Donnerstag, 31. Januar 2019

A Brief History of Guantanamo Bay, America’s “Idyllic Prison Camp” / Stephen Benz. In: Lit Hub January 30, 2019

One day, our dispatch-boat found the shores of Guantánamo Bay flowing past on either side. It was at nightfall, and on the eastward point a small village was burning, and it happened that a fiery light was thrown upon some palm-trees so that it made them into enormous crimson feathers. The water was the colour of blue steel; the Cuban woods were sombre; high shivered the gory feathers. The last boatloads of the marine battalion were pulling for the beach.
–Stephen Crane, “War Memories”

Twenty years ago, I went to Santiago de Cuba to gather material for a magazine article on the centennial of the Spanish-American War. Over the course of several days, I visited Daiquirí, Siboney, Las Guásimas, El Caney, and of course San Juan Hill—all the main sites associated with that war. All, that is, except one: Guantánamo Bay. But visiting Guantánamo was practically impossible, even then, five years before it became a detention camp for prisoners of the “War on Terror.” The sites related to the Spanish-American War were located inside the perimeter of the US Naval Base—“Gitmo,” to use the military’s shorthand designation—and there was no access to the base from Cuba proper. The only way to enter Gitmo was to fly in on a Navy transport airplane from Virginia Beach, Virginia. And to do that, I would have to obtain permission—rarely granted—from naval authorities. So, much as I would have liked to visit the scene of the war’s first clash between Spanish and American troops, I had to accept the impracticality of such a visit.
Forgoing Guantánamo was especially disappointing because of Stephen Crane’s connection to the place. Crane’s writing about the war and his various adventures in Cuba had long intrigued me. He was one of the few reporters to witness both the landing of the Marines at Guantánamo and their subsequent skirmish with Spanish troops. He wrote several accounts of the event, a couple of which are counted among his best work. In fact, a significant portion of Crane’s writing concerns Cuba, including a book of short stories (Wounds in the Rain), a long semiautobiographical essay (“War Memories”), and some of his best journalism.
The time he spent on the island—a little over five months all told—holds outsized significance in his biography and his oeuvre. It was in Cuba that Crane—already famous for writing a war novel—finally witnessed warfare firsthand and up close. Shortly after hostilities ended, Crane came down with a severe bout of either yellow fever or malaria and had to be evacuated in a state of delirium. The “Cuban fever,” as he called it, certainly exacerbated his latent tuberculosis; nevertheless, while he was still recovering Crane mysteriously returned to Cuba—well after the other correspondents had left—and spent the better part of four months living a kind of underground existence in Havana. Though he filed an occasional report for Hearst’s Journal, he was for the most part incommunicado; even his closest companions and his common-law wife had no idea where he was or what he was doing. The Havana sojourn remains something of an enigma in Crane’s biography. ... [mehr]

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