The historic Balangiga bells will finally be returning to Balangiga to ring for Christmas this year.
And that’s a great thing.
The bells never should have been removed by American soldiers in 1901, and certainly should never have been taken out of the Philippines.
The question now is whether people can greet the return of the bells with joy and maturity, and endeavor to gain a true understanding of the story behind the bells, or whether this important milestone will simply become yet another opportunity for opportunistic grandstanding, gloating, and preposterous distortions of history.
It’s pretty hard to be optimistic about the situation. Too many public statements and media accounts have been absolutely riddled with distortions, selective memory, and ridiculous heaps of bullshit.
Nonsense from politicians is pretty predictable. But it’s really disappointing that so much media coverage has been ridiculously lazy, convoluted, warped, and wrong. Even some attempts to “set the record straight” have simply confused things further.
Let’s start with the basics:
The Balangiga Massacre was the devastating surprise attack on September 28, 1901, by Filipino guerrillas, police, and townsfolk on American troops occupying Balangiga town on the island of Samar.
Call the attackers patriots, freedom fighters, outlaws, or murderers: the result was a massacre.
Many of the Americans were hacked to pieces at their breakfast table before they could even stand. Most others were slashed, stabbed, and chopped to death nearby.
The attack was a massacre. Not an “encounter,” a “siege,” or any of the other euphemisms that have been carelessly employed lately.
In all, 48 Americans were either killed at Balangiga, died of their wounds soon after, or went missing and were presumed dead.
Despite the surprise nature of the attack and the overwhelming numerical superiority of the Filipinos, the Americans were able to rally and fight off the attackers, and 26 Americans survived and immediately fled to the nearest garrisons, along with some wounded who would later expire.
As would be expected, the American army immediately sent reinforcements to Balangiga, which by that time the Filipinos had evacuated.
The Americans torched the empty town and seized three bells, at least one of which allegedly had been used to signal the attack.
Many decades later, it became fashionable in some circles to assert that the more significant massacre was the series of reprisals across Samar conducted by the Americans in retaliation for the Balangiga Massacre.
And that certainly is a fair point. The reprisals were bloody and destructive, likely claiming thousands of victims.
But it’s a huge mistake and distortion to label the reprisals “the Balangiga Massacre,” or claim that the Americans massacred anyone at Balangiga.
The Balangiga Massacre was the initial surprise attack by Filipino forces on the American occupiers. There was nobody left at Balangiga to massacre when the American reinforcements arrived, though they no doubt would have massacred any armed Filipinos who remained there, and did in fact pick off a few lurking in the jungle nearby.
The series of reprisals across Samar over the following weeks and months can be characterized as a massacre, but the reprisals were not the Balangiga Massacre, and should not be characterized as such because doing so ignores the initial attack — the true Balangiga Massacre — and falsely suggests that the Americans massacred Filipinos at Balangiga, which they did not.
Some media types seem hopelessly confused about all this, and recklessly bounce back and forth.
Case in point: the notoriously quality-control-challenged online publication Rappler published an article on December 10 stating that “In revenge for the US’ worst single defeat in the Philippines, the American forces led the Balangiga Massacre, where 2,500 to 10,000 Filipinos were killed.”
But in that sentence, the words “Balangiga Massacre” are highlighted and link to a previous article from September 28, entitled “FAST FACTS: Balangiga Massacre.” A smaller headline for the second article proclaims that “The Balangiga Massacre of September 28, 1901, is considered as one of the bloodiest events of the Philippine-American war.” The article then states that “The Balangiga Massacre was one of the bloodiest events during the Philippine-American War. To this day, the United States considers this as their ‘worst single defeat’ in the history of the 3-year war from 1899 to 1902.”
So clearly, the second article is referring to the events of September 28, 1901, which the Americans considered their worst defeat in the war, as the Balangiga Massacre. Yet the article that links to it characterizes the later American reprisals as the Balangiga Massacre.
And we’re not just picking on Rappler. Plenty of other publications and personalities have confused and distorted all this, either deliberately or unknowingly.
The point here is not that there are differing interpretations of historical events. The point is that some people seem utterly confused about these events, haven’t made a clear, informed, and consistent decision about how to describe them, and don’t seem to make much of an effort to so do.
Call the bloody reprisals on Samar what you will, but don’t confuse them with the Balangiga Massacre.
Which brings us to the infamous order of American General Jacob “Howling Jake” Smith following the massacre to turn Samar into a “howling wilderness” and kill every male on Samar over the age of ten who was “in actual hostilities against the United States,” and the equally infamous American newspaper cartoon ridiculing that cruel and unlawful order.
First of all, many people seem to be completely oblivious that the cartoon was hyperbolic and biting satire. It was drawn to expose, attack, and ridicule Smith’s order — not to provide an accurate portrayal of exactly what was happening.
The cartoon was also published six months after Smith gave the order, and was in response to information presented at Smith’s court martial for his conduct on Samar.
