America at War: The Philippines, 1898-1913

America at War: The Philippines, 1898-1913 – Book Reviews

Brian McAllister Linn

America at War: The Philippines, 1898-1913. By A. B. Feuer. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2002. 265 pages $64.95.

There is so little published on the American military conquest of the Philippines that a composite account of the participants’ experiences should be a significant contribution. Most of the solders who fought in the Bamboo Army are long forgotten, and those that are remembered are often vilified as racist butchers bent on indiscriminate slaughter of defenseless Filipinos. A. B. Feuer deserves a great deal of credit for collecting a number of accounts by veterans and journalists and pulling them together in one book. As someone who has a great deal of personal admiration for Feuer’s efforts and who benefited from his book Combat Diary on the 22d Infantry, I was heartened to see he had turned his attention to exploring the individual experiences of Americans in the Philippines. Unfortunately, although it contains a great deal of useful information, America at War is an uneven work that could have been much better.

Feuer has a good eye for a story, and some of his selections are quite good. The sections on the Utah Battery and the Army’s gunboats provide useful insights into the methods the Americans used to bring devastating firepower to the battlefield. One of the most interesting readings is taken from Lewis Cozzens’ diary of his experiences from September 1900 to March 1901, the decisive phase of the guerrilla war in Abra Province, Luzon. Cozzens describes the terrible conditions that American troops experienced-torrential rains, disease, putrid food, shoes rotting offtheir feet, and debilitating “hikes” through jungles and mountains. The Army faced a well-organized and skilled opponent who was adept at ambush, sniping, and arson. At the same time, the diary also sheds valuable insight into the reasons for the American victory: tactical skill in small-unit engagements, logistics, and relentless pressure on the guerrillas.

Unfortunately, there are a number of problems that greatly detract from the overall quality of the book. One of the worst is the inclusion of amateur historian Michael G. Price’s diatribe in a foreword. Purporting to speak for the Filipino side, Price resurrects the emotional, factually incorrect, and conspiratorial rendition of the war that has been discredited for more than two decades. Why this ill-informed tirade was included in a book that seeks to “put a human face on the American soldier, sailor, and marine who served in the Philippine Islands” is a great mystery.

There are other problems as well. Feuer’s choice of sources is quite unbalanced. Despite the dates given in the title, almost 80 pages–nearly a third of the text– focus on the three months leading up to the capture of Manila during the Spanish-American War. Almost another third is devoted to the conventional operations of 1899. In contrast, discounting brief accounts of two incidents which are a staple of Philippine War literature–Funston’s capture of Aguinaldo and the marines’ disastrous campaign on Samar–the only source on the more than two years of guerrilla war from 1899 to 1902 is the 16-page entry from Cozzens’ diary. Similarly, the decade of conflict after the end of the Philippine War in 1902 is accorded little more than 20 pages. This lack of balance is all the more frustrating because it is the period 1900-1913 that has the most to teach today’s officers.

Feuer could have added greatly to the value and reliability of this book had he double-checked his sources against other works and noted where there is conflicting evidence. For example, Feuer accepts without question Charles Mabey’s hearsay version of the fateful collision between Filipino and American patrols on 4 February 1899 that triggered the Philippine War. But Mahey’s account is at variance with almost all of the participants, both American and Filipino. Similarly, in describing the battle in which Colonel John Stotsenburg lost his life, Feuer cites a participant’s account that “one hundred brave Americans–dead and wounded–dotted the landscape.” Official casualty figures for this engagement were seven killed and 44 wounded. The problem of factual reliability is compounded by Feuer’s (or the editor’s) decision not to use standard historical format in citing works or to make it clear where many of the sources are located. It would be almost impossible for a reader to track down sources in order to ver ify them, and as a result this book is of limited use to scholars and students.

America at War is thus difficult to assess. The author certainly deserves a great deal of credit for finding personal accounts of participants in a war that is all but unknown to today’s Army. Many of the veterans’ accounts are exciting reading and provide an excellent view of combat in America’s forgotten war. Some, such as Cozzens’ diary, are very useful for officers contemplating today’s guerrilla conflicts. But other accounts contain factual inaccuracies and are historically suspect. The book is poorly edited, apparently went through no peer review process, and is so expensive that it is virtually inaccessible to the audiences that could most benefit from it. These problems, some of which are not Feuer’s fault, greatly detract from a work that contains some very valuable research, has some very exciting combat scenes, and could have been a very useful supplementary text.

COPYRIGHT 2003 U.S. Army War College

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