Openendedsocialstudies has a unit for teaching middle or high school classrooms about the history of Nicaragua, the Sandinistas, and controversial leader Daniel Ortega. Find free readings, guided questions, and lesson plan ideas on the following subjects:
A Basic History of Nicaragua: A basic overview of Nicaraguan history and culture through the end of the modern period, with a focus on the post-colonial period.
William Walker, the Grey-Eyed Man of Destiny: William Walker was an American who organized several private military expeditions into Latin America with the intention of establishing English-speaking colonies under his personal control, an enterprise then known as “filibustering.”
Augusto Sandino, National Hero: From 1927 until 1933, Gen. Augusto César Sandino led a sustained guerrilla war first against the Conservative regime and subsequently against the U.S. Marines, whom he fought for over five years. He was referred to as a “bandit” by the United States government; his exploits made him a hero throughout much of Latin America, where he became a symbol of resistance to United States’ domination.
The Sandinistas: The Sandinista National Liberation Front – also called the Sandinistas – are a former guerrilla army and ruling party of Nicaragua. Following a decade of single party rule, they submitted to free and fair elections in 1990, ushering in Nicaragua’s current period of period of peace, democratic stability, and relative prosperity after decades of corrupt dictatorship, civil war, and domination by the U.S. and its corporations.
One great way for students to develop a deeper understanding of a concept is to have them teach others.
Choose any section from this unit and develop a lesson – in the form of a presentation, a storybook, or a worksheet – that teaches younger students about some aspect of Nicaragua’s history. Make sure the material is age appropriate in content and approach, and create some simple questions to check your audience’s understanding.
Find more free lessons on Nicaragua at Openendsocialstudies.org.
There are also plenty of free lessons featuring other peoples from world history.
The Mexica – more commonly known in the English-speaking world as the Aztec – are today remembered as fierce warriors, conquerors of a great Mesoamerican empire still in ascendancy when the Spanish arrived to upset the balance of power in Central America. The Mexica themselves were upstarts in the chaotic and ever-shifting world of central Mexico some five hundred years ago. Until the early 1400s, they were an unremarkable and put-upon faction among the Nahua, the larger linguistic and cultural group to which the Mexica belonged.
Through a stunning reversal (to be covered in future issues) the Mexica came to dominate the Nahua world. Though they had once toiled in the mud to pay their mightier neighbors humble tribute, within the space of a single generation – and under the direction of a great warrior and politician named Tlacaelel – the Mexica now commanded a tributary empire of their own, the likes of which ancient Mexico had never seen. In this newly constituted Mexica empire, people were taught to remember their place in the strict social hierarchy, which extended from the lowliest laborers all the way up to the emperor Tlacaelel and beyond.
This was a time and place in which a people’s particular gods were thought to demand a cut of any good fortune, from a harvest to the spoils of war – for services rendered, as benefactors to the lowly tribes of mortal men who depended on such gods for their very survival. Like all of the Nahua people, the Mexica believed that the current world – existence as we know it, which they referred to as the Fifth Sun – would end in violence and destruction, just as the gods’ previous four doomed attempts at creation had ended.
It was the new emperor Tlacaelel who credited the god Huitzilopochtli, long their patron, with the meteoric rise of the Mexica people. In a sweeping reformation of the traditional Nahua religion befitting the stunning realignment of power in the Nahua world, Tlacaelel elevated Huitzilopochtli to the same level as other ancient gods such as Quetzalcoatl and Tlaloc.
Huitzilopochtli became of the Mexica god of war, sun, human sacrifice, and the patron of their grand capital city Tenochtitlan. Every day, relentlessly and without mercy, Huitzilopochtli – in his role as the life-giving sun and champion of the Mexica people – vanquished the abyssal night that threatened to consume the world. The daily sunrise was viewed as another victory in the celestial war against darkness, the moon (Coyolxauhqui), and the stars (centzon huitznahua).
But his success was no foregone conclusion. Under Tlacaelel, the Mexica came to believe that it was their duty and obligation to give strength to Huitzilopochtli and thereby postpone the end of the Fifth Sun. This favorable outcome could only be ensured through the sacrificial offering of human blood.
This blood came in two main ways. First, on a daily basis priests and the Mexica emperor himself would prick themselves ritually with tiny cactus needles, driven into their own ears, tongues, and chests. Second, and most spectacularly, on sacred festival days during the year, humans were sacrificed on the Templo Mayor in the ritual center of Tenochtitlan, their beating hearts extracted from their living bodies by expert priests using sharp obsidian knives, before their heads were decapitated in a ritual patterned on Huitzilopochtli’s murder of his sister, Coyolxauhqui.
For the Mexica, war and the empire they gained through conquest was an important source not just of material wealth, but of human tribute to be offered up in this way to Huitzilopochtli. For this reason, the capture of prisoners of war was typically prized over the killing of enemies in battle. Similarly, in addition to the material wealth paid annually to the Mexica by conquered peoples – quetzal feathers, gold, chocolate, coffee, seashells, and other valuable commodities – the Mexica typically required a set number of human offerings to be sent to Tenochtitlan from subject nations.
The pyramid-shaped Templo Mayor at the center of Tenochtitlan was a symbolic representation of the mountain of Coatepec, where, according to Mexica myth, Huitzilopochtli was born. Here, Huitzilopochtli had emerged from his mother Coatlicue fully grown and fully armed to battle his sister Coyolxauhqui and her brothers the Centzon Huitznahua who intended to kill him and their mother. Huitzilopochtli was victorious, slaying and dismembering his sister. Her body was then thrown to the bottom of the hill.
