Gateway to the Classics: Spain: A History for Young Readers by Frederick A. Ober
Spain: A History for Young Readers by  Frederick A. Ober

Spain at the Close of the War

The loss of Cervera's fleet nearly broke the Spanish heart—at all events, its proud and haughty spirit. For, while it was not expected that Spain (which had not gained an important naval victory since that of Lepanto over the Turks, in 1571) would eventually win, yet it was thought that some meed of glory might accrue from its great armament and expenditure for fighting machines. At the end of the war—for this victory virtually ended it—Spain's naval losses amounted to thirty-seven vessels of all classes, or about one half of her entire navy, and forty per cent of her total tonnage, valued at more than twenty-seven million dollars. Her killed in battle numbered at least two thousand, the wounded many more; while the total killed in the naval engagements on the American side numbered only seventeen, with less than one hundred wounded.

Two weeks after the fleet was destroyed Santiago surrendered, and with it there fell to the victors the entire eastern province of Cuba, with twenty-two thousand prisoners of war. By the terms of capitulation, all soldiers and officers of the Spanish army in and about Santiago were transported to Spain at the expense of the United States Government. The thirteen hundred prisoners from Cervera's fleet were at first taken to Portsmouth, New Hampshire, where they were well housed and kindly cared for; the officers were confined at Annapolis, where their treatment was such as to call forth the most lively expressions of gratitude from the captured admiral and his colleagues. As there were no American prisoners for whom to exchange these unfortunates, they were finally released and sent home, about the middle of September, 1898.

Santiago surrendered on July 17th, and eight days later General Nelson A. Miles, with several thousand troops landed at a port of Puerto Rico and captured the important city of Ponce. His invasion was skilfully planned and was being carried out with consummate strategy, when, after nearly all the southern and western settlements had fallen into his hands, operations were stopped by orders from Washington. On the day following the landing of American troops in Puerto Rico the United States Government had been approached by the ambassador of France, acting in the interests of Spain, who asked upon what terms the President would consent to peace.

Although American arms were everywhere triumphant, and American fleets preparing to invade the Mediterranean and ravage the coasts of Spain itself, yet the President, still consistent in his attitude—as desirous of peace, yet determined to exact justice for the oppressed—cordially welcomed the overtures from Spain. In view of the overwhelming victories of the United States, and the fact that the country was but just beginning to draw upon its vast resources, the provisions of the preliminary protocol were liberal in the extreme. These were, the independence of Cuba, the cession of Puerto Rico and one of the Ladrone Islands to the United States, and the question of jurisdiction over the Philippines, with other minor matters, to be left to a joint commission. These terms were agreed to by Spain on the 9th of August, and the protocol for a treaty of peace was signed on the 12th. Immediately upon the signing of the protocol orders were sent to all United States military and naval commanders to cease operations against the enemy at once. The blockades of Cuban and Puerto Rican ports were declared lifted; the war, in effect, was ended.

The American soldiers were arrested in mid-career of victory, with swords uplifted and guns aimed at the enemy; nevertheless, though many of them wept for very rage at being baffled in their designs, they obeyed implicitly the commands emanating from Washington. In the far-off Philippines, however, where brave Dewey and his sailors had been for months awaiting the arrival of sufficient re-enforcements to take and occupy Manila, warlike preparations still continued. On the day following the signing of the protocol, and before the news had reached the islands, the defences of Manila had been assaulted and carried by our soldiers, the city taken, together with more than seven thousand prisoners, and the capital of the Philippines became an American possession. Owing to the difference in time between Manila, and Washington, the victory was assured but a few hours after the negotiations looking to peace had been concluded. As there was no direct cable from Manila to the United States, and despatches had to be sent by vessel to and from Hong Kong, seven hundred miles away, Admiral Dewey and General Merritt, commanding respectively the naval and land forces in the Philippines, had acted without knowledge of the peace proceedings, and thus fortuitously Manila was taken before the war was officially ended. This fact had an important bearing upon the subsequent negotiations of the peace commissioners who were appointed later by the Governments of Spain and the United States, and met in Paris to arrange the final terms, as by the fall of the capital of the Philippines the whole group was virtually conquered.

The situation was complicated by the actions of the Philippine insurgents under General Aguinaldo, who were already in revolt against Spain before the Spanish fleet was destroyed by Dewey's squadron. As in Cuba, the natives of the Philippines had suffered for centuries from Spanish oppressions, and their condition of late years had been one of chronic revolt; terrible atrocities had been committed on both sides, and neither party had given evidence of a capacity for government or for advance in the paths of progress and civilization. Upon the arrival of the American fleet and army the insurgents had made common cause with the United States; but each side viewed the other with distrust. The Spaniards, hemmed in between the land forces of Aguinaldo and the fleet and soldiers of the Americans, displayed great bravery in a hopeless cause; but at the very last, convinced of the futility of resistance, surrendered to the latter. They distrusted the insurgents, but put faith in the promises of the Americans, which promises were kept to the letter; and the transference of authority from Spanish to American hands was accomplished without disturbance.

