Asymmetrical warfare, 1906
They had never been Filipinos: their identity pre-existed King Philip of Spain; their national consciousness had always been as Muslims. After the first Mohammedan missionary arrived in Sulu in 1380 parts of the island of Mindanao had constituted themselves into the Sultanate of Sulu. A succession of Europeans: the Portuguese, French, British, and Spaniards had attempted to incorporate it into their respective colonial schemes but the Muslim Malays, led by Imams who controlled ruthless kris killers, resisted implacably. When beaten on the battlefield they simply surrendered out of convenience, signed a peace treaty and disregarded it once the enemy force had left.
When the US acquired Mindanao after the beating Spain in the Spanish-American war, Americans came face to face with what came to be known as asymmetrical warfare. Here were attacks on civilians, beheadings, raids on schools. All the stuff of modern headlines. And in the pre-explosive era the ultimate weapon of Imams was the suicide bomber of the day: the juramentado. The difficulty of the campaign against the Moros is suggested by number of Medals of Honor awarded to the regular US Army (not the Constabulary): five MOHs were awarded in 1911 alone for actions on or near the island of Basilan. But reading Victor Hurley's the Jungle Patrol is the best way to get a sense of that long-ago campaign. It largely describes the experience of the Philippine Constabulary, a unit of Filipino enlisted men with American embeds, a creature that would be instantly familiar to men in Iraq. Reading the Jungle Patrol is an exercise in deja vu. If you can imagine a Chinese trader on a boat in place of an expatriate Sri Lankan truck driver in Iraq this scene of murder will be instantly familiar.
The night of November 1, 1907, a Chinese trader named Tao Tila had the dubious distinction of being the first recorded victim of Jikiri. The Chinese was sailing a vinta along the coast of the island of Jolo, engaged in trade with the Moros. Off the coast of Lumapid, in the blackness of night, a swift sailing boat sped out of the dark, and a voice aboard the Malay privateer called in the Sulu tongue, "Kill them." A moment later the pirate ship was alongside, and the crew of the Chinese boat were stricken with krises before they could rise from their benches.
Or if you've been in an expatriate worker's compound relaxing after a hard week of work you can imagine the scene of what would today be called a terrorist attack.
They entered the camp and approached Case, offering to purchase a vinta (sailboat). Case replied that they had no boats to sell, and the Moros withdrew. At five o'clock the raid began. The seven Moros deployed about the camp. On signal, one of the bandits entered the store where Mrs. Case was arranging the stock and asked for cigarettes. As the woman turned to the shelves she heard Verment scream outside and, looking through the window, saw the logger go down before the blades of two Moros. ... As Verment lay dying outside the store, Case was set upon by two other Moros, who severed his head with a stroke. The wife of the dead Verment received a ghastly kris wound that laid open her back from shoulder to hip.
The suicide bomber had his direct precusor in the Juramentado. Here's a turn of the century convoy going down an apparently secure street.
Lieutenant Rodney, an officer of the 2nd Cavalry, had gone for a Sunday afternoon walk with his small daughter. Walking unarmed on the Jolo-Asturias road, Rodney had been preceding a seaman named Steel and two other sailors from the Quiros by a few steps. Before the sailors could draw their weapons, a Moro burst suddenly into view, hacking with a barong and killing Rodney instantly. A guard leaped from a sentry post as the sailors began to fire their revolvers, and blew the Moro's brains out with a shotgun.
The Mohammedans of the Philippines had originated a unique and deadly method of individual fighting that was a degenerate offshoot of the principle of the jihad, or Holy War, that is specified by the Koran ... According to the Moro belief, it was within the power of one man, and his kris, to break in a stride from the miserable nipa shacks of the Sulu shores to the scented gardens of Paradise where the houris waited. For the Koran offers great reward for the slain in battle.
One example of the tremendous power of fanatical motivation is provided by this account. It calls to mind the numerous descriptions of VBIEDs shrugging off bullets as it barrels towards its target.
Lieutenant Ellsey of the Constabulary was sent into the hills to serve warrant on a Moro named Usap for stealing carabao. He had anticipated no particular trouble, and carried with him a small patrol of six men. He found his man standing in the door of the usual Moro shack, with a ladder leading up to the door. The Moro glowered down at the small patrol as Ellsey served his warrant. His expression did not change as he turned to get his turban for the trip. But Ellsey felt that all was not well. He circled the shack and saw Usap reach under a mat and draw forth a barong. The Constabulary Lieutenant raised his rifle and drilled the Moro through his head. As Usap dropped, two other Moros leaped from the room. The waiting patrol dropped them in mid-air. They were dead when they hit the ground. The patrol then mounted the ladder and captured three additional Moros who had not yet worked themselves into the amuck stage.
