- Historic Sites
Home-front antiwar sentiment soared as ever more troops were sent to fight a fierce guerilla enemy in the Philippine “Black Jack” was caught in the cross fire
August 1968 | Volume 19, Issue 5
For the rest of the night the Moro fort was shrouded in silence. When dawn filtered through the thick jungle at their backs, Pershing’s men shouted with surprise and delight. The red battle flags were gone. The Moros had decamped by water. In the torn and ripped grass before them the Americans counted twenty bodies, proof that the enemy had retreated in disarray. Traditionally the Moros were careful to retrieve their dead.
But Pershing knew better than to let anyone into the fort. As dawn brightened into day, he insisted on maintaining his lines intact. Within minutes the men saw why. Out of the ditch sprang a half dozen white-robed juramentados, their eyebrows shaved and their hair cut short. Whirling their krises above their heads, they flung themselves at the American lines, only to be met point-blank by volleys that no amount of fanaticism could survive. They toppled in their tracks, and Pershing pronounced the fort of Maciu safe to enter.
After burning as much of it as would take fire, Pershing marched his men through numerous villages along the southern shore of Lake Lanao, where he made it clear that he and not the sultan was now the man in charge. But he reiterated to all the minor datus the assurances he had given to his visitors at Camp Vicars. The Americans wanted only one thing: to see an end to cattle stealing, slave trading, and piracy. To substantiate his word, Pershing kept his men under perfect discipline. Not a Moro woman was touched, nothing was so much as “borrowed” from a native hut.
Elsewhere in the islands the war was not going as well. On Samar, a sixty-man native constabulary unit and its American commanding officer were wiped out in an ambush. Back home the anti-imperialists wrote a letter to President Roosevelt demanding the immediate withdrawal of American forces from the Philippines. When Secretary of War Elihu Root issued a report on the war, he was savagely attacked as a liar and a criminal. The anti-imperialists continued to hold protest meetings around the nation and distributed printed matter attacking government policy.
Meanwhile at Camp Vicars Pershing had another opportunity to show his good intentions. A cholera epidemic broke out in the district, and the Americans were quick to respond with medicine and medical advice. The policy paid off handsomely in good will.
At about the same time Pershing received a visit from the sultan of Bayan, a powerful local war lord, who came to talk peace. Surrounded by attendants, the sultan strutted into Vicars in his fanciest purple vest and red pants. Pershing treated him like a king. He played music for him on a phonograph, gave him an honor guard, feasted him royally, and all but drowned him in effusive flattery. The sultan responded by swearing eternal friendship and fidelity to the Americans.
“Your Honor,” said Pershing when the sultan was about to leave, “I’m going to return your compliment by visiting you.” The sultan looked dismayed, but was too proud to tell Pershing that he did not care to have American soldiers on his doorstep.
A month later, then, a heavily escorted Pershing appeared before the sultan’s imposing fort, high on a mountainside. Up the ladders, which were the only
access to the place, climbed Pershing and his men—who then raised the American flag. Coolly eyeing the sultan and his swarm of followers, with the inevitable carving knives on their hips, Pershing said: “Your Honor will, I hope, permit us to fire a salute to our flag.”
Once more the sultan could only agree, and at a nod from Pershing the gunners cut loose with twentyone blasts. They fired live ammunition into the jungle, and the Moros were properly impressed. This was Pershing’s way of making sure that the sultan’s retainers would be “courteous and friendly.” The sultan now became so enthusiastic about Pershing that he pronounced himself prepared to consecrate the Christian American chief a datu. This was truly an unprecedented honor and Pershing accepted it with utter seriousness; he knew that it would give him tremendous influence with Moros everywhere.
Back at Vicars, Pershing was soon so highly regarded by many Moros that he could write to a friend: “If I should say: ‘Go and kill this man or that,’ the next day they would appear in camp with his head.” He did not, of course, pursue such tactics; he continued to preach peace and prosperity. But only the Moros in the vicinity of Camp Vicars were inclined to listen. The sultan of Bacolod, commanding some six hundred warriors and a series of forts high on the western shore, remained a rambunctious rebel. He regularly sent nasty letters to Camp Vicars, insisting that the Americans convert to Mohammedanism, stop eating pork, and march in a body to Bacolod, where his chief priest “will practice circumcision upon you.” The sultan had truculent allies on those three sides of the big lake where the American presence was not immediate.