Sunday, August 28, 2011

Battles Long Ago: First Manila 1898

...over at GFT:Dusky Spanish damsels, plucky Yankee adventurers, sly foreigners (twirling their mustaches, no doubt...) and a rousing tale of planting the Grand Old Flag!Civilize 'em with a Krag!


  1. Nice post, except the incident with the SMS Irene probably never happened. The Irene entered Manila Bay on May 6 without acknowledging Dewey's presence. On May 12, the commander of the German Asiatic Squadron, Admiral Diederichs arrived on Kaiserin Augusta which was later joined by the battleship Kaiser and crusier Princess Wilhelm. In all the Germans had 24,260 tons versus Admiral Dewey's 19,008 tons, so had they wanted a fight, they were in a position to win it.

    There is no indication that that was the case. Most likely the Germans were there to take advantage of the situation had the US not annexed the islands. Supposedly there were Filipinos interested in having a German prince as their new king, which sounds bizarre today, but in 1898 made perfect sense.

    Diederichs and Dewey met and worked out protocols, Dewey initially demanding that he be allowed to board any foreign naval vessel entering the Bay, but later backing down.

    According to David Trask's "The War with Spain" there are no official records of the incident you mention, nor of any German interference with Dewey's operations.

    Rather, there were numerous press reports of "menacing Germans" which of course played well to those who wished to annex the Philippines . . .

  2. Interesting. All the contemporary U.S. sources I read state the encounter as absolutely conformed. I didn't have the OR (Library of Congress was down for "maintenance" during the period I was writing this. I will correct the post to reflect the questionable nature of this incident.

  3. Got it. You might check and see if the revision matches your information.

  4. That's better.

    Trask mentions in his notes that in 1913 Dewey claimed that USS Raliegh had fired across the bow of SMS Cormoran, but that it this is not recorded in Dewey's original log.

  5. As to the saluting. I think it had more to do with Germany being a neutral in this war. The captain of the Irene may have thought that he would be indicating preference by saluting Dewey, that is with the Spanish still in control of Manila . . .

  6. Research shows that the presence of the various German naval ships in Manila Bay may have had more to do with logistics, that is crew transfers than foreign policy . . .

    "In May 1898, Diederichs sent Kaiser to Nagasaki for periodic maintenance.[24] The Spanish-American War, which saw action in the Philippines at the Battle of Manila Bay, necessitated a German naval presence in the area to protect German nationals. Kaiser was still in Nagasaki undergoing repairs, so Diederichs ordered her and Prinzess Wilhelm, also in dock for maintenance, to meet him in Manila as soon as was possible. Crew transfers during the repair process necessitated Irene and Cormoran to meet in Manila as well; this concentration of five warships in the Philippines caused a serious crisis with the American Navy.[25] Rear Admiral George Dewey objected to the size of the German force and to a meeting between Diederichs and Governor General Augustin, the Spanish governor of the Philippines.[26] The German naval forces left the Philippines after the fall of Manila in August, though tensions with the United States continued for some time after.[27]

  7. It appears that the yellow press seized on what was an otherwise point of minor friction between the USN and the Hochseeflotte to help beat the imperial war drum.

    That said, it's hard to be sure whether the WilhemlmstraBe may or may not have had a hand in this, even if a minor one; certainly German imperial foreign policy starting in the 1890s was increasingly aggressive abroad, and I wouldn't have put it past Berlin to have suggested to Diedrichs that he poke a nose in and see what the Yanks were up to; certainly the other imperial powers were there, and Wilhelm II hated the notion that Germany wasn't the equal of France and Britain.

    But in this case, the American papers got it wrong, whether by mistake or for the benefit of the people who benefitted from the American public getting all worried about foreign skulduggery.

    Where was Judith Miller when they needed her. Oh, wait...

  8. "Hochseeflotte" was afaik the title for the battlefleet. You seem to be talking about a colonial squadron instead. Afaik they were called "Geschwader (something") or "(something)geschwader" such as "Ostasiengeschwader" (East Asia Squadron).

  9. Brain fart. I was groping for the German equivalent of "USN" (probably "Kaiserlich Marine" or "Kaiserlich Kriegsmarine") and my reptile brain seized on the tag for the battle fleet.


