In The Trenches: Harper’s Weekly Covers the Philippine-American War

This lesson is a part of a larger unit on the Philippines: At the Crossroads of the World.  
This lesson was reported from:

Answer the following questions using details from the text to support your answers:

  1. To whom does Bass assign blame for the war?
  2. What does Bass think of the American project of bringing self-government and civilization to the Philippines?
  3. What are Bass’s ideas about race?  How does this shape his understanding of the war?
  4. Does he seem to think that the Americans deserve their bad reputation among the insurgents?
  5. What is the purpose of Bass’s anecdote about the Spaniard?
An excerpt from “In The Trenches” by John F. Bass, originally published in Harper’s Weekly.
Manila, March 9, 1899.
john bass
John F. Bass was a correspondent for the American magazine Harper’s Weekly, covering the Philippine-American War from Manila. He is pictured here with a cage full of homing pigeons which he used to file breaking news dispatches from the field.

New comers in Manila keep asking where the blame lies for this outbreak. Is the responsibility alike for American and Filipino deaths with our government or with the leaders of the Filipino people? At such a time as this it is difficult for a good American not to throw the blame on Aguinaldo and his followers. The American army has done so well that one feels like overlooking the past. Although the true cause does not lie within the scope of any generalization, but rather in a multitude of small detached facts, still I believe that the fundamental reason for our present fight lies in an unrestrained race antipathy. Americans differ so absolutely in mind, body, and soul from Filipinos that the two could not live together in harmony under the then existing conditions. First among these conditions was an American and a Filipino volunteer force, both more or less undisciplined and longing to jump at each other’s throats; and, secondly, a want of any consistent policy in our government. Moreover, both American and Filipino leaders have been so provincial in their point of view that at no time during the military occupation of Manila has the least good feeling existed between the American and Filipino governments. We have ignored Aguinaldo and his followers in so far as it is possible to ignore an army which for months has been encircling Manila in a peaceful siege. Aguinaldo has stuck out through thick and thin for the independence of his people. Instead of getting what he wanted, he received the hard-and-fast declaration of our President that the islands were American property, that the army would proceed to take possession of them, and that any one resisting our authority would be suppressed by force of arms. Since this manifesto was issued there has been no hope of a peaceful settlement.

Image result for wilcox harper's weekly philippines
Illustration from Harper’s Weekly, April 24, 1899 edition, drawn by G.W. Peters.

The bone of contention is the sovereignty of the islands. It is said that the Filipinos will not be able to establish a good government, but the same argument would apply to many of our own communities at home which have wretched local self-government. Much as one may dislike the native – and I must say that I have never met with a more unlovable people – it is important occasionally to get his point of view. No doubt the government which the natives would establish would not please the Anglo-Saxon, but would it not be good enough for the natives themselves?

The natives soon learned to dislike us. We plastered the town from end to end with beer and whiskey advertisements. And, so far, Americans who have followed the army have their time and money into saloons. No other business attracts them. According to native standards, the American soldier has been rough and tyrannical, while from our point of view the natives have been tricky and dishonest. The extreme East and the extreme West have learned to hate each other. The importance of these things is great as indicating what the future has in store. The immediate cause of the outbreak was that the insurgent officers and soldiers, being under less control than our men, became so hostile and insulting that we had either to fight or to leave the islands. The outbreak was hastened and made inevitable by the unsettled state of public opinion in the United States, the absence of any fixed policy in Washington, and the consequent contradictory and restricting orders on our local government in Manila. The fact of the matter is that the policy of ignoring the insurgents completely has had its origin in Washington. It reminds one of the ultra-idealistic philosopher who ignored the hard-and-fast world of environment, and while absorbed in thought bumped his head against a stone wall. The insurgent government is here and must be dealt with.

iloilo
Harper’s Weekly, A Journal of Civilization – “Our New Citizens – A Native Family in Iloilo,” January 14, 1899.

Formerly we might have compromised with them; now we must crush them. There are a few men of education and ability who are managing the insurrection; the rest of the army follows blindly, misled by false reports about our cruelty, and they look upon us now as a species of ogre. We have fallen heir to the hatred which the natives felt for the Spaniards, and the same stories are told about us that were told about our predecessors. The Spaniards and the priests have done what they could to make trouble by circulating false reports in both camps. These reports have been believed by the insurgents and in many instances by our own officers.

The Spaniards are jubilant over the present state of affairs. One of them said to me:

“I speak to you as a Spaniard and an enemy of the United States. If fifty insurgents are killed, good; if the insurgents kill one hundred Americans, better; if the Americans in turn kill two hundred insurgents, best all.”

Read more on this subject -> The Origins of the Philippine-American War  ◦  The Brutality of the Philippine-American War  ◦  The Philippines in the American Empire  ◦  “The White Man’s Burden”: Kipling’s Hymn to U.S. Imperialism  ◦  Stereoscopic Visions of War and Empire  ◦  In The Trenches: Harper’s Weekly Covers the Philippine-American War

FURTHER READING

Harper’s History of the War in the Philippines edited by Marrion Wilcox.

History of the Philippines: From Indios Bravos to Filipinos by Luis Francia.

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Read more of Harper’s Weekly’s coverage of the Philippine-American War.

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