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Julian Hawthorne in Cuba
As the second Luetgert trial was under way in early 1898, reporter Julian Hawthorne had moved on to another assignment. The New York Journal's publisher, William Randolph Hearst, had sent him to Cuba, where he filed dispatches that aroused American sympathy for the Cuban people and fomented pro-war sentiment.
On February 9 — the same day when Luetgert's trial came to an end — Hawthorne filed the following dispatch from Havana . It was published in the Chicago Tribune on February 14.
Sitting here with the lovely harbor spread out broad and shining before me beneath the moon, I will speak of my visit to the starving, dying reconcentrados today.
No one can see Havana and its surroundings without feeling that so much beauty should be the frame and background of whatever in human relations is delightful and of grand repute. The island is an earthly paradise, and the climate the most exquisite and caressing that I, in a tolerably wide experience of climate, have ever known. There is no richer soil in the world. Nature has withheld nothing that could make man happy or serve to render him prosperous. She has given all and produced an Eden, but man, who takes all, has transformed it into a hell.
Not in this age, certainly, has a crime been perpetrated more revolting to humanity than Weyler committed when he forced the women and children of the patriots in the Cuban army to come within the Spanish lines and then deliberately starved them there. His ostensible purpose was to weaken the heart of resistance by attacking its tenderest point, but his real aim was the literal extinction of the Cuban race, and he has so far succeeded that out of the million and a half inhabitants of this island when the war began, 600,000 at least, by far the most of them women and children, have been destroyed, either by direct murder or by the slower and more agonizing torture of famine and of disease caused by famine.
The Cuban soldiers fighting to save their country have not been met and defeated in the filed. They have been barbarously robbed of their mothers, wives, sisters, and offspring. When their independence is won they will have no families to return to.
Iron Spirit of Resistance.
Weyler's policy did not succeed in breaking the iron spirit of resistance to tyranny, but in other respects it has been only too successful. More than a third of the population is dead. Hundreds more are dying daily in Havana and its environs alone; dying with accompaniments of misery and suffering almost inconceivable, wholly indescribable.
They fall dead in the streets; they did before your eyes, as you stand in the wretched pens where they are huddled together. They die with an agony of body which is equated only by the hopeless anguish and forlornness of their minds. Until lately, when an attempt to relieve some of them was made in America, they die unpitied and uncared for.
I have seen famine in its awful form in India, but there it was not accompanied by the brutality, willful cruelty, and wanton insult that have pursued its victims here. Had the same proportion of the population died in India that died here not less than one hundred millions would have perished.
It was thought and often asserted that Blanco would reverse the policy of Weyler. Today those who are well informed shake their heads and say that the improvement is in profession only. Substantially the same things are done now as before. Moreover, Blanco could hardly relieve the situation were he so disposed. Most of the mischief has been already accomplished.
"You will not see so many starving people as if you had come earlier," said a man to me today. "Most of them are dead."
The survivors are dying, and were they permitted to go back to what were their homes, and supposing them to have strength to do it, still death would await them. Their fields and houses have been ravaged and burned, and the roving bands of guerrillas would slaughter them without mercy. All this seems incredible, or at least exaggerated, but it is all true and within the truth.
Worst Is Not Told.
The worst has not been told; it cannot be told. Perhaps it is better not to believe it, but the island of these victims is on Spain's head, and around Spain's neck hangs the millstone which must sink those who slaughter the little ones.
No opposition was made to my leaving the boat this morning. I went ashore in the launch, and under the guidance of a gentleman who knew where to take me, and one of whose courtesy, energy, and intelligence I cannot speak too highly, I drove to various points in and around Havana and saw the saddest sights that earth can show.
The hooded vehicle stopped on one of the narrow streets and we got out. We entered a gateway and found ourselves in an irregular courtyard. One side was a barnlike structure of two stories, with open doors and windows. In the yard groups of persons were standing or sitting. There were no men among them. All were women and children.
In their faces I at once recognized the look I already had learned to know too well — the look of famine. It is like no other look which human features can wear. It makes all faces alike. There is little difference in the expressions of skulls, but a skull seen through drawn and wrinkled skin and with the ghastly eyes still in their sockets is a more terrible spectacle than naked bones.
The persons who were able to be out of doors were of course those on whom famine had not yet done its uttermost work. They were able still to stand and move. The apathy of approaching death was upon them; it was scarcely relieved, even temporarily, by our presence and by the little largesse of coins which we were able to make.
A group of children clustered about us, holding up their bony little hands and staring at us with their shrunken eyes, but when the money had been distributed they soon relapsed into their former state. It could not save their lives, but it might render their last hours less miserable.
It was when we entered the building, however, that the complete horror of the situation was disclosed to us. During the last few days cots have been provided for some of the inmates; before they had obliged to lie on the bare floor. The costs were ranged up and down the rooms, and on them lay or squatted the figures of the doomed.
On the first cot a child about 5 years old lay prone. She was breathing with difficulty and was evidently in pain, but exhaustion had so far dulled her faculties that one might hope she did not suffer mentally. She had been a pretty child, but her little face was fearful to look upon now. She was dying, no one was attending her, the attendants were few, and those for whom there was some chance of recovery must be ministered to first.
On another cot a young woman lay. The rags that clothed her seemed to cover nothing but a huddle of bones, but her face still showed traces of great beauty. Every feature was finely molded and of aristocratic cast. She opened her great dark eyes as I passed beside her, but she would never more again. There she lay, sinking momentarily into darkness and waiting for Spanish vengeance to accomplish itself. Near her a girl of 18 sat supping a thin broth out of a cup. There was no flesh on her face, only the dry, drawn skin. The thick mass of hair increased the apparent gauntness of her countenance. Her eyes were fixed in a dull look of anxious pain. The instinct to eat remained with her, but no sensation either of pleasure or of hope.
