, and a race war.  Hence, a “capable” nation such as the U.S. should be in charge.  That view continued to guide U.S. policy as Cuba erupted in a War for Independence in 1895.  Neither President Grover Cleveland (1893-97) nor President William McKinley (1897-1901) believed that Cubans were fit for self-government.  Countering popular American support for Cuba Libre, Cleveland’s Secretary of State, Richard Olney, wrote to the Spanish ambassador to the U.S., Enrique Depuy de Lôme, on April 4, 1896, expressing his “gravest apprehension” that “once Spain were withdrawn from the island, the sole bond of union between the different factions of the insurgents would disappear” and “a war of the races would be precipitated.”[27]
Both the Cleveland and McKinley administrations were concerned with the protection of private American investments and property holdings in Cuba.  The latter had increased dramatically in recent decades, with sugar plantations and mining interests passing from Spanish and Cuban hands to American ownership.  Trade had also shifted toward the U.S.  By 1894, nearly 90% of Cuban exports went to the United States, as compared to only 6% to Spain.[28]  President McKinley cited the disruption of trade and the protection of private American interests in Cuba as reasons for U.S. military intervention in Cuba.

A Spanish satirical drawing published in 1896 warning of U.S. intentions. The text reads: “Keep the island so it won’t get lost.”

The question of whether or not the U.S. should militarily intervene in Cuba did not break down according to imperialist and anti-imperialist orientations.  Some individuals in each group supported intervention and others did not.  Among expansionists, Theodore Roosevelt was most eager for war with Spain – and the spoils of war.  Much of the U.S. business community, however, was inclined to use diplomatic pressure and economic leverage to achieve expansionist goals.  Among anti-imperialists, relatively few called for U.S. military intervention in Cuba initially.  What they wanted, in line with Cuban rebel leaders, was official U.S. recognition of the Cuban belligerency (and thus the provisional rebel government), which in turn would allow Americans to legally transfer arms and aid to the rebels.  In the run-up to the War of 1898, the distinction between imperialists and anti-imperialists became blurred, as both groups insisted that the Spanish must leave Cuba.  Their differences became clear after the Spanish departed:  the imperialists sought greater control over Cuba, while the anti-imperialists supported a free and independent government in Cuba.

III. The Cuban War for Independence

José Martí

José Martí

Cuba, ninety miles from the U.S. mainland, erupted in revolution against Spanish rule in February 1895.  The origins of this revolution began decades earlier in the Ten Years War (1868-1878).  In the Pact of Zanjón that ended that war, Spain promised greater autonomy, including Cuban representation in Madrid, greater freedom of the press and assembly, and a timetable for the abolition of slavery.  The latter was achieved in 1886, but not all Cubans were satisfied with the limited reforms.  The revolutionary poet, José Martí, who had spent several decades in exile, demanded complete independence.  Martí organized the Cuban Revolutionary Party in 1892.  He raised money from Cuban émigrés in the U.S. and elsewhere, and recruited generals Máximo Gómez and Antonio Maceo to lead the military initiative.  Gómez and Maceo were well known leaders of the earlier revolution.  Maceo, a mulatto known as the “Bronze Titan,” was capable of attracting former slaves to the cause.  Martí envisioned not only political independence from Spain, but also a social and economic transformation that would redistribute property and create economic opportunity for the masses.  Such ideas attracted poor farmers and workers, and worried elite planters, some of whom appealed to the U.S. for annexation.

The southeastern province of Santiago de Cuba became a rebel stronghold

Martí, having lived in New York for many years, was well aware of America’s expansionist history and wanted no U.S. troops on Cuban soil, fearing that the U.S. would take advantage.  Martí and his fellow revolutionaries hoped for a quick victory, but the war turned into a long, protracted guerrilla struggle.  Martí himself clandestinely returned to Cuba in April 1895 to join the fight.  He was killed by Spanish troops at the battle of Dos Ríos on May 19.

The day before, Martí wrote a letter to his friend, Manuel Mercado, reiterating his belief that the United States posed a danger to the Cuban Revolution:  “I am in daily danger of giving my life for my country and duty, for I understand that duty and have the courage to carry it out – the duty of preventing the United States from spreading through the Antilles as Cuba gains its independence, and from overpowering with that additional strength our lands of America.  All I have done so far, and all I will do, is for this purpose.”  The Cuban people, he added, must “block with our blood … the annexation of the peoples of America to the turbulent and brutal North that despises them … I lived in the monster and know its entrails – and my sling is that of David.”[29]  Martí is celebrated in Cuba today as the founding father of the country.

The humanitarian crisis

The Cuban independence movement (Ejército Libertador de Cuba) was launched in the remote village of Baire, on the eastern end of the island, on February 24, 1895.  The Spanish government was not concerned at first, as antigovernment agitation was common in this underdeveloped region.  By the end of the year, however, the revolution had spread across the island, reaching the lucrative sugar plantations in the middle and western provinces.  The Spanish government responded with force.  Between 1895 and 1898, according to the historian John Lawrence Tone, “Spain transported more than 190,000 men to the island, the largest army ever assembled up to that time to fight a colonial war overseas.”  The Cuban Liberation Army, on the other hand, recruited no more than 40,000 troops, and “rarely had more than a few thousand men under arms at any given moment.” This five-to-one Spanish advantage was augmented by “60,000 Cubans who served on the Spanish side in various auxiliary capacities.”

Cuban rebels attack a defended town

Cuban rebels attack a defended town

This substantial Spanish military advantage was offset by the rebels’ strategy of avoiding pitched battles, for the most part, and engaging in economic warfare, which included destroying property and preventing food from reaching Spanish-held cities.  Spanish forces were spread thin in an effort to protect outlying plantations and small towns, thus leaving them vulnerable to attack.  The first major battle took place on May 13, 1895, when Antonio Maceo and 2,400 men attacked a Spanish column of 400 infantry and 100 cavalry near the town of Jobito in the eastern province of Santiago de Cuba.  Although the Cubans suffered heavy losses, they emerged victorious.  Their victory, in turn, inspired hundreds more to join the rebellion.[30]

Rebel General Máximo Gómez

Rebel General Máximo Gómez

The rebel strategy of economic warfare under Máximo Gómez was merciless in its application.  Gómez “banned farmers from transporting and selling food, livestock, tobacco, and other basic commodities in Spanish-controlled territories, which in July 1895 still included most of Cuba,” writes Tone.  Those who disobeyed his command were to be treated as traitors.  Martí, before his untimely death, expressed misgivings about Gomez’s harsh strategy.  “Martí had argued for preserving the property of sympathetic planters, partly so that the insurgents could tax them, but also to avoid utterly alienating people whom the emerging republic would need in the coming years.  Martí had also wanted to avoid the widespread suffering that would surely follow the wholesale destruction of the economy, and he worried that a scorched-earth strategy would alienate public opinion overseas.”  After Martí’s death, some civilian politicians in the revolutionary government similarly called for a more lenient policy toward the civilian population; and some military commanders, including Maceo, evaded Gómez’s policies, which infuriated the commanding general.  Gómez responded with an order on October 4, 1895, declaring that any Cuban who worked for the Spanish in any capacity would “be judged in a summary verbal trial followed by immediate execution of the sentence.”  Cuban civilians, as such, were forced to choose between living in rebel-held communities and Spanish-held towns.  In either case, survival was not assured.[31]

Arsenio Martinez Campos

Spanish Gen. Arsenio Martinez Campos

The influx of impoverished civilians, mainly women and children, into Spanish-held towns and cities placed a burden on Spanish authorities, as Gómez expected.  Captain-General Arsenio Martínez-Campos recognized his “unavoidable duty” to provide relief despite a dearth of resources at hand.  He appropriated land for cultivation near garrisoned towns and asked his officers and soldiers to donate their labor and a portion of their wages to help the refugees.  Few did so, however, as they were short of food and money themselves.  Many were also sick.  Indeed, Spanish soldiers suffered greatly in the tropical climate of Cuba.  “Fewer than 4,000 Spanish soldiers died in combat with the insurgents,” notes Tone, whereas, “41,288 Spanish servicemen died from dysentery, malaria, pneumonia, typhus, yellow fever, and other diseases in Cuba.  Put another way, disease killed 22 percent of the military personnel sent to Cuba, accounting for 93 percent of Spanish fatalities.”  Cuban insurrectos fighting in the bush also succumbed to disease in large numbers.  Tone estimates that “nearly 30 percent perished from illnesses.”  Unaware that certain mosquitoes were carriers of malaria and yellow fever, little was done to protect soldiers and civilians from summer infestations.[32]

Spanish Gen. Valeriano Weyler

Spanish General Valeriano Weyler replaced Martinez Campos

Intent on routing the rebels, the Spanish government in Madrid made a fateful decision to put its resources into winning the war rather than relieving the growing humanitarian crisis.  Instead of sending food and resources, Madrid sent Captain-General Valeriano Weyler to replace Martínez-Campos and institute the policy of “reconcentration.”  Less than five feet tall, Weyler was a veteran of Spanish counterinsurgency campaigns in the Dominican Republic and the Philippines.  As captain general of the Philippines from 1888 to 1891, he had instituted a reconcentration policy designed to isolate the civilian population from guerrillas.  Madrid approved a similar policy for Cuba prior to Weyler’s arrival in Havana on February 2, 1896.  Weyler issued his first reconcentration order on February 16, which applied only to the eastern provinces.  On October 21, he imposed the policy on the western province of Pinar del Rio; and in January 1897, on the provinces of Havana, Mantanzas, and Santa Clara.

The strategy mirrored the rebel strategy of laying waste to the countryside in order to deprive the enemy of food and support, except that the Spanish were more thorough in applying it.  Spanish soldiers rounded up and relocated civilians, destroyed their livestock and property, took families of known insurgents hostage, and shot rebel captives.  The civilian refugees arrived in Spanish-held towns with little more than the clothes on their backs and many soon died of disease or starvation.  In the Santa Clara province, located in the middle of Cuba, which became the front line of the war in 1897, 140,000 people were relocated, of which 53,000 died, or 38 percent.[33]

Starvation in the camps


Effects of Reconcentration

The tragic results of the reconcentration policy had been foreseen by the previous captain-general, who refused to implement it.  On July 25, 1895, Martínez-Campos wrote a letter to the leader of the Spanish Conservative Party, Antonio Cánovas del Castillo, humbly declaring, “I cannot, as the representative of a civilized nation, be the first to give the example of cruelty and intransigence…. I could reconcentrate families from the countryside to the towns” but this would result in “horrible misery and hunger.”  Weyler was aware of the consequences of his reconcentration policy, but he viewed the expected civilian deaths as acceptable collateral damage in the quest for victory.  In all, the Cuban War of Independence took the lives of an estimated 170,000 persons, some ten percent of the population.[34]

The destitute and starving women and children in Spanish-held towns made front-page news in the United States.  The stories were sensationalized, to be sure, but the “yellow press” could hardly exaggerate the extent of the calamity that had befallen Cuba.  Weyler became the personification of evil: “a brute, the devastator of haciendas, the destroyer of families, and the outrager of women,” as presented by the New York Journal.[35]  Weyler himself contributed to this negative impression by instituting a news blackout from the Spanish side, thereby leaving U.S. reporters to obtain their news from Cuban rebel leaders, who abundantly supplied it.  Horatio Rubens, Tomas Estrada Palma, and other representatives of the provisional Cuban government held regular briefings in New York City, where they reported imagined rebel victories and real Spanish atrocities.  Some American journalists, such as Grover Flint and George Bronson Rea, accompanied Cuban military leaders Máximo Gómez, Antonio Maceo, or Calixto García in the field, smuggling war stories past Spanish censorship.[36]

Cartoon published in Puck magazine, June 1896

Cover of Puck magazine June 1896

The main storyline, however, was the humanitarian crisis.  American photographers captured the images of emaciated Cubans for American audiences at home, eliciting disbelief, indignation, and calls for U.S. intervention.  Two newspaper titans, William Randolph Hearst of the New York Journal and Joseph Pulitzer of the New York World, exploited developments in Cuba to increase the circulation of their papers. The “yellow press,” as these sensationalizing newspapers were called, portrayed the Cuban people as a desperate woman in need of a dashing hero: Uncle Sam.  If the U.S. failed to rescue the damsel in distress, this would reflect badly upon the nation’s manly honor.

President Grover Cleveland, however, was disinclined to intervene in Cuba, particularly on behalf of Cuba Libre.  He issued a proclamation of neutrality on June 12, 1895, and furthermore enforced U.S. neutrality laws that prohibited the transfer of private aid to Cuban insurgents, a policy that indirectly aided Spain.  President William McKinley, inaugurated on March 4, 1897, similarly enforced neutrality laws, capturing private American ships on their way to Cuba loaded with arms and aid to the rebels.  According to Pérez, “Both the Cleveland and McKinley administrations acted vigorously against Cuban efforts to support and supply the insurgency from the United States…. Between 1895 and 1896 U.S. authorities intercepted over half of the Cuban expeditions fitted in the United States.  Of the seventy expeditions organized from the United States during the Cuban insurrection, only one-third reached the island.”[37]

Prelude to U.S. military intervention in Cuba

Antonio Maceo

Antonio Maceo

General Weyler’s harsh strategy achieved a measure of military success between the spring of 1896 and the fall of 1897.  Spanish troops expelled the rebels from the western provinces and killed Maceo and Máximo Gómez’s son, Poncho, on December 17, 1896.  In April 1897 Gómez wrote to the new American president, William McKinley, and asked for assistance, although not for U.S. troops.  He needed ammunition and food in order to sustain his soldiers and the revolution.  McKinley offered no assistance.  Instead he put more pressure on the Spanish government to bring the war to a conclusion.

U.S. minister to Spain Stewart L. Woodford met with Spanish officials on September 18, 1897, and gave Madrid until November 1 to re-establish peace on the island, implying that the U.S. would take over if Spain failed.  On October 4, a new Liberal government came to power in Madrid and immediately took steps to appease the U.S.  The Spanish government ended the brutal reconcentration policy, replaced General Weyler, and devised a new autonomy plan for Cuba set to take effect on January 1, 1898.  Spanish forces soon began pulling back to the cities, allowing the beleaguered rebel forces to regain strength and retain control over the eastern provinces.  In January 1898, Gómez predicted, “This war cannot last more than a year.  This is the first time I have ever put a limit it to it.”[38]
The rebel leadership, intent on complete independence, vociferously rejected the Spanish autonomy plan.  Although McKinley was aware that the rebels opposed the plan, having been informed by Estrada Palma, he endorsed it anyway, as he deemed it the better alternative to recognizing the provisional rebel government.  In his annual message to Congress on December 6, 1897, McKinley acknowledged that many Americans were supportive of Cuban independence and that both houses of Congress had voted for resolutions “justifying the recognition of a state of belligerency in Cuba,” but he nonetheless rejected recognition of the rebel government on the grounds that the Cuban rebels did not have the “essential qualifications” to govern their own country.[39]  That same month, McKinley ordered American warships to the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea for naval maneuvers.  The president was preparing for war, although not for the purpose of Cuba Libre.

The USS Maine entered the Havana harbor on January 25, 1898, and remained for three weeks without incident

Madrid’s autonomy plan was also rejected by conservative Spanish officers in Cuba.  They viewed it as a step toward independence, a back-handed and back-stabbing policy that negated their heroic efforts to preserve the Spanish empire. On January 12, 1898, some of these officers led a mob that destroyed three pro-autonomy newspapers in Havana, amid shouts of “Down with Autonomy” and “Viva Weyler.”  The U.S. Consul in Havana, Fitzhugh Lee, cabled Washington to send a U.S. warship in case such disorders threatened American interests on the island.  The U.S.S. Maine arrived in the Havana harbor on January 25.  On February 15, at approximately 9:40 pm, the U.S.S. Maine suddenly exploded and sank, taking the lives of 266 sailors and officers.  Theodore Roosevelt, the Assistant Secretary of the Navy, immediately blamed Spain, as did the Hearst and Pulitzer newspapers in New York.  The Madrid government denied responsibility.  In Havana, Spanish soldiers provided aid to the wounded Americans. President McKinley convened a naval court of inquiry to investigate the cause of the explosion.

The New York Journal immediately blamed Spain

The New York Journal immediately blamed Spain

Six weeks later, on March 28, the court reported its findings:  the explosion had been caused by an external submerged mine, implying Spanish responsibility.  This determination was reached, it should be noted, in spite of the fact that between 1895 and 1898, thirteen other American ships had fires associated with internal spontaneous combustion in coal bunkers.  In 1977, a U.S. naval commission reopened the investigation and reversed the earlier judgment, declaring that the explosion was, “without a doubt,” internal.[40]
Cuba_Maine-rememberYet the damage was done.  Senator George Hoar of Massachusetts complained, “Every congressman has two or three newspapers in his district, most of them printed in red ink, shouting for blood.”[41]  Earlier Spanish efforts to appease the U.S. were forgotten as saber-rattling jingoists shouted, “Remember the Maine, to hell with Spain!”  Antagonism toward the Spanish government was furthermore stoked by the publication of a letter, written by Spanish ambassador Enrique Dupuy de Lôme, that had been captured by Cuban rebels and given to the New York Herald.  The Hearst paper published the letter on February 9 under the headline, “Worst Insult to the United States in its History.”  In this personal letter to a friend, de Lôme had criticized President McKinley as “weak and catering to the rabble … a low politician,” insinuating that McKinley was playing to the militant patriots known as “jingoes” for votes.  Spain immediately issued an apology and de Lôme resigned.  McKinley did not make much of the letter, but the American public seized on it as another example of Spanish perfidy.

President McKinley was moving in the direction of war but not fast enough for Theodore Roosevelt, who famously quipped that McKinley “had no more backbone than a chocolate éclair.”  The pro-intervention press also goaded McKinley by questioning his manhood.  An editorial in the Atlanta Constitution declared that the nation needed a “man” to run the White House.  Representative William Sulzer of New York wrote, “If a man like [Andrew] Jackson were at the helm of the ship of state there would be no more delay, nor more hesitation, no more apologies.”[42]  Roosevelt not only openly clamored for war, but as Assistant Secretary of the Navy he also prepared for war in February 1898 by cabling the head of the American Asiatic Squadron, Commodore George Dewey, and instructing him to move his fleet from Hong Kong to Manila Bay.  Hence, when war was declared against Spain in April, the first battle was fought in the Philippines rather than in Cuba.

