Twain and Bud Dajo massacre

In notes dated 12 and 14 March 1906, Mark Twain of the Anti-Imperialist League expressed his horror and utter disgust at the massacre at Bud Dajo perpetrated by 540 American soldiers commanded by Gen. Leonard Wood, a medical doctor and veteran of “the splendid little war” in Cuba. They had heard that 600 Moro men, women, and children were hiding in the 50-feet-deep crater of Bud Dajo, an extinct volcano in Jolo, some 2,200 feet above sea level. We all know what happened there. Pres. Rodrigo Duterte bitterly refers to that massacre (and to the ones in Bud Bagsak and Balangiga) whenever the US government accuses him of violating of human rights. Mark Twain would have agreed with him about Bud Dajo.

Gen. Wood’s order was to “Kill or capture the 600 hundred!” When the doctor-general was heaped with official honors, Twain’s comment dripped with sarcasm: “The enemy numbered 600 — including women and children — and we abolished them utterly, leaving not even a baby alive to cry for its dead mother. This is incomparably the greatest victory that was ever achieved by the Christian soldiers of the United States. “(Twain’s italics). News of the massacre hogged the headlines of practically all the morning and evening dailies, but Twain found it extremely strange that none of these newspapers carried editorials or opinion columns about the American victory at Bud Dajo; there were also no letters to the editor about it. “Ordinarily those columns are teeming with the passions of the citizens; he lets no incident go by, whether it be large or small…but during those two days, he was silent as the editors themselves. “Apparently, only President Theodore Roosevelt said something, after 3 days, in a cable he sent to General Wood in Manila. He congratulated Wood, his officers and men for “the brilliant feat of arms wherein you and they so well upheld the honor of the American flag.”

Twain was incensed. He said Pres. Roosevelt’s words were a matter of convention and did not come from the heart. “He knew perfectly well that to pen 600 helpless and weaponless savages in a hole like rats in a trap and massacre them in detail during a stretch of a day and a half, from a safe position on the heights above, was no brilliant feat of arms…” Twain said that even if they had thrown Bibles instead of bullets, that would still not have honored the American flag.

Then the tenor of the headlines began to change: One daily deplored: “Women Slain in Moro Slaughter” and another: “With Children They Mixed in Mob in Crater, All Dead Together.” “Death List is now 900.” These were accompanied with horrendous photos of piles of dead bodies of men, children, and half-naked women. (The same gory pictures Pres. Duterte showed the media.) Another headline was defensive: “Impossible to Tell Sexes Apart in Fierce Battle on Top of Mount Dajo.” Twain’s sardonic reply was: “The naked savages were so far away, down in the bottom of that trap, that our soldiers could not tell the breasts of a woman from the rudimentary paps of a man — so far away that they couldn’t tell a toddling little child from a black six-footer. This was by all odds the least dangerous battle that Christian soldiers of any nationality were ever engaged in.” (Twain’s italics)

The Bud Dajo massacre began to worry the Republican Party and Pres. Roosevelt himself, but Mark Twain believed that nothing valuable, good, desirable, or worthwhile would be learned from that bitter lesson. From Manila, Gen. Wood continued to send self-aggrandizing stories on how he won Bud Dajo; he described a “desperate hand-to-hand fight” which Twain scoffed at. “If there was any very desperate hand-to-hand fight, it would necessarily happen that nine hundred hand-to-hand fighting, if really desperate, would surely be able to kill more than fifteen of our men before their last man and woman and child perished.”

Next, Gen Wood denied that there was even a massacre! “There was no wanton destruction of woman and children in the fight, “he claimed, “though many of them were killed by force of necessity because the Moros used them as shields in the hand-to-hand fight.” How preposterous that must have sounded to Mark Twain who said that explaining things was definitely not the General’s line. Later, Wood did lower his tone and took full responsibility for the massacre.