"I navigated to the Islands of the Philippinas, hard
on the coast of China; of which countery have I
--Thomas Candish, 1588
THIRTY-NINE years ago, a young and powerful nation of the West turned aside from its principles of democracy and freedom for all and sought to impress its sovereignty upon the scattered peoples of a tropic archipelago.
The armed men who marched away to do this thing were young Americans; figures in slouched campaign hats and blue shirts, who were not impressed too greatly with the discipline of their military system. With levity and song they won a minor and almost bloodless war for the United States, and in so doing, they gained the wardenship of divers tribes of the Malays.
This war against a second-rate power that resulted in the capture of Manila from the Spaniards was the joke--the future pacification of the native tribesmen was to become the joker.
We must turn back to the lusty, careless days of '98 for a realization of the inexperience of the United States in the undertaking of any manner of sustained jungle warfare.
FEBRUARY 15--APRIL 24, 1898....
The Maine sinks; the white man's burden is taken up with enthusiasm; it is the glamour period, with a self-righteous tinge of altruism to color the scene. To the refrain of "There'll Be a Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight," the nation moved to war. It was a different kind of war-- and a good war. Even the pacifists realized that. Here was a war fit for the best of the American traditions--an extension of the Monroe Doctrine to the East, as it were, and waged, not for territorial acquisition, but as a big-brother defense of a little brown people who were cringing under the lash of Spain. The cartoons in the newspapers of 1898 were filled with beetle-browed Spaniards with unpleasant, leering features. It made fine reading in the daily journals. But only the sugar men knew what the war was about.
MAY 25, 1898....
The chartered steamers City of Pekin, Australia, and City of Sydney roll at anchor in San Francisco Bay. For a month the guns of the Spanish fleet in Manila have been stilled, and the battered hulks are gathering rust at the bottom of a tropic bay. A few of the better informed in America actually know where Manila is located, as Dewey rides at anchor there, surveying the city, with no landing force available to take possession. And so the docks at San Francisco are scurrying with martial activity. The first expeditionary force is embarking--America is off to take possession of an archipelago. But still the flavor is one of altruism.
Humor, pathos, ghastly mistake, and tragedy are all a part of this expeditionary force. The American authorities are ignorant of the fundamentals of tropic sanitation, and the troops are ill-clad for service on the equator. They wear heavy service uniforms, with blue shirts, and they carry overcoats across their arms! They are fortified from chill with heavy underwear.
Their combat essentials are ill-distributed about their persons. It is before the day of shoulder-packs; all equipment is slung from the hip. It is a galling weight, with canteen, haversack, and a double row of 100 cartridges.
ON AUGUST 13, 1898, these troops participated in a battle before the moss-grown walls of Old Manila, and the result was the lowering of the flag of Castile and Navarre.
The taking of Manila was accomplished in a day. It was an historical incident, designed to save the face of Spain, whose defense was a feeble gesture. The winnings of the day were thirteen thousand Spaniards, an array of ancient cannon admirably suited for display in the public parks of the United States, and $900,000 of public money of the treasury of Manila.
With the capture of Manila, it was confidently believed that the war was over, and the martial mood changed to one of riotous revelry. Soldiers who had won a war were entitled to relaxation. And it was a land where senoritas smiled from shaded balconies. Three hundred saloons opened with startling rapidity, and under the stimulus of the warming cheer they dispensed, young troopers forgot all about Spain and began a series of all-American private wars. They also forgot all about the Filipinos, who were beginning to realize that the war had resulted in but a change of masters.
Turbulent Manila in '98: A regulation is provided that all troops be off the streets by seven o'clock in the evening. To enforce it, a sad 20th Infantry is detailed to the unpopular job of Military Police duty. A song is born, stigmatizing the 20th, the mere whistling of which was sufficient to participate a street brawl:
"The bridge of Spain,
Will groan with pain,
When the 20th goes to battle."
Distinct in the memories of the genuine old-timers who served in Manila during this ribald aftermath of war is the "affair of the test tubes," and it concerned the 28th Infantry.
