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Secretary Root's Record:"Marked Severities" in Philippine Warfare|
Mr. Root's Denials of Soldiers' Charges Tested
|We may now proceed to test the accuracy of Mr. Root's statements. He says that every charge of
cruelty "brought to the notice of the War Department" has been investigated. He encloses the
records of thirteen such inquiries, and says,
You will perceive that in substantially every case the report has proved to be unfounded or
The casual reader might infer that in every investigated case the charge was unfounded or
exaggerated, but the Secretary's words apply only to the thirteen cases selected. What other
inquiries were made, and what was the result in those?
An examination of the thirteen cases selected shows that with a single exception the charges
investigated were made by private soldiers in letters, which found their way into print. In no case
was the investigation by court of inquiry or by court-martial. In almost all the cases the letter
was referred to the regimental officers charged with the offence, and their statement usually was
accepted. In no case is the text of the letter given in Secretary Root's memorandum, so that it is
impossible to compare charges and refutation. In many cases the private who wrote was
probably exposed to pressure from his comrades or superiors, while in some cases he was not
called to testify. The attempt seems to have been made to create the impression that the charges
were made by unreliable and boastful soldiers, and were therefore, to be disregarded.
Even so the statement of the Secretary is not sustained by an examination of the records.
Thus take the case of Lieutenant Hagedorn, charged by a private in his regiment with inhumanly
treating certain Filipino prisoners. The method of investigation employed was to ask the accused
for a statement, which he made April 19, 1901, from which the following extracts are quoted:
The special diet mentioned in this communication was used in June, 1900.... All other means of
obtaining information about the occurrence [an attack on a detachment] proving failures, I seized
three suspicious characters. These on being questioned refused to give any information at all. I
then ordered them confined to the stocks with a diet of salt fish without water. This diet had
excellent direct results. After forty-eight hours all three gave more or less information, which led
to the capture and wounding of one Tagalo, the capture of fifteen guns, etc.... On information
given by these three, I was enabled to arrest sixty persons that had participated in the attack on
Cabagan. These people were put to work in the streets of the town, and were released after three
or four weeks.
Hagedorn defended his action, claiming that he would have been justified in summarily
executing these men.
Here was a clear case of torture. Only because it was torture was the process effective. The
charge of the private was confessed. It was neither "unfounded" nor "exaggerated." What was
done to enforce the excellent orders to which Secretary Root has called attention? Absolutely
Lieutenant Hagedorn's colonel forwarded his report with the statement that he had been
most energetic in the performance of his duty.... It is believed that he acted in the best interests
of the service, even if mistakenly; and it is recommended that no further action be taken on this
In other words, torture helped us, and therefore should not be punished.
Lieutenant Hagedorn was complimented for his zeal; and not even a reprimand for his cruelty
was suggested, nor a warning not to torture again. The Secretary by silence approved the torture
used in the case because it obtained information, and forgot that "military necessity does not
admit of cruelty." Lieutenant Hagedorn continued to show the "patient millions" how different
American freedom is from Spanish tyranny, until he was dismissed from the service for
embezzlement and sentenced to two years' imprisonment, as is stated in the Philadelphia North
Take another of the thirteen cases. Private Jones of Company G, Eleventh Volunteer Cavalry,
wrote a letter which described how a body of our troops, in an attempt to capture a Filipino
officer, heard the sound of laughter, and, discovering through the woods a house where a large
party of Filipinos were attending a wedding, opened fire upon them and killed the bride and
some of the guests.
The investigation showed that a detachment under a native guide toward sunset heard "loud
voices and laughter." An examination disclosed a large number of natives in a house, and the
guide said they were insurgents. The troops undertook to surround the house, and without
command opened fire, and continued to fire until the commander threatened to shoot the next
man who fired at the house. "A few, probably three, native armed men were seen." It was found
that the house was new, that in it were "many women and children," that
a number of women and children were found outside, sheltered by the bank of a stream, where
they had taken refuge when the firing opened,
the gathering in the house was no doubt that of a celebration or feast of some kind, most
probably a wedding,
the casualities were two men and one woman dead, one woman and two children wounded, all
natives and found in the building.
The house was destroyed; and, after caring for the wounded as much as circumstances permitted,
the command returned to their station.
This charge was true. And, if there was any evidence of exaggeration, it lies, so far as the papers
show, in the statement that the investigating officer did not find that either of the killed and
wounded men and women were bride or groom, -- an unimportant detail. The number killed may
have been exaggerated in the letter, but this also is not material in fixing the character of the act.