Although many of the nation’s most influential newspapers demanded war with Spain following the sinking of the Maine, a significant minority dissented.  The latter argued that war with Spain would exact a heavy toll in terms of lives lost and treasure expended, and that the U.S. would reap few rewards in the end.  The Boston Herald warned, “To enlist the flower of our youth to go to Cuba would be to send it to destruction.”[43]  Some editors predicted a long war, overestimating the competency of Spanish forces and underestimating the capability of the rebels to aid U.S. forces.  Business journals warned that a war with Spain would damage the nation’s economy and drain the government’s financial reserves.  In a study of thirty-three U.S. newspapers, the historian Piero Gleijeses found that eight “advocated war or measures that would lead to war before the Maine blew up; twelve joined the pro-war ranks in the wake of the explosion; thirteen strongly opposed the war until hostilities began.”[44]  In short, forty percent of newspapers in this sampling remained opposed to war until the war actually started.

Senator Redfield Proctor

While waiting for the results of the Maine investigation, President McKinley sent Senator Redfield Proctor, Republican of Vermont, to assess the situation in Cuba.  Proctor returned convinced that U.S. intervention was necessary. On March 17, 1898, after meeting with the president, he addressed Congress:

I went to Cuba with a strong conviction that the picture had been overdrawn. I could not believe that out of a population of one million six hundred thousand, two hundred thousand had died within these Spanish forts…My inquiries were entirely outside of sensational sources…What I saw I cannot tell so that others can see it. It must be seen with one’s own eyes to be realized…To me the strongest appeal is not the barbarity practiced by Weyler, nor the loss of the Maine…but the spectacle of a million and a half people, the entire native population of Cuba, struggling for freedom and deliverance from the worst misgovernment of which I ever had knowledge.[45]

B_reconcentration-images_Senator-ProctorProctor thus highlighted the cause of Cuba Libre as the first and foremost reason for U.S. intervention in Cuba.  Previous to this, both the Democratic and Republican parties had expressed support for Cuban independence but without calling for U.S. military intervention.  The Republican Party platform, adopted in June 1896, stated, “We watch with deep and abiding interest the heroic battle of the Cuban patriots against cruelty and oppression, and our best hopes go out for the full success of their determined contest for liberty… we believe that the Government of the United States should actively use its influence and good offices to restore peace and give independence to the island.”  The Democratic Party platform, adopted in July 1896, similarly stated, “We extend our sympathy to the people of Cuba in their heroic struggle for liberty and independence.”[46]

Yet support for Cuba Libre was not the motive that impelled the McKinley administration to action.  The president aligned with public sentiment against Spain but refused to recognize or support the Cuban provisional government and Cuban independence.  McKinley deceived senators and congressmen on this account, telling them that he was negotiating for the independence of Cuba, while searching for ways to avoid this option and exert U.S. control.  One way was to buy the island from Spain.  On March 17, the same day that Senator Proctor gave his heartfelt speech on behalf of Cuban liberation, U.S. Ambassador to Spain Woodford wrote a letter to McKinley advocating that the U.S. purchase the island:

I am thus, reluctantly, slowly, but entirely a convert to the early American ownership and occupation of the Island.  If we recognize independence, we may turn the Island over to part of its inhabitants against the judgment of many of its most educated and wealthy residents…. If we have war we must finally occupy and ultimately own the Island.  If today we could purchase [Cuba] at a reasonable price we should avoid the horrors and the expense of war.[47]

The following day, Woodford advanced an offer through a third party to buy Cuba, arguing that the island would soon be lost to the revolutionaries if Spain did not sell it to the U.S. now.  He told the Spanish colonial minister, Segismundo Moret, “Some way must be found by which Spain can part with Cuba without loss of self-respect and with certainty of American control.”[48]  As with previous U.S. proposals to buy Cuba, the Spanish government did not accept it.  Three weeks later, the U.S. State Department recommended its next best choice for exerting U.S. control over Cuba: “neutral intervention.”  A department memorandum on April 7 stated, “It would make a notable difference in our conduct of hostilities in Cuba if we were to operate in territory transiently ours by conquest, instead of operating in the territory of a recognized sovereign with whom we maintain alliance.”[49]

The U.S. would gain the right to control Cuba if Spain surrendered to the U.S. rather than to the rebels.
In plain language, the U.S. would obtain the right to control Cuba if Spain surrendered to the U.S. rather than to the revolutionaries; and as long as the U.S. did not officially recognize the rebels or their provisional government, the rebels could be left out of the bargain.  This, then, became the McKinley administration’s plan.
On April 11, 1898, President McKinley presented his war message to Congress.  He highlighted as the main reasons for war American economic interests in Cuba and the humanitarian crisis.  He avoided commentary on the ultimate political disposition of Cuba, voicing neither support for Cuban independence nor acknowledging any intention to exert U.S. control over the island, except to establish “a stable government, capable of maintaining order.”[50]

The spirit of Cuba Libre captured the public imagination in the United States before the War of 1898

American supporters of Cuba Libre were not pleased with McKinley’s speech. “The President’s Cuban Message Disappointing to Those Who Want Cuba Freed,” ran a New York Times headline on April 12.  An editorial in the Washington Post that same day called attention to the president’s duplicity in regard to Cuban independence:  “Whatever else might have been in the President’s mind, it was supposed that the ultimate aim of his policy was the freeing of Cuba, but the message gave no corroboration of this fact.  On the contrary, independence was not mentioned except for the purpose of arguing that it ought not to be recognized.”  Senator Marion Butler, a Populist from North Carolina, summed up McKinley’s message succinctly:  “If I can understand the message it means that the President is opposed to Cuban independence now and forever.”  According to the historian Philip Foner, “Congress was besieged with telegrams urging immediate recognition of the island’s independence…. Many Congressmen were also infuriated because in his review of Administration policy, McKinley revealed that at no time had the government asked Spain for Cuban independence.  Yet the President had previously led Congress to believe that negotiations had failed over this question.”[51]

Advocates of Cuba Libre in Congress introduced resolutions in both houses of Congress calling for immediate recognition of Cuban independence.  Speaking for the resolution in the House, Representative Hugh Dinsmore, Democrat of Arkansas, said, “We talk about liberty.  Then let us give the Cubans liberty.  We talk about freedom.  Let us give to them the right to establish a government which they think will be a free government, and which does not reserve to us, the Government of the United States, the right to say, after it is established, ‘Ah, this is not a “stable” government; we cannot turn it over to you yet; we must look after this thing.’”  With McKinley’s Republican supporters in the majority, however, the resolution was voted down 190 to 154.  A similar resolution in the Senate, the Turpie Amendment, was defeated by a vote of 51 to 37 on April 16.  Speaking on behalf of the latter amendment, Senator John W. Daniel, Democrat of Virginia, charged that the administration had chosen to intervene at this time, not because of the humanitarian crisis, but because it wanted to prevent the Cuban revolutionary forces from establishing an independent republic.

This argument has since been taken up by a number of historians, including Louis Pérez and Philip Foner.  As Foner writes, “The war to liberate Cuba was thus a war to prevent its independence, eliminate Spain from Cuba and the Philippines, and open the door for the economic and political domination of both islands by the United States.”[52]
Senator Henry M. Teller

Senator Henry M. Teller

With the American public and many senators still favoring Cuba Libre, Congress approved a compromise measure known as the Teller Amendment.  Senator Henry Teller, Republican of Colorado, had formerly advocated U.S. annexation of Cuba but changed his mind as he watched the Cuban Revolution unfold.  His amendment stated that the U.S. “hereby disclaims any disposition of intention to exercise sovereignty, jurisdiction, or control over said island except for pacification thereof, and asserts its determination, when that is accomplished, to leave the government and control of the island to its people.”  The last line seemed to many an ironclad guarantee of independence, but it was predicated on the successful “pacification” of Cuba as judged by Washington.  McKinley had previously indicated his intention to veto any joint resolution recognizing Cuban independence, but the Teller Amendment was vague enough to allow for multiple interpretations, and so he accepted it.  As Pérez writes:

The McKinley administration had vigorously opposed any recognition of Cuban independence but in the end understood the necessity of yielding to congressional demands.  Acquiescence to the Teller Amendment, however, did not signal acceptance of the proposition of Cuban independence.  On the contrary, the administration never wavered in its determination to resist, restrict, or otherwise reduce the possibility of Cuban independence …”[53]

With the Teller Amendment attached, Congress passed McKinley’s war resolution by votes of 42 to 35 in the Senate and 311 to 6 in the House.  The president signed the bill on April 20, and the U.S. officially declared war against Spain on April 25.  The Cuban provisional government along with General Máximo Gómez accepted the Teller Amendment as an adequate statement of support for Cuban independence.  Hence, the Cuban leadership promised the McKinley administration full cooperation in the war effort.  Oddly, both the Cuban rebels and American expansionists would later regret the Teller Amendment, the former because the U.S. equivocated on its promise of independence; the latter because the amendment interfered with their plans for U.S. dominion over Cuba.  Soon after the vote, Senator Albert Beveridge bemoaned that the amendment had been passed “in a moment of impulsive but mistaken generosity.”  He predicted correctly that “it would not be kept.”[54]

For many American citizens, the Teller Amendment assured them that the war would be fought for a just cause – to end Spanish tyranny and establish Cuban independence.  According to Pérez:

The United States entered into war amid great excitement.  It was a popular war, it has been affirmed often.  That the public imagination could persuade itself that the call to arms represented a summons to deliver an oppressed New World people from the clutches of an Old World tyranny served to consecrate the virtue of the U.S. purpose.  Off to war Americans went in defense of Cuba Libre, they believed, a lofty and selfless undertaking, in a spirit of exalted purposefulness, confident in their mission of liberation.[55]

IV. The War of 1898

U.S. General William Shafter (blue coat) and Rear Admiral William Sampson are escorted to shore by Cuban troops

The War of 1898 was a short war.  U.S. soldiers first arrived on Cuban soil on June 10.  By the end of the month, some 18,000 regular and volunteer troops had come ashore at points along the southeastern coast of Cuba, all without a shot being fired.  Battles were subsequently fought in the San Juan Heights on June 24 and July 1.  The latter included the famous charge of Col. Theodore Roosevelt and his “Rough Riders” up Kettle Hill (near San Juan Hill).  U.S. and Cuban forces then initiated a siege of Santiago de Cuba, the main city in the eastern province.  The siege was aided on July 3 by U.S. naval forces, which sunk six Spanish warships in the Santiago harbor and made it impossible for the Spanish to reinforce or resupply their troops by sea.  Cuban troops, meanwhile, prevented resupply by land.  U.S. warships also blockaded Havana and other major ports, cutting off support from Spain.  On July 16, the Spanish surrendered the city of Santiago de Cuba.  Ten days later, seeing no possibility for victory, Madrid requested a suspension of all hostilities. On August 12, U.S. and Spanish officials signed an armistice, with no Cuban representatives present.  This omission of Cuban representatives was repeated in the Paris peace negotiations that took place during the fall, allowing the U.S. to claim the rights of conquest – an ancient tradition of war.[56]

The Cuban presence is absent in this iconic photograph of Roosevelt and the Rough Riders

The Cuban presence is absent in this iconic photograph of Roosevelt and the Rough Riders atop Kettle Hill two days after the battle

On July 27, 1898, one day after Madrid requested a suspension of hostilities, the U.S. ambassador to Great Britain, John Hay, wrote to Theodore Roosevelt, exulting, “it has been a splendid little war, begun with the highest motives, carried on with magnificent intelligence and spirit, favored by that fortune which favors the brave.”[57]  From the American perspective, the brave soldiers who won this war were not the Cubans but the Americans.  The role of the Cuban rebels was downplayed by the U.S. military command, the press, and administration officials – a necessary tactic if the U.S. was to assume the rights of conquest.  This narrow American perspective was later written into U.S. historical accounts, such that the war was named “the Spanish American War,” as if the Cuban rebels had nothing to do with it.

The Cuban rebels played a decisive if largely unacknowledged role in the War of 1898.  During the previous three years, they had effectively weakened Spanish resistance.  Their guerrilla tactics had disrupted transportation and communication lines and driven Spanish units into garrisoned cities and forts, where soldiers suffered from illness and starvation.  The U.S. decision to land troops on the southeastern coast reflected the fact that Cuban troops controlled the region outside the main cities.  Under the leadership of General Demetrio Castillo Duany, Cuban troops secured the landing site at Daiquirí, east of Santiago de Cuba, allowing General William Shafter’s forces to land unopposed.  Cubans subsequently offered their services as scouts, guides, and interpreters.  They made two key contributions to battle victories in the San Juan Heights, bottling up a large Spanish garrison at Guantánamo and delaying a Spanish relief column, which arrived two days after the last battle.
It was nonetheless true that many American soldiers who volunteered for the fight did so out of noble motives.  Carl Sandburg, later a famous poet, joined the Sixth Infantry Regiment of Illinois.  Many years later he reflected, “I read about the … people of Cuba who wanted independence…. I was going along with millions of other Americans who were about ready for a war to throw the Spanish government out of Cuba and let the people of Cuba have their republic.”  Many others felt similarly that they were acting “in the cause of humanity to expel the Spanish from Cuba.”[58]

Image of Cuban insurgents before the war

A remarkable shift occurred in American public attitudes during and after this brief war.  By December 10, 1898, when the Treaty of Paris was signed, the cause of Cuba Libre had been almost entirely eclipsed by imperial concerns, in keeping with the McKinley administration’s view of the situation.  An editorial in the Philadelphia Inquirer on August 6, 1898, presaged the change in thinking:

It is true that the Congressional resolutions [Teller Amendment] … set forth that we, as a nation had no designs upon Cuba, and that our sole object was to free it.  But these resolutions went further.  They also declared it to be our intention to see to it that a stable government should be formed.[59]

Image of Cuban insurgents after the war: Uncle Sam protects the Cuban maiden from the Cuban insurgents (Puck magazine)

The mandate to create a “stable government” became a euphemism for demanding that Cuban leaders comply with American demands.  Those demands had yet to be laid out precisely in August 1898, but they generally concerned establishing a government in Cuba amenable to U.S. economic interests, securing U.S. control over Cuban foreign policy, permitting a U.S. naval base on the island, and making sure that the “right” people – propertied white Cubans – were in charge of the Cuban government.  Unbeknown to the Cuban rebels at the outset of the war, such demands would be forced on them afterward, under the threat of permanent American occupation.  On August 12, 1898, the editors of the New York Times speculated on what might happen if Cubans were unwilling or unable to form a “stable government”:

The pledge we made [in the Teller Amendment] by no means binds us to withdraw at once, nor does full and faithful compliance with its spirit and letter forbid us to become permanent possessors of Cuba if the Cubans prove to be altogether incapable of self-government.  A higher obligation than the pledge of the resolution of Congress would then constrain us to continue our government over the island.[60]

The idea of conqueror’s rights was reinforced by U.S. military operations on the ground.  Any town, city, or region secured by American soldiers, even with the aid of Cuban rebels, was placed under U.S. jurisdiction.  In the aftermath of the joint Cuban and American campaign in the province of Santiago de Cuba, for example, Major General William Shafter declared on August 11, “The soil occupied by the army of the United States was part of the Union and would remain so until the Union through its proper offices should declare otherwise.”  General Shafter furthermore banned Cuban soldiers from entering the city of Santiago, informing General Calixto Garcia, “This war is between the United States of America and the Kingdom of Spain.”[61]

A “splendid little war” in Cuba?

C_map-1898-theaters - Copy - CopyThe historian John Lawrence Tone, in War and Genocide in Cuba, 1895-1898 (2006), headlined his chapter on the U.S. military intervention in Cuba, “The Splendid Disaster.”  Certainly, the war was a disaster for the Spanish, who were already in a starving condition, wracked by disease, and at their weakest in the far eastern province of Santiago de Cuba.  For the Cuban Liberation Army, the results were unpalatable, to say the least, as the United States took charge and compromised Cuban independence in the aftermath of the war.