The total duration of this war between Spain and the United States was only one hundred and fourteen days! Within that brief period this country had raised and equipped an army of two hundred thousand men; established camps of detention and instruction in various parts of the land; had increased the navy by more than double its number of vessels before the war; had provided for a war loan of two hundred million dollars (which was entirely taken by a patriotic people); for a war revenue, which was borne without a murmur; had blockaded the ports of Cuba and Puerto Rico; had taken the eastern provinces of the former and the western of the latter; and yet the American giant had but just begun to bestir himself when the war was ended!

Still, it was no matter for boasting; for the United States, with a population of more than seventy millions, and its immense territory—even though poorly equipped, with a small navy and smaller army—was certain to prevail in the end over Spain, with its population of only eighteen millions, and two hundred thousand miles of area. But again, at the beginning there was not so great a disparity, for the army of Spain on a peace footing was one hundred and twenty thousand men, and on a war footing half a million. Its navy also (on paper) was superior to that of the United States, and at the outset it was supposed the latter would suffer most severely, though ultimately it might win.

What, then, was the cause of Spain's premature discomfiture and utter collapse? Perhaps, without arrogating to themselves any superior virtues, the Americans may not be mistaken in ascribing it to the corruption of her body politic, to her pride, her refusal to accept a lesson from experience. Above all, she was fighting a forlorn hope; her cause was foredoomed to failure, because it was the cause of mediaevalism, of the collective cruelties of ages long agone; and the moral sense of the world was against her. She was reaping the harvest of retributory justice—the field sown by Alva and Cortes, by Pizarro and Philip II—yes, by Isabella the Catholic and Columbus! And what gall of bitterness to the Spaniard, in the reflection that the greatest nation in that hemisphere brought to the knowledge of Europe by Columbus, should be instrumental in wresting from Spain the first among the islands he discovered, and her last possessions in America!

In justice to Spain, we should note that she had seemed desirous of averting the war. In response to President McKinley's diplomatic suggestions, through his minister at Madrid, she pledged herself to inaugurate reforms, recalled the cruel Weyler, and substituted the pacific General Blanco; revoked the edict which had proved the death-knell of the reconcentrados, and proposed for Cuba an autonomist government.

But all too late! She could not bring to life the thousands of starved and murdered Cubans, could not efface from the page of history the record of her multitudinous cruelties. It became necessary that the war should be fought: that Spain should be punished for her ignoring of the common rights of humanity, her trampling upon the sacred brotherhood of man.

With a queen regent whose court will compare favourably for purity of morals with any other in Europe, and a titular king yet an innocent child; with public men like Castelar and Sagasta devoted to reform; with valorous soldiers and sailors blindly obedient, and a common people adherent to the monarchy: yet Spain's system of government is one of the most hideous relics of ancient despotism.

And what can be expected or predicted of a nation which, in its total population of eighteen millions, contains at least twelve million illiterate persons; in the Cortes of which it was recently seriously proposed to endow a school for bull-fighters; in which cock-fighting and bull-fighting are the national pastimes; where the successful bull-fighter is the popular hero, and half a million dollars are annually expended for bulls and horses to be slaughtered in the arena; where eight millions of the people have no trade or profession, and there are nearly one hundred thousand professional beggars; where, though agriculture is the chief employment, the land is broken up by means of wooden ploughs; where, though rich in mineral resources, the mines are farmed out to foreign companies or their revenues hypothecated to brokers abroad; and finally, where everything taxable groans beneath its burden.

It is not inexplicable to the student of history that Spain, with a formidable navy, yet was rendered helpless in two engagements; with more than one hundred thousand soldiers in Cuba, yet surrendered after but one city had been besieged and taken, and whose vast colonial possessions fell to pieces and crumbled like a house of cards.

Was it chance alone that chose Santiago as the crucial battle ground—Santiago, where, twenty-five years before, scores of American sailors, men of the Virginius, were stood against the white walls of a slaughter-house and butchered in cold blood?

Was it chance alone that directed the events of war so that the West Indies should be the scene of final conflict—the Antilles, which Spain had depopulated in the first century of her rule, and made desert places of fair isles which once supported millions of innocent and happy inhabitants?

Was it strange that a nation guilty of such enormities should lack the moral courage, the sound heart and core of integrity, necessary to withstand the impact of another nation goaded by the spectacle of those iniquities to righteous indignation?

While mourning the losses of the war, with a heart still bleeding for their sons done to death in battle and by disease—and they were not few—the people of the United States will never regret that they went forth to fight for a principle. They have won the commendation, they have compelled the respect, of the world powers; yet more than that: have given evidence of a moral and physical virility which, it was feared, the past generation of enervating peace had impaired.

"It is gratifying to all of us," said President McKinley, in a speech at a peace jubilee in celebration of the cessation of hostilities, "to know that this has never ceased to be a war of humanity! The last ship that went out of the harbour of Havana before war was declared was an American ship which had taken to the suffering people of Cuba the supplies furnished by American charity. And the first to sail into the harbour of Santiago after the war ended was another American ship bearing food supplies to the starving Cubans. And I am sure it is the universal prayer of American citizens that justice and humanity and civilization shall characterize the final settlement of peace, as they have distinguished the progress of the war."

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