The Scream Heard Around the World — Manila Part 1

By Jay Holmes

Here in the U.S., if we hear the words “the Battle of Manila,” we generally assume they refer to the WWII battle that took place in the Philippine Islands in 1945. That’s a reasonable assumption, but long before U.S. General Douglas MacArthur attempted the liberation of the city of Manila in the Philippines, the U.S. fought a lesser-known Battle of Manila—one that began with a scream halfway around the world. Both battles were crucial for the U.S. interests in Asia, and both battles marked major turning points for the people of the Philippines. There ends the similarity.

 

Statue of Carlos Manuel de Cespedes in Havana image by Emmanuel Huybrechts, wikimedia commons

Statue of Carlos Manuel de Cespedes in Havana
image by Emmanuel Huybrechts, wikimedia commons

 

On the morning of October 10, 1868, a Cuban plantation owner-turned-philosopher by the name of Carlos Manuel de Céspedes del Castillo rang the slave bell calling his slaves to assembly. Carlos freed them and invited them to join him in a revolution against Cuba’s Spanish occupiers. In Cuban history, Carlos’s conversation that day is known as el Grito de Yara, or “the scream of Yara.”

 

Carlos Céspedes’s scream was the Declaration of Independence for Cuba, a country which, from the point of view of most Cubans at that time, was suffering a brutal Spanish occupation. Knowing that Cuba’s Spanish occupiers worked for a government that considered Cuba to be part of Spain’s national territory, Carlos took the precaution of committing to writing his Declaration of Independence for Cuba.

 

Most Cubans thought independence was a sensible idea. Most Spaniards thought it was the worst idea since Napoleon decided to visit. Before it was all over, Carlos’s particular grito, or scream, would be heard as far away as Manila and in every village in the Philippines. Unfortunately for Spain, before that scream could echo off the stout walls of Intramuras in Manila, it registered in the ears and minds of revenue-conscious and often-bored-but-always-creative newspaper owners in the U.S. Within a year, the revolutionary Cubans had selected Carlos as their leader.

 

Loud though his scream was, Carlos did not live to see Cuban independence. In 1873, he lost his position as the leader of the Cuban revolution and went into hiding in the mountains. The following year, the Spanish found him and executed him, but the revolution he began continued on.

 

In 1878, Spain grew tired of the high cost of the war in Cuba and signed a treaty that freed most of the slaves and promised improvements and more rights for Cubans. But the treaty did not grant Cuba her independence, and Carlos Céspedes’s grito was not done echoing.

 

The yearning for Cuban independence continued to smolder, and in 1893, another Cuban philosopher, José Julián Martí Pérez, founded the Cuban Revolutionary Party in New York City. José Martí carried forward that cry for independence.

 

Martí returned to Cuba to help incite a new revolution in April of 1895. One month later, he died while attempting to inspire Cuban fighters by charging a Spanish stronghold on horseback. Like Carlos Céspedes, he did not live to see his native country free, but his writings and his devotion to democracy and freedom helped inspire the Cuban people to achieve their independence.

 

Soldiers of the Cuban Army, 1898 wikimedia commons

Soldiers of the Cuban Army, 1898
wikimedia commons

 

Halfway around the world, another philosopher had been inspired by Carlos Céspedes’s scream. The Philippines’ most beloved native son, Doctor José Protasio Rizal Mercado y Alonso Realonda, had attended both the University of San Tomas in Luzon and Madrid University in Spain, and he had traveled extensively from a young age. He had grown tired of the Spanish occupation.

 

José Rizal was never one to do much screaming. He was more of a listener and a quiet thinker. He was also a powerful writer, heavily influenced by the European philosophers of his time. Rizal wanted freedom and democracy for his native Philippines, but the revolutionary groups that were forming there did not enthrall him. He felt that a Filipino revolution against Spain without adequate education and a clear national identity with democratic ideals would not be an improvement for the people of the Philippines.

