Secretary Root's Record:"Marked Severities" in Philippine Warfare The First Reports of Cruelty
As soon as the mails from the army reached this country after the beginning of hostilities, the
newspapers began to publish statements from soldiers and officers that the war against the
Filipinos was being prosecuted with great barbarity; and it became apparent that there was at
least a considerable element in the army who despised the native inhabitants, and were willing to
kill prisoners, to burn villages, and to rob and murder non-combatants upon little or no
Thus L. F. Adams, of Ozark, Mo., a soldier in the Washington regiment, describing the scene
after the battle of February 4-5, 1899, said:
In the path of the Washington Regiment and Battery D of the Sixth Artillery there were 1,008
dead niggers, and a great many wounded. We burned all their houses. I don't know how many
men, women, and children the Tennessee boys did kill. They would not take any prisoners.
Howard McFarland, sergeant, Company B, Forty-third Infantry, wrote to the Fairfield Journal of
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.
It would be possible to fill columns with similar extracts, always met by statements that soldiers
are liars, and that these stories could not be believed.
On July 17, 1899, the staff correspondents of American newspapers stationed at Manila
telegraphed to this country their joint protest against the censorship of the press, alleging that the
American people had been deceived as to conditions in the Philippines, and that they had been
to participate in this misrepresentation by excising or altering uncontroverted statements of facts
on the plea, as General Otis stated, that "they would alarm the people at home."
This was signed by men of entire responsibility, and led to an inquiry by the general manager of
the Associated Press.
He received a reply from Robert M. Collins, one of the correspondents of the Associated Press,
which contained a statement of a conversation between the correspondents and General Otis,
from which the following passages are quoted:
In that connection we reminded him that the stories of looting in soldiers' letters home had been
little, if any, exaggerated. Davis and Bass told him they had personally seen our soldiers
bayoneting the wounded; and I reminded him that the cutting off of the ears of two American
soldiers at Damariscotta had been merely retaliation for similar mutilations of dead Filipinos by
(No one could possibly tell stronger stories of the looting and blackmailing by our soldiers than
Otis has told, although he charges it all to the volunteers.)
There has been according to Otis himself, and the personal knowledge of every one here, a
perfect orgy of looting and wanton destruction of property and most outrageous blackmailing of
the natives and Chinamen in Manila, and various incidents like the shooting down of several
Filipinos for attempting to run from arrest at a cock fight.
This was no anonymous slander, but the statement of men well known, like all of these
correspondents. Davis and Bass themselves saw wounded men bayoneted; and the knowledge of
looting, blackmail, and just such barbarous practices on the part of our soldiers as Mr. Root
attributed to the Filipinos, was brought home to the whole country. While this letter was fresh in
the public mind, Secretary Root took office. The war was only five months old. The attitude of
the army toward the Filipinos was clearly questionable. The witnesses were ready. Then was the
time to investigate. Compare the President's direction to the Secretary of War and General
MacArthur's order at Malolos with the statement of Mr. Collins, and the need for a searching
investigation and for instant reform is apparent.