Debating US Actions in the Philippines

Excerpt from sworn testimony given before the U.S. Senate by Corporal Richard O'Brien in 1902

. O'Brien was called to testify in a Senate investigation of alleged war crimes committed by American soldiers in the Philippine-American War.
  • The first thing we saw was a boy ... and the first sergeant shot at the boy. Everybody fired at him. That brought the people in the houses out . . . [and] the town was fired on ... Two old men came out, hand in hand ... they had a white flag, they were shot down. At the other end of the town we heard screams, and there was a woman there; she was burned up, and in her arms was a baby, and on the floor was another child ... The fighting was continued until everybody had fled or everybody was killed ... There was not a shot fired on the part of the Filipinos.

    Excerpt from a letter to the editor of the Kansas City Journal by Colonel Frederick Funston on April 22, 1899

    Funston, who was a war hero for his extensive service in the Philippine-American War, wrote and spoke often about the Philippine-American War in order to increase public support for American involvement in the conflict.
  • I am afraid that some people at home will lie awake [at] night worrying about the ethics of this war, thinking that our enemy is fighting for the right to self-government ... [The Filipinos] have a certain number of educated leaders--educated, however, about the same way a parrot is. They are, as a rule, an illiterate, semi-savage people who are waging war not against tyranny, but against Anglo-Saxon order and decency . . . I, for one, hope that Uncle Sam will apply the chastening rod good, hard and plenty, and lay it on until they come in to the reservation and promise to be good 'Injuns.'

    Senator George Frisbie Hoar on Self-Government for the Philippines: April 17, 1900

    [Historical Context: Senator George Frisbie Hoar (R-Mass.) was one of only two Republican senators to vote against the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Spanish-American War. Hoar's speech stands in marked contrast to the jingoism of Senator Albert J. Beveridge's Senate speech . He presents a strong case for anti-imperalist, arguing against one nation imposing rule upon another nation without the consent of the governed. Again, look for the cultural and moral values expressed in the speech.]
    We are told if we oppose the policy of our imperialistic and expanding friends we are
    bound to suggest some policy of our own as a substitute for theirs. We are asked what
    we would do in this difficult emergency. It is a question not difficult to answer. I for one
    am ready to answer it.

    1. I would declare now that we will not take these islands to govern them against their

    2. I would reject a cession of sovereignty which implies that sovereignty may be bought
    and sold and delivered without the consent of the people. Spain had no rightful
    sovereignty over the Philippine Islands. She could not rightfully sell it to us. We could
    not rightfully buy it from her.

    3. I would require all foreign governments to keep out of these islands.

    4. I would offer to the people of the Philippines our help in maintaining order until they
    have a reasonable opportunity to establish a government of their own.

    5. I would aid them by advice, if they desire it, to set up a free and independent

    6. I would invite all the great powers of Europe to unite in an agreement that that
    independence shall not be interfered with by us, by themselves, or by any one of them
    with the consent of the others. As to this I am not so sure. I should like quite as well to
    tell them it is not to be done whether they consent or not.

    7. I would declare that the United States will enforce the same doctrine as applicable to
    the Philippines that we declared as to Mexico and Haiti and the South American
    Republics. It is true that the Monroe Doctrine, a doctrine based largely on our regard
    for our own interests, is not applicable either in terms or in principle to a distant Asiatic
    territory. But undoubtedly, having driven out Spain, we are bound, and have the right,
    to secure to the people we have liberated an opportunity, undisturbed and in peace, to
    establish a new government for themselves.

    8. I would then, in a not distant future, leave them to work out their own salvation, as
    every nation on earth, from the beginning of time, has wrought out its own salvation. . . .
    To attempt to confer the gift of freedom from without, or to impose freedom from
    without on any people, is to disregard all the lessons of history. It is to attempt

    "A gift of that which is not to be given
    By all the blended powers of earth and heaven."

    9. I would strike out of your legislation the oath of allegiance to us and substitute an
    oath of allegiance to their own country. . . .

    Mr. President, there lies at the bottom of what is called imperialism a doctrine which, if
    adopted, is to revolutionize the world in favor of despotism. It directly conflicts with
    and contradicts the doctrine on which our own revolution was founded, and with which,
    so far, our example has revolutionized the world. It is the doctrine that when, in the
    judgment of any one nation or any combination of nations, the institutions which a
    people set up and maintain for themselves are disapproved they
    have a right to overthrow that government and to enter upon and possess it
    themselves . . .

