Secretary Root's Record:"Marked Severities" in Philippine Warfare The Reconcentration Camps
Among the measures of "marked humanity" was the reconcentration in Samar described in the
extract from the Manila News contained in the petition to the Senate of February 4, and the
reconcentration in Batangas.
As to the probable effects of tearing a whole population from their homes in a tropical climate
and confining them in large bodies, whether in "stockades," which General Smith is said to have
used, or in what General Bell calls "protected zones," we had ample warning.
The Secretary cannot have been ignorant that when our own army in the heart of our own
country assembled at Chickamauga and Camp Alger, with every resource of the country at our
command, and every motive to keep our soldiers in good health, the mortality and sickness were
We had the experience of Spain in Cuba and England in South Africa to guide us. We knew that
England was kept advised every month of the number confined in each camp, the number in
each of men, women, and children, and the monthly mortality in each camp of each class. Has
the War Department any statistics? Does it know how many persons were concentrated and how
many died? What are the figures?
Could Secretary Root have supposed that the physical causes which operated at Chickamauga
would not operate in Luzon and Samar?
He sent to the Senate on May 7 a report from Colonel Wagner as to the conditions of three
camps, one at Santo Tomas and two at Tanauan, which represents excellent conditions in all,
except that at Tanauan (where in two camps were confined 19,600 people of all classes, 11,000
in a camp half a mile long by one-third of a mile wide, and the rest in a space one-third of a mile
square), there was considerable sickness among the children, -- measles and pneumonia, -- but,
The death-rate is not greater than in the native villages under ordinary conditions.
It would be interesting to have a few figures on this point, but none are given.
But were these the only concentration camps? Did these include General Smith's and General
Bell's? Where are the facts? It is said that some hundreds of thousands of people were placed in
them. Is this true?
There is other evidence on this point. The Army and Navy Journal certainly supports what has
been done in the Philippines. In its columns appeared this letter. It applies to a small camp of
prisoners of war, not, perhaps, strictly a reconcentration camp; but it throws some light on the
subject. It comes from a correspondent at Catbalogan, Samar, under date of January 26, giving
the following account of the military prisoners at that place:
There are approximately 400 Filipino prisoners confined at Catbalogan, and the churchyard has
been made into quarters for them. The yard is surrounded by a high stone wall, against which
nipa shacks have been set. In these shacks, devoid of furniture, bedding, and with only the nipa
walls and bamboo, the prisoners live, breathe, and have their being. They squat all day about the
walls of the shacks, and only vary their attitudes for the purpose of eating or sleeping. They are
fed the regulations' native prisoner ration, which is rather skimpy. The majority of the prisoners
looked far from happy. A large part of them had a pinched, hungry look, and some thirty or forty
are suffering from all stages of beriberi. It is the usual thing for them to get this disease after they
have been confined any length of time. The disease is prevalent on the island, and under prison
conditions it thrives. A number of the prisoners are suffering from malaria and dysentery. One of
the medical officers at Catbalogan tells me that they die at the rate of from two to four per day.
There are not sufficient medical supplies at Catbalogan to care for the prisoners; and, as far as I
could see, when they are taken sick, they are liable to die, as far as their health may depend upon
proper medical attendance. General Sanger, learning of these conditions, took the medical
officers to task; and they pleaded as an excuse that they had sent many requisitions to Tacloban
for supplies, but they were never filled, and, when filled, only partially. For example, carbolic
acid in large quantities was asked for, and one-tenth of the amount asked was sent. It is probable
that an investigation will be made in Manila as to why these conditions exist. Prisoners of war
must have proper food and medical attendance. There are rears dug about the prison which are
kept in a perfectly sanitary condition, boxes being used, and the contents removed daily. The
prisoners also have the use of two large stone tanks filled with water for bathing, and soap is
issued to them as part of the ration. It is difficult to ascertain if the rations were always fully
issued; but it is supposed that they are, although one hungry and despondent-looking chap of
decidedly prepossessing appearance told me that they did not get enough to eat. However, if it is
issued, -- the full ration, -- it should be enough for their wants, and is probably more than the
average native receives outside. There is an offensive smell about the quarters, but this is
generally found in jails where large numbers of men are confined.