Just as Huitzilopochtli triumphed at the top of the mountain while his sister was dismembered and fell to pieces below, so Huitzilopochtli’s temple and icon sat triumphantly at the top of the Templo Mayor while a carving of the dismembered goddess lay far below at the pyramid’s base. Nearby, a large skull rack held the decapitated heads of hundreds of sacrificial victims, recalling the way Coyolxuaqui’s head had been cast into the sky and remained on display as the moon.
When the Mexica sacrificed people to Huitzilopochtli, the victim would be placed on a sacrificial stone at the summit of the Templo Mayor. The priest would then cut through the abdomen with an obsidian or flint blade rivaling a modern surgical knife in sharpness. The heart would be torn out – still beating – and held towards the sky in honor to Huitzilopochtli. The body would be carried away, down the steep steps of the temple, and either cremated or given to the warrior responsible for the capture of the victim. This warrior might then cut the body in pieces and send them to important people as an offering, or use the pieces for ritual cannibalism. The warrior would thus ascend one step in the hierarchy of the Mexica social classes, a system that most keenly rewarded successful warriors.
Who knows? If that warrior were successful enough in battle – bringing back to Tenochtitlan enough captives for sacrifice at the Templo Mayor – he might be inducted into such knightly orders as the Jaguars or the Eagles. He would then know true honor and prestige.
For he had played a part in saving the world; keeping it spinning upon its axis; in ensuring that the sun would rise another day. It is tempting to call the Mexica brutal, and maybe it is true that in the name of Huitzilopochtli they relished war and reveled in the shedding of blood… Would it have been nobler to let the Fifth Sun – the very world as we know it – come to some cataclysmic end?
Knowing that you could have prevented the end of life on Earth – and failing to act, whether from weakness, or squeamishness, or dereliction of duty – that would have been the true definition of brutality.
Most great civilizations have an organizing myth – a story they tell themselves to explain their way of life. For example, in the modern United States, Americans tell themselves that their country exists as a selfless champion of democracy – as maybe the best thing that has ever happened to the world, even if the cost preserving that democracy is violence and war. For the Mexica, if their civilization did not conquer and sacrifice in the name of the sun god Huitzilopochtli, the world itself would come shuddering to an end.
Thus, the story of Huitzilopochtli became one of the driving beliefs of Mexica civilization. This powerful imperative gave rise to one of the great Native American civilizations, the mighty Mexica Empire, who used it to rationalize their dramatic rise and dominance over their neighbors in Central Mexico.
But that’s a story for next issue…
For discussion and research: What are some of the stories associated with the founding and history of your country? Find out which ones are based on fact, and which ones are based in myth? Are the myths ever presented as fact in your society? To school children? Why would myths be represented as truth? Who would benefit from this misrepresentation?
Research and plan a realistic one week travel itinerary in and around modern day Mexico City that focuses specifically on its Mexica, pre-Mexica, and colonial histories. Explain the historical or cultural relevance of your choices. Present the final itinerary with photos and estimated costs for the whole trip.
Create an illustrated glossary of English loan words from Nahuatl, the language of the Mexica. Consider the following questions: Why have these particular words come over into English and not others? Examine the history of this language in general – where did the written form of this language come from? Is Nahuatl still spoken, and if so, by whom?
Create a short comic book illustrating a story of one of the Mexican gods such as Quetzalcoatl or Huitzilopochtli. Much of what we know about life in Tenochtitlan comes from the so-called Aztec Codices. These are heavily or entirely illustrated works – in a sense, similar to modern comic books – dating from before and just after contact with the Spanish in the 16th century. Study the lush, colorful art in these codices and try to imitate this style in your retelling. Consider the following questions: How does this fit in with what I’ve already learned about Mexica culture and belief? How does this story compare with the myths and legends of other world cultures?
Aside from fire, what other examples of indigenous Americans shaping their environment does Denevan cite? Follow one of the links in the relevant portion of this passage and explain one of these techniques or accomplishment in greater detail.
Why did so many Europeans and their descendants fail to recognize the ways that Native Americans purposefully shaped the land?
How did Native Americans use fire?
How did Europeans achieve the same or similar goals using different techniques?
Could any of these Native American techniques be applied today?
The Pristine Myth
“There were not really very many of these redmen … the land seemed empty to invaders who came from settled Europe . . . that ancient, primeval, undisturbed wilderness . . . the streams simply boiled with fish … so much game . . . that one hunter counted a thousand animals near a single salt lick … the virgin wilderness of Kentucky … the forested glory of primitive America.” – John Bakeless, The Eyes of Discovery, 1950.
In fact, Bakeless’s portrayal of Native Americans as passive in their environment – as little more than wild animals inhabiting a niche in an ecosystem – couldn’t be more wrong. Various groups of Native Americans shaped North and South America for millennia before modern Americans started paving the forests to put up parking lots.
Historical ecologist William M. Denevan was one of the first scholars to recognize and describe the ways in which Native Americans, just like Europeans, shaped the environments in which they found themselves. In a seminal book, he called the idea that Native Americans had not significantly impacted the landscape of the Americas prior to the arrival of Europeans “the pristine myth.” To support his case, Denevan cited the many mounds, causeways, roads, terraces, and cultivated forests in both North and South America – as well as ample evidence that Native Americans used fire as a versatile tool to control and shape their environment.