  10. Great post Chief, but "desuetude"???? You caught me napping with that one.

    But you are right of course. Except for the officers and the later reinforcements sent to Cuba, the overseas Spanish Army at the time had very few peninsulares. Why would they want to go to havens of yellow fever and malaria in the colonies when they could enjoy tapas on the boulevards, bullfights, and flamenco at home. Many draftees were from the Canary Islands or the Balearics. Others were born of Spanish parents in Cuba, PR, or Spanish Africa. Some even came as volunteers from Sicily. The few that came from Spain proper were Andalusian or Catalan conscripts, not considered true Spaniards at the time. None wanted to be there except a few officers and NCOs that got rich through graft and la mordida.

    As for atrocities, you say: "Mind you, many of the atrocity stories were somewhat true - the Spanish used a concentration-camp strategy (an earlier version of our "strategic hamlet" program for Vietnam) and, being 1890-Spanish and thus marginally competent administrators managed to kill a fair number of their prisoners through disease, starvation, and general mismanagement." I don't know about a 'fair' number??? Cuban emigres to the US claimed that in the years 95 through 97, the Governor put half a million locals in his reconcentrados and sent thousands of liberal Cubans and urban insurgent sympathizers to prisons in Spanish Morocco. There are conflicting reports - but somewhere between 200,000 and 400,000 people died in those concentration camps and in Africa. The higher figures of course were probably inflated for propaganda value, but nobody denies the dying did happen on a huge scale. That same Governor had previously been a Capitan-General in the Phillipines putting down revolts there in the late 80s and early 90s so I would not be surprised if he did not do something similar to the Filipinos.

  11. I meant to add that American Progressives on the left were just as much responsible for that war as was Mahan, missionaries, and trade merchants. Here it is over a century later and we still have a liberal desire to stop all the injustice of the world through our military.

  12. Might be of interest . . .

  13. Chief, I really enjoy your tours through history. You've got a real knack for exposition, not to mention excellent writing skills. Ever wonder what you've might have done in a parallel universe? Never stop doing this.

    Seydlitz, outstanding find. Definitely a worthwhile contribution. Good example of how one can get lost in space, AKA the Internet.

    Mike is of course right about the American propensity for thinking that we somehow have the mission to civilize the heathens and right the wrongs of the world. Manifest Destiny and all of that. Interestingly, although Mike uses "progressives" and "liberal," which would lead one to conclude that it's all some leftist plot, the fact is this is one area where the left and right often find common ground: Pax Americana.

  14. Pub -

    Certainly did not mean to imply that we leftists started the war. But we certainly contribute our share.

  15. Mike: No question that the Spaniards killed their share, both in the PI and in Cuba. The problem I had with just slagging off on them was 1) whilst they were bad I don't think they were all that much worse than any of the other colonial powers in 1898 and way better than the real dregs such as Belgium, and 2) the U.S. turned around and did the SAME fucking thing in the PI.

    So when I called the atrocities "somewhat true" I think what I meant was that while it was not a lie to call the Spaniards out for their butchery, it was more than a little hypocritical for the U.S. to call them out on their butchery...and then turn around and imitate it...

  16. True Chief that hypocrisy is one of our strong suits. Even Teddy one of my heroes was in on that madness of rationalizing the butchery in the PI.

    However, unlike the Spanish, we court-martialed dozens of troopers for atrocities during the Philippine-American War, including a General Officer. And do not forget that it was also a civil war. Many of the war crimes were carried out by 'insurrectos' on the other side. And many others were carried out by the Philippine Scouts or by local constabulary. Some claim that we learned water-boarding from the Philippine Scouts, many of whom were former light infantrymen in the Native Regiments that fought for Spain. They of course learned it from the Dons and it was probably passed down to them 20 generations earlier by Torquemada.

    What is the source of the 200,000 figure??? Seydlitz's link above cites half of that number.

  17. mike: There doesn't seem to be any really authoritative idea of how many native people were killed, either in Cuba or the PI, by the Spanish and the U.S. trying to crush independence movements. The numbers run everywhere from the low tens to the high hundreds.

    And it's worth noting that in Googling various forms of "Philippine Insurrection courts martial" "Philippine U.S. atrocities" "Philippine Insurrection war crimes" and so forth, all I could find was the trials associated with the Balangiga massacre.

