"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, from 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 those who found their bullet riddled corpses. 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, and we give it to them."
--Correspondent to the Philadelphia Ledger
There are atrocities in any war. However, in the Philippine-American War, brutality reached a level unprecedented in American history. Americans fighting in the Philippines treated their enemy with none of the civility that generally characterized wars against European opponents. They viewed the Filipinos as savages. Most of the high command had spent their careers fighting “injuns” on the American frontier, and quickly adopted even harsher methods in the islands. As one Kansas veteran claimed, "the country won't be pacified until the niggers are killed off like the Indians." “Nigger” and “gugu” were common racial slurs applied to the Filipinos. As the war intensified, killing the wounded, mutilating the dead, torture, and execution spread through the islands.
I want no prisoners. I wish you to kill and burn, the more you kill and burn the better it will please me...Kill everyone over the age of ten
--General Jacob Smith, Samar Campaign
"I never saw such execution in my life, and hope never to see such sights as met me on all sides as our little corps passed over the field, dressing wounded. Legs and arms nearly demolished; total decapitation; horrible wounds in chests and abdomens, showing the determination of our soldiers to kill every native in sight. The Filipinos did stand their ground heroically, contesting every inch, but proved themselves unable to stand the deadly fire of our well-trained and eager boys in blue. I counted seventy-nine dead natives in one small field, and learn that on the other side of the river their bodies were stacked up for breastworks."
--F. A. Blake, of California, in charge of the Red Cross
The war in the Philippines claimed the lives of almost 5,000 Americans and an estimated 20,000 Filipino soldiers. On the American side, many of these deaths were due not to the Filipinos, but instead to disease. Malaria and a host of other foreign maladies plagued the previously unexposed Americans. Disease affected the Filipinos as well, but their losses came mostly from the battlefield. In past wars, one person had died for every five or six wounded; in the Philippine conflict, over fifteen Filipinos died for every one wounded. This was primarily due to the Filipino lack of weapons and poor aim. Few of the Filipinos had rifles; most were armed only with bolo knives. Rifles became even scarcer as the war dragged on, as many malfunctioned or were captured by or sold to American troops. Ammunition was equally scarce, and the Filipinos were forced to manufacture their own cartridges and powder. The makeshift gunpowder was often more of a danger to themselves, as it was unreliable and released thick black smoke that revealed their positions. Another factor in the high death toll was the “take no prisoners” attitude of the Americans, who would often bayonet to death the wounded who were left behind.
Soon we had orders to advance, and we rose up from behind our trenches and started across the creek in mud and water up to our waists. However, we did not mind it a bit, our fighting blood was up and we all wanted to kill 'niggers.' This shooting human beings is a 'hot game,' and beats rabbit hunting all to pieces.... We soon charged them again, and such a slaughter you never saw. We killed them like rabbits; hundreds, yes, thousands of them. Every one was crazy. I tell you it was awful after it was over. But it was war.... We will soon round them up and kill them all off. No more prisoners. They take none, and they torture our men, so we will kill wounded and all of them....
--A private of Company H of the First Regiment, Washington State Volunteers
In the Battle of Lonoy in March of 1901, Filipino troops were slaughtered when the Americans discovered their planned ambush and attacked them from the rear. Only seven escaped the massacre. And the brutality didn’t end even with death; both Americans and Filipinos would sometimes mutilate enemy bodies simply to demoralize the enemy.
"We sleep all day here, as we do our duty all night, walking the streets. We make every one get into his house by 7 P.M., and we only tell a man once. If he refuses, we shoot him. We killed over three hundred men the first night. They tried to set the town on fire. If they fire a shot from a house, we burn the house down, and every house near it, and shoot the natives; so they are pretty quiet in town now."
--A Corporal in the California Regiment
"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.
--A. A. Barnes, Battery G., Third United States Artillery
Filipino soldiers were not the only ones to bear the brunt of American brutality. Approximately 200,000 Filipino civilians were also killed in the conflict; estimates range as high as several million. Many died from starvation and disease caused by the war, but in many cases American soldiers were more directly responsible. Rape, looting, and murder often followed the capture of towns.
