Friday, July 13, 2012

Balangiga Bells

photo by AP
The Balangiga Bells are in the news again with Vice President Jejomar Binay urging the United States government to return them to the Philippines.

“The Balangiga bells are a remembrance of the men, women and children of Balangiga who died in our struggle for freedom. The return of the bells will be an act of goodwill that will further strengthen the long-standing diplomatic relationship between the Philippines and the US,” Binay said.

The three bells were taken as war trophies by American soldiers from the town of Balangiga in Samar province during the Philippine-American War at the turn of the 20th century.  Two of which are now at F.E. Warren Air Force Base outside Cheyenne, Wyoming, and the third is displayed at the 2nd Infantry Division Museum at Camp Red Cloud, an American military base in South Korea.

Former President Fidel Ramos launched the first serious effort to reclaim them in 1997, when he sent a delegation to Wyoming. President Bill Clinton was ready to send the bells back, but his then-impeachment proceedings diverted his attention. In 2005, Wyoming veterans voted to return them, but the governor of Wyoming blocked their return, claiming they represented "a significant part of Wyoming's military heritage," though no one from Wyoming served at Balangiga.

On May 3 this year, Wyoming Governor Matt Mead wrote US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Leon Panetta a letter, stating his opposition to the return of the bells to the Philippines.

On that particular conflict, 50 American soldiers were killed in an early morning attack by Filipino freedom fighters.  On the other hand, under the indiscriminate retaliatory attack ordered by General Jacob Smith, the inhabitants of the Balangiga town were annihilated, except for children below the age of 10.

Company C of the 9th infantry was stationed in Balangiga to close the port and choke supplies to revolutionary Philippine forces in the mountains. Over the course of seven weeks, relations between the soldiers and the locals, at first friendly, soured when the overzealous commanding officer, Captain Connell, destroyed much of the town's food stores, thereby threatening the townspeople's very existence. Henceforth, the uprising, albeit deemed insurgency by the US forces since America had bought the Philippines, Cuba, and Puerto Rico from Spain for $20 million.  In essence, America owned the Philippines at that time.

Be that as it may, it is with diligent prayer that Wyoming Governor Matt Mead gets to read this blog post and reconsider; thus, support the return of the bells to the Filipinos.

“Laws are silent in times of war.” ― Marcus Tullius Cicero

The photo above was originally published in the Omaha World-Herald in May, 1900 with a letter by a U.S. soldier, A.F. Miller, of the 32nd Volunteer Infantry Regiment. It told of how Miller's unit would subject captured Filipino insurgents to what the U.S. forces called the "water cure" in order to uncover information from their prisoners.

“Now, this is the way we give them the water cure,” Miller explained. “Lay them on their backs, a man standing on each hand and each foot, then put a round stick in the mouth and pour a pail of water in the mouth and nose, and if they don’t give up pour in another pail. They swell up like toads. I’ll tell you it is a terrible torture.”

During the first year of the Filipino-American war, eyewitness accounts of atrocities committed by U.S. forces — the senseless torching of villages, unmerciful killing of prisoners — began to appear in American newspapers. Although the U.S. military tried to censor outgoing cables quite successfully, stories crossed the Pacific through the mail, which wasn’t censored.

American soldiers, in their letters home, wrote about "extreme violence against Filipinos, alongside complaints about the weather, the food, and their officers." Some of these letters were published in home-town newspapers.

Many Americans were indeed puzzled by the news that U.S. soldiers were viciously torturing Filipinos with water, considering that the United States -- since emerging as a global superpower -- has always been a staunch proponent of liberation, rescue, and freedom.

More than a hundred years later, many Americans were just as puzzled by the news that U.S. soldiers were subjecting Iraqi insurgents and terror suspects to "borderline torture" tactics at Abu Ghraib prisons.

The "water cure," however, is no longer the preferred method. It has been replaced with snarling dogs, short shackles, and mocking of the Quran. Some were subjected to extreme humiliation by being forced to "perform dog tricks," "be nude in front of a female," wear "women's underwear on their heads," and kept awake for continuous 20-hour daily interrogations.

Interestingly, in both the Philippines and Iraq, the U.S. soldiers themselves -- with photos taken by their own cameras and letters sent home -- created the clearest evidence of atrocity against their captives.