Had this been done by Filipinos, it would have been denounced by Secretary Root as a savage
crime; and so it doubtless appeared to the victims. General MacArthur, however, is content, in
transmitting the report, to say:
The result was deplorable from every point of view, but was the consequence of one of those
unavoidable accidents arising in war.... Although the soldier in writing his letter exaggerated in
an indefensible manner, the circumstances themselves are so tragic as to arouse a sense of keen
regret on the part of all officers concerned.
There is no thought of punishing the men who without orders fired upon a merry wedding party,
and persisted in continuing, though ordered to stop, until threatened with death themselves by
their officer. Is this an example of what the Secretary calls "the constant and effective pressure
of ... discipline"?
Another case is that of Charles S. Riley, of Northampton; and this throws a stream of light on the
character and purpose of the so-called investigation.
Riley, a sergeant in the Twenty-sixth Regiment, the son and brother of reputable men well
known in Northampton, wrote home on November 25, 1900, as follows:
Arriving at Igbaras at daylight, we found everything peaceful; but it shortly developed that we
were really "treading on a volcano." The presidente, the priest, and another leading man were
assembled, and put on the rack of inquiry. The presidente evaded some questions, and was soon
bound and given the "water cure." This was done by throwing him on his back beneath a tank of
water and running a stream into his mouth, a man kneading his stomach meanwhile to prevent
his drowning. The ordeal proved a tongue-loosener, and the crafty old fellow soon begged for
mercy and made full confession.... The presidente was asked for more information, and had to
take a second dose of "water cure" before he would divulge.
He also stated that the town was burned to the ground.
These charges were at once denounced as a lie in the Army and Navy Journal and other papers
which supported the policy of the government. It was not then claimed that the "water cure" was
humane and justifiable. The letter was referred to the commanding officer of Riley's regiment,
who reported that Riley said that his letter was published without authority, and then said:
The tendency of enlisted men to draw the long bow in such cases is well known. Major Cook,
Captain McDonald, and Sergeant Riley state that no officers or soldiers of this regiment took
part in any so-called water-cure proceedings or other threats against the natives on the occasion
The rest of the report was filled with charges of cruelty against the Filipinos.
No notice was taken of the charge that the town was burned. Thereupon the War Department
issued a statement addressed to Professor Bridgman, of Northampton, in which it was said:
The Department has looked into this matter, with the result that the officers of Sergeant Riley's
regiment, including the major commanding his battalion, the captain of his company, and
Sergeant Riley himself, assert positively that no officers or soldiers of the regiment took part in
any water-cure proceedings or other threats against the natives on the occasion in question. This
has been the invariable result of the investigations that have repeatedly been made as to the
foundation for sensational stories sent home by soldiers in letters to their relatives.
Thus Riley was branded as a liar. They thought his story disposed of, yet it was exactly true.
It will be observed that he did not say in his letter that any member of his regiment took part in
the torture. He said he saw it administered, and he did. It was administered by men of the
Eighteenth Infantry by command of Captain Glenn of the regular army. Lieutenant Conger was
in charge of the water detail, and Dr. Lyon directed it. When his statement was investigated, he
told the commander of his regiment that he had seen the treatment administered; but that fact
was carefully concealed in the report. Thus a statement exactly true was made to appear false by
a whitewashing report, and this shows how much confidence can be placed in the War
Department investigations. A system by which the charge is referred substantially to the party
accused or his friends is not likely to elicit the truth.
Before the Senate Committee Riley testified, and his testimony was confirmed, that
"the presidente was tied and placed on his back under a water-tank holding probably one
The faucet was opened, and a stream of water was forced down or allowed to run down his
throat. His throat was held so he could not prevent swallowing the water, so that he had to allow
the water to run into his stomach. He was directly under the faucet, with his mouth held wide
open. When he was filled with water, it was forced out of him by pressing a foot on his stomach
or else with the hands"; and this continued "from five to fifteen minutes." A native interpreter
stood directly over this man as he lay on the floor, and "kept saying some one word which I
should judge meant 'confess' or 'answer.'"
When this unhappy man was taken down and asked more questions, he again refused to answer,
and then was treated again.
Q. In front? A. Yes, on the stone walk. They started to take him inside the building, and Captain
Glenn said, "Don't take him inside. Right here is good enough." One of the men of the
Eighteenth Infantry went to his saddle and took a syringe from the saddlebag, and another man
was sent for a can of water, what we call a kerosene can, holding about five gallons. He brought
this can of water down from upstairs, and then a syringe was inserted one end in the water and
the other end in his mouth. This time he was not bound, but he was held by four or five men and
the water was forced into his mouth from the can, through the syringe.