It happened in this wise:
All day long the men of the regiment had stood in a sultry, sulking line, awaiting their turn to yield blood specimens for examination by the medical force. Grumbles and protests rolled along the file as they sweated in the broiling sun, at the dubious pleasure of overworked physicians.
At last, after weary hours, the doctors were finished with their victims and the test tubes of blood specimens were racked in the infirmary, pending examination on the morrow. The men heaved a sigh of relief and filed back to their quarters. The record of their iniquities was on file and they need stand no longer in the steaming heat.
But that night, in the dark hours, come three genial drunks of the 28th Regiment, to break in the door of the infirmary with that curious lack of logic of the alcoholsaturated. Weaving their way along the uninspiring aisles, one of the number spies the long line of ranked test tubes. Jovially he reaches for one and pours the contents upon the closest of his inebriated companions.
The fight begins. . . .
Test tubes begin to fly, the contents spattering the walls as the earnest antagonists not there, boiling with liquor. One of the combatants sobers suddenly as he catches sight of his face in a mirror. Horror-stricken, he rushes from the infirmary, moaning with terror and anguish, "I'm bleeding to death. They have killed me."
A Sergeant of the Guard bears down upon him, muttering sourly, "Not yet they haven't. You have that to look forward to after you have peeled potatoes for a million years. But they damn well will kill you when they learn they have to stand in line again tomorrow."
Thus ended the bloodiest encounter of the Spanish-American War.
There are other indications that the conquest of the Philippines was not taken seriously by these casual soldiers of '98. The qualifications for officership must certainly have included a sense of humor. There is a story told of one of the highest ranking colonels, a man afterwards active in the negotiations with the Moros in Mindanao. A very handsome officer he was, with great flowing white whiskers. Army paper work was a bore to this Colonel; his habit was to sign papers as submitted, without examination.
His Sergeant-Major, a youngster of twenty-two, found himself with a lack of funds and decided to capitalize upon this peculiarity of his Colonel. He repaired to a group of his fellows and propounded a most extraordinary wager. For the sum of ten dollars he offered to produce a military document of unusual significance.
His wager was accepted.
It was some days later that the Sergeant-Major approached the Colonel with a great sheaf of orders for signature. The Colonel fiddled irritably with his whiskers as the young noncommissioned officer began an explanation of each order.
"This one, Colonel, an order for the purchase of forage for the horses. This one a . . ." The Colonel raised his hand impatiently, squishing with his pen and reading nothing offered for his signature.
Back to the doubting enlisted men raced the Sergeant-Major. He exhibited an official army order, properly signed by the Colonel. "Do you accept this as the Old Man's signature?" he asked. A nod of assent. Whereupon the Sergeant-Major cleared his throat and read joyfully:
Manila, Philippine Islands,
I, Colonel ---- ----, commanding the --th Regiment, United States Infantry, do hereby sentence myself to be shot at sunrise tomorrow. I further direct that the firing squad shall be in charge of Sergeant-Major ---- and that the body shall be drawn and quartered and displayed as an example of tropic senility and hardening of the arteries.
---- ---- Colonel, Commanding.
Nor was this post-war levity confined to the troopers in Manila, for we see Congressman Bede rising to the floor of the legislative halls of the nation with the ribald suggestion that "America relieve herself of the Philippine problem and at the same time preserve the protective principle by exchanging the Islands for Ireland and then be able to raise her own policemen."
But the levity of '98 was soon to give way to the grim realities of '99. The war with Spain at an end, the head bookkeeper in Washington, D. C., brought the accounts into balance. He determined the interesting fact that the sinking of a few obsolete Spanish ships and the investment of Manila had been accomplished with the trifling expenditure of $300,000,000.
