Mar 022013

What happened at Bud Dajo A forgotten massacre–and its lessons

On March 7, 1906, US troops under the command of Major General Leonard Wood massacred as many as 1,000 Filipino Muslims, known as Moros, who were taking refuge at Bud Dajo, a volcanic crater on the island of Jolo in the southern Philippines. Above, US soldiers pose for the camera in the aftermath of the massacre. (Photo from The National Archive)


By Andrew J. Bacevich

The Boston Globe

March 12, 2006


ONE HUNDRED YEARS ago this past week, on March 7, 1906, the American military’s first sustained incursion into the Islamic world reached a climax of sorts. At Bud Dajo, on an island in the southern Philippines, US troops massacred as many as a thousand Filipino Muslims.

In the conventional narrative of America’s rise to greatness, Bud Dajo hardly qualifies for a footnote. Yet the events that occurred there a century ago deserve their own chapter. For those hankering today to use American power to transform the world of Islam, Bud Dajo offers a cautionary tale.

The US troops had arrived on a mission of liberation, promising to uplift the oppressed. But the subjects of American beneficence, holding views of their own, proved recalcitrant. Doing good required first that the liberators pacify resistance and establish order. Before it was over, the Americans’ honor had been lost, and uplift had given way to savagery.

Although it had seized the Philippines in 1898 during the course of its war with Spain, the United States made little immediate attempt to impose its authority over the Muslim minority â•„ known as Moros â•„ concentrated in the southern reaches of the archipelago. Under the terms of the 1899 Bates Agreement, American colonial administrators had promised the Moros autonomy in return for acknowledging nominal US sovereignty.

But after the US suppressed the so-called Philippine Insurrection of 1899-1902, during which US forces defeated Filipino nationalists led by Emilio Aguinaldo, authorities in Manila turned their attention to the Moros. In 1903, they abrogated the Bates Agreement and ordered Major General Leonard Wood to assert unambiguous jurisdiction over what the Americans were now calling the Moro Province.

The imperious Wood, President Theodore Roosevelt’s favorite general, viewed his new charges as ”nothing more nor less than an unimportant collection of pirates and highwaymen.” He did not bother to disguise his intentions: The Moros would either submit or suffer harsh consequences. As one of Wood’s subordinates noted approvingly, ”We are going after Mr. Moro with a rough hand, we are holding him up to all the high ideals of civilization.”

A rough hand it proved to be. Personally offended by the Moro propensity for blood feuds, polygamy, and human trafficking, Wood set out to render Moro culture compatible with prevailing Western values. Doing so meant first creating a new political order. Certain that a generous dose of American firepower would make the Moros amenable to his program of reform, he arrived at his new headquarters in Zamboanga hankering for a fight. As he assured the president, ”one clean-cut lesson will be quite sufficient for them.”

Wood miscalculated. Neither one, nor a dozen, nor several dozen such lessons did the trick. His efforts to root out offending Moro customs â•„ issuing edicts that declared ancient Moro practices illegal, demanding that Moro tribal chiefs profess their fealty to Washington, and visiting reprisals on those who refused-triggered a fierce backlash.

An ugly war ensued, pitting poorly armed Moro warriors against seasoned US Army regulars. The Moro weapon of choice was the kris, a short sword with a wavy blade; the Americans toted Springfield rifles and field guns. As in present-day Iraq, the Americans never lost an engagement. Yet even as they demolished one Moro stronghold after another and wracked up an impressive body count, the fighting persisted. The Moros remained incorrigible.

At Bud Dajo, a volcanic crater on the island of Jolo, things came to a head. In late 1905, hundreds of Moros â•„ determined to avoid paying a US-imposed head tax, which they considered blasphemous â•„ began taking refuge on the peak.

Refusing orders to disperse, they posed, at least in the eyes of nervous American officials, an intolerable threat. In ”open defiance of the American authority,” the district governor on Jolo complained, the Moros of Bud Dajo were setting themselves up as ”patriots and semi-liberators.” These would-be revolutionaries had to be crushed. So Wood dispatched several battalions of infantry to Bud Dajo with orders to ”clean it up.”

On March 5, 1906, the reinforcements arrived and laid siege to the heights. The next day, they began shelling the crater with artillery. At daybreak on March 7, the final assault commenced, the Americans working deliberately along the rim of the crater and firing into the pit. Periodically, ”a rush of shrieking men and women would come cutting the air and dash amongst the soldiers like mad dogs,” one eyewitness reported, but the results were foreordained. When the action finally ended some 24 hours later, the extermination of the Bud Dajo Moros had been accomplished. Among the dead lay several hundred women and children.

