Private William Walter Greyson, 23, from Beatrice, Nebraska, gained an unlikely place in history on Saturday, 4 February 1899, when he shot the first Filipino in what Americans later called the “Philippine insurrection” (a phrase now considered an American-contrived term of condescension for a war of liberation). Greyson was proud of his achievement and later (unsuccessfully) petitioned the War Department for a cash bonus (l. 3761).
Up until this moment, Philippine commander Emilio Aguinaldo “repeatedly pulled his troops out of contested territory rather than the provoke the Americans” (l. 3780). Over the following month, the US forces rolled first over the Manila area, then elsewhere in Luzon (the island on which Manila is located), and finally other islands, with a ferocity that promoted the title comment from a British resident.
The commanders on the ground experienced problem which are sadly more familiar to us through more recent conflicts. Commanding General Elwell Otis found he could win battles, but not hold territory, causing him to issue rosy report of progress followed by requests for more troops (l. 3837). In 1899, sixty thousand Americans were serving in the Philippines. The next year, it was 75,000 – three-quarters of the entire US Army (l. 3879).
Otis managed to be both unpopular with his high-level staff for mismanagement and his rank-and-file soldiers for perceived timidity in battle (l. 3908). The press disliked him for using his control of the single telegraph cable out of Manila as a method of censorship, inflating enemy casualty figures, and threatening authors of unfavorable journalism (l. 3915). However, Otis realized that the war had a “hearts and minds” aspect, and introduced public health, education, rule-of-law, and local government programs in an effort to win public favor (l. 4057).
At the same time, Otis felt himself plagued by a Presidential commission of civilians, who held hearings in Manila. The commission never left the capital. Its witnesses were largely Western residents of Manila. The few Filipinos who testified were members of the elite, who favored US rule and said that resistance was the work of a handful of malcontents (l. 4010). Commodore Dewey, although a member of the commission, attended none of its meetings and did not read its reports. Otis also shunned the commission and tried to have them recalled (l. 4031). The commission raised the hopes of moderates but had no lasting effect.
These well-intentioned acts, however, were no match for the steady drip of cruelty, massacres, illegal killings, torture, and reasonless destruction of property, often caused by the inability from telling friendly foreign national from unfriendly (l. 4093). Filipino forces melted away in the face of organized political might and then attacked days later when US soldiers were relaxed and off-guard.
Aggressive newspaper coverage brought the horror home to the US and turned public opinion against the war. One newspaper survey of returning veterans found that 62% of officers and 93% of enlisted men were against the war (l. 4109).
In spite of fierce combat, US forces controlled no farther than 30 miles from Manila (l. 4117), and military hospitals overflowed with soldiers ill from tropical diseases. But the Filipino side was plagued with disunity, as when Aguinaldo had one of his most successful generals killed (l. 4150), so victories could not be consolidated and capitalized upon.
As the war ground on, McKinley and allies decided that the administration of the Philippines had to be placed under civilian control. In January 1900, McKinley summoned a Cincinnati federal circuit judge, William Howard Taft, to Washington to ask him to take on the job.