The scouts, numbering about 200 “in dark brown uniforms, with caps to match”, were greeted with an odd mix of curiosity, awe, fear and condescension. “They are naturally, obedient to discipline, clean and neat in their personal habits once they get into the swing of the army, and make excellent fighters,” the Evening Star wrote, under the headline “Little Filipino Scouts Make Good Showing.”
As Vice President Charles Warren Fairbanks reviewed the troops, every Filipino scout grabbed his Krag rifle “gave it a little flick and a shake and a careful dust of the lock to clean the mechanism of the gun.” It was “as though they might want to use their carbines in earnest the next minute,” a reporter from the New York Daily Tribune wrote, watching closely this phalanx of former enemy combatants march around the U.S. capital.
Only a few years earlier, the same Krag rifle had killed about twenty thousand Filipino soldiers during the Philippine American War. Many more civilians—as many as two hundred thousand civilians, by some accounts—died from hunger and other causes during the war. In full view then at the parade that day: a showcase of military discipline, conquest, and savage defeat.
Meanwhile, a newspaper in Missouri wrote, “The Filipinos are exceedingly polite chaps, and their good-natured dispositions have made them very popular.” So popular that in St. Louis where the troops had served at the 1904 world's fair, some girls “became lovesick and deserted their homes,” according to the newspaper. The soldiers were apparently “in daily receipt…of perfumed envelopes.” “There was no organization in the great Inaugural parade that attracted more attention than the little Filipino scouts,” the Evening Star added.
As the scouts marched in front of President Roosevelt “beautifully drilled and disciplined,” Roosevelt turned to the Senator from Georgia, the impossibly named Augustus Octavius Bacon, and said, “The wretched serfs disguise their feelings admirably,” the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported. And then Roosevelt laughed—punctuating the intended sarcasm, according to other newspapers that reported his running commentary on the inaugural parade. (“They look pretty well for an oppressed people, eh senator?” Roosevelt said to Bacon, a known opponent of his policy. “How I shuddered today when I swore to protect the Constitution,” he said mockingly, as the men around them laughed, the New York Daily Tribune wrote.) Some hours later, a Filipino sergeant named Ignacio Abelino declared to the Washington Times, “President Roosevelt is a nice man—a very nice man. We all like him and we think he is our friend.” Astonishingly, he added, “We feel free under American rule.”
It is not reported what Augustus Octavius Bacon said in response to Roosevelt. Despite his imperial name, Bacon had in fact strongly opposed the U.S. acquisition of the Philippines. He introduced a “resolution declaring it to be the purpose of the United States not to permanently retain the islands, but to give to the people of those islands independence and self-government.” In some circles he was known as the “Champion of Philippine Independence.” (Nonetheless, he left behind a checkered legacy. When he died in 1914, Bacon left in trust to a city in Georgia a “whites only” park. Decades later, the Supreme Court ruled that the city could not own a segregated park.)
This stereo card brings together two identical images. More than a curious stereograph from over a hundred years ago, maybe it also brings together conflicting American impulses and the contradictions of U.S. foreign policy at the turn of the century—three-dimensional and fully on display at a presidential inauguration: colonialism and democracy, racism and inclusion, and a new world power's violence and benevolence, its imperial ambition marching alongside its desire for self-determination and freedom everywhere.
* Stereographs and stereoscopes were a popular form of entertainment for about a century starting from about the mid-1800s until “View Master” stereoscopes were invented mid-1900s. The stereoscope combines the left-eye and right-eye images into a single three-dimensional image. Here are easy instructions on how to build your own stereoscope:
Sources: Data on casualties of the Philippine American War are from Stanley Karnow, In Our Image: America’s Empire in the Philippines (New York: Ballantine Books, 1989). One source of information on the life of Augustus Octavius Bacon is a collection of congressional speeches in his honor: Augustus O. Bacon (late a Senator from Georgia): Memorial Addresses Delivered in the Senate and the House of Representatives of the United States, Sixty-third Congress, Third Session. Proceedings in the Senate December 17, 1914. Proceedings in the House February 21, 1915 (Washington: Government Printing Office, 1915). The Supreme Court case is described in National Journal, Volume 2, Part 1 (Washington: Government Research Corporation, 1970). All other sources as cited in the main text.
Erwin R. Tiongson is co-Founder and co-Director of the Philippines on the Potomac (POPDC) Project along with Titchie Carandang-Tiongson.