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Funston Captures Aguinaldo
In the wily, elusive leader of the Philippine Insurrection a bedeviled Uncle Sam almost met his match.
February 1958 | Volume 9, Issue 2
Still Aguinaldo did not surmise what had happened. Thinking that his men had fired a volley in honor of the new arrivals, he rushed to the window to order them to save their ammunition. As he did, Placido threw his arms about the dictator’s waist and wrestled him to the ground, while Segovia dashed back into the room from the balcony where he had given the signal. Aguinaldo’s officers began to recover from their shock and were drawing their side arms, when Segovia let fly with the six cartridges in his own revolver. He hit and downed two of the rebels; the rest surrendered or leaped out the windows and made for the river, where they escaped by swimming.
The rattle of rifle fire ended as swiftly as it had begun. Funston had reached the river just as the shooting commenced and crossed quickly. His timely intervention spared the lives of some of Aguinaldo’s men who otherwise might have been killed by the aroused Macabebes. Inside the headquarters building Funston found the rebel commander helplessly pinned to the floor with the rotund Placido astride his back. It was only then that Aguinaldo realized what had happened and meekly surrendered.
The expedition was over, and Funston’s men relaxed and dined luxuriously on the food left behind by the villagers, all of whom had fled to the hills at the first shot. On the morning of March 25, the party headed for Palanan Bay and the rendezvous with the Vicksburg.
On the way back to Manila Aguinaldo realized that the Americans intended him no violence, and he spoke to Funston quite frankly, admitting that he had been completely deceived by the letters. Within a few weeks he issued a proclamation from Manila urging his followers to lay down their arms and accept terms from the Americans. Except for a few pockets of resistance, the rebellion seemed broken.
General MacArthur recommended Funston for a general’s star in the Regular Army. The hero was feted and lionized for his daring actions. Suddenly, however, it became evident that the approbation was not universal. In Washington a spirited debate broke out in the Senate over the confirmation of his new commission.
After considerable delay Funston’s commission was confirmed in December 1901, and on January 9, 1902, he returned to America. But he was still the center of a violent controversy. Some anti-imperialists criticized anything or anyone connected with the American intervention in the Philippines. Others were genuinely shocked at the tactics Funston had used to capture Aguinaldo. He had, they charged, forged communications, clothed his men in enemy uniforms, accepted food from the man he planned to capture and gained admission to his stronghold by deception, and fired upon the guards without warning. All these constituted a damning indictment.
Never one to duck a fight, Funston countered with a speech in New York before the Lotos Club. He defended the Army and imperialism, and claimed that American lives were being lost because “misinformed and misguided” people at home were encouraging Filipino resistance.
When he went so far as to endorse hanging for critics of the war, Funston opened a breach between himself and his opponents that could not be closed. In the Senate Thomas M. Patterson of Colorado and Edward W. Carmack of Tennessee blistered him as “a Jayhawker Brigadier from the windswept plains, the mightiest Samson that ever wielded the jawbone of an ass as the weapon of war.” Funston’s violent diatribes against the senators proved embarrassing to the Administration, and on April 22, 1902, President Theodore Roosevelt ordered him to keep silent.
The controversy died down in time, and in 1906, when Funston commanded the troops in San Francisco after the great earthquake, he was universally praised as the man who saved that city from complete disaster.
Funston neither forgot nor forgave his critics, however, and some years later, while again stationed in the now-pacified Philippines, he remembered those who had criticized him for accepting food before capturing his benefactor. “I would be very much interested in seeing the results of a surgical operation performed on the skull of [such] a man,” he wrote.
He reflected a moment longer on what such an operation would reveal, and then with his ever-sharp pen he wrote his answer: “Sweetbreads.”