We do not wish to promote distrust of the United States of America (US). However, it would be unpatriotic for a Filipino writer not to expose the grievous sins that Americans had committed against Filipinos. Considering the US interest to reestablish its military capability in Mindanao for the looming conflict with China, knowing these historical truths will help ensure our national survival.
The October 10 article (“Surprise — The Very Dark Side of US History”) of Peter Dale Scott and Robert Parry of Consortium News enumerated little known atrocities that Americans had committed through their 234-year history. The following passages of that article deal with US atrocities and wrongdoings here.
The Philippine segment of the article starts: “When the United States claimed the Philippines as a prize in the Spanish-American War, Filipino insurgents resisted. In 1900, the US commander, Gen. J. Franklin Bell, consciously modeled his brutal counter-insurgency campaign after the Indian wars and Sherman’s “march to the sea.”
Bell believed that by punishing the wealthier Filipinos through destruction of their homes — much as Sherman had done in the South — they would be coerced into helping convince their countrymen to submit.
Learning from the Indian wars, he also isolated the guerrillas by forcing Filipinos into tightly controlled zones where schools were built and other social amenities were provided.
“The entire population outside of the major cities in Batangas was herded into concentration camps,” wrote historian Stuart Creighton Miller. “Bell’s main target was the wealthier and better-educated classes. . . . Adding insult to injury, Bell made these people carry the petrol used to burn their own country homes.” [See Miller’s Benevolent Assimilation.]
For those outside the protected areas, there was terror. A supportive news correspondent described one scene in which American soldiers killed “men, women, children . . . from lads of 10 and up, an idea prevailing that the Filipino, as such, was little better than a dog . . .
“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 they were even insurrecto (insurgents), 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 those who found their bullet-riddled corpses.”
Defending the tactics, the correspondent noted that “it is not civilized warfare, but we are not dealing with a civilized people. The only thing they know and fear is force, violence, and brutality.” [Philadelphia Ledger, November 19, 1900]
In 1901, anti-imperialists in Congress exposed and denounced Bell’s brutal tactics. Nevertheless, Bell’s strategies won military acclaim as a refined method of pacification.
In a 1973 book, one pro-Bell military historian, John Morgan Gates, termed reports of US atrocities “exaggerated” and hailed Bell’s “excellent understanding of the role of benevolence in pacification.”
Gates recalled that Bell’s campaign in Batangas was regarded by military strategists as “pacification in its most perfected form.” [See Gates’s Schoolbooks and Krags: The United States Army in the Philippines, 1898-1902.]
The article continued: “The campaign against the Huk movement in the Philippines . . . greatly resembled the American campaign of almost 50 years earlier,” historian Gates observed. “The American approach to the problem of pacification had been a studied one.”
But the war against the Huks had some new wrinkles, particularly the modern concept of psychological warfare or psy-war.
Under the pioneering strategies of the CIA’s Maj. Gen. Edward G. Lansdale, psy-war was a new spin to the old game of breaking the will of a target population. The idea was to analyze the psychological weaknesses of a people and develop “themes” that could induce actions favorable to those carrying out the operation.
While psy-war included propaganda and disinformation, it also relied on terror tactics of a demonstrative nature. An Army psy-war pamphlet, drawing on Lansdale’s experience in the Philippines, advocated “exemplary criminal violence — the murder and mutilation of captives and the display of their bodies,” according to Michael McClintock’s Instruments of Statecraft.
In his memoirs, Lansdale boasted of one legendary psy-war trick used against the Huks who were considered superstitious and fearful of a vampire-like creature called an asuang.
“The psy-war squad set up an ambush along a trail used by the Huks,” Lansdale wrote. “When a Huk patrol came along the trail, the ambushers silently snatched the last man on the patrol, their move unseen in the dark night. They punctured his neck with two holes, vampire-fashion, held the body up by the heels, drained it of blood, and put the corpse back on the trail.”
“When the Huks returned to look for the missing man and found their bloodless comrade, every member of the patrol believed the asuang had got him.” [See Lansdale’s In the Midst of Wars.]
The Huk rebellion also saw the refinement of free-fire zones, a technique used effectively by Bell’s forces a half-century earlier. (End of quoted portion)
This is not to say that the US is all evil and that Americans haven’t made positive contributions here. What’s important for our national interest is that we’re aware of both the plus and minus sides of the countries we deal with. We cannot blame the US for pursuing their national interest. We can only blame ourselves for not protecting ours.
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