By Antonio Rafael de la Cova,
"War and Genocide in Cuba 1895-1898." By John Lawrence Tone. (Chapel Hill, N.C.: The University of North Carolina Press, 2006. Pp. xi, 338. $35.00 cloth).
Spain is unapologetic for the Cuban holocaust prompted by their reconcentrado policy during the Cuban War of Independence (1895-1898). In consequence, half a million Cubans were herded into fortified cities and concentration camps, where some 170,000 died within eighteen months. The fatalities comprised ten percent of the island's population (p. 8). The author provides new sources from Spanish military archives for this and other aspects of the struggle that pitted 190,000 Spanish soldiers and their 60,000 colonial militia against some 40,000 rebels.
Spanish casualties amounted to less than 4,000 combat deaths and 41,288 succumbed to disease before the Spanish-American War ended the conflict.
Tone's research strength is based on Spanish military history. Unfortunately, he hardly questions the validity of these accounts, even when there are obvious errors. Similar inaccuracies were challenged during the Cuban Ten Years' War (1868-78) by Spanish Gen. Manuel Buceta in a letter to the Diario de la Marina on June 24, 1869. He affirmed that all the official battle reports in which the Spanish troops resulted triumphant and unhurt were mendacious.
The author repeats his theory that the rebel “machete hardly came into play in combat” (p. 134), which he previously published in the Journal of Military History in 1998. His argument is based almost exclusively on Spanish accounts. Sometimes, Tone addresses complex issues with only one source. He relies on the contemporary Spanish version by Severo Gómez Núñez to indicate that at the battle of Peralejo in Oriente, the rebels used new “cartridges fresh from U.S. suppliers” (p. 80). Although this action occurred on July 12, 1895, the first filibuster supply expedition arrived in Las Villas twelve days later on the James Woodal.
Tone writes that in March 1896 the filibuster “vessel Commodore landed a rapid-fire cannon” and other weapons in Matanzas (p. 175). Instead, the Commodore disembarked a Hotchkiss gun at Nuevas Grandes, Camagüey, on March 19. The insurgent expedition that landed in Matanzas two days earlier, on the steamer Three Friends, lacked artillery. The author claims that in November 1896, Maj. Gen. Antonio Maceo sent Gen. Quintín Bandera from Pinar del Río “to Havana ahead of him in order to reactivate the insurrection there” (p. 184). In fact, Banderas had been appointed by Maceo chief of the First Division of the Fourth Corps at Las Villas on August 14, 1896, and immediately went there to establish camp in the hills of Trinidad.
Many important quotes are taken from secondary sources, some of which were authored by history buffs. Rebel officer Frederick Funston is cited from a 1975 biography, instead of his own memoirs. Tone demonstrates geographic disorientation when indicating that Cascorro was in the province of Santa Clara, instead of Camagüey, the 86 miles between Manzanillo and Santiago de Cuba are more than doubled to 200 miles, and Fernandina is not a “little Florida island” (p. 43) but rather a town on Amelia Island. The U.S. Customs agent there, instead of the U.S. Coast Guard, neutralized José Martí's filibuster expedition, and one of the vessels, the Baracoa, was a 484-ton tramp steamer and not a “speedy yacht” (p. 43). More than a score of important names have been omitted from the index, including U.S. politicians Roger Mills, William Sulzer, Don Cameron and Wilkensen [sic] Call (p. 222). Other misnamed persons include Cuban generals [Juan] Bruno Zayas and [Francisco] Leyte-Vidal, and Colonel [Luis] López Marín. The author erroneously has Cuban patriot Bartolomé Masó defecting in 1898 instead of Gen. Juan Masó Parra (p. 237).
In spite of many inaccuracies, this book makes interesting reading and will stir academic debate and inspire further research.