The Evolution of Different Trigger Types

The Evolution of Different Trigger Types

In my office, I had the duty gun belts I’d worn over the years hanging vertically on a wall. They were in chronological order.

The display was trapezoidal. It was level across the top, but slanted on the bottom. For some reason, the gun belts got longer as I got older.

This Category is about different types of triggers on “duty” handguns I have carried, especially the Double Actions (DAs):

  • Double / Singles (DA/SAs)
  • Double to Singles (DA->SAs, or DA to SAs)
  • Double Action Only (DAOs), and
  • Double Action Kellerman (DAKs)

. . . along with some lessons I have learned about them along the way.

But first, in this article, we’ll cover how we got to where we are.

If you’re reading this, you probably already know that Single Action means the trigger only does one thing: releasing a cocked hammer to fall. SA Only revolvers must be thumb cocked before each shot. With SA Only auto pistols, rearward movement of the slide cocks the hammer, although if the hammer is down, in can be manually thumb cocked.

Double Action means trigger cocking. In Double Action mode, the trigger both cocks and releases the hammer. If the hammer has already been cocked manually, pulling the trigger performs only the one (Single) action of releasing the hammer to fall upon the primer, making gun go boom.

Historical Development: Double / Single Action Revolvers


In the ye olde days of the 1800s, most revolvers were Single Action Only. When you thumb cocked for the next shot, the cylinder would rotate one position, till the next round was directly behind the barrel.

While this enabled the hammer to be kept “safely” down (as long as it was over an empty chamber in those days, since the firing pin protruded through the breech face when the hammer was down), it did require an extra step each time you needed to send lead downrange fast.


Double Action revolvers were around as early as early as 1851, when Deane-Adams produced a Double Action Only; it could not be thumb cocked for Single Action fire. An English concern, Beaumont, produced what Jeff Cooper called a Selective Double Action (capable of DA trigger cocking OR SA thumb cocking) a few years later. Smith & Wesson and Colt started producing selective DA / SAs in 1877.

DAs were popular on pocket pistols, which were smaller and had shorter sight radius, making them harder to hit with at distance. Pocket pistols were what they called “belly guns;” if you could stick it in the other guy’s belly, you might hit him. But SAs, like the ubiquitous Colt Single Action Army, were standard for duty carry in the 1800s. There were exceptions. “Billy the Kid” (William Bonney) used a brace of DA / SA Colt .41 Lightnings.

Double action trigger pulls, especially in those days, were long and heavy. Strong fingers were not a problem when people worked with their hands a lot more than they do today, but hitting anything beyond conversational distance was problematic in DA mode, because the trigger pull was so difficult. Hence, the selective single action option. If your problem was too far away to hit with double action, you could thumb-cock to get a nice light, short single action pull.

One CAN be accurate firing double action, even at distance; a “surprise break” is actually more of a surprise with DA as opposed to SA. We are more accurate when we LET the gun go off, rather than when we MAKE the gun go off, so even though it’s no surprise, we want it to surprise us when it does. Hence the term “surprise break,” i.e., when the shot breaks. Jerry Miculek is both fast and accurate with a revolver in DA only (he can empty a revolver into a playing card in less than 6 / 10 of one second).

But getting good with double action fire requires practice. Unfortunately, most military revolver practice and qualification, as far as I can tell, was single action, slow fire, bullseye shooting at distance, on marksmanship based courses. Some OSS operators and special forces types started getting more “combat” oriented training in the 1940s (mostly with SA auto pistols). When I enlisted in the 1980s, revolver training was still mostly single action bullseye type shooting at 25 yards (see The Smiths).

Officer candidate getting ready to thumb cock for single action fire at a 25 yard target with concentric scoring rings, in Jack’s Valley, CO, summer of 1981.