Incidentally, that same court martial found that while Smith was guilty of “conduct to the prejudice of good order and military discipline,” the court determined that he “did not mean everything that his unexplained language implied; that his subordinates did not gather such a meaning; and that the orders were never executed in such sense.” Somehow, those eager to reprint the satirical cartoon and take it as unadulterated fact never seem to examine the details behind the events satirized in the cartoon.
There’s simply no evidence that American troops systematically lined up Filipino ten-year-olds, bound their hands and blindfolded them, then executed them by firing squad, as depicted in the satirical cartoon.
Nor were any credible accusations made in 1901 or afterwards that such executions occurred.
The simple fact is that while American troops were certainly destructive, and certainly killed Filipinos, Smith’s order to kill all males over ten engaged in hostilities against the United States was immediately countermanded and disobeyed. That’s well-documented, and even nationalist Filipino historians who have been highly critical of American conduct during the war have known that for decades. The information has been readily available since Smith’s court martial in 1902, in which the officer to whom Smith gave the order testified that he had cautioned other officers that “we were not sent here to make war on women and children and old men.”
It’s really unfortunate that some people who know better seem to deliberately omit any mention of Smith’s order being countermanded, and many, many others are simply clueless and regurgitate without question the most sloppy reporting and biased propaganda. (We tend to count Rappler among the latter. The second article cited above claims that Smith “vowed that he would turn the town into a ‘howling wilderness.'” The truth is that he ordered his troops to turn Samar into a howling wilderness. The order did not simply apply to the town of Balangiga, nor was it a vow to personally carry out the destruction of Samar. The article also gives the false impression that American troops simply carried out Smith’s order and killed all males over ten.)
So does all this mean that Americans never killed boys as young as ten during the reprisals on Samar? Of course not. In fact, they most likely did so on at least some occasions. And they certainly killed many others who were older, both male and female. They also burned crops and killed livestock. The Filipino guerrillas also committed many similar acts of violence and destruction against the civilian population to prevent them from aligning themselves with the Americans, which does not excuse the American conduct put does help put things into a more accurate perspective.
The point here is that this issue has been badly distorted to provide the false impression that American troops systematically and without question rounded up all males over age ten in Balangiga or on Samar and summarily executed them. That’s just not what happened, from any credible historical sources or even some of the most biased anti-American ones.
And none of this ugly history is anything to celebrate. The Balangiga Massacre may have been a short-lived tactical victory for Filipino forces, even though it was not a complete victory. But the massacre was an enormous strategic blunder because it outraged American forces and quite predictably provoked a massive and deadly campaign of retaliation that the Filipino forces had absolutely no chance of fighting off.
In short, it was a very stupid and impulsive move. No matter how terrible the American reprisals were, they were entirely foreseeable and the results were disastrous for Filipinos (and Americans). The Filipino forces were ruthlessly crushed after a long and terrible campaign to isolate them from the civilian population and other guerrillas.
It’s taken a long, long time to get to the point where the bells are being returned.
It seemed like every time some progress was being made, loudmouth politicians and “activists” attempted to attach themselves to the situation and publicly “demand” that the bells be immediately handed over — which pretty much guaranteed that would not happen.
Even now, some of Dturd’s butt-kissing minions are trying hard to exploit the return of the bells for propaganda purposes and to boost his popularity, which is a real shame.
And some foolish Americans have jumped on board too. Somehow, American actor Danny Glover was duped in 2015 into reading the narration for a ridiculous online fund-raising propaganda video in which he unwittingly intones with the absolutely preposterous claim that the Balangiga bells are “the most important religious relic of all Filipinos.” That’s just nuts.
The opportunistic video includes lots of other distortions and out-of-context footage that destroys any credibility it might have achieved had it been supervised by adults. All of which is just really, really sad.
The Philippines now has a wonderful opportunity to celebrate the return of the bells and to demonstrate some national maturity.
Or people can gloat and posture, distort history, create resentment, and turn this whole thing into yet another ridiculous national embarrassment.
We’re counting on the former. But we still have some doubts….
UPDATE: In its latest installment, Rappler continues to demonstrate its cluelessness.
The publication “reports” today that:
“The Americans retaliated with a campaign to kill Filipino males over the age of 10 in the town. US military officers ordered their troops to turn Balangiga into a ‘howling wilderness.’
Philippine historians estimated that at least 10,000 Filipinos were killed during the retaliatory attack.”
Once again, it’s important to understand that Filipinos had evacuated Balangiga by the time the Americans returned with reinforcements; the “howling wilderness” and “kill those over ten” order came a full month later in relation to American Marine reinforcements who were sent to Samar; the order was given by a single person, General Jacob Smith, rather than “officers;” the order was directed at the island of Samar rather than merely the town of Balangiga; and the order was countermanded by the Marines and there is no evidence that it was systematically carried out. Furthermore, there is no basis in fact to support the estimate that “10,000 Filipinos were killed during the retaliatory attack,” which was actually a whole series of reprisals in a campaign across Samar rather than any single attack; and at any rate, the population of Balangiga was nowhere near 10,000 even before it was evacuated, so there’s simply no way the Americans could ever have killed 10,000 people at Balangiga.
