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The Struggle Left in the Shadows: The Philippine-American War

“It should, it seems to me, be our pleasure and duty to make those people free, and let

them deal with their own domestic questions in their own way. And so I am an anti-imperialist. I

am opposed to having the eagle put its talons on any other land.” -Mark Twain, on imperialism

in the Philippines

The Rise of Imperialist Nations

During the Age of Imperialism, many European nations began to strive towards gaining

outside territories in order to increase political, economic, and overall strength. A majority of

society adopted the idea that the amount of land one nation was able to gain was equivalent to

their wealth. The promise of natural resources and raw materials for use in markets and

spreading Christianity were some of the motivations to expand their territories. 1 Social

Darwinism, a mentality that twisted Darwin’s theory of evolution, became a dominant ideology,

as it justified the practice of Western Expansion. Many felt it was their duty to help the areas of

Cleary, Vern. “Motives for Imperialism.” ​Motives for Imperialism​,​.

Cleary, Vern. “Motives for Imperialism.” ​Motives for Imperialism​,

3 ​ Staff. “Manifest Destiny.” ​,​ A&E Television Networks, 2010,​.

the world that appeared to be weak and under-developed by taking them under their wing and

establishing control.​2

At one point, the United States succumbed to this trend in order to keep up with the pace

at which the European world powers were going at. Expanding America’s empire soon became a

priority which Americans worked tirelessly at to achieve. Like the imperialist nations of Europe,

the United States believed in Social Darwinism, as well as Manifest Destiny, which was the idea

that the U.S.’s destiny was to be a vast land that stretched from coast to coast​3​ (See Appendix A).

Instead of reaching this glorious, promising future, the United States was met with a fierce

competitor who would not give up their land easily: the Philippines.

Conflict Arises

Before the Philippine-American War, the United States and Spain were in a heated battle,

also known as the Spanish-American War. During this conflict, the United States and the

Philippines were seemingly on good terms, as they were united under their struggle against

Spain. In order to strengthen their fight against Spain, the United States promised the Philippines

independence after the war. Determined to become an independent world power, the Philippines

rebelled against Spain, after years of being under their control and tensions finally boiling over​4​.

However, after America declared victory at the end of the war, relations between the two sides

quickly changed when the United States did not show support for Filipino independence--a

majority of Americans believed that the Philippines was not capable of self-rule and would

crumble without America’s help. President McKinley viewed the Philippines as a “gift from the

gods” and believed that America would be committing a good deed as he expressed his desire to

“educate the Filipinos, and uplift and civilize and Christianize them​5​” (See Appendix B). Also,

many Americans believed that another nation would eventually seize the Philippines if they did

not act upon it first.​6 ​Inevitably, their true intentions became clear--after the Philippines came to

the realization that the United States planned to enforce colonial power over them, they felt

betrayed and planned to rebel in order to fight for control over their land.

“Spanish-American War and the Philippine-American War, 1898-1902.” ​National Parks Service​, U.S.

Department of the Interior,

5 ​“Manifest Destiny, Continued: McKinley Defends U.S. Expansionism.” ​HISTORY MATTERS - The U.S.

Survey Course on the Web​,

U.S. Department of State,​ U.S. Department of State,

As a result of the war, the Treaty of Paris was proposed in 1898 that forced Spain to hand

over their lands, as well as enabling the U.S. to pay Spain for control over the Philippines.​7​ Two

days before the treaty was ratified, rebellion broke out, which is infamously known as the

Second Battle of Manila, due to increasing feelings of resentment-- the Philippines did not

acknowledge U.S. sovereignty, and the U.S. refused to acknowledge the independence that was

declared over the Philippines by their government.​7 ​Because no compromises were made in order

to try to amend the situation, and anger continued to brew, the threat of war began to loom over

both sides. Led by the first president of the Philippines, Emilio Aguinaldo, on the Filipino side,

and Theodore Roosevelt, who was determined to go to war on the American side, both of them

were strong-minded leaders who were set on getting their way. The fight began on June 2nd,

1899, when the Philippines officially declared war against the United States.​8

7​ ​
Potter, Lee Ann. “The Philippine Insurrection.” ​,​
8 ​The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. “Philippine-American War.” ​Encyclopædia Britannica,​ Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 24 Oct.


The War Rages On

The war that the United States and the Philippines fought was unrelenting and brutal.

During the war, both sides did not hesitate to use brute force in order to gain the upper hand: the

United States, at times, would destroy and burn entire villages in one day, all while massacring

the people who lived there during battles. The Battle of Bud Dajo was one of the many battles

where the United States committed mass atrocities. On the Philippines’ end, they were just as

harsh: those who were fighting in the war tortured, and even killed any civilians who seemed to

show support for the enemy’s side. They “refused to back down and held their positions,” and in

just four days, the Philippines suffered a mass genocide from the merciless killings of American

soldiers: “The bloodiest engagement...corpses were piled five deep, and many bodies were

wounded multiple times​9​.” These barbaric acts committed by all frightening many on both the

Filipino and American side, but American soldiers were praised for their good work by the

president.​10​ Despite the resilience and resistance shown by the Filipino warriors, it soon became

clear that the United States had the upper hand in this war--their advanced weaponry reigned

superior against the Philippines, who was struggling to gain outside support, with supplies

shortages, and with “geographic complexity​11​.”