The Colt Model 1892

Significant for its effect on subsequent US military handgun calibers and design, at the end of the 19th century the services adopted the Colt 1892, also called the “New Army and Navy.” In addition to the US, it was used by the Mexican Federal Army, the British Army, and the North-West Mounted Police (now called the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, or “Mounties”).

The Colt 1892, the first selective DA / SA revolver adopted by the US military, had features which became standard of revolvers throughout the following century. One was the swing-out cylinder, which enabled rapid reloading, and unlike previous break-open designs, had a solid frame surrounding the cylinder on all four sides (front, back, top, bottom).

The 1892 fired the .38 Long Colt cartridge, less powerful than the .38 Smith & Wesson Special which most of us are familiar with (see further elaboration below).

It was supposed to reduce the need for training, as the cartridge (.38 Long Colt) had far less recoil than the .45s and .44s standard in previously issued Single Actions, and of course, with a DA, one need only point, pull and pray, right? No need for that extra cocking step, which might be overlooked in moments of necessary haste.

The 1892 was used during the Spanish American war as well as the Philippine insurrection (see below), the Boxer rebellion, the Boer war, and WWI. Teddy Roosevelt is said to have brandished a Colt 1892 recovered from the wreck of the USS Maine while charging up Cuban hills with the Rough Riders.

During the Colt M1892’s service life several shortcomings were identified, resulting in modifications (with different Model numbers) in 1894, 1895 (Navy), 1896, 1901, 1903, and 1905 (USMC).


The Smith & Wesson Model 1899

Smith and Wesson Model 1899 Double Action revolver, also chambered in .38 Colt, was very similar to the Smith revolvers the military issued me eight decades later.

The Army (or at least, its officers) took the Colt Model 1892 and the Smith & Wesson Model 1899 to the Philippines during our counterinsurgency there from 1899 to 1902.

In this narrative I will use the older term “Philippine insurrection,” although it is now popular to call it the “Philippine – American war” (the Filipinos also fought insurrections against the Spaniards, and a guerrilla war against the Japanese). The tactics and strategies employed by the out-gunned insurrectos against the American occupiers were those of guerrilla insurgents. The tactics and strategies employed by the American occupiers of the Philippines were classic COIN (counter-insurgency) methods.

One may justifiably assume that the DA option of the Colt 1892 (et al) and Smith 1899 was a boon in the Philippines. Having patrolled in head-high elephant grass and single-canopy jungle in the lower Rio Grande Valley, I have some inkling that when US patrols were ambushed in similar undergrowth in the PI (or later, in Vietnam), the ranges were very close.

Even if the PI were not tropical, the vast majority of the Philippine insurgents were armed primarily with bolo knives, very close range weapons. An ambush on 07 Dec 1899, showed a ratio of 1 rifle to every 5 or more armed with knives: “. . . a detachment of 15 soldiers, 4 police, and 6 militiamen under Lt. Agustus C. Leydard was attacked by 60 riflemen and 320 bolomen.” (McAllister Linn, p. 172)

Philippine bolos

The 28 Sep 1901 ambush of Company C, 9th US Infantry, in the town of Balangiga on the island of Samar, took place primarily with bolos.

As the soldiers began their Sunday breakfast, the police chief approached a sentry, then suddenly pulled a bolo and cut him down. A mob of bolomen charged out of the church and the tents [in which many members of the local populace had been confined], cutting and slashing the stunned soldiers. [Capt. Thomas W.] Connell and his subordinate, Lt. Edward A Bumpus [the only two members of the 74 man garrison that we can assume were armed with handguns], were struck down; desperate soldiers fought off their attackers with Krags [rifles], kitchen implements, and even cans of food. A handful of men under veteran noncoms retained their composure and managed to fight their way to the beach, where they set out on a desperate voyage by banca to the closest garrison at Basey. But forty-eight officers and men died in the attack or during the escape.”

