Conference Program

85th Annual Meeting of the Society for Military History

 Landscapes of War and Peace

April 5 - 8, 2018, Louisville, Kentucky

Title: Bayonets & Bolos: The Sharp End of Military Culture in the U.S. and the Philippines
Abstract: Many weapons have also accrued meaning and value as cultural artifacts apart from their practical value as killing tools. The bayonet and bolo both fit in this category. The bayonet especially came to be valued in Western militaries between the late nineteenth and mid-twentieth century because of its perceived ability to inspire aggression and the offensive spirit in soldiers. Bayonet training was thought to cultivate in soldiers an aggressiveness and willingness to kill that was necessary for success in battle. However, the emphasis on bayonet training was and is at odds with the practical value of edged weapons in the age of machine guns and quick-firing artillery. Studying the tension between the practical utility of the bayonet and other edged weapons, such as the Filipino bolo knife, and their imagined use sheds light on American and Filipino military cultures at the turn of the twentieth century.

This panel explores the symbolism of edged weapons in the American and Filipino contexts and discusses the resultant tension between rhetoric and reality. Heather Venable's paper will discuss U.S. Marine Corps rifle and bayonet training from 1898 to 1930, then compare that training to the actual use of the bayonet in combat during World War I. Garrett Gatzemeyer's paper focuses on the value the U.S. Army and the Commission on Training Camp Activities placed on bayonet training as the army expanded to fight World War I, discussing the perceived role of the bayonet in training aggressive, physically fit, and morally pure soldiers. Finally, James Villanueva's paper examines the bolo knife and its cultural significance as a Filipino symbol of people's resistance beyond its utility as a tool and improvised weapon. Together, these papers will demonstrate the potent symbolism of these edged weapons in specific military cultures that exceeded their practical value as fighting tools.
Garrett Gatzemeyer, University of Kansas
Participant's Paper Title: Making Moral Men Kill: The Bayonet and Progressive Reformers, 1917-1918
Participant's Paper Abstract: Historians have assessed the bayonet's combat utility during World War I as minimal, yet the U.S. Army, like its European contemporaries, invested great value in the weapon. That value derived almost entirely from bayonet training, which was thought to cultivate qualities such as aggressiveness, fierceness, and a willingness to kill. In the U.S. Army, few organizations did more to promote bayonet training than the Commission on Training Camp Activities' (CTCA) Athletic Division. However, the bloodlust of bayonet training and the cult of aggression seems to have contradicted, or at least complicated, the CTCA's mission of moral uplift. This paper will explore the CTCA's resolution of this contradiction.

In its exploration, this paper makes use of sources such as doctrinal publications, professional journal articles, CTCA publicity material, archival documents, and the CTCA Athletic Director's files. Expanding on recent work by scholars such as John Stone and Paul Hodges, this paper will first examine the bayonet's role in the U.S. Army's cult of aggressiveness in 1917-1918. Next, it will examine the bayonet's place in the CTCA's program and in the imaginations of the organization's leadership. Finally, this paper will investigate how the CTCA's leadership aligned in their minds and external messaging the "spirit of the bayonet" and their charge to make soldiers more wholesome. I argue that the emphasis these Progressive reformers placed on efficiency and the European battlefields they imagined enabled this alignment. Ultimately, this paper illuminates the outsized role rhetoric and imagination played in the preparation of the American soldier for his role in the Great War.
James Villanueva, United States Military Academy
Participant's Paper Title: Living with an Edge: The Bolo Knife as a Symbol of Filipino Resistance, 1896-1945
Participant's Paper Abstract: The bolo knife is a large cutting tool common throughout the Philippines, primarily for clearing brush and carving livestock. Due to its ubiquity, the bolo has also been used by guerrillas in the Philippines since at least the nineteenth century. Depictions of Filipinos during the 1896 Philippine Revolution and afterward, in statues and other artwork, show them wielding bolos. The American military adopted its own version of the bolo following the Philippine War in the early 1900s. Modern Filipino martial arts instructors still commonly train students in the use of the bolo. Given this, the bolo is seen almost as much as a military fighting knife as it is a utility tool. Its use as a weapon has garnered the bolo knife a place in Filipino society as a symbol of people's resistance to colonial oppressors, and of independence. Therefore, the cultural significance of the bolo has extended well beyond its actual utility.

Examining memoirs, archival documents, artwork, and martial arts publications, this paper argues that the bolo's use as a weapon has been exaggerated, and its utility in fighting has been limited in actual employment. While evidence exists for the bolo's use as a fighting knife against the Spanish in the 1890s, Americans during the early 1900s, and Japanese during World War II, this use was limited in favor of firearms or other weapons like explosives. Demonstrating that the bolo's use as a weapon was not as widespread as often thought, nor was it particularly useful for fighting, makes clear that the bolo has served as a symbol of common people's, particularly Filipinos', resistance to occupying powers instead of as a weapon per se. Over time, the bolo has gained a significance as a cultural artifact out of proportion to its actual significance and utility as a military weapon.
Heather Venable, Air Command and Staff College
Participant's Paper Title: Bullets or Bayonets?: The Marine Corps' Cult of the Offensive, 1898-1930
Participant's Paper Abstract: Just as European military cultures fixated on instilling offensive spirit in their soldiers during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, so too did the U.S. Marine Corps stress similar ideas, particularly in emphasizing the importance of morale, which rivaled and sometimes even exceeded its emphasis on military training, at least rhetorically. This paper will provide an overview of how the Corps created this offensive-minded culture before moving to examine its preparations for World War I. More specifically, how did the Corps train to use the rifle and the bayonet?

Then, the paper will explore the actual use of these weapons during World War I. It will thus parse differences between the kind of rhetoric surrounding this offensive spirit and the reality of the infantryman's experience in France to determine the extent to which the Corps successfully instilled an offensive spirit that prepared its Marines to engage in close combat. Similarly, I will seek to understand the actual experience of killing in World War I in the historiographical tradition of researchers like S.L.A. Marshall and Lt. Col Dave Grossman. Did the average infantryman use the bayonet in combat? What about the rifle?

This paper will mine evidence from doctrine, professional writing, the Corps' Recruiting and Publicity Bureau, and fiction before, during, and after World War I. Using primary and secondary sources, it will also seek to provide a comparative look at this rhetoric in the U.S. Army to evaluate how deeply the Corps embraced this offensive culture as compared to its sister service to escape some of the stove piping that tends to occur in writing about military institutions.
Sebastian Lukasik, Air Command and Staff College

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