Differing in scope but not in character from countless prior ”battles,” the incident at Bud Dajo would have gone entirely unnoticed had word of it not leaked to the press.

When reports of the slaughter reached Washington, a minor flap ensued. Indignant members of Congress-chiefly Democrats hoping to embarrass the Republican Roosevelt-demanded an explanation. Perhaps predictably, an official inquiry found the conduct of US troops beyond reproach. When the War Department cleared Wood of any wrongdoing, the scandal faded as quickly as it had begun. For his part, Wood remained chillingly unrepentant. ”Work of this kind,” he wrote privately to Roosevelt, ”has its disagreeable side, which is the unavoidable killing of women and children; but it must be done.” The president concurred.

And yet the bloodletting at Bud Dajo accomplished next to nothing. The nameless dead were soon forgotten. Wood moved onward and upward, soon thereafter becoming Army chief of staff and eventually returning to the Philippines as governor-general. The American self-image as upholder of civilization’s high ideals emerged a bit the worse for wear, but still intact, at least as far as most Americans were concerned.

In the Moro Province, the US campaign of pacification ground on, lasting several more years. Other atrocities followed. In short order, the incident at Bud Dajo and soon thereafter the entire American encounter with the Moros slipped down the hole of vanished memories, eclipsed by other, bigger, less ambiguous wars.

With the United States engaged today in an ambitious effort to transform large swathes of the Muslim world, the campaign against the Moros warns against the dangers of misreading the subjects of one’s kindly intentions. Viewing the Moros as weak and malleable, Wood underestimated their determination and capacity to resist. This history also reminds us of how easily righteousness can kindle contempt. Wood’s soldiers saw themselves as bearers of civilization; but when their exertions met with hostility rather than gratitude, they came to see the Moros as beyond saving and hence as disposable.

Above all, however, the results of the campaign to pacify the Moros suggest that pacifying Afghans or Iraqis or others in the Muslim world today will require extraordinary persistence. The Moros never did submit. A full century after Leonard Wood confidently predicted that ”one clean-cut lesson” would bring the Moros to heel, their resistance to outside rule continues: The present-day Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), classified by the Bush administration as an al-Qaeda affiliate, carries on the fight for Moro independence.

For advocates of today’s ”long war,” eager to confer on Muslims everywhere the blessings of freedom and democracy, while preserving the honor of the US military, the sheer doggedness of Moro resistance ought to give pause.

Andrew J. Bacevich is a professor of international relations at Boston University.

© Copyright 2006 Globe Newspaper Company.


TELLTALE SIGNS Rodel Rodis Philippine News March 6, 2006

Hanging on the mantle above the fireplace in the Berkeley home of Tom and Yolanda Stern is an oil painting of a battle between American soldiers and the Filipino Moros of Sulu in what was hailed then as a major US military victory. The battle was in Bud Dajo and it occurred 100 years ago this week.

The Moros of Sulu are called Tausug , people (“tau”) of the current (“sug”), and for 300 years they had successfully resisted all attempts by Spain to conquer them and include them as part of its colonial empire in the Philippines. But could they resist the US?

In 1899, after the Filipino American War broke out, US troops were dispatched to Jolo to take over the Spanish fort there. According to the commanding general of the US forces in the Philippines, Gen. Elwell Otis, it would take only 600 US troops to take Jolo but 2,000 to take Zamboanga, which had been taken over by the Filipino revolutionary forces.

Upon arriving in Jolo, the commander of the US troops informed Jamalul Kiram II, the Sultan of Sulu, that the U.S. had assumed ownership over Spain’s assets as a result of the Treaty of Paris and asked the Sultan to recognize the U.S. in the place of Spain. The Sultan refused to accept US sovereignty but was fearful of war with the US.

The Sultan negotiated with Gen. John Bates and signed what became known as the Bates Treaty in 1899. In the Tausug translation of the treaty, the US would provide aid and support to the Sultan of Sulu in the form of monthly payments. However, in the English version, the Sultan specifically recognized US “sovereignty” over the Sulu Sultanate.

With this treaty in place, the US did not need to worry about the Moros in Mindanao and could concentrate its troops in suppressing the revolutionary forces in Luzon and in the Visayas.

When the US completed its conquest of Luzon and Visayas, it unilaterally abrogated the Bates Treaty on March 2, 1904.