–McAllister Linn, pp. 310 – 311 

If you can hit your enemy with a can of corned beef, you can hit him firing your revolver in double action mode, though those two officers most likely practiced and qualified shooting single action at distance on marksmanship based courses. No mention of handguns used by either side is made in McAllister Linn’s account of Balangiga.

Mario C, Col USAF (ret) with a Krag

The .38 Colt cartridge of the Colt 1892 and the Smith & Wesson 1899 was a disappointment. It was considerably less powerful than the .38 Special cartridge we normally think about when we see “.38,” which was developed later. Even .38 Special is considered by many to be borderline ineffective (see .38 vs Polar Bear: a Case Study in The Smiths for anecdotal examination of the .38 Special’s effectiveness). But getting back to the .38 Colt cartridge, in books about the Philippine insurrection, we read over and over about Philippine insurgents being shot, but continuing to attack until they had sunk their bolo deep into somebody.

On Samar,

“One officer saw a boloman hit five times at close range by pistol bullets, but the man continued to attack until shot directly in the head with a rifle.”

–McAllister Linn, p. 233

We might expect a zombie-like indestructibility on the part of some Moros.

The Moros are one of the many cultures in the Philippine archipelago, with no fewer than 10 distinct tribes / subcultures, living mostly on Mindanao, Jolo, and the Sulu archipelago. The Moros are a predominantly Muslim, predominantly Malay peoples; “Moro” is the Spanish word for “Moor.” Modern academics, who consider it inherently racist to refer to any culture with two syllables when one can use eight or more, refer to Moros as “people of the Bangsamoro” (loosely, the Moro Nation). At the time, US soldiers called Moro held portions of those islands “Moroland,” like the nearly contemporaneous term “Indian territory” or “Injun country” for areas controlled by Native American tribes. I will use the term Moro here for simplicity, clarity, and consistency with primary sources (refer to Selected Sources for more info).

As with every religion, some Moros were non-practicing or more secular Muslims, and others were very orthodox. Through a uniquely Filipino Islamic practice called juramentado, devout Moros could gain a ticket to Paradise by dying bathed in the blood of infidels–their equivalent of the suicide bomber. During the Maciu campaign,

. . . two infantry companies were carefully advancing toward a cotta [Moro fortification] through the six-foot high cogon grass. Suddenly, a powerfully built Moro jumped from hiding and charged, swinging a kampilan (a long, double-edged, two-handed sword) like a scythe. He nearly lopped the arm off of one picket [a soldier somewhat outside the main body of troops, who serves as a screen or “trip wire” to give advanced notice of attack] before charging into the main skirmish line of men some 30 – 40 yards away. It took seven [7] bullets to his torso to finally stop him dead in his tracks. The attacker turned out to be Sultan Cabugatan of Maciu. Pershing noted in tribute that he was “the last of a long line who had always fought the Christians. He had held out against us, I think, purely as a matter of principle and he vindicated his courage in his death.”

–Fulton, p. 127

Moro Panglima Hassan was allegedly shot 32 times before finally being felled by a .45 caliber head shot. 

Col Wendell Fertig, a father of American Special Forces who led Moros in a guerrilla resistance movement during the Japanese occupation of Mindanao in the 1940s, said that once cornered, a Moro would “fall somewhat joyously upon his foe, shouting and shrieking, somewhat insensible of his wounds” (Schmidt, p. 56 – 57).

Most of the Northern Filipino insurgents in 1899 – 1902 were nationalists, rather than religious extremists. They just wanted the Americans gone, as they had wanted the Spaniards gone. Indeed, during the American counterinsurgency against Aguinaldo’s resistance, the Moro sultans and datus (local leaders) were mostly neutral, if not downright friendly to the US. The Americans, unlike the Spanish, were not bent on converting the Moros to Catholicism. It was only after the 1899 – 1902 counterinsurgency–perhaps the most successful in US history–that the US focused more attention on Mindanao and the other islands of the Moros.

