Monday, February 04, 2008

February 4

On this date in 1899, a three-year long undeclared war broke out between the United States and the peoples of the Philippines. At issue was the status of the islands, which had been Spanish colonial property until the United States defeated its crumbling European rival in a brief war the previous summer. Although Filipino nationalists had been waging a campaign for independence since the early 1890s, President William McKinley insisted that sovereignty over the Philippines had transferred without interruption to the US. A month to the day before the US-Philippine War began, McKinley declared that the official American policy toward the Philippines would be “benevolent assimilation,” meaning that the islands would be offered “protection” and “civilization” in exchange for their submission to American rule.

Those who elected not to accept the new arrangement would be corrected, he added, by the “strong arm of authority.”

The initial shots came from three American sentries, who fired them in defense of a bridge in San Juan del Monte, a city on the outskirts of Manila. One of the men, a Private William W. Grayson, recounted the incident two years later:
About eight o’clock, Miller and I were cautiously pacing our district. We came to a fence and were trying to see what the Filipinos were up to.

Suddenly, near at hand, on our left, there was a low but unmistakable Filipino outpost signal whistle. It was immediately answered by a similar whistle about twenty-five yards to the right. Then a red lantern flashed a signal from blockhouse number 7. We had never seen such a sign used before. In a moment, something rose up slowly in front of us. It was a Filipino. I yelled “Halt!” and made it pretty loud, for I was accustomed to challenging the officer of the guard in approved military style. I challenged him with another loud “halt!” Then he shouted “halto!” to me. Well, I thought the best thing to do was to shoot him. He dropped. If I didn’t kill him, I guess he died of fright. Two Filipinos sprang out of the gateway about 15 feet from us. I called “halt!” and Miller fired and dropped one. I saw that another was left. Well, I think I got my second Filipino that time.
By the next morning, fighting had erupted throughout the island of Luzon; from there, a brutal and costly guerilla war took the lives of at least 4300 Americans and as many as a million Filipinos -- nearly all of whom were civilians culled by disease and famine. During the conflict, the United States destroyed villages, tortured captives, and herded civilians into concentration camps.

Inspired by the United States’ new imperial project, the English poet Rudyard Kipling wrote a famous bit of verse titled “The White Man’s Burden.”

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