History Ph.D. Dissertations


Institutional Politics and the U.S. Government’s “Philippine Problem”

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)



First Advisor

Gary Hess (Committee Chair)

Second Advisor

Douglas Forsyth (Committee Member)

Third Advisor

Walter Grunden (Committee Member)

Fourth Advisor

Marc Simon


The defeat of the U.S. military garrison in the Philippine Islands at the hands of the Japanese in 1941-42 is one of the greatest military disasters in the nation's history, yet also one that has received comparatively little attention from scholars of the Second World War. This dissertation seeks to identify the factors responsible for the defeat. It argues that the loss of the Philippines is best understood not as a military failure, but rather as a failure of the interwar U.S. foreign policymaking process. This failure stemmed most directly from the emergence in the interwar United States of a climate of "disintegration" between key civilian and military leaders, leading to a fragmented and often incoherent foreign policy. This development resulted from the refusal of senior State Department officials to recognize the military as a legitimate participant in the foreign policymaking process, leading to the exclusion of the U.S. Army and Navy from this process for much of the 1920s and 1930s. Other factors also played contributing roles, among them a series of international political developments that substantially altered the strategic balance of power in the western Pacific, the emergence of a vigorous Filipino independence movement, and a failure on the part of U.S. war planners to clarify expectations regarding the fate of the Philippines in the event of war with Japan. This dissertation asserts that the story of the U.S. defeat can best be told by means of an interdisciplinary approach that draws heavily upon the work of Graham Allison, Morton Halperin, and other scholars in the field of bureaucratic politics. It also incorporates the concept of civil-military "disintegration" proposed by Barry R. Posen in his 1984 monograph The Sources of Military Doctrine.