- The Washington Times - Monday, December 8, 2003

Harry Truman once remarked that the only thing new in this world is the history we haven’t learned. One hundred years ago, an American army won a relatively bloodless war in the Philippines, and then learned the hard way that a war isn’t over when major military operations end. Iraq is not the Philippines. In addition to the span of time between the two wars and the advances in weaponry and war fighting, there are important differences in geography and the customs and cultures of the Filipinos and Iraqis. However, Gen. Arthur MacArthur, who was the military governor of the Philippines from May 1900 until July 1901, faced challenges that more closely resemble the situation in Iraq today than any other U.S. military history experience. He was America’s first viceroy, and his son, Douglas, used the lessons learned by his father to model his own successful stewardship of Japan at the end of World War II. Those lessons are still instructive today.

At the conclusion of the Spanish American War, President McKinley reluctantly decided that the United States had no choice but to purchase the Philippines from Spain. As he explained: “The truth is I didn’t want the Philippines, and when they came to us as a gift from the gods, I did not know what to do with them. … And, one night it came to me. We could not give them back to Spain — that would be cowardly and dishonorable; we could not turn them over to France or Germany — that would be bad business; we could not leave them to themselves — they were unfit for self-government and they would have anarchy and misrule. There was nothing left for us to do but to take them … and to educate the Filipinos, and uplift … them.”

The treaty to end the Spanish American War was signed in December 1898. At that time the Army had 20,000 soldiers in Manila. They were surrounded by a 40,000 man Philippine army. In February, the Americans began offensive operations and defeated the Filipinos in a series of engagements over the course of the next 10 months. By mid-November 1899, large scale militaryoperationshad ended. The U.S. government declared that the war was over, and Gen. Elwell Otis, Gen. MacArthur’s predecessor, was greeted as a conquering hero upon his return to the United States. However, the guerrilla, that is, the terrorist war, had only just begun.

From December 1899 to July 1901, American forces would engage the enemy 1,697 times, and suffer 1,699 casualties. To secure the Philippines, the U.S. army would require 125,000 soldiers, more than 6 times the number that was needed to “win the war.” The United States had paid $20 million for the Philippines; it would spend over $200 million to defeat the terrorists.

Wearing civilian clothing and working in the fields, the terrorists were indistinguishable from innocent civilians. One U.S. officer described how they would “slip away, go out into the bushes, get their guns, and waylay you. … You rout them and scatter them; they hide their guns and take to their houses and claim to be amigos.” The terrorists targeted for assassination Filipinos who provided assistance to the U.S. forces or cooperated with the Americans. As a result, Filipinos who were supportive of the American efforts to bring peace were not only intimidated and afraid to identify terrorists or reveal their hideouts, but also felt compelled to assist them logistically and to provide intelligence on American troop movements.

As terrorist attacks upon hissoldiersmounted,Gen. MacArthur concluded that until the Filipino people stopped aiding and abetting those who were ambushing and laying booby traps for his men, the country could never be secure. He reluctantly ordered the arrest and imprisonment of anyone suspected of harboring or helping the terrorists. Those arrested were to be detained until all terrorist attacks had ceased. Following Gen. MacArthur’s orders, U.S. commanders interned large numbers of Filipinos.

Gen. MacArthur then ordered his army commanders to leave their 500 garrisons and sweep the countryside, cities, towns and villages in a relentless search for the enemy and his stores of weapons. At the same time, he instituted a program of prisoner releases in exchange for turning in terrorists and weapons.

His tactics met with considerable success; however, sporadic terrorist attacks continued. Gen. MacArthur believed that until the country was pacified, “military authority was paramount and exclusive.” The Army did not turn over control of the Philippines to a civilian administration until 32 months after the “end of the war.”

Gen. MacArthur understood that pacification could not be achieved “by force alone.” He made it clear that Filipino culture and customs would be respected.UnderGen. MacArthur, Filipinos were accorded the same personal freedoms enjoyed by U.S. citizens. As he explained, “American institutions are on trial.”