It should be noted that American and allied forces were also subjected to brutal tortures and extreme heinous conditions such as by their Japanese captors during the Second World War and by the Vietcong during the Vietnam conflict.

Meanwhile in Bohol, which is approximately 300 kilometers from Balangiga, Samar ...

On March 17, 1900,  200 troops of the 1st Battalion, 44th Infantry Regiment of U.S. Volunteers (USV), led by Maj. Harry C. Hale, arrived in Tagbilaran. Bohol was one of the last major islands in the Philippines to be invaded by American troops.

Bernabe Reyes, "President" of the "Republic of Bohol" established on June 11, 1899, separate from Emilio Aguinaldo's national government, did not resist.  Major Hale hired and outfitted Pedro Samson to build an insular police force.  In late August, he took off and emerged a week later as the island's leading  guerilla.

Company C of the 44th U.S. Volunteers encountered Samson on Aug. 31, 1900 near Carmen. The guerillas were armed  with bolos, a few antique muskets and "anting-anting" or amulets. More than 100 guerillas died. The Americans lost only one man.

Two hundred men from the 19th U.S. Regular Infantry Regiment led by Capt. Andrew S. Rowan, West Point Class 1881 (LEFT),  reinforced the Americans on Bohol.

On Sept. 3, 1900,  they clashed with Pedro Samson in the Chocolate Hills.  From then on through December, US troops and guerillas met in a number of engagements in the island's interior, mostly in the mountains back of Carmen. Samson's force consisted of Boholanos, Warays from Samar and Leyte, and Ilonggos from Panay Island. They lacked firepower; most of them were armed simply with machetes.

The Americans resorted to torture --most often "water cure"--and a scorched-earth policy: prominent civilians were tortured; 20 of the 35 towns of Bohol were razed, and livestock was butchered wantonly to deprive the guerillas of food.

In May 1901, when a US soldier raped a Filipina, her fiance murdered him. In retaliation, Capt. Andrew S. Rowan torched the town of Jagna. On June 14-15, 1901, US troops clashed with Samson in the plain between Sevilla and Balilihan; Samson escaped, but Sevilla and Balilihan were burned to the ground.

On Nov. 4, 1901, Brig. Gen. Robert Hughes, US commander for the Visayas, landed another 400 men at Loay. Torture and the burning of villages and towns picked up. (At US Senate hearings in 1902, when Brig. Gen. Robert Hughes described the burning of entire towns in Bohol by U.S. troops to Senator Joseph Rawlins as a means of "punishment," and Rawlins inquired: "But is that within the ordinary rules of civilized warfare?  General Hughes replied succinctly: "These people are not civilized."

At Inabanga, the Americans killed the mayor and water-cured to death the entire local police force. The mayor of Tagbilaran did not escape the water cure.  At Loay, the Americans broke the arm of the parish priest and used whiskey, instead of water, when they gave him the "water cure". Major Edwin F. Glenn, who had personally approved the tortures, was later court-martialed.

On Dec. 23, 1901, at 3:00 pm, Pedro Samson signed an armistice in the convent of Dimiao town.  He arrived with 175 guerillas. That night at an army-sponsored fete there were speeches and a dance.

On Feb. 3, 1902,  the first American-sponsored elections were held on Bohol and Aniceto Clarin, a wealthy landowner and an American favorite, was voted governor. The Philippine Constabulary assumed the US army's responsibilities and the last American troops departed in May 1902.


My best friend in New York gave me a copy of this book for my birthday. The following is a review of it by T. Bailey of The Washington Post (February 25, 1985):

IN WHICH WAR was the term "Gook" invented? When did American soldiers conduct their first body count and pioneer the use of the "water cure" to persuade Asian guerrillas to betray their comrades?

After which battle did a young rifleman write home to the folks in Kingston, New York, "I am in my glory when I can sight my gun on some dark skin and pull the trigger"?

