Academic journal article Asian Culture and History

The Samar Counterinsurgency Campaign of 1899-1902: Lessons Worth Learning?

Academic journal article Asian Culture and History

The Samar Counterinsurgency Campaign of 1899-1902: Lessons Worth Learning?

Article excerpt


During the Philippine-American War of 1899-1902, the United States Army's most difficult, and renowned, counterinsurgency campaign was waged on the island of Samar. The Samareño insurgents had a well developed infrastructure and were merciless with those who collaborated with the Americans. The Samamons made extensive use of the island's rough terrain with heavy forest cover, and raised funds from the island's hemp merchants. The Americans defeated the insurgents by separating them from the population. This was achieved through food restrictions, a strict policy of non-neutrality forcing the people to choose between them or the insurgents, by concentrating the population in camps, by providing benefits to those who cooperated with them, and through skillful use of intelligence to dismantle the insurgent infrastructure. This campaign may have been an excellent demonstration of the principles of counterinsurgency warfare but it inflicted substantial abuses upon the Samamons and caused long term damage to the island's economy. Given the atrocities associated with the campaign, and its detrimental effects upon the island's economy, one must truly wonder if it provides lessons worth learning.

Keywords: Philippines, Samar, counterinsurgency warfare, Philippine-American War

1. Introduction

1.1 Samar: The Dark and Bloody Island

At the turn of the last century, from 1899 to 1902, the United States of America found itself engaged in a counterinsurgency campaign, in a country on the other side of the world, against a people who had recently ended over 300 years of domination by a waning colonial power only to suddenly find their land coveted by a nascent colonial power. One part of the Philippines where this campaign encountered substantial difficulty was the island of Samar. Brian Linn was referred to by Couttie (2004) as "the foremost American historian studying the Philippine-American War. Linn (2003) wrote "the Samareño guerrillas would prove among the toughest the Americans faced." Linn, (2000) states that the violence on Samar was so ferocious that, for years after the conflict, members of the United States Marine Corps who fought against the Samamons would be saluted upon their entry into a mess hall with the toast, "Stand Gentlemen, he served on Samar!" This article examines the American counterinsurgency campaign on Samar, from 1899-1902, analyzing the factors leading to its success while also discussing the abuses it inflicted upon the Samareños and the long-term adverse consequences it imposed upon them.

1.2 The Relevance of This Study

As a result of the recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, counterinsurgency warfare has become a topical subject matter. According to Kilcullen (2006), more has been written on counterinsurgency warfare in the last four years than in the last forty. "The vast majority of armed conflict today occurs inside states rather than between them," wrote Nagl (2005), and the conclusion of the Cold War "has returned to the front pages the small wars of the nineteenth century." To Nagl (2005), the Philippine-American War was "the U.S. Army's most successful instance of counterinsurgency theory and practice." The success of the United States in the Philippines offers numerous lessons on counterinsurgency procedure (Linn, 2003). As Couttie (2004) wrote about the Philippine-American War on Samar, "There is plenty of raw material that could, and should, be processed into a form that would illuminate the period and become a valuable resource for those concerned with counterinsurgency operations in the post 9/11 era."

2. Methodology: A Review of the Literature on Insurgency and Counterinsurgency

2.1 Insurgency Warfare

David Galula's 1964 book Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice is regarded as a "classic" work on counterinsurgency warfare (United States Army and Marine Corps, 2007). According to Galula (1964), "an insurgency is a protracted struggle conducted methodically, step by step, in order to attain specific intermediate objectives leading finally to the overthrow of the existing order. …

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