25 August 2019
The Battle of Manila Bay marked the end of the Spanish colonial period and the start of US rule in Philippine history. Photo: US Navy
The Battle of Manila Bay marked the end of the Spanish colonial period and the start of US rule in Philippine history. Photo: US Navy

US Admiral George Dewey on how to treat allies, former enemies

If he were still alive today, what would US Navy Admiral George Dewey, who sailed with his squadron to Manila Bay from Hong Kong’s Mirs Bay in 1898, say about the treatment of former US allies, such as the translators who helped the US Army in Iraq?

After his victory at the Battle of Manila Bay, Dewey wrote to the Secretary of the Navy asking that the 50 Chinese crewmen who served with the Asiatic Squadron at Manila Bay be allowed to enter the United States.

Dewey felt a debt of gratitude towards them and said the Chinese had “rendered the most efficient services upon that occasion” and “shown courage and energy in the face of an enemy”.

At that time, the Chinese Exclusion Act prohibited Chinese laborers from entering the US, but Dewey felt he had to recognize their service.

Dewey had acquired two merchant coal supply ships, the Nanshan and Zafiro, in Hong Kong as he was several thousand miles away from the closest American port. The two ships had several Chinese crew aboard them.

Not only that. Dewey also showed respect towards his opponents.

After the May 1, 1898 Battle of Manila Bay, Spanish naval commander Admiral Patricio Montojo was recalled to Madrid, and tried for the loss of his fleet.

Despite having wooden ships that could hardly be sailed against the US steel warships like the USS Olympia and the lack of support from Madrid, Montojo was still charged and court-martialed.

Eventually, Montojo lost his argument and was thrown into jail.

Fortunately for him, Admiral Dewey stepped in to send a letter in defense of his defeated opponent.

Though Montojo was removed from the Navy, he was acquitted of the charges because of Dewey’s letter.

This allowed Montojo to spend the rest of his remaining years as a free man.

Ironically, both Admirals Dewey and Montojo died in 1917 – former enemies who eventually made their peace with each other.

The Spanish-American War perhaps is one example of a war where even previous enemies were treated with respect.

Spanish Admiral (for the Carribean) Pascual Cervera, for example, after his capture and temporary imprisonment with his men, was allowed to roam around New Hampshire during the subsequent negotiations for their release, and he was treated with superstar status by the people there.

Even Frederick Funston, the American Army general who captured Philippine revolutionary leader and first President Emilio Aguinaldo, saw both their sons enter the US Military Academy at West Point together in the same class in the 1920s.

Is it not therefore fitting that allies such as the Iraqi translators who fought alongside US troops be given the respect due them for their service?

Dewey’s courage and character is why he is the only naval officer honored with the rank of Admiral of the Navy.

Terrorism is a threat that must be dealt with everywhere, but it is not an excuse to put former allies’ lives at risk.

Admiral Dewey’s actions are not simply just a reminder of the past, but also a guide on how America (and other countries) should act in the future.

Dennis Posadas is the playwright of a new play on Admiral Dewey and how he saved his Spanish naval opponent during a Madrid court martial in 1899.

– Contact us at [email protected]


Philippines based author, columnist and playwright

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