The Rise of U.S. Imperialism: Teddy Roosevelt’s Racist U.S. War Crimes in the Philippines, 1898-1902

When searching for the documentary record of the “good old days” back when the U.S. Government provided a shining example of honest government to the world, one quickly comes to the realization that those halcyon days never actually existed.  In fact, the record of the English and Dutch occupations of North America, which led to the establishment of English colonies and later to the American Revolution are a record of unparallelled brutality and thievery: first of the lands of the aboriginal peoples of the North American continent, and almost immediately, the twin, world-historic crimes of the genocide of the Native American population and the African Slave Trade show that from its very inception, the U.S. Government has been a plague on world civilization and has been responsible for horrendous atrocities throughout its short and hopefully not much longer-lived history.

We have come across a document which we’d like to pull out of the “memory hole” and back into the light of day for today’s workers to read once again.  This one is about U.S. war crimes in the Philippines and is entitled: ” ‘MARKED SEVERITIES’ in PHILIPPINE WARFARE; An Analysis of the Law and Facts Bearing on the Action and Utterances of PRESIDENT ROOSEVELT and SECRETARY ROOT’ “.   If you click on that link you can get yourself a .pdf copy of it, courtesy of Google Books.  You’re welcome!

The book, which we just came across recently, appears to be a publication somehow connected with the “American Anti-Imperialist League” of the United States; an organization of bourgeois intellectuals, reformers, writers and politicians opposed to the rise of U.S. imperialism whose membership included Carl Schurz,  Samuel L. Clemens (Mark Twain), Jane Addams, Ambrose Bierce, Andrew Carnegie, Samuel Gompers, William Dean Howells, Henry and William James – a veritable “Who’s Who” of the American literary, political and business world of the late 1800s and early 1900s.

The book is a complete exposure of the lies and crimes of the U.S. Government leaders who launched the military pacification of the Philippines under the guise of “civilizing” the Filipinos.  Using the very same style of doubletalk and outright lying we are so sickeningly familiar with hearing from today’s U.S. Government, the administration of “Teddy” Roosevelt attempted to spread the fraud that the actions of the U.S. Marines in the Philippines were being undertaken with the interests of the Filipinos held above all other things, when in fact, the U.S. Marines, imbued with the virulent racism so prevalent throughout the U.S. during the “Jim Crow” era, slaughtered Filipino men, women and children indiscriminately, using expanding”dum-dum” bullets on all their victims.  Heavily outgunned, the Filipino independence fighters under Emilio Aguinaldo, who had been tricked into believing that the U.S. Government would support their struggle for independence, were savagely attacked and their members brutally tortured and butchered.

The Roosevelt administration was supposed to have been “anti-imperialist” itself.  Waging war to drive monarchical Spain out of the Americas, successive U.S. administrations presented their military designs on what had been Spanish possessions in the most noble and heroic colors possible.  The reality was much different.  While Roosevelt and his Secretary of War, Elihu Root, repeatedly stated that the war in the Philippines was being conducted in observance of the rule of law (this was before the establishment of the Geneva Convention) in fact, the war was being carried out in the manner of brutal counterinsurgency warfare, by mostly “white” U.S. troops against the brown-skinned Filipinos, whom the U.S. Marines called by the name of “niggers”.  Having impressed upon the soldiers the idea that the Filipinos were less than fully human, the U.S. military – commanded in part by Gen. Arthur MacArthur, Jr. whose own son would go on to commit equally horrendous and racist war crimes in Japan and Korea – unleashed a shocking slaughter of their erstwhile allies.  The truth came out in reports sent in to U.S. newspapers from U.S. soldiers in the field, who gleefully wrote how they were slaughtering Filipinos day in and day out.  The U.S. was such a thoroughly racist country at the time that the newspapers published the racist letters from the U.S. soldiers in full, including all their disgusting racist phraseology – as if it was no big deal.

“Howard McFarland, sergeant, Company B, Forty-third Infantry, wrote to the Fairfield Journal of Maine: – ‘I am now stationed in a small town in charge of twenty-five men, and have a territory of twenty miles to patrol… At the best, this is a very rich country; and we want it.   My way of getting it would be to put a regiment into a skirmish line and blow every nigger into a nigger heaven.  On Thursday, March 29, eighteen of my company killed seventy-five nigger bolomen and ten of the nigger gunners. … When we find one that is not dead, we have bayonets.’ ”

One of the most horrifying characteristics of the U.S. “scorched earth” “take no prisoners” tactics used in the war were the unheard of dead-to-wounded-and-captured ratios reported by the U.S. military after every battle:

“[…] [T]he report of [U.S.] Brigadier-general Hughes, commanding Department of Vasayas, gives the figures of the enemy’s loss thus:  ‘for August, 1899, killed, 40; for September, killed, 10.’ ”  No mention at all is made of wounded Filipinos in these early reports.