Close beside her an old woman with gray hair was dying on her cot. She lay stolid and motionless. The old seem to die more easily than the young. She had known all the ills of life, and there was nothing left to make her loath to die.
All around us lay figures like these. Many cots were empty. They had lately been vacated.
"How are the people buried?" I asked the guide.
"The bodies are put in a box and taken to the big pit. Then the body is taken out and thrown in with the others."
"But is there nothing to show which is which?"
"O, no; that is impossible. They are thrown in and covered up. That is all. No one knows who they are or can ever find out."
After a long drive we came to a place used as an orphan asylum. Here were kept the children whose parents had died in the field or been starved to death within the Spanish lines. A long, narrow court was inclosed between two-story buildings with a balcony running along the front of the upper floor. The establishment was under charge of a gentleman of high character and humane feelings, and was kept neat and clean.
All possible care was given to the poor little inmates, but most of them were too far gone to be revived, and, of course, there was but little or nothing for them to eat. To keep alive the reconcentrados in Havana alone $5,000 a day would be required, whereas there is practically no money at all for this purpose beyond the fitful and trifling donations of private charities.
These children have the privilege of dying of hunger under a roof, and perhaps on a cot, instead of in the public streets. So far the mercy of the Spanish authorities extends, and for this we must be thankful. A house of death for little children — that is what this asylum is.
It was a terrible place to enter. Starving children are a kind of monstrosity — a special outrage on nature. Their spirit seems to undergo a change comparable to that of their bodies. Except as regards size they no longer resemble children, but neither do they look old in the ordinary sense. They are like gnomes or hobgoblins.
Their heads look unnaturally large, tottering on wizened little necks and bodies that are a mere framework of bones. Their eyes stare dull and fixedly; their fleshless arms hang inert by their sides; their nerveless mouths droop with a grotesque solemnity.
You would hardly think them human. They are perfectly quiet and undemonstrative. They never cry or speak; they stand, or sit, or lie wherever they chance to be without attempting to change their posture. They do not understand how to suffer, and therefore do not proceed in the orthodox manner.
In his book, Public Opinion and the Spanish-American War: A Study in War Propaganda (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1932), Marcus Wilkerson decried the yellow journalism practiced by Hawthorne and his fellow Hearst correspondents. The following are excerpts from Wilkerson's book:
The year 1897 marks definitely the beginning of what the New York Journal referred to as the "New Journalism" – a policy of aggressive activity in bringing to light unusual incidents which were exploited to build circulation … The journal referred to its accomplishments in obtaining news as "the journalism that does things," and poked fun at its competitors for their lack of initiative...
The use of shrieking headlines, which frequently misrepresented already exaggerated news dispatches, was one of the most pernicious practices employed by "yellow journals." Rational readers undoubtedly discounted much of what these sensational papers published, but there were many who evidently were incapable of properly interpreting the events to whom such misleading reports meant but one thing – that this country was on the brink of war.
Hearst did not enter New York journalism until the fall of 1895, and it was not until 1896 that the Journal began a determined campaign for the Cuban rebels. The Hearst correspondents in Cuba matched the World reporters in the character and amount of striking new reports dispatched to this country, and by 1897 the Journal began to outdo the Pulitzer paper in obtaining sensational news…
The Journal sent … Julian Hawthorne, well known war correspondent, whose articles depicting the suffering in Cuba started early in 1898. Hawthorne’s accounts were given prominent display with one issue carrying two pages of pictures representing emaciated women and children of Cuba, which the Journal claimed were photographs but most of which were obviously pen sketches. One illustration, showing carrion crows picking the body of a dead Cuban while starving children stood nearby, bore the caption, "Last of a Family of Seven Waiting for Death."
...Senator Mason (read) one of Julian Hawthorne’s articles telling of "horrors" in Cuba. The article, which had been written for the New York Journal, had appeared in the Chicago Tribune. Senator Mason, after reading the news story, which filled two newspaper columns, alluded to Hawthorne as being a highly responsible correspondent "well known to many of us personally and a man who has a national reputation."...
Hawthorne was not directly involved in one particular newspaper scandal, the Cisneros rescue, but he did write an introduction to Karl Decker's book about the case. Wilkerson wrote:
The Cisneros rescue is perhaps one of the most notable instances of newspaper aggressiveness in history. Evangelina Cisneors, a niece of the Cuban President, Cisneros y Betancourt, who headed the civil government of the rebels, was charged with having lured Colonel Berris, Military Governor of the Isle of Pines, to her home where hidden men killed him. The Hearst paper, however, contended that Miss Cisneros was the most beautiful girl in all Cuba and that her innocence and beauty had "excited the lust" of the Governor… A Journal correspondent, Karl Decker, had succeeded in spiriting Miss Cisneros from her prison disguised as a boy and in placing her aboard a vessel bound for New York.
By contrast, in his introduction to the Cisneros book, Hawthorne wrote:
The New Journalism has achieved many wonders; but nothing so wonderful as when its best representative, the New York Journal, conceived the idea of freeing an imprisoned maiden from a cruel tyrant, and carried the conception into successful realization through the agency of Mr. Karl Decker... An American newspaper has shown American what she ought to do.
(from The Story of Evangelina Cisneros (Evangelina Betancourt Cosio y Cisneros) Told By Herself. Her Rescue by Karl Decker. Introduction by Julian Hawthorne, New York: Continental Publishing, 1897).