Certainly “Manifest Destiny,” racism, and the desire to exploit natural resources were motivating factors of American expansionism. Often under-blamed in current revisionist histories, which focus mainly on identity politics, was the “yellow journalism” of the era which fanned the flames of war and compounded racist stereotypes. Culturally intolerant bastages that they were, the Americans also had a problem with permitting Moros in American “protectorates” to practice slavery, piracy, human trafficking, and polygamy. This resulted in the “Moro wars,” from 1903 to 1913.

In fairness to the M1892 and M1899 revolvers, most US troops were armed primarily with rifles. Many insurgents were shot by .30-40 Krags and .45-70 Springfields but still kept coming, perhaps driven by necessity–they had to keep getting closer to use their bolos or barongs or kris knives.

Kris knife on display at the Richard Bong Veteran’s Museum in Superior, WI

The 19 June 1901 ambush of a 26 man patrol under the command of Lt Edward E. Downs gives us an example:

Marching in single file, carrying the wounded on litters, the patrol pressed on through the dense undergrowth, an easy target for ambush. In the early afternoon, a horde of bolomen suddenly emerged from the undergrowth and charged through the column. For five minutes there was absolute chaos. One soldier reported shooting a boloman at point-blank range; the man staggered, then continued to attack; the desperate soldier knocked his assailant down several times with his rifle before he was finally able to kill him. Two soldiers were killed and another two were wounded. Among the fatalities was Downes. He had been about 15 yards ahead of the patrol and was stabbed in the groin; as he collapsed, his head was forced back and a knife driven into his heart.”

–McAllister Linn, pp. 309 – 310

The lackluster stopping power of the .38 Colt revolver cartridge during the Philippine insurrection led directly to the adoption of the .45 ACP cartridge for the M1911 auto pistol. The development of the .45 ACP cartridge is a fascinating story that has been told very thoroughly elsewhere.


The SAA Strikes Back

Seeking a harder-hitting bullet, some troopers during the Philippine Insurrection (or the Moro Wars which followed) sought to swap their .38 revolvers for older .45 Colt Single Action Army revolvers.

The .45 Colt Single Action Army, which had to be thumb-cocked before each shot.

After former US Army trooper John R. White joined the Philippine Constabulary (a paramilitary police force composed mostly of Filipino recruits) in 1901 and was assigned to the island of Negros, “I packed my humble belongings in a tampipe (straw suitcase), strapped a heavy Colt single-action .45 revolver around my waist, took a Winchester .44 repeating rifle in my hand, and started south.” (White, Bullets and Bolos, p. 19)

Packing the SAA .45 meant going back to having to thumb-cock each shot, with a relatively light single action trigger pull. Responding to close range attack by bolo-armed insurrectos does not require much precision, so in the cogon grass or jungle, single action does not confer much advantage, and perhaps the disadvantage of a deliberate, time consuming, two-step process.

However, the necessity for thumb cocking does not seem to have slowed White down too much, even at close range:

. . . a little to the left of the trail rose a babaylan soldier, who discharged, at a distance of perhaps 20 feet, a Remington rifle full in my face. Scarcely had he fired when I put a .45 revolver bullet into his chest. By firing too quickly he missed me and paid the penalty. It all happened so suddenly that a few seconds later I myself extracted the empty shell from his Remington rifle.”

–White, Bullets and Bolos, p. 103


The M1902 Philippine revolver

Also resurrected for its larger, harding hitting cartridge was the Colt Model 1878 revolver. This was essentially a Single Action Army reworked to be a selective Double Action. The cylinder of the Model 1878, like the SAA’s, does not swing out; the empty cartridge cases must be ejected individually with a spring-returned rod mounted to the barrel. The older Model 1878, while more cumbersome to reload, was nonetheless ordered as a larger caliber stopgap during the Philippine insurrection. Colt made 4600 Model 1878s under contract to the US Ordnance Department for issue to the Philippine Constabulary in 1902. Those are sometimes called the “M1902 Philippine.”