For the United States, the war was almost a disaster, in marked contrast to Secretary of State Hay’s comment.  The main enemy was disease.  Within weeks of their arrival, thousands of U.S. soldiers were laid low or struck down by yellow fever, malaria, typhoid, and dysentery.  General Shafter contemplated withdrawal if the war could not be quickly won.  “I estimated that the troops would have immunity for two or three weeks,” he reflected, “and to be successful with my force it was to be a dash or nothing.”  Of the 2,446 U.S. personnel who died in the war, only 385 were killed in action, while 2,061 died from disease and other causes.[62]

The medical crisis in Cuba was exacerbated by the “inexperience, incompetence, and inefficiency” of U.S. Army operations, according to Louis Pérez.  “Chronic shortages of almost everything, including the most essential military equipment, medical supplies, clothing, and food, beset the swollen ranks of the army.”  Theodore Roosevelt, who served as lieutenant colonel in the First Cavalry Regiment, cabled to Washington on July 3, “we must have help – thousands of men, batteries and food and ammunition.”  Although U.S. troops had taken the San Juan Heights only two days earlier, Roosevelt despaired, “We are within measurable distance of a terrible military disaster.”  On July 7, he wrote again to Washington, “The mismanagement has been beyond belief.  The lack of transportation, food and artillery has brought us to the very verge of disaster.”  According to the American military historian Graham A. Cosmas, “The War Department had neither the time nor the planning agency to work out in detail the strategy of the campaign, to study the terrain of the area, and to determine the transportation requirements of an army that was to fight under those [tropical] conditions.”[63] General Shafter, weighing over 300 pounds, suffered from heat exhaustion during battles and had to be carried from place to place on a makeshift wooden litter.[64]
General Shafter on horseback (right)

General Shafter on horseback (right)

The Spanish surrendered just in time.  “On July 6,” writes Pérez, “only three days after General Shafter commenced negotiations with the Spanish command for the surrender of Santiago de Cuba, the dreaded quarantine flag was raised ominously behind U.S. lines:  yellow fever had struck.  The longer the Spanish army command refused to surrender, the greater the likelihood that a yellow fever epidemic would ravage U.S. military forces.”  The Spanish, however, were also in bad shape.  “Conditions behind Spanish lines in Santiago de Cuba were at least as desperate as they were behind U.S. lines,” notes Pérez.  “Spanish troops also lacked adequate medicine and food supplies and were simultaneously wracked by sickness and disease.”  Spanish General Arsenio Linares wrote to Madrid:  “The defenders are not just beginning a campaign, full of enthusiasm and energy; they have been fighting for three years with the climate, privations and fatigue; and now that the most critical time has arrived their courage and physical strength are exhausted, and there are no means for building them up again.”  Another Spanish officer, Captain Victor M. Concas y Palau, acknowledged the role of the Cuban rebels in wearing down the Spanish:

Despite the unwillingness of the Americans to acknowledge the aid received from the insurrectos, in fact, this assistance was so decisive that without the Cubans they would not have achieved their objectives in so short a period of time.  In effect, on the very day of their landing, Santiago de Cuba was cut off from all supplies it received from the countryside, producing widespread hunger; all communications were cut off; forests, roads, and foothills:  all were covered by Cubans, and even the west coast of the harbor itself was unsafe, as the American army was relieved of this arduous service.[65]

Brigadier General William Ludlow, Chief Engineer of the armies in the field, meeting with Cuban General Calixto García (right)

The rebel contribution to the Spanish defeat was not obvious to American officers and soldiers.  This was partly due to U.S. policy and partly to circumstances.  General García offered to place his troops under U.S. command, but General Shafter declined, lest this be interpreted as official U.S. recognition of the Cuban Liberation Army.  Shafter rather hoped that the Cuban soldiers would serve as “porters, orderlies, messengers, and day laborers, working behind U.S. lines,” according to Pérez.  García refused, protesting, “My men are soldiers, not laborers.”  Shafter’s army fought the major battles in the San Juan Heights without immediate assistance of Cuban rebels.  Their absence convinced many Americans that the Cubans were not serious about their struggle for independence.  A New York Times war correspondent reported, “The Cubans did little or no fighting.  The insurgent army, therefore, has borne no testimony to its desire for a free Cuba.”[66]

Yet the quick American victory in Cuba owed much to the Cuban rebels, particularly General García’s 3,000 men in the eastern province of Santiago de Cuba.  On May 1, 1898, U.S. Army Lieutenant Andrew Rowan met with General García in the town of Bayamo to seek his guidance and cooperation with regard to the impending American invasion.  The rebels subsequently secured the beaches prior to the American landing, the point at which American troops were most vulnerable.  At the Spanish base at Guantánamo, General Antonio Pareja and 7,000 Spanish soldiers awaited orders to fight, but the orders never came.  The rebels had captured couriers and cut off communication by land, while American warships had cut the underwater telegraph cables in Guantánamo Bay.

Cuban insurgents

Cuban insurgents

The Spanish command in Havana attempted to reinforce its troops in the region by sending a relief column of nearly 3,500 soldiers under Colonel Federico Escario.  The soldiers “departed Manzanillo on June 22,” writes Tone, “but it took the column thirteen days to make the 200-mile trip.  Escario’s bedraggled troops arrived in Santiago on July 3, too late to make any difference and lacking the necessary supplies to provide any relief.”  The Cuban insurgents “harassed the Spanish the whole way, forcing them to halt and form up for defense on several occasions…. Escario lost twenty men killed and seventy wounded on the march.”[67]  The rebels were nevertheless unable to prevent Escario’s forces from entering Santiago de Cuba, and this “sent Shafter into a rage,” according to Tone:

Having heard for years about epic battles won by the Cubans, Americans expressed astonishment when they saw that the insurgents did not fight well in a regular war of fixed positions.  Experts at ambush and harassing actions, the Cubans had no experience with large-scale siege operations or battles…. The Americans behaved as if the easy entry of Escario into Santiago were an indictment of Cuban honor and courage.[68]

Misunderstandings between American and Cuban troops existed on a number of levels.  Differences in language, of course, made communication difficult.  Many Americans were repelled by the very look of the rebels, a large number of whom were black or mixed race and all of whom were ragged, hungry, and weary.  These were the revolutionaries that the U.S. press had hailed as liberators in the mold of the American Patriots of 1776 but who now appeared more like the black and mulatto Haitian revolutionaries a generation later (which the Jefferson administration shunned).  Theodore Roosevelt recalled that the Cuban rebels were “almost all blacks and mulattos and were clothed in rags.  I think that 80 percent of them are the worst specimens of humanity I ever saw.”

The Cubans, for their part, resented American haughtiness.  They viewed the Americans as their guests, not their saviors and certainly not their conquerors.  Cuban resentment, in turn, was interpreted by Americans as ingratitude.  “Do they admire us?” asked Thomas R. Dawley, correspondent for Harper’s Weekly.  “You would expect them to be filled with gratitude towards us who are about to redress their wrongs.  But that is not so.”  Other reporters were similarly struck by the “sour and sullen” attitude of the rebels.  One reporter described the Cubans as “vain and jealous,” and another, as “conceited.”[69]  Such prejudicial views of Cubans were conveyed to the American public amidst reports of great American victories and heroic tales of battle.
The Ninth U.S. Infantry Regiment in the Battle of San Juan Heights

The Ninth U.S. Infantry Regiment in the Battle of San Juan Heights

Among the 15,000 U.S. soldiers who participated in the battles of San Juan Heights were 2,000 African Americans, organized into four black regiments.  They fought not only to defeat the Spanish but also to prove their equality to white soldiers.  Their courage on the battlefield won them twenty-six Certificates of Merit along with praise from white military officers and news reporters; yet even more praise was heaped on their white officers.  According to the historian Willard B. Gatewood, Jr.:

Notwithstanding their praise of the black regiments, few white Americans were willing to grant the one concession most desired by Negro soldiers – the opportunity to become commissioned officers in their own regiments.  Even those whites so generous in their praise of the role played by black troops in Cuba almost without exception credited their performance to the discipline and leadership provided by their white officers.  The persistence of the idea that Negroes made good soldiers only if commanded by white officers was a source of profound frustration for men who had gone to Cuba with high hopes of winning respect and honor for their race.  Black veterans of the Santiago campaign were quick to point out that they were without white “commissioned officers half of the time” and performed efficiently under the command of their own black noncommissioned officers.[70]

Imperial American attitudes combined with misunderstandings and racial prejudices reinforced the notion that Cubans were incapable of creating a “stable government” on their own.  This had been the view of President McKinley all along, but it now saturated the press and public opinion.  “The scale of public opinion in the United States turned against the Cubans,” writes Pérez.  “In press dispatches and army field reports, Cubans were portrayed as unworthy allies, undeserving of the sacrifices made on their behalf, whereupon it became easy to disparage, dismiss, or deny altogether their contribution in the final months of their war for independence.”[71]
Spanish surrender at the Plaza in Santiago de Cuba (drawing)

Spanish surrender at the Plaza in Santiago de Cuba (drawing)

American political control over Cuba began with the Spanish surrender of Santiago on July 17.  General Shafter would not allow General García to be present at the surrender; nor would he allow rebel troops to enter the city, claiming that they would rob and murder residents.  Adding insult to injury, Shafter retained Spanish officials to administer the city.  García resigned his commission in protest, saying, “I will never accept that our country be considered as a conquered territory.”

The U.S. press marched in step with this usurpation of governing power by the United States.  The New York Times editorialized on July 19 that the “sacrifices of treasure and life that we have made clearly entitle us to fix the conditions under which” a new government will be formed.[72]

Aftermath of war: U.S. occupation of Cuba and the Platt Amendment

In the Treaty of Paris signed on December 10, 1898, the United States acquired Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam, all presumably legitimated by the presence of U.S. troops on these islands at the end of the fighting.  The Teller Amendment circumscribed historic U.S. ambitions to take possession of Cuba, but it did not rule out some measure of control and domination.  Secretary of War Elihu Root initially believed this could best be accomplished by establishing a Cuban government run by “conservative and thoughtful” elites rather than the “ignorant and incompetent” masses.  The white, propertied, business class in Cuba would presumably protect private American economic interests on the island and follow Washington’s lead.[73]  On April 18, 1900, General Leonard Wood, head of the U.S. military government in Cuba, issued an order setting the date for municipal elections on June 16.  The order called for “Scrutinizing Centers” to be set up to establish voter eligibility before the election.  According to Louis Pérez:

All voters were required to be Cuban males over the age of twenty and in possession of one of the following: real or personal property worth $250, or an ability to read and write, or honorable service in the Liberation Army.  All Cuban women and two-thirds of all adult Cuban men were excluded from the franchise.  Suffrage restrictions reduced the Cuban electorate to 105,000 males, approximately 5 percent of the total population.[74]

Despite the narrow electorate, the results of the election proved disappointing to American leaders, as a majority of the newly elected Cuban officials were independentistas, committed to independence and thus likely to challenge U.S. prerogatives.  General Wood lamented, “The men whom I had hoped to see take leadership have been forced into the background … the class to whom we must look for the stable government in Cuba are not as yet sufficiently well represented to give us that security and confidence we desire.”  Secretary of War Root went back to the drawing board and formulated a new plan, one that would enable the U.S. to exert a “restraining influence” on Cuba “for many years to come, even if it does not eventually become necessary for this government to take direct and absolute control of Cuban affairs.”[75]

Secretary of War Elihu Root

Secretary of War Elihu Root

In January 1901, Root proposed to Secretary of State John Hay that a set of provisions be imposed on Cuba that would secure U.S. interests for the indefinite future.  These provisions included the right of the United States to (1) militarily intervene in Cuban affairs; (2) prevent Cuba from entering “into any treaty or engagement with any foreign power” of which the U.S. disapproved; (3) acquire Cuban lands and naval stations; and (4) continue the laws and policies enacted by the existing military government in Cuba.  These provisions were subsequently incorporated into the Platt Amendment, named after its sponsor, Senator Orville Platt of Connecticut, and attached to the Army Appropriations Act.  In Platt’s view, these impositions would assure “a stable republican government” that would maintain domestic order and enhance U.S. security in the region.  “We cannot tolerate a condition in which life and property shall be insecure,” he said.  Congress approved the Platt Amendment in February 1901, adding provisions that restricted the Cuban government’s ability to take on debt.  Article VIII of the amendment stipulated that its tenets be incorporated into the new Cuban constitution.[76]

Cuban view of the Platt Amendment: McKinley brands Cuba “U.S.” property while Uncle Sam watches

News of the Platt Amendment requirements sparked anti-U.S. demonstrations across Cuba.  Root deemed Cubans ungrateful.  “If they continue to exhibit ingratitude and entire lack of appreciation of the expenditure of blood and treasure of the United States to secure their freedom from Spain, the public sentiment of this country will be more unfavorable to them,” he said.  The McKinley administration applied pressure by declaring that U.S. troops would continue to occupy Cuba until the amendment was incorporated into the new Cuban constitution.  In early June 1901, after much acrimonious debate, the Cuban constitutional convention accepted the Platt Amendment by a margin of one vote, attaching it to the constitution as an appendix.[77]

The U.S. military occupation of Cuba came to an end on May 20, 1902, but U.S. influence did not. The Platt Amendment helped to secure new and old private American investments in Cuba.  “By 1905,” writes Pérez, “some 13,000 North Americans had acquired title to land in Cuba, and these purchases had passed over the $50 million mark.  An estimated 60 percent of all rural property in Cuba was owned by individuals and corporations from the United States, with another 15 percent controlled by resident Spaniards.  Cubans were reduced to ownership of 25 percent of the land.”  Americans also dominated the sugar and tobacco industries and owned most of the iron mines in the eastern provinces.[78]  Labor and political unrest on the island led U.S. military forces to occupy Cuba from 1906 to 1909, and again in the eastern province from 1917 to 1923.  In 1934, after three decades of resentment, the U.S. repealed most of the provisions in the Platt Amendment (in keeping with President Franklin Roosevelt’s announcement of a Good Neighbor Policy toward Latin America), but kept the naval base at Guantánamo.  U.S. economic interests continued to dominate the island until the Cuban Revolution of 1959.

V. The spoils of war and the Treaty of Paris debate

The war of 1898 offered a unique opportunity for America’s empire builders to acquire overseas territories. Having grudgingly accepted the Teller Amendment with respect to Cuba, President McKinley moved decisively to obtain control over other territories.  In December 1897, he urged Congress to approve the annexation of Hawaii, declaring that “we need Hawaii just as much and a good deal more than we did California.  It is Manifest Destiny.”[79]  With the deep water port at Honolulu needed for the war in the Philippines, Congress approved the annexation in mid-1898.

New possibilities for empire (Boston Globe, May 28. 1898). McKinley’s menu includes Cuba steak, Porto Rico pig, and the Philippine and Sandwich islands.

On May 10, two weeks after war was declared against Spain, the McKinley administration issued orders to Captain Henry Glass, commander of the U.S.S. Charleston, to capture Guam on the way to Manila Bay. On June 20, Spanish authorities surrendered the island, allowing the U.S. to claim it in the Treaty of Paris.

On May 12, a squadron of twelve U.S. warships commanded by Rear Admiral William T. Sampson bombarded Spanish fortifications in San Juan, Puerto Rico.  Due to rough seas, many of the projectiles struck the city, destroying homes and a 16th century church, as civilians fled in terror.  The U.S. then blockaded the San Juan harbor and on July 25, General Nelson A. Miles and 3,300 U.S. soldiers landed at Guánica and took over the island.  Like Guam, Puerto Rico was formally transferred to the U.S. in the Treaty of Paris.
Emilio Aguinaldo

Filipino rebel leader Emilio Aguinaldo

In the Philippines, after establishing U.S. naval supremacy in Manila harbor, the first U.S. troops arrived on June 1, 1898.  Eleven days later, Filipino rebel leader Emilio Aguinaldo issued the Philippine Declaration of Independence, modeled after the U.S. declaration, and established a provisional government.  On October 28, however, President McKinley instructed U.S. negotiators in Paris to insist “upon the cession of the whole of the Philippines,” thus denying Filipinos the right to independent government.  In the Treaty of Paris, the United States obtained full sovereignty over the archipelago and its eight million inhabitants, to the bitter disappointment of the Filipino freedom fighters (see Section VI).

Such were the imperial achievements of the United States during the War of 1898.  Yet American claims on Spanish territories still had to be validated, as two-thirds approval of the Senate was required for ratification of the Treaty of Paris.  This then became the focus of the debate over imperialism in the fall and winter of 1898-99.  Imperialists held to the assumed rights of conquest while anti-imperialists held to the idea that the Philippines as well as Cuba should have their independence.  Of course, imperialists such as Lodge and Roosevelt did not describe themselves as such.  “Advocates of annexation of the Philippines,” writes Jim Zwick, “called themselves ‘expansionists,’ not ‘imperialists,’ and they derided their opponents for being satisfied with ‘little America’ while they sought a ‘greater America.’”[80]
With the Philippines, the U.S. joined other imperial powers carving up Asia into colonies and spheres of influence

With the acquisition of the Philippines, the U.S. joined other imperial powers in carving up Asia into colonies and spheres of influence (click to enlarge)

The debate proved frustrating to anti-imperialists, as President McKinley refused to acknowledge that the U.S. was engaged in imperialism or that his administration harbored any imperial intentions.  He claimed that the responsibilities of empire had been thrust upon the nation by “the hand of almighty God” and “destiny,” suddenly and without fault or malicious intent on the part of the United States.  It was thus the nation’s “duty” to “establish liberty and justice and good government in our new possessions.”  To many Americans, the responsibilities of empire did seem to arrive without warning, as the spirit of Cuba Libre had prevailed before the war and President McKinley had not revealed his plans for its aftermath.