He assigned officers to investigate the entire spectrum of issues involved in establishing a nation’s infrastructure. Kenneth Ray Young, in his biography of the general, writesthatunderGen. MacArthur’s leadership, “new health and sanitation laws wereimplemented,legal codes were revised, schools and hospitals were built and a tariff system was developed.”

Until the country was secure, Gen. MacArthur was unwilling to establish a Philippine army. He did not want to put weapons in the hands of men who, after dark, might change into civilian clothes and use their American supplied arms to kill U.S. soldiers. However, he did recruit and train a number of Filipinos who were attached to Army units. These men, who served as interpreters and scouts, would after pacification form the nucleus of a national army.

Gen. MacArthur did permit the creation of local police forces, but they were armed only with pistols and shotguns. He also allowed the creation of elected self-governing councils who were given the responsibility of carrying out the basic tasks of municipal governance such as collecting garbage and providing potable drinking water; however all of the actions taken by these councils were subject to the approval of the local Army garrison commander.

He permitted the Filipinos to exercise free speech, except that no one, and that included religious leaders and school teachers as well as intellectuals, journalists and politicians, was allowed to advocate violent resistance to the U.S. administration.

Gen. MacArthur understood that it was unrealistic to expect the Filipino population, all but a small number of whom were illiterate, to embrace Western ideals and democratic principles. They first had to be educated. Using U.S. soldiers as teachers, he began a widespread English language education program that included instruction on the American political system, Constitution and Bill of Rights. The program he began was so effective that at the start of World War II the Philippines had the highest literacy rate in Asia with English as its de facto national language.

When military rule ended, William Howard Taft became the first U.S. civil governor of the Philippines. He believed the Filipinos “would need training for 50 or 100 years” before they would be ready to assume the responsibilities of self-rule under a U.S. styled constitution with democratically elected leaders. It was 1946 before the Philippines became independent. Ferdinand Marcos, who ruled the Philippines as a dictator from 1972 to 1986, demonstrated that even after many years of nurturing and training in the principles of American government and individual liberty, democracy is still a very fragile and slow flowering plant in third world countries.

While Gen. MacArthur dealt with many of the same problems that Americans face today in Iraq, because the Philippines are an island archipelago, he did not have to deal with porous borders and the introduction of a seemingly unending stream of armed terrorists from neighboring countries. We can only speculate as to the recommendations he would have made to prevent these incursions. Whatever he might have asked for, whether it was for more troops to patrol and try to seal the borders, permission to strike at terrorist training camps in neighboring countries, or something else altogether, it would have been with the understanding that the Iraqi people cannot begin their long march down the road to democracy until the terrorist threat has been eliminated, and that will be impossible as long as terrorists can continue to sneak into Iraq.

The Bush administration recognizes that the military occupation will be costly, and that full sovereignty cannot be restored to Iraq until the terrorists are defeated. However, for the peace and stability of the region, the other prerequisite to the restorationofsovereignty should be the widespread understanding and acceptance by the Iraqi people of the mechanisms and principles of secular democratic self-government. Of the lessons to be drawn from the U.S. experience in the Philippines, the most important, but one our government apparently has yet to learn, is that an extensive, long-term political education program will need to be successfully conducted if democratic institutions are to take root in Iraq.

Kofi Anan, Jacques Chirac and the others who are calling for an early U.S. withdrawal from Iraq are naive or disingenuous. The result would be to hand Iraq over to the radical Islamists. This would leave the country in a worse state than it was before we set out to effect regime change. American blood would have been spilled for a pyrrhic victory.

Al Kaltman is a graduate of the University of the Philippines and has a Ph.D. in political science from the George Washington University. He is the author of “The Genius of Robert E. Lee, and Cigars, Whiskey and Winning: Leadership Lessons from General Ulysses S. Grant.”


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