The DA trigger pull of the Model 1878 / M1902 was especially heavy, partially because of a heavier mainspring. The mainspring, which drives the hammer, was strengthened for more reliable ignition of stiffer primers on MilSpec .45 Colt ammunition. MilSpec means “made to military specifications.” Military ammo has stiffer primers because shipments are often large and may be subject to rough handling. A primer that goes off in a case of ammo that is dropped off of a wagon could destroy the entire shipment (and perhaps anybody near it). But unless the ignition system of a gun loaded with military ammunition is sufficiently over-engineered, one could get light firing pin dents on the primers, and the bullet could fail to discharge from the weapon.

Because the mainspring was so heavy, a longer trigger and hammer spur was used, for more leverage in either double action (trigger cocking) or single action (thumb cocking). The longer DA trigger also required an enlarged trigger guard. This led to the erroneous assumption that the larger trigger guard was for use with gloves, so the Colt Model 1878 was sometimes called the “Alaskan.” While some of those who went to the Yukon during the Klondike gold rush of 1896 – 1899 may have chosen to carry a Model 1878 as bear insurance, the Colt M1902 DA / SA revolver might be more appropriately referred to as the “Philippine.”


Thumb Cocking

At longer ranges (say, across a jungle stream or river), where one presumably has more time to aim and squeeze, one could select single action with the M1892 / M1899 DA / SA .38 and the M9102 DA / SA .45 as well as the Colt Single Action (only) Army .45, so none of those handguns had an advantage over the other at distance, at least in terms of trigger pull (external ballistics are beyond the scope of this article).

I’m guessing engineering factors, rather than long-distance marksmanship, influenced the design of the pistol that replaced both revolvers, the M1911, as a single action only semi-auto.



At the turn of the 20th century, most militaries adopted semi-auto pistols.

The US adopted a Browning-designed .45 pistol in 1911. But when the US stopped sitting on the fence in 1917, sending troops to France to fight the Germans, there weren’t enough M1911s for our Expeditionary Forces.

Pre-existing Colt and Smith & Wesson large frame DA / SA revolvers, previously chambered in .45 long colt (a longer, rimmed cartridge) were re-chambered for the military standard .45 ACP (a fat, stubby rimless cartridge). Both the Smith and the Colt were designated M1917.

Colt M1917 with Tyler’s T-grip adapter (upper right), compared with a modern Ruger SP101 (lower left). Zip strip has .38s for the SP-101; full moon clip (upper left) has .45 ACPs for the M1917. The US issued half-moon clips in WWI.

Fun fact: Colt revolver cylinders rotate clockwise from the rear; Smiths and Rugers counter-clockwise.

American law enforcement officers (LEOs) carried DA / SA revolvers through the 1980s. So did the US Air Force. The Smiths discusses lessons learned during my revolver education, especially my time in the USAF.


Selected Sources


“Jeff” Cooper and Kenneth M. Bayless, Fighting Handguns (Trend Books, 1958).


Creating the Moro Subject: Resistance and Pacification. The Philippines and the University of Michigan, 1870 – 1935. This article appears to have been written by several unnamed undergraduates. This revisionist article offers a different perspective than most of my military histories, which focus more on the means of combat and the logistics of conducting a successful counterinsurgency than on how evil the United States has always inherently been, at least according to most modern academics.

I try to read and listen to views which run contrary to my own, so that I can see the world from other perspectives and avoid confirmation bias. In the case of this article, however, it was difficult for me to look past a few glaring historical inaccuracies, or sweeping generalizations it presents as fact. For example, it states “The Moro resistance was the first encounter between the US army and a Muslim armed force.” I suppose that is technically true; Jefferson sent the US Navy and the Marines, not the Army, to “the shores of Tripoli” (as the USMC song lyrics go) to deal with the Barbary corsairs, when Pasha Yusuf Quramanli declared war upon the US on 14 May 1801–a century before the Moro wars. But the implication, that the US had never before had armed dealings with Islam, is misleading.