In mid-October 1898, McKinley toured the Midwest on the campaign trail, asking each audience, “Shall we deny ourselves what the rest of the world so freely and so justly accords to us?”  The audience would typically roar back, “No!”  McKinley would then respond, “Now then we will do our duty.”[81]  In Chariton, Iowa, he told an audience, “Territory sometimes comes to us when we go to war in a holy cause, and whenever it does the banner of liberty will float over it and bring, I trust, blessings and benefits to all people.”  Theodore Roosevelt, running for governor of New York, presented a similar message before adoring audiences:  “The guns of our warships have awakened us to new duties.  We are face to face with our destiny, and we must meet it with a high and resolute courage.”[82]
George S. Boutwell, first president of the American Anti-Imperialist League

George S. Boutwell, first president of the American Anti-Imperialist League

Anti-imperialist organizing was well underway by this time.  The first meeting of what would become the national Anti-Imperialist League took place in Boston on June 15, 1898, three days after Aguinaldo declared Philippine independence.  The leaders of the group were among the most prominent and educated New Englanders, including four university presidents and a dozen leading scholars.  The first president was George S. Boutwell, age 80, former Massachusetts governor, senator and representative, and U.S. Treasury secretary under President Ulysses S. Grant.  Among the numerous vice-presidents of the League were steel titan Andrew Carnegie, former president Grover Cleveland, labor leader Samuel Gompers, former Senator Carl Schurz, and the African American religious leader, the Reverend William H. Scott of Boston.  During the summer and fall months, organizers formed chapters in New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington, and other cities.  They arranged speaking events, produced and distributed leaflets, issued press releases, recruited members, and initiated a mass petition campaign against extending U.S. sovereignty over the Philippines.  By February 1899, the executive committee estimated its national membership to be “considerably over 25,000.”[83]

The founding document of the Anti-Imperialist League, “Address to the People of the United States,” published on November 19, 1898, laid out three major arguments in opposition to imperialism:  first, the United States is founded on the principle that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed and that this principle must be applied in foreign affairs as well as in domestic institutions; second, the U.S. Constitution contains no provision for holding colonies and creating a subject class of citizens; and third, those who fought “the heroic struggles for liberty of the people in the Spanish islands” should not be deprived of independence and rights.[84]  The issue of imperialism was not just about foreign policy; it was about national identity and the very character of the nation.  For some anti-imperialists, notably Samuel Gompers and Senator “Pitchfork Ben” Tillman of South Carolina, opposition to the annexation of the Philippines was based on racial exclusion.  The Anti-Imperialist League as a whole, however, took a more principled stance, insisting that “all men, of whatever race or color, are entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”[85]

A skeptical view of the “white man’s burden”

Rudyard Kipling’s poem, “The White Man’s Burden: The United States and the Philippine Islands,” published in the February 1899 issue of McClure’s magazine, elicited a strong, negative reaction in the African American community.  Kipling described the “white man’s burden” as a duty of the Anglo-Saxon race to control and civilize non-white “sullen peoples, half-devil and half-child.”  A black correspondent from the Savannah Tribune denounced the poem as “an imperialistic cry” to “oppress weaker races and rob them of the rights and liberties God has given them.”  Calvin Chase of the Washington Bee pointed out that the real burden fell on colored people “encumbered by the prejudice” of whites.  Although African Americans were generally sympathetic to the plight of non-white races, many were hesitant to take a position against imperialism, lest they be deemed unpatriotic.  Among those who did take a stand, not all were enthused with the Anti-Imperialist League, given its inclusion of prominent racists.  In 1899 black Democrats led by William T. Scott organized the multi-issue National Negro Anti-Expansion, Anti-Imperialist, Anti-Trust and Anti-Lynching League.  “The black Democrats,” Willard Gatewood writes, “maintained that if Negro citizens were willing to support the Republican party in its suppression of liberty ‘in our so-called possessions,’ then they had little justification in complaining ‘of the same thing being done in any part of our own land.’”  Prominent intellectuals such as W. E. B. DuBois similarly connected the struggle against imperialism to the fight against segregation in the United States.[86]

Senator George Vest

George Vest, an anti-imperialist leader in the Senate debate

The fact that the imperialist agenda was tied to the peace treaty complicated matters for the anti-imperialists.  William Jennings Bryan, former House member from Nebraska and Democratic Party presidential aspirant, declared himself an anti-imperialist but decided to support the treaty, arguing that rejection of it would leave the U.S. at war with Spain and that another treaty granting Filipino independence could be enacted later.  Most Democrats rejected these contentions, as there was no possibility of renewed warfare with Spain, and many thought it better to amend the treaty than to give the imperialists a free hand under it.  Senator George Vest of Missouri introduced a resolution aimed at preventing the federal government from acquiring any “territory to be held and governed permanently as colonies.”  He argued that “the colonial system” was incompatible with the American democratic system “because it uproots and eliminates the basis of all republican institutions.”[87]  Other resolutions of a similar nature followed, introduced by Augustus Bacon of Georgia, William Sullivan of Mississippi, William Lindsay of Kentucky, William Allen of Nebraska, William Mason of Illinois, and George Hoar of Massachusetts.  Senator Bacon’s resolution mimicked the Teller Amendment in declaring that “when a stable and independent government shall have been duly erected,” the U.S. would “leave the government and control of the islands to their people.”[88]  Pro-imperialist senators maneuvered to prevent these resolutions from coming to a floor vote.

An anti-imperialist view of the imperial quest for spheres of influence in China

An anti-imperialist view of the imperial quest for spheres of influence in China

Proponents of imperialism advanced several arguments in favor of ratification of the Treaty of Paris. They claimed that the Philippines would serve U.S. economic interests by securing access to the East Asian market; trade derived from the Philippines, and especially China, would benefit the American economy.  Numerous treaty supporters justified the seizure of Spanish territories as part of an American civilizing mission.  Influenced by Social Darwinism, they viewed the outcome of the war as part of the overall progress of mankind and also part of America’s new “manifest destiny.”  According to these proponents, Washington should embrace the opportunity to civilize Madrid’s former colonial subjects, bringing them out of poverty, tutoring them in American principles and self-government, and improving their lives.  They furthermore denied that the U.S. was following in the footsteps of European empires, even if their motives and justifications for annexing territories were eerily similar.  Senator Knute Nelson of Minnesota told one audience, “Providence has given the United States the duty of extending Christian civilization. We come as ministering angels, not despots.”[89]  The fact that most Filipinos were Catholic seemed not to matter to the senator.  His sentiments, however, had the support of the Protestant religious establishment, particularly its missionary wing, which endorsed the idea of keeping the Philippines in anticipation of converting the Catholics.  The Presbyterian Interior boldly declared that “the churches will stand solidly against abandoning the islands.”[90]  The Catholic hierarchy was initially wary but soon came around to supporting U.S. possession of the Philippines after the McKinley administration promised to protect the lives of priests and the property of the Church.

Senator Albert Beveridge

Albert Beveridge, a leading voice for the imperialist cause

Senator Henry Cabot Lodge warned that failure to ratify the treaty would damage the United States’ standing as a great power.  Additionally, he stressed that if the Philippines were to gain its independence, the islands would be quickly swallowed by another conniving imperialist power; and he insinuated that the Philippines would descend into anarchy and chaos without a “civilized” power administering it.  Thus, in Lodge’s view, U.S. policy was an act of magnanimity.  The fact that Emilio Aguinaldo welcomed the protection of the United States, even allowing for a U.S. naval base in the islands, was not mentioned.  Responding to anti-imperialist arguments that Filipinos had fought for their liberty and deserved their own government, Senator Albert Beveridge stated that “the rule of liberty” was only for people who were “capable of self-government,” which did not include the Filipinos.[91]  Racial prejudice thus mixed with imperial motives to establish the self-serving belief that Filipinos should not be allowed to run their own country, even though they already were.

Imperialists also used gendered labels and images to castigate the anti-imperialists as old women and “aunties” who were out of step with mainstream American opinion.  Many of the leading anti-imperialists were indeed elderly, a fact that their younger contemporaries pointed out with relish.  One New Yorker wrote to the elderly Senator Hoar in February 1899, “What this country needs most at this time are patriotic Americans, not a lot of old women and decrepit politicians in their dotage who pose as statesmen…. You are behind the times, the nation has outgrown you.  Give yourself a rest in some old man’s home and give the nation a chance to grow.”[92]  The jingoes portrayed themselves and the nation as youthful and vigorous.  In their view, the nation needed virile politicians who had the requisite manliness, vigor, and energy to enable the U.S. to thrive in a chaotic and competitive international arena.  As the historian Walter Hixson has argued, this form of militant discourse reinforced traditional depictions of women as weak and forced men to live up to an equally stereotyped conception of men as strong and dominant.[93]

“The Game of Grab” (Puck magazine)

Anti-imperialist senators attempted to expose the hypocrisy behind their opponents’ arguments.  Essentially, they declared the civilizing mission to be a fraud, and that expansionists were not interested in saving souls but in extending the power and influence of the United States.  Many of the anti-imperialists furthermore argued that imperial policies would entangle the U.S. in imperial rivalries in East Asia, contrary to decades of U.S. policy, force the U.S. to spend considerable sums of money for the protection and development of its colonies, and quite likely immerse the nation in war.  War in turn would lead to a large and standing army, an outcome the Founding Fathers had tried to avoid.  With prescience, anti-imperialist senators warned of an impending conflict between the U.S. and Filipino soldiers.  Senator Claude Swanson of Virginia predicted that it would require approximately 50,000 soldiers and several years to subdue Filipino rebels and that the U.S. military would repeat the atrocious and repressive policies of the Spanish military.[94]

Andrew CarnegieWhile the anti-imperialists accurately predicted the future, their auguries were beyond the horizon for most Americans.[95]  For a nation intoxicated by an easy victory and by dreams of national glory, it was difficult to accept the idea that the U.S. should not be rewarded for its efforts in the War of 1898, that it did not deserve the spoils of victory.  As the diplomatic historian Robert Beisner notes, the anti-imperialists “ran headlong into the fact that nothing succeeds like success.”[96]  The anti-imperialists brought in former President Grover Cleveland to lobby Congress against ratification of the treaty; and Andrew Carnegie offered to give the Filipino people $20 million so that they could buy their independence (the treaty obliged the U.S. to pay Spain $20 million for the transfer of its colonies).
In the end, however, it was not enough.  On February 4, 1899, with the Senate still deadlocked, fighting broke out in the Philippines between U.S. and Filipino soldiers.  Aguinaldo immediately called for a suspension of hostilities, but the American commander in the Philippines, General Elwell S. Otis, was intent on war.  Indeed, the general had been making preparations for the fight, and once the first shot was fired, directed his forces to annihilate the Filipino troops.  Senator Hoar sought to head off a full-scale war by introducing a resolution declaring that “the people of the Philippine Islands of right ought to be free and independent … and that it is their right to institute a new government for themselves.”  The resolution was voted down 45 to 34 (with eleven senators not voting) on February 6.[97]  That same day, the Senate voted 59 to 29 to ratify the treaty, passing the two-thirds threshold by a bare one-vote margin.  The United States thus became a formal imperial power, 123 years after its rebellion against British imperial rule in 1776.[98]

VI. The U.S.-Filipino War, 1899-1902

The idea of conqueror’s rights underpinned U.S. operations in the Philippines during the War of 1898, no less than in Cuba.

On May 1, Commodore George Dewey’s naval squadron annihilated the aging Spanish fleet in Manila Bay.  A small contingent of U.S. troops arrived one month later, followed by a large contingent under General Thomas M. Anderson on June 30.  Emilio Aguinaldo, the 29-year old son of a municipal governor and leader of the Philippine rebellion against Spain, was of the impression that the Americans had come to help the Filipino insurgents secure their independence.  The Filipino forces, he told his troops, were now allied with “the great North American nation, the cradle of liberty, and therefore the friend to our people.”[99]  On June 12, Aguinaldo and other Filipino leaders signed a newly written Philippine Declaration of Independence, inviting Colonel L. M. Johnson, the highest ranking American officer on land at the time, to witness the ceremony.
The Americans, however, proved unworthy of Aguinaldo’s trust.  In August, U.S. and Spanish officials secretly agreed to stage a mock battle without involving Aguinaldo, after which Spain surrendered to the United States alone.  As in Cuba, U.S. commanders did not formally recognize the Filipino rebels.  Once the Spanish were defeated, General Elwell Otis pressured Aguinaldo to relocate his forces to the outskirts of Manila, then he barred Filipino troops from entering the capital.  Filipino representatives were also barred from the Paris peace talks.  As there was no Teller Amendment for the Philippines, the McKinley administration dropped all pretense of endorsing independence and demanded full control over the archipelago.

Asserting U.S. control over the Philippines

Emilio Aguinaldo (standing, right) with his sister (right), son, mother, and brother. Born to a landowning family of Tagalog and Chinese ethnicity in the town of Cavite on March 23, 1869, Emilio became the president of the First Philippine Republic.

In the aftermath of the defeat of the Spanish, President McKinley moved to solidify U.S. authority over the Philippines and expand the U.S. military occupation.  General Otis repeatedly demanded that Filipino soldiers give up their positions on the outskirts of Manila, which U.S. soldiers promptly filled.  Admiral George Dewey, meanwhile, ordered Filipino vessels in Manila Bay to take down their Philippine flags.  The symbolism was clear: only the American flag would be flown over the Philippines.  Dewey also denied that he had made any promises to Emilio Aguinaldo regarding national independence, prompting the rebel leader to write his own version of the origins of the U.S.-Filipino War.  As relations between the two sides soured, Filipino leaders brought their grievances to Otis in a series of five meetings in January 1899. Otis, however, had no interest in ameliorating tensions as he was waiting for more American troops to arrive to strengthen his position.[100] Aguinaldo attempted to appease American officers at every turn, but in the end, he could not accept the subjugation of his country by the United States.

In December 1898 the president gave his “benevolent assimilation” speech in which he claimed U.S. sovereignty over the islands.  It was a bold claim, since the U.S. occupation did not extend beyond the “harbor, city, and bay of Manila.”[101]  According to McKinley, the United States did not intend to rule the archipelago as “invaders or conquerors, but as friends, to protect the natives in their homes, in their employment, and in their personal and religious rights.”  Denying any intention to exert imperial control, he declared that it is the “paramount aim of the military administration to win the confidence, respect, and affection of the inhabitants of the Philippines by assuring them in every possible way that full measure of individual rights and liberties which is the heritage of free peoples, and by proving to them that the mission of the United States is one of benevolent assimilation, substituting the mild sway of justice and right for arbitrary rule.”[102]
Major General Elwell S. Otis repeatedly claimed that the war was over, while his officers appealed to Washington for more troops

Major General Elwell S. Otis

Otis and most U.S. military officers had no illusions about “benevolent assimilation.”  They prepared for war, knowing that U.S. domination was unacceptable to the Filipinos, having fought for their national independence for two and a half years.  McKinley’s speech was not published in the Philippines until January 5, 1899, and the following day, Aguinaldo condemned the “violent and aggressive seizure” of the Philippines by the United States.[103]  Defying McKinley, he announced the formation of the first Philippine Republic on January 23.  The McKinley administration had already rejected Aguinaldo’s original declaration of independence (June 12, 1898), and he ignored this announcement as well.  It was clear that the former revolutionary had no intention of becoming part of an American empire.  By the end of January, Aguinaldo had taken the oath of office to become the President of the Philippines and helped write a new constitution “anchored in democratic traditions that ultimately had their roots on American soil.”[104]  The irony of Aguinaldo holding to American democratic principles while the McKinley administration rejected them for the Philippines was not lost on the anti-imperialists.

It is quite possible that war could have been avoided had McKinley been willing to grant the Philippines a protectorate status. By mid-January 1899 Aguinaldo was prepared to accept an agreement similar to the one signed with Cuba. He would consider settling for a limited independence, in spite of the objections from several of his advisers.[105]  Aguinaldo also tried to defuse mounting tensions between U.S. and Filipino troops by hosting discussions between U.S. and Filipino commissioners.  General Otis, however, rebuffed all recommendations.  His sentries were already shooting at Filipinos “on the slightest pretext,” according to the historian Stuart Creighton Miller.  During the last three weeks of peace, Otis initiated a “series of orders and maneuvers” indicating “that he may have planned and provoked the war”:

On January 16, he persuaded Dewey to move warships close to the water flanks of Aguinaldo’s semicircular line around Manila.  Two days later, he ordered his troops into “fighting khaki.” … Otis then carried out a most provocative maneuver on January 21 by moving part of the Nebraska regiment out to the hitherto unoccupied Santa Mesa, a finger of high ground that extended behind and above the entrenchments newly dug by the Filipinos … He assured the Filipino commander that the mesa would be used “for sanitary reasons only,” not military ones, whereupon he immediately transferred elements of the Utah Battery there and ordered them to train their artillery on the rear of the vulnerable Filipino positions. [106]

Feb. 5, 1899: Filipino men and women killed in the Battle of Manila

Feb. 5, 1899: Filipino men and women killed in the Battle of Manila

On February 2, Otis placed his troops on “full alert” and notified Admiral Dewey that the war could begin at any moment.  Finally, on February 4, he ordered his sentries to fire at any Filipinos entering American-occupied territory.  That evening, two American privates shot four Filipino soldiers, “now believed to have been drunk and unarmed.”[107]  In the morning U.S. troops and artillery units launched a full-scale attack on Filipino positions, resulting in the death of approximately 3,000 Filipinos soldiers, as compared to sixty Americans.  The 1st Idaho and 1st Washington Volunteers massacred hundreds of Filipinos who tried to cross the Pasig River. An American officer estimated that about 700 Filipinos who attempted to cross in boats and by swimming were killed, drowned, wounded or captured. Meanwhile, Admiral George Dewey’s naval guns indiscriminately pounded the coastlines.[108]

San Francisco Call, Jan. 5, 1899

San Francisco Call, Jan. 5, 1899

The official U.S. report presented by Secretary of War Elihu Root blamed the outbreak of violence on Aguinaldo, but a English observer skeptically noted, “If the Filipinos were the aggressors, it is very remarkable that the American troops should have been so well prepared for an unseen event as to be able to immediately and simultaneously attack, in full force, all the native outposts for miles around the capital.”[109]  U.S. officials in Washington validated Otis’ decision and continued to pursue the war.  They labeled it an “insurrection” and thus elided the Constitutional requirement that only Congress can declare war – which it never did.

San Francisco Call, Jan. 7, 1899

The fighting in the Philippines skewed the debate over imperialism in the U.S., as questions now centered on military strategy and imperialists demanded that citizens stand behind “our troops,” a tactic replayed in many wars in many countries.  The McKinley administration also denigrated its new enemy by contrasting the alleged “armed uprising” of Filipinos against the ostensible noble purposes of the United States.  Portraying the conflict in this manner served to delegitimize Filipino aspirations for independence and portray the Filipinos as childish, rebellious, and ungrateful.  Viewed from this perspective, Aguinaldo and his followers appeared to have rejected the gift of American tutelage and “further enlightenment.”[110]

Winning Filipino “Hearts and Minds”

American officials realized they could not rely on military force alone to compel submission.  Hence, they opted for a two-track strategy, on the one hand, waging a war against Aguinaldo and his nationalist fighters; on the other hand, winning over the non-committed and various constituencies through accommodation. The latter was more in keeping with the idea of “benevolent assimilation.”  It included building roads, improving sanitation, appointing Filipinos to local government councils, and tutoring Filipinos in the art of “self-government,” albeit under American rule.  Accommodation served to defuse some of the anger toward the occupation.  The historian Brian Linn argues that McKinley’s policy “established conciliation as the cornerstone of military policy in the Philippines.”[111]  This is overstated, however, as the overriding objectives of Washington’s policy were to suppress the rebellion, establish U.S. rule, and use the country as a basis to extend U.S. power, trade, and influence.