As Gen. Bates would later admit: “The Treaty was made at a time when nearly all the state volunteers had been sent home and other troops had not arrived to take their places. It was a critical time, as all the troops were needed in Luzon. The Government could not afford to stir up trouble with the Moros. The Treaty was made as a temporary expedient to avoid trouble. It has served its purpose for three years, and there is now no reason why the treaty which was but a temporary measure at a critical time, should not be changed in accordance with the conditions.”

The US was now ready to concentrate its forces on the Moro Campaigns which would be led by General John “Black Jack” Pershing. A veteran of the Indian Wars, Pershing applied to his new task a variant of his anti-Indian slogan: “The only good Moro is a dead Moro!”

The US Governor in Jolo had ordered each Moro to pay 2 pesos a head as tax. The Tausug Moros resisted this order insisting that they were not under US sovereignty and that they were already paying taxes to the Sultan of Sulu. Many of those who resisted holed up in the crater of Mt. Bud Dajo, an extinct volcano located about 6 miles from Jolo. On March 5, 1906, the US sent its troops to hunt down the Tausugs who fled to Bud Dajo.

Vic Hurley, a US businessman who lived in Mindanao, interviewed Moros about Bud Dajo and wrote a book about Moros in 1936. In perhaps the definitive account of the battle that occurred 100 years ago, Hurley wrote:

“A large band of Moros fortified Bud Dajo and defied the authorities to subject them to any law. The American garrison at Jolo was reinforced by the addition of two battalions of infantry and preparations were made for a decisive assault on the Moros.

“The battle began on March 5. Mountain guns were hauled into position and forty rounds of shrapnel were fired into the crater to warn the Moros to remove their women and children.

“Three columns of American troops moved up Bud Dajo from different sides and encountered fierce resistance from barricades blocking the approach to the crater. When overwhelmed with heavy bombardment and sniper fire, the Moros ‘sallied forth into the open with kris and spear.’ On the second day, in the approach taken by a certain Major Bundy, ‘(t)wo hundred Mohammedans died here before the quick-firing guns and the rifles of the attackers.’

On the third day, after the heavy bombardment had accomplished its purpose, the American troops charged the crater with fixed bayonets. The few Moros left alive made hand grenades from sea shells filled with black powder and fought desperately to stem the charge.

“But the straggling krismen were no match for the tide of bayonets that overwhelmed them and hardly a man survived that last bloody assault.

“After the engagement, the crater was a shambles. Moros were piled five deep in the trenches where they had been mowed down by the artillery and rifle fire. The American attack had been supported by two quick firing guns from the gunboat Pampanga and examination of the dead showed that many of the Moros had as many as fifty wounds. Of the 1,000 Moros who opened the battle two days previously, only six men survived the carnage.”

Hurley concluded: “By no stretch of the imagination could Bud Dajo be termed a ‘battle.’ Certainly the engaging of 1,000 Moros armed with krises, spears and a few rifles by a force of 800 Americans armed with every modern weapon was not a matter for publicity. The American troops stormed a high mountain peak crowned by fortifications to kill 1000 Moros with a loss to themselves of twenty one killed and seventy three wounded! The casualty reflects the unequal nature of the battle.”

When news of the March 7, 1906 Bud Dajo Massacre reached the US, author Mark Twain surmised about President Teddy Roosevelt’s reaction to the news: “He knew perfectly well that to pen nine hundred helpless and weaponless savages in a hole like rats in a trap and massacre them in detail from a safe position on the heights above, was no brilliant feat of arms – and would not have been a brilliant feat of arms even if Christian America, represented by its salaried soldiers, had shot them down with Bibles and the Golden Rule, instead of bullets. He knew perfectly well that our uniformed assassins had not upheld the honor of the American flag, they had dishonored it.”

Moorfield Storey, the first president of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), condemned the massacre and declared: “The spirit which slaughters brown men in Jolo is the spirit which lynches black men in the South.”

Many people believed at the time that the Bud Dajo Massacre would never be forgotten. Apparently, they were wrong.

Only one event in the US is scheduled to mark the centennial of this event. It will be held at the Veterans War Memorial in San Francisco at 400 Van Ness Avenue on Sunday, March 12, 2006 at 3 PM, co-sponsored by Bataan Post of the American Legion and the Dewey Memorial Revision Plaque Committee. Ironically or fittingly, it will be held next door to the museum which houses the Gen. Pershing Exhibit featuring the guns, cannons, bayonets and swords used in the Moro Campaigns. The public is invited. #

Send comments to


The date posted here is due to our website rebuild, it does not reflect the original date this article was posted. This article was originally posted in Yonip on March 20th 2006


To view more articles in this category click on the Image.



Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.