The Sham Battle Of Manila

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For two anticlimactic days the loaded troopships sat in the bay, and it was not until Wednesday afternoon, May 25, 1898, that the blue “proceed” signal was broken out on the forepeak of the flagship Australia. Anxiously watched by thousands of eyes ashore, the first armed expedition ever dispatched by the United States to conquer and annex a foreign land was under way. One month later, after a triumphal stopover in Honolulu and the comic-opera conquest of tiny, Spanish-held Guam, the expedition crept slowly into Manila Bay and anchored near Dewey’s flagship off Cavite.

Not an American in Manila Bay, with the exception of Dewey and a few newspapermen, was acquainted with the Philippine Islands or understood exactly what was to be done there. The name Aguinaldo was even less familiar to them. And what it all had to do with Cuba was another mystery, which few even tried to comprehend. Until very recently General Anderson had been a colonel in Alaska, and his ignorance of politics and problems in the land he was to invade was probably more monumental than any commander in history under similar circumstances. On July i, nonetheless, he started landing his men to fight another war in his long and martial career.

The first contacts between American and Filipino troops were wary and disquieting. In the dirty, narrow streets of Cavite, menacing bands of insurgents held sway, and the outnumbered Americans felt like intruders in a quarrel that was none of their business. All the larger Spanish homes and mansions were occupied by Aguinaldo and his aides. A few antiquated barracks had been condescendingly turned over to Anderson’s force, close to the shore line, where the sickening odor of Spanish corpses bubbled to the surface, a memento of Dewey’s smashing victory. Meanwhile the insurrectos paid little attention to the americanos . They yearned and plotted to get at the Spaniards in Manila, and they intended to do so shortly with or without their new allies.

While the insurgents prepared to attack, the Americans under Anderson could do nothing momentarily but occupy their one small base. The rainy season had begun, with intermittent downpours throughout July; and during this interlude the little body of men unhappily hung on and awaited reinforcements.

On June 15 a contingent of 3,500 men commanded by Brigadier General Francis V. Greene had left San Francisco. Twelve days later Merritt and his staff set sail. And the fourth and final expedition of the summer left the same day with 5,000 men under Brigadier General Arthur MacArthur, father of young Douglas MacArthur. By late July some 12,000 American land troops were in the Philippines; and already it had become clear that U.S.-Filipino relations lacked that camaraderie usually present between military associates. One reason for the strain was described by an American major in an official report: “Almost without exception, soldiers and also many officers refer to the natives in their presence as ‘niggers’ and natives are beginning to understand what the word ‘nigger’ means.”

A more deep-seated cause of Filipino resentment grew out of conversations between Aguinaldo, Dewey, and various U.S. generals which invariably mirrored a painful discrepancy in interests. Dewey summarized matters for Anderson the day the latter arrived: “If the United States intends to hold the Philippine Islands, it will make things awkward, because just a week ago Aguinaldo proclaimed the independence of the Philippine Islands from Spain and seems intent on establishing his own government.” They decided to see him the following morning. Upon leaving the Olympia the Admiral said to Anderson, “We’ll make this call just as unofficial as possible, no sidearms, no ceremony, give no indication to Aguinaldo that we take his government seriously.”

At insurgent headquarters they found the Filipino surly and withdrawn. He bluntly asked Anderson whether the United States would recognize his government. Taken by surprise, the General replied lamely that as a mere soldier he was not empowered to recognize any government. Aguinaldo declined to attend an American Fourth of July celebration to be held in Cavite, because the written invitation addressed him as “general” rather than “president.” It was not an auspicious beginning.

After a few days Aguinaldo returned the visit. Pointedly to indicate his status, he brought along his entire cabinet, military staff, and the inevitable military band. After a minimum of small talk, he asked, “Does the United States intend to hold the Philippines as dependencies?”

Caught in the middle, still trying to reconcile Aguinaldo’s avowed intentions with his own orders, Anderson tried a new and slightly more plausible tack: “I cannot answer that, but in 122 years we have established no colonies … I leave you to draw your own inference.”

Reflectively Aguinaldo said, “I have studied attentively the Constitution of the United States and in it I find no authority for colonies, and I have no fear.”