Lawless Wars of Empire? The International Law of War in the Philippines, 1898–1903

Academic Article


  • Writing for his fellow military officers in early 1903, United States Army Major C.J. Crane reflected on the recent Philippine–American War. The bloody struggle to suppress an insurgency in the Philippines after the United States had annexed them from Spain in 1899 had officially concluded the previous July. The war had been accompanied by fierce racist sentiments among Americans, and in keeping with these, Crane described his foes as “the most treacherous people in the world.” But Crane's discussion drew as much on concepts of law as it did on race. The average American officer, Crane argued, had “remembered all the time that he was struggling with an enemy who was not entitled to the privileges usually granted prisoners of war,” and could be summarily executed, without benefit of “court-martial or other regular tribunal.” If anything, the Americans had been too generous. “Many [American] participants in the struggle,” he maintained, “have failed to fully understand that we were practically fighting an Asiatic nation in arms and almost every man a soldier in disguise and a violator” of the laws of war. But what did those laws mean to the United States during the conflict, and what does this indicate about the broader history of international law's relationship to empire?
  • Authors


    Publication Date

  • August 2018
  • Has Subject Area

    Published In

    Digital Object Identifier (doi)

    Start Page

  • 511
  • End Page

  • 550
  • Volume

  • 36
  • Issue

  • 3