The 1898 Treaty of Paris formally ended the Spanish-American War. By its terms America acquired the Philippines, and the Moros Islanders, Muslim tribes who developed in isolation from the rest of Catholic Philippine society on the southern islands of Mindanao, Palawan, and Basilan.
As James R. Arnold writes in the excellent The Moro War: How America Battled a Muslim Insurgency in the Philippine Jungle, 1902-1913.
…when the Spanish withdrew their garrisons, the Moros logically concluded that they had won. Moro datus cheerfully resumed their traditional habits, namely engaging in ancestral feuds, cattle and slave stealing, and piracy, and the countryside reverted to lawlessness. This was Moroland on the eve of the American arrival.
The Americans were reluctant almost naive imperialists. In fact, America had little interest in interfering with Moro religious customs. This was in stark contrast to the Spanish whose Catholicism led them into deadly conflicts with the Moro whose only law was sharia.
The goal of the the American occupation was to eradicate piracy and limiting the Muslim slave trade, though not abolishing it for fear of sparking a full out war.
Most American officers were quite liberal and recognized that the Moro had their own distinct culture and any interference on the part of white Christians was a direct threat to the ancient society. Hence, the American military were, for their time, culturally quite sensitive.
However, the more the Americans and the Moro knew of each other the more they found to dislike.
Americans found Moro judicial practices based on sharia odious. Men faced amputation of an arm for a second conviction of theft, yet men of the privileged class who murdered a slave escaped with a small fine.
The treatment of women under sharia was particularly repellent to the Americans:
Moro women were second class citizens, compelled to endure barbaric punishments for a variety of offenses. The written rule of law specified how many strokes of the lash a woman faced for committing different crimes. In the case of adultery she was to be buried up to the chest and stoned [to death] with medium-sized stones. The more the Americans learned about Moro history and culture, the less they liked it.
And of course, the Moros resented the American desire to improve Moro society:
…they built bridges, roads and wharves, all of which provided economic benefits. American military doctors offered modern medical care. American administrators introduced public health and sanitation regulations in the towns. They opened schools and invited the locals to attend.
…most Moros resented the American effort to civilize them. Individual leaders worried that the American presence would erode their personal authority and enslave their people.
The first outbreak of violence between American soldiers and Moros warriors took place in 1902 over a friendly card game. Five American soldiers on the southernmost island of Bongao asked permission to go pig hunting. Their commanding officer Captain Sydney A. Cloman, whose mission was to suppress pirates, had excellent relations with the local Moros and gave the go-ahead. The men sailed to a nearby island where Moros helped them establish a base camp. At nightfall, Corporal Leonard J. Mygatt went to the beach for a swim:
Card play always seemed to delight the Moros. The corporal’s last view was of cheerful Moros squatting behind the Americans and watching the game unfold. The sounds of shots and screams interrupted his swim. He heard the noise of men running to the beach and hid among the rocks. The Moros searched for a while and then departed.
The corporal returned to camp to behold a terrible scene. At a given signal the Moros had drawn their knives and tried to behead the card players. Mygatt saw his sergeant was dead and his other three companions badly wounded. One had a terrible gash in his skull whence his brains oozed. A second soldier had a hatchet sunk into his back. A third had his head half severed from his neck.
Mygatt managed to load the boat with the dead and wounded soldiers. With heroic effort Mygatt rowed the twenty-two miles back to his garrison. Another soldier died en route.
Captain Cloman tracked down the killers and arrested them.
All night Cloman interviewed the suspects in order to answer the most important question: Why? He obtained no satisfactory answer. The Moros’ explanation [he wrote in his diary] “always came down to the fact that the soldiers were in their power and could be killed, so therefore they were.”
In this chilling but simple explanation lies the Islamist ethic and world view that now confronts the civilized western world. There will always be justifications for murderous Islamist rampages: Zionism, Mohammed cartoons, accidental Koran burnings, Western imperialism, Gitmo, Islamaphobia, the sky is blue. The Islamists manufacture excuses with all the maturity and imagination of a pre-adolescent desperate to renounce personal responsibility. But the core of this perpetual Islamic rage followed by spasms of horrific violence is the Moros ethic:
The soldiers were in our power and could be killed so therefore they were.
The American military did not want to enter into a full scale war with the Moro and exercised military restraint, however:
The Moros saw American restraint as weakness. The Moro understanding of Mohammed’s life story taught that a party engaged in diplomacy merely to buy time to recover from setback. Thus… return to diplomacy reinforced the Moro perception of American weakness.
The first step in making war is understanding that you are at war. Currently, the Western democracies are in full denial of the Islamic threat. But make no mistake about it, Islam was and is a merciless imperial ideology that can only exist in a constant state of warfare.
Welcome to Moroland.