This was a figure to be pondered. And it was pondered, for the administration went into session and decided to complete the Philippine deal with the purchase of the Islands from Spain for an additional $20,000,000. Nobody could say America walked in and helped herself; we paid cash. Altruism then began a slow fade into the background and Senator Henry Cabot Lodge stripped the veil from all pretense .very honestly when he said, "We make no hypocritical pretense of being interested in the Philippines solely on account of others. We believe in trade expansion."
And so, at the will of one man, the President of the United States, the jovial days departed and the frightening days of conquest and consolidation began. McKinley came into the open then, and for the first time the Filipinos realized that they were in process of confiscation. The President made his aims quite clear: "While we are conducting this war and until its conclusion, we will keep all we get; when the war is over, we must keep what we want."
With the purchase of the Islands from Spain, the United States contracted for the well-being of some eighty tribes of Malays. They contracted also for the pacification of the Philippines. They were to find the Filipinos singularly irresponsive to the suggestion that they accept annexation at the hands of a Western democracy. The United States was to experience a period of chill and ferocious guerrilla warfare that was to reach across decades of time, and they were to learn that the regular troopers of the Army of the United States were not adaptable to the dripping jungle that was the terrain.
What of these Filipinos?
They are a polyglot people of strange and conflicting Malay, Indonesian, and Indo-Australian tribes, intersprinkled with a dash of the blood of a dozen races of the East. In the north is to be found a linking affiliation with the Chinese, and everywhere is to be seen traces of the curious little Negrito who, apparently, was the original settler of the Islands.
The Filipino, withal, is a sturdy jungleman, easily aroused to fanaticism and possessing a vast pride of race. He is a doughty fighting man, as is his cousin the Moro, of the south. Mix together a Protestant, Catholic, Mohammedan, and idol-worshipping population (if this be possible); concede a hot-blooded touch of paprika to the veins, and a great facility with edged weapons; to this add a great intertribal distrust, a confused babel of eighty-seven dialects, and a considerable oratorical ability in any one of these dialects: the product is a Filipino.
Enrich this mixture with a passionate love of the ideal of liberty and an extreme readiness to die for that ideal, and the nature of the native resistance to America is clarified.
The resistance to the United States in 1899 should not be belittled by the term "Philippine Insurrection." It was more than an insurrection--it was a legitimate war of protest, waged under capable and idealistic Filipino leaders. Mabini summed up the Filipino aims of 1899. He was a great Filipino statesman, and his words reflect his greatness:
"The Filipinos realize that they can expect no victory over the American forces; they are fighting to show the American people that they are sufficiently intelligent to know their rights. . . the Filipinos maintain their fight against American troops, not from any special hatred, but in order to show the American people that they are far from indifferent to their political situation. . ."
We have another picture from the past to paint the purity of this Filipino resistance in that early period before they turned to banditry and arson and murderous guerrilla warfare. This one from the pen of Richard Henry Little, an American war correspondent who recorded for the Chicago Tribune the death of the Filipino general, Gregorio del Pilar:
It was a great fight that was fought up there on the trail of lonely Tilad Pass on that Saturday morning of December second. It brought glory to Major Marsh's battalion of the 33rd Volunteer Infantry who were the victors. It brought no discredit to the little band of sixty Filipinos who fought and died there. Sixty was the number that at Aguinaldo's orders, had come down into the pass that morning to resist the onward march of the Americans. Seven were all that went back over the pass that night to tell Aguinaldo that they had tried and failed. Fifty-three of them were either killed or wounded. And among them, the last to retreat, we found the body of young General Gregorio del Pilar.
We had seen him cheering his men in the fight. One of our companies crouched up close under the side of the cliff where he had built his first entrenchment, heard his voice continually during the fight urging his men to greater effort, scolding them, praising them, cursing, appealing to their love of their native land and the next instant threatening to kill them himself if they did not stand firm. Driven from the first entrenchment, he fell back slowly to the second in full sight of our sharpshooters and under a heavy fire. Not until every man around him in the second entrenchment was down did he turn his white horse and ride slowly up the winding trail. Then we who were below saw an American squirm his way out to the top of a high flat rock and take deliberate aim at the figure on the white horse. We held our breath, not knowing whether to pray that the sharpshooter would shoot straight or miss. Then came the spiteful crack of the Krag rifle and the man on horseback rolled to the ground. When the troops charging up the mountainside reached him, the boy General of the Filipinos was dead.
