Skip to content

Thursday, May 5, 1898

Quarter of the Nightwatch

Tonight, in the mess hall, they are honoring the Spanish pilot. We drink a toast to honor Spain and encourage him to talk. He is a rather straightforward, enthusiastic, and exuberant fellow. Like many of his countrymen, he is a caricature of Don Quixote de la Mancha who gradually takes on the role of Sancho as he goes along. But a Don Quixote who does not look emaciated and is lacking in humor bores me.

This highly spirited man is not a fool, and yet he insists that one Spaniard is worth three Americans. He does not doubt that Spain will eventually triumph.

This captain does not take this week’s battle too seriously; nonetheless, it makes him indignant toward the Americans. He believes that the reinforcement sent by Spain is already on its way here and that the Yankees cannot win against the sons of El Cid. When asked if an American is the equivalent of one Tagal in battle, he retorts that the Yankees are mere pork merchants, telegraph employees, clerks, mechanics, who should remain in their factories, behind their counters, on in their stables. “I can say, emphatically, that the Yankees are nothing but merchants.”

. . . I am alone. What basically motivates the French in this war? A Frenchman will never admit that Spain had a right to act as she did 300 years ago in Cuba, in the Philippines, and in Spain itself. The long war between the French and the Spanish has taught one to honor the bravura of the other, but the national spirit of Spain has always profoundly rejected that of France. During the time of the League, a Parisian bourgeois looked at Spain in the same manner as we do today. Weyler and Polavieja follow the Duc de Alba’s way of thinking. Tradition is constant. If there is one country in the world where revolution could never be possible, it would be Spain. Therefore, this explains everything, and the true communion of thought is not possible between the two peoples. Eighty years ago, our experience pointed clearly to this fact.

But on the other hand, never will a a Frenchman admit that the pretext to fight for an ideal is reason enough to conquer. And this is why the Americans have deeply offended us. They invoke our principle only to trample on it later. This is the most painful blow that can be delivered on France. We pretend that the Americans will not retain the occupied territories, but how can we be sure? While waiting for the opportunities to keep them, they are holding on. Why are they sending troops to the Philippines? If they are waging a noble war for the freedom of the Cubans, let them confine that war to Cuba alone. Or else, this war is being fought primarily against Spain and not against Cuba.

We are the defeated. But, maybe, something more important than victory is being dragged down with us: civil rights. It is an outrage that the victor who upholds this same principle should grant himself these islands as his prize.

As long as victory is not ours, it is difficult to acknowledge the victory of others.