Review of Brian M. Linn’s The Philippine War, 1899-1902


Brian M. Linn in his book The Philippine War, 1899-1902 develops a solid foundation for understanding the United States’ military operations in the Philippine Archipelago.[1]  Professor Linn argues in his book that the Philippine War has often been misrepresented as an intentional brutal war of occupation yet was actually accidental anda far more nuanced affair created in part by a lack of clear U.S. policy, a complex environment, and lack of popular support for either the Philippine resistance fighters or the United States.

Linn, a professor of history at Texas A&M University, develops a solid narrative of events in the Philippine backed by extensive research and scholarship.  Linn has written two other books on the focus on the military history of the Philippine’s including Guardians of Empire and The U.S. Army and Counterinsurgency in the Philippine War and his command of the subject and literature shows.[2]   Linn mainly focuses, as he clearly states in his introduction, on US operations and perceptions of events during the conflict.  While he does make some attempt to balance his narrative with Filipino sources and perceptions.  Some of the more interesting sections of the book, such as his discussion of the Battle of Manila, clearly advance his argument that numerous forces help drive both the U.S. and Filipino resistance forces led by General Emilio Aguinaldo into conflict  but that the United States often sot to avoid or deescalate conflict.  One example, of many, that he provides is how Colonel John M. Stotesenburg’s ordered to his men, in the face of provocations and encroachment on their lines, to hold their positions and only fire if “fired upon.”[3]    Yet Linn also delves, although perhaps not enough, into the rather common brutality displayed by some U.S. forces to Filipino’s including innocent civilians.[4]  Linn attempts to contextualize these actions by describing the frustrations that US forces felt when trying to come to grips with a tenacious resistance.[5]

Linn makes a strong case that the U.S. one not due to its military prowess but the inability of the Filipino guerillas to develop a strong partisan resistance.  Indeed Linn often points to the infighting, nepotism, and competing agendas for the Filipino’s in ability to provide stronger resistance to the US forces.[6]   Another interesting point that Linn makes is that while Filipino guerillas use of force against locals to keep them from cooperating with the U.S. was perhaps less extreme than that applied by the U.S., to keep locals from working with the guerillas, it was the United States’ ability to offer rewards in the form of jobs, civil positions, contracts, and security that gained greater support of the local people for the U.S.[7]

Linn’s book provides no nonsense look at U.S. military operations in the Philippines and Linn makes a solid argument that events often ended up driving the conflict not specific policy.  Linn also provides strong support for more competent U.S. military than often portrayed but this is often overshadowed by the viciousness of eventual U.S. success which reminds the reader of how even small wars often turn into bloody drawn out affairs and in the case of the Philippines it could be argued they continue to this day.

[1] Brian M. Linn,  The Philippine War: 1899-1902 (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2000).

[2] Brian M. Linn, Guardians of Empire: The U.S. Army and the Pacific, 1902-1940 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997).  Brian M. Linn, The U.S. Army and Counterinsurgency in the Philippine War, 1899-1902 (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000).

[3] Linn, The Philippine War, 45.

[4] Ibid, 59.

[5] Ibid, 221.

[6] Ibid, 70-71.

[7] Ibid, 324

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1 Response to Review of Brian M. Linn’s The Philippine War, 1899-1902

  1. Elephant says:

    I was reading about this war today – so terrible and confusing. I will look into this book!
    Thanks for an interesting post!

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