And, no, Pershing did NOT dip bullets in pig’s blood. While Pershing did preside over some nearly one-sided battles with the Moros, Pershing had great respect for them (his quote above does not sound like the words of a reactionary bigot). Little noted in abbreviated revisionist histories such as this article is that Pershing went out alone into “Moroland” to conduct diplomatic missions. Pershing, far more than subsequent commanders like Wood, sought to understand the Moros, to learn their language, to respect their culture (as much as the 13th Amendment of the US Constitution would let him), to address their grievances (as much as directives from the US government would let him), and to pursue a command policy of moderation toward the Moros whenever possible. When it was not possible, Pershing fought them hard. But even then, he preferred for his enemies to abandon their cottas (forts) in the face of overwhelming firepower, rather than to annihilate them. When seeking historical data, is it probably not prudent to rely upon presidential Tweets (one is quoted in the Michigan article) for verifiable facts, or detailed analysis.

Certainly there were parallels between the Philippine counterinsurgencies and those in Iraq and Afghanistan, as the article points out. But if you really study the subject you’ll realize that they have more to do with the nature of counterinsurgency than with stereotyped American antipathy for Islam.

The Michigan article is quite correct in asserting that hitherto, most military histories focused on the American war against Aguinaldo’s resistance in the predominantly Christian northern Philippines. Until the post-9/11 resurgence of Islamic extremism in the southern Philippines, there were relatively few sources of information about the Moro wars. The Michigan article attributes this dearth of sources to racism. I would think that if racism were the reason, there would be more written about killing the Muslim Moros.

Of course, racism is bad.

It’s a scourge that has afflicted every culture throughout human history. Christian Filipinos slew Muslim Filipinos, and Muslim Filipinos slew Christian (and other non-Muslim) Filipinos, before, during, and after the American administration of the PI. It’s important to look at history through the lens of racial motivations, but if all you seek is racism, that is all you will find, and your reporting will be disingenuous at best. It will blind you to other human motivations; for example, Theodore Rosevelt’s desire to protect American trade routes in the Pacific. The modern Japanese fleet had just laid waste to the Russian fleet at the Battle of Tsushima straits, and Japan, a growing industrial power, was beginning to expand its influence in the Pacific rim. A US Naval base at Subic Bay in the Philippines helped our Navy to operate logistically, and therefore to protect American merchant shipping, in the vast western Pacific.

It think the main reason there was heretofore less written about the Moro campaigns is because the war against the northern Christian Filipino guerrillas was held up as an example of a successful counterinsurgency (the military acronym is COIN), which resulted in peaceful relations for decades, as well as a gradual, planned transition to self governance with a representative republic and democratically elected leaders very similar to our own constitutional democracy. While battles with the Moros were often one-sided (largely due to superior technology on the US side), the Moro campaigns took much longer and were less conclusive–the Moros rejected transition to a non-tribal form of government with secular laws–and therefore the Moro wars were less studied by those wishing to figure out what works in counterinsurgency. COIN has been very important to the US military (primary consumers of military history) more than once since then.


Mark Derewicz, A Long-Buried War with the Moros: Tim Marr’s research into the history of anti-Muslim ideology uncovers a little-known past and its lessons for a troubled present, Like the Michigan article above, this one looks exclusively through the lens of racial motivations. It also contains a series of sweeping generalizations and a few mischaracterizations. When pointing out the violent jingoism of the turn of the turn of the 20th century American slogan, “Underneath the starry flag, civilize ’em with the Krag,” which was very popular among the believers in Manifest Destiny (and was indeed both violent and jingoistic), Derewicz quotes Marr as describing the manually operated, bolt-action Krag-Jorgensen issued to US troops as a “rapid fire rifle, the likes of which the Moros had never seen.” In fact, the previous oppressors of the Moros, the Spaniards, had carried 7mm Mauser rifles, which were clip-fed and more rapid fire than the Krags later carried by Americans.