    And, as you note, a general officer WAS tried. General Jacob H. Smith was found guilty, and in an outcome that anyone familiar with the courts-martial process involving GIs convicted of killing modern dusky heathens such as Iraqis was merely admonished and forced to retire.

    Two other officers were tried. A Marine MAJ Littleton Waller was found not guilty, a finding that senior military officials did not accept. And a CPT Edwin Glenn was court-martialled for torturing Filipinos and was found guilty, suspended from his rank and pay, and fined.

    Not exactly Nuremburg.

  18. To all,
    there's a theory that all centers of Terrorism are resultant from colonial brutal policies.
    Instructively the Moro are still active and maintain international connections with terror groups.
    Remember Nick Rowe was gunned down in Manila.
    Flip t's trained in Pak and Afgh.

  19. jim: My observation is that terrorism is the weapon of the weak, that many or most of the colonized peoples were weak militarily compared to their colonizers, so it wouldn't be shocking to find the germ of the idea of "let's kill their wimmen, kids, old people, and pets rather than try and face down their imperial grunts" was to be found there.

    One of the most fucked-up things about colonialism IMO is that it's so bent the places it was hammered into. We really have no idea what the PI would have turned out if we'd have treated Aguinaldo like he was the Filipino George Washington or Kemal Ataturk rather than Daniel Shays. No question but the Spanish had already fucked the place hard. Certainly other ex-Spanish colonies have thrown out their own Marcoses without our help. But we sure DIDN'T help, and that's a pretty sad comment on us.

    And I think the fairly obvious parallel is what are all the violent forces we're currently applying in central Asia going to do there? We messed up Vietnam pretty badly but don't seem to have trouble getting them to make Nikes for food nowadays. I honestly have no idea whether we'll be doing the same thing in Kabul 20 years from now or whether we're making the Pashtun into the Moros of central Asia. But my money would be on the latter rather than the former...

  20. mike: I tracked down the Marine major whose aquittal "...that senior military officials did not accept". Guess what?

    He retired a major general.

    Nation of laws, my ass.

  21. Chief -

    I have tried to post four times and lost all. Will try again tomorrow. Yes, I am aware of Major Waller and his case and that he eventually made Major General. What about Adna Chaffee who was Military Governor at the time? Chaffee instructed 'Howlin Jack' Smith and other officers "to give the Filipinos 'bayonet rule' for years to come"; and told the press "If you should hear of a few Filipinos more or less being put away don't grow too sentimental over it." Chaffee made three stars and became Chief of Staff of the Army.

    Waller by the way had countermanded Smith's order to shoot Filipino children on Samar over the age of 10 years. During the Naval Battle of Manila Bay he had put himself in danger while rescuing Spanish sailors when their ships were on fire and their magazines exploding. I believe but do not know for sure that he was the model for Charlton Heston's character in that Hollywood biopic about the Boxer Rebellion. Waller's crime was that he ordered capitol punishment of 11 baggage carriers during the March Across Samar who had attacked one of his junior officers with bolos. His defense cited Abraham Lincoln's General Order #100 from 1863 which gave field commanders summary execution authority.

    Glenn had an Alaskan Highway named after him.

    Smith, after the slap-on-the-hand at his court martial was returned to duty, but TR intervened and ordered him out of the Army.

  22. Chief -

    Smith was also at the Wounded Knee massacre a dozen years earlier. Ordering the killing of women and children was not a new thing for him.

  23. Mike,

    I've checked the spam filter and haven't found anything from you. It's empty, in fact. Did you lose those posts when trying to post?

  24. From Seydlitz's link above:

    After the massacre of Charlie Company 9th Infantry at Balangiga, General Howlin Jake Smith issued his infamous Circular No. 6, and ordered his command thus: "I want no prisoners" and "I wish you to kill and burn; and the more you burn and kill, the better it will please me." Then he tasked his men to reduce Samar into a "howling wilderness," to kill anyone 10 years old and above capable of bearing arms.

    He stressed that, "Every native will henceforth be treated as an enemy until he has conclusively shown that he is a friend." His policy would be "to wage war in the sharpest and most decisive manner," and that "a course would be pursued that would create a burning desire for peace."

  25. Thanks Publius - not sure what happened, must have been on my end. I lost the first one then laboriously retyped it to MS Word and pasted it into the comment box several times but no go. So I pretty much summarized some of it above. I suspect I had too many links in there or maybe bad html lingo.

