Mark Twain and the Balangiga Bells

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Last of a 2-part article
IN the Treaty of Paris after the pseudo-battle in Manila between the Americans and the Spaniards, the former offered $20 million which the latter accepted, for the possession and sovereignty over the whole Philippine Islands. The treaty which gave control of Cuba, Guam, Puerto Rico and the Philippines to the US government quickly changed Mark Twain’s opinion on the matter. Twain was disgusted by the fact that a war which had been meant to give freedom to the Filipinos was really a pretext for further US expansion. He fumed:

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“I said to myself, here are a people who have suffered for three centuries. We can make them as free as ourselves, give them a government and country of their own, put a miniature of the American Constitution afloat in the Pacific, start a brandnew republic to take its place among the free nations of the world. It seemed to me a great task to which we had addressed ourselves.

“But I have thought some more, since then, and I have read carefully the Treaty of Paris, and I have seen that we do not intend to free, but to subjugate the people of the Philippines. We have gone there to conquer, not to redeem.

“We have also pledged the power of this country to maintain and protect the abominable system established in the Philippines by the friars.

Two of the three Balangiga bells are displayed at the Francis E. Warren Air Force Base in Cheyenne, Wisconsin.

“It should, it seems to me, be our pleasure and duty to make those people free, and let them deal with their own domestic questions in their own way. And so, I am an anti-imperialist. I am opposed to having the eagle put its talons on any other land.” (“Anti-Imperialist,” New York Herald, October 15, 1900]

‘We fooled and used the Filipinos’
Twain pointed out in his 1901 essay entitled, “To the Person Sitting in Darkness,” how the American occupying forces treated the Filipinos. Following is an excerpt:

“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; 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 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 Philippine Archipelago, unencumbered by patriots struggling for independence; and War (with Filipinos) was what we needed. We clinched our opportunity.”

Twain accused of treason
In 1902, General Aguinaldo’s captor, General Frederick Funston spoke at the Lotos Club in New York, charging that the American Anti-Imperialists were encouraging Filipino resistance. He also leveled a deadly threat: “I would rather see any one of these men hanged for treason for giving aid and comfort to the enemy than see the humblest soldier of the United States Army lying dead on the field of battle” (quoted in Mark Twain’s “Weapons of Satire”).

Twain’s answer to Funston came in the form of another North American Review (May 1902) essay where he exposed Funston’s vain lies about his battlefield exploits, cataloguing some of the most recent brutalities committed by Funston and his cohorts in the Philippines. These included the capture of Filipino leader Emilio Aguinaldo by treachery and deceit, the torture and execution of Filipino prisoners, including the beating of wounded men and the use of water torture (pouring salt water down prisoners’ throats) and most chillingly, the wholesale massacre of Filipino men, women and children, of the kind ordered by General Jacob Smith and carried out by his soldiers. Twain quoted Smith’s “kill and burn, take no prisoners, kill all above the age of 10, make Samar a howling wilderness” scorched-earth policy.

Balangiga bells’ recovery is doomed?
The prospects of returning the stolen bells to Balangiga, Eastern Samar, are not encouraging. Starting in 1957, several attempts to recover these bells have proved unsuccessful. The Balangiga Historical Society and Pastoral Council, through the National Historical Commission, several Filipino-American associations, NGOs and POs here and abroad, priests, nuns and bishops, senators and two Philippine Senate resolutions have clamored for the recovery of the bells but to no avail. In 1997, President Bill Clinton agreed with President Fidel Ramos to return the bells to the Philippines. But Wyoming Gov. Dave Freudenthal opposed and blocked the return of the bells claiming that they represented “a significant part of Wyoming’s military heritage,” even though no one from Wyoming served in Balangiga. On September 26, 2006, US Representatives Bob Filner, Dana Rohrabacher and Ed Case co-sponsored House Concurrent Resolution 481 urging the President of the United States to authorize the return of the church bells. The resolution died on January 3, 2009 with the sine die adjournment of the 110th United States Congress.

Why insist on the bells’ return?
The bells are of historical significance because all throughout the revolution against Spain, and later the Philippine-American War, the Filipino revolutionaries were fighting for freedom, self-determination and independence even if they were militarily ill-equipped and constantly in dire need of firearms, especially rifles and ammunition. In fact, as a matter of resolute tactical movements, the pealing of church bells and the honking of conch shells from the nearby hills were strategically utilized to coordinate the deadly attack. Besides, it is about time to forgive and forget the wrongs of the past and let go of ill-will, hatred, resentment between two nations who have hitherto enjoyed warm friendship and goodwill. Moreover, why don’t we let freedom and liberty ring once more by pealing the bells in Samar? It will accentuate America’s magnanimity of spirit and the noble intrepidity of our forebears.

The bells’ whereabouts
The oldest and biggest of the three bells was cast circa 1863 with a mouth diameter of 31½ inches and height of 30 inches. It is inscribed with a name, R. San Francisco. The second was cast circa 1889 with a mouth diameter of 27¾ inches and 27¼ inches in height. The name of Fr. Agustin Delgado is inscribed on it. The third and smallest bell is estimated to be 23 to 24 inches height with a mouth diameter of about 20 inches. It also bears the Franciscan emblem.

The first two are found in Francis E. Warren Air Force Base, Cheyenne, Wyoming, and the third is in the possession of the 9th Infantry Regiment at Camp Red Cloud, South Korea.

The author is the Senate Secretary, a former president of Philippine Normal University, and a three-term Eastern Samar governor who first officially declared September 28 a province-wide non-working public holiday.

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