Purposefully set fires helped promote valuable resources and habitats that sustained indigenous cultures, economies, traditions, and livelihoods. The cumulative ecological impacts of Native American fire use over time has resulted in a mosaic of grasslands and forests across North America that was once widely perceived by early European explorers, trappers, and settlers as untouched, pristine wilderness.
It is now recognized that the original American landscape was already humanized at the time that the first Europeans arrived.
Eleven major reasons for Native American ecosystem burning:
The burning of large areas was useful to divert big game (deer, elk, bison) into small unburned areas for easier hunting and provide open prairies/meadows (rather than brush and tall trees) where animals (including ducks and geese) like to dine on fresh, new grass sprouts. Fire was also used to drive game into impoundments, narrow chutes, into rivers or lakes, or over cliffs where the animals could be killed easily. Some tribes used a surround or circle fire to force rabbits and game into small areas. The Seminoles even practiced hunting alligators with fire. Torches were used to spot deer and attract fish. Smoke was used to drive/dislodge raccoons and bears from hiding.
Burning was used to harvest crops, especially tarweed, yucca, greens, and grass seed collection. In addition, fire was used to prevent abandoned fields from growing over and to clear areas for planting corn and tobacco. One report of fire being used to bring rain (overcome drought). Clearing ground of grass and brush was done to facilitate the gathering of acorns. Fire was used to roast mescal and obtain salt from grasses.
Some tribes used a “fire surround” to collect and roast crickets, grasshoppers, Pandora Pinemoths in pine forests, and collect honey from bees.
Burning was sometimes used to reduce insects (black flies, ticks, and mosquitos) and rodents, as well as kill mistletoe that invaded mesquite and oak trees and kill the tree moss favored by deer (thus forcing them to the valleys). Fire was also used to kill poisonous snakes.
Improve growth and yields
Fire was often used to improve grass for big game grazing (deer, elk, antelope, bison), horse pasturage, camas reproduction, seed plants, berry plants (especially raspberries, strawberries and huckleberries), and tobacco. Fire was also used to promote plant structure and health, increase the growth of reeds and grasses used as basket materials, beargrass, deergrass, hazel, and willows.
There are some indications that fire was used to protect certain medicine plants by clearing an area around the plants, as well as to fireproof areas, especially around settlements, from destructive wildfires. Fire was also used to keep prairies open from encroaching shrubs and trees.
Warfare and signaling
Indians used fire to deprive the enemy of hiding places in tall grass and underbrush, to destroy enemy property, and to camouflage an escape. Large fires (not the Hollywood version of blankets and smoke) were ignited to signal enemy movements and to gather forces for combat.
Some tribes also used fire for a “scorched earth” policy to deprive settlers and fur traders from easy access to big game and thus benefiting from being “middlemen” in supplying pemmican and jerky.
Clearing areas for travel
Fire was used to fell trees by boring two intersecting holes into the trunk, then dropping burning charcoal in one hole, allowing the smoke to exit from the other. This method was also used by early settlers. Another way to kill trees was to surround the base with fire, allowing the bark and/or the trunk to burn causing the tree to die (much like girdling) and eventually topple over. Fire also used to kill trees so that it could later be used for dry kindling (willows) and firewood (aspen).
Fire was used to fell trees by boring two intersecting holes into the trunk, then dropping burning charcoal in one hole, allowing the smoke to exit from the other. This method was also used by early settlers. Another way to kill trees was to surround the base with fire, allowing the bark and/or the trunk to burn causing the tree to die (much like girdling) and eventually topple over. Fire also used to kill trees so that it could later be used for dry kindling (willows) and firewood (aspen).
Clearing riparian areas
Fire was commonly used to clear brush from riparian areas and marshes for new grasses and sedges, plant growth (cattails), and tree sprouts (to benefit beaver, muskrats, moose, and waterfowl), including mesquite, cottonwood, and willows.
Changes in Native Indian burning practices occurred as Europeans settled across the continent.
Some settlers saw the potential benefits of low intensity, controlled burns, but by and large, they feared and suppressed them as a threat to their homes, farms, and towns.
Meanwhile, as Native American populations collapsed due to disease, violent conquest, and forced removal, the once-cultivated and sculpted green spaces between European settlements became truly wild.
In fact, the “primeval” forest observed by the romantic and transcendentalist writers of the early Nineteenth Century was the product of a catastrophic disruption of Native American society over the previous century by European settlers and conquerors. In other words, the state of primeval nature – the overgrown forests with thick underbrush, overrun with wildlife – as described by such ostensibly perceptive men as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow or Henry David Thoreau existed because European-style civilization had supplanted Native American-style civilization, and their carefully cultivated wilderness landscapes had fallen into disrepair.
As Denevan puts it, “The pristine image of 1492 seems to be a myth, then, an image more applicable to 1750, following Indian decline.”
By the 1880’s, impacts of colonization had devastated indigenous populations, and fire exclusion became more widespread; by the early 20th century fire suppression had become official U.S. federal policy. Understanding how Native Americans used fire pre-settlement provides an important basis for studying and reconstructing subsequent fire regimes throughout the landscape and is critical to correctly interpreting the ecological basis for vegetation distribution.
The Philippine–American War was an armed conflict between the First Philippine Republic and the United States that lasted from February 4, 1899, to July 2, 1902. While Filipino nationalists viewed the conflict as a continuation of the struggle for independence that began in 1896 with the Philippine Revolution, the U.S. government regarded it as an insurrection. The conflict arose when the First Philippine Republic objected to the terms of the Treaty of Paris under which the United States took possession of the Philippines from Spain, ending the short Spanish–American War. The war resulted in the deaths of at least 200,000 Filipino civilians, mostly due to famine and disease. Some estimates for total civilian dead reach up to 1,000,000. Harper’s Weekly, A Journal of Civilization was a widely read news magazine which offered extensive coverage of the war for its American readers. One of its most prominent correspondents during that war was John F. Bass, the author of this dispatch from Manila in March, 1899, a month after open hostilities between the Filipinos and the occupying American army commenced.
