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The "Howling Wilderness" Courts-Martial of 1902

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Strategy research rept.

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One century after the end of the Philippine War, the consensus among scholars is that the military operations of 1899-1902 constitute the most successful counterinsurgency campaign in United States history. The American military strategy effectively combined elements of military intervention, civic action, social reform, and punitive pacification measures to defeat the guerrilla forces. However, the Armys remarkable historical record of the war is distorted by popular myth and superficial ideological interpretations surrounding the last campaign of the war---the island of Samar. Sensational public revelations of alleged atrocities in the conduct of the Samar campaign led to even more sensationalized courts-martial of American officers charged with violations of the laws of war. Reports of United States military atrocities and graphic revelations of the wars brutality during the Samar campaign courts- martial had a significant effect upon American public attitude. Charges of American cruelty influenced legislation concerning the archipelago and ultimately upon the final disposition of the islands. The abrupt end of the Philippine War in the midst of the Samar courts-martial mitigated the ultimate impact of the cases upon public support for the war. But Samar cast a pall upon the United States militarys achievement in pacifying the Philippine Islands, and the campaign to make Samar a howling wilderness is perceived as typifying the entire war. The howling wilderness courts-martial reflect themes of tension in civil-military relations and the vast influence of public opinion on overseas military adventures that are particularly relevant in a current era of uncertain humanitarian peace operations. The dynamics of the howling wilderness courts-martial also reflect the vulnerability of public opinion and support inherent in uncertain military operations aimed at nation-building.

Subject Categories:

  • Sociology and Law
  • Military Operations, Strategy and Tactics

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