Sunday, July 17, 2011

What if the Philippines had become a colony of Imperial Germany?

By Art Villasanta

(Published in Enrich magazine)

DR. JOSE RIZAL WAS A GERMANOPHILE. Our National Hero spoke and wrote in German. He was influenced by and made friends with German scholars and scientists; became an ophthalmologist at Heidelberg and traveled throughout Germany.

In 1887, Rizal wrote the final chapter of his immortal novel, “Noli Me Tangere” (The Social Cancer) in Berlin, capital of Germany. By his own admission, Rizal said his year in Germany from 1886 to 1887 was among the most memorable in his life.
Dr. Jose Rizal in 1896

Before leaving Heidelberg Rizal wrote: “Within two days I shall leave this happy place and start out anew in quest of the unknown in distant places. Always I travel about and wander alone, breaking the friendships which I have just formed, separating from so many people whom I suppose I shall not see again . . . .”

He returned to the Philippines in August 1887 and immediately set up ophthalmologic practice at his hometown of Calamba, Laguna. Because he studied ophthalmology in Germany, he was known by his town mates as “Dr. Aleman” (Dr. German).

The Spaniards, on the other hand, suspected Rizal of being a German spy. They also believed he had planted the Imperial German flag on the peak of Mt. Makiling, the tallest mountain in the province of Laguna.

Unwanted visitors
Almost two years after Rizal’s murderous execution by the Spaniards on December 30, 1896, a naval battle in Manila Bay sees the rise of a new colonial power: the United States of America.

The destruction of the Spanish fleet at the Battle of Manila Bay on May 1, 1898 by the Americans and America’s subsequent 48-year rule of the Philippines are historical facts.

But there’s a fascinating “What if?” to this chapter in Philippine history. And this “What if?” would have profoundly altered both this country’s history and the character of the Filipino,  leading to an alternate Filipino universe totally alien to Filipino experience.

Let’s start with reality, however.

On May 6, 1898, a lone warship ignores orders by the Americans not to enter Manila Bay. She boldly steams into the bay, drops anchor and is unmolested by the Americans. Three days later, a sister warship joins her and, to the Americans’ fury, lands a party of soldiers at Intramuros, the “Walled City” that was Manila at the time.

Both warships keep a watchful eye on the Americans while awaiting the arrival of their fleet’s flagship and commander. On June 12, the light cruisers “SMS Irene” and “SMS Cormoran” are joined by the protected cruiser “SMS Kaiserin Augusta”.

The newly arrived flagship is accompanied by two other cruisers, “SMS Kaiser” and “SMS Prinzess Wilhelm,” and two support vessels, one carrying 1,400 combat-ready marines. The Americans are now in mortal danger. A “Second Battle of Manila Bay” seems imminent.

History shows that events in Europe, however, forced the recall of this German fleet so no naval battle against the Americans occurred in Manila Bay. But what if the following had occurred?

SMS Kaiserin Augusta, 1893
The Second Battle of Manila Bay
Tensions remain high in Manila Bay, which by June sees warships of the British, Japanese and French Empires in its waters. The main opponents, however, remain the Americans and the warships of this interloper that flaunt the American blockade of Manila Bay by traveling where they want, when they want to. And with good military reason.

The combined main armament on the German warships can deliver a heavier weight of shells at longer range than those aboard the four protected cruisers and two gunboats opposing them. A Second Battle of Manila Bay is fought in June and the outgunned Americans are easily defeated by the five cruisers of the “Kaiserliche Marine” or the Imperial German Navy.

With the American naval defeat, the Philippines is seized by this young European power born only 27 years before—the Imperial German Empire. Would Rizal have approved of Germany’s incursion into the Philippines were he alive in 1898?

It’s a tough question for which no hard answer appears possible. But conjectures can be made based on historical evidence.

Yes, Rizal probably would have extended an uneasy welcome to the Germans. Having lived among Germans and being fluent in their language, Rizal would probably not have considered the Germans more of a threat than the hated Spaniards.

His facility with spoken German and his status as a hero among the revolutionaries (cemented by Noli and its successor novel, El Filibusterismo) would also have made him the ideal intermediary with the Germans.

But whether the Germans would have abandoned their plan to wrest the Philippines from Spain either through force or purchase appears unlikely given their need to secure an Asian base for their growing navy that would figure prominently in German war plans.

In 1899, the German General Staff prepared war plans for a surprise attack on the USA by landing an invasion force to seize Manhattan and the rest of New York City following a massive naval bombardment. This plan was upgraded in 1900 to take Boston and New York by naval and infantry attack.

