In the Philippines, the Army of Liberation was already in control of most of the country by the time 12,000 U.S. troops landed in Manila in August 1898, although as in Cuba most Americans do not remember that a revolution was already underway in these Spanish colonies long before the U.S. became involved in conventional or counterinsurgency operations (Silbey, 2007, p. 215). From the American point of view, it was “a messy unanticipated war” and one that was never popular at home (Linn, 2011, p. 156). President William McKinley had sent the troops to Manila with no clear plan, orders or mission, and Washington was completely preoccupied with other political and military crises. Only after Spain surrendered did he decide on a policy of “benevolent assimilation” rather than granting the Philippines independence as promised or taking a risk that Germany, Japan or France might try to turn them into one of their colonies (Linn, p. 158). By 1899, though the Tagalog areas of Luzon had already declared independence, while other independent republic has also appeared in Mindanao, Pinoy and Negritos.
When the Filipinos learned that they had been annexed by the United States, they already had their own civil administration in most towns outside of Manila, and this continued underground even after American troops were garrisoned all over the islands. Counterinsurgency operations and pacification programs including building roads, schools, courthouses and clinics in secure areas, and actual military operations occurred in fewer than half the provinces (Linn, p. 160). The Navy maintained a very strict blockade and control of commerce throughout the war, while on land the Army relied heavily on food controls, cordon-and-sweep operations, travel restrictions, and use of Filipino scouts and auxiliaries. Former guerillas collaborating with the military received incentives and rewards, and were allowed to remain in power on the local and provincial levels. General Arthur MacArthur, the father of Douglas (who also fought in the Philippines War as a young officer) ordered the mass arrest and detention of anyone suspected of collaborating with the insurgents, and attempted to eliminate their support in the towns (Linn, p. 162). In Batangas and Samar, most of the population was concentrated in certain protected areas, while anyone caught outside these was assumed to be a guerilla and shot on sight. MacArthur offered rewards for information leading to the capture of guerillas, supplies and weapons, while in each locality Army intelligence officers maintained networks of spies and informers. In addition, the U.S. army built roads and telephone and telegraph lines that gave it superior mobility and communications (Linn, p. 168).
Officially, the Philippines War ended in 1902, although counterinsurgency operations continued in Leyte and Samar until 1907 and in Mindanao against the Moros (Muslims) until 1913. Although mostly forgotten in the U.S. today, this was actually America’s longest war, more than Vietnam or Afghanistan, but the number of troops stationed there fell from over 40,000 at its height to about 12,000 by 1907 (Silbey, p. 207). Even in 1911, U.S. military planners expected a general uprising in the Philippines if America ever became involved in a war with Japan or some other imperial power in Asia. Even President Theodore Roosevelt had never “been enthusiastic about the Philippines operation” and doubted that the U.S, would be able to hold these islands in the event of war with Japan (Kinzer 55). Thanks to the conciliatory policies of William Howard Taft, however, most local elites, including those represented by Emilio Aguinaldo, accommodated themselves to American rule and were “allowed to continue their economic, political and social dominance” (Silbey, p. 208). Unlike other Asians before the 1950s and 1960s, Filipinos were allowed to immigrate to the United States and enlist in the American military. When the Japanese finally invaded in 1941-42, the majority of Filipinos sides with America and fought a guerilla war against the invaders, with was never a common response of colonial subject peoples in the British, French and Dutch Empires. An important reason for this was that they had been allowed self-government modeled on the U.S. system from very early on, and both public and congressional opinion was simply never favorable to having European-style colonies (Silbey, p. 213).
At the time of the intervention in Mexico against Pancho Villa in 1916-17, the country was in the midst of a civil war and the administration of Woodrow Wilson was supporting the Constitutionalist government of Venustiano Carranza. Prior to the, the U.S. had intervened against the thirty-year dictatorship of Porfirio Diaz and then against the military coup of Gen. Victoriano Huerta in 1914, aiding Carranza, Villa and Emiliano Zapata. In this particular case, then, the U.S. was on the revolutionary side, which Wilson strongly believed was the right side of history, but repeated American interventions aroused nationalist hostility from Mexicans on all sides of the political spectrum. When Villa continued his civil war against Carranza from his stronghold in the northern states of Chihuahua and Sonora, Wilson allowed Carranza to move troops by road and rail through U.S. territory to attack him, and Villa believed Wilson had betrayed their previous alliance (Eisenhower, 1993, p. 191). For this reason, he began raids on border towns in the American Southwest, including Columbus, New Mexico in 1916, sparking the Punitive Expedition into Mexico led by General John J. Pershing. Pershing’s orders were to track down Villa and destroy his army, not invade or occupy Mexico. In fact, his instructions were to avoid any conflicts with Carranza’s forces, and he was chosen for this mission over his superior Gen. Frederick Funston because of his diplomatic and political skills (Eisenhower, p. 235).