  26. Mike, in my experience, the one thing that will cause you to lose a post (and not be able to ever get it back) is excessive length. And, no, I don't know how long is too long. I have lost several this way and inasmuch I am not sufficiently diligent and careful as to compose a WP document first (I just post right here), I lose it every time.

    You might not that our smarter folks here like FDChief and the Aviator tend to break their posts into two or more parts.

    And then maybe it was too many links or bad html. Or maybe the dog ate it like it used to eat my homework. There are lots of things I do not understand about this computer business. I use a MacIntosh and have done so since 1986. It's not because I give a shit about Apple or Steve Jobs. It's that I hate having to do any kind of work on these infernal machines. I spent a couple of hours on my wife's POS laptop (Bill Gates and that asshole partner of his should be summarily shot for that Windows Vista OS) until I finally told her, "When in doubt, reboot. And then go out and watch an old movie. I'm getting another beer."

    I expect I will have to sweat over that POS computer again tomorrow if for no other reason than to continue establishing my bona fides as Super Husband. Good news is I have lots of beer on hand.

  27. Chief -

    "We really have no idea what the PI would have turned out if we'd have treated Aguinaldo like he was the Filipino George Washington or Kemal Ataturk rather than Daniel Shays."

    True, we have no crystal ball. But at first we did treat him pretty damn good. Dewey brought him back to the Philippines from Hong Kong after the Battle of Manila Bay. He was there in Hong Kong after selling out the revolution to the Spanish for amnesty and $800,000 in Mexican silver. Many of the revolutionaries who had kept fighting would not accept him for that reason. Many others would not accept him as they thought him not a true Filipino because of his Chinese/Tagalog/Mestizo heritage. He did not represent most of the southern islands and did not represent the Ilokano in northern Luzon. Why should we have treated him like he was speaking for all of the Philippines???

    He maybe was the Washington of the Manila elite. He cemented his role as the head of the revolutionary government through assassination of his rivals. He was a collaborator for the Japanese during WW-2. Not the kind of guy I would respect as the father of his country.

  28. Publius -

    Yeah, it was probably too long, serves me right for being such a mouthy bastard and taking Chief's fine post off on a tangent.

    Or else maybe it was Bill Gates revenge for my cursing at him.

  29. mike: No question but that a hell of a lot was stacked against the PI from the get-go; most of their leadership got their training from the Spanish, after all...

    I'll buy all the knocks on Aguinaldo (and by association his coequals in the Filipino hierarchy) except the "collaborating with the Japanese" slur. The Japanese were invaders - so were we. At least early on the Japanese were at least fellow Asians and thus looked more promising than the white boys. I think it's important to not see colonial events through our Western beer goggles. The INA in India was another good example. Yes, the Japanese were imperial invaders...and the British weren't? Why SHOULDN'T a colonial subject give a different Power a chance? Like we'd been such good stewards? Bose amd Aguinaldo chose poorly, but their choices were poor to begin with - do you trust the new enemy, or the old one?

    I think the best way to think of the Philippine episode is that the entire thing was a massive compound mistake. Our best choice would have been to shake hands with whomever was the current Filipino boss, get everyone's name on a stack of treaties and trade agreements, and grab a hat. Maybe work out a lease deal for Subic, if the Filipinos were game. But Aguinaldo, Smith, Waller, Chaffee...all of that was the result of the original fucked-up decision to go into the colonialism business - a business that as a former rebellious colony we should have recoiled from like a devil from holy water

  30. And..I should clarify that the U.S. - or Spain, for that matter - were not some sort of heinous freaks in their colonial atrocities. "They all" did it (tho, as I mentioned, the Belgians might have been the worst. Read the accounts of the Congo in the 19th Century and even the early 20th - it'll chill your blood) and the murders, looting, and raping we did in the PI are all in the great colonial tradition.

    I mean, think about it. Being in the position of an imperial power is not that much different from one person being given absolute power over another. How many of us are saintly enough to resist the temptation of knowing that we can do anything - ANYthing - to that person and not ever face punishment for it? So if he's rich, what's to stop us from robbing him? If he's disrespectful, from killing him? If she's desirable, from raping her?

    So that means that 95% of us, with a strong enough internal code of conduct, won't do any of those things. But the other 5% will.