Another typically half-assed Rappler story today states that: “The return of the bells had been a sensitive issue. They symbolized how Balangiga locals outsmarted Americans at a US garrison in Balangiga, killing 48 US troops. The victory came with a high cost, however. The Americans retaliated by burning the town and killing all male Filipinos aged at least 10 years old.”
So once again, more than 100 years later, a lazy journalist casually makes the leap from an order being given to an order being carried out, and conflates the immediate burning of the evacuated town of Balangiga with the later campaign of reprisals across Samar.
It’s a little like the difference between reporting that Dturd had another tantrum and said Catholic bishops should be killed, and reporting that Catholic bishops were in fact rounded up and killed.
And as far as asserting that the Filipinos “outsmarted” the Americans in launching the surprise attack, well, that’s just juvenile and unnecessary. But hardly surprising, especially coming from Rappler.
We’re not picking on Rappler, which has actually provided some of the more coherent coverage of the saga of the bells. But Rappler does presume to “fact-check” many assertions made by others, so should therefore be held to a very high standard.
And some of the stuff regarding Balangiga that’s produced by others is just ridiculous.
For example, the severely grammatically and credibility challenged Philippine News Agency weighed in today with this howler:
“After being taken by US troops as war booties during the Philippine-American war, the return of the Balangiga Bells to its home is proof that Filipinos will always assert their sovereignty, Malacañang said on Tuesday.”
*Sigh* “Booty” is singular or plural when referring to ill-gotten property. “Booties” refers to something entirely different. And the bells are being returned to their home, not its home.
But beyond the obvious stupidity, the more important points are these:
- The bells were not taken as “war booty,” a term that refers to property stolen by troops for personal gain. The bells were taken as symbols and memorials. They didn’t make anyone rich.
- The notion that Filipinos “will always assert their sovereignty,” when professed by this administration, is utterly contemptible, since the president and his minions have obviously failed to assert the nation’s sovereignty with regard to China’s unlawful incursions and blatant seizure of Philippine territory. But it’s a lot easier to make a big show of standing up to the Americans and claiming victory over symbolism from a past century than it is to actually defend a nation and its core interests today.
UPDATE. RAPPLER BLOWS IT AGAIN:
In a new update, Rappler continues its tradition of badly bungling and distorting the history of the Balangiga Massacre and subsequent events. The latest story falsely claims the following:
“The bells had been used to signal a historic siege by Filipinos against American troops, resulting in the US’ worst single defeat in the Philippines. The siege prompted the US to retaliate and turn Balangiga into a “howling wilderness” by killing thousands of locals.”
First of all, it’s been disputed whether more than one of the bells were used to signal the devastating surprise attack. But to label that attack a “siege” is simply ridiculous and demonstrates a total lack of understanding of basic military terminology. Simply put, a siege refers to a lengthy military operation in which forces surround an enemy position or stronghold and cut off essential supplies with the goal of forcing those inside to surrender. A siege does not refer to a relatively brief surprise attack in which the attacking forces suddenly kill the majority of their enemy before being driven off, allowing the survivors to escape and summon reinforcements, as clearly occurred at Balangiga.
Furthermore, once again, the “howling wilderness” order from General Jacob Smith was given to US Marines who were deployed to Samar following the massacre. The order applied to the island of Samar, not merely the town of Balangiga, which Filipino forces had evacuated after the massacre and which was empty when American Army troops quickly returned, burned the town, and seized the bells — all before Smith gave his order to the Marines. There were not “thousands of locals” at Balangiga when the Americans first returned, and no credible historian has ever asserted that there were.
Rappler and other media just keep regurgitating the same old shitty reporting, lazy distortions, and pseudo-nationalist propaganda again and again, making the disinformation and misunderstanding steadily worse.
A publication that consistently produces such crap should seriously consider whether it should really be in the business of fact-checking others.
THE HITS JUST KEEPS COMING:
Rappler weighs in again today with another shitty story of recycled bogus information that includes the following regurgitated nonsense: “The bells had been used to signal a historic siege by Filipinos against American troops, resulting in the US’ worst single defeat in the Philippines. The siege prompted the US to retaliate and turn Balangiga into a ‘howling wilderness’ by killing thousands of locals.”
*Sigh* No “siege.” No “thousands of locals” left at Balangiga when the Americans returned. Just plenty of lazy and incompetent “reporting.”
DID DTURD TAKE HIS HAPPY PILLS?
In a shocking display of diplomacy and civility, Dturd resisted the urge to gloat and rant, and actually conducted himself with something resembling maturity and decorum. But maybe some of his minions were a little too eager to please him?
Meanwhile, Rappler remains utterly clueless and continues to repeat the same old false narrative: “historic siege,” and “American forces led the Balangiga Massacre,” linked yet again to a previous Rappler article that describes quite the opposite and correctly explains that the Americans led a campaign of reprisals after Filipinos led the Balangiga Massacre (in which Filipinos hacked 48 Americans to pieces with bolos, which for some reason few contemporary “journalists” seem willing to note in their otherwise breathless descriptions of those gruesome events).