jueves, 22 de septiembre de 2016

Brig. Gen. Rafael de Nogales Méndez, ‘the Wadi of Desert’: the Most Universal Tachiran of all Times


General (Brig. Gen.) Rafael de Nogales Méndez (1877-1937) with Ottoman Empire military uniform, selected awards and wearing the Ottoman-style 'kalpak' [Photograph by Lt. Jesús Ramón Blanco, 1918. Published 1934 by Ana Mercedes Pérez (1910-1994)].

'De l'audace, encore de l'audace, toujours de l'audace - Boldness, and again boldness, and always boldness! (Danton, speech to the French Legislative Committee of General Defense, Paris, 1792)

Written by Samir A. Sánchez (2016)

Photographs by Jesús R. Blanco, Rafael de Nogales, A. Arenas, José A. Pulido and Samir A. Sánchez

Sir Winston Churchill once wrote that 'A man's Life must be nailed to a cross either of Thought or Action' (The Story of my Early Life - A Roving Commission, Charles Scribner's Book, New York, 1951, p. 113). The General Rafael de Nogales Méndez's choice was clearly the active life. Prompted by an old spirit of swashbuckle, too largely on the favours of fortune, life and heyday made of this man the most Tachiran universal of all times. He was reputed to be a man of intrepidity, bravery and a through master of his profession: adventure and war.

Eighty years after his death, few of us know his exploits -while not new to his personal history-, but conscientiously reviewing his life, he has earned a new nickname, a new descriptor of his personality: The Wadi of Desert. For almost eighty years, he is still seen as ‘strange’ by many Tachirans and Venezuelans, and ‘mercenary’ by a higher percentage of Western readers. Perhaps that’s why I was particularly moved by make a contribution to understanding his memoirs of the life, adventures and military exploits -even so, it is really necessary a critical biography about our personage or historical figure-. We, the Tachiran people, still await a biography that satisfies sophisticated canons of scholarship.

A historical figure can be studied in myriad ways, thus, one of the best ways to examine the spreading history of the General Rafael de Nogales Méndez is to consider the most influential facts that shaped him and his great global adventures. As American essayist and poet Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) wrote, There is properly no history; only biography. Every mind must know the whole lesson for itself.... In like manner, all public facts are to be individualized, all private facts are to be generalized. Then at once History becomes fluid and true, and Biography deep and sublime.' (Essays: First Series, 1841, Essay I, History)

This thematic essay—worked towards a comprehensive learning experience, is only an overview of his life, times and labours, inasmuch as Lacotte expressed, 'les petites histoires font la grande Historia.' (Les Petites Histoires de la grande Histoire, Paris, 2009)

General Rafael de Nogales Méndez was born in the city of San Cristóbal (on the 'calle de la Libertad' or Liberty Street, present-day 3th Street in San Cristóbal Downtown), Táchira State (Venezuela) on October 14, 1877. Born within earshot of San Cristóbal's Cathedral bells and he was a military, adventurer, rebel, journalist (war correspondent), voyager, fighter against the dictatorships, and author.

The General Rafael de Nogales Méndez's birthplace and childhood house, seen here, lies in the centre of the picture (house with dark walls, it was demolished cir. 1950). He was brought up in this house in San Cristóbal, Táchira State, in 1877. (Photograph by A. Arenas, 1920. He showed in picture the particular instant the play starts when the pitcher throws the ball toward the batter, a player on the Los Andes Baseball team. Early 20-century Baseball was extremely popular in San Cristóbal City)

Now a question arises: who is Nogales really? The question had a direct answer and here, we peer directly into the Nogales’s mindHe once said'I am a caballero andante (Knight-errant), a knight who seeks out adventure.... I consider myself a citizen of the world in all places where something is projected.' (Memoirs of a Soldier of Fortune: General Rafael de Nogales, 1932) More prosaically, one would say today that literary diversion of his youth may well be reading The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha and 'tales of chivalry.'

He was the first of four children of General Pedro Felipe Inchauspe Cordero (d. 1890) [the scion of a wealthy family of the Spanish Colonial Period] and his wife, María Josefa Méndez Brito de Inchauspe (d. 1893). The other children in the family were Juana Josefa (b. 1880), Magdalena (b. 1881) and Ana María (b. 1883).  

He had changed his original Basque paternal family name ('Inchauspe', Walnut trees) with its equivalent in Spanish (de Nogales). The change of the name from ’Inchauspe’ to ‘de Nogales’ during his time in Europa was not only a conscious Castilianization of Basque family name, but also a symbol, that he wanted to make a name for himself.