​Gedacht, Joshua. "Mohammedan Religion Made It Necessary to Fire:" Massacres on the American Imperial Frontier from
South Dakota to the Southern Philippines," in ​Colonial Crucible: Empire in the Making of the Modern American State​. Edited by
Alfred W. McCoy and Francisco A. Scarano. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 2009, pp. 397-409.
“​WOMEN AND CHILDREN KILLED IN MORO BATTLE.” ​The New York Times​, The New York Times, 11
Mar. 1906,
11 ​
U.S. Department of State,​ U.S. Department of State,

Anti-Imperialist League

Although this war was overseas, the tensions at home were far from alleviated--America

was divided on the issue of imperialism. One side believed that imperialism would help those in

need and it was our calling to do so, while the other side believed that we should not jump in

when it isn’t our call. Although all of America believed that they needed to do something in

order to expand their commercial opportunities, many disagreed on how to do so.​12​ In June of

1898, Mark Twain, along with other figures such as Andrew Carnegie, developed the

Anti-Imperialist League, a group of individuals who believed that America engaging in acts that

encouraged imperialism went against all of the ideals that they were built upon.​13​ This group was

against the idea of the Philippines as an insular area, or being a territory of the U.S. that is

outside of the fifty states. This group strongly believed that imperialism encouraged racial and

immoral values, as many areas that fell victim to imperialist nations were stripped of their native

culture, and were deprived of developing on their own terms.​14​ The Anti-Imperialist League

claimed that any nation should only use their power with responsibility, and with “consent of the

governed,” which was the idea that a nation using their power is only justified if the other side

gives their approval. Although their arguments were very strong and some agreed, ultimately,

their message failed to resonate with others. As new politicians who were in favor of imperialism

were on the rise, their efforts were demolished.

12 ​
“Manifest Destiny, Continued: McKinley Defends U.S. Expansionism.” ​HISTORY MATTERS - The U.S. Survey Course on the
13 ​
“Anti-Imperialist League.” ​Anti-Imperialist League - The World of 1898: The Spanish-American War (Hispanic Division,
Library of Congress),​
​“Platform of the American Anti-Imperialist League, 1899 .” ​,​ 1 Aug.


End of the War

After three years of ruthless fighting, the Philippine-American War officially ended on

July 2nd, 1902, although sporadic fighting from the Katipunan, or a rebel group, continued for

many years onward.​15​ The U.S. declared victory, but not without great cost: many casualties on

both sides were caused due to fighting, disease, and famine. Over 4,000 Americans and 20,000

Filipinos were killed.​16​ The Philippines remained under U.S. control until the Jones Act of 1916

was passed, which created the path towards Philippine independence, as well as making the first

legislature.​17​ In 1946, the Philippines was finally recognized as an independent nation.​18

15 ​
Potter, Lee Ann. “The Philippine Insurrection.” ​​,


16 ​
“Philippine Independence Declared.” ​​, A&E Television Networks,

17 ​
The Editors of Encyclopædia Britannica. “Jones Act.” ​Encyclopædia Britannica​, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.,

19 Oct. 2016,​.

“Philippine Independence Declared.” ​,​ A&E Television Networks,

Impact on Today’s World

Although this war was three years, there are many long term effects that are still lingering

from it. Today, the Philippines is a third world country that has both U.S. and Spanish influence

in their culture. As far as relations, the U.S. and the Philippines are on good terms, however the

current president, Rodrigo Duterte, has voiced his determination to branch out and become

stronger without aid from the United States since he was sworn into office. Also, the current

administration of the U.S. has resulted in many Filipinos wanting the U.S. to “continue to ignore

[them]”​19 ​Finally, this conflict stirs up many questions: has today’s society come to the

realization that imperialism stripped many areas of the world of their culture, and ultimately

damaged their progression as a prospering society? Have both sides involved fully taken

responsibility for committing acts of terror? Most importantly, could have this conflict been

solved in another way other than war?

19 ​
Rodis, Rodel. “Trump, Pershing and the Battle of Bud Dajo.” ​Inquirer Global Nation Trump Pershing and the

Battle of Bud Dajo Comments,​ 24 Feb. 2016,


Appendix A

This image depicts an eagle--the symbol of America, stretching its wings from coast to
coast, symbolizing the U.S.’s practice of being an imperialist nation, and their strong belief in
Manifest Destiny.

Photo Courtesy of: ​Quest for Empire,​


Appendix B

This image is meant to encourage imperialism--it shows Uncle Sam assisting a seemingly
helpless Aguinaldo, which is what many Americans who supported imperialism believed.
Photo Courtesy of: