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Thread: Charles Bohannan and Guerrilla warfare in the Philippines (1939-1954)

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    Default Charles Bohannan and Guerrilla warfare in the Philippines (1939-1954)

    Dear SWJ Crew,

    I'm a historian currently writing a biography of counterinsurgency pioneer Charles Bohannan (1914-1982). Along with Edward Lansdale and Ramon Magsaysay, Bohannan was a critical player who contributed to the defeat of the Huk rebellion in the Philippines (1946-1954) before becoming involved with Lansdale's efforts in Vietnam.

    I was hoping folks here might offer suggestions on either books or journal articles regarding both the Huk rebellion and also guerrilla warfare in the Philippines during the Second World War. Bohannan was involved with many guerrilla groups after being smuggled to the islands before the unleashing of the Battle of Leyte Gulf. I'm most interested in service articles from the era (1945-1960) that discussed the Huk campaign, but am also generating a healthy bibliography on the subject of both Guerrilla Warfare in the Philippines (1939-1960) as well as the Huk rebellion specifically.

    I'd also thought I'd ask if folks here could fathom a guess why the defeat of the Huk rebellion has not garnered the same attention today from modern COIN practitioners and theorists compared to work on Algeria, Vietnam, and Malaya. Given that it was a joint American/Filipino success story, I find this somewhat odd (though it is good to see Bohannan's book COUNTER GUERRILLA OPERATIONS: THE PHILIPPINE'S EXPERIENCE is back in print).

    Thanks in advance for your .02 cents

    Jay Ridler, Ph.D.
    Visiting Scholar, University of California, Berkeley.

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    Council Member Dayuhan's Avatar
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    It could be argued that the Huk rebellion was less defeated than suppressed, and that it re-emerged later, in a much more sophisticated form, as the New People's Army. The extent to which the restoration of the decaying feudal status quo ante that generated the rebellion in the first place can be considered "victory" might be seen as debatable. Magsaysay's promises of reform had some impact on the course of the rebellion, but the reality on the ground never lived up to the promise, leaving the area ripe for further insurgent organizing. Anyone treating the Huk rebellion as a case study of "victory" in COIN should also treat it as a case study of how failure to follow up a transient military victory with real changes in governance simply generates "rebellion 2.0"... often a much more difficult rebellion to manage, as rebels tend to learn from the mistakes of their predecessors.

    Many reviews of the Huk period, especially from the US and Philippine military side, focus on the role of counterinsurgency tactics in degrading the rebellion and overlook the internal friction within the Huk side. Luis Taruc and Casto Alejandrino were undoubtedly communists, but they had the ability to present doctrine in terms that made sense to the less ideological, more reform-minded peasantry that formed the backbone of the Huk fighting force and local leadership. This ability was not shared by the Lava brothers and the urban ideologues that gained influence in the leadership ranks as the rebellion progressed. This largely educated, doctrinally rigid clique was rooted in urban labor organizing and, while they were able to maneuver their way into leadership positions in the Huk movement, never really connected to the peasant masses and alienated much of the local leadership. The eventual decline in the influence of the Huk leadership was largely driven by this split, though many analysts at the time had a vested interest in attributing it to successful counterinsurgency tactics.

    It's certainly on your list already, but Benedict Kerkvliet's work on the Huk Rebellion is almost a mandatory starting point. Unlike much other work on the rebellion, it's based on field research and extensive direct contact with people who participated in and were affected by the rebellion, often at the ground level. This perspective is notably missing from much other scholarly work, which often gets mired in cold war stereotyping or the personal bias of various "leaders" and "experts", from both sides of the fence, that are relied on as primary sources.

    One aspect of the roots of rebellion that has, to me, been inadequately treated is the extent to which the MacArthur/Roxas alliance and its insistence on restoring the prewar feudal elite to power actively participated in creating the conditions that allowed the rebellion, and to some extent the later rebellion of the NPA, to flourish.
    Last edited by Dayuhan; 06-26-2011 at 01:33 AM.
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    Excellent points on the "limited" or "unfinished" nature of the victory against the Huk. That it was seen as a victory in 1954 does not mean in the long run the initial reforms became manifest or successful, especially after Magsaysay's death. Thanks.

    I agree that Taruc in particular has not been dealt with well in the literature on the initial defeat of the Huk. Most scholars use his two memoirs (the first co written with Jesus Lava and William Pomeory, the second a prison memoir edited by Douglas Hyde) for mere color and haven't given them serious consideration. They're highly charged works, to be sure, jingoist in different directions, but very valuable and illuminating when read in conjuncture with other work of the era, like, as you mentioned, Kerkvliet's stunning one volume history. The division between the more socialist/nationalist members of the Huk, vis a vi the more doctrainaire or hardline communists, was one of the seeds of discord that thrived as Magsaysay, Lansdale and Bohannan shifted the strategy between 1950-1953.

    Many thanks for your thoughts, Dayhan.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ridler View Post
    Excellent points on the "limited" or "unfinished" nature of the victory against the Huk. That it was seen as a victory in 1954 does not mean in the long run the initial reforms became manifest or successful, especially after Magsaysay's death.
    One thing I've learned in 30+ years in the Philippines is that it's very easy for national leaders to announce reforms in Manila. Getting those reforms implemented on the ground in the face of overt and covert opposition from entrenched local and regional elites is extremely difficult, more difficult than Manila-centric analyses of Philippine governance often admit.

    Quote Originally Posted by Ridler View Post
    The division between the more socialist/nationalist members of the Huk, vis a vis the more doctrinaire or hardline communists, was one of the seeds of discord that thrived as Magsaysay, Lansdale and Bohannan shifted the strategy between 1950-1953.
    There's a bit of a semantic challenge in describing the not-quite-communist elements of the Huk, and "nationalist and socialist" has often been the accepted default. I'm not really sure it's appropriate. The peasant unions of the 1930s, the precursor of the Huk movement in Central Luzon, might better be described as reformist. That's not to say they weren't militant - many of them were - but few of them had any consistent national agenda or coherent ideology. They were driven primarily by grievances specific to the peasantry of Central Luzon, and had little interest in wider agendas. The Communist presence was pretty minimal, mainly because the PKP wasn't interested. Prewar Philippine Communists followed a strict Marxist dogma focused on the urban proletariat as the driver of revolution, and held the peasantry in generally low regard. Disinterest in mucking about in the rice fields may have played a part in that.

    Of course that changed post-war, but the continued inability of the urban Communists to connect to a primarily reform-minded peasantry proved a major internal constraint for the Huks.

    While both Malaya and the Philippines in the age of the Huk might be seen as COIN "successes" in the immediate military sense, I'd be hesitant to apply lessons extracted from those conflicts elsewhere. It seems to me that both movements failed more due to their inherent limitations (ethnic in Malaya, geographic in the Philippines) and their relative lack of sophistication than due to the effectiveness of the COIN strategies applied. Lansdale found Vietnam a much tougher nut to crack, and I'm not convinced that the approaches used in Malaya or against the Huk would have much impact on a more modern and more capable insurgency. Not to say it's not worth studying, but any recipes deduced would have to be applied with caution elsewhere.

    One lesson that can I think be deduced would fall in the "how not to do it" column. One of the key events that drove the reform minded Huks into alliance with the PKP was the government's refusal to allow the six Democratic Alliance candidates who won in the 1946 elections to take office. In retrospect it's fairly clear that if they had been allowed to take office they could easily have been co-opted and/or marginalized, just as left-wing party list representatives are today, and that they'd have been less a threat in office than they were in the hills. Of course according to the Cold War ethos of the day that was unthinkable, but it's worth remembering today!
    Last edited by Dayuhan; 06-26-2011 at 08:25 AM.
    “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary”

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    Default Guatemala = interesting comparison

    Ridler, take a look at what happened in Guatemala. Insurgenices 2.0 and 3.0 followed due to the failure to address the root causes. As Sir Robert Thompson put it, all the reform in the world will not defeat an insrugency once it is organized. However, without reform you get insurgency 2.0.

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    Jay,

    I assume you have a copy of "In the Midst of Wars- An American's Mission to Southeast Asia" by Ed Lansdale?

    Interesting read. I agree with Dayuhan and John T. as to the Huks only being suppressed, rather than defeated. Insurgency has never been resolved in the Philippines, as that resolution demands a change of governing philosophy that the ruling class is either unable or unwilling to adopt.

    In Lansdale's book one gets a clear look into how he participated in the suppression of the Huk rebellion, and then carried those lessons learned to Vietnam to shape the strategic framework for a similar suppression there. This was the height of the Cold War and any effort that prevented an expansion of Communist Chinese/Soviet influence into Southeast Asia was a "win," even if the legitimate governance concerns of the affected populaces were merely suppressed to achieve our larger policy win.

    As an aside, and I toss this to Dayuhan for his more informed opinion, there may well be a cultural trait in the Philippines that makes it very difficult to truly resolve insurgency there. A friend and former Joint Special Operations Task Force-Philippines Commander and I were discussing the situation there and he offered this insight:

    The Filipino people do not take personal responsibility for things. For example, if one were to knock a plate off of a table, causing it to fall to the floor and break, he would say 'the plate fell on the floor,' or 'the plate broke' rather than 'I knocked the plate on the floor' or 'I broke the plate.
    It is my position from my study of insurgency that a critical early step to designing and implementing an effective COIN campaign is the understanding and acceptance of responsibility by government for what actions and policies are contributing to the conditions that create the type of political vulnerability that is then in turn exploited by some internal or external actor for their own purposes, employing some ideology or another that is tuned to the populace in question.

    So my theory is that the cultural aversion to accepting responsibility for actions is a major attribute of why the Philippines has been in a nearly continuous state of suppressed and active insurgency since the Spanish first arrived.

    Therefore, any strategic COIN campaign for the Philippines would not begin by sending security forces out to seek to exert control over the NPA on Luzon, or the MILF, MNLF, ASG, etc in the south; but rather to get the Philippine government to admit: "Hello, I am the government of the Philippines, and I have a problem."

    Cheers!

    Bob
    Last edited by davidbfpo; 06-26-2011 at 06:51 PM. Reason: Citation in quotes
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    Thanks, everyone. I appreciate both the suggestions as well as the comparisons with other COIN case studies and current ops.

    Dayuhan, I'd be keen for any resources on the main players in Filipino politics (all stripes) in the 1930s, if you could suggest them. I've not the memoirs of Taruc, but did any member of the Lava family write a memoir or autobiography?

    Also, do any of you have recommendation on monographs regarding the COIN as a subject taught/encouraged between 1954-1965? I've got most of Bohannan's lectures from the Washington cocktail circuit, and from the Rand Symposium on COIN, but I'm less schooled on what influence, if any, the Huk campaign had on educators in this period (though Andrew Birtle has given me some very good leads, and his own work on COIN doctrine is a great place to start).

    Dayuhan: yes, I'd concur that the lessons of the Philippines are perhaps viewed as valuable for both similarities and differences with other COIN operations, as opposed to analogues (the lack of a external sponsor, despite limited attempts to secure Chinese aid, comes to mind: though I have found some evidence to suggest this wasn't as limited as most scholars have argued). But in terms of understanding the impact of the "victory" over the Huk in say, 1954, it was certainly viewed by many in Manila and Washington as a success after eight or nine years of conflict. I'm as much interested in this perception of victory in the short term as to its verity in the long. Both are critical to my work.

    Again, Thanks for the input. Much appreciated.

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    Default Rufus Phillips

    Jay, take a look at Rufus Phillips book, Why Vietnam Matters. Phillips worked for Lansdale and with Bohannon. At last count he was still alive and living in N. VA. and would be worthwhile to interview.

