Dissent in Wars - The spanish-american war and the filipino insurrection




In the small wars between 1865 and 1917, dissent would not have been likely to assume proportions highly troublesome for the administrations waging the wars even without such an object lesson. The wars with the Indians had become too remote from the interests of most voters, especially because they could be fought by a small professional army with a large enrollment of immigrants. Any given uprising and campaign was too brief to allow dissent to accumulate, with intervals of peace allaying such public concern as it developed. An Indian rights movement did generate growing support among eastern philanthropists, intellectuals, and some religious denominations, but never on a scale to seriously slow down the military conquest of the Plains tribes. The constraints both upon the army and upon the government's Indian policy, causing occasional spasms of congressional or executive peacemaking efforts, were more largely those of fiscal economy than of philanthropic concern.

Similarly, the war with Spain was brief enough and inexpensive enough in casualties that it was over before the customary initial patriotic enthusiasm had dissipated. Criticisms of the war effort came afterward and concerned the conduct of the war more than the war itself. The Filipino insurrection, the name most often applied to the Filipino-American War (1899–1902), which followed from the consequences of the Spanish-American War, was more unpleasant in every sense. It raised up anew the moral outcry against American expansionism at the expense of weaker peoples, which had agitated the opponents of the Mexican War. Suppressing the insurrection was a process prolonged enough (two and one-half years for the main insurrection on Luzon alone) and costly enough in casualties that it gave play to two of the principal wellsprings of dissent in war. Furthermore, the fighting involved guerrilla warfare in a difficult tropical climate, a type of combat that the European-style American army, attuned to European-style regularized war, has consistently found distasteful since its first major exposure to it in the Seminole Wars of 1816–1818 and 1835–1842. This distaste has also been shared by the society that supports the army. The strains imposed upon the army's patience by such irregular warfare in turn provoked acts of terrorism and atrocities against the Filipinos that still further exacerbated the moral dissent at home.

Nevertheless, dissent against the suppression of the Filipino insurrection never became a major political force. The outcry against this war, like the more general anti-imperialist movement of which it was a part, was the Indian rights movement writ somewhat larger. It was a movement centering in the eastern, or at least urban, aristocratic, and upper-middle-class intellectual and literary communities, with only occasional outposts in larger constituencies, such as Samuel Gompers in the labor movement; but it had no mass support. The inclusion of distinguished literary and academic figures gave it a high visibility, disproportionate to its strength. In the later era of public opinion polls, the evidence was to suggest—and more impressionistic evidence suggests it was already true—that except during a largescale war touching numerous lives, foreign policy tends to be too remote from the concerns of most citizens and voters (again resembling the later Indian wars) for the "foreign policy public" to be very large. The opponents of imperialism and of the war in the Philippines were in this light the representatives of a schism within the elite segment of the population concerned with foreign policy that had propelled the nation into the Spanish-American War and overseas expansionism in the first place. The misgivings within that elite were severe enough to bring American territorial expansion overseas to an abrupt halt, with the elite foreign policy public in general soon reverting to its more traditional opposition to that kind of expansionism. Meanwhile, although the opposition party (still the Democrats) flirted with anti-imperialism, the party pursued at most an ambivalent course and after its Civil War experience did not again embrace outright dissent against the war. Dissent remained anything but a mass movement. Although it seemed prolonged at the time, the suppression of the major part of the Filipino insurrection within three years made the affair brief by contrast with the later Vietnam War, with the forces involved and the American casualties also much smaller.

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