Filipino soldiers of Aguinaldo's Army (uniforms confiscated from the Spanish)

Filipino soldiers of Aguinaldo’s Army (uniforms confiscated from the Spanish)

From the point of view of U.S. policymakers, accommodation was cost-effective, as the conquered population participated in its own subordination by administering and policing itself.  Keeping the country subdued in this way would theoretically allow the U.S. to reduce the number of American soldiers in the country, ease the burden on the U.S. treasury, and quiet the anti-imperialist press at home.  By 1901 the McKinley administration had concluded a tacit bargain with prominent Filipinos, which, while denying immediate independence, called for greater elite participation in running their own affairs, with the promise of eventual independence.[112]

For many U.S. officials, however, tutoring Filipinos in the art of “self-government” was a dubious proposition.  William Howard Taft, who later became the Governor General of the Philippines, reported that “our little brown brothers” would need approximately “fifty or one hundred years” of close supervision to “develop anything resembling Anglo-Saxon political principles and skills.”[113] Like McKinley, Taft ignored the fact that Aguinaldo had created a republic prior to the outbreak of war and denied that such capabilities for self-government already existed among his “little brown brothers.”  Pro-war journalists claimed that it would be unwise and illogical to grant independence to such a lazy and dishonest group of people. As Charles Ballentine, a journalist from the Associated Press, informed his readers:

Our ‘little brown brother,’ the Filipino pure and simple, whom we are so anxious to uplift to his proper plane upon earth and relieve from the burden cast upon him by heredity and a few hundred years of Spanish domination, is without a doubt unreliable, untrustworthy, ignorant, vicious, immoral and lazy…tricky, and, as a race more dishonest than any known race on the face of the earth.[114]

Accommodation included the time tested strategy of divide-and-conquer.  Washington officials sought to separate the rank and file rebels from their leadership, and to exploit the class, linguistic, and religious fault lines of the insurgency.  Increasingly, Washington recruited the ilustrados, the wealthy Filipinos, to participate in the colonial endeavor through a combination of threats, inducements, and rewards.  Religion played a key role by pitting a Catholic majority against a Muslim minority in the South.  The latter defended their autonomy from any outsiders, whether Filipino, Spanish, or American.  Culture also served as a dividing line. Tagalog speakers, including Aquinaldo, dominated the key positions within the insurgency; and areas with high concentrations of Tagalog-speaking groups, including central and southern Luzon, were centers of resistance to U.S. rule.  Filipinos who lived outside of these areas were not as deeply committed to the revolutionary struggle.  Class divisions proved most debilitating.  Insurgent leaders did not offer their less fortunate countrymen an appealing vision of the future.  They envisioned themselves as providing the nation’s leadership and did not strongly believe in universal suffrage.  Nor were the economic benefits offered to poor and rural Filipinos sufficient to command their unwavering loyalty.[115]  These internal fault lines within Filipino society complicated Aguinaldo’s efforts to maintain unity and build broad based resistance to the American occupation.

Macabebe Scouts (Harper's Weekly photo, Dec. 23, 1899)

Macabebe Scouts employed by the U.S. Army

Wealthy Filipinos were not the only ones who collaborated with the United States. The U.S. Army also recruited soldiers among the Filipinos, especially the Macabebes.  This group had previously served under the Spanish and despised the Tagalogs, which dominated the insurgent ranks.  Using native forces as auxiliary units proved to be cost-effective and drove a wedge between the various Filipino ethnicities.  American generals also believed that the creation of indigenous units demoralized their enemy and undermined Filipino unity.[116]  The Macabebes served as scouts (light infantry) and joined paramilitary and police forces established after 1901.  American officers found them so helpful they created an additional four companies and eventually had over ten thousand serving as auxiliaries to U.S. troops.  Building upon these forces, American operatives created a secret service agency, whose primary aim was to detect plots against the government and defuse them.  In aiding U.S. operations, Macabebe forces committed numerous acts of brutality, including torture, throughout the conflict and during the period of American colonial rule.  As the historian Jeremy Kuzmarov notes, the various programs the U.S. enacted in the Philippines became staples of the global police program established after World War II. [117]

Suppressing Filipino Independence

The U.S. Army relied on its previous experiences battling indigenous Americans to defeat the Filipino insurgents.  As the historian Walter Williams has observed, U.S. Indian policy served as a “precedent for imperialist domination over the Philippines and other islands occupied during the Spanish-American War.”[118]  The majority of generals who served in the Philippines had participated in the various conflicts with American Indians in the late nineteenth-century.[119] Their experiences informed their practices against the Filipino insurgents, especially their belief in using force to smash their enemies’ will to resist.  As Major General Lloyd Wheaton put it, “You can’t put down a rebellion by throwing confetti and sprinkling perfumery.”[120]

13th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry with gatling gun

13th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry with Gatling Gun, capable of firing 600 rounds per minute

Out in the field, the goal was not to win “hearts and minds” but to terrorize the population into submission, creating a climate of fear that would undermine popular support for Aguinaldo. Between February and late October 1899 Aguinaldo fought U.S. troops conventionally and suffered numerous defeats.  Fighting between the two sides largely occurred on the island of Luzon, including the capital, Manila, and the towns of Malolos and Tarlac.  During the set-piece battles, Aguinaldo’s forces assumed a defensive posture by manning trenches or natural obstacles.  U.S. artillery pounded Filipino lines, decimating their forces.  Armed with inferior weapons and lacking ammunition, Aguinaldo realized that continuing with the same strategy would lead to certain defeat; hence he launched a guerrilla war against the U.S. occupation in November 1899.  The head of the Filipino resistance did not seek to win a decisive victory.  Rather, conscious that many Americans were opposed to the acquisition of the Philippines, Aguinaldo sought to undermine the U.S. will to fight, and potentially influence the next presidential election.


U.S. soldiers take aim at Filipino foes

U.S. soldiers on the front lines rarely acknowledged any positive views of Filipinos in their diaries or letters home.  Instead they displayed paternalistic and racist feelings toward the Filipinos. More than a few troops were also “just itching to get at the niggers.”[121]  Moreover, it seemed that the longer they remained in the Philippines, the greater their contempt for the Filipinos.  Many U.S. soldiers brought their racial perceptions, hostility toward non-whites, and experience fighting American Indians with them to the Philippines. It created a toxic combination that could easily degenerate into excessive and unregulated violence.[122]

The racist attitudes of white troops posed a troubling moral dilemma to African-American soldiers.  Many of the 7,000 who served in the Philippines recognized the quandary their service posed: they were propagating a system abroad that was similar to one at home that made them second class citizens.  As African-American soldiers were determined to prove their own worth, many viewed the Filipinos sympathetically, as people struggling for their own freedom.  Sergeant Patrick Mason confessed, “I feel sorry for these people and all that have come under the control of the U.S.  I don’t believe they will be justly dealt by.  The first thing in the morning is nigger and the last thing at night is nigger.”[123]  African American troops nonetheless saw their service as an opportunity to demonstrate their manliness and service to the country.  They believed that their heroism would command respect and equality back at home.  Most of their white counterparts, unfortunately, strongly disagreed.
These tensions were also mirrored within the African-American community at home.  Church leaders were split on the war.  Outspoken ministers such as Bishop Henry M. Turner labeled it an “unholy war of conquest.”  Reverend W. A. Holmes characterized the conflict as an effort by white America to inflict on the inhabitants of the Philippines “color-phobia, jim-crow cars, disenfranchisement, lynchers, and everything that prejudice can do to blight the manhood of the darker races.”[124]  African-American editors were also divided.  Newspapers such as the Indianapolis Recorder viewed Filipinos as “colored cousins” who, like black Americans, struggled for emancipation and suffered under the same odious racism.  Conversely, African-American newspapers such as the New York Age supported the imperialist view and admonished its readership that opposition to service would exacerbate white resentment toward them.[125]
Members of the 9th Cavalry unit

Members of the 9th Cavalry unit

Filipino rebels tried to exploit these grievances and ambiguities by disseminating flyers and posters to convince African-American troops to desert. They appealed to the “Colored American Soldier” and reminded him of the lynching and discrimination he faced at home. The war, in fact, coincided with an explosion of lynching in the Southern U.S. and concerted efforts to dismantle civil rights laws made during Reconstruction.  Insurgent propaganda depicted the conflict as an unjust racial war and highlighted the affinities between the two peoples.  A handful of African-African troops deserted and served in Aguinaldo’s army. The most notorious of them, Private David Fagen, became a captain in the insurgent army and had a bounty placed on his head.  His death remains a subject of dispute.

Company G of the 32nd Infantry ambushed on Feb. 5, 1900j

An ambush on Feb. 5, 1900 left six U.S. soldiers dead

Aguinaldo’s decision to adopt unconventional warfare annoyed and frustrated American soldiers and commanders.  Out in the field, as the rebellion continued, officers began shifting toward employing more forceful tactics, especially after the election of 1900.  As the historian Richard Welch notes, American hatred for Filipinos clearly accelerated when the war moved into this stage.[126]  Those justifying harsh U.S. tactics, including the killing of civilians, typically placed the blame on the insurgents for violating prevailing concepts of “civilized” warfare.  H. L. Wells, a correspondent for the New York Evening Post, succinctly captured the racist underpinnings of this view when he wrote:

There is no question that our men do ‘shoot niggers’ somewhat in the sporting spirit, but that is because war and their environments have rubbed off the thin veneer of civilization … undoubtedly, they do not regard the shooting of Filipinos just as they would the shooting of white troops. This is partly because they are ‘only niggers’ and partly because they despise them for their treacherous servility.… the soldiers feel that they are fighting with savages, not with soldiers.[127]

Captain John Leland Jordan similarly complained, the Filipinos “cannot even be said to be half civilized, but must be classed as barbarous.”  Classifying people as uncivilized served an important purpose: it dehumanized the insurgents and provided a rationalization for the increasingly harsh tactics used by American soldiers.  Since the Filipinos allegedly lacked the trappings of civilization, they were not owed the restraints of war offered to civilized opponents.

Revenge taken by U.S. troops against towns usually went unreported.

The razing of towns by U.S. troops generally went unreported

Although there was no formally ratified international law governing the conduct of war, there were rules of warfare for the U.S. Army.  Written during the Civil War. General Orders 100 attempted to strike a balance between moderation and reconciliation, on the one hand, and blunt force on the other.  Even though American soldiers were required to avoid alienating the enemy’s population, the regulations allowed for the destruction of property and “withholding of sustenance or any means of life from the enemy” to compel the enemy to surrender.  As the U.S. struggled to pacify the archipelago, General Orders 100 would be used to justify the use of harsh tactics to terminate the insurrection.

General Otis kept a close eye on how journalists covered the fighting.  Under his command all dispatches were subject to censorship.  Throughout his tenure the general repeatedly maintained that U.S. forces were close to achieving victory.  “Critical” journalists were either banished or denied access to his press briefings.  To avoid Otis’ censor, journalists mailed their dispatches to Hong Kong where they could be cabled back home.  Correspondents initially censored their reporting to deny the enemy intelligence.  As the war continued, however, journalists increasingly viewed Otis’ heavy-handed actions as a means to support the general’s rosy depiction of the war, conceal any reversals experienced by U.S. troops, and cover up any abuses committed by American forces.

Republican campaign message, 1900: U.S. rule abroad is “for humanity’s sake”

In May 1900, approximately six months before the presidential election, McKinley relieved General Otis of duty, supposedly at his own request.  After the change of command ceremony, a reporter asked the departing general if the U.S. had defeated its enemy. Otis did not disappoint his critics.  The general essentially declared the war over, informing the journalist, “I have held the opinion for some time that the thing is entirely over.  I cannot see where it is possible for the guerrillas to effect any reorganization, concentrate any force or accomplish anything serious.”  Newspapers critical of the administration, such as the New York World and the San Francisco Call, lampooned Otis’ statement and offered sobering news, including the recent ambush of U.S. troops in a well-planned and coordinated attack by Filipino rebels.[128]  A little over a century later, President George W. Bush made a similarly absurd declaration, declaring “mission accomplished” in Iraq.  In both cases, the conflict had only begun.

General Arthur MacArthur

General Arthur MacArthur

Otis’ successor, General Arthur MacArthur – father of Douglas MacArthur – hoped to crush the guerrilla forces quickly and decisively.  According to the historian Susan Brewer, MacArthur “rejected ‘benevolent assimilation’ and with it the belief that most Filipinos really wanted American rule.  In December, MacArthur ordered U.S. forces to wage war against the civilian population in hostile areas.  The Americans employed torture, executed prisoners, raped women, looted villages, and destroyed the rural economy.”[129]  The general loosened the restraints of war under General Orders 100 and fostered a climate that led to the excessive use of force and other abuses.[130]  These measures included burning suspected villagers’ houses, relocating entire villages into concentration centers, and engaging in aggressive interrogation techniques.  The most notorious examples of these tactics were applied in force on the islands of Samar and Luzon.

Ironically, it was General MacArthur’s own report in September 1900 that led the press to ask what “plunged us into the horrible mire in which we are now floundering,” as the Springfield Republican put it.  MacArthur had acknowledged that the guerrilla war “depends upon almost complete unity of action of the entire population,” thus uncovering the lie that the population supported the American occupation and that the rebels were little more than “bandits” preying on the people.[131]  A correspondent from the Philadelphia Ledger covering the war filed a lurid and disturbing account of American troops’ conduct in November 1900:

The present war is no bloodless fake, opera bouffé engagement.  Our men have been relentless; have killed to exterminate men, women, children, prisoners and captives, active insurgents and suspected people, lads of ten and up, an idea prevailing that the Filipino, as such was little better than a dog, a noisome reptile in some instances, whose best disposition was the rubbish heap.  Our soldiers have pumped salt water into men to “make them talk,” have taken prisoner people who held up their hands and peacefully surrendered, and an hour later, without an atom of evidence to show that they were even insurrectos, stood them on a bridge and shot them down one by one, to drop into the water below and float down as an example to whose found their bullet riddled corpses.

While confessing that American troops were not engaging in “civilized warfare,” the author reminded his readers that “we are not dealing with a civilized people. The only thing they know is force, violence, and brutality, and we give it to them.”[132]

In March 1901, a daring raid led by General Frederick Funston resulted in the capture of Aguinaldo. His capture induced some combatants to surrender but did not end the Filipino insurrection. Instead, the guerrilla war continued and American tactics grew increasingly harsh. American policymakers nonetheless reassured the American electorate that the United States was continuing to make progress in its struggle against “bandits.”

“Policies of Chastisement”

Major General Adna R. Chaffee

Major General Adna R. Chaffee

The repression intensified under the new commanding general, Adna Chaffee, who replaced MacArthur on July 1, 1901.  Chaffee, a veteran of Indian wars, declared that “the situation calls for shot, shells and bayonets as the natives are not to be trusted.”[133]  In September, approximately fifty U.S. soldiers were slaughtered in a surprise attack on the American garrison at Balangiga, on the island of Samar.  News of the massacre shocked Americans, much like George Custer’s “last stand” in 1876, as the American generals had repeatedly declared the “insurrection” virtually over.  In response, General Chaffee assigned General Jacob “Hell-Roaring Jake” Smith the task of pacifying the whole island of Samar.  Smith promised swift retaliation.  He told one of his subordinates, “I want no prisoners. I wish you to kill and burn, the more you kill and burn the better you will please me.”  He issued orders to “kill everyone over the age of ten” and turn the island into a “howling wilderness.”[134] U.S. troops subjected the inhabitants of Samar to a merciless campaign, although they did not literally kill every male over the age of ten. Abandoning all pretense of winning “hearts and minds,” the Army waged scorched-earth operations across the Philippines to bring the “savages” to heel.

Brig. Gen. J. Franklin Bell

Brig. Gen. J. Franklin Bell

 General J. Franklin Bell focused on defeating insurgents in the southern part of Luzon by depriving them of food and civilian support. This required the large-scale use of reconcentration in the area around Batangas.  On December 26, 1901, he wrote to his superior, General Lloyd Wheaton, stating that he intended “to destroy everything I find outside of towns” and that “all able-bodied men will be killed or captured. Old men, women, and children will be sent to towns.”  He added, “I feel morally certain that they cannot stand the strain and the lack of food that will ensue for two months.”[135]  American forces carried out the plan, confiscating animals and crops, torching villages, and driving civilians into disease-ridden camps.  After being relocated, Bell’s troops kept a vigilant watch over the population.  Anything outside of the camps was destroyed – houses, livestock, food, and whatever other items could conceivably be used to support the insurgents.  Malnutrition and disease spread through the camps and the countryside, particularly cholera, dysentery, and smallpox.  At least 11,000 residents of Batangas perished during Bell’s four-month campaign from January through April 1902.  Bell nevertheless regarded the campaign as a military success, as his Filipino antagonist, Miguel Malvar, surrendered in April 1902 after enduring many desertions.[136]

Reconcentration camp in southwester Luzon

Reconcentration camp in southwestern Luzon

The purpose of the reconcentration centers was to separate insurgents from civilians and deny the insurgents access to food, intelligence, shelter, and other essential items.  The rebels’ relationship with the people was a double-edged sword.  It was their source of strength but also a source of weakness since they were dependent upon civilians for all their needs.  If the civilians failed­ to help the insurgents, the guerrillas might retaliate.[137]  Now Americans brought pressure from the other side.  All Filipinos who failed to offer active assistance to U.S. troops were considered suspect, and fear of insurgent reprisal was not recognized as a valid excuse for anyone supporting insurgents in any form.[138]  Neutrality was no longer possible.  Essentially, this practice was similar to what General Valeriano Weyler had done in Cuba, which had aroused so much anger in the United States.  Army commanders used euphemisms such as “colonies” or “zones of protection” to describe the reconcentration camps.  They censored reporter dispatches but word nonetheless leaked out.[139]

U.S. troops administering the "water cure"

Photo of U.S. troops administering the “water detail,” reportedly taken in May 1901 in Sual (west central Luzon)

Rumors of U.S. soldiers engaging in the “water cure” also reached the American public. Suspects under interrogation had water forced down their throats to simulate drowning.  One of the first reports was sent by a soldier to the Omaha World in April 1900:

Lay them on their backs, a man standing on each hand and each foot, then put a round stick in the mouth and pour a pail of water in the mouth and nose, and if they don’t give up pour in another pail.  They swell up like toads.  I’ll tell you it is a horrible torture.[140]

Cartoon: European imperialists watch with approval as U.S. troops secure their rule over their new Philippine subjects

Cartoon: European imperialists watch with approval as U.S. troops secure their rule in the Philippines

This practice increased during the last twenty months of the war, especially on the island of Samar.[141]  Officially, the Army condemned such abuses, but unofficially many officers winked at the practice, and military courts proved exceedingly reluctant to punish officers charged with applying coercive methods.[142]  Theodore Roosevelt, who assumed the presidency after McKinley’s assassination in September 1901, used the “bully pulpit” to exonerate U.S. soldiers and consecrate the war as a noble duty.