Admitted into German-speaking school at San Cristóbalof Theodor Messerschmidt (from Hamburg), he there obtained a first European primary education. In the same manner, the Tachiran elite tradition was to send children awayfar from the Andean village described by Fr. Pedro de Aguado OFM (16th-century) as ‘de alegre cielo y apacible temple' (cheerful-sky and peaceful-atmosphere), at a young age to be educated

Thereby, Nogales came to identify himself as a person trained and disciplined in the strict and dominant Prussian education system of the late 19th-century (or ‘Zeitgeist’), in view of the fact that he has lived in Germany since April 1886, thus, he studied in Europe and attended Military Academies and Universities in Germany, Belgium, Spain and late Ottoman Army War College (‘Erkân-ı Harbiye Mektebi’), and spoke Spanish, French, English, German, Turkish and Italian fluently.

There was just one thing which surprised him—that was the positions of difficulty; in short, where there was a difficulty, riskiest or taking the right risk, he was seeing it as a potential personal challenge, perhaps because he 'never lost sight of the forest among countless trees.'  

This idea was his philosophy-of-life, ‘Untying the Gordian knot, that's what I like most of all’ (referred to all situations in which a difficult problem or choice is solved by a quick and decisive action) he wrote (Memoirs of a Soldier of Fortune: General Rafael de Nogales, 1932). Presumably, he may be agreeing with a favorite Shakespearean apothegm, ‘There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.’ (Shakespeare, Hamlet, act I, scene V)

Spartan warrior and modern military, he (too young for a historic war) fought for Spain against the Americans in the Spanish–American War (Cuba, 1898. He received its baptism of fire at San Juan Hill battle or ‘batalla de las Lomas de San Juan’). He was fighting for Spain with intelligence and, above all, rock-like obstinacy. Thus, 'Alférez' or the Second Lieutenant Nogales Méndez was recipient of the 'Cruz al Mérito Militar' or Spanish Military Cross for his promt and effective action during the war. He saw ended the Spain’s colonial empire in the Western Hemisphere and the Pacific -and Spanish imperial gloria- and the start of the United States of America as a superpower, when British Empire was still the world's greatest power, imbued with the prevailing ethos of Victorian imperial grandeur. 

Thereafter returning to home in Venezuela, he came into Caracas and the Andes Mountains, and vast areas of the Llanos but Nogales continued to be unpredictablea dissatisfaction with General Cipriano Castro and General Juan Vicente Gómez governments, his fellow state, he formed one of several ‘alzamientos’ or underground groups that plotted to overthrow the Venezuelan dictatorial regimes and attempted a political destabilization (1900-1901 and 1911-1914). Hence, Castro and Gómez secured his banishment from Venezuela, until 1935.

At the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Nogales joined the Ottoman Empire Army in İstanbul (formerly 'Konstantinye' or Constantinople). He was officer of Expeditionary Persian Forces and Ottoman Empire Army Officer (as Mensil Comandane or Ottoman Military Governor of Sinai Peninsula) and Official of the German Empire and of Prussia.  

He too had participated on the Mexican Revolution (1906) and Nicaraguan Revolution (1927) with Sandino against the ‘Dollar diplomacy’ or the United States interventions, in the Caribbean and Central America, especially with measures undertaken to safeguard American financial interests in the region.  

And thereby, Nogales previewed the dichotomy or duality principle referred to 'Estados ordenados' (industrialized countries or advanced countries) versus 'Estados desordenados' (non-developed countries or emerging and developing countries) and he has given us an unfailingly lively, accessible and vividly written portrait of the world and wars of the early 20th-century.

Second Gaza Battle and the Wadi of Desert. 'The Author' is written in Nogales' own handwriting. Nogales was General Officer Commanding of Third Division of Ottoman Empire Cavalry (Brigadier-general or Tuğgeneral of the Ottoman Empire Army), April 19, 1917 (Sinai and Palestine Campaign) [Photograph by Four Years Beneath the Crescent (1991, facsimile of the edition 1936)]. 

As a result of participation in the those wars, he received the title of Knight Commander of the Ottoman Order of the Medjidie, the Ottoman War Medal (‘Harp Madalyası’) or the Gallipoli Star, The Ottoman Order of Osmanieh, the Ottoman Imtiyaz Distinction Medal (‘Nişan-ı İmtiyaz’), Ottoman Liyakat Medal in silver with swords and Sinai campaign clasp, the Military Merit Cross with Golden Swords (Austria-Hungary), Knight of the Order of the Crescent of the Ottoman Empire, Commander of the Elite Personal Army of the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed V Reşâd (1917-1918) and he was awarded the Iron Cross (First Class and Second Class) by Kaiser Wilhelm II

Nogales was the first Ottoman Military Governor over the Mutasarrifate of Jerusalem (‘Kudüs-i Şerif Mutasarrıflığı’), Nablus, Sinai, Gaza and Acre, and he had visited the holy sites for Christians, Samaritans, Jews and Muslims (The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, Church of the Nativity, Mount Tabor, Church of the Annunciation, the Western Wall, Cave of the Patriarchs, the Dome of the Rock and the Tomb of Lazarus) and these visits were interestingly chronicled in his memoirs (Four Years Beneath the Crescent, 1926).