    Which is why the savagery of the punishment is so important; even more important than for crimes committed aginst members of our own tribe. The conquered are an incredibly tempting target for atrocity, and without a certain and violent punishment the 5% will go medieval on their ass.

    We've seen this in every occupation, in every colonial administration in history. Absolute power corrupts absolutely, right? We even have a saying about it. The only way to avoid this nightmare - is to avoid it. Stay away from colonies, imperialism. Hedge your foreign adventures about with caveats. Assume the worst. Because as sure as the sun rises, putting yourself in a position of absolute power over a foreigner is to ensure that some of your people will murder, rob, and rape that foreigner.

    We saw it openly in the PI, because in the day the notion of looking at brown, black, and yellow people as little more than talking animals was accepted. It's less so today...and yet, tell me that the cumulative effect of our courts-martial verdicts, where no one but a handful of low ranking snuffies even get so much as a BCD, don't have the same impact. In effect, it tells both the occupying soldier and the occupied native that the native's life or chastity isn't worth even the career, much less the life, of the commander who is supposed to be responsible for ensuring that native's safety.

    We hung Yamashita for the acts of his troops, and Jodl for launching wars of aggression.

    And yet Cheney and Rummy and Wolfowitz and Dubya...and now Obama and Hilary and Gates and Petraeus...walk around without a care in the world.

  31. Chief -

    We are in 100% agreement on the need for bringing Junior Bush, Deadaeye Dicky Cheney, the Rummy, and Wolfowitz to justice. Not likely, but at least I hope to outlive them and urinate on their graves.

    As far as Aguinaldo and his collaboration with the Japanese, my take is that the man was an opportunist and a predator of his fellow citizens. We treated the man with kid gloves and gave him every benefit of doubt. After he was captured in late March 1901 (by a Filipino unit BTW), we confined him yes, but his place of confinement was Malacanang Palace, not exactly the Bastille or Abu Ghraib. Less than a month later on 19 April he swore an oath of allegiance to the United States. We pretty well rolled up the insurrection after that, so I have to wonder how many of his revolutionary compatriots Emilio betrayed. In 1941 there would have been only a short time until the Philippines gained independence. Aguinaldo knew that, and yet he went with the Japanese when they were killing Filipinos at both Lingayen and Lamon and later. 90% of Filipinos were against the Japanese, Aguinaldo chose badly, very badly. Not such a golden boy IMHO.

    And the weird thing is even after the war he was only briefly jailed. He and the Japanese puppet Jose Laurel were given amnesty. They were able to as you mention "walk around without a care in the world." Unfortunately, the low ranking Filipinos who did dirty work for Aguinaldo and his Kempetai masters did not get amnesty. Hmmmm, that sounds familiar, where have I heard that before, oh wait!!!!!

  32. I think it's hard for us to "get" the street cred he gets for being one of the hard men of the independence movement. He was among the first in the field against the Spaniards and fought us, too...I think that went a long way to make him untouchable for the average Filipino.

    Look at all the other ex-colonies where hard men and outright bad men were chosen for, or hacked their way to, high position. One of the many real tragedies of colonialism is that it tends to make opposition to colonialism a Golden Ticket; the enemy of my enemy is my "friend", regardless of the real value of that friendship. So bastards like Mugabe and Savimbi in Africa, Suharto in Indonesia, an assload of the "leaders" of post-colonial India, Ortega in Nicaragua...they all get way more leeway than they should - because they stood up to the foreign fucktards.

    Doesn't excuse Aguinaldo. But it does, I think, go a long way to explaining him.

  33. I like that explanation, Chief. You tend to keep me grounded. Sorry for going off tangentially on your fine post. But where is your Naval Battle. How about Cadiz, wasn't that in September????

  34. Are we talking the 1656 battle? That'd be a fun little writeup - not decisive, but interesting in the light it would shed on the Protectorate's foreign policy.

    I think this September's battle is going to be Shiroyama, 1877, the final gasp of the Satsuma Rebellion. Samurai vs samurai for the soul of Japan and the winners start down the path that leads to Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima...

  35. I was thinking 1702. But then there is probably not too many English references. The Brits do not like to write about Spanish victories.

    Or maybe next year, Nelson's pre-emptive sneak attack on Copenhagen. Said to be a model for the Japanese in 1941.