All of the prisoners had a more or less cowed appearance, and seemed ready to dodge upon the
approach of an American. General Chaffee visited every one of the different quarters, and, with
the aid of an interpreter, talked with various of the prisoners. The usual response was, "No sabe";
and they did not look as if they did. They are a miserable-looking lot of little brown rats, and
were utterly spiritless. All rose from their squatting position whenever an American approached,
and stood to "attention," raising their hands to their heads in a sort of half-salute and half-doffing
of an imaginary hat. The great majority of them are in rags, and have hardly enough of them to
cover their nakedness. There is no provision for furnishing them clothing. Among all the
quarters not a cigarette was to be found; and the lack of these, which is almost as necessary to
the Filipino as food or water, seems to wilt them altogether. Outside the shacks, day after day,
the rain falls incessantly. Some of the shacks leak, but the majority are in good condition. One of
the party remarked that death would be preferable to him than month after month of such
imprisonment, and no one disagreed with him. However, it is possible that the natives have
become used to it. Nothing seems to break their apathy. One to whom I spoke kindly and
questioned as to his treatment changed for a moment into a gleam of intelligence, but quickly
resumed his original stare.
Here is testimony from another source as to an undoubted concentration camp. It comes through
Senator Bacon, of Georgia, from whose speech in the Senate the following extract is taken:
Mr. President, I want to read to you a description of a reconcentrado camp. I will say that this
letter is written by an officer whom I know personally, and for whom I vouch in my place in the
Senate as a high-toned man and a courageous and chivalric officer, one who does his duty
regardless of whether he approves of the cause in which he is told to fight or not, and one in
every way worthy of confidence and esteem. This was a letter written by him with no injunction
of secrecy in it, because he had no idea or thought that it would ever be made public. I make it
public now simply for the information of the Senate, in order that they may have some idea of
what a reconcentrado camp is.
I omit the name of the place from which the letter was written for the same reason that I omit the
name of the officer. I will not say any more of him than that he is a graduate of West Point and a
professional soldier. I will state further that there is some allusion in the letter to vampires. A
vampire in those islands is a bird about the size of a crow, which wheels and circles above the
head at night, and which is plainly visible at night. As I have said, I know the officer personally
and vouch for him in every way. Senators will see from the reading of this letter that it is simply
the casual and ordinary narration of a friend writing to a friend. He says:
"On our way over here we stopped at ---- in peaceful ---- to leave our surplus stuff so as to get
I have left out these names --
"light shape; and, as we landed at midnight there, they weren't satisfied with bolos and shotguns,
but little brown brother actually fired upon us with brass cannon in that officially quiet burg
under efficient civil government. What a farce it all is!"
That is his comment on that fact.
"Well, consider, ten miles and over down the coast, we found a great deposit of mud just off the
mouth of the river, and after waiting eight hours managed to get over the bar without being stuck
but three times -- and the tug drew three feet.
"Then eight miles up a slimy, winding bayou of a river until at 4 A.M. we struck a piece of
spongy ground about twenty feet above the sea-level. Now you have us located. It rains
continually in a way that would have made Noah marvel. And trails, if you can find one, make
the 'Slough of Despond' seem like an asphalt pavement. Now this little spot of black sogginess is
a reconcentrado pen, with a dead-line outside, beyond which everything living is shot.
"This corpse-carcass stench wafted in and combined with some lovely municipal odors besides
makes it slightly unpleasant here.
"Upon arrival I found thirty cases of small-pox and average fresh ones of five a day, which
practically have to be turned out to die. At nightfall clouds of huge vampire bats softly swirl out
on their orgies over the dead.