A “Few Bad Apples”

For the first three years of the war, reports of atrocities by U.S. troops were relatively rare.  It was difficult for reporters to provide concrete proof of American misconduct and any allegations of such prompted vehement denials and accusations of disloyalty by administration officials, military leaders, and the pro-imperialist press.  Censorship also increased as American tactics grew harsher.[143]

Gen. Jacob H. Smith's order to kill everyone over the age of ten on the island of Samar became infamous

Gen. Jacob H. Smith’s order to kill everyone over the age of ten on the island of Samar became infamous (New York Journal, May 5, 1902)

As American atrocities became more widespread and egregious, however, unfiltered reports by journalists and letters from soldiers became more frequent, eroding the edifice of denial erected by the administration and its supporters.  Herbert Welsh, the editor of City and State, played a prominent role in uncovering abuses committed by American troops.  Welsh and his assistants tracked down veterans to obtain their testimony.  His efforts persuaded more journalists to report on American troops participating in torture, especially the “water cure.”  Anti-imperialist newspapers also seized on General Bell’s reconcentration policy and compared it to General Weyler’s.  The Chicago Public published an item entitled “Reconcentration – Condemned by the American people in 1898, Sanctioned by the American Government in 1902.”[144]

Mark Twain issued several searing critiques.  In an essay titled “As Regards Patriotism,” he wrote with typical sarcasm, “Training made us loathe Weyler’s cruel concentration camps,” yet “training has persuaded us to prefer them to any other device for winning the love of our ‘wards.’”  In an earlier essay, “To the Person Sitting in Darkness,” published in the North American Review in February 1901, Twain made his points by pretending to convince the “person sitting in darkness” that the benefits of empire outweigh any unseemly American actions in the Philippines:

True, we have crushed a deceived and confiding people; we have turned against the weak and the friendless who trusted us; we have stamped out a just and intelligent and well-ordered republic … but each detail was for the best. We know this…. [Our actions have been approved by] the Blessings-of-Civilization Trust. This world-girdling accumulation of trained morals, high principles, and justice, cannot do an unright thing, an unfair thing, an ungenerous thing, an unclean thing. It knows what it is about. Give yourself no uneasiness; it is all right.[145]


Anti-imperialist poetry was one way to spread the message

The anti-Imperialist movement continued to organize and agitate, raising awareness of the costs and contradictions of U.S. imperialism in the Philippines.  Women, especially suffragists, increasingly joined the cause. Jane Addams was one of eight plenary speakers at the Chicago Liberty Meeting on April 30, 1899.  Her address, “Democracy or Militarism,” called attention to the diversion of imperialism from needed progressive reforms at home.  Others noted the affinity between colonized peoples and themselves, as neither had voting rights.  The Women’s Christian Temperance Union helped distributed anti-imperialist literature through its many local chapters, focusing particularly on the spread of prostitution in the Philippines under U.S. rule.  The national Anti-Imperialist League was not in the vanguard on women’s rights, as it did not accept women in elected leadership positions until 1904.  Nevertheless, in 1901 Josephine Shaw Lowell became the first woman appointed vice president of the New York Anti-Imperialist League.  As news of atrocities in the Philippines spread, anti-imperialist women and men used the medium of poetry to convey their messages, a common form of political communication at the time.[146]

In Washington, Senator George Hoar requested a Senate committee hearing to investigate the conduct of the war, the administration of the islands, and the condition and character of the inhabitants.  Hoar, by this time, had received many letters from soldiers and their parents reciting crimes committed by troops.[147]  The U.S. Senate Committee on the Philippines convened hearings on January 31, 1902.  Hoar sought to investigate and expose U.S. atrocities and war crimes, the logical result of the policy of imperialism, but administration supporters dominated the hearings and did their utmost to cover them up and evade responsibility.  Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, using his powers as committee chair, intimidated witnesses and revealed personal information to undermine their credibility.  Pro-war senators wanted to discredit the allegations of cruelty and, failing that, present them as isolated cases, not the result of policy approved by senior officials.

The committee requested the testimony of current and former senior officials to disprove the various allegations.  Senior officers who testified feigned ignorance or downplayed the atrocities.  Several, including General MacArthur, stumbled through their testimonies.  When asked by a critical senator to explain the disparity in the ratio of killed to wounded, the general attributed the figures to American marksmanship.  Interestingly, an army study noted that target practice efficiency was less than thirty percent.[148]

William Howard Taft

Despite the best efforts of Senator Lodge and company to dismiss allegations of wrongdoing, numerous atrocities committed by U.S. troops and authorized by U.S. commanders were revealed during the hearings.  Commissioner William Howard Taft acknowledged under questioning that U.S. soldiers had administered the “so called water cure … to extract information,” and that houses had been burned indiscriminately in order to eliminate shelters for guerrillas.  Corporal Cyrus Ricketts told the committee he had witnessed the murder of insurgents who had surrendered, although his superiors had denied it.  Brigadier General Robert Hughes, the U.S. commander for the Visayas (middle Philippines), described the burning of towns and villages on the “unpacified” island of Loay following the landing of 400 U.S. soldiers on November 4, 1901. “But is that within the ordinary rules of civilized warfare?” asked Senator Joseph Rawlins.  The general replied, “These people are not civilized.”[149]

Anti-imperialist critics used these public statements along with press reports to support their claims that “the whole policy of pacification by force of arms is as unpracticable as it is un-American,” as the New York World put it.[150]  For a short period in April and May 1902, the pro-imperialist press was sobered, having hammered the anti-imperialists for three years for even raising the issue of American atrocities.  Revelations in the Senate hearings reinvigorated the Anti-Imperialist League, which now denounced the conduct of the war as strongly as its imperial purpose.  Two prominent League officials, Julian Codman and Moorfield Storey, accused Secretary of War Elihu Root of complicity in the atrocities committed by U.S. troops in their 1902 pamphlet, Secretary Root’s Record: “Marked Severities in Philippine Warfare: an Analysis of the Law and Facts Bearing on the Action and Utterances of President Roosevelt and Secretary Root.
The administration and its allies launched a counterattack between May and June to discredit the authors and refute the charges.  Senator Lodge fired the first volley in a Senate speech on May 5, questioning the patriotism of the administration’s critics and denouncing them as traitors who ignored the sufferings and the violence perpetrated against U.S. troops.  He also reapplied some of the same rhetoric used during the ratification debate over the Treaty of Paris, including characterizing the administration’s foes as the lineal descendants of the Copperheads—Northerners who opposed the Civil War and advocated restoration of the union through negotiations with the South.  Lodge sought to minimize the allegations of misconduct by attributing them to a small group of aberrant individuals and “virulent partisans” who exploited the atrocities for political gain.  He assured the American people that any guilty party could expect swift punishment.

If fact, there was no serious punishment of those who committed war crimes.  While the Lodge Committee held its deliberations, the Army put on trial several officers, including General Jacob Smith, General J. Franklin Bell, Major Littleton Waller, and Captain Edwin Glenn.  Bell and Waller, who had respectively carried out extermination campaigns on the islands of Luzon and Samar, were exonerated in March 1902, based on their defense that they were only following orders – an argument that would later be rejected by the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal.  The Army found General Smith, who gave the orders, guilty of “conduct to the prejudice of good order and military discipline.”[151]  His sentence consisted of being “admonished by the reviewing authority,” and he was allowed to retire without punishment.  Captain Glenn had ordered the town of Igbaras on the island of Panay, with 400-500 houses, burned to the ground and also employed the “water-cure” torture to extract information.  He was given a one-month suspension and fined fifty dollars.  He went on to become a Major General.

TR-memorial day

Memorial Day address, May 30, 1902

Roosevelt took the lead in the counteroffensive against the critics of his Philippine policy.  He gave a speech on Memorial Day at Arlington National Cemetery, repeating many of the same arguments made by Lodge weeks earlier, including that American soldiers had operated with considerable restraint.  He reminded his audience that the United States was engaged in a truly lofty and noble pursuit – spreading American civilization to semi-civilized people.  Roosevelt depicted the Filipinos as savages who operated outside the laws of “civilized warfare.”  Their supposed barbarity provided a sufficient explanation for the stern measures used by U.S. troops. But once again, the abuses committed were few and far between, according to Roosevelt; humanity, not severity, marked the conduct of U.S. policy in the Philippines.[152]

The Lodge committee adjourned on June 28.  Its final report, issued by Senator Albert Beveridge, concluded that not only were the allegations of atrocities false, but the Army had conducted its mission in a humane and civilized manner.  Beveridge’s report was a thorough whitewash.  Essentially, the cruelty and war crimes committed by U.S. troops in the Philippines were deemed isolated cases, not the result of a policy approved by senior officials to suppress a revolutionary movement.  Much of the press seemed to agree.  Interest in revelations of atrocities peaked in the spring of spring 1902 and thereafter abated.[153]
Overall, the American public appeared more receptive to the administration’s portrayal of events than to that of the anti-imperialists and war critics.  The Anti-Imperialist League had attempted to create some measure of empathy for the Filipino people by circulating Filipino-authored essays, including Emilio Aguinaldo’s version of how the war started, and facilitating speaking tours for visiting Filipino civilians, but such efforts were used by Roosevelt and pro-imperialist press to paint the League as siding with the enemy.  As in other wars, past and future, the antiwar movement was accused of undermining the morale of U.S. troops and encouraging the enemy to continue the fight on.

On March 7, 1906, US troops under the command of Major General Leonard Wood massacred as many as 1,000 Filipino Muslims, known as Moros, who were taking refuge at Bud Dajo, a volcanic crater on the island of Jolo in the southern Philippines (PhilNews.XYZ)

On July 4, 1902, less than one week after the Senate hearings adjourned, President Roosevelt officially declared victory in the Philippines.  The war, in fact, was not over, as fighting in the southern provinces continued until 1914; but the fall elections were approaching and Roosevelt did not want the burdens of the war to diminish Republican political prospects.  On the same day, Roosevelt issued Proclamation 483, which granted a “full and complete pardon and amnesty to all persons in the Philippine Archipelago who have participated in the insurrections.”[154]  The announcement that the war was over produced muted relief in the nation’s press.[155]  The war had sapped popular enthusiasm for empire, although the “duty” to maintain it still remained.

Anti-imperialists such as Moorfield Storey and Mark Twain continued to write about the deceptions and abuses of American imperialism in the Philippines, but the Anti-Imperialist League as an organization began to lose vitality, although it lasted until 1921.[156]  The Democratic Party issued strong anti-imperialist statements in its election platforms, but party leaders were reluctant to push for an immediate end to colonial rule in the Philippines.  The party platform in 1908 declared, “We condemn the experiment in imperialism as an inexcusable blunder which has involved us in enormous expense, brought us weakness instead of strength, and laid our nation open to the charge of abandoning a fundamental doctrine of self-government.”[157]
According to the military historian Max Boot, “Pacifying the Philippines had proved to be much more difficult than virtually anyone had predicted.  Between 1898 and 1902, a total of 126,468 American soldiers served there (though never more than 69,000 at one time) and fought in 2,811 engagements.  By July 4, 1902, the U.S. had lost 4,234 dead and suffered 2,818 wounded.”  About one-fourth of American soldiers who died in the war were killed in battle, while three-fourths died from disease and other causes.  The overall casualty rate of 5.5 percent “was one of the highest of any war in American history,” according to the historian Richard E. Welch.  As for Filipinos, U.S. forces killed an estimated 16,000 to 20,000 soldiers, and “as many as 200,000 Filipino civilians died from violence, famine, and disease,” according to the U.S. State Department’s Office of the Historian.[158]

Legacies and lessons

Memorial to the Spanish American War at Arlington National Cemetery

While the anti-imperialists did not defeat the Treaty of Paris or end the U.S.-Filipino War, they provided a valuable service to the nation. Their criticism forced the McKinley administration to openly disavow and possibly scale back its imperialist intentions. Reports of soldier abuses also highlighted the moral costs associated with imperialism.  The exposure of these cruelties helped to dissipate public support for further colonial possessions.  The anti-imperialist critique of the tangible costs of empire and its illusory benefits also proved prescient.  “Even Theodore Roosevelt came to believe that the acquisition of the Philippines was a mistake,” writes the diplomatic historian Jerald Combs.  “He concluded that the islands were a strategic Achilles heel:  they invited attack from other powers in Asia and could not be defended.”[159]  The cost of administering and maintaining the Philippines’ security outstripped any benefits of keeping it within the American system.  Japan’s invasion and annexation of the Philippines during World War II delivered the final coup de grâce.  One year after World War II ended, the U.S. relinquished control of the Philippines.

The anti-imperialists at the turn of the 20th century heralded a global paradigm shift in attitudes toward imperialism that would take hold after World War II.  During the thirty year period following the war, European imperial nations gave up their colonies, willingly or not, and a new international ethos against empire-building developed in its place.  Indeed, the very word “imperialism” became a term of opprobrium.  Both the British and the French, being the great imperial powers of the era, were humbled by this change.  In December 2012, French President Francois Hollande visited the former French colony of Algeria and told the parliament there, “For 132 years, Algeria was subjected to a brutal and unfair system: colonization.  I acknowledge the suffering it caused.”[160]  British Prime Minister David Cameron, while visiting India in February 2013, apologized for the Amritsar massacre of 1919, in which British troops killed 379 unarmed people.  He laid a wreath at the site and wrote in the visitor’s book, “This is a deeply shameful event in British history…. We must never forget what happened here.”[161]
The paradigm shift in attitudes regarding imperialism has been less pronounced in the United States, as U.S. leaders have continued to deny allegations of imperialism.  When President George W. Bush visited the Philippines on October 18, 2003, he depicted the 48-year American occupation as an exercise in benevolent democratization.  He told the Philippine Congress that the United States had “liberated the Philippines from colonial rule” and encouraged the Filipinos to “develop institutions that would permit and encourage the eventual establishment of a free and independent government.”[162]  According to this reading of history, the McKinley administration’s policies were a success.
Although the brutal, atrocity-filled U.S.-Filipino War dampened public enthusiasm for an American empire in Asia in the short run, it did not deter Washington from continuing to expand its influence in the region.  The U.S. acquisition and colonization of the Philippines, as such, marked the beginning of a century-long effort to establish a measure of American hegemony in East Asia.  America’s four wars in Asia during the 20th century – against Filipino rebels, Japanese expansionists, and communists in Korea and Vietnam – are generally considered separate historical events but should be understood as interconnected efforts by Washington to extend its power and influence.  By mid-century, many U.S. leaders had come to expect American dominance in East Asia.  When the Chinese civil war ended in defeat for the U.S.-backed faction led by Chiang Kai-shek (Jiang Jieshi), Republican leaders accused the Truman administration of “losing China,” as if this huge country belonged in the U.S. orbit.  One of the unlearned lessons from the U.S.-Filipino War, which re-emerged in the Korean and Vietnam wars, was that the United States could not easily control the destinies of Asian peoples, a lesson that belatedly dawned on other imperial powers as well. As the diplomatic historian Michael Hunt wrote, “Far from being blank slates on which Americans were to write, Asians had their own dreams, and their dogged attachment to those dreams helped disabuse Americans of the idea of a cheap or easy Asian imperium.”[163]

It took the United States approximately three and a half years to crush the resistance in the greater part of the Philippines.  American troops found themselves fighting an opponent whose culture and language they did not comprehend, and for many, had no interest in understanding.  They also quickly discovered how difficult it could be to distinguish friendly civilians from guerrillas.  Combined with racial prejudices and the frustrations of a counterinsurgency war, U.S. troops engaged in various types of transgressions Americans usually ascribed to European imperialists, and which would be considered war crimes today.  In an effort to keep the American public in the dark about these atrocities, Roosevelt, Lodge, and the generals engaged in systematic censorship, denial, and intimidation of those who revealed them, undermining Constitutional principles regarding a free press.

U.S. military “success” in the Philippines depended on a combination of unrelenting warfare, reconcentration of civilians, and accommodation policies that aggravated existing class, cultural, and linguistic fault lines of the Filipino insurgency.  The U.S. fought against a relatively nascent revolutionary organization which had not waged a decades-long armed struggle; nor had it established a sufficiently broad-based revolution, instituted cross-border sanctuaries, or gained international support.  Thus the United States was able to isolate the guerrillas and crush the nationalist movement.  Whereas this strategy worked in the Philippines, it failed miserably in Vietnam decades later. The Vietnamese nationalists and communists utilized all of these elements to force the United States to abandon its “protective” mission in Vietnam.

U.S. strategists also realized the utility of recruiting and using native collaborators to serve Washington’s broader goals. For example, Filipinos served as auxiliaries to American forces or for internal security.  Richard Nixon’s decision to use South Vietnamese troops, also known as Vietnamization, can be traced back to the Philippines and the desire to avoid American casualties, limit expenditures, and silence domestic critics.  The U.S. war in Vietnam exhibited many of the same qualities as the U.S.-Filipino War, especially the military’s inability or unwillingness to distinguish civilians from guerrillas.  Advances in weaponry over the sixty year interval made the Vietnam War much more lethal, with civilian deaths approaching 2,000,000 (in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia), as compared to 200,000 in the Philippines.  According to the historian Howard Zinn, “The parallels between the Philippine and Indochina wars are striking:”

the trumped-up “incidents” to justify launching the war (a land version of the Gulf of Tonkin affair); the euphemisms for imperial expansion (McKinley called his policy “Benevolent Assimilation”); the ignoring of peace overtures from the other side; the desperation over the popular support for the guerrillas, and the subsequent turning to terror tactics against the population …[164]

Stamp honoring Philippine Independence Day, June 12, 1898

Stamp honoring Philippine Independence Day, June 12, 1898

U.S. wars in the Philippines and Vietnam were alike in another way.  In both cases, the U.S. undermined national independence and democratic aspirations.  Both Emilio Aguinaldo and Ho Chi Minh hoped and expected that the U.S. would come to their aid as they formed new governments.  Both borrowed from the U.S. Declaration of Independence in writing their own national declarations of independence.  That the U.S. did not come to their aid but rather sought to impose its control is a great tragedy, an enormous mistake for which the U.S. has yet to make amends.  U.S. administrations justified both wars in the name of extending America’s free institutions, thus creating a profound ideological contradiction that has yet to be disentangled.  Americans today are habituated to the idea that wherever U.S. troops are sent, the purpose is to “protect freedom” and “promote democracy.”  To examine the reality beneath such idealistic goals can be shocking and disturbing, as indeed was the case during the U.S.-Filipino War.  This profound contradiction is arguably the main reason why the U.S.-Filipino War quickly became a “forgotten war,” its purpose and conduct being beyond the pale of America’s noble self-image.