Answer the following questions using details from the text to support your answers:
To whom does Bass assign blame for the war?
What does Bass think of the American project of bringing self-government and civilization to the Philippines?
What are Bass’s ideas about race? How does this shape his understanding of the war?
Does he seem to think that the Americans deserve their bad reputation among the insurgents?
What is the purpose of Bass’s anecdote about the Spaniard?
An excerpt from “In The Trenches” by John F. Bass, originally published in Harper’s Weekly.
Manila, March 9, 1899.
New comers in Manila keep asking where the blame lies for this outbreak. Is the responsibility alike for American and Filipino deaths with our government or with the leaders of the Filipino people? At such a time as this it is difficult for a good American not to throw the blame on Aguinaldo and his followers. The American army has done so well that one feels like overlooking the past. Although the true cause does not lie within the scope of any generalization, but rather in a multitude of small detached facts, still I believe that the fundamental reason for our present fight lies in an unrestrained race antipathy. Americans differ so absolutely in mind, body, and soul from Filipinos that the two could not live together in harmony under the then existing conditions. First among these conditions was an American and a Filipino volunteer force, both more or less undisciplined and longing to jump at each other’s throats; and, secondly, a want of any consistent policy in our government. Moreover, both American and Filipino leaders have been so provincial in their point of view that at no time during the military occupation of Manila has the least good feeling existed between the American and Filipino governments. We have ignored Aguinaldo and his followers in so far as it is possible to ignore an army which for months has been encircling Manila in a peaceful siege. Aguinaldo has stuck out through thick and thin for the independence of his people. Instead of getting what he wanted, he received the hard-and-fast declaration of our President that the islands were American property, that the army would proceed to take possession of them, and that any one resisting our authority would be suppressed by force of arms. Since this manifesto was issued there has been no hope of a peaceful settlement.
The bone of contention is the sovereignty of the islands. It is said that the Filipinos will not be able to establish a good government, but the same argument would apply to many of our own communities at home which have wretched local self-government. Much as one may dislike the native – and I must say that I have never met with a more unlovable people – it is important occasionally to get his point of view. No doubt the government which the natives would establish would not please the Anglo-Saxon, but would it not be good enough for the natives themselves?
The natives soon learned to dislike us. We plastered the town from end to end with beer and whiskey advertisements. And, so far, Americans who have followed the army have their time and money into saloons. No other business attracts them. According to native standards, the American soldier has been rough and tyrannical, while from our point of view the natives have been tricky and dishonest. The extreme East and the extreme West have learned to hate each other. The importance of these things is great as indicating what the future has in store. The immediate cause of the outbreak was that the insurgent officers and soldiers, being under less control than our men, became so hostile and insulting that we had either to fight or to leave the islands. The outbreak was hastened and made inevitable by the unsettled state of public opinion in the United States, the absence of any fixed policy in Washington, and the consequent contradictory and restricting orders on our local government in Manila. The fact of the matter is that the policy of ignoring the insurgents completely has had its origin in Washington. It reminds one of the ultra-idealistic philosopher who ignored the hard-and-fast world of environment, and while absorbed in thought bumped his head against a stone wall. The insurgent government is here and must be dealt with.
Formerly we might have compromised with them; now we must crush them. There are a few men of education and ability who are managing the insurrection; the rest of the army follows blindly, misled by false reports about our cruelty, and they look upon us now as a species of ogre. We have fallen heir to the hatred which the natives felt for the Spaniards, and the same stories are told about us that were told about our predecessors. The Spaniards and the priests have done what they could to make trouble by circulating false reports in both camps. These reports have been believed by the insurgents and in many instances by our own officers.
The Spaniards are jubilant over the present state of affairs. One of them said to me:
“I speak to you as a Spaniard and an enemy of the United States. If fifty insurgents are killed, good; if the insurgents kill one hundred Americans, better; if the Americans in turn kill two hundred insurgents, best all.”
This exhibit juxtaposes the visual message presented by the stereoscopic images with excerpts from the letters written by U.S. soldiers that were first published in local newspapers and later collected in the Anti-Imperialist League’s pamphlet, allowing us to get a glimpse of the Philippine-American War as it was presented to Americans at home, reading the news or entertaining friends in their parlors.
The Philippine-American War was the United States’ first protracted counterinsurgency war in Asia. It started on February 4, 1899, just months after the end of the Spanish-American War, a war ostensibly fought to free Cuba from Spanish oppression. Like the Cubans, the Filipinos had been fighting for their independence from Spain since 1896. Many people within the United States objected to the annexation of Spain’s former colonies at the close of the Spanish-American War and, in November of 1898, an Anti-Imperialist League was formed in Boston to mobilize this opposition. When the war in the Philippines began three months later, it quickly became the League’s primary focus. The Philippine-American War would become the most divisive overseas war in United States history and it would retain that status for more than sixty years, until the war in Vietnam.
The counterinsurgency war for the “hearts and minds” of the Filipinos was mirrored in the domestic debate about the war. Politicians and editorialists who supported imperialism spoke and wrote of the civilizing mission of the United States, of taking up the “white man’s burden” of national sacrifice for the benefit of peoples they believed to be racially inferior and incapable of governing themselves. This rhetoric was matched with assessments of the value of Chinese commercial markets that lay “just beyond the Philippines” and the need to establish naval bases throughout the Pacific to expand and protect U.S. commerce.
