By Sen. George Hoar (Massachusetts)
Reviewed by David T. Jones
More than 110 years ago, Senator George Hoar (Rep-Mass) spoke on the Senate floor to denounce U.S. seizure, occupation, and military subjugation of the Philippine Islands, following the U.S. victory in the 1898 Spanish-American War.
During a long political career (he died abruptly in 1904 while still senator), Hoar would be described today as a “bleeding heart liberal.” He implacably opposed U.S. imperial activism that characterized the end of the 19th-beginning of the 20th century foreign policy. In foreign affairs, Hoar embraced the Monroe Doctrine, opposing any action beyond brief interventions to free a subjugated people and provide them with an independent governing structure.
In this regard, his speech juxtaposed what he regarded as successful relations with a liberated Cuba with the bloody continuing guerrilla war in the Philippines. And the costs for the fighting in the Philippines were doubtless high.
Hoar claimed that in three years of fighting, we suffered “nearly ten thousand American lives—the flower of our youth” and “other thousands of sick and wounded and insane to drag out miserable lives, wrecked in body and mind.” The casualty figure is wrong—U.S. losses were approximately 4,100 (75 percent from disease) and 3,000 wounded, but the overall fighting lasted until 1913 and engaged some of the most prominent military figures of the era , including Arthur MacArthur, Douglas MacArthur’s father, and John Pershing, U.S. WWI forces commander.
Perhaps more topically, Hoar accurately noted that we had engaged in “the horror of the water torture”—today’s “water boarding.” We had employed “reconcentration camps” and killed thousands of civilians. In some cases, U.S. soldiers conducted “warfare with a mixture of American ingenuity and Castilian cruelty.”
And essentially, he concluded that our brutalities would alienate Filipinos indefinitely, regardless whether there was eventually a veneer of tranquility. If, in Hoar’s view, we had treated the Philippines as we had Cuba, where the population strongly supported the United States, we would have greatly enhanced our global moral and political standing. Hoar even claimed Filipinos would have felt for the United States “as Japan felt… when she declared… that she owed everything to the United States of America.”
Hoar’s speech reminds there is nothing new under the sun. Attempting to impose political control by force of arms is expensive and frequently brutal—regardless of how enlightened we believe ourselves to be. From Rome-Carthage to U.S.-Afghanistan/Iraq, war’s consequences repeat themselves.
But regardless of Hoar’s demurs, relations with the Philippines quickly moved from combative to congenial. Our defense/liberation of the islands during WWII and our 1946 grant of independence have provided the United States with a strong ally. In contrast, one might wonder how Cuba occupied and governed under a comparable regime would have evolved?
So Hoar was prophetic—but wrong—in his generalities. Still the reminder that even “good wars” are not cost free is timely when contemplating the 12th anniversary of 9/11.