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  • Writer's picturePaul


What would be your first reaction to someone firing artillery at you in a warzone?

A. Run away

B. Try and find some way to fight back

C. Assume it was a friendly hello, and go and send someone out talk to the person who shot at you

Well, if you answered C to that question then it seems you’d be perfectly suited for the job of Marine Corps Captain of the Spanish Army in colonial Guam. Because that’s exactly what the holder that title, a Mr Pedro Duarte, did when the island of Guam came under attack from invading American forces in June 1898.

If you’re going to join a colonial army, join one in a tropical paradise (Pixabay)

Now to be fair to the good captain, the Spanish government had regrettably neglected to actually tell anyone on Guam that the Spanish–American War had actually started, more than two months earlier. So when the US cruiser Charleston ominously appeared offshore one day and started firing at the island’s Spanish fort, the local Guamanians were understandably a little taken aback.

(Essentially, this was the military equivalent of an angry random stranger turning up in your garden yelling something incomprehensible and throwing stones at your window.)

Amidst all of the confusion, it fell to Captain Duarte to decide what the island’s best response should be. And his take of the situation really couldn’t have been more wrong.

Mistaking the attack for a rambunctious greeting—and presuming that the Charleston was giving the island some kind of laudatory gun salute—Duarte sent word to the Governor of Guam, Don Juan Marina, requesting that guns to be brought to the fort from the capital, Agana, so he and his men could happily return the “salute”.

(If you’re wondering at this point why Captain Duarte had to request weapons be brought to the fort, it’s because the Spanish hadn’t actually installed any guns in the fort. I mean, to be fair—who could be bothered to lug a cannon up a hill in tropical heat?)

Not content with that, Duarte also commanded that the fort surgeon, the captain of the port and a native Chamorro gentleman take a small boat across to greet the Charleston; on arrival, they were promptly told they were prisoners of war. Much, we can presume, to their and Captain Duarte’s surprise.

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