In order to reload a Krag (US model 1898) in a fight, one had to flip open the box on the right side of the receiver (shown here in its open position), feed in loose cartridges by hand (which required some fine motor skill under stress), flip the box shut (easy), and work the bolt.

Contrary to current popular belief, the Moros were armed with more than edged weapons, spears, and clubs. They had quite a few Spanish Mausers, especially after the Spaniards left (or sold) many to them as they departed the Philippines. The wealth of a Moro datu was measured in brass and how many rifles his warriors had.

Indeed, the occupiers usually stayed in their fortified coastal towns (not entirely unlike the Green Zones and FOBs of this century), and left the Moros alone until after Moros had killed Spanish or American soldiers on patrol, to steal their rifles. This happened too frequently, and inevitably resulted in punitive expeditions into Moroland.

Moros and northern rebels preferred Spanish Mausers to American Krags, in part due to the reliability of the Mauser’s superior extraction system, and partially to its speed and ease of reloading. Americans having been on the receiving end of superior Spanish Mausers in the Spanish American war, and in the hands of insurrectos during the Philippine insurrection, eventually led to our adoption the the M1903 Springfield–a clip fed Mauser clone.

Although this old man makes it look hard, feeding from a pre-filled stripper clip into a Mauser magazine was actually much quicker and required less fine motor skill under stress than reloading a Krag. Photo from Clint Smith’s Old Rifle course

But rifles, while more numerous and effective at distance than handguns, were not the only things that made the battles, skirmishes, and outright massacres so one-sided. Moro cottas (fortifications) were open topped; fused American artillery with shells that exploded over the enemy’s heads forced the Moros and their families to abandon their strongholds or die. American machine guns also took their toll on the Moros. Similarly, rapid-fire British small arms and longer range artillery laid waste to the “Dervishes” at the contemporaneous Battle of Omdurman in the Sudan. In both conflicts, some of the indigenous troops had rifles, but others had spears and swords. In both, the stronger colonial power did take some losses.

Individual soldiers who are sent to fight and quite possibly die have little control over the technology they are issued, or that of their enemies. They want to go home to their own families and cannot be blamed for wanting to be on the winning side, or even for wanting to win by a large margin with fewer “friendly” casualties. American soldiers in the Philippines and British soldiers in the Sudan sometimes reported in diaries and memoirs being sickened by the one-sided nature of their battles (read, for example, Churchill’s The River War), but they were still grateful to have been on the giving, rather than the receiving, end of machine gun and artillery fire.

While American soliders are now required by law to refuse to obey orders that intentionally and exclusively target civilians, soldiers have never had much control over the grand strategy employed by their leaders.

It is possible, for example, that an extended siege might have eventually have starved the Tausug Moro defenders and their families out of the mountaintop craters of Bud Dajo.

In Operation DESERT STORM, we starved (and bombed) the Iraqis into submission over a period of months; by the time our ground troops moved to drive them out of Kuwait, Iraqis would actually surrender to news reporters, as long as the reporters were willing to share a few MREs. But sieges and starvation are not good for children’s health either.

I was a tiny cog in the mighty Coalition machine that starved, and then drove, the Iraqis out of Kuwait in 1991.

I once was a case agent on a War Crimes investigation from the dreadful dissolution of the former Yugoslavia, in which the extended siege of a town’s population (which included combatants and civilians) WAS considered by some to be the War Crime. Since sieges have been a part of warfare since time immemorial, I postulated that we would have a stronger War Crimes case against the suspect if we could prove he had participated in an execution of prisoners that we knew to have happened.

But at Bud Dajo, General Wood, who was no more interested in winning hearts and minds than Chivington had been at Sand Creek in Colorado, insisted on storming the mountain in what the Moros later called “the Battle in the Clouds.” Almost all of the men, women and children in the craters were killed–as were some of the US troops.