By Senator Burrows:
Q. Was this another party? A. No, this was the same man. The syringe did not seem to have the
desired effect, and the doctor ordered a second one. The man got a second syringe, and that was
inserted in his nose. Then the doctor ordered some salt, and a handful of salt was procured and
thrown into the water. Two syringes were then in operation. The interpreter stood over him in the
meantime asking for this second information that was desired. Finally, he gave in and gave the
information that they sought, and then he was allowed to rise.
Q. May I ask the name of the doctor? A. Dr. Lyons, the contract surgeon.
Q. An American? A. Yes, Sir.
Private Davis testified that he heard Captain Glenn give the order to burn Igbaras, a town of ten
thousand people; and it was done. All this the War Department investigation served to conceal.
The subsequent conviction of Captain Glenn (now Major) by court-martial leaves no doubt as to
his guilt. What confidence can we place in like investigations?
We have so far dealt with three out of the thirteen charges referred to by Secretary Root as
proved to be "either unfounded or grossly exaggerated." It is impossible within any reasonable
space to deal at length with the other cases, but this appears on a casual examination.
One Edward Gard wrote home that,
if we found one still living, we put the finishing touch on him with the butt end of our guns.
On being interrogated by his commander, he wrote that this statement "is an exaggeration,"
which would seem to mean that this was done sometimes, but not invariably.
Of this case there was no real investigation, the statement of the commander being that he had
not seen such a case, and it could not occur without being reported.
Another charge was that outrages were committed, especially by the First Washington Volunteer
Infantry, and this was made April 6, 1899. It was referred to General Otis, who said, after some
The conduct of the Washington Volunteers has been the subject of special investigations for
some time. They deny wanton burning or cruelties. And still there are strong indications that
they practised these infractions to some extent.
Then follow general statements "that the army is practicing humane sentiments."
Does this show that the charges were not true, and was any pressure of discipline applied here?
If so, what?
Another charge grew out of a letter written by Corporal Williams as to the looting of a village
called St. Rogue before June 1, 1899.
Williams, being asked, said that he wrote the letter, and that the statement was "substantially
The captain of his company stated that
the village of St. Roque was looted by the Iowa Regiment and the other troops stationed at
Cavite, that the men helped themselves to what they found and destroyed articles of property
they could not use, that the colonel and other field officers did not exert themselves to stop it,
and that, while he disapproved of what was done, he did not feel called upon under the
circumstances to do anything about it.
The colonel and lieutenant-colonel stated that the town was burned by the insurgents, and that
the colonel ordered an officer to take charge of the district, put out the fires, and collect and store
all articles of value. The colonel says,
A part of the property so collected was afterwards removed to Cavite for use of officers and men
in the quarters, which were found absolutely bare of furniture when my regiment took station
there. These were turned over to the succeeding command.
The lieutenant-colonel confirms this, and adds,
As to the men, I do not think they took anything of consequence, as the natives had previously
General Otis disposes of the matter contemptuously, saying,
Soldiers may have picked up some articles of abandoned property, but I do not think to any great
The testimony of a captain and a sergeant with no reason to falsify is thus ignored; but was the
The next grew out of a letter written just after the first battle, February 4 and 5, 1899, by Edward
D. Furman, a private in the First Washington Volunteer Infantry, in which he stated what his
regiment did in burning and looting houses. On investigation, Furman said the statement "is as a
whole correct, but the word 'looted' should have been omitted."
The judge advocate in his report quotes from his oral statement:
As to jewelry, some of the men did find some in houses hastily abandoned by the occupants, and
in others from which our men were fired upon. Our men sometimes got trace of buried treasure,
and dug it up. The most I ever saw was shown by one of our men, some gold in a handkerchief,
as much as one could hold in the hand.
The judge advocate himself says:
Captain Albert Otis commands the company to which Furman belongs. He and other officers
confirmed the facts of his published letter regarding the burning of houses and the taking and
using of furniture. The individual men behaved badly, they do not doubt; but their evil work was
done secretly and in defiance of orders and the general sentiment of the troops. The men did
search for money. They also secured many things in the way of mementoes....
So far as Furman's letter implies general license to steal, rob, and loot generally, they hold it to
From this report we gather also that soldiers whose letters were published had a hard time from
their comrades, "so that a noticeable modification for the better speedily followed," as the
judge advocate says.
Apparently, Furman's story was substantially true; and yet it does not appear that any of the men
"who behaved badly" were punished or that any real investigation was made. This was at the
very outset, when a stern example was needed. Where was the "pressure of ... discipline"?
In other cases the evidence that the charge was true is not so apparent, and one newspaper
despatch was apparently very misleading; but in no case, apparently, was any one punished, and
no one can read the series of reports impartially without seeing that there was no real, earnest
attempt to detect and punish the offender, but everywhere an effort to minimize, conceal, and
So much for Secretary Root's statement about the investigations.