 

Dr. Jose Rizal, age 35, 1896 The Philippine National Archives

Dr. Jose Rizal, age 35, 1896
The Philippine National Archives

 

In 1887, José Rizal published his seminal work called Noli Me Tángere, which is Latin for “touch me not.” The gentle whisper of the thoughtful young doctor spread through the Philippines and inspired his countrymen to stand up against the Spanish occupation. However, to Rizal’s dismay, the uprising turned extremely violent by 1896. At that time, Rizal volunteered to go to Cuba to help doctor the victims of an outbreak of yellow fever. The Spanish intercepted his ship in route arrested him. In spite of his public denouncements of the violence and his constant pleas for peaceful dialogue, Rizal was charged with inciting the violence in the Philippines.

José Rizal was convicted for imaginary crimes and sentenced to death. On December 30, 1896, he was executed by firing squad. Even so, his words refused to die. After his death, his sister recovered his last poem, Mi última adios . . . My Last Farewell. It had been hidden in his small portable stove in his cell in Manila. She and Rizal’s friends saw that it was published. There was no way they could know the eventual impact of their choice.

 

Photo Engraving of Jose Rizal's Execution wikimedia commons

Photo Engraving of Jose Rizal’s Execution
wikimedia commons

 

The increasing violence in Cuba and the Philippines caught the attention of Europe and the U.S. A few weeks before Rizal’s execution, U.S. President Grover Cleveland and his cabinet had carefully considered a secret report by Naval Intelligence Officer William Kimball. Kimball concluded that the Spanish Navy, though well trained and well led, was vulnerable due to years of inadequate maintenance. Kimball was aware that the U.S. maintained only a small professional army of about 25,000 men. He recommended that the U.S. use its growing naval power to intervene in Cuba and the Philippines by conducting naval blockades and, if necessary, conducting a naval bombardment of locations on Spain’s Mediterranean coast. U.S. President Grover Cleveland called on Spain to bring the uprisings to peaceful conclusions and announced that the U.S. would consider intervening in Cuba if the bloodbath did not stop.

 

By 1897, U.S. newspapers such as William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal were publishing increasingly one-sided reports about Spanish barbarism in Cuba and the Philippines. Though there were no shortages of real atrocities to report, the newspapers often reported pure fantasy. This inflammatory press coverage fed America’s sympathy for the Cuban people.

 

In March of 1897, U.S. President William McKinley was inaugurated. A few days later, Emilio Aguinaldo was selected as the leader of the revolutionary government of the Philippines. The new U.S. President preached against involvement in the war between Spain and its colonies, but his position quickly lost supporters, due in large part to the yellow journalism being practiced by major U.S. newspapers.

 

On August 8, 1897, an Italian anarchist assassinated Spanish Prime Minister Antonio Cánovas del Castillo. The assassination created instability in the Spanish government and hindered its conduct of foreign and colonial policy. On December 15 that year, Spanish negotiators paid Emilio Aguinaldo 800,000 pesos and agreed to grant the Philippines autonomy. In exchange, Aguinaldo and his cohorts agreed to a voluntary exile in Hong Kong.

 

Spain granted “limited autonomy” to the Philippines on January 1, 1898. For many Philippine people, this declaration was simply too little, too late.

 

Anti-Spanish sentiment in the U.S. was growing much worse. In Cuba, violence was increasing. The U.S. was concerned for the safety of U.S. citizens in Havana. Since the U.S. was still politically neutral in the conflict, it received the approval of the Spanish government to send the battle cruiser USS Maine to Havana harbor.

 

USS Maine U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph #NH 60255-A

USS Maine
U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph #NH 60255-A

 

On February 15, 1898, the USS Maine exploded while at anchor in Havana harbor, killing 270 U.S. sailors. Navy investigations concluded that a mine likely detonated near an ammunition magazine and set off a fatal explosion, which caused the battle cruiser to sink rapidly. The Navy investigators made it clear that they had no information as to who might have placed the mine. Nevertheless, most newspapers in the U.S. reported that the Spanish had placed the mine.

 

The public outcry for war against Spain gathered momentum. Newspaper sales reached new records in New York and other major cities, and advertising revenues skyrocketed. Carlos Céspedes’s grito echoed once more, and on April 11, President McKinley bowed to public opinion and requested permission from Congress to take military action against Spain. On April 13, Congress approved President McKinley’s request. America entered the war.

