A history of a century-old war with frightening relevance to today’s counterinsurgency campaigns.
Islamic extremists, guerilla warfare, mountain firefights—Americans are painfully familiar with these things from the recent conflict in Afghanistan. But as Hook notes, the U.S. military faced similar challenges in the Philippines following the Spanish-American War. A retired doctor and reserve Army colonel, Hook spent a decade researching the Philippine-American War and the Moro Campaigns. After Spain ceded the islands to the U.S., American soldiers found themselves battling native Filipinos who previously were glad to see them. Emilio Aguinaldo and his revolutionaries wanted independence from foreign rule, but U.S. policymakers had other ideas. Drawing on soldier diaries, newspaper accounts and other sources, Hook presents a boots-on-the-ground narrative of the bloody insurgency that followed. American soldiers fought the elusive Filipinos while suffering under intense heat, relentless mosquitoes and rampant disease. Careful to note discrepancies and biases in his sources, Hook constructs a timeline that captures the tension as events teeter out of control. He also tries to explain the thinking on both sides, showing how policy blunders, duplicity and prejudice may have exacerbated the hostilities. A peace proclamation in 1902 officially ended the insurgency, but the U.S. still faced the problem of controlling the southern islands, which were predominantly Muslim. Combat with Moro fundamentalists featured brutalities similar to those seen in today’s asymmetrical conflicts—hit-and-run attacks, personal jihad and heavy collateral damage on the civilian population. Throughout the book, a cast of colorful characters emerges as politics, war and personal ambition become intertwined. General Leonard Wood’s hard-line approach to the Moros seems counterproductive, while John Pershing’s more sensitive tactics would not look out of place in a modern Army counterinsurgency manual. Though the book lacks literary flair, it’s a balanced look into the fog of war, where allies can become adversaries and the question “What did we accomplish?” is still open for debate.
An often-forgotten conflict comes to life in this authentic account of heroism and atrocity, where the difference between rebel and patriot is which side of the line you stand on.