Modern as it all sounds, the answer is not Vietnam, or even Korea or World War II. The American conquest of the Philippines barely rates a mention in school history books, usually as a cryptic footnote to the short war which President William McKinley and publisher William Randolph Hearst waged on Spain in 1898 for the independence of Cuba and the circulation of Hearst's newspapers. Yet 126,458 Americans fought in the Philippines between 1898 and 1902, of whom 4,234 died, while 16,000 Filipinos died in battle and another 200,000 in "reconcentration camp." There were in addition massacres of civilians in reprisal for guerrilla attacks and similar sideshows all too familiar in subsequent Asian wars.

The story of how, and why America liberated the Philippines from Spain and then took the islands back from their inhabitants two weeks later is a complicated one, already well told in one of the classics of American historiography, Leon Wolff's Little Brown Brother, published in 1960. But the writing of history is never finished, and DavidHaward Bain has managed another fine book on the subject, not disagreeing with Wolff's conclusions, but making them fresh and vivid for a generation which has seen yet another Asian war.

This is not, however, simply another tale of savagery in the rice paddies. Almost as if he could read tomorrow's newspapers, Bain has brought his account up to the minute, with perceptive entries, for instance, indexed under Aquino Benigno and Ver, General Fabian (the latter currently on trial for complicity in the former's assassination). This energetic young historian has thus pulled off that rarest of publishing coups, a scholarly historical work of bang-on topicality. He has, what's more, found a most original way of bringing his story to life.

From this distance, and even at the time, the American conquest of the Philippines has always been difficult to fathom. But, then and now, two figures jump forth from a cast of thousands: Emilio Aguinaldo, not quite 30, brave and passionately patriotic, the president of the republic of the Philippines proclaimed as the beaten Spaniards departed (and the first republic in Asia) and Colonel Frederick Funston, six years older, who drove the last nail into the republic's coffin by capturing Aguinaldo on March 23, 1901, after a long and daring hunt through the jungles and mountains of northern Luzon.

Aguinaldo, who looked remarkably like his current successor, Ferdinand Marcos, survived his capture and lived a long life, long enough to welcome the arrival of the Japanese in 1942 (understandably, perhaps; the new invaders also promised liberation), to march in the Manila independence parade of 1946, carrying the flag he first raised against Spain in 1896, and to see a new American war just getting under way in Asia in 1964, the year of his death. A largely forgotten figure now, even in the Philippines, Aguinaldo emerges from Bain's book an authentic hero and his republic a tragically missed chance for the United States to have been the protector of Asia's first genuine democracy.

His captor, the adventurous son of a Kansas politician known as "Foghorn Funston, the farmers' friend" was plainly just as archetypal a figure. "I am afraid that some people at home will lie awake nights worrying about the ethics of this war, thinking that our enemy is fighting for the right of self-government" he told a New York Times correspondent. "The word independent, which these people roll over their tongues so glibly, is to them a word, and not much more . . . . they are, as a rule, an illiterate, semisavage people, who are waging war, not against tyranny, but against Anglo-Saxon order and decency." Funston's feat, a mixture of reckless daring and ingenious double-cross, or what used to be known in Vietnam as a "John Wayne stunt," was the stuff of movies, and would have made a splendid vehicle for James Cagney (Funston was 5 feet 4 inches tall and touchy about it) if Hollywood had blossomed before American imperialism went out of fashion.

BUT, LIKE MANY a veteran from the East, Funston could not settle down to life back home, took to the bottle and died at 51 in 1917, when he was being seriously considered for command of the American Expeditionary Force that went to France that year. But for his heart attack, in fact, we would very likely now be debating the merits of the Funston rocket instead of the one named for his deputy, General John Pershing, who got the job instead.

Here, unmistakably, we have the Green Beret, or cowboy turned romantic military stuntman. In fact, Funston's boss, General Arthur MacArthur, father of the even more famous Douglas, was an old Indian fighter, and so were many of his buddies in the 20th Kansas infantry he led to the Philippines. The fact that the Far East is West of the Wild West has profoundly shaped America's wars there, a point made in the insightful and absurd movie The Deer Hunter.

It is hard to quarrel with Bain's conclusion that the years of American rule did little or nothing to solve the basic political problem of the Philippines. After three centuries of Spanish colonial government, the islands had none of the institutions of self-rule and no experience of it. All the new rulers achieved was a superficial Americanization of the illustrades, the Hispanicized native upper class, leaving the masses in pious poverty and the way open for a native-born dictatorship to follow the authoritarian rule of slippery Spaniards and decent Anglo-Saxons. People learn self-government by governing themselves and making their own mistakes, and America put off the Philippines' fateful day for 50 years, failing, in the end, even to supply the military protection that is the only justification for empire.