The anti-imperialists highlighted the “un-American” nature of imperialism by quoting such documents as the Declaration of Independence, Washington’s Farewell Address, and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. To them, imperialism was a threat to the country’s anti-colonial and democratic traditions. Many anti-imperialists also opposed the annexation of foreign territories on racial grounds. They initially believed that any territory annexed by the United States would eventually become a state, and they opposed giving what they also believed to be racially inferior peoples a voice in the U.S. government.
From 1898 until July 4, 1902, the date Theodore Roosevelt symbolically used to declare the war over, nearly 200,000 U.S. soldiers served in the Philippines. About 5,000 of them were killed in battle. Most of the soldiers who initially fought in the Philippines had volunteered to fight in the Spanish-American War and, as several of the letters excerpted here indicate, not all of them supported the war in the Philippines. Their appeals for return to the United States were eventually heeded, and the Army Bill of 1901 nearly quadrupled the official size of the standing army so that an adequate number of professional soldiers could be employed to serve in the Philippines.
The number of Filipinos who died from the war is staggering. Some 16,000 to 20,000 Filipino soldiers were killed. Estimates of the number of civilians who were killed or died from war-related causes range from 200,000 to 600,000. Evidence of the brutality of U.S. troops in the Philippines was used by the Anti-Imperialist League to argue for the independence of the Philippines. Their most effective ammunition came from the official reports to the War Department by the generals in charge of U.S. forces in the Philippines. Their reports of Filipino casualties showed that for every Filipino wounded, fifteen were killed. In contrast, during the United States’ Civil War, five soldiers were wounded for every one killed.
The U.S. military censored press dispatches from the Philippines, but many local newspapers published the letters sent home by soldiers fighting there. These contained racial slurs, stories of atrocities, and assessments of the army’s morale that were not allowed to be reported over the cable from Manila. They also provided local significance to the news from abroad. In May of 1899, the Anti-Imperialist League collected many of these letters in a pamphlet, Soldiers’ Letters: Being Materials for the History of a War of Criminal Aggression. It was immediately controversial. Supporters of the war discounted the accounts of atrocities as the boasting of soldiers wanting to impress their friends and families at home or, because the identities of some of the writers were withheld from publication, as outright fabrications. Although their truthfulness was hotly debated, the letters were an important part of how the U.S. public learned about the war as they read their daily newspapers.
Visual images of the war were also widely distributed. At the turn of the century, the viewing of stereoscopic images was an extremely popular form of parlor entertainment. Stereoscopic images were created by taking two photographs of the same scene from slightly different angles. These would then be pasted to a card made to fit a special stereoscope viewer. If a picture is worth a thousand words, the realistic 3-D effect obtained by stereoscopic images was worth at least two thousand more because it added credibility to the images. Although ostensibly meant as entertainment, they contain implicit — and sometimes explicit — messages about the nature of the war, and about the Philippines and the Filipino people the U.S. government was trying to conquer.
This exhibit juxtaposes the visual message presented by the stereoscopic images with excerpts from the letters written by U.S. soldiers that were first published in local newspapers and later collected in the Anti-Imperialist League’s pamphlet. That both contained partisan messages — often racial, violent, and disturbing — is highlighted here by their juxtaposition. While the Anti-Imperialist League’s collection of the letters marks them as having partisan value, we do not often think of the stereoscopic images in the same way. But they were also an important means through which opinions about the war were shaped. The stereoscopic images and the soldiers’ letters allow us to get a glimpse of the war as it was presented to the people at home, reading the news or entertaining friends in their parlors.
They will never surrender until their whole race is exterminated. They are fighting for a good cause, and the Americans should be the last of all nations to transgress upon such rights. Their independence is dearer to them than life, as ours was in years gone by, and is today. –Ellis G. Davis, Company A, Twentieth Kansas
Some think the insurgents are disheartened, but I think they will make a desperate struggle for what they consider their rights. I do not approve of the course our government is pursuing with these people. If all men are created equal, they have some rights which ought to be respected. –J. E. Fetterly, a Nebraska soldier
The building had been taken possession of by a United States officer, and he looted it to a finish. I suspected something and followed one of his men to the place. I expected to be jumped on by the officer as soon as I found him there, as I was away from my post, but it seems he was afraid I would give him away; in fact, we were both afraid of each other. He was half drunk, and every time he saw me looking at anything he would say, “Tennessee, do you like that? Well, put it in your pocket.” … The house was a fine one, and richly furnished, but had been looted to a finish. The contents of every drawer had been emptied on the floor. You have no idea what a mania for destruction the average man has when the fear of the law is removed. I have seen them — old sober business men too — knock chandeliers and plate-glass mirrors to pieces just because they couldn’t carry it off. It is such a pity. –D. M. Mickle, Tennessee Regiment, at Iloilo
We sleep all day here, as we do our duty all night, walking the streets. We make every one get into his house by 7 p.m., and we only tell a man once. If he refuses, we shoot him. We killed over three hundred men the first night. They tried to set the town on fire. If they fire a shot from a house, we burn the house down, and every house near it, and shoot the natives; so they are pretty quiet in town now. –A Corporal in the California Regiment
“The US Army”
