Secretary Root's Record:"Marked Severities" in Philippine Warfare The Attitude of Secretary Root as Shown by the Records
But, before this subject is left, the real attitude of the Secretary toward the wanton murder of
Filipinos is shown by certain cases which are of record. On February 17 the Secretary sent to
Senator Lodge a letter in which he made certain statements to be hereafter dealt with, and
enclosed "a memorandum of forty-four officers, soldiers, and camp followers who have been
tried, and thirty-nine of them convicted for violation of orders forbidding cruelty, looting, and
When we turn to this memorandum, we find it shows trials of ten officers, the last of whom
was apparently tried on February 8, 1901.
One of these was convicted of "firing into town and looting."
This would seem to be a clear violation of Rule 44 of General Order No. 100, which is thus
given in Secretary Root's letter:
Rule 44. All wanton violence committed against persons in the invaded country; all destruction
of property not commanded by the authorized officer; all robbery, all pillage or sacking, even
after taking a place by main force; all rape, wounding, maiming, or killing of such inhabitants, --
are prohibited under penalty of death, or such other severe punishment as may seem adequate for
the gravity of the offence.
An officer, of course, as his knowledge and authority are greater and his example more
pernicious, should be punished more severely than a private. This officer was sentenced to -- a
The second was convicted of "assaulting prisoners and cruelty." His sentence was $300 fine and
The third was convicted of "looting and encouraging the same," the fourth of "permitting
looting." Both were sentenced to a reprimand.
Two more were convicted of "torture by causing natives to be hung by the neck for ten seconds,"
and will be dealt with later.
Three were acquitted.
The last to be convicted was First Lieutenant Brown of the Second Infantry, who was convicted
of "killing a prisoner of war," and sentenced to be dismissed from the service and confined at
hard labor for five years.
This was clearly a very aggravated case in the eyes of his associates, even in an atmosphere
where Filipino lives were not highly valued.
The record sent to Senator Lodge stops with the sentence. For some reason it did not state that
on January 27, 1902, three weeks before the date of Mr. Root's letter, this sentence had been
commuted to a loss of thirty-five places in the army list and the forfeiture of one-half his pay for
An examination of the record shows that it charged that Brown did
wilfully, feloniously, and with malice aforethought murder and kill by shooting with a pistol an
unarmed, unresisting native Filipino, a prisoner of war in his charge.
Upon this he was convicted of manslaughter, and sentenced as stated.
This guilty man is now with his full rank and pay permitted to command our troops. Did the
Secretary of War recommend this action?
In a later list said by the Secretary to contain the names "of over three hundred and fifty officers
and enlisted men" tried by court-martial for offences against natives sent to the committee on
May 6, 1902, we find the names of but two commissioned officers, Lieutenants Capp and
Thomas, also mentioned in the first memorandum, who were convicted in 1899, the latter of
brutality to prisoners and the former of looting. Lieutenant Thomas's treatment is said in the
record to have been "very severe, and amounted almost to acute torture"; and his actions
"cannot be too much deplored nor too emphatically condemned." His sentence was a fine of
$300 and a reprimand.
This last communication contains also the record of a few court-martials, including that of
Lieutenant Perkins and Captain Brandle. These were the two charged with torture. In Brandle's
case the court found that Brandle did hang two natives by the neck for ten seconds each on
May 26, 1900, but, disliking the word "torture," substituted the words "inflict mental anguish
upon," as if hanging by the neck were physically delightful. Lieutenant Perkins was charged with
torturing in this way six natives, and was found guilty of hanging two with the same substitution
of "mental anguish" in the finding. General MacArthur in his review makes it clear that the
acquittal on three of the charges was on the ground that the names of the men hanged were given
erroneously, saying that the evidence warranted a finding of guilty on these
with only a formal modification ... to the effect that the real names of the natives were unknown
to the court.
Nor did he approve the change from "torture" to "mental anguish." Yet he approved the
sentence of the court which was "a reprimand." The action of the court shows how little
indignation at cruelty to Filipinos was felt by the brother officers of the accused.
What does this record of eight convictions for the crimes justly punishable with death, -- looting,
torture, and murder, -- resulting in six reprimands, one fine, and one loss of numbers and
half-pay for a few months indicate? What did it say to the army?
From the last of 1900 until the court-martials of Waller and Day no officer seems to have been
convicted and only one was tried, and he for having improper relations with native women.
