Secretary Root's Record:"Marked Severities" in Philippine Warfare Secretary Root's Responsibility
Mr. Root has been the Secretary of War since August, 1899. The officers in command of our
forces have received their orders from or through him, and have made their reports to him. Better
than any other man in the United States he has been able to learn the truth about our military
operations; and it has been his duty to know the exact facts.
His duty was thus defined by President McKinley in written instructions to the Secretary of War,
bearing date December 21, 1898:
Finally, it should be the earnest and paramount aim of the military administration to win the
confidence, respect, and affection of the inhabitants of the Philippines by assuring them, in every
possible way, that full measure of individual rights which is the heritage of free peoples, and by
proving to them that the mission of the United States is one of benevolent assimilation,
substituting the mild sway of justice and right for arbitrary rule.
The practical effect of these instructions was thus stated in field orders issued by General
MacArthur on April 22, 1899, at Malolos:
The purpose of the United States in these islands is beneficent. It is, therefore, one of the most
important duties of American soldiers to assist in establishing friendly relations with the natives
by kind and considerate treatment in all matters arising from personal contact. To exasperate
individuals or to burn or loot unprotected or abandoned houses or property is not only criminal
in itself, but tends to impede the policy of the United States and to defeat the very purpose which
the army is here to accomplish....
When in hostile contact with the enemy, an adversary, with arms in his hands, must be killed, if
possible; but a wounded or surrendered opponent, who is incapable of doing any injury, is
entitled to the most cordial courtesy and kindness. Any departure from the well-established
amenities of the battlefield or the laws of war must be and will be punished, according to the
nature of the case, to the extent of the law.
No one can doubt that these orders laid down the rules prescribed alike by the laws of war, by
considerations of policy as well as humanity, and by the instructions of the President. It would
be gross discourtesy to assume that Mr. Root, a trained lawyer and statesman, did not understand
this as well as General MacArthur.
As the representative of the civil authority, and under the President, the head of the army, Mr.
Root has been charged with especial responsibility in this matter. Removed from the scene of
conflict, and unaffected by the fierce passions aroused in the soldier by actual battle, it has been
his duty to watch the progress of the contest, and to see that its objects were kept in view, that
the rules of war were observed, and that all unnecessary brutality and destruction were prevented
or punished. It was for him, as the representative of the civil power, to moderate and control the
wrath of officers and men, to the end that the war might result in a real peace, and not merely in
outward submission concealing undying hatred.
Finally, it has been his duty, if he spoke at all, to tell his countrymen nothing but the truth.