The town of Titatia was surrendered to us a few days ago, and two companies occupy the same. Last night one of our boys was found shot and his stomach cut open. Immediately orders were received from General Wheaton to burn the town and kill every native in sight, which was done to a finish. About one thousand men, women, and children were reported killed. I am probably growing hard-hearted, for I am in my glory when I can sight my gun on some dark-skin and pull the trigger. –A. A. Barnes, Battery G., Third United States Artillery
We can lick them, but it will take us a long time, because there are about 150,000 of the dagos back in the hills, and as soon as one of them gets killed or wounded there is a man to take his place at once; and we have but a few men in the first place, but we are expecting about 8,000 more soldiers every day, and I hope they will soon get here, or we will all be tired out and sick…. This is an awful bad climate and there have been from two to four funerals every day. The boys have chronic diarrhea and dysentery, and it just knocks the poor boys out. –Martin P. Olson, Fourteenth Regulars
I deprecate this war, this slaughter of our own boys and of the Filipinos, because it seems to me that we are doing something that is contrary to our principles in the past. Certainly we are doing something that we should have shrunk from not so very long ago. –General Reeve, Thirteenth Minnesota Regiment
The boys are getting sick of fighting these heathens, and all say we volunteered to fight Spain, not heathens. Their patriotism is wearing off. We all want to come home very bad. If I ever get out of this army I will never get into another. They will be fighting four hundred years, and then never whip these people, for there are not enough of us to follow them up…. The people of the United States ought to raise a howl and have us sent home. –Tom Crandall, Nebraska Regiment
The boys go for the enemy as if they were chasing jack-rabbits…. I, for one, hope that Uncle Sam will apply the chastening rod, good, hard, and plenty, and lay it on until they come into the reservation and promise to be good “Injuns.” –Colonel Funston, Twentieth Kansas Volunteers
Soon we had orders to advance, and we rose up from behind our trenches and started across the creek in mud and water up to our waists. However, we did not mind it a bit, our fighting blood was up and we all wanted to kill “niggers.” This shooting human beings is a “hot game,” and beats rabbit hunting all to pieces. –A private of Company H of the First Regiment, Washington State Volunteers
I never saw such execution in my life, and hope never to see such sights as met me on all sides as our little corps passed over the field, dressing wounded. Legs and arms nearly demolished; total decapitation; horrible wounds in chests and abdomens, showing the determination of our soldiers to kill every native in sight. The Filipinos did stand their ground heroically, contesting every inch, but proved themselves unable to stand the deadly fire of our well-trained and eager boys in blue. I counted seventy-nine dead natives in one small field, and learn that on the other side of the river their bodies were stacked up for breastworks. –F. A. Blake, of California, in charge of the Red Cross
Our Country Victorious and Now a Happy Home
A Spanish-American War Drama in Six Parts
This six-card set of stereoscopic cards was copyrighted in 1899 by Strohmeyer & Wyman and published by both it and Underwood & Underwood. The sets were available in at least two versions, one with Jack going off to fight in Cuba and the other with him fighting in the Philippines. The photographs and captions are identical except that “Manila” in the caption on card three is replaced by “Santiago.”
“I am so Sorry to Leave You, dear.” Underwood & Underwood, 1899.
“My Country Calls and I Must Go” Underwood & Underwood, 1899.
Sad News from the Battle-field — Jack has fallen at Manila. Underwood & Underwood, 1899.
“For my Country I can even give Jack up.” Underwood & Underwood, 1899.
“Oh Jack! Jack! — Not Killed, but Only Wounded!” Underwood & Underwood, 1899.
The Story of the Battle — Our country victorious and now a Happy Home. Underwood & Underwood, 1899.
This essay and exhibit, originally presented online in the early 2000s, were the work of the late historian Jim Zwick. Since Mr. Zwick’s passing, they have disappeared from the internet, as has the original host site. It is truly a shame for his important exhibition to disappear, especially considering its seemingly perpetual relevance. I present them here – with an expanded collection of stereoscopic images – in a purely academic spirit, with all due respect to Mr. Zwick and the educational value of his original work. Openendedsocialstudies.org does not profit in any financial sense by hosting this lesson.
What does Mark Twain think about the idea of American Empire? Do you agree?
The political cartoon at the end of this section makes the argument that the United States has always been about expansion by any means necessary, whether they be financial, diplomatic, or conquest. In contrast to Mark Twain’s point of view, “Empire is American,“ the author is arguing – just ask the Native Americans or the Mexicans. How do you respond to this argument?
In the Twenty-First Century, does the United States have an empire?
Not all Americans cheered the conquest of the Philippines by the United States.
Perhaps one America’s greatest celebrities at the time was the author Mark Twain, a fierce critic of the U.S. war in the Philippines, who wrote:
“…I have seen that we do not intend to free, but to subjugate the people of the Philippines. We have gone to conquer, not to redeem… And so I am an anti-imperialist. I am opposed to having the [American] eagle put its talons on any other land.”
On October 6, 1900, he published an editorial in the New York World:
“There is the case of the Philippines. I have tried hard, and yet I cannot for the life of me comprehend how we got into that mess. Perhaps we could not have avoided it—perhaps it was inevitable that we should come to be fighting the natives of those islands—but I cannot understand it, and have never been able to get at the bottom of the origin of our antagonism to the natives. I thought we should act as their protector—not try to get them under our heel. We were to relieve them from Spanish tyranny to enable them to set up a government of their own, and we were to stand by and see that it got a fair trial. It was not to be a government according to our ideas, but a government that represented the feeling of the majority of the Filipinos, a government according to Filipino ideas. That would have been a worthy mission for the United States. But now—why, we have got into a mess, a quagmire from which each fresh step renders the difficulty of extrication immensely greater. I’m sure I wish I could see what we were getting out of it, and all it means to us as a nation.”