For every month afterward, the summaries of “enemy casualties” revealed that the order to “take no prisoners” was being scrupulously obeyed.  In the later months of 1899:

October: “killed, 59; captured, 26.” 

November: “killed, 95; wounded, 6; captured, 4

December: “killed, 88

January, 1900: “killed, 42; captured, 10

For the year [Aug. 1899 – July 1900? – IWPCHI]:  “Enemy’s loss:  killed, 801; wounded, 38;  captured, 100;  our loss:  killed, 40;  wounded 72;  drowned, 3.”

The authors of the report review typical casualty statistics from the most recent major wars of the era (the U.S. Civil War and the Boer War) and then make the following comment on the astounding figures from the War in the Philippines: “In no war where the usages of civilized warfare have been respected has the number of killed approached the number of wounded more nearly than these figures [from the Philippine War – IWPCHI].  The rule is generally about five wounded to one killed.  What shall we say of a war where the proportions are reversed?

U.S. General MacArthur claimed that the reason for the low numbers of Filipino wounded and captured were due to the fact that U.S. soldiers were better trained and “knew how to shoot”.   Ridiculing the idea that the relatively raw U.S. troops in the Philippines were better marksmen than the battle-hardened veterans “of Gettysburg and Cold Harbor”, the authors find the actual explanation for the enormously warped Filipino casualty numbers in the statements of the U.S. troops in the Philippines themselves:

“[…] A.A. Barnes, of Battery G, Third United States Artillery, [wrote] to his brother, March 20, 1899:

‘The town of Titatia was surrendered to us a few days ago, and two companies occupy the same.   Last night one of our boys was found shot, and his stomach cut open.  Immediately orders were received from General Wheaton to burn the town and kill every native in sight, which was done to a finish.  About one thousand men, women, and children were reported killed.  I am probably growing hard-hearted,  for I am in my glory when I can sight my gun on some dark skin and pull the trigger.’ ”

Another harrowing example is given:

“F.L. Poindexter, of the Second Oregon Regiment, under the same date, describes an attack on a body of natives, and says that on March 18

‘[R]eports, which afterwards proved to be somewhat exaggerated, came in that two companies of the Twenty-Second Infantry had been literally cut to pieces, having fallen into an ambush.  After a hasty consultation it was decided to proceed at once to kill or drive into the lake every native possible to be found in the half-moon district lying between the mouth of the Mateo River and the further end of the lake, a distance of twelve miles.’ ”  The authors of the report go on to observe:  “In the first case a single man is found dead; but how killed, whether wantonly or in self-defense, or by whom, no one knows.  In revenge a town is burned, and hundreds of men, women, and children are slaughtered.

“In the second case, upon a rumor of a military reverse that turns out to be exaggerated, orders are given to kill the whole population of a district twelve miles long.  […]  Imagine the whole population of a Virginia district put to the sword because Mosby had surprised a detachment, or Winchester burned because a soldier was found dead in the street.”

A reporter for the Boston Advertiser is quoted:

“In some sections our people have adopted the policy of giving no quarter, and we are getting reports of insurgent bands of from ten to fifty being surrounded and every man killed.  [U.S.  commander] Young had one killing of 318 lately, and [U.S. General] J.M. Bell a killing of 156, while there have been several ranging from 50 to 100.”

An article in that same newspaper, described as a “Republican newspaper” states the following:

“The time has come, in the opinion of those in charge of the War Department, to pursue a policy of absolute and relentless subjugation in the Philippine Islands.  If the natives refuse to submit to the process of government as mapped out by the Taft Commission, they will be hunted down and will be killed until there is no longer any show of forcible resistance to the American government.  The process will not be pleasant, but it is considered necessary.”