While they were tying these prisoners beneath the house, a Moro in a near-by field was plowing rice with a carabao. They heard him shout as he leaped to attack with a barong. "Timbuck aco," he was shouting; "shoot me." He came with long bounding strides, headed straight for the waiting patrol. Four of the soldiers opened fire on the advancing Moro in support of Lieutenant Ellsey. A stream of hot lead poured into his body, but the Moro never faltered. He came nearer, slower now, but still on his feet. The barong was upraised as he headed for Lieutenant Ellsey. Ellsey fired his last shot, and the Moro still came. Ten feet from the officer a Krag bullet thudded into the amuck's spine. His legs gave away. As he fell, he hurled his barong before he died. The patrol stripped the dead man and turned him over. Twelve bullet holes were in his body. Ellsey had escaped decapitation by only ten feet.
Juramentados could operate in tactical teams. This account of US Cavalry unit at Camp Severs in Jolo describes what it was like to be under a sustained juramentado attack.
The camp itself was a large rectangle, completely enclosed with wire. The line of company tents were about ten feet inside the wire on each side. Inside the line of tents were the saddle racks and the picket lines of horses. The fence was seven feet high, with ten wires, making the strands about eight inches apart. Every twenty feet along the top of the fence, was a Dietz lantern with reflector to light up the high grass outside for several yards. The firing trench just inside was. banked up and ready for business. In a few seconds after an alarm by the sentries, the men could be out of their tents and ready to meet an attack. We felt secure. ...
It was in the night that I came out of a deep sleep feeling that a shot had awakened me. Then there were two shots and a cry: 'MOROS . . . MOROS.' Then a whole barrage of shots. I reached for my riot gun. It was gone! So was Lieutenant Crites. Snatching my .45 from beneath my pillow, I tore aside the mosquito-net canopy and ran out of the tent. Dark figures were coming up to the fence on the run. The firing was general. ...
A big cavalryman charged out of a tent just ahead of me with a riot gun. He poked the gun within a foot of the running figure ahead of me and blasted. The man swerved and stumbled on. 'My God,' I wanted to shout, 'stop shooting at our own men.' Then I brought up suddenly. Powder smoke filled my nostrils and I was looking down the barrel of that same riot gun. The big soldier was about to let go again. Some kind of a squealing voice came out of me: 'Hey . . . it's me . . . it's me'... I would never have recognized it as my voice. ...Then all firing ceased as the men went at it in a furious bayonet to barong duel that was a fight to the finish. At the nearest cavalry tent a white soldier rolled out under the wall, rifle in hand. Before he could stand up a Moro was upon him. Another soldier crawled out and the Moro leaped to him. My Corporal Batiokan ran up to crush the Moro's skull with a rifle butt. Blood was squirting from two great gashes in the cavalrymen's back. Soldiers came running to carry away the wounded man. Their uniforms were red with blood. ... One of the men was past medical aid. He had been chopped to ribbons, with arms and legs severed and lying apart from his body. ...
Seven of the eight juramentados who had made the attack had succeeded in getting through the wire in the face of the fire. One lay dead outside the wire and seven were stretched out in the enclosure when morning came and we made inspection. The hospital was lined with terribly wounded men, slashed with barongs, and we were forced to kill many of the slashed horses who had been in the path of the charging Moros. The juramentados who had plunged through the wire in a desperate dive had left skin and clothes on the wire. They were horribly torn from head to foot by the long barbs. They were riddled with bullets, and many had heads bashed in and bayonet stabs. They lay there, with glittering eyeballs and bared black teeth. Their heads were shaven and their eyebrows were a thin line of hair.
Then the US Army did something the Spaniards had not been able to accomplish in three hundred years. It seized tactical control over the entire area of Mindanao, including the hinterlands, using combined American-Filipino teams whose exploits were almost unbelievable. Here's one example:
[Captain Elarth] was ... investigating a report of Moro organization, and he came into contact with a thousand tribesmen, armed and ready for action. ... He called for a parley with the headmen; and the Constabulary--ten men and the Captain--sat down on the summit of a hill, surrounded by the hillmen. Three Moros on the edge of the crowd began to mutter and the headmen rose from the ground and began to draw away. Then the trio of frenzied fanatics drew their weapons and rushed the Constabulary Captain. The Constabulary took refuge in a rally formation, with fixed bayonets. The leading Moro was almost upon them before Elarth could draw his pistol. "Pot-i-na" (Die now): the voice of the Moro was a scream as he hurled himself upon the Captain. At the same instant the hillmen released a shower of spears.
Elarth dropped the first two Moros with skull shots from his pistol, but there was no time to stop the third, who was armed with a spear. There was a movement behind the doomed Captain, and Sergeant Alvarez leaped forward to take the spear in his chest. Too late to save his Sergeant, Elarth blew the Moro's head away with a .45 calibre bullet. Had the long-haired hillmen supported the three Moro leaders as they charged, the entire detachment would have been wiped out with the loss of eleven rifles. But the hillmen contented themselves with showers of spears before they melted into the jungle. Left on the field were eight dead Constabulary bodies bristling with spears. Elarth, with his two surviving men, jerked the bolts from the dead men's rifles and plunged into the deep bush. All day and all night they marched, to return safely to the Constabulary post. Elarth had ably upheld that old fighting tradition of the Corps: "To be outnumbered always; to be outfought, never."
