By Henry Cuningham
More than a century before the United States fought in Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. forces faced an elusive enemy with unfamiliar languages and customs in the Philippines. The insurgents used booby traps instead of homemade bombs. U.S. troops poured water down the insurgents' throats to make them divulge information.
Here are excerpts from a conversation with the author:
Q: How does your book speak to today's military?
Wars of conquest are very difficult. It can be very easy to underestimate the ferocity with which people with nationalistic aspirations will fight and tactics they will use and the lengths (to which) they will go to pursue their cause.
Guerrilla wars are even harder to fight.
I do think that the American people need to have an understanding going in that these kinds of wars are going to be long and hard and difficult. On the military side of the equation, I think that understanding is there. I think it is more a political problem of communicating that to people outside the military and then selling that politically. It was difficult in 1900, and it's difficult today.
Q: Easy to get into and then hard to get out of?
Absolutely. I'm always struck by the way the themes of history ... can repeat themselves. In the case of the Philippines, the initial intelligence that was coming in from our diplomat on the scene was that the Americans would be welcomed as liberators. (Maj.) Gen. (Elwell Stephen) Otis in the Philippines communicated the idea that "we've got more than enough troops." He was trying to please his bosses back in the U.S., didn't want to be seen as asking for more. As a result, U.S. forces on the ground in the Philippines found themselves in a difficult war without adequate troop levels.
In the Philippines in the early 1900s and post 9/11, U.S. forces fell back on harsh tactics against insurgents.
The temptation to take shortcuts is great. It was great in the Philippines, 1899 to 1902. It was great for the British in the Boer War, going on around the same time, for the French in Algeria.