[To be continued – IWPCHI]

3 responses to “The Rise of U.S. Imperialism: Teddy Roosevelt’s Racist U.S. War Crimes in the Philippines, 1898-1902

  1. Reblogged this on kjmhoffman.


  2. The us HAS BEEN A MAJOR CONTRIBUTION OF NOT ONLY BAD THINGS TO THE WORLD… This was a good but highly prejudiced article, and I would also like to mention that every nation ever made IN THE WORLD has been built on slavery.


    • Thanks for the reply, Janedoe. We wish that you had taken the time to enumerate some of the “good things” the United States Government has brought into the world. We agree that US history is not entirely without its positive contributions to human civilization; we assert only that since the overthrow by the Democrats of the Radical Reconstruction programs of the post Civil War era the Bad has far outweighed the Good.
      As for your statement that “every nation ever made IN THE WORLD has been built on slavery”… well that’s not true at all, is it; and even if it was, would that absolve the United States of the crime of its carrying on the slave trade from colonial times to the mid-1860s?
      Where slavery did exist in many places besides the USA it remains an indelible stain on the civilizations that practised it. The US’ system of chattel slavery was based on the abduction of people from Africa and utilizing the color of their skin as the mark of their slavery – a very cruel practice by any standard, modern or ancient. Add to that the fact that in the US a chattel slave had no more “rights” than a cow or a chair did and that children born to a slave mother (even if the father was a white man like Thomas Jefferson) became slaves at birth – and the fact that the US form of chattel slavery wasn’t practised at the dawn of civilization but in modern times – and you have no room at all for excusing the United States Government for sanctioning such a repulsive system. This, and the crime of genocide against the native American populations is now and forever will remain an indelible and grievous scar on the face of this capitalist republic. It was through these twin crimes that the US’ “great families” made their first fortunes, which they wield now to disfranchise workers around the world and to elevate themselves and their class – the capitalist class – at the expense of the workers of the US and of the entire world. No ruling class in world history has committed more hideous crimes than those committed and recommitted, quite consciously, by the capitalist class of the United States of America!

      We seek to dispel the very destructive idea that has been taught to the workers of the US that there was a “good old days” for workers back in the early years of the United States, either during colonial times or in the immediate post-Revolutionary era, and that through mere reforms of the current rapacious capitalist system we could “go back to the good old days”. In fact, the “good old days” have never existed for workers, in the USA. To find the “good old days” – which by today’s standards would be pretty harsh to put it mildly – we must go back to prehistoric times when tribes lived in relative peace and relative harmony with the wild natural world, under a form of self-government known as “primitive communism” where everyone in the tribe shared equally in the fruits of the labor of the members of that tribe. Modern capitalism has all but destroyed this way of life – only a handful of tribes continue to cling to a precarious existence under this form of egalitarian self-government in remote parts of the planet – and their cultures are being systematically destroyed wherever they come into contact with the agents of the capitalist class.
      Ah, the “good old days”! At the time of the US Revolution by some accounts, 70% of the US working population was either a slave or an indentured servant – another form of slavery. The US was NEVER in its post-Revolution history a “democracy” in any true sense, except perhaps in local elections, and even then women and slaves (well over half the population) were not allowed to vote. After the Revolution, only those who owned substantial amounts of real property were allowed to vote, which disfranchised approximately 85% of the population. Women were denied the right to vote until the 1920s; black workers were denied the vote in many places until the late 1960s – and are disfranchised to this day through various devious methods. In 2015 in the United States there is not one representative of the working class in any public office at the state or national level – and the numerically tiny capitalist class alone determines who is allowed to run for state and national office and “owns” both of the major political parties.
      Most of the positive contributions made by the US to human civilization were political and promulgated at the time of the Revolution: the overthrow of monarchy and the establishment of the principle of representative democracy; the strict separation of Church and State in the government; a Bill of Rights establishing the concept of “human rights” that were inherent at birth to all people, and so on. Of course, many of the men who broadcast these new rights were themselves daily trampling on them through their ownership of slaves; when it came to putting their fine words into practice they failed miserably and we struggle to this day to fight to ensure that all US citizens can actually experience and enjoy those rights that were originally allotted only to the white men of property at the time of the Revolution. It will take a workers socialist revolution to turn these largely unfulfilled promises of 1776 into material realities for every worker in the US, and to make equal rights for women and blacks a fundamental part of a new constitution, rather than a series of asterisks to the original, deeply flawed Revolutionary-era documents.

      Defenders of the US Government can feel free to attempt to refute these assertions of ours right here on this website. We’ll do our best to publish at least all the most interesting or amusing comments you can send us.



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