Saturday, March 3, 2012

l. 3735 -- “Why is President McKinley's mind like a bed?”

“Because it has to be made up for him before he can use it” (l. 3343).

Like more recent military adventures, the US enthusiastically declared victory and patted itself on the back too early, ignoring signs that more trouble lay in the future. McKinley later said: “If old Dewey had just sailed away when he smashed that Spanish fleet, what a lot of trouble he would have saved us” (l. 2819).

McKinley reflected the national ambiguous attitude toward imperial adventures. Eventually his public statements and postures drifted toward favoring a prolonged US presence in Philippines, with occasional public backsliding and much ineffective private mind-changing. US decision-makers on the ground correctly discerned that they had no clear instructions from Washington on how to act. As a result, each made decisions according to his (never her) requirements and world-view, often acting at cross-purposes with other commanders. Statements of colonial disinterest were followed by attempts to put as much territory as possible under US control.

Commodore Dewey summoned exiled insurgent leader Emilio Aguinaldo from Hong Kong in mid-May 1898. What exactly happened during their first meeting is disputed. The translation may have been inadequate. Dewey apparently kept no notes and did not even report to Washington that the meeting took place until five weeks after it happened. McKinley may have learned of the meeting from newspaper reports. Here and elsewhere, Dewey had the habit of revising his memories to fit the situation (i.e., testimony before the Senate) he found himself in (l. 3035). Aguinaldo's memoirs maintain that Dewey expressed uncategorical support for the insurgents and that America “needed no colonies” (l. 3024). At the end of the meeting, Dewey alleged told Aguinaldo: “Go ashore and start your army” (l. 3052).

By mid-summer, insurgents had overrun many Spanish garrisons and had taken 3,000 prisoners. Fourteen miles of trenches (l. 3068) had been dug around the old city wall of Manila, where the remaining Spanish sheltered in increasing dire conditions. Aguinaldo ignored advisors urging caution and commissioned a national anthem, a flag, and a declaration of independence, the last of which he read in a public ceremony on 12 June 1898. The document was signed by 97 Filipinos and one American, a visiting businessman from Shanghai. Dewey ignored the invitation to the ceremony, explaining that it was “mail day” (l. 3109).

Meanwhile, additional troops, usually freshly recruited in the US, were gathered and dispatched. On the way to Manila, the first convoy captured Guam easily after discovering that the Spaniards there were unaware that a state of war existed (l. 3170). The arrival of boatloads of American soldiers naturally created suspicions that the US was in the a Philippines for the longer term, and that Dewey and other leaders had shown bad faith in previous talks.

American military commanders wished to attack Manila's old city and capture the besieged Spaniards there. The problem was that they could not do so without attacking or overrunning the insurgents who now surrounded the city. The American commanders tricked the insurgents into withdrawing from a sector of the perimeter by promising (but never delivering) cannons (l. 3246).

The besieged Spanish realized their situation was hopeless. They wished to make the best of it by surrendering to the Americans. They very reasonably felt that the Americans would be more merciful, and less reasonably felt it more honorable to surrender after something resembling a struggle. The two sides agreed secretly on a charade (hidden from the nominally-allied Filipinos). Like most conspiracies, it occasionally went off the rails. For example, when a US commander gave his gunners deliberately incorrect target coordinates, the gunners (no doubt voicing salty sentiments about the competence of management) assumed that a mistake had been made. They corrected their coordinates and made several direct hits (l. 3289). Similarly, some Filipinos joined what they thought was a genuine fight, and alarmed Spaniards responded by shooting back.

The Americans who died during the battle for Manila were the first US combat causalities. A few days later, Manila learned that the US and Spain had signed an armistice the day before the battle.

There ensued peace negotiations in Paris, from which the Filipinos were systematically ignored and excluded. It became conventional wisdom from pro-imperialist that the US must take control over the islands to prevent evil European powers from taking over. Example: Acting on a baseless report that Filipinos were thinking of welcome a German prince as a monarch, some German warships steamed to Manila, getting everyone's undies in a bunch (l. 3318). By this time, McKinley had completed his journey from pacifist to expansionist, later telling Methodists missionaries that he had arrived after prayer at the conclusion that it was the US's duty to educate, uplift, and Christianize the Filipinos (l. 3399). Under the provisions of the treaty, Spain surrendered the Philippines to the US in return for 20 million dollars.

Meanwhile, insurgents attempted to both engage in public displays of honor for American and its troops (whose short-term protection they still hoped for) and prepare for possible hostilities. Local conflicts threaten to blossom into international incidents. Insurgent leadership hoped for the best and made friendly noises while also attempting to quietly control territory and arm themselves.

The fight for Senate approval of this treaty was long and hard. Many powerful and influential people were still firmly against foreign entanglements. McKinley bartered judgeships and other patronage. The treaty passed only by the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Garret Hobart (l. 3682).

Interesting details:
  • The US Consul in Hong Kong at that time, Rounseville Wildman, agreed to purchase weapons and ammunition for the insurgents. Wildman accepted a 117,000 Peso down payment but never delivered. He disappeared in a shipwreck in 1901 and is “honored today in a commemorative plaque ... in a State Department lobby” (l. 2979).
  • From a newspaper column of Peter Finley Dunne: “ 'I know what I'd do if I was Mack,' said Mr. Hennessey. 'I'd hist a flag over th' Ph'lippens, an' take in th' whole lot iv thim.' 'An' yet,' said Mr. Dooley, ' 'tis not more thin two months since ye larned whether they were islands or canned goods.'  (l. 3444)“

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