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Saturnino Martín Cerezo (page not available in English) a lieutenant in the Spanish army, was involved in the famous Siege of Baler, in which a small contingent of Spanish soldiers held out against Filipino forces for a period of over 330 days. This event is well-known in Spain, being dramatized in films such as Los Ultimos de Filipinas (Our Last Men in the Phillipines). After the death of the captain, Cerezo took command of the soldiers until the end of the siege. For this action, he received various honors in Spain including the Laurel of San Fernando, a healthy pension, and several streets named in his honor.

However, the siege only continued because, presumably, Cerezo ignored evidence that Spain no longer was in control of the Phillipines, which led to the deaths of over a dozen soldiers. More notably, Cerezo ignored or dismissed several envoys sent by the Spanish government, including a lieutenant colonel (Aguilar), refusing to surrender, which seems like insubordination. In this (admittedly rather hagiographical) article, the author quotes from a telegram sent by Aguilar's superior, a general, to the Ministry of War:

Regreso con teniente coronel Aguilar, que estuvo en Baler y convenció filipinos sitiadores embarque destacamento con todos los honores de guerra; pero teniente Martín, jefe del mismo, negóse en absoluto a abandonar Baler, a pesar de mis órdenes y razones Jefe de Estado Mayor. Personalmente daré cuenta a V.E. de motivos que se cree esto obedece.

With my best guess about archaic Spanish and telegram abbreviations, this says:

I am returning with lieutenant colonel Aguilar, who was in Baler and convinced the besieging Filipino forces to let the regiment embark with all the honors of war, but Lieutenant Martín, commander of the aforementioned, absolutely refused to abandon Baler, in spite of my orders and arguments, Chief of Staff. I will personally give account to V.E. of what are believed to be the reasons for this.

The writer of the article also suggests that the cause of "the last in the Phillipines" was not even viewed positively by the contemporaneous Spanish press.

Despite these actions, he was not reprimanded, but rather honored. I'm a bit surprised that, even when Cerezo's disobedience of orders was the object of discussion between a general and the Chief of Staff, he ended up being rewarded and subject to no censure.

Why did Cerezo receive so many honors despite having disregarded the orders of his superiors, with negative consequences for the soldiers under his command? Why did he not face consequences for ignoring the envoys?

  • @MarkWallace - What's unclear? I'm wondering why he wasn't punished for ignoring the orders of his government. I'd think a question about why a famous historical figure received military and civilian honors and avoided punishment would be straightforward enough. – Obie 2.0 Jan 20 at 17:16
  • @MarkC.Wallace - Regardless, I've expanded the question for those who aren't familiar. Cerezo disobeyed the orders of a superior officer (not to mention the previous times he had ignored Spanish envoys), and this disobedience was the object of a complaint by a general (!) to the Chief of Staff. Yet he ended up with military honors and no demotion or other censure that I know of. I think it's an interesting question why that happened. – Obie 2.0 Jan 20 at 17:52
  • I've deleted my original comment - that is the standard comment that we provide when there is no evidence of research in the question. You've corrected the problem - thank you. – Mark C. Wallace Jan 20 at 18:41
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I guess the real reason is the same one which explains why there are so many movies about Vietnam in the US: when you loose a war you're in desperate need of heroes. The spanish-cuban-american war was a complete disaster for Spain, loosing the last remnants of its former glorious empire and sending the country on a vain exercise of soul-searching that many would say it is still looking for.

In that sort of mood, the courageous resistance of a group of soldiers against all odds, no matter how futile, instilled some sort of inspiration among the general population. Just like the news of some Japanese soldier stranded in the jungle for sixty years without knowing that the WWII is over generates more respect than derision for the poor guy.

Actually, the war was (quickly and mercilessly) lost by Spain because its imperial policy wasn't a good match for its third-rate power economy and its less-than-third-rate power defense budget, all of which had generated a tradition of corruption and nepotism in the armed forces, which collapsed against a more prepared army. So they took a story about a few men becoming paranoid due to isolation and stress and turned it into a tale of heroism and resistance to the last man. It is hardly a weird thing; from Custer's charge at Little Big Horn to the Light Brigade at Balaclava, whitewashing military blunders into legends of bravery is a common thing everywhere.