The sort of men capable of defeating the Moros were pretty rough. Take Oscar Preuss.
At 4:30 in the afternoon he began on a quart of Gordon's Gin--at midnight it was finished and Preuss was deadly sober. He was ... almost too rough for Mindanao. His career had included a term as a Sergeant in the German Lancers during the Boxer Rebellion in China. He had then crossed to East Africa as a Lieutenant of Infantry. Various South and Central American revolutions saw him in action, and he had ridden for Uncle Sam as a cavalryman.
He made few military mistakes. One of them had been the time he disarmed a Moro and neglected to search the natives' hair for a dagger. He bashed out the Mohammedan's brains when the knife flashed into view, but not before the Moro had slashed the cheek of Preuss and pierced the roof of his mouth.
They say he was called to Manila to justify his ruthless slaughter in Mindanao. A Colonel of the Board of Inquiry questioned him, "Captain Preuss, it is said that you, personally, have killed 250 Moros. What is your statement, sir, to that report?" Preuss drew himself up, and officers say his tone was placid and yet discontented: "The report is in error, Colonel; my count places the total at 265." In 1911 Preuss won a Medal of Valor at Mailog Cotta in Lanao. He was then a First Lieutenant of Constabulary, with four years' service. It was his sixth or seventh war, though Preuss was then but thirty-three.
Another officer of almost demented courage was Leonard Furlong, who the Moros feared as an almost unearthly being. Furlong actually led a unit of Christian/Moro constabulary men that would go anywhere, any time to take on anybody. One example of his exploits is given below.
Furlong arrived at Bugasan at daylight on the morning of July 9. He had but six rifles in his party. He called to the inhabitants of the house to surrender, and found, not a few Moros, but a gang of 100 armed bandits who surrounded his small force. In one of the most dramatic hand-to-hand combats of the period, Furlong personally killed six of the Moros, and extricated his men without injury to his force. He personally broke a passage through a wall of krismen as point of that compact group of soldiers who battled hand to hand with the odds ten to one against them. ... One of the most striking examples of Furlong's policing activities was his extermination of Kali Pandopatan, the Sultan of Buldung. The Kali had been playing double with the American government, and Furlong, with a dozen Constabulary, had gone to the cotta of the Kali for a conference. Once inside the cotta, he was set upon by more than 400 Moros, armed with barongs. Furlong backed his party into an angle of the walls and was in possession of the field after a terrible hour of slaughter. ...
Perhaps one of Furlong's most characteristic gestures was throwing his hat into the Moro forts he was preparing to assault and wagering that he could get to it before any of his men. It is said Furlong never lost a single one of those bets. In 1911 he was sent to Manila because his superiors feared that he was losing his mind. Furlong shot himself in his quarters.
Twenty years after the campaigns Victor Hurley sat among a group of Moros while gathering material for his book and tells this anecdote.
Twenty years after Furlong had fired his last shot, this writer stood with wrinkled and ancient Moros on the sites of some of the Cotabato battles of this Captain of Constabulary. We talked, the Moros and I, of those old days of murder and piracy and ambush, when the kris had been the law and the measure of a man. The Moros are always ready to talk of battle.
These scarred old reprobates with blackened teeth and betel-stained lips, were no exception. Our conversation that day was filled with grand names: Allan Fletcher of the Scouts, called "Papa" by Moro and Filipino and American--a grand campaigner; Lieutenant Whitney of the prodigious strength gained a shuffle of bare feet and the twitch of a turban; then we talked of a Lieutenant named Cochrun--"a brave man, si," was his accolade; a youngster's name came into the conversation--Jesse Tiffany. The Moros fought him on their cotta walls. He, too, was valiant--a nod of the turbans confirmed him with the greatest praise a Moro can bestow on a man.
But when I mentioned Furlong, a glisten came into the eyes of ancient Moros who talk of redder and grander days. They sent up the most impressive salute to Valhalla that I can ever hope to witness. I see them now as I write--a circle of genial old ruffians, almost ready themselves to mount a white horse to Paradise. Their turbans are off now and their chins at rest on their scarred and brawny chests. After twenty years, they bend a neck to the memory of Leonard Furlong--"most desperate fighting man of all."
Sixty years later, in the 1990s, an incident occurred which reminded me vividly of Hurley's story. I was sitting with a well known Muslim warlord on the island of Basilan whose improbable first name was "Pershing". I asked the warlord why his father should name him after General Blackjack Pershing, of all people, when Pershing was known to have crushed the Moros in the campaigns that Hurley described. The warlord turned to me and said, "my father wanted to name me after the greatest warrior he could think of. And that was Pershing." Some things will never change; and one of those is that even in the sight of Allah there is no respect for the craven.
From a purely historical point of view, I think some of Hurley's translations of native speech leave something to be desired. For example, I think 'Pot-I-Na' means rather something else than what he thinks, though doubtless equally pejorative. My guess is that it may be some form of "patyun" which in this context means "die". It also sounds like "you S.O.B.", in dialect, yelled from a distance. Maybe some scholar will clear it up.