    Cheers

    JohnT

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    John,

    Nice reference. I have ordered a copy and look forward to going through it in detail. Vietnam went bad from the start, so I look forward to learning more about the start. From the blurbs on Amazon though, It sounds to me that Rufus argued for better tactics, but IMO promoted the same flawed strategy of creating a separate Southern state to counterbalance a Northern state. I still believe we would have been best served by out-competing China to champion a unified state, regardless of the Communist government it had at the time. I think this would have prevented the extremes that government ultimately had to resort to to overcome the obstacle of US intervention to prevent a unified Vietnam. We'll never know. The Mid 50s were a scary time for US foreign policy, and I appreciate why men like Lansdale and Phillips pushed for what they did. I just don't think it was the right thing, and that blaming ultimate failure of such approaches on the tactics that were later applied to secure an unsustainable condition is to me missing the main point.

    Bob
    Robert C. Jones
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    "The modern COIN mindset is when one arrogantly goes to some foreign land and attempts to make those who live there a lesser version of one's self. The FID mindset is when one humbly goes to some foreign land and seeks first to understand, and then to help in some small way for those who live there to be the best version of their own self." Colonel Robert C. Jones, US Army Special Forces (Retired)

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    John,

    I've read Rufus's book, and interviewed him. Great guy and full of insight. They did a wonderful job with his book, too.

    JSR

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    The Rosaldos’ stuff (Michelle and Renato) might reference sources of use to you. Ilongot headhunting is an interesting read regardless.
    If you don’t read the newspaper, you are uninformed; if you do read the newspaper, you are misinformed. – Mark Twain (attributed)

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    Default Kind of let this slip by, but...

    Quote Originally Posted by Ridler View Post
    Dayuhan, I'd be keen for any resources on the main players in Filipino politics (all stripes) in the 1930s, if you could suggest them. I've not the memoirs of Taruc, but did any member of the Lava family write a memoir or autobiography?
    Most of what's written on Philippine politics of the 30s is dominated by Quezon, Osmena, and the politicking over the terms of independence. Very little attention has been paid specifically to the Communist and agrarian movements of that period. There's probably some material in political journals but a lot of it is probably a bit suspect, as many of those who write on these subjects are ideologically affiliated and inclined toward revisionism in any number of directions. Period sources would be the best bet, but finding them will be a challenge. If I were in Manila I'd start at the University of the Philippines, and ask some of the historians there for suggestions. In the US... good question. Some of the bibliographies of the standard history books might have some useful references. I'd look at mine but I just moved houses and everything is boxed up!

    I would guess that somewhere in DC there are archived documents of the colonial administration, and that buried therein would be some very interesting commentary on both the emergent communist movement and the peasant unrest in Central Luzon.

    Good luck, I'd be interested in seeing the output...
    “The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary”

    H.L. Mencken

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    Default Requestor did publish something

    An old RFI thread opened for an update.

    It appears that JSR, the original poster, aka Jason Ridler, did not publish a book, but an article in the printed journal Small Wars & Insurgencies in March 2015, entitled 'A lost work of El Lobo: Lieutenant-Colonel Charles T.R. Bohannan's unpublished study of guerrilla warfare and counterinsurgency in the Philippines, 1899–1955'.

    The Abstract states:
    Charles Ted Rutledge Bohannan (1914–1982) became an integral agent of US counterinsurgency operations during the early Cold War, contributing to both the success of the COIN effort to defeat the communist Huk insurgents in the Philippines and the stalled COIN efforts in Vietnam. In the early 1960s, he wrote a short and compact analysis of the US and Filipino experience of guerrilla warfare, from the Philippine–American war until the defeat of the Huk Rebellion. It was never published. Reprinted here, Bohannan's analysis of lessons learned makes a substantial contribution to the history of American ideas of unconventional warfare by an expert who contributed these lessons to the successful defeat of an insurgency in South East Asia.
    Yes behind a pay wall via:http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/1...8.2015.1008088
    Last edited by davidbfpo; 03-01-2017 at 10:03 PM. Reason: 7,814v
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