"The soldiers made short work of the whole thing. They looted every house, and found almost everything, from a pair of wooden shoes up to a piano, and they carried everything off or destroyed it. Talk of the natives plundering the towns: I don't think they are in it with the Fiftieth Iowa."Filipino villages were usually the only available targets for frustrated American troops, and burning villages was commonplace, both as reprisal for attacks and to deprive guerrillas of supplies and shelter. American ingenuity was responsible for the creation of a new weapon for this purpose--a steam fire-fighting engine converted to spray highly flammable petroleum on the villages. When Americans fell into an ambush, nearby barrios were ordered burned. If an American was found murdered in one of the towns, that town was burned.
--Guy Williams of the Iowa Regiment
"When you can realize four hundred or five hundred persons living within the confines of five or six blocks, and then an order calling out all of the women and children, and then setting fire to houses and shooting down any niggers attempting to escape from the flames, you have an idea of Filipino warfare."
--Sergeant Will A. Rule, Co. H, Colorado Volunteers
Especially in the later stages of the war, civilians were often massacred regardless of sex or age. Suspected Filipinos were often executed without trial or evidence--Funston once bragged to reporters that he had personally hanged 35 civilians presumed to be insurrectos. In the early stages of the war commanders tried to prevent this, but as the conflict dragged on and the Filipinos were viewed with increasing hatred, such acts became increasingly common. When General Adna Chaffee took command in July of 1901, he deemed such total warfare necessary. The “kill and burn” policy on the island of Samar was responsible for countless civilian deaths. In summer of 1901, junior officers’ reprisal acts enraged the “pacified” islands of Bohol, Cebu, and Marinduque and spurred them to new rebellion. The United States had seen war before, but it was this kind of cruelty that set the Philippines conflict apart. A nation based on the concepts of democracy and freedom soon fell into the same category with the Spanish in Cuba and the British in South Africa.
"I am not afraid, and am always ready to do my duty, but I would like some one to tell me what we are fighting for."
--Arthur H. Vickers, Sergeant in the First Nebraska Regiment
"Company I had taken a few prisoners, and stopped. The colonel ordered them up in to line time after time, and finally sent Captain Bishop back to start them. There occurred the hardest sight I ever saw. They had four prisoners, and didn't know what to do with them. They asked Captain Bishop what to do, and he said: 'You know the orders,' and four natives fell dead."
--Charles Bremer, of Minneapolis, Kansas, describing the fight at Caloocan
When the war began and both sides were still fighting a conventional war, treatment of prisoners was fairly humane. However, as the war wore on and changed in character, Americans adopted crueler methods. Filipino prisoners became rarer and rarer. Filipinos who tried to surrender were often gunned down, just as if they had continued to fight.
"I don't know how many men, women, and children the Tennessee boys did kill. They would not take any prisoners. One company of the Tennessee boys was sent to headquarters with thirty prisoners, and got there with about a hundred chickens and no prisoners."Those captured were often no more fortunate. Prisoner of war status was often withheld from Filipinos because of General Order 100. This order was created during the Civil War and allowed for the execution of enemies employing guerrilla tactics, such as dressing as civilians and returning home between battles. Those who were taken lived in constant danger of execution; either on a whim, or as retaliation for an attack on Americans. One example was the execution of 24 Filipino P.O.W.’s by Colonel Funston, after American Lieutenant Kohler was led into a Filipino trap and hacked to death by bolomen.
--Leonard F. Adams, of Ozark, in the Washington Regiment
In contrast, Filipinos kept American prisoners in relative comfort. They were fed well and often offered commissions into the Filipino army; three accepted. In 1899, Aguinaldo invited four independent journalists to inspect the prisoner’s accommodations. They found that the captives were “treated more like guests that prisoners." Aguinaldo released some prisoners in order to spread the word of their kind treatment under the Filipinos. After Aguinaldo was captured, the Filipinos rarely took prisoners; mostly because they never had the opportunity. However, Filipino treatment of prisoners became much harsher in the later stages of the war, especially in Batangas. Filipino General Malvar had to issue a proclamation providing for swift punishment of any Batangueño soldiers violating laws of warfare, in response to Filipinos shooting surrendering Americans and mistreating prisoners.
"We bombarded a place called Malabon, and then we went in and killed every native we met, men, women, and children. It was a dreadful sight the killing of those poor creatures. The natives captured some of the Americans and literally hacked them to pieces, so we got orders to spare no one."