VII. Historical interpretations

The historical literature on the War of 1898 and the U.S.-Filipino War, like many other subjects within the discipline, has not remained static since the early twentieth century.

The War of 1898

The first American accounts of the War of 1898 were largely celebrations of the “splendid little war.”  These included Theodore Roosevelt’s The Rough Riders (1899), an instant best seller, and paeans to Admiral George Dewey’s naval victory in Manila Bay.  Implicit in these heroic war stories was the assumption of noble U.S. motives.  In scholarly accounts as well, it was generally taken for granted that the U.S. came to the rescue of Cuba, with the Teller Amendment exhibited as proof that the U.S. intended to liberate, not dominate Cuba.  The American scholar and future president Woodrow Wilson, in his History of the American People (1902), wrote that the war was “not for the material aggrandizement of the United States, but for the assertion of the right of the government to succor those who seemed hopelessly oppressed.”[165]  In the words of the historian Robert J. McMahon, these historical accounts tended “to recreate ‘the world according to Washington’ and to judge policy against the standards, values, and assumptions of American decision-makers.”[166]
José Martí statue in Santiago de Cuba

José Martí statue in Santiago

Cuban historians have never accepted this triumphal American version of the war.  “Americans remembered 1898 as something done for Cubans,” writes Louis A. Pérez, whereas “Cubans remembered 1898 as something done to them.”  In Cuban accounts, “The Americans had arrived as allies but remained to rule.  Worse still, many Cubans could not escape the sense that they themselves had served as unwitting accomplices to their own undoing.  The turn of events was more than disappointment; it was deception…. there was something very wrong about the way things ended.”  In 1945, the Cuban national congress decreed that the war should be named the “Spanish-Cuban-American War,” thereby establishing the centrality of the Cuban Revolution of 1895.  According to one account written in 1950, “Cuba does not owe its independence to the United States of North America, but to the efforts of its own people, through their firm and indomitable will to end the injustices, abuses, discriminations, and exploitation suffered under the despotic colonial regime.”[167]

The official U.S. version of the War of 1898 was largely accepted by American historians for more than half a century before it began to unravel under critical questioning.  The necessity of the war came under scrutiny in William Leuchtenberg’s essay, “The Needless War with Spain” (1957).  Leuchtenberg portrayed President McKinley as a man of peace but weak and unable to resist the combined pressure of Republican jingoists, the “yellow press,” and public sentiments in favor of war.  (The author thus validated Spanish ambassador de Lôme’s private view of McKinley.)  Regardless of whether this is an accurate depiction of McKinley, the author found no just cause for war.[168]  Norman Graebner reached a similar conclusion in 1961, based on national security interests, writing that “the United States had no legitimate cause for declaring war on Spain.”  Ruth Bartlett likewise maintained in 1963 that “the United States had no just cause for war against Spain.”  Robert Welch insightfully argued that the war “encouraged a national tendency to confuse the promotion of United States interests with the progress and well-being of other peoples.”  American scholars also reassessed the role of Cuban rebels in the “Spanish American” War.  Accounts by John Scott Reed, David Healy, David Trask, Thomas Patterson, and others all attested to the military contribution of the rebels in defeating the Spanish.[169]
W_Perez_war of 1898Progressive-minded historians have furthermore probed the nature of U.S. interests.  Studies examining U.S. intent and the usurpation of political control in Cuba include Philip S. Foner’s The Spanish-Cuban-American War and the Birth of American Imperialism, 1895-1902 (1972), Jules R. Benjamin’s The United States and the Origins of the Cuban Revolution (1990), and Louis A. Pérez’s The War of 1898: The United States and Cuba in History and Historiography (1998).  Pérez’s study provides a full exposition of the deficiencies of traditional American histories of the War of 1898, some of which continue.  “U.S. scholars,” writes Pérez, “have treated the war with Spain with ambivalence, uncertain as to where exactly to situate it; sometimes a war of expansion, other times an accidental war; an inevitable war or perhaps an unnecessary one; a war induced by public opinion or one instigated by public officials.”  While all agree that 1898 was “the moment in which the nation first projected itself as a world, whereupon the United States established an international presence and global prominence,” not all agree that U.S. actions in Cuba constituted a proper use of power.[170]  Still less do historians agree that the colonial war in the Philippines that followed was necessary or just.
The great reversal from supporting national self-determination to circumscribing it in Cuba and suppressing it in the Philippines has presented a challenge to historians seeking to explain this history.  One factor often neglected is the radical change produced by war itself.  The advent of war not only subverted the spirit of Cuba Libre in favor American rights of conquest, but also sidetracked and distorted the public debate over the large policy of imperialism, as Americans became immersed in war-related questions and patriots disparaged critics as disloyal.  Imperialism thus became associated with patriotism, a Faustian alliance, and critics struggled against the tide to assert what they understood to be true American principles of freedom and democracy.

The U.S.-Filipino War

The intense, four-year debate over U.S. imperialism in the Philippines did not end with the official end of the war.  It continued to resonate in historical accounts of the war.  During the 1910s, for example, two prominent Americans with experience in the Philippines presented contrary verdicts.  James H. Blount served as an officer in the U.S. Volunteers in the Philippines from 1899 to 1902, and as a U.S. District Judge there from 1901 to 1905.  His study, The American Occupation of the Philippines, 1898-1912 (1912), chastises the U.S. for denying Filipino independence:  “The task here undertaken is to make audible to a great free nation the voice of a weaker subject people who passionately and rightly long to be also free, but whose longings have been systematically denied for the last fourteen years, sometimes ignorantly, sometimes viciously, and always cruelly …”[171]  Dean C. Worcester served as Secretary of the Interior in the Philippines from 1901 to 1913, and was a member of the Philippine Commission during those years.  His study, The Philippines, Past and Present (1914), justifies the U.S. occupation of the Philippines and charges that the Filipinos under Aguinaldo “inaugurated a veritable reign of terror under which murder became a governmental institution, while rape, inhuman torture, burying alive and other ghastly crimes were of common occurrence, and usually went unpunished.”[172]

Statue honoring Emilio Aguinaldo in Cavite

Statue honoring Emilio Aguinaldo in Cavite

Contrary views were again on display in two books published in 1926.  In The Conquest of the Philippines by the United States, 1898-1925, Moorfield Storey, former president of the American Bar Association and a former president of the Anti-Imperialist League, and Marcial P. Lichauco of the Harvard Law School challenge not only official statements but also underlying rationales for imperialism; for example, that without the guiding hand of the United States the Philippines would erupt into chaos and civil war after the Spanish departed.  “When the American troops reached the Islands in 1898,” they write, “there was no anarchy and the Filipinos were governing themselves.  But more blood was shed in the Filipino-American war that ensued than in the three hundred years of Spanish oppression.”  The authors add, “There is no more reason to think that Asiatics are more prone to civil war than Europeans,” noting the many civil wars of Great Britain and the recent American Civil War.[173]  In The Philippines: A Treasure and a Problem (1926), Nicholas Roosevelt, a New York Times reporter who visited the Philippines in the winter of 1925-26, attests to the benefits of U.S. rule.  ”During our brief occupation we have brought Filipinos far more health, wealth, and happiness than they ever had before,” he writes.  Yet, inexplicably, the Filipinos seem ungrateful.  “In return, their politicians heap blame on us for our mere presence.  We have defended them and begun to develop their islands only to be denounced as ‘oppressors’ and to be sullenly hated for our help.”[174]  It would appear that America’s “new-caught, sullen peoples, half-devil and half-child,” of whom Rudyard Kipling wrote, had still not matured.

Competing interpretations of the U.S.-Filipino War were eventually absorbed in a larger set of debates over the Cold War and the Vietnam War.  Progressive revisionist historians challenged American presumptions of innocence and goodness, pointed out the imperial nature of U.S. actions in Vietnam and elsewhere, and denounced U.S. aid to dictatorial and repressive regimes.  Nationalists and supporters of “American predominance of power,” while varied in their critiques of the Vietnam War, typically justified U.S. foreign policies as being necessary to national security as well as good for the world.  By the 1970s, public disenchantment with the Vietnam War had seeped into the history profession, tilting it toward more critical views of earlier interventions.  The predominance of such views in studies of the U.S.-Filipino War prompted the diplomatic historian James A. Fields to write in 1979, despairingly, that American imperialism in the Philippines had become “the worst chapter in almost any book.”[175]  To be sure, these critical studies were not aimed at disparaging the United States; instead, they reflected a propensity to question official claims and assumptions, consider international perspectives, including those of the Filipino rebels, and give greater weight to domestic dissent.  Historians who raised the profile of the anti-imperialists include Richard E. Welch, Robert Beisner, E. Berkeley Tompkins, Daniel B. Schirmer, and Jim Zwick.  In the Preface to Schirmer’s Republic or Empire: American Resistance to the Philippine War (1972), Howard Zinn writes, “How poor was our historical education is shown by the fact that when the war in Vietnam became obviously ugly, we did not think immediately of the crushing of the Filipino insurrection at the start of this century.”[176]
W_Benevolent assimilationAmong the noteworthy studies that have attempted to remedy this lack of knowledge about the U.S.-Filipino War are Stuart Creighton Miller’s “Benevolent Assimilation”: The American Conquest of the Philippines, 1899-1903 (1982), Stanley Karnow’s In Our Image: America’s Empire in the Philippines (1989),  Susan Brewer’s “Selling Empire: American Propaganda and War in the Philippines” (2003), Willard B. Gatewood’s Black Americans and the White Man’s Burden, 1898-1903 (1975), Paul A. Kramer’s The Blood of Government: Race, Empire, and the United States, and the Philippines (2006), Kristin L. Hoganson’s Fighting for American Manhood: How Gender Politics Provoked the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars (1998), and Resil B. Mojares’ The War against the Americans: Resistance and Collaboration in Cebu: 1899-1906 (1999).

According to Mojares, Filipinos, like Americans, “rediscovered this war in the 1960s,” partly as a function of disabling colonial identity and partly “because the trauma of the Vietnam War resurrected antecedents in America’s ‘imperial adventure’ in the Philippines.  Since the 1960s much historiography has been done on the U.S. occupation of the Philippines.”  These studies, he notes, “call into question the myth of U.S. rule as one of ‘benevolent assimilation’…”[177]  Still, there are cultural barriers to openly discussing the war, according to the Philippine historian Reynaldo C. Ileto:

The 1899 Philippine-American War is not the sort of topic the Filipino public likes to talk about:  To imagine Filipinos warring with Americans simply contradicts the dominant tropes of the Philippine-American relationship.  In popular, and to some extent, official discourse as well, the Philippine-American relationship has been a special one, expressed in kinship terms like “compadre colonialism” and “little brown brother.”… In short, the generations of Filipinos who learned their Philippine history in American colonial schools did not see the war as the U.S. suppression of their cherished revolutionary and nationalist dreams.[178]

In both Mojares’ study and Ileto’s essay, “The Philippine-American War: Friendship and Forgetting” (2002), Filipino experiences and perspectives are placed at the center.  Beyond dispelling the myth of American benevolence, the authors illuminate the complex relationships that developed between “pacified” towns and their American occupiers, the ambivalent roles played by ilustrado leaders, and the strategies and struggles of the population to survive.

The ongoing debate over empire

The United States established an overseas empire in the aftermath of the War of 1898.  Historians have grappled with this paradox: how did a supposed revolutionary nation born out of a struggle against empire embrace an imperial role?  Did this represent a great departure from previous U.S. history or did the war represent a process of continuation?  Samuel Flagg Bemis, writing shortly after World War II, made the case that the acquisition of overseas territory represented an aberration in the United States’ history, which was rectified after the world wars.  Bemis, like many contemporary Americans and politicians, refused to acknowledge America’s imperial ambitions. More recently, President George W. Bush denied that the U.S. was an imperial power, telling veterans who assembled at the White House in November 2002, “We don’t seek an empire.  Our nation is committed to freedom for ourselves and others.”[179]

During the 1960s, a new generation of historians arose who depicted the United States as an empire and challenged the nationalist narrative of America’s inherent benevolence.  Among the critics were Gabriel Kolko, who denounced Washington for aggressively trying to impose its will upon the world, and William Appleman Williams, who refined the contours of the debate.  Williams maintained that the United States operated an economic empire through the Open Door, which was less intrusive and onerous than formal imperialism. He also viewed empire as a “way of life” and a “tragedy” for the United States.[180]
Traditional, nationalist-minded historians have at times denounced the use of the word “empire” to describe America’s role in the world.  Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman, for example, denied the existence of an American imperium and instead characterized the U.S. role in the world as a “player umpire” who intervenes only reluctantly, which is seen as better than not at all.  Others, such as John Lewis Gaddis, have employed the term in a positive way, labeling the U.S. an “Empire of Liberty.”  Geir Lundestad also acknowledged the existence of an American empire, but described it as a process of invitation.  Both of these historians reinforced the idea of the United States as a benign power.[181]
The 9/11/2001 terrorist attacks on the United States catalyzed a new round of debates on empire. Essays such as “The American Empire; the Burden” appeared in the New York Times Magazine (January 2003).  Political scientist Chalmers Johnson claimed that militarism and America’s “empire of bases” had undermined America’s republican identity.  The anthropologist David Vine estimated the costs associated with maintaining over 800 military bases across the globe.  America’s “Overseas Base Empire,” he charged, has increased tensions abroad and created antipathy toward the United States.[182]
Conservative historians such as Niall Ferguson and Max Boot approached the issue from the opposite direction, arguing that the United States needed to embrace and expand its role as imperial power.  Ferguson pleaded with Americans to end their state of denial and accept the imperial role the United States was destined to play.  Both Boot and Ferguson argued that establishing a Pax Americana would provide the world with much needed stability.  In his essay, “The Case for American Empire,” Boot claimed that the 9/11 attacks were the “result of insufficient American involvement and ambition.”  He called for the U.S. to be more “expansive” in its goals and “more assertive in their implementation.”[183]  Rather than retreating into “isolationism,” both of these authors expressed the belief that the world is better with a more active and interventionist United States.

During the heady days of 2003 it appeared as if Boot and Ferguson’s dreams of a Pax Americana were close to fruition.  Their hopes, however, were dashed as “mission accomplished” in Iraq became bogged down in a costly quagmire.  The resurgence of violence in Afghanistan, global recession, and increasing destabilization as the result of conflict and resource shortages in Syria and elsewhere placed a further strain on the empire-building spirit.  The British historian Eric Hobsbawm argued in 2008 that the current period of American dominance cannot last, viewing it as the last stage of Western imperialism.  “In these circumstances,” he wrote, “there is no prospect of a return to the imperial world of the past, let alone the prospect of a lasting global imperial hegemony, unprecedented in history, by a single state, such as America, however great its military force.  The age of empires is dead.  We shall find another way of organizing the globalized world of the twenty-first century.”[184]  The late historian is correct – to solve the future problems facing the world, a less arrogant and more cooperative, multilateral approach from Washington is sorely needed.

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[1] President William McKinley, “Message to Congress Requesting a Declaration of War with Spain,” April 11, 1898, The American Presidency Project,

[2] Piero Gleijeses, “1898: The Opposition to the Spanish-American War,” Journal of Latin American Studies, Vol. 35, No. 4 (Nov., 2003), 718-19.

[3] Louis A. Pérez, The War of 1898 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1998), 13-14.

[4] Ibid., 3.

[5] President William McKinley, Executive Order, December 21, 1898, The American Presidency Project,

[6] Milton Meltzer, Mark Twain: A Writer’s Life (New York: Franklin Watts, 1985), 104.

[7] Michael Hunt & Steve Levine, Arc of Empire: America’s Wars in Asia from the Philippines to Vietnam (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2012), 11.

[8] Walter L. Williams, “United States Indian Policy and the Debate over Philippine Annexation: Implications for the Origins of American Imperialism,” Journal of American History, Vol. 66, Nol. 4 (March 1980), 816, 813.  See also, Theodore Roosevelt, The Winning of the West, 4 volumes (1889-1896).

[9] Warren Zimmermann, First Great Triumph: How Five Americans Made Their Country a World Power (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002), 28.

[10] Walter LaFeber, The New Empire: An Interpretation of American Expansionism (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1998), 70.

[11] Henry W. Berger, ed., A William Appleman Williams Reader: Selections from His Major Historical Writings (Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1992), 117.

[12] Quoted in Lars Schoultz, Beneath the United States: A History of U.S. Policy toward Latin America (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1998), 86.

[13] E. Berkeley Tompkins, Anti-Imperialism in the United States: The Great Debate, 1890-1920 (Philadelphia:  University of Pennsylvania Press, 1970), 19.

[14] Walter Karp, The Politics of War:  The story of two wars which altered forever the political life of the American republic, 1890-1920 (New York:  Harper & Row, 1979), 12.

[15] Tompkins, Anti-Imperialism in the United States, 69, 20-21.

[16] Ibid., 10-11, 8.

[17] Kristin L. Hoganson, Fighting for American Manhood: How Gender Politics Provoked the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998), 23-24.

[18] Evan Thomas, The War Lovers: Roosevelt, Lodge, Hearst and the Rush to Empire (New York: Little, Brown & Company, 2010), 172.

[19] “Republican Party Platform of 1892,” June 7, 1892, The American Presidency Project,

[20] See Walter Hixson, American Settler Colonialism: A History (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2013).

[21] Tompkins, Anti-Imperialism in the United States, 2.

[22] Senator George Hoar, quoted in “A Vulgar, Commonplace Empire,” The Advocate of Peace, Vols. 60-61, December 1898, 247, online.