Probably the main reason that made a hero from Martín Cerezo was Martín Cerezo himself. His stubborness (and that of his superior, lieutenant Juan Alonso Zayas) may had cost a dozen lives, but he had managed to surrender with all military honors at the end of a war that had been not just a defeat, but a complete humiliation of the country. In 1898, few days after the Maine incident, Spanish newspapers run headlines in favour of declaring war to the USA and starting funding campaigns to go to war. Just three months later Spain had lost most of its navy, a third of its army and all its colonies beyond the sea.

The behaviour of the Spanish armed forces was a complete disaster, left and right and from top to bottom. Admiral Topete evaded a court-martial with all the grace and panache he lacked in avoiding the US Navy at Manila Bay. The press was boiling with stories of units which surrendered at the sight of the first marine they saw, or where massacred by ragtags armed with machetes - and the latter were more respected than the former. In this situation, Martín Cerezo maneuvered skillfully to present himself as a brave man preferring death to dishonor. He campaigned in the press for a recognition to "the heroes of Baler"; he brought the ministry of defense to trial for deserting its brave soldiers - a narrative the common Spaniard with a parent or friend who had fought in the war was eager to buy. He even tried to get the King of Spain involved in the case and wrote a book - which was quite a best-seller - "so these facts of bravery are not going to be forgotten". In other words, as a military man he wasn't maybe brilliant, but as a politician he really had qualities.

In the end, just like with Admiral Cervera, it was easier for the Spanish elites and the Armed Forces High Command to honour him and making a hero of him than starting a judicial process that was inevitably going to expose everything that was wrong in the Spanish forces. Since there was more than enough shit for everyone to share, they decided it was better for everyone - particularly themselves - to just cover it up.

  • I understand why he's become a national hero of sorts now, but it's interesting that at the time he was disobeying the orders of a superior officer, and yet presumably the same Chief of Staff who heard this complaint gave him military honors and not even a slap on the wrist. And it seemed that at the time they weren't heroes in the popular press. So what was the government's thinking there? – Obie 2.0 Jan 21 at 0:45
  • @Obie2.0 - facts crumple before propaganda like wet tissue paper before the wind. Never let inconvenient truth get in the way of national pride. – Mark C. Wallace Jan 21 at 12:31
  • I wonder what was going through his head. It seems that he was even initially willing to entertain the idea that the newspapers indicating the end of the war were a hoax by the Tagalog (Filipino) rebels, but the only way they'd be able to do that, to spend so much effort on deceiving a small group of soldiers, would be if they had already won the war. Maybe they'd even have needed the original printing presses in Manila (which again would mean they'd basically won). And dismissing the Spanish envoys... perhaps he really did prefer death to "dishonor" (i.e. admitting he was wrong). – Obie 2.0 Jan 21 at 20:07
  • @Obie2.0 I suppose he entered in a state of paranoia and positive reinforcement feedback. First time they were told Spain has surrendered was by the filipino fighters, without any proof. They didn't believe them. Then, a spanish soldier told them. They didn't believe him, surely he was a prisoner. Then, the filipinos provided an official notification from the Spanish government at Manila (a simple paper with a signature). They didn't believe them, surely a falsification. By this point, they were convinced the filipinos were fully engaged in a campaign of deception to make them surrender. – Rekesoft Jan 23 at 8:21
  • [Cont] Is a constant feedback cycle, where you try to suffocate your doubts into layers and more layers of self-conviction, and then you find yourself in denial against more and more credible evidences. In the end, he didn't even believe lieutenant-colonel Aguilar with a formal notification of surrender. It was only the spanish newpapers Aguilar left behind - too well made, and containing details the filipinos could have never guessed, such as the new assignment in Malaga of a fellow comrade of Martín Cerezo - that finally made it. – Rekesoft Jan 23 at 8:27

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