The United States’ war in the Philippines is largely forgotten; this account, drawing parallels with more recent conflicts, should help bring it back into focus.
Military historian Arnold (Jungle of Snakes: A Century of Counterinsurgency Warfare from the Philippines to Iraq, 2009, etc.), begins with the arrival in Manila of Gen. Leonard Wood, who had been appointed governor of Moro Province, the southernmost portion of the Philippines. The Spanish, who had governed the islands for nearly 500 years, had been able to do little with the province, where a predominantly Muslim population refused to be assimilated. Wood, like most of the Americans who would serve there, arrived with very little knowledge of his new post. The Moros, whose history was one of conflict between local leaders called datus, were wily close-range fighters whose chosen weapons were a variety of wicked blades, notably the kris, which every male carried in his sash. The American troops’ superior firepower made it an unequal fight, but the intractable jungles often nullified that advantage. Arnold recounts how for 10 years, Wood and his successors, John J. Pershing and Tasker Bliss, searched for ways to pacify the Moros. The author also gives detailed accounts of the many battles. American troops faced violent attacks by individual Moros who had decided to become martyrs, killing as many Americans as possible in the process. But the Americans gradually began to gain control of the province, partly by enlisting both Moros and northern Filipinos as auxiliary troops, or “scouts.” While the war as a whole was not a matter of set battles, the futility of the Moro resistance was most clearly shown in two actions—massacres, really—at Bud Dajo and Bud Bagsak. Ultimately, the Moro War became the main training ground for the officers who went to France in World War I, and Arnold concludes by tracing their subsequent careers.
A lively, well-told chronicle of a conflict that commanders in more recent conflicts could well have from studying.