White people killed millions of white people (along with black, brown, red, and yellow troops) with machine guns and artillery (and even poison gas) a few short years later, during World War One. The fact that the technology and hence the odds were more evenly balanced on both sides, or that it was a predominantly white vs. white conflict, during WWI did not make the massive slaughter any more or less reprehensible than the massacres in the Philippines.


Filipinas Heritage Library, The Moro to the Spanish Colonizers, No author is listed for this post. The article is very informative, although it quotes scholar Peter Gowing as stating “The Spaniards carried to the Philippines a fanatical hatred of Moros,” which was true enough. However, the article ends that sentence by claiming said hatred “was rooted in the Crusades.” The Spanish first colonized the Philippines in the mid-1500s. As noted in the University of Michigan article above, the Moors conquered and ruled the Iberian peninsula (Spain) from AD 711 to 1492, until the indigenous Spaniards expelled them with the reconquista. Occupation of their formerly Christian lands by Umayyad Muslim Moors and the long bloody struggle to expel same probably had much more to do with the average Spanish Catholic’s intense hatred of Islam than anything Richard the Lionheart of England or the French / Italian / Germanic Crusaders were trying to accomplish in the Middle East. The first Crusade of medieval Europe to the Holy Land of Jews, Christians, and Muslims began over a thousand years ago. The most recent was seven centuries ago. The expulsion of the occupying Muslim Moors from Spain was within one or two generations of the Spanish colonization of the Philippines. Yet the ancient history of the evil Christian Crusades are inevitably blamed for all tensions–even economic or territorial tensions–between predominantly Christian countries and countries where Islam predominates.


Robert A. Fulton, Moroland: The History of Uncle Sam and the Moros 1899 – 1920 (Tumalo Creek Press, revision of 2016). This is the most extensive, readable, and very thoroughly researched work I have found about the US conflict in the southern Philippines. Fulton had been a foreign service officer with the USIA in the Philippines in the 1970s.


Col Arcadi Gluckman, US Army (ret), United States Martial Pistols and Revolvers (Bonanza Books, 1956).


Brian McAllister Linn, The Philippine War 1899 – 1902 (University Press of Kansas, 2000). This is probably the most balanced, thoroughly researched work I have read on the US conflict against the predominantly Christian northern Philippines. McAllister Linn does not dress up the US military’s failings and foibles and out-right racist massacres. But it also included the things the US did right, and for the right reasons. It addresses the strengths, weaknesses, and motivations of players on all sides in that conflict. McAllister Linn’s detailed analysis is possible because he limited his subject; specifically, to the period from 1899 – 1902, not including the Moro Wars which followed. It’s interesting that he wrote the following immediately before our post-9/11 Global War on Terror:

“After a century of portrayal largely in the context of current sensibilities, a reevaluation of military operations in the Philippine War is long overdue. The imperialist myth of selfless Americans saving their “little brown brothers” from the violent tyranny of Aguinaldo and the Tagalogs has long been discredited. The current view of a brutal and racist soldiery slaughtering defenseless natives has been unchallenged for far too long. The actual war was a far more complex and challenging phenomenon than either of these superficial interpretations acknowledge. When stripped of ideological blinders, a study of the Philippine War can offer great insight into the complexities of localized guerrilla war and indigenous resistance to foreign control.”

–McAllister Linn, p. 328 


Col Larry S. Schmidt, Fire in the Jungle: A Study of One of America’s Most Successful Unconventional Warfare Campaigns (Blacksmith LLC, 2018). This book is about the Japanese occupation of the Philippines, in which US soldiers and Filipinos–Moros and Christians–fought side-by-side as insurgents against the occupiers.


John R. White, Bullets and Bolos (originally published in 1928; my annotated version was published by Constabulary Books in 2021). This is a memoir of White’s service in the Philippine Constabulary from 1901 – 1914.