 

In the next installment, we will look at how this Battle of Manila unfolded, and the power of a poem.

 

Rizal Monument in Rizal Park Manila, Philippines image by Handtell, wikimedia commons

Rizal Monument in Rizal Park
Manila, Philippines
image by Handtell, wikimedia commons

 

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Bayard & Holmes

The Scream Heard Around the World

Armageddon and Intervention: Europe Intervenes in the American Revolution

By Jay Holmes

The United States and many Western European allies are presently involved in multiple military interventions around the world. In any country with a reasonable population that has access to something approximating free speech, military intervention will always be controversial. In my view, it is foolish for any nation to run to war too quickly. The costs and possible outcomes should be considered by those who pay for those interventions, as well as for failures to intervene. The taxpayers and their kids.

To do a minimal bit of justice to the subject, I will be publishing short articles in a series in which we will review several past interventions, their costs, and their impacts before considering the current interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, and Cote D’Ivoire. Then, we will look at a few of the potential cases for military intervention in the near future.

Fortunately, with history, we often have verifiable facts about the outcomes of an event, and we can view these outcomes without staging a second battle of Guadalcanal or Bastogne. One can prepare for war, fight in war or read about war. Having tried all three, I would say that preparing is somewhat tedious, but can, at times, prevent a war, and reading about other people’s wars is, in my view, the best of the three options. It’s great that, except in catholic school and military academies, there are no drill instructors forcing us to read the next page, and the book will usually not kill us (although some porn store customers might debate that point). And come to think of it, I did consider dying rather than finishing Steppenwolf in high school, but that’s the topic of another blog.

So, without bearing the expense of any real interventions, any consequences of not intervening, or any bullets, bombs, or aggravating journalists while intervening, let’s enjoy some arm-chair executive power and safe-distance “generalship” and dice up a few interventions. Feel free to disagree with any conclusions I might propose. Unchallenged ideas always remain imperfect, or may, in fact, simply be stupid. So unlike the youngsters on the obstacle course, you should feel free to appoint yourself Field Marshall, Admiral of the fleet, or Dictator for a day and decide how you might have better managed or avoided past interventions. Unfortunately, this promotion to dictator does not come with countless cowering servants or the treasury of any nation so you still have to clean your dishes tonight, but enjoy yourself nonetheless.

Let’s start with an American intervention. Not Yankees intervening somewhere else, but rather Europeans intervening in America. . . .

Hey Buddy, Can You Spare a Franc?

At Lexington, Massachusetts on April 19, 1775, some stubborn men and adventurous boys blocked an advancing British force of seven hundred well-trained British soldiers. The British were attempting to catch the Americans by surprise at Concord and capture their weapons and ammunition depot. Unknown to the British, the precious and scarce supplies had already been moved.

The British habit of planning operations at the dining room table in the company of their wives, mistresses, and servants was a valuable intelligence opportunity for the colonials, and on this and other occasions, timely intelligence saved the day. It is my unconfirmed suspicion that one unspoken reason the colonials took a stand at Lexington was to cover the success of their intelligence operations against the British camp. If so, they succeeded, and the British continued their careless Headquarters security habits.

The Battle of Lexington is usually considered the start of the American Revolution combat phase. But long before those stubborn Red Sox fans decided to exchange fire with the advancing British, the conservative rebel leaders were hard at work trying to gain the aid of European nations in their struggle against Great Britain. When Patrick Henry said, “. . . but as for me, give me liberty or give me death,” he may have been expecting more liberty for Americans and more death for the British. Henry and other members of the Congress were aware that, as an 18th century superpower, Britain had many enemies, and that chief amongst them were France and Spain.

Most Americans learn that the French Navy sent Admiral de Grasse to assist the colonies, and that the French fleet managed to win a battle against a British fleet in Chesapeake Bay, thanks to favorable winds and the late arrival of British naval reinforcements. We also know that many young low-ranking officers from France and other parts of Europe were quick to come to Philadelphia to seek commissions as high-ranking officers in the Continental Army. Many of those eager European officers were available because they lacked the talent to succeed in their own regiments at home.

