The US and the Philippines

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What are the lessons to be learned from America’s involvement in the Philippines in Americas first Southeast Asian war?

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One major lesson to be learned from the Philippine-American War is that land easily won is not easily conquered. The United States had taken the Philippine islands from the Spanish with relatively little bloodshed or effort compared to the size and importance of the archipelago. However, those that favored annexation...

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One major lesson to be learned from the Philippine-American War is that land easily won is not easily conquered. The United States had taken the Philippine islands from the Spanish with relatively little bloodshed or effort compared to the size and importance of the archipelago. However, those that favored annexation underestimated the Filipinos's desire for self-rule. Days before the Treaty of Paris was ratified, Filipino insurrectionists attacked American forces in an effort to drive them out.

The ensuing three-year conflict was bitter and bloody. The United States appeared to have every military advantage. The U.S. Military was well-equipped, organized, and had unquestioned naval control of the waterways. The Filipino forces responded by waging guerrilla warfare. The opposing forces waged a total war that led to many atrocities and civilian casualties.

The lesson here is that, even though the Philippines easily fell into American hands, the true contest would be pacifying a population that was determined to achieve liberation. There were imperialists in the United States who had though the Filipinos would be amenable to American occupation since they had spent so much time under Spanish rule. They soon found that they had underestimated the Filipino spirit of independence.

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The first lesson to be learned from this war is that it is very difficult to subdue a nationalist force, even one that is much less well-equipped.  This is true even in a situation like the Philippines where there was no outside power helping the “rebels” and some major portions of the population supported the US. 

A second lesson is that such wars lead to atrocities.  This is true of both sides of the conflict.  A final lesson has to do with the aftermath of the war.  It is very difficult to impose a system of liberal democracy on a country that has no history of such a system.

Of course, these lessons are the ones that we see from our perspective today.  That perspective may be altered by things like the Vietnam War that have happened since we fought in the Philippines.

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