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13 January, 2012
Secretary Root's Record:"Marked Severities" in Philippine Warfare|
|From this review of the record certain things clearly appear:
1. That the destruction of Filipino life during the war has been so frightful that it cannot be
explained as the result of ordinary civilized warfare.
General J. M. Bell's statement that one-sixth of the natives of Luzon -- that is, some six hundred
thousand persons -- had been killed or died of dengue fever in the first two years of the war is
evidence enough on this point, especially when coupled with his further statement:
The loss of life by killing alone has been very great, but I think not one man has been slain
except where his death served the legitimate purpose of war. It has been thought necessary to
adopt what in other countries would be thought harsh measures,
but which Secretary Root calls measures of "marked humanity and magnanimity."
2. That at the very outset of the war there was strong reason to believe that our troops were
ordered by some officers to give no quarter, and that no investigation was had because it was
reported by Lieut.-Colonel Crowder that the evidence "would implicate many others," General
Otis saying that the charge was "not very grievous under the circumstances."
3. That from that time on, as is shown by the reports of killed and wounded and by direct
testimony, the practice continued.
4. That the War Department has never made any earnest effort to investigate charges of this
offence or to stop the practice.
5. That from the beginning of the war the practice of burning native towns and villages and
laying waste the country has continued. The special correspondent of the Boston Transcript, as
early as April 14, 1899, wrote from Marilao:
"Just watch our smoke!" is what the Minnesota and Oregon regiments have adopted for a motto
since their experiences of the last few days. Their trail was eight miles long; and the smoke of
burning buildings and rice heaps rose into the heaven the entire distance, and obscured the face
of the landscape for many hours. They started at daylight this morning, driving the rebels before
them and setting the torch to everything burnable in their course.
This was in retaliation for a night attack.
It was the inception of a policy that was pursued till Samar was made a "howling wilderness."
6. That the Secretary of War never made any attempt to check, or punish this method of war.
7. That from a very early day torture has been employed systematically to obtain information.
8. That no one has ever been seriously punished for this, and that since the first officers were
reprimanded for hanging up prisoners no one has been punished at all until Major Glenn, in
obedience to an imperative public sentiment, was tried for one of many offences, and received a
9. That the Secretary of War never made any attempt to stop this barbarous practice while the
war was in progress.
10. That from the time when General Otis advised a court-martial of Brenner for giving the
information which led to an investigation until the Secretary proposed that General Miles be
retired for giving the clew which led to the publication of Major Gardener's report, and Major
Gardener is harried for making it, the zeal of the War Department and of Mr. Root has been
displayed against the accusers, and not against the criminal.
11. That the statements of Mr. Root, whether as to the origin of the war, its progress, or the
methods by which it has been prosecuted, have been untrue.
12. That he has shown a desire not to investigate, and, on the other hand, to conceal the truth
touching the war and to shield the guilty, and by censorship and otherwise has largely succeeded.
He can exercise an influence to prevent abuse as is shown by his vigorous language in
disapproving the recommendation of a board that an officer suffering from chronic alcoholism
be retired. In this case he said:
Immediate and severe discipline is called for, and nothing else. My observation has satisfied me
that the standard of sobriety and good personal habits among the officers of the army is very
high, but it would not long remain so if cases of this kind were to be condoned or disposed of in
the manner which has been proposed in this case. Officers who observe such cases and fail to
report them promptly for discipline are remiss in the performance of their duties, and I desire the
army to understand that they will be so considered.
Had such words been used when the first officers guilty of torture were sentenced to a
reprimand, -- if such language had ever been used by him, about any barbarity or outrage in the
Philippines, -- can any one doubt its effect? He was silent in the face of certain knowledge, and
by his silence he made himself responsible for all that was done with his acquiescence.
13. That Mr. Root, then, is the real defendant in this case. The responsibility for what has
disgraced the American name lies at his door. He is conspicuously the person to be investigated.
The records of the War Department should be laid bare, that we may see what orders, what
cablegrams, what reports, are there. His standard of humanity, his attitude toward witnesses, the
position which he has taken, the statements which he has made, all prove that he is the last
person to be charged with the duty of investigating charges which, if proved, recoil on him.
Nor is it safe to trust this investigation to the officers who have been serving in the Philippine
Islands. The guilty men are their friends and comrades. They have been led to think that the
honor of the army is served by acquitting the guilty or giving nominal sentences. They cannot
help trying to extenuate. They cannot help wishing to disbelieve.
Their attitude may appear by contrasting the position of their organ, the Army and Navy Register,
when Secretary Root's letter of February 17 was believed to have ended the charges of cruelty,
with the attitude of army officers since the truth of the charges was proved.
The Army and Navy Register said of this letter that it was "Mr. Root's word"
that this military savagery does not exist, and that this government, as represented by the troops
under General Chaffee, has not broken the rules of civilized warfare. And certainly his
assurances to that effect are entitled to more respect than the gossip of enlisted men who write
letters home giving lurid accounts of pillage, sacking, rapine, murder, and torture....
Our soldiers in the Philippines are under the control of decent, respectable, intelligent officers.