Pershing led a force of about 5,000 troops into Mexico, including the 7th and 10th U.S. Cavalry (the Buffalo Soldiers), some artillery, medical and motorized units, as well as the First Aero Squadron for reconnaissance. He had no idea where Villa was and hoped to take him by surprise, but Villa’s forces generally eluded the Americans and kept fleeing further south after fighting a few minor skirmishes and rearguard actions (Eisenhower, p. 241). Unlike the Philippines War, this campaign was fought in desert conditions, with poor supplies and primitive communications, along with severe dust and sandstorms and extreme weather conditions that took a heavy toll on men, horses and machines (Welsome, 2007, p. 175). Villa was wounded in a skirmish with Carranza’s troops early in the expedition—shot through the leg—and was unable to even ride a horse but rather had to move south in a carriage, while Pershing had an automobile (Welsome, p. 189). At Guerrero, American troops fired on Villa’s forces as they abandoned the town, killing about thirty, but their horses were in too poor condition to continue the pursuit any great distance. At Tomochic in April and Ojos Azules in May, the Americans again inflicted several hundred casualties of Villa’s remaining forces (Welsome, p. 197). Even so, Villa continued to retreat further into Mexico, and U.S. forces searched many villages and towns “only to find that that their quarry had vanished or even more frustrating, that they had been deliberately given false information” (Welsome, p. 197).
Unlike the Philippines, the U.S. military hardly had a cooperative relationship with any members of the local population or political and economic elites, and generally only received assistance from some U.S. expatriates living in Mexico, although even they feared retaliation once the forces were withdrawn. So unpopular was this intervention in Mexico that Wilson finally decided to end the campaign rather than risk a possible war with the Carranza government. After the expedition ended in February 1917, the “U.S. Army was eager to close the books on the Columbus raid”, particularly since Pershing and Wilson recognized privately that it had been a failure (Welsome, p. 311). Two months afterwards, the U.S. entered World War I, with Pershing the commander of the American Expeditionary Force in France, and won the major victory over the German Army for which he was most remembered in history. Like the Philippines War, the Punitive Expedition remained almost completely forgotten by the American military and public opinion, and even today is mainly of interest only to historians.
The Punitive Expedition into Mexico is a useful example of what not to do while the counterinsurgency effort in the Philippines was ultimately more successful. Neither conflict was popular with Congress of public opinion, though, especially as they seemed to drag on pointlessly for a considerable time. Although the U.S. won in the Philippines it realized almost at once that it would not be able to hold the islands in the face of a Japanese attack, while in Mexico the Wilson administration alienated the government it was supposedly trying assist while failing to locate and capture Pancho Villa. In both cases, the military seemed eager to put these conflicts behind it. In the Philippines, the political efforts at reconciling local elites to American rule were at least as crucial as MacArthur’s counterinsurgency strategy, aimed at accommodating local elites with promises of considerable autonomy and home rule. In reality, direct U.S. control of the Philippines lasted a very brief time and the military forces it maintained there were tine. In other words, it allowed the Filipino elites to run the country domestically, assisted in building roads, schools and hospitals, while maintaining a tiny military footprint. In Mexico, the Pershing expedition was able to chase Villa deep into the interior, operating in very harsh desert conditions, but never came close to capturing him or even defeating his forces in a decisive battle. Nor did the American forces have the cooperation and support of the Mexican government or public opinion and the local elites, so the effort accomplished very little.
Eisenhower, J. S. (1993). Intervention!: The United States and the Mexican Revolution, 1913-1917. NY: Norton.
Kinzer, S. (2007). Overthrow: America’s History of Regime Change from Hawaii to Iraq. Times Books, 2007.
Linn, B.M. (2011). “Batangas: Ending the Philippines War” in M. Moten (ed). Between War and Peace: How America Ends its Wars. NY: Free Press, pp. 155-78.
Silbey, D. (2007). A War of Frontier and Empire: The Philippine-American War, 1899-1902. NY: Hill and Wang.
Welsome, E. (2007). The General and the Jaguar: Pershing’s Hunt for Pancho Villa. NY: Little, Brown and Company.