Donald Trump has reacted to the terrorist attack today in Barcelona with the following two Tweets:
The second controversial Tweet refers to General John J. Pershing whose heavy handed tactics in Philippines serve as a reminder of the American military’s record of blood and civilian casualties in the country. Pershing was active in Philippines during both the Philippine-American war and the subsequent Moro rebellion.
The Philippine-American war itself was part of the longer Philippine Revolution which started in 1896 as a rebellion against Spanish imperial rule. The conflict became incorporated into the wider Spanish-American war which the United States won in 1898.
However, Philippine revolutionaries were dismayed at winning independence from Spain only to become a colony of a new, more powerful country, the United States.
Filipinos who refused to submit to their new colonial master took up arms and thus began the Philippine-American war.
The war was the United States’ first taste of fighting a domestic insurgency on foreign soil. The lessons learned in the difficult war were forgotten by the generations of American leaders who jumped into the disastrous wars in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq.
Unlike Afghanistan and Iraq, the United States did eventually win the war in Philippines, but it was no ‘honourable fight’.
US troops in Philippines were guilty of systematic torture, civilian murder and the destruction of entire towns. Far from being a quiet affair, America’s inhumane conduct was the subject of lengthy Senate hearings where many honourable America witnesses testified to the crimes American forces committed in Philippines. The author Mark Twain was among those who spoke out against US occupation of Philippines.
Among the kinds of torture Americans practised upon Filipinos was something called water cure, a particularly cruel form of torture where the victim is held down and forced to drink copious amounts of water. Victims often die from drowning/asphyxiation, from violent vomiting or from having their stomachs literally burst.
The Senate hearings on Philippines further confirmed that the US had placed civilians in concentration camps which caused the death of at least 31. In reality the number was likely vastly higher.
Further information in the hearings revealed that the US burnt down entire villages forcing the survivors to run with whatever they could carry with them.
While most of Philippines was subdued by 1902, the Moros (Philippine Muslims) who lived primary on the southern island in Mindanao continued their rebellion against American imperialism until 1913.
Between 1909 and 1913 General Pershing acted as military governor of Philippines in what was effectively a colonial dictatorship. His particularly hard hand against Moros finally brought the rebellion to an end, but to this very day, Moro rebels continue to fight the authorities from Manila in what is just another deadly holdover from America’s colonial period. Hundreds of Americans died in the conflict in a country on the other side of the Pacific from the United States. It was America’s first lethal colonial adventure and certainly not the last.
While many in Philippines continue to resist Moro insurgents, President Duterte had called for federalisation which would have ideally satisfied Moro demands. Today, ISIS operates in Mindinao and is waging a brutal war against a Philippine President whose peace process would have given ordinary people respite from war. Many of the scars of American occupation continue to haunt Philippines. This is one of the reasons for the popularity of the current President Rodrigo Duterte who remains popular for his anti-imperialist and sovereignty minded rhetoric.
Donald Trump’s comments about the terrorist attack today in Spain are not directly related to modern Philippines. The comments however about General Pershing’s heavy handed methods being fit for purpose in the 21st century, when even in the 19th and 20th centuries many Americans themselves saw them as barbaric, serve only to open old wounds rather than solve new problems.