But Americans are still well thought of in the Philippines, as Bain and a group of friends, including his photographer-brother Christopher, discovered when they repeated Funston's epic trek through the Luzon jungle in 1982, talking to the same locals, fording the same streams, and being bitten by descendants of the same mosquitoes which bit the pint-sized adventurer and his party 80 years earlier. Melding past and present, and interweaving the historical background with present politics brings vividly home the long shadows still cast by America's first adventure in Asia. This is an important story, honestly researched and well told -- a second classic, in fact, on a fascinating subject.

Review by T. BAILEY
The Washington Post, February 24, 1985

By David Haward Bain
1984, Houghton Mifflin Company

The title of the book, “Sitting in Darkness,” was taken from one of Mark Twain’s essays. And it was much to my surprise to learn that Mark Twain was a staunch anti-imperialist who gave the Filipinos a voice in the American press during the turn of the century.

Through his essays, Mark Twain articulated his sentiments against America’s occupation of the Philippines. He became an active speaker at anti-war rallies and flooded newspapers with his letters of protests. With a caustic tone he even suggested a new flag for the Philippines — "just our usual flag, with the white stripes painted black and the stars replaced by the skull and cross-bones."

In his 1901 essay entitled, To the Person Sitting in Darkness, Mark Twain pointed out how the occupying Americans treated the Filipinos.

The following is an excerpt from his essay:

We had lent them guns and ammunition; advised with them; exchanged pleasant courtesies with them; placed our sick and wounded in their kindly care; entrusted our Spanish prisoners to their humane and honest hands; fought shoulder to shoulder with them against the common enemy (our own phrase); praised their courage, praised their gallantry, praised their mercifulness, praised their fine and honorable conduct; borrowed their trenches, borrowed strong positions which they had previously captured from the Spaniards; petted them, lied to them—officially proclaiming that our land and naval forces came to give them their freedom and displace the bad Spanish Government—fooled them, used them until we needed them no longer; then derided the sucked orange and threw it away. We kept the positions which we had beguiled them of; by and by, we moved a force forward and overlapped patriot ground—a clever thought, for we needed trouble, and this would produce it. A Filipino soldier, crossing the ground, where no one had a right to forbid him, was shot by our sentry. The badgered patriots resented this with arms, without waiting to know whether Aguinaldo, who was absent, would approve or not. Aguinaldo did not approve; but that availed nothing. What we wanted, in the interest of Progress and Civilization was the Archipelago, unencumbered by patriots struggling for independence; and War was what we needed. We clinched our opportunity. It is Mr. Chamberlain’s case over again—at least in its motive and intention; and we played the game as adroitly as he played it himself.

One scholar, Tom Quirk, noted, "Particularly in his later years, the fierceness of Twain's anti-imperialist convictions disturbed and dismayed those who regarded him as the archetypal American citizen who had somehow turned upon Americanism itself."

Who would have thought that Mark Twain—the author of Huckleberry Finn, the first truly American writer known for his wit and wisdom—would be so radical and intrepid as to speak for the Filipinos and against the American occupation of the Philippines?

* * *

Suggested reads: 

Wall Street Journal - The Bells of Balangiga

The New York Times - A New History of the Philippine-American War

Sharing with Weekly Top Shot, Skywatch,

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I very much appreciate my articles and photos appearing on fellow bloggers' sites, popular broadsheets, and local broadcast news segments, but I would appreciate even more a request for permission first.
Thank you!


  1. An excellent post! I knew about the bells, but some the other info about the war was new.

    Are you aware of the most recent book on that war: Honor in the Dust? Read the NY Times review:

    I'm going to put a link to this on my FB page, so my many pares from the PI can read it.

    1. Many thanks for the URL and for linking my post to your FB page Spencer! Hopefully, this will get to the governor's attention.

  2. Very nice photos of the bells and the beach. Thanks for sharing the history.

  3. Thanks for sharing this bit of history... I agree, it would be nice to have the bells returned... Thank you for sharing on Weekly Top Shot #39!