[23] Robert Beisner, Twelve against Empire: The Anti-Imperialists, 1898-1900 (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1968), 23.

[24] Tompkins, Anti-Imperialism in the United States, 109.

[25] Louis Pérez, Cuba Between Reform & Revolution (New York: Oxford University Press, 1995), 108.

[26] Pérez, The War of 1898, 13.

[27] Ibid.

[28] José M. Hernandez, “Cuba in 1898,” Library of Congress,

[29] José Martí, Letter to Manuel Mercado, May 18, 1895,; and Piero Gleijeses, “Cuba or the Base?” London Review of Books, Vol. 31, No. 6 (March 26, 2009),

[30] John Lawrence Tone, War and Genocide in Cuba, 1895-1898 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006), 9, 56.

[31] Ibid., 58, 62, 67.

[32] Ibid., 9-10, 191. Elsewhere Tone notes with irony that a Cuban physician, Carlos Finlay, had demonstrated in 1881 that certain types of mosquitoes carry the yellow fever virus, and thus he recommended mosquito eradication and protection to eliminate the disease.  Not until 1900 did an American team under Walter Reed take advantage of Finlay’s discovery and begin preventative measures, which greatly aided U.S. occupation forces after 1900.

[33] Ibid., 207, 212.

[34] Ibid., 121, 223.

[35] Howard Jones, Crucible of Power: History of American Foreign Relations to 1913 (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2009), 271.

[36] Tone, War and Genocide in Cuba, 219-21.

[37] Pérez, The War of 1898, 13-15.

[38] Ibid., 10.

[39] President William McKinley, First Annual Message to Congress (December 6, 1897),

[40] Louis Fisher, “Destruction of the Maine (1898),” The Law Library of Congress, August 4, 2009, pp. 3-4,

[41] Frank Freidel, “Dissent in the Spanish-American War and the Philippine Insurrection,” Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, Third Series, Vol. 81 (1969), 171.

[42] Hoganson, Fighting for American Manhood, 91-93.

[43] Gleijeses, “1898: The Opposition to the Spanish-American War,” 696.

[44] Ibid., 685.

[45] Senator Redfield Proctor, “Cuban Reconcentration Policy and its Effects,” March 17, 1898, The Spanish American War Centennial Website,

[46] Republican Party Platform, adopted at St. Louis, June 16, 1896,; and Democratic Party Platform, adopted at Chicago, July 9, 1896,

[47] Philip Foner, The Spanish-Cuban-American War and the Birth of American Imperialism (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1972), 249.

[48] Woodford letter to McKinley, March 18, 1898, quoted in Pérez, The War of 1898, 16.

[49] Pérez, The War of 1898, 19.

[50] President William McKinley, “Message to Congress Requesting a Declaration of War with Spain,” April 11, 1898.

[51] Foner, The Spanish-Cuban-American War, 264-65.

[52] Ibid., 266-68, 310.

[53] Pérez, The War of 1898, 29.

[54] Ibid., 28.

[55] Ibid., 24.

[56] Ibid., 21-22.

[57] Tompkins, Anti-Imperialism in the United States, 164.

[58] Pérez, The War of 1898, 26-28.

[59] Ibid., 30.

[60] Ibid.

[61] Ibid., 82, 97.

[62] Nese F. DeBruyne and Anne Leland, “American War and Military Operations Casualties: Lists and Statistics,” January 2, 2015, Congressional Research Service,

[63] Pérez, The War of 1898, 90-92.

[64] David L. Snook, “The Spanish-American War and the Philippine Insurrection,” History of the Iowa National Guard,

[65] Ibid., 94.

[66] Ibid., 95, 97.

[67] Tone, War and Genocide in Cuba, 278-79.

[68] Ibid.

[69 Pérez, The War of 1898, 95, 97.

[70] Anthony L. Powell, “An Overview: Black Participation in the Spanish-American War,” The Spanish American Centennial Website,; and Willard B. Gatewood, Jr., Black Americans and the White Man’s Burden, 1898-1903 (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1975), 112.

[71] Pérez, The War of 1898, 83.

[72] Ibid., 97-98, 124.

[73] Louis A. Pérez. Cuba and the United States: Ties of Singular Intimacy (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1990), 102.

[74] Pérez, Cuba Between Reform & Revolution, 182.

[75] Ibid., 183, 187.

[76] Ibid., 185, 187.

[77] Ibid., 187-88.

[78] Ibid., 197.

[79] Tompkins, Anti-Imperialism in the United States, 102.

[80] Jim Zwick, “Mark Twain’s Anti-Imperialist Writings in the ‘American Century’,” in Angel Velasco and Luis H. Francia, eds., Vestiges of War: The Philippine-American War and the Aftermath of an Imperial Dream, 1899-1999 (New York: New York University Press, 2002), 39.

[81] Noel Jacob Kent, America in 1900 (New York: Routledge, 2015), 148.

[82] Stuart Creighton Miller, “Benevolent Assimilation”: The American Conquest of the Philippines, 1899-1903 (New Haven, CT:  Yale Univ. Press, 1982), 23, 22.

[83] Tompkins, Anti-Imperialism in the United States, 132.

[84] Ibid., 129.

[85] “Platform of the American Anti-Imperialist League,” October 1899,

[86] Gatewood, Black Americans and the White Man’s Burden, 183, 188, 240; and Richard Seymour, American Insurgents: A Brief History of American Anti-Imperialism (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2012), 49-50.

[87] Congressional Record: Proceedings and Debates of the 55th Congress, 3rd Session (Senate), 94; and Tompkins, Anti-Imperialism in the United States, 179.

[88] Congressional Record:  Proceedings and Debates of the 55th Congress, 3rd Session (Senate), 1349.  See also Miller, “Benevolent Assimilation”, 25-26.

[89] Quoted in “January 1899: Senate Debate over the Ratification of the Treaty of Paris,”

[90] Miller, “Benevolent Assimilation”, 17.

[91] Ibid., 22.

[92] Hoganson, Fighting for American Manhood, 163.

[93] Hixson, The Myth of American Diplomacy: National Identity and U.S. Foreign Policy (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2008), 106.

[94] Miller, “Benevolent Assimilation”, 26-27.

[95] H. W. Brands, Bound to Empire: The United States and the Philippines (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992), 30.

[96] Beisner, Twelve against Empire, 228.

[97] Congressional Record: Proceedings and Debates of the 55th Congress, 3rd Session (Senate), 1484.

[98] Tompkins, Anti-Imperialism in the United States, 193.  Of the 29 “no” votes, 24 were from Democrats.  Of those 24 Democrats, 17 were from the South and border states.

[99] Miller, “Benevolent Assimilation”, 37.

[100] Teodoro Agoncillo, History of the Filipino People (Quezon City: R.P. Garcia, 1977), 245.

[101] Richard E. Welch, Response to Imperialism: The United States and the Philippine-American War, 1899-1902 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1979), 17.

[102] Ronald E. Dolan, editor, Philippines: A Country Study (Washington: U.S. GPO), 25-26.

[103] Ibid.

[104] Agoncillo, History of the Filipino People, 236.

[105] Welch, Response to Imperialism, 22.

[106] Miller, “Benevolent Assimilation”, 58-59.

[107] Ibid., 60-61.

[108] Ibid., 68; and Arnaldo Dumindin, “Philippine-American War, 1899-1902,”

[109] Miller, “Benevolent Assimilation”, 68-69.

[110] Ileto Reynaldo, “The Philippine-American War: Friendship and Forgetting,” in Vestiges of War: 3-21. Long after the war, textbooks used by American authorities portrayed the resistance as a waste of effort and one that was best forgotten.

[111] Brian McAllister Linn, The Philippine War, 1899-1902 (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2000), 31.

[112] Hunt & Levine, Arc of Empire, 43.

[113] Stanley Karnow, In Our Image: America’s Empire in the Philippines (New York: Foreign Policy Association, 1989), 173.

[114] Quoted in Miller, “Benevolent Assimilation”, 210.

[115] Hunt & Levine, Arc of Empire, 29-30.

[116] Andrew Birtle, U.S. Army Counterinsurgency and Contingency Operations Doctrine, 1860-1941 (Washington: U.S. Army Center of Military History, 1998).

[117] Jeremy Kuzmarov, Modernizing Repression: Police Training and Nation-Building in the American Century (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2012).

[118] Williams, “United States Indian Policy and the Debate Over the Philippine Annexation,” 810.

[119] Many of these officers served in the Civil War as well. Max Boot, The Savage Wars of Peace: Small Wars and the Rise of American Power (New York: Basic Books, 2003), 127.

[120] Ibid., 116; and Karnow, In Our Image, 179.

[121] Miller, “Benevolent Assimilation”, 176.

[122] Ibid., 195.

[123] Rene G. Ontal, “Fagen and Other Ghosts: African-Americans and the Philippine-American War,” in Vestiges of War, 124.

[124] Quoted in Welch, Response to Imperialism, 110.

[125] Ontal, “Fagen and Other Ghosts,” 122.

[126] Richard E. Welch, “American Atrocities in the Philippines: The Indictment and the Response,” Pacific Historical Review 43.2 (May 1974), 237-238.

[127] Ibid., 241.

[128] Miller, “Benevolent Assimilation”, 99-100.

[129] Susan Brewer, “Selling Empire: American Propaganda and War in the Philippines,” The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 11, Issue 40, No. 1 (October 7, 2013), reprinted online by Global Research News,

[130] Brian McAllister Linn, The U.S. Army and Counterinsurgency in the Philippine War, 1899-1902 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989), 144.

[131] Miller, “Benevolent Assimilation”, 150.

[132] Quoted in Miller, “Benevolent Assimilation”, 211.

[133] Miller, “Benevolent Assimilation”, 205.

[134] Smith delivered these instructions to Major Littleton Walker. PBS documentary “Crucible of Empire: The Spanish American War,” 1999.

[135] Robert D. Ramsey III, A Masterpiece of Counterguerrilla Warfare: BG J. Franklin Bell in the Philippines, 1901-1902 (Fort Leavenworth, KS: Combat Studies Institute Press, 1997), 7-11; and Linn, The U.S. Army and Counterinsurgency in the Philippine War, 155.

[136] Boot, The Savage Wars of Peace, 124.

[137] Ibid., 197.

[138] Welch, Response to Imperialism, 36.

[139] The Army did not launch any significant concentration campaigns until after the U.S. presidential election of 1900. The issue was so sensitive that when a large-scale center plan was proposed, the leader of American forces told his subordinate to “hand it to the Secretary to read and then destroy it. I don’t care to place on file in the Department any paper of the kind, which would be evidence of what may be considered in the United States as harsh measures of treatment of the people.” Birtle, U.S. Army Counterinsurgency and Contingency Operations Doctrine, 131.

[140] Quoted in Oliver Stone & Peter Kuznick, The Untold History of the United States (New York: Gallery Books, 2012), xxvi.

[141] Welch, “American Atrocities,” 235.

[142] Birtle, U.S. Army Counterinsurgency and Contingency Operations Doctrine, 132. The guerrillas were also guilty of committing atrocities, including killing government collaborators, supporters, and even brigands not affiliated with the guerrillas.  Both Birtle and Linn argue that these sorts of atrocities weakened popular support for the rebels.

[143] Miller, “Benevolent Assimilation”, 165.

[144] Welch, Response to Imperialism, 136; and Tompkins, Anti-Imperialism in the United States, 253.

[145]Jim Zwick, Confronting Imperialism: Essays on Mark Twain and the Anti-Imperialist League (West Conshohocken, PA: Infinity Publishing, 2007), 124; and Mark Twain, “To the Person Sitting in Darkness,” North American Review, February 1901, reprinted by the New York Anti-Imperialist League,

[146]Erin L. Murphy, “Women’s Anti-Imperialism, ‘The White Man’s Burden,’ and the Philippine-American War,” The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 7, Issue 27, No. 1 (July 6, 2009),; and Immanuel Ness, ed., Encyclopedia of American Social Movements, Volume One (New York: M. E. Sharpe, 2004), 341-344.

[147] Welch, Response to Imperialism, 136.

[148] Louise Barnett, Atrocity and American Military Justice in Southeast Asia: Trial by Army (London & New York: Routledge, 2010), 25.

[149] Miller, “Benevolent Assimilation”, 213, 215, 151.

[150]Elizabeth Cobb et al., Major Problems in American History, Vol. II, since 1865 (USA: Cengage Learning, 2015), p. 105.

[151] Ibid., 238.

[152] Welch, “Response to Imperialism,” 143-144.

[153] Ibid., 143.

[154] Theodore Roosevelt, “Proclamation 453: Granting Pardon and Amnesty to Participants in Insurrection in the Philippines,” July 4, 1902, American Presidency Project,  On the continuing war in the Philippines, known as the Moro War, see James R. Arnold, The Moro War: How America Battled a Muslim Insurgency in the Philippine Jungle, 1902-1913 (New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2011).

[155] Karnow, In Our Image, 195.

[156] Welch, Response to Imperialism, 145.

[157] “1908 Democratic Party Platform,” July 7, 1908, The American Presidency Project,

[158] Max Boot, The Savage Wars of Peace, 125; John W. Chambers, II, The Oxford Companion to American Military History (Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1999), 849; Welch, Response to Imperialism, 42; and “The Philippine-American War, 1899–1902,” U.S. State Department, Office of the Historian,

[159] Jerald A. Combs, The History of American Foreign Policy from 1895, fourth edition (Armonk, NY: M. E. Sharpe, 2012), 31.

[160] “French colonization of Algeria ‘brutal’: Hollande,” Reuters, Dec. 20, 2012,

[161] “Cameron: Amritsar Massacre ‘Shameful’’,” Wall Street Journal/India, Feb. 20, 2013,

[162] David E. Sanger, “Bush Cites Philippines as Model in Rebuilding Iraq,” New York Times, October 19, 2003.

[163]Michael H. Hunt, “1898: The Onset of America’s Troubled Asian Century,” OAH Magazine of History, Vol. 12, No. 3 (Spring, 1998), p. 32. The connection between America’s four wars in Asia is discussed by Hunt and Levine in Arc of Empire.

[164] Howard Zinn, Preface to Daniel B. Schirmer’s Republic or Empire: American Resistance to the Philippine War (Cambridge, MA: Schenkman Publishing, 1972), x.

[165] Pérez, The War of 1898, 42.

[166] Robert J. McMahon, “Toward a Pluralist Vision: The Study of American Foreign Relations as International History and National History,” in Michael J. Hoban and Thomas G. Paterson, Explaining the History of American Foreign Relations (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 40.

[167] Pérez, The War of 1898, 125-126.  The quotation is from Roig de Leuchsenring’s Cuba no debe sin independencia a los Estados Unidos (1950).

[168] William Leuchtenberg, “The Needless War with Spain,” American Heritage, Vol. 8, No. 2 (February 1957).

[169] Pérez, The War of 1898, 46, 106.

[170] Ibid., ix-x.

[171] James H. Blount, The American Occupation of the Philippines, 1898-1912 (1912), vi, online:

[172] Dean C. Worcester, The Philippines Past and Present (New York: The MacMillan Co., 1914 and 1930), 92.

[173] Moorfield Storey and Marcial P. Lichauco, The Conquest of the Philippines by the United States, 1898-1925 (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1926), 261.

[174] Nicholas Roosevelt, The Philippines: A Treasure and a Problem (New York: J. H. Sears & Co., 1926), vi.  The author was the first-cousin once removed of U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt.

[175] James A. Field, Jr., “American Imperialism: The Worst Chapter in Almost Any Book,” The American Historical Review, Vol. 83, No. 3 (June 1978): 644-68.  Field’s arguments in defense of the American imperial enterprise in the Philippines are refuted by Walter Lafeber and Robert L. Beisner in a separate article in the same journal issue.

[176] Schirmer, Republic or Empire, ix.

[177] Resil B. Mojares, The War against the Americans: Resistance and Collaboration in Cebu: 1899-1906 (Quezon City, Philippines: Atteneo de Manila University Press, 1999), 1.

[178] Reynaldo C. Ileto, “The Philippine-American War: Friendship and Forgetting,” in Vestiges of War, 3.

[179] Michael Ignatieff, “The American Empire; the Burden,” New York Times Magazine, January 5, 2003.
[180] William Appleman Williams, The Tragedy of American Diplomacy (New York:  Dell Publishing, 1959).
[181] Elizabeth Cobbs Hoffman, American Umpire (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2013); John Gaddis, We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997); and Geir Lundestad, “Empire by Invitation? The United States and Western Europe, 1945-1952,” Journal of Peace Research 23.3 (September 1986): 263-277.
[182] Chalmers Johnson, the Sorrows of Empire: Militarism, Secrecy and the End of the Republic (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2004); and David Vine, Base Nation: How U.S. Military Bases Abroad Harm America and the World (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2015).
[183] Niall Ferguson, Empire: The Rise and Demise of the British World Order and the Lessons for Global Power (New York: Basic Books, 2003); and Max Boot, “The Case for American Empire,” The Weekly Standard, October 15, 2001.
[184] Eric Hobsbawm, On Empire:  America, War, and Global Supremacy (New York:  Alfred A. Knopf, 2008), 13, 56.

About the authors

Brian D’Haeseleer is Assistant Professor of U.S. History at Lyon College.  His research interests focus on U.S.-Latin American relations with an emphasis on Central America.  He is the author of The Salvadoran Crucible: The Failure of U.S. Counterinsurgency in El Salvador, 1979-1992 (University Press of Kansas, November 2017).  Roger Peace is a diplomatic historian, coordinator of this website, and former community college instructor. He is the author of A Call to Conscience: The Anti-Contra War Campaign (University of Massachusetts Press, 2012) and A Just and Lasting Peace: The U.S. Peace Movement from the Cold War to Desert Storm (Noble Press, 1991).

Cite this article:

Bibliography:  D’Haeseleer, Brian, and Roger Peace.  “The War of 1898 and the U.S.-Filipino War, 1899-1902.”  United States Foreign Policy History and Resource Guide website, 2016,
Endnotes or footnotes:  Brian D’Haeseleer and Roger Peace, “The War of 1898 and the U.S.-Filipino War, 1899-1902,” United States Foreign Policy History and Resource Guide website, 2016,

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