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Secretary Root's Record:"Marked Severities" in Philippine Warfare
Appendix B: Extracts from letters of Henry Loomis Nelson to Boston Herald


Extract from letter of Henry Loomis Nelson to Boston Herald, July 28, 1902:

Every one who has conversed with officers who have returned from the Philippines must recognize the truth of the description of the mental atmosphere of the army as set forth in the open letter (of Mr. Adams and others) to the President. Many of the officers who have anything whatever to say on the subject are temperate and just in their characterization of what they admit to be a hideous fact. Many of them cannot be expected to go upon the witness-stand and swear to what they narrate in private conversation. The kind of subordination which they practice prevents them from taking a position which seems hostile to that of the administration. Yet, looking back at their experience in the islands, they judge the situation and the acts and actors with judicial temperament. In the midst of civilization they are quite conscious of the barbarity of the war in which they have been engaged. It is only within a day or two that I have had a conversation with an officer who spent two years in Cuba and has been fighting for two years since in the island of Samar.

He is not a man of sensitive nature, but rather a large, coarse-fibered man, who takes his fighting as part of the day's work, and doesn't permit sights that would offend the sensibilities of more highly organized beings to deprive him of his night's sleep. In all probability, after his sick leave is over, he will be obliged to return to the Philippines to resume the tasks in which he was engaged when the fever caught him. Blunt and experienced in bloodshed as he is, this man shrinks with a certain degree of horror from the thought of returning to the islands, where he will be compelled to take up again the duties of savage warfare. He and his kind often tell the truth of what has been going on in the Philippines with a shudder, but sometimes with that indifference which comes from the acceptance of cruelty as a necessary incident to this kind of war.

The real state of mind of the army, however, on this subject is revealed by such men as Colonel Groesbeck. This officer talks in public as nearly all officers of the army talk in private. They do not excuse the horrible and shameful offences which are charged by the committee; but they do excuse and defend acts of cruelty which the President himself has denounced, and punishment for which he has promised in every case where the offence and the offender can be discovered. When it comes, however, to acts of cruelty committed either for revenge or for the purpose of obtaining information, both being contrary to those regulations of war so often quoted by Secretary Root, the Groesbeck kind of officer insists that the water cure and other torture, no doubt including killing, are justifiable. These men speak out in criticism of their superior officer because their opinion on the subject is so much a military commonplace that it seems a matter of course, while the punishment of General Smith seems an outrage. They are not so keenly sensitive to the demands of military subordination as are those who speak in private and refuse to speak in public. If they were, we should never get at this particular truth of history.

What is important is that Groesbeck speaks the mind of the army as to cruelties inflicted in the due course of savage warfare. Everybody who knows the army and its opinion knows this to be true. The fact that it is true is also shown by the swiftness of the War Department to demand silence from the Groesbecks. Freedom of speech on this subject would be exceedingly dangerous. It is quite probable that when General Smith comes home, there may be further talk, in which event the department will endeavor to silence it; for silence on this subject is to be enforced, if possible. This incident in the history of our warfare in the Philippines is to be considered as closed, if those who are responsible for the war can enforce their determination on the subject. Mr. Lodge's committee will probably never resume the investigation, which therefore results in nothing; and the Republican newspapers will help him suppress the disagreeable truth. There is not a person connected with the administration who does not know that General Smith described accurately a state of mind in the army, although he described it in such brutal and revolting speech that he must have shocked even men who believed with him as to the essential thing. There is a general belief among those who are trying to suppress the truth that cruelty has been too common, and that the army was ripe for even more. They are not so much solicitous of the army's reputation, however, as they are for the welfare of their policy of imperialism.


The other letter of Mr. Nelson is in the Boston Herald of August 25, 1902, and contains extracts from a recent letter from an officer in the Philippines. It states the whole case:

When General Otis set sail for America he had the situation so little in hand that to go six miles out of Manila without a company furnished plenty of wholesome excitement. Apparently his successor preferred to get the situation off his hands as quickly as possible; for he quietly intimated to his division commanders that the war was to be prosecuted with sternness and energy, so that the insurrection might be wiped out as quickly as possible. General Hughes was at that time in command of the department of the Visayas, and Panay was what the papers called a hot-bed of insurrection....

Under these circumstances none of the usual forms of campaign was practicable. General Hughes could not strike at a non-existent base of supplies, neither could he use the method employed with so much success against the Indians, and "camp on the trail" of the insurrectos until they were worn out; for, when the pursuit got too warm, the army entirely disappeared and the labor market in the rice fields was almost overstocked. Even when he knew that some notorious "general" was lurking near a town, he could get nothing out of the natives, sometimes because of fear, sometimes because of hostility. It was under such circumstances as these that the use of the water cure began. There is nothing very mysterious about it: it is simply a mild form of torture, consisting of inserting a tube, generally of bamboo, in the subject's mouth and pouring in water until he signifies his willingness to speak. A man who has had the curiosity to try it says that the sensation resembles drowning.... There is probably no island in the archipelago where it was used oftener and with better effect than in Panay.... When General Hughes began his vigorous campaign, Panay was one of the worst of the islands: today it is one of the best.... And there seems to be no doubt that these conditions are due to the stern measures adopted to crush out guerilla warfare and ladronism.

There was talk of promiscuous burning in connection with General Smith. Let me tell you what it really means when you can see it. The Eighteenth Regulars marched from Iloilo in the south to Capiz in the north of Panay, under orders to burn every town from which they were attacked. The result was they left a strip of land sixty miles wide from one end of the island to the other, over which the traditional crow could not have flown without provisions. That is what burning means, and no more. It is not done for the fun of the thing, but out of stern necessity. General Smith, going to Samar just after the terrible affair of Balangiga, found himself confronted with even worse conditions. In that unblessed island there was no part of the population that did not want to fight, and every male inhabitant was necessarily regarded as an enemy.... There never was any question of reconcentration in Samar; for the only inhabited parts of the country were the coasts, the interior being one mass of impassable, jungle-covered mountains, where the only available food was a few roots and herbs. Any house found outside of the towns could thus be destroyed without hesitation, as belonging to and sheltering the enemy, if the troops were to guard against treachery. All this should be remembered when one reads the orders, freely admitted by General Smith as his own, when they were introduced by the prosecution in his trial: "Kill and burn! Kill and burn! The more you kill and the more you burn, the more you please me." Harsh words there, if given to apply to a whole people and all its habitation.... Translated into less dramatic language, they simply meant, "Attack the enemy wherever you see him, and destroy all his supplies and quarters." Very uncomfortable for the enemy, to be sure; but army people seem to think that the purpose of war is to make the enemy uncomfortable. So, too, with that order to kill every male over the age of ten years, -- which meant every male encountered under arms, and no more. General Smith was not waging war against women and children. In short the campaign in Samar was simply a war of exceptional severity waged against an enemy of exceptionally savage and treacherous nature.

This letter, I have reason to believe, justly expresses the view of the army. It believes that the war which it was ordered to wage made necessary all the cruelty which has been practised. There is no disposition on the part of intelligent officers to shirk their responsibility, and no intention to ask forgiveness for the burnings or the water cures. General Smith's order is almost universally defended as necessary.

The letter in conclusion insists that those who are responsible for all the cruelties which have been practised are those who gave the order for the war. This is expressed in the following pregnant sentence: "If, after calm deliberation, the American people become satisfied that the conditions imposed here by the policy of the Republican party are unendurable, let them demand a reckoning of that party. 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 its 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."


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