Diary of Lieutenant X (Aime Ernest Motsch)

Sunday, August 7, 1898

Finally, this farce is reaching its conclusion. I am convinced that up to the last minute, each one will do his utmost to mislead the other. General Merritt and Admiral Dewey have released the United States’ ultimatum for Manila’s surrender. The Spaniards have been given 48 hours to reply.

Admiral Dewey has informed the foreign squadrons of a likely American attack on Manila at the stroke of noon on Tuesday. The captain general’s immediate reply to the possible bombardment on Tuesday if he refused to surrender was that the Spanish flag would not be lowered.

Neither side is willing to compromise. Admiral Dewey pretends that his only option is to attempt a sea operation due to the numerous losses supposedly sustained by the land troops in the course of various attacks launched over the past days. In fact, the Americans have not yet attacked Manila, and during the fighting on July 1 and August 1, losses were few. It is a known fact that even the Spaniards sustained only six wounded in the fight that took place on the 2nd and 4th of August. If the Americans did attempt an intensive land attack, their high-powered weapons would have completely destroyed Manila. The Americans are fully aware of their uncontested strength, and feel no need to attack. On the contrary, they need to capture Manila and take possession of the city before a peace agreement is concluded. Obviously imminent is that Admiral Dewey plans to offer the Philippines as a gift to his country. According to the English, a certain number of civil servants will come after the arrival of the expedition troops, and the United States government will then take over the administration of Manila. It now seems evident that the United States has been considering the annexation of the Philippines since June.

The Americans, on the one hand, know that there is no need to bombard Manila, and the Spaniards, on the other, want to give the impression that they are going to attack. The truth of the matter is that the Americans never had the slightest intention of destroying the city, and the Spaniards did not for a single moment wish to be bombarded.

On August 4, when General Jaudenes announced the length of time he needed to consult his government, the Americans, out of absolute compassion, could not grant his request. And why not? Unless it was for the reason that their main interest was to use a conquered Manila as leverage in their peace treaty.

In short, the Americans were determined to capture Manila before making peace. What could Spain hope for at this point? Hold Manila at all costs for as long as possible? But the Spaniards made so many erroneous moves which, in the end, cost them dearly. In fact, we know today they lost everything in the name of peace.

Same day, Afternoon

Manila and its Surroundings

I shall go on land as soon as possible. The news of the ultimatum which has been spreading for the last three months has no great impact in this country that has been smelling of gunpowder and resounding of gunshots for the past three years. Manila is built almost entirely of wood to make it less vulnerable to earthquakes, but as a consequence, it has had frequent fires caused by constant bombardments. However, the Tagals are not demoralized by this situation.

In the Philippines, I met some Spanish officials who have no illusions. All they demand is the opportunity to fight. As the colonel of the light artillery stated:

–What will they accomplish by bombarding? They will merely kill women and children. These are the sordid details of war, but we are not going to be stopped.

What is the point in all this discussion when they refuse to take up arms? I suppose that the officer wished to explain that the death of civilians would not prevent them from fighting. If such were the case, the Americans would be a long way from Manila.

Some Spanish officers have expressed their disappointment over the way the war is being conducted and the policies of their ministers. They deplore the lack of change and the abuse of civil servants and the court systems. They feel that the only difference is that the newcomers have empty stomachs and are therefore three times more greedy than their predecessors.

“No one has ever wanted to look the situation in the face,” commented someone. “We have always postponed making decisions. We have arrived at the present disastrous situation because there has been no remedy for the ills which we suffer.”

Camara’s recall was the last blow for these courageous people. They realized that the pathetic politicians in Madrid did not suspect how serious the Philippine war was between the Americans and the Spaniards until Dewey’s squadron entered the bay. If cruisers like the Pelayo and the Charles-Quint with their torpedoes were in Manila, they could have put Dewey’s fleet in a precarious situation.

It is becoming increasingly difficult to secure provisions. The troops have no more bread and are living on b biscuits.

The liveliness of the streets has not diminished. Although we id not know Manila at the prime of its prosperity, we still feel something feverish in the air, with the people no longer interested in their affairs for several weeks now, the rich Chinese leaving, and the Tagals deserting their jobs. Only the coachmen are seen driving their emaciated little horses. Everyone seems to be waiting for some spectacular event to take place. Nothing can be more tiring than waiting, like spectators in a theater, for the sound of gunfire, a calamity, or the murder which would bring down the curtain. The Spaniards have always lived with the vague fear of a massacre. The Americans pretend to share the same apprehension and take advantage of the situation to impose their will on all without any accountability to anyone.

Before retiring on board ship we stopped at the Luneta. There were numerous vehicles on the promenade and the weather was pleasantly cool.

Looking at all these people, we could not believe that in 48 hours, there would be a bombardment. Everyone was strolling quietly and appeared to be enjoying the beautiful day. Admiral Montojo, in the company of one of his daughters, passed by in his vehicle. We noticed that he looked well and had such an untroubled expression that it was hard to believe Admiral Dewey sank his entire fleet three months ago. He gambled and lost, and has called it quits. But what about the fatherland?