Secretary Root's Record:"Marked Severities" in Philippine Warfare Mr. Root's Attitude on the Horrors of Samar
What was Mr. Root's attitude in this emergency? In transmitting the proceedings of the
court-martial on July 12, after certainly a sufficient interval, he quotes the language of the court,
The court is thus lenient in view of the undisputed evidence that the accused did not mean
everything that his unexplained language implied, that his subordinates did not gather such a
meaning, and that the orders were never executed in such sense, notwithstanding that a desperate
struggle was being conducted with a cruel and savage foe.
This language leaves much room for explanation, and is a singular statement in view of General
Smith's admission that "he wanted everybody killed capable of bearing arms." This he did mean.
What more "his unexplained language implied" is not very material.
Nor does it appear that the question whether these orders were obeyed was tried by the
court-martial. It was not put in issue, and it may well be doubted whether any real investigation
of this question was made.
Still more singular is the suggestion that our forces were engaged in a "desperate struggle" with
the people of Samar. They encountered hardships in expeditions, but from the difficulties of the
country, not from any real resistance. The records show that General Smith's campaign was a
search for fleeing natives, and that their resistance was passive. The losses inflicted by the
enemy were trifling in comparison with the forces engaged. The real situation in Samar before
General Smith began his campaign of vengeance has been given in the words of General
Hughes, before quoted. It is hard to understand how the Filipinos could be any more cruel than
was General Smith by his own admission.
Mr. Root proceeds:
An examination of the evidence has satisfied me that the conviction was just, and that the
reasons given for the very light sentence imposed are sustained by the facts. General Smith, in
his conversation with Major Waller, was guilty of intemperate, inconsiderate, and violent
expressions, which, if accepted literally, would grossly violate the humane rules governing
American armies in the field, and, if followed, would have brought lasting disgrace upon the
military service of the United States. Fortunately, they were not taken literally, and were not
followed. No women or children or helpless persons or non-combatants or prisoners were put to
death in pursuance of them.
An examination of the record and proceedings upon the trial of Major Waller shows that the
instructions in question bore no relation to the acts for which Major Waller was tried, and were
not alleged by him as justification for those acts.
This statement of the Secretary as to General Smith's language is not supported by his counsel's
statement already quoted, and it is believed that the question whether these orders were executed
was never tried. If this belief is unfounded, Mr. Root has only to publish the full record of the
proceedings and evidence in the cases of Major Waller, Lieutenant Day, and General Smith. This
has never been done, and we are left to gather the facts from censored despatches and such bits
of the record as the Secretary chooses to print.
It is clear that an order to kill all men capable of bearing arms above ten years of age would not
justify the killing of "women or children or helpless persons"; but, if the Secretary means that
no such persons and no non-combatants or prisoners were put to death by our forces in Samar,
his statement is contradicted by strong evidence, and no official investigation of what our forces
did in Samar has ever been made. If there has, when and by whom was it made and with what
results? Let the Secretary, who is so anxious to discover and punish all persons guilty of
barbarity, answer this question.
But the Secretary does not stop here. He speaks of "the massacre of Balangiga," and says:
There the natives had been treated with kindness and confidence: liberty and self-government
had been given to them. Captain Connell, the American commander, was of their faith, and had
been worshipping in the same church with them.
With all the assurance of friendship our men were seated at their meal among an apparently
peaceful and friendly community, when they were set upon from behind and butchered, and their
bodies, when found by their comrades the next day, had been mutilated and treated with
It may be said, in passing, that, had Secretary Root read the proceedings at Major Waller's trial,
he would have found (unless the despatch of April 8 was wrong), General Smith's testimony that
the operations at Balangiga "were according to the rules of war;" except the mutilation of the
dead, a piece of impotent savagery, which, however shocking, is not to be compared in the scale
of crime with the torture or murder of the living.
But, passing this, we may remember the evidence of Corporal Gibbs as to what "liberty and
self-government" had been given the inhabitants of Balangiga, forced at the point of a bayonet to
work all day, confined at night as no farmer would confine pigs, while all their food reserves
were destroyed. Mr. Root has either been guilty of recklessly false statements, or we may
understand once for all what he means by "liberty and self-government."
In either case, what weight can his countrymen give to his words, even in a long-considered and
most important official communication? Where in the Secretary's letter is there a note of
genuine manly indignation at general Smith's inhuman order? What is it but the best apology
which he can make for orders which would seem black in the annals of Turkey?