In support of this plan, the Reichstag (the German Parliament) approved funding for 38 battleships, 20 large cruisers and 28 light cruisers that same year. Should the Germans have taken the Philippines from the Americans, the planned invasion of the American mainland would probably have taken place to further emasculate a rival and rising Great Power.

Emilio Aguinaldo and the Katipunan army 20,000 strong that had completely invested Intramuros by May 1898 would most certainly have resisted German encroachment. Rizal, a pacifist, would probably have expended his considerable talents to secure a rapprochement between the Germans and the Katipunan.

Filipinos of the Katipunan army, 1899

But given their divergent views—the Katipunan fighting for independence and the Germans determined to secure a large Asian colony for naval and commercial advantage—Rizal’s appeal for a peaceful solution would probably have gone unheeded.

War would again be the arbiter of another intractable dispute. And this probable Filipino-German War would have ended in a German victory considering the fearsome military reputation of the Germans, which reached new heights in their victorious wars against Denmark, Austria and France from 1864 to 1870.

Germany as colonizer
Supposing the Germans did emerge victorious against us, what then? Germany’s enlightened treatment of her African colonies provides clues as to how Germany might have governed the Philippines.

In the main, the German colonial administration of its colonies or protectorates in Africa was enlightened, tolerant and humane. And in some of these protectorates such as Togoland (present day Ghana and Togo) and German East Africa (present day Burundi, Rwanda and Tanganyika) “. . . improbably advanced and humane administrations emerged,” said the British.

But it was in promoting education among its colonized peoples that the Germans were without equal among imperialists in the early 20th century. Germany created an educational system for its Africans that provided elementary, secondary and vocational education. 

Classroom in German East Africa, 1916

This German educational system in her colonies was the best in Africa, and remained so a decade after Germany’s defeat in World War I. Even their enemies, the British, who took over some of Germany’s African colonies, admitted the Germans had accomplished marvels in the educational system for its African peoples. 

Such humanity was impossible under the ruthless Spaniards and improbable under the racist Americans.

Africans also benefited from Germany’s eminence in medicine and medical research. The Germans vaccinated over three million Africans against smallpox. Medical doctors around the world profited from pioneering work into tropical diseases conducted by Germans in Africa and from German pharmaceutical discoveries derived from African plants.

Sources say Germany’s many achievements in medicine and agriculture for her African colonies more than justify her short presence as an African colonizer.

Besides German East Africa and Togoland, the other German protectorates in Africa were German Southwest Africa (Namibia) and German West Africa (Cameroon, Togo and Ghana).

In Asia, Germany’s imperial colonies consisted mostly of Pacific islands such as German New Guinea (Papua New Guinea), the Mariana Islands (Saipan, Tinian and Rota), the Caroline Islands (now Palau and the Federated States of Micronesia) and German Samoa (Samoa). The Germans bought most of these colonies from Spain.

Protectorate of German-Philippines
If the Philippines had become a German protectorate or “Schutzgebiet,” it would probably have carried the name “Schutzgebiet Deutsch-Philippinen” or the Protectorate of German-Philippines. The Philippines would have become Germany’s largest Asian colony in population and land area.

Under German rule, Filipinos would probably have acquired the German predilection for order, expressed in the phrase “Ordnung muss sein!” (“Order must prevail!”), and the individual discipline that makes it possible.

Discipline, punctuality, comradeship and obedience to authority would also have become second nature for many Filipinos.

Rizal and other Filipino nationalists admired Germany for her science and culture. They hoped Filipinos could adapt the German work ethic and its focus on efficiency, prudence and a love for science and technical knowledge.

Would Rizal (whose 150th birth anniversary is being celebrated this year) have approved of Germany’s conquest of his Motherland to bring about these changes in Filipino character? Probably.
German landser, World War I

But these civil virtues would also have been accompanied by the martial German virtues of iron-hard discipline, complete obedience to authority and toughness that made the German soldier of the late 19th and early 20th century the most formidable on the planet.

Imagine thousands of well-trained “Philippinischen soldaten” in “feldgrau” (the gray green field uniform of the German Army), wearing “stahlhelme” (German helmets) and armed with Gewehr 88 rifles and MG08 machine guns fighting to repel an invasion of the Philippines by the Americans, Japanese and British in the First World War—that is, if there would have been a First World War. It’s another fascinating probability.

Would Rizal have approved?

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