By the memorandum first mentioned and sent with the letter of February 17 it seems that
between February, 1899, and August, 1901, thirty privates were tried by court-martial, and all
There were six cases of rape, two of assault with intent to commit it, two of murdering native
women, two of "wantonly killing a native boy," two of murder, five of robbery. The others were
assaults and looting. Several were sentenced by the court-martial to death, but in each case the
sentence was commuted. The other sentences were imprisonment or fine, coupled in some cases
with dishonorable discharge and forfeiture of pay. For evidently aggravated offences by law
punishable with death, no one was executed. Except the two officers who were reprimanded, no
officer or private is tried for torturing a native. No one is tried for wanton burning of villages.
No one is tried for killing a prisoner, except Lieutenant Brown; no one for giving no quarter or
firing upon non-combatants. Yet such offences were committed, to the knowledge of the War
Secretary Root in the same letter of February 17 sends specimen orders against such abuses,
which contain clear admissions.
Thus General Otis, on February 7, 1899, issued the following order:
The burning of houses or the property of the natives or other inhabitants of the island is
prohibited, unless the same be used as shelter for the enemy or as places of concealment of
contraband of war....
The lives and property of the inhabitants, both native and foreign, will be protected: and they
will be permitted to pursue their ordinary avocations without molestation.
On March 19, 1899, he found it necessary to issue more explicit orders:
Commanding generals of divisions will make renewed effort to impress upon the troops of their
commands the necessity of exercising the greatest vigilance to insure the protection of private
property, not only in this city, but wherever they may be quartered or acting.... The burning or
looting of houses or buildings of any description or the abuse of unarmed citizens on the part of
the troops will be punished with the utmost severity known to military law.
These are strong words. Yet Lieutenant Capp, a few months later, July 23, 1899, for firing into a
town and looting, receives a reprimand; and Lieutenant Ellison, "for looting and encouraging
looting," on February 4, 1900, receives the same punishment. "The utmost severity known to
military law," indeed! And these are the only two officers ever punished at all for these offences,
according to Secretary Root's list.
Under date of August 9, 1899, Brigadier-general Young in Luzon says:
It having been reported to the brigade commander that a number of cases of looting, robbery,
and other misconduct on the part of United States troops have recently taken place, attention is
again invited to the existing orders in regard to such acts.
Under date June 26, 1900, Colonel Murray in Leyte says:
Reliable information having been received by the district commander that native women and
children have lately been killed or wounded by indiscriminate shooting on the part of troops of
this command, the district commander takes occasion to notify all officers under his command
that we are at war with armed insurgents only, and that indiscriminate firing upon natives seen in
the country surrounding towns will not be tolerated.
Was anybody punished for the deaths of these women and children? The information was
"reliable," but there is no record that it was used.
Under date of June 20, 1900, in Cebu this order is issued:
No house or other property will be seized or destroyed by this command except where there is
reason to believe the insurgents intend to use the same. The greatest care will be exercised to
avoid firing upon natives not in arms against the United States.
Under date of April 28, 1900, Brigadier-general Bell in Southeastern Luzon orders:
The troops in this district will exercise the greatest care and judgment in firing upon natives, in
order that they may not fire upon women and children. The promiscuous burning of houses must
also be avoided.
In Southern Luzon, June 5, 1900, Major-general Bates says:
Rumors having reached these headquarters that unjustifiably harsh measures have been
employed in some instances to extort information from captured ladrones,... all persons in the
military service in this department are nevertheless warned that no end can be so desirable or
important as to justify a departure from the recognized laws of war or a resort to any deliberate
measure of cruelty.
In Northern Luzon, General Grant, under date of July 14, 1900, says:
Owing to a large number of complaints reported to these headquarters of ill-treatment of natives
on the part of scouting parties in this district, commanding officers are hereby directed to caution
their officers and men against harsh and illegitimate treatment of natives.
There were evidently orders enough, and they show what the rules of war forbade in the
judgment of our responsible officers.
These orders were obviously not regarded, as their statements show. Who were punished for
disobedience? Orders made and not enforced are fatal to discipline.
Of outside reliable evidence that the orders against indiscriminate killing, looting, and burning
were not obeyed, much has been given; and very much more is available.
It is enough perhaps to remind the reader of the statement, before quoted, made over his own
signature by Robert M. Collins, a representative of the Associated Press, which was published
just before Mr. Root took office:
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.
Where is the evidence that any serious attempt was made to enforce orders which read so well?
Certainly, they were not enforced; and Secretary Root was bound to see that they were. With his
silent acquiescence, at least, the salutary rules of war laid down in the orders which he himself
sends to the committee were ignored.