So this was the end of Gregorio del Pilar. Only twenty-two years old, he had managed to make himself a leader of men while he was hardly more than a boy and at last he laid down his life for his convictions. Major Marsh had the diary. In it he had written under date of December second, the day he was killed: "The General has given me the pick of all of the men who could be spared and ordered me to defend the pass. I realize what a terrible task is given me. And yet I realize that this is the most glorious moment of my life. What I do is done for my beloved country. No sacrifice can be too great."
A private sitting by the fire was exhibiting a handerchief. "It's old Pilar's. It's got Dolores Hoses on the corner. I guess that was his girl. Well, it's all over with Gregono."
"Anyhow," said Private Sullivan, "I got his pants. He won't need them any more."
The man who had the General's shoes strode proudly past, refusing with scorn an offer of a Mexican dollar and a pair of shoes taken from a private insurgent soldier. A soldier sitting on a rock was examining a golden locket containing a curl of a woman's hair. "Got the locket off his neck," said the soldier.
As the main column started on its march for the summit of the mountain, a turn in the trail brought us again in sight of the insurgent General far down below us. There had been no time to bury him. Not even a blanket or poncho had been thrown over him. A crow sat on the dead man's feet. Another perched on his head. The fog settled down upon us; we could see the body no longer."We carved not a line and we raised not a stone,
But we left him alone with his glory."
And when Private Sullivan went by in his trousers, and Snider with his shoes, and the other men who had the cuff-buttons, and the Sergeant who had the spur and the Lieutenant who had the other spur, and the man who had the shoulder straps, and the other who had the handkerchief, it suddenly occurred to me that his glory was about all we had left him.
With the death of Pilar and the surrender of Aguinaldo, a new kind of warfare came to the Philippines; an unpleasant warfare, without idealism or any purity of motive. As the bona fide insurrection muted away to an undertone, the United States faced the subjugation of brigand and pirate and the conquest of an oozing jungle. A frightful bush made up the terrain that was to be the battle scene.
The Philippines are an archipelago of many names and of piled-up history. We scan it now, on the maps, as a chain of tropical islands that were torn loose, long in the past, from the mothering east coast of Asia. They are islands that form a coral barrier to the progress of the big blue rollers of the Pacific, and they mark the line of the dread malaria zone that separates the East Indian Archipelago from the pleasant isles of mid-Pacific where the Polynesians dwell. 3141 islands, they say, of which only 1473 have been awarded the dignity of names.
On clear days, when the sunlight traces and foreshadows every coral reef and sand-lipped lagoon, one can stand on the southernmost edge of the Japanese island of Taiwan, at South Cape, and look across to the horizon shadow of the most northerly of the Philippine Archipelago. Those islands are the Bashee Group, lying twenty-two degrees north of the equator in the very fringe of the Empire of the Rising Sun.
From that northern reach, the Philippines stretch southward for a thousand lazy, sun-drenched miles, until they end, reluctantly, in the very Bay of Darvel. Little Sitanki, the last of the lengthy chain, is separated by a fifteen-mile strait from the frowning, jungle-wrapped frontier of British North Borneo.
The Philippines have had many names and many masters. Or possibly we should say, have mastered many. America came late to these islands and lingered briefly. Others had found them, fought over them, named them--and found death in them. No one can say where the strange, unwritten history of the Philippines began. The earliest peoples have left no kindly records for the perusal of the scholar or the historically curious. They wrote their records in red, with bolo blades and wavy-edged krises, on a shining white beach. But the tides came, and the tropic rains, and washed the records away.