    Our imperialistic friends seem to have forgotten the use of the vocabulary of liberty.
    They talk about giving good government. "We shall give them such a government as we
    think they are fitted for." "We shall give them a better government than they had
    before." Why, Mr. President, that one phrase conveys to a free man and a free people
    the most stinging of insults. In that little phrase, as in a seed, is contained the germ of all
    despotism and of all tyranny. Government is not a gift. Free government is not to be
    given by all the blended powers of earth and heaven. It is a birthright. It belongs, as our
    fathers said and as their children said, as Jefferson said and as President McKinley
    said, to human nature itself. There can be no good government but self government. . . .

    I have failed to discover in the speech, public or private, of the advocates of this war,
    or in the press which supports it and them, a single expression anywhere of a desire to
    do justice to the people of the Philippine Islands, or of a desire to make known to the
    people of the United States the truth of the case. . . .

    The catchwords, the cries, the pithy and pregnant phrases of which all their speech is
    full, all mean dominion. They mean perpetual dominion. When a man tells you that the
    American flag must not be hauled down where it has once floated, or demands of a
    shouting audience, "Who will haul it down?" if he mean anything, he means that that
    people shall be under our dominion forever. The man who says, "We will not treat with
    them till they submit; we will not deal with men in arms against the flag," says, in
    substance, the same thing. One thing there has been, at least, given to them as
    Americans not to say. There is not one of these gentlemen who will rise in his place and
    affirm that if he were a Filipino he would not do exactly as the Filipinos are doing; that
    he would not despise them if they were to do otherwise. So much, at least, they owe of
    respect to the dead and buried history—the dead and buried history, so far as they can
    slay and bury it—of their country.

    Why, the tariff schemes which are proposed are schemes in our interest and not in
    theirs. If you propose to bring tobacco from Porto Rico or from the Philippine Islands
    on the ground that it is for the interest of the people whom you are undertaking to
    govern, for their best interests to raise it and sell it to you, every imperialist in
    Connecticut will be up in arms. The nerve in the pocket is still sensitive, though the
    nerve in the heart may be numb. You will not let their sugar come here to compete with
    the cane sugar of Louisiana or the beet sugar of California or the Northwest, and in
    determining that question you mean to think not of their interest but of yours. The good
    government you are to give them is a government under which their great productive
    and industrial interests, when peace comes, are to be totally and absolutely disregarded
    by their government. You are not only proposing to do that, but you expect to put
    another strain on the Constitution to accomplish it.

    Why, Mr. President, the atmosphere of both legislative chambers, even now, is filled
    with measures proposing to govern and tax these people for our interest, and not for
    theirs. Your men who are not alarmed at the danger to constitutional liberty are up in
    arms when there is danger to tobacco. . . .

    Is there any man so bold as to utter in seriousness the assertion that where the
    American flag has once been raised it shall never be hauled down? I have heard it said
    that to haul down or to propose to haul down this national emblem where it has once
    floated is poltroonery. Will any man say it was poltroonery when Paul Jones landed on
    the northeast coast of England that he took his flag away with him when he departed?
    Was Scott a poltroon, or was Polk a poltroon? Was Taylor a poltroon? Was the
    United States a nation of poltroons when they retired from the City of Mexico or from
    Vera Cruz without leaving the flag behind them? . . .

    Mr. President, this talk that the American flag is never to be removed where it has once
    floated is the silliest and wildest rhetorical flourish ever uttered in the ears of an excited
    populace. No baby ever said anything to another baby more foolish.

    Now, what are the facts as to the Philippine Islands and the American flag? We have
    occupied a single city, part of one of four hundred islands, and with a population of
    120,000 or thereabouts out of 10,000,000. The Spanish forces were invested and
    hemmed in by the people of those islands, who had risen to assert their own freedom
    when we got there. Now, what kind of Americanism, what kind of patriotism, what
    kind of love of liberty is it to say that we are to turn our guns on that patriot people and
    wrest from them the freedom that was almost within their grasp and hold these islands
    for our own purposes in subjection and by right of conquest because the American flag
    ought not to be hauled down where it has once floated, or, for the baser and viler
    motive still, that we can make a few dollars a year out of their trade?

    Congressional Record, Senate, 56th Congress, 1st session, April 17, 1900, 4303–4305.