"Mosquitoes work in relays, and keep up their pestering day and night. There is a pleasing
uncertainty as to your being boloed before morning or being cut down in the long grass or sniped
at. It seems way out of the world without a sight of the sea, -- in fact, more like some suburb of
If that is a suburb of hell, Mr. President, what must hell be! That is a description that applies to
more than one; and, if you would order an investigation of what has occurred in the Philippine
Islands, it would, I have no doubt, be found that that was a picture of many.
And Mr. Bacon, well says:
We are apt to think about the reconcentrado camps simply in connection with sufferings which
may be endured by those within the camps; and, in the case of the Cuban reconcentrado camps,
where there was not food, then, of course, all the added horrors of that tropical climate
constituted one of the features of the reconcentrado camps. But the greatest horror and the
greatest suffering which are occasioned by the reconcentrado camps is not the horror and the
suffering within the camp, but the horror and the suffering without the camp.
When a general prescribes a certain limited area within which he says all the people must
congregate, there must be the corresponding direction which will enforce that order; and the
corresponding direction is that everything outside of those prescribed limits shall be without
protection, and, both as to property and life, be subject to destruction. Only in that way can
people be carried within the limits of the reconcentrado camps.
It is because life is unsafe out of them, because life is almost certain to be sacrificed out of them,
because all property left outside is to be destroyed, because all houses are to be burned, because
the country is to be made a desert waste, because within a camp is a zone of life and without the
camp a wide-spread area of death and desolation. That is what a reconcentrado camp means. Do
you suppose if there is an invitation to people to come within a reconcentrado camp, that they
are going to come there unless they are forced there? Is there any way to force them except to
say that it is death to remain outside?
Why, Mr. President, when the limited area of a reconcentrado camp is prescribed, the people
cannot be collected and driven in there. The soldiers cannot go out and find them and drive them
in as you would a drove of horses. It is only by putting upon them this order, this pressure of life
and death, that they are made to flee within the limits of the reconcentrado camps to escape the
torch and the sword that destroys all without. When a general prescribes a reconcentrado camp,
-- and I am going, before I get through, to read Bell's order to show that that is what it means, --
when a general prescribes a reconcentrado camp, he practically says that everybody outside must
come inside or die: he practically says to his soldiers, Those who do not get inside shall be
slaughtered; and the practical operation is, that those who do not get inside are slaughtered.
Yet Secretary Root describes all this as "marked humanity." Whose standard will the American
people accept, -- his or their own as expressed by President McKinley four years ago? In his first
annual message Mr. McKinley said:
The cruel policy of concentration was initiated [in Cuba February 16, 1896. The productive
districts controlled by the Spanish armies were depopulated. The agricultural inhabitants were
herded in and about the garrison towns, their lands laid waste, and their dwellings destroyed.
This policy the late cabinet of Spain justified as a necessary measure of war and as a means of
cutting off supplies from the insurgents. It has utterly failed as a war measure. It was not
civilized warfare: it was extermination.
Against this abuse of the right of war I have felt constrained on repeated occasions to enter the
firm and earnest protest of this government.
In his special message preceding the declaration of war against Spain in April, 1898, the
President spoke yet more strongly, saying:
The efforts of Spain were increased both by the despatch of fresh levies to Cuba and by the
addition to the horrors of the strife of a new and inhuman phase happily unprecedented in the
modern history of civilized Christian peoples. The policy of devastation and concentration
inaugurated by the captain-general's bando of Oct. 21, 1896, in the province of Pinar del Rio was
thence extended to embrace all of the island to which the power of the Spanish arms was able to
reach by occupation or by military operations. The peasantry, including all dwelling in the open
agricultural interior, were driven into the garrison towns or isolated places held by the troops....
The agricultural population, to the estimated number of 300,000 or more, was herded within the
towns and their immediate vicinage, deprived of the means of support, rendered destitute of
shelter, left poorly clad, and exposed to the most unsanitary conditions.... Reconcentration,
adopted avowedly as a war measure in order to cut off the resources of the insurgents, worked its
predestined result. As I said in my message of last December, it was not civilized warfare: it was
extermination. The only peace it could beget was that of the wilderness and the grave.
Thus does President McKinley answer Secretary Root.