--Anthony Michea, of the Third Artillery
By the end of 1901, Batangas was one of the last places where resistance still persisted. General Samuel Sumner’s attempts to quell rebellion in the 1st District of Southern Luzon might have been succeeding, but were too slow to suit Chaffee. On November 30, 1901, Franklin J. Bell took over Sumner’s command. Unlike Sumner, whose methods had been comparatively humane, Bell had already proven his ruthlessness in eradicating the resistance in northern Luzon. Bell’s plan for Batangas wasn’t much different than that of N. Luzon. On December 8, Bell issued a directive to set up “zones” around selected towns on the pretext of protecting the Filipinos. Nearly all of Batangas’ population was forcibly relocated to the zones and “dead lines” were drawn around the areas. Outside these lines everything was systematically destroyed. People, houses, animals, stores, boats, and crops were burned or killed to demoralize the civilians and cut off supplies to the resistance.
From January to April of 1902, 4,000 American troops guarded the civilians in zones, while the other half patrolled the countryside. Over 1,000 livestock were slaughtered during these four months. There were several brief skirmishes with the guerrillas during this time, but no major battles. During these four months, 8,350 Filipinos were killed in the zones, out of 298,000. The majority of these deaths were due to disease, mostly malaria, which spread quickly in the confines of the zones and was aggravated by food shortages. Mosquitoes which usually preyed on cattle now turned on the humans. Measles and dysentery were also rampant, because human wastes contaminated the water supply. One camp 2 miles wide by 1 mile long housed 8,000 Filipinos, and sometimes over 200 were confined to one building. In camps in Lobo and San Juan, over 20% of the population died.
"What a farce it all is...this little spot of black sogginess is a reconcentrado pen, with a dead line outside, beyond which everything living is shot...Upon arrival, I found 30 cases of smallpox, and average fresh ones of five a day, which practically have to be turned out to die. At nightfall crowds of huge vampire bats softly swirl out of their orgies over the dead. Mosquitos work in relays. This corpse-carcass stench wafts in and combined with some lovely municipal odors besides makes it slightly unpleasant here."
--Commander of one of Bell's concentration camps
Not all deaths in the zones can be attributed to disease and starvation. Civilians lived under the constant threat of execution, either as reprisal for American deaths or simply to get them out of the way. In the spring of 1902, a letter home from an American soldier described the execution of 1,300 prisoners. According to the letter, a Filipino priest was called to hear their confessions and was then hanged in front of them. For weeks, groups of 20 prisoners were forced to dig their own mass graves and then gunned down to occupy them. The writer claimed that “to keep them prisoners would necessitate the placing of soldiers on short rations if not starving them. There was nothing to do but kill them.” When an American was “murdered” in Batangas, Bell instructed his men to “by lot select a POW--preferably one from the village in which the assassination took place--and execute him.” The wealthy and influential citizens of Batangas were singled out for bad treatment. They were jailed in small rooms and forced into work gangs to burn their own homes, until they agreed to aid American forces. Bell claimed, “it is an inevitable consequence of war that the innocent must generally suffer with the guilty.”
No one will ever know how many died in Batangas, but estimates range as high as 100,000. Bell himself claimed that 1/6 of the population perished, but insisted that “it has been necessary to adopt what in other countries would probably be thought harsh measures.” The concentration camps ended when Malvar surrendered on April 16, 1902, but the effects were long lasting. In a letter to Taft from the town of Balayan, the Batangueños compare their condition in 1905 to that of 1896. According to the letter, the population of the area in 1896 was 41,308, but in 1905 it had dropped to only 13,924. The number of cows had gone from 3,680 to only 80, chickens had fallen from 96,000 to 5,000. The zones of Batangas are were of the worst examples of American brutality in the war.
"The scene reminded me of the shooting of jack-rabbits in Utah, only the rabbits sometimes got away, but the insurgents did not."
--Fred D. Sweet, of the Utah Light Battery
"When I give a man to Sergeant Edwards, I want information. I do not know how he gets it; but he gets it anyway"
--Lieutenant Arnold of the Fourth Cavalry
The water cure was the favored method for extracting information from Filipino prisoners. The Filipino was held down and a funnel used to force water into their mouth. The prisoner was made to swallow water until their stomach was distended and near bursting. Then the Americans would pump the water back out. If the prisoner still wouldn’t talk, the process was repeated, sometimes as many as a dozen times. In a crueler version of the water cure, Americans simply poured water continuously over the prisoner's head. The prisoner couldn’t breath without inhaling water, and they would slowly drown as their lungs filled up. The water torture rarely failed; even the most patriotic Filipino couldn’t hold out for long. While most American commanders denied that the "so called water cure" was ever used, reports of it from Filipino prisoners and mentions in soldiers' letters and journals make it seem certain.