On October 15, Twain continued in the New York Times:
“We have pacified some thousands of the islanders and buried them; destroyed their fields; burned their villages, and turned their widows and orphans out-of-doors; furnished heartbreak by exile to some dozens of disagreeable patriots; subjugated the remaining ten millions by Benevolent Assimilation, which is the pious new name of the musket… And so, by these providences of god — and the phrase is the government’s, not mine — we are a World Power.”
Despite articulate voices like Twain’s, the Anti-Imperialist League was ultimately defeated in the battle of public opinion by a new wave of politicians who successfully advocated the virtues of American territorial expansion in the aftermath of the Spanish–American War – after all, the Republican Party, the party that most strongly advocated for empire, held the White House through the Philippine-American War, despite the best efforts of the League, all the way until 1912.
Do you take Aguinaldo’s Proclamation of Formal Surrender statement to be sincere – or something he was compelled to say by his captors?
In your opinion, did the Filipino resistance ever have a chance of success? Did the loss of life that resulted from this conflict accomplish anything?
While this argument played out in American newspapers and polling booths, the Philippine Army continued suffering defeats from the better armed United States Army during the conventional warfare phase. This steady string of setbacks forced Philippine President Emilio Aguinaldo to continually change his base of operations, which he did for nearly the length of the entire war.
On March 23, 1901, General Frederick Funston and his troops captured Aguinaldo in Palanan, Isabela, with the help of some Filipinos (called the Macabebe Scouts after their home locale) who had joined the Americans’ side. The Americans pretended to be captives of the Scouts, who were dressed in Philippine Army uniforms. Once Funston and his “captors” entered Aguinaldo’s camp, they immediately fell upon the guards and quickly overwhelmed them and the weary Aguinaldo.
On April 1, 1901, at the Malacañan Palace in Manila, Aguinaldo swore an oath accepting the authority of the United States over the Philippines and pledging his allegiance to the American government. On April 19, he issued a Proclamation of Formal Surrender to the United States, telling his followers to lay down their weapons and give up the fight. “Let the stream of blood cease to flow; let there be an end to tears and desolation,” Aguinaldo said. “The lesson which the war holds out and the significance of which I realized only recently, leads me to the firm conviction that the complete termination of hostilities and a lasting peace are not only desirable but also absolutely essential for the well-being of the Philippines.”
The capture of Aguinaldo dealt a severe blow to the Filipino cause, but not as much as the Americans had hoped. General Miguel Malvar took over the leadership of the Filipino government, or what remained of it. He originally had taken a defensive stance against the Americans, but now launched all-out offensive against the American-held towns in the Batangas region. General Vicente Lukbán in Samar, and other army officers, continued the war in their respective areas.
General Bell relentlessly pursued Malvar and his men, forcing the surrender of many Filipino soldiers. Finally, Malvar surrendered, along with his sick wife and children and some of his officers, on April 16, 1902. By the end of the month nearly 3,000 of Malvar’s men had also surrendered. With the surrender of Malvar, the Filipino war effort began to dwindle even further.
Official End to the War
Who gets to decide when a war is over?
Why was Sakay labelled a bandit and executed when Aguinaldo and Malvar were both allowed to surrender peacefully?
After military rule was terminated on July 4, 1902, the Philippine Constabulary was established as an archipelago-wide police force to control brigandage and deal with the remnants of the insurgent movement. The Philippine Constabulary gradually took over the responsibility for suppressing guerrilla and bandit activities from United States Army units. Remnants of the Katipunan and other resistance groups remained active fighting the United States military or Philippine Constabulary for nearly a decade after the official end of the war. After the close of the war, however, Governor General Taft preferred to rely on the Philippine Constabulary and to treat the irreconcilables as a law enforcement concern rather than a military concern requiring the involvement of the American army.
In 1905, Filipino labour leader Dominador Gómez was authorised by Governor-General Henry Clay Ide to negotiate for the surrender of Sakay and his men. Gómez met with Sakay at his camp and argued that the establishment of a national assembly was being held up by Sakay’s intransigence, and that its establishment would be the first step toward Filipino independence. Sakay agreed to end his resistance on the condition that a general amnesty be granted to his men, that they be permitted to carry firearms, and that he and his officers be permitted to leave the country. Gómez assured Sakay that these conditions would be acceptable to the Americans, and Sakay’s emissary, General León Villafuerte, obtained agreement to them from the American Governor-General.
Sakay believed that the struggle had shifted to constitutional means, and that the establishment of the assembly was a means to winning independence. As a result, he surrendered on 20 July 1906, descending from the mountains on the promise of an amnesty for him and his officials, and the formation of a Philippine Assembly composed of Filipinos that would serve as the “gate of freedom.” With Villafuerte, Sakay travelled to Manila, where they were welcomed and invited to receptions and banquets. One invitation came from the Constabulary Chief, Colonel Harry H. Bandholtz; it was a trap, and Sakay along with his principal lieutenants were disarmed and arrested while the party was in progress.
At his trial, Sakay was accused of “bandolerismo under the Brigandage Act of Nov. 12, 1902, which interpreted all acts of armed resistance to American rule as banditry.” The American colonial Supreme Court of the Philippines upheld the decision. Sakay was sentenced to death, and hanged on 13 September 1907. Before his death, he made the following statement:
Death comes to all of us sooner or later, so I will face the LORD Almighty calmly. But I want to tell you that we are not bandits and robbers, as the Americans have accused us, but members of the revolutionary force that defended our mother country, the Philippines! Farewell! Long live the Republic and may our independence be born in the future! Long live the Philippines!