However, two excellent European volunteers were Baron Friedrich von Steuben of Prussia and the loveable idealist, French cavalry officer Marie-Joseph Paul Yves Rocha Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de La Fayette, or simply “Lafayette” in the USA. Neither Lafayette nor Von Steuben was “sent” to the colonies by their governments. They both came at their own risk and expense. Von Steuben had a tremendous positive impact in the training of colonial recruits. As for Lafayette, he is best remembered for his courage and leadership on the battlefield, but his greatest service to America might well have been his influence in obtaining loans for financing the war and direct military aid from France.

It’s easy to understand why France, The Netherlands, and Spain were eager to see the Americans succeed against Great Britain. It’s also easy to understand why they hoped to keep their assistance covert as long as possible while publicly declaring neutrality toward the Colonies. In fact, the neutrality was broken before it was ever even announced. Long before de Grasse brought his fleet and French Army soldiers to fight in the colonies, France was clandestinely financing and supplying the Colonials.

Both King Carlos III of Spain and his cousin, King Louis XVI of France, were nervous about aiding a revolution against a ruling European monarch. As it turned out, Louis’ fears were well founded. But both countries were trying to prevent British hegemony in the Caribbean and the North Atlantic, and they both knew that a protracted American war with Britain would present a marvelous opportunity for their own countries.

While France has enjoyed its well-deserved recognition for intervening on behalf of the colonial rebels, Spain’s involvement was much quieter and more advantageous to itself. Spain maintained no illusions about America becoming a staunch ally of any European monarchy. Spain made loans of cash and supplies based on the assumption that they would eventually be repaid approximately 0% +/- zero of any investment made. Spain kept Great Britain guessing in the Caribbean, and actively engaged the British in the Mediterranean. As a result, Spain was able to use the opportunity provided by the American Revolution to remove British colonists from Central America and defeat the British Military units that were sent to capture Central America from Spain.

At the same time, Spain was shipping supplies from New Orleans across the Mississippi and overland to the rebels. In fact, during the first two years of the revolution, Spain supplied much of the rebels’ gunpowder via the Mississippi. During the revolution, Spain was able to evict Britain from her strongholds in Louisiana, Alabama, and Florida.

The Netherlands were allied to Great Britain at the outbreak of the American Revolution. The Prince of Orange had no intentions of assisting the Americans against the British, but the wealthy bankers and merchants of Holland undermined his policies. Dutch banking houses and merchants were quick to organize assistance in the form of money and contraband trade with the American colonies. The British quickly discovered this “silent conspiracy by vast committee” and ignored the Prince’s assertions of allegiance to Great Britain. Great Britain declared war on The Netherlands. The Dutch managed to fight the British navy to a draw, but while the British were capable of bringing in naval reinforcements, the Dutch were not, and The Netherlands signed a peace treaty that included the loss of their colonies in India.

The fledgling United States prospered immensely from the interventions by The Netherlands, France, and Spain. The early financial assistance from Dutch banks and merchants greatly benefitted the US early in the revolution. The financial support and direct military intervention by France helped tip the balance and made victory at the Battle of Yorktown possible. Spain supplied valuable weapons, powder, shot, supplies, and gold while keeping the British occupied in the Caribbean, Mediterranean and Central America. They also kept a third of British forces in continental North America busy during the revolution. While The Netherlands lost from their involvement, and France “joined in” to the revolutionary spirit more than King Louis XVI would have cared for—it cost him his throne and his head—Spain handled itself adroitly.

Spain’s intervention in the American Revolution stands out as a remarkable example of skilled, rational statesmanship. Spain took the time to see the American revolutionaries accurately and accept them for what they were. King Carlos and his crew skillfully avoided clouding their judgments with wishful thinking or cultural biases about the Dutch, the French, the British, the American colonials or the native Americans in the new world.

A reading of the historical records of Spanish diplomatic and military communications from Madrid to the New World reveals a startling picture of 18th century statesman accurately predicting the results of both events that they could impact, and events that were beyond their control. King Carlos had excellent intelligence information, but more importantly, he and his government used that information dispassionately to form an amazingly accurate picture of a war that was fought thousands of miles from Madrid, long before the telegraph was invented.  Two and a half centuries later, we Americans would be well served by following their example.