Message-ID: <>
Date: Thu, 4 Feb 1999 19:34:50 -0800
Sender: Forum on Labor in the Global Economy <LABOR-L@YorkU.CA>
From: Kim Scipes <sscipe1@ICARUS.CC.UIC.EDU>
Subject: FWD: Philippine-American war anniversary

>Date: Thu, 4 Feb 1999 08:17:41 -0600 (CST)
>From: Vietnam Veterans Against the War <>
>Subject: FWD: Philippine-American war anniversary

US ‘wagged the dog’ in waging war vs RP

By Daniel B. Schirmer, [3 February 1999]

THERE is a Hollywood movie called Wag the Dog. It is a satirical comedy about a contemporary US president who, with the help of a compliant media, fakes a foreign war to relieve himself of accurate political difficulty at home.

In broad outlines, this is what happened 100 years ago today when President William McKinley made war in the Philippines. It came about in the following way.

In May, 1898, Admiral Dewey sank the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay in a war the Republican administration of William McKinley was carrying on against the decrepit Spanish empire. To secure public support, McKinley had declared the war was about to free Cuba from Spanish rule. But in December, Washington signed a treaty with its defeated rival, Spain, that revealed a reason for the war of more substantial derivation. The treaty gave the United States three of

Spain's colonies: the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam. It gave a fourth, Cuba, its independence, since previous political necessities offered Washington little choice.

From the treaty's terms it appears the corporate elite that dominated the McKinley Administration fought the war to grab what they could of Spain's colonies. This they did, as their political representatives declared, to secure new foreign markets for a US economy that had been mired in depression since 1893. Here the Philippines presented a special advantage since its strategic location made it seem a natural stepping stone to the vast markets of China.


However, a powerful opposition had mushroomed in the United States against the treaty, led by an organization called the Anti-Imperialist League. Initiated in Boston in November 1898, the movement had spread rapidly nationwide. Its founders were, for the most part, lawyers, teachers, clergy, business leaders—white, male and middle class. Anti-imperialist sentiment, the nation's oldest political tradition, influenced them, as it did many others who came to the movement. But the Bostonians were especially motivated by their opposition to slavery during the Civil War and the years before. They regarded the colonization of the Philippines as the enslavement of another colored people on the other side of the globe.

Paris treaty opposed

Given its open identification with corporate interests. Washington's foreign policy drew opposition from the urban middle class, and from organized workers and farmers, all aggrieved by the new dominance of corporate capital in the 1890s. There was also those who opposed the treaty because of racial prejudice: They didn't want the United States to have a colored colonial appendage. The pressures engendered by these many opponents of the treaty, and perhaps by partisan interest as well, caused the Democratic Party very largely to oppose the treaty. Supporters of the treaty had yet another obstacle to reckon with: armed Philippine nationalists (arrogantly called insurgents by Washington and the press). These had risen against Spain in the late 1890s. By the summer of 1898, they had established a Philippine government, republican in form. They had as well all but defeated the Spanish military on the main island of Luzon, having driven it into capital Manila.

Originally, the United States had supported the Filipino nationalists, welcoming their fight against the Spanish rival. But in August 1989, this policy came to an end. Then, behind the backs of the nationalists, the US command, negotiated with Spanish military officials in Manila, accepted their surrender and occupied Manila. Denied entry to that city by the US command, the Philippine forces maintained the line of positions they had held against the Spanish. Wary from the beginning of the Filipinos' intentions, Washington had sent repeated reinforcements, so that toward the end of 1898 and the start of 1899, US troop strength in the Philippines was considerable. At the same time the vigorous anti-treaty movement was having its effect on the Senate.

In January 1899, treaty ratification had become McKinley's most pressing problem. Taking action to solve it, he started the war in the Philippines. While the US policy toward the Filipinos had hardened after August, McKinley had instructed US forces to avoid open hostilities with them in order to prevent the development of public disaffection in the US. But on Jan. 19 after he had secured Senate agreement to an early vote on the treaty, the President cancelled this policy. On Jan. 24, the War Department announced that General Otis (in charge of the US forces in the Philippines) could now conduct hostilities with the nationalists. A Boston journalist, close to the McKinley administration, suggested the advantage this change could bring it. He reminded his readers how the firing on Fort Sumter had united those who supported the Union cause at the beginning of the Civil War.

Secret orders

In line with his new orders, Otis then requested Admiral Dewey to place his ships so as to give US troops supportive fire. Dewey obliged. On Feb. 2, as was later told by a US officer, regimental commanders gave secret orders to their officers and men to bring about a conflict if possible. On the same day, Nebraskan troops, still under orders to withhold fire, went into the territory beyond Manila's city limits, on which the Filipino held their lines and regarded as their own. After a harsh dispute, Filipino troops withdrew under orders from their high command.

On Feb. 4, Otis took the decisive step. He ordered the Nebraskans to open fire on further nationalist intruders. That evening, Private Willie Grayson and a friend, of the 54th Nebraska Regiment, were ordered to patrol even further into the territory held by the Filipinos. In language reflecting the racist attitude then found in the US forces from top to bottom, Grayson told what happened:

About eight o'clock something rose slowly up not 20 feet in front of me. It was a Filipino. I yelled Halt!... he immediately shouted Halto at me. Well, I thought the best thing to do was to shoot him. He dropped ... Then two Filipinos sprang out of a gateway about 15 feet from us. I called Halt, and Miller fired and got one. I saw that another was left. Well, I think I got my second Filipino that time. We retreated to where our six other fellows were, and I said Line up, fellows, the niggers are in here all through these yards.


The nationalists in the immediate area returned fire. So it began. McKinley had waited to start hostilities until it was too late to bring into play popular opposition that might have defeated the treaty, but just in time to create the spasm of chauvinism that would ensure its ratification. Shortly before midnight of Feb. 4, the president received the news, as was told reporters, that the insurgents had attacked Manila. The press immediately circulated this lie throughout the country, and the McKinley administration never deviated from it.

The next day, McKinley told a friend he believed the Manila engagement would ... ensure ratification of the treaty tomorrow.

On Feb. 6, the US Senate passed the treaty by a margin of one vote. Erving Winslow, secretary of the Anti-Imperialist League, later wrote that two senators (Jones of Nevada and McLaurin of South Carolina) declared their votes were won for the treaty by the fighting on Feb. 4.


It was whispered in Washington that the clash at Manila had been timed for the treaty vote. On Feb. 7, Pitchfork Ben Tillman of South Carolina, agrarian rebel, white supremacist, and opponent of the treaty, put this charge on record. He rose on the Senate floor to say: Time alone will tell whether this battle was provoked by the Filipinos for purposes of their own, or by Americans ... to sway men in this Senate to ratify the treaty and change the status.

On Feb. 4 1899, the United States set out on a path of corporate imperialism which it has now followed for a 100 years. This has brought its people, as the early anti-imperialists warned, endless wars of intervention in what is known today as the Third World, and an ever-increasing burden of armaments.

At present, the Pentagon is trying to reestablish a US military presence in the Philippines by means of a measure called the Visiting Forces Agreement. This effort inevitably calls to mind what the US military brought the Philippines one hundred years ago: The death and destruction of a brutal war, and the ruthless suppression of national sovereignty at the first moment of its self-realization. But during those terrible years, the stubborn resistance of the early patriots to foreign domination created for the Filipinos a spiritual and moral heritage that is indelible and ever-effective in recreating the national identity.