The rules of discipline are based on the military necessity for strictness joined with the dictates
of humanity. Prisoners of war are not subjected to needless suffering or personal indignities.
The inhabitants of the country occupied by our troops are not disturbed in their occupation,
their homes are not molested, and they are not brought to the rack for the inhuman purpose of
extorting from them important information. Secretary Root has shown that this humane state of
affairs existed in the Philippines just as it has existed in every war in which American troops
have taken part. There has been no degeneracy of the race since the military force was sent to the Philippines,
and the insurgents at home may rest assured that we have shown for the prisoner and the
non-combatant in the Philippines that humanity and that regard for the rules of civilized warfare
which have been characteristics of our soldiers in all times.
If the letter was "Mr. Root's word," what must we say?
Now let us read what the same journal said after the exposure of the facts:
It is amazing to find journals of known loyalty to the administration at Washington, like the
Philadelphia Press, for example, engaged in zealous but misdirected efforts to exempt the
President and the War Department from the responsibility for General Smith's conduct of the
campaign in Samar. The Press says that General Smith's order "was not approved by our
government or known to it." Now what are the facts?
General Smith's orders in the province of Samar and General Bell's in the province of Batangas
were submitted to Major-general Chaffee. He approved them, and submitted copies of them to
the War Department in Washington.... So far as the responsibility for the conduct of the
campaign in Samar, Batangas, and other provinces is concerned, General Chaffee, General
Smith, General Bell, and every man under them were acting as directly with the approval of the
government as if their orders had been written at the White House and countersigned at the War
It is the business of the War Department to protect the officers against indefinite complaints
quite as much as it is to hold them responsible when definite charges are made. It is or should be
a point of honor to do this. Obligations are mutual; and, if the duty of unquestioning obedience is
imposed upon the officers, it is equally demanded of the President of the United States that he
should interpose the shield of his high office to protect the officer against public disapproval
when he does only the duty that obedience demands of him.
The contrast between the articles is clear. The statement of the War Department's duty to shield
the army is equally clear.
Mr. Henry Loomis Nelson is a very well-informed correspondent of large experience, and not
likely to exaggerate. On April 29 he stated the attitude of the army in a nutshell. After alluding to
the contempt which our men feel for all brown men, classing them all as "niggers," he proceeds:
Moreover, the soldiers reasoned that, as the United States have imposed upon them the duty of
putting down the insurrection, these brown men must be overcome at all hazards; while the war
against them must be conducted upon the principles of savage warfare, since most of those who
are fighting are classed as barbarians.
He quotes from the letter of an officer who had served in the islands the following:
There is no use mincing words. There are but two possible conclusions to the matter. We must
conquer and hold the islands or get out. The question is, Which shall it be? If we decide to stay,
we must bury all qualms and scruples about Weylerian cruelty, the consent of the governed, etc.,
and stay. We exterminated the American Indians, and I guess most of us are proud of it, or, at
least, believe the end justified the means; and we must have no scruples about exterminating this
other race standing in the way of progress and enlightenment; if it is necessary.
Cruelty is no longer denied. It is now avowed and justified. Thus Colonel Groesbeck, at one time
the judge advocate general of the Philippines, says:
I believe the water cure, as practised by the American army in the Philippines, to be the most
humane method of obtaining information from prisoners of war that is known to modern
Of this the Boston Transcript well says:
Apart from the brutality of this utterance, it is singular as coming from an officer who has held
the position of judge advocate general of a department, and who therefore should have at his
fingers' ends the rights of prisoners of war and of all persons of all ranks in military service,
whether captive or free.
When judge advocates, like Groesbeck and Glenn, defend and practise the crimes which they are
bound to punish, when military courts sentence General Smith to admonition and men convicted
of torture to a trifling fine, and when over them all is a Secretary responsible for the very crimes
which we are trying to discover, how can we expect to detect and punish "every instance of
barbarity on the part of our troops," as the President promises?
That promise will never be performed while Secretary Root remains in office. The same devices
that so long availed to prevent discovery will be effectual to prevent punishment.
The situation is well stated in two recent letters of Mr. Nelson. In these he refers to
conversations with returned officers, and quotes a letter from one in which the barbarities so
stoutly denied by Mr. Root are all admitted, the singular humanity which he asserted is
described as "exceptional severity," and the responsibility is placed where it belongs, -- on him.
The conclusions of this writer are as follows:
The administration has not been sitting in darkness. The Department of War must have known
what has been going on. If it has not it can hardly put forward so gross a dereliction of its duty as
an excuse for what has been done. Let the opposition keep their eyes on the men in Washington.
Then if there is any blood to be shed as payment for maladministration, it will not be the
vicarious blood of men who have honestly and bravely done their duty as they saw it.
This conclusion is identical with our own, but to answer your questions categorically we will add
that in our judgment the statements which you quote are not in conformity with the facts
disclosed by the record, and the practices which Mr. Root styles humane are not such as are
justified by the rules of civilized warfare, or by the provisions of General Order 100.
The record itself shows the character of the investigations thus far made by the Secretary of War
and how little is to be hoped from any further investigation conducted under his direction.