What conditions did the United States attach to this independence? In light of these conditions, was this true Philippine independence?
On January 20, 1899, President McKinley appointed the First Philippine Commission (the Schurman Commission), a five-person group headed by Dr. Jacob Schurman, president of Cornell University, to investigate conditions in the islands and make recommendations. In the report that they issued to the president the following year, the commissioners acknowledged Filipino aspirations for independence; they declared, however, that the Philippines was not ready for it. Specific recommendations included the establishment of civilian government as rapidly as possible (the American chief executive in the islands at that time was the military governor), including establishment of a bicameral legislature, autonomous governments on the provincial and municipal levels, and a new system of free public elementary schools.
From the very beginning, United States presidents and their representatives in the islands defined their colonial mission as tutelage: preparing the Philippines for eventual independence. Except for a small group of “retentionists,” the issue was not whether the Philippines would be granted self-rule, but when and under what conditions. Thus political development in the islands was rapid and particularly impressive in light of the complete lack of representative institutions under the Spanish.
By the 1930s, there were three main groups lobbying for Philippine independence – Great Depression-era American farmers competing against tariff-free Filipino sugar and coconut oil; those upset with large numbers of Filipino immigrants who could move easily to the United States, in their changing the U.S.’s racial character and competing with American-born workers; and Filipinos seeking Philippine independence.
The Tydings–McDuffie Act (officially the Philippine Independence Act; Public Law 73-127) approved on March 24, 1934, provided for self-government of the Philippines and for Filipino independence (from the United States) after a period of ten years. World War II intervened, bringing the Japanese occupation between 1941 and 1945. In 1946, the Treaty of Manila (1946) between the governments of the U.S. and the Republic of the Philippines provided for the recognition of the independence of the Republic of the Philippines and the relinquishment of American sovereignty over the Philippine Islands.
However, before the 1946 Treaty was authorized, a secret agreement was signed between Philippine President Osmena and US President Truman. President Osmena “supported U.S. rights to bases in his country by backing them publicly and by signing a secret agreement.” This culminated in the Military Bases Agreement, which was signed and submitted for Senate approval in the Philippines by Osmena’s successor, President Manuel Roxas.
As a result of this agreement, the U.S. retained dozens of military bases in Philippines, including a few major ones. It further required U.S. citizens and corporations be granted equal access with Filipinos to Philippine minerals, forests, and other natural resources. In hearings before the U.S. Senate Committee on Finance, Assistant Secretary of State for Economic Affairs William L. Clayton described the law as “clearly inconsistent with the basic foreign economic policy of this country” and “clearly inconsistent with our promise to grant the Philippines genuine independence.
Despite these inconsistencies, President Roxas did not have objections to most of the United States’ proposed military bases agreement in 1947. Below are some of the demands Roxas approved.
The United States would acquire the military bases for ninety-nine years (Article 29)
Clark Air Base would cover 130,000 acres, Olongapo City will be integrated into the Subic Naval Base, and areas surrounding the bases will be under US authority (Article 3)
The Philippines should seek U.S. approval before granting base rights to third nations (Article 25)
On March 17, Roxas submitted the Military Bases Agreement to the Philippine Senate for approval. The Military Bases Agreement was approved by the Philippine Senate on March 26, 1947, with all eighteen present senators in favor. Three senators did not attend the session in protest.
Philippine Senator Tomas Confesor stated that the military bases were “established here by the United States, not so much for the benefit of the Philippines as for their own.” He cautioned his fellow senators: “We are within the orbit of expansion of the American empire. Imperialism is not yet dead.”
There is a long tradition of resistance to colonial rule in the Philippines.
Couple of this with the country’s strong Catholicism – with its tradition of sainthood and martyrdom – and you have nation that is very aware of those who have sacrificed to advance the cause of the Filipino. Manila’s Rizal Park features the Gallery of Heroes, a row of bust sculpture monuments of historical Philippine heroes. These include: Andres Bonifacio, Juan Sumuroy, Aman Dangat, Marcelo H. Del Pilar, Gregorio Aglipay, Sultan Kudarat, Juan Luna, Melchora Aquino, Rajah Sulayman, and Gabriela Silang. Choose one of these personalities to commemorate in your own classroom. Write a brief description of their accomplishments to accompany a piece of artwork that celebrates their life for those who aren’t aware.
Jose Rizal never specifically advocated violence or even open revolt against
the Spanish, pushing instead for political reforms within the colonial structure. He wrote with such clarity and passion, however, that he become a symbol to revolutionaries – and this is why the colonial authorities decided he needed to die, in a plan that ultimately backfired, transforming him into a martyr. Debate with your class – “Does a national hero need to be a warrior – a violent figure? If not, why are so many warriors celebrated the world over as national heroes?”
Rudyard Kipling wrote a famous poem about the U.S. and its conquest of the Philippines. It is called “The White Man’s Burden.” The poem became so famous that it became the subject of parody as well. Read both the poem and one of its parodies and discuss it with your classmates using the included questions to help guide you.
Stereoscopic Visions of War and Empire – This exhibit juxtaposes the visual message presented by the stereoscopic images with excerpts from the letters written by U.S. soldiers that were first published in local newspapers and later collected in the Anti-Imperialist League’s pamphlet, allowing us to get a glimpse of the Philippine-American War as it was presented to Americans at home, reading the news or entertaining friends in their parlors.