Elsewhere on the site, Maisie Allison has written a good review of Gregg Jones’ Honor in the Dust: Theodore Roosevelt, War in the Philippines, and the Rise and Fall of America’s Imperial Dream. Here she discusses the atrocities of the Philippine War:
In a staggering overreach, the American adminsitration targeted the entire island chain. Soldiers grew “callous and indifferent, willing at any time to take undue risks.” An “ethos of reprisal” took over. Almost at random, U.S. troops administered the “water cure,” a primeval version of waterboarding in which victims “experienced the simultaneous sensations of drowning and being burned or cut.” They burned fields and entire villages, massacring civilians and destroying crops and livestock. What began as a campaign for liberation deteriorated into an indiscriminate campaign of violence.
The review reminded me of Lears’ account of the anti-imperialist reaction to the war in his discussion of pragmatic realists in The Short American Century:
[William] James, for one, was outraged: “God Damn the United States for its vile conduct in the Philippine Islands,” he wrote a friend. This was more than a mere emotional outburst; it was an expression of James’s mature worldview. “Let me repeat once more that a man’s vision is the great fact about him,” said James, in A Pluralistic Universe (1909). The emotional core of James’s vision was his recognition that all of us–psychologists like himself included–suffered from “a certain blindness” toward the feelings of others, especially “the feelings of creatures and people different from ourselves.”…
Pluralism, in turn, provided the foundation for James’s anti-imperial thought. As Robert Richardson writes, James’s opposition to empire “grew naturally from his advocacy of pluralism and individual self-determination and from his conviction that we are mostly blind to the vital centers of the lives of others–to the lives, for example, of Filipinos.” Imperialism was nothing if not an expression of blindness to others’ aspirations–a failure to consider the possibility of multiple perspectives on the world. Arguments for empire discounted the Filipino desire for independence and instead celebrated the uplifting mission of the American invaders….Imperial foreign policy denied those aspirations in the name of progress, a teleological creed that demanded the replacement of idiosyncratic traditions with universal modernity. Imperialists suppressed Filipino longings for self-determination, while braying at home about its fulfillment. (p. 89-90)