Some few speculative facts remain, to link the Islands with a past that seems incredibly ancient. We know that the men who wrote Sanskrit came to this archipelago--their characters survive as the possessions of exotic tribesmen of the islands of Palawan and Mindoro, inscriptions incised with fire on bamboo.
The islands have been the goal of many and the reward of few. The grave Ming emperors called them the Islands of the Luzones, and sent to them trading junks with brassware and porcelain and silken cloth and little coppr bells. Returning to China, these junks carried pearls and precious wood. Ptolemy, the great Egyptian geographer, gave them a resonant name. The Maniolas, he called them, and the Phoenician traders cruised their coastline in quest for gold. In their turn, the wandering Portuguese, greatest of all navigators, charted them as the Islands of the West.
Then came Magellan, their official "discoverer," to give them their first historical title in 1521 --The Archipelago of Saint Lazarus. Saint Lazarus Isles,--a fine, round name that perished when Magellan fell before poisoned arrows on Mactan Island. The disorganized tribesmen we call Filipinos might have been "Lazarites" had Magellan not died too soon.
But in 1543, came Ruy Lopez de Villalobus to give them yet another name, and to strangle at birth what might have been a great battle cry. Las Felipinas he called them, in honor of Don Felipe, Crown Prince of Spain.
So the name has remained, with charming variations. Thomas Candish came in 1588, to add a note of sonorous intonation in the grand manner of the Old English tongue. He dignifies the Islands with phrases of great beauty:
From the Cape of California, being the uttermost part of Nue-va Espagna, I navigated to the Islands of the Philippmas, hard upon the coast of China; of which country have I brought such intelligence as hath not bene heard of in these parts. I he statelinesse and riches of which countery I feare to make report of, least I should not be credited; for if I had not knowen sufficiently the incomparable wealth of the countery, I should have bene as incredulous thereof, as others will be who have not had the like experience.
It was thus that the Philippines emerged from anonymity to be named, mapped, and ripened for conquest. It was from that pleasant historical siesta that they awakened to find themselves the center of grave Senatorial debates and the object of outraged yelpings of indignant sugar-beet planters.
With the outbursts of sugar lobbies in Washington, D. C., and the shrill cries for independencia, this volume is not greatly concerned. This is a story about men. When the political confiscatory measures were completed and the honest insurrection of the Filipinos quieted, these men came to make safe the country for American and Filipino alike. Theirs was the job of mending a country that had been wracked by war and was now subject to the raids of pirates and plunderers and murderers. They were to be the supervisors of the public peace and the strong right arm of the new American civil government.
In 1901, the Philippine Archipelago lay sullen under the unwanted rule of a Western civilization. The glamorous days were no more; with their passing, the sympathetic phases of the Filipino resistance were passing too. Young Gregorio del Pilar, the magnificent, was gone now. Aguinaldo, the flame of the rebellion, had taken the oath of allegiance to the United States. With their passing, something fine went out of the Filipino resistance and the heart of the real insurrection was stilled.
Pilar and Agumaldo were replaced by bandits and religious fanatics.
As the contest for sovereignty wore along through the dreary months, a new breed of men came to the scene. We begin to see them spreading across the face of the archipelago, a new kind of fighting force with a strange and fantastic uniform. They were greater, this new breed, than the political system that made necessary their existence; they were far greater than the confiscatory era to which they belonged.
They were policemen of the jungle.
They were bush-bred men with a facility for surviving ambush and death traps of the jungle. Many of them were carry-overs from the Indian wars in the United States that had opened the last American frontier. They understood the ways of wild people. They knew how to fight--and they relished odds. They risked their lives with an elaborate, casual carelessness. They were large men, with drooping mustaches; they spoke slowly and they were adept with rifle and pistol; they wore uniforms of linen with red epaulets: they were officers of the Philippine Constabulary.
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Original publication © 1938 E. P. Dutton & Co., Inc.
Filipiniana Reprint Series © 1985 Cacho Hermanos, Inc.
This publication (HTML format & original artwork) © 2001 Bakbakan International.
Transcription courtesy of Ashley Bass.