S. Martin Shelton

Retired U.S.Navy Captain, Novelist

BOOK REVIEW: A War of Frontier and Empire: The Philippine-American War, 1899-1902 by David J. Silbey

a war of frontierSilbey tells an intriguing and detailed tale of one of America’s little known and critically important conflicts that led to our acquisition of Guam, The Philippines, and Puerto Rico and other islands in the Caribbean. His writing style is engaging and engenders empathy for the aficionado. We easily follow the campaign through the mountains and plains of Luzon, jungles of Mindanao, and the numerous islands of the archipelago. I fault Silbey for not providing sufficient and more detailed maps.

During the Cuban insurrection of 1897 against the brutal Spanish occupation, riots in Havana threatened American property. President William McKinley chided Spain to release its control of the island.

In February 1898, McKinley sent the battleship USS Maine to Havana Bay to protect American property and interest. On 15 February, an explosion of unknown origin sank the Maine killing 260 of its crew. No responsibility was ever proven.

William Randolph Hurst was the publisher of the New York Journal and twenty-nine other newspapers. His headlines screamed “This Means War.”

And, so it was. Spain’s brutal suppression of the Cuban rebellion, continued losses to American investment, and in large measure on Hurst’s continuous rabblerousing led McKinley to declare war against Spain in April 1898.

Commodore George Dewey, USN led the American Asiatic Squadron into Manila Bay and engaged the Spanish Pacific Squadron. After a five-hour battle, the Spanish Squadron destroyed, and they struck their colors. The War ended on 10 December 1898.

The guerrilla leader, Emilio Aguinaldo, had expected the United States to grant immediate independence with him as the head of state. Instead, President McKinley decided to occupy the Philippines to establish our presence in the western Pacific. Aguinaldo marshaled his forces and fought several set battles with the American army. Defeated in all battles, he retreated across the Luzon Peninsula and was finally captured in March 1901 near Palanan. Sporadic guerrilla war continued until December 1902.


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