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USS Olympia with Dewey at Battle of Manila Bay. By Rufus Fairchild Zogbaum, 1899

At the Diplomat I discuss a recent piece by Phil Zelikow on the US decision to occupy the Philippines:

A recent article by Philip Zelikow in the new Texas National Security Review (associated with the website War on the Rocks) investigates this question through a deep dive into the deliberations of the McKinley administration. The short answer is that McKinley did not have much in the way of a well-thought out plan for seizing the Philippines, but instead did so largely out of operational dynamics associated with the presence of the U.S. Navy’s Asiatic Squadron in the region. Then, bolstered by war rhetoric, imperial advocates won the intra-administration battle for annexation, an outcome few had envisioned at the beginning of the war.

Make sure to check out the original; it dismisses some of the more pat accounts of how the United States decided on occupying the Philippines in favor of a deep dive into McKinley administration decision-making. Long story short, the US believed (accurately) that returning the archipelago to Spain would have resulted in a long, nasty colonial war, (probably accurately) that Germany or Japan would have attempted to seize the islands if they had been left independent, and (possibly accurately) that civil war would have broken out without an occupation.  The last would have made the ideal solution (independence with a US security guarantee) untenable, especially if one Philippine faction or another sought German or Japanese support.

All of this weakened the position of the colonial skeptics within the McKinley administration, while the imperialists could offer a ready solution.  The shades of later US war decisions should be clear…

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