His skill rides or precise control over his horse while riding it, soberly uniformed and impetuous, similar in appearance to 'wadi of desert'*, earned his the affection of the soldiers, Bedouin, and officers, the nickname and Ottoman title of respect 'Nogales-Bey'**, however, he saw the extermination and deportations of Armenians (Siege of Van, 1915. Nogales Méndez, after the siege, wrote one of the best accounts of the battle and its consequences), and he had perceived and been at the decline of the Ottoman Empire (31 October 1918, the Armistice of Mudros), an ending in accordance with the Anatolian proverb, 'the fish begins to stink at the head.' Defeat in World War I (1914-1918) sealed the empire's fate.

Moreover Nogales faced the Russians on the Liaodong Peninsula, in the Empire of the Great Qing (China) during the Russo-Japanese War (1904, where he was wounded). Equally, adventuring in the West Indies, he was imprisoner on the fortress near Cap-Haïtien called Citadelle Laferrière (Haiti), and sentenced to death on the firing squad, but afterwards he escaped from his captors to Santo Domingo city, last night.  

All his war-horses and mares were named with Spanish words, a longing for their distant Venezuelan Andean homeland, namely, ‘Zamuro’ (American Black Vulture), ‘Proscrito’ (Outlaw), ‘Cristalina’ (Crystalline) and ‘Dulcita’ (Sweetie).

Crossed boundaries and frontiers and nothing could break his spirit of adventure, he hunted wild beasts in Sumatra and Sunda Islands [the antipodes of Táchira State, his native land]; he was in the Spanish Protectorate in Morocco, West Portuguese Africa, French Equatorial Africa (Congo), the Khedivate of Egypt, British India, Afghanistan, British Province of Baluchistan (a region in southwestern Pakistan and southeastern Iran), Yemen Vilayet and Hejaz Vilayet (Ottoman Arabia), British Hong Kong and Macau Free Port, Italy, Switzerland, Britain, Ireland, Australia, Brazil, Argentina, Lesser Antilles (Curacao, Saba, Saint Kitts and Nevis, Martinique, Saint Lucia, Grenada, Trinidad)  and Canada. He participated in the Alaskan Gold Rush, and he worked deep in the Nevada Second Mining Boom, was cowboy in Texas and Arizona, as well as whale fisher in Alaska. We found him in Hollywood (California), early 1936, when he received a letter of thank offering from the Kaiser Wilhelm and his wife Empress Hermine, princess of Schönaich-Carolath.

There is a legend which says... 'On one occasion during the Sinai and Palestine Campaign, he came face-to-face with T. E. Lawrence on the frontier. He and Lawrence looked at each other, then without speaking he and Lawrence parted with nothing to say.' Nogales has been compared with T. E. Lawrence due to their works in Arabia despite their different uniforms.

True or feigned -relata refero- or mixture of facts, fiction and unverifiable popular stories, a Prussian World War I storyteller reported that British Field Marshal Edmund Allenby, 1st Viscount Allenby, sent an officer by land to demand the surrender of the legendary Tachiran commander Rafael de Nogales Méndez. Undaunted, Nogales's stinging response was 'I have no reply to make to your general except from the mouths of my cannons and by gunshots.' Apparently, Nogales Méndez repeated the French commander Louis de Buade, Comte de Frontenac's original words to English forces in the winter of 1690, in Quebec.

Brig. Gen. Nogales Méndez and the Third Division of Ottoman Empire Cavalry (with lancers squadron in order of battle), he had organized the flanking attack and guard against Australians (7th Light Horse Regiment). Nogales and his cavalry, and his Bedouins, had driven to them back. Sheik-Zowaüd (Egypt), 1917 (Sinai and Palestine Campaign) [Photograph by Four Years Beneath the Crescent (1991, facsimile of the edition 1936)].

He was the only Latin American soldier who fought at the World War I -one of the most violent and destructive wars in European history- with Central Powers (German, Austria-Hungary, Ottoman Empire and Bulgaria) without oath of loyalty to the flag or leave or renouncing to his Venezuelan citizenship; only under the pledge allegiance of his Parole d'Honneur (word of honor).

Highly educated, Nogales Méndez was also a member of American Geographical Society, the oldest Geographical Society in the Western hemisphere; the Royal Geographical Society (United Kingdom) and Die Gesellschaft fuer Erdkunde zu Berlin (the Geographical Society of Berlin). 

Same the return of the warrior, he made his last trip to his birthplace, San Cristóbal (Táchira State), during the second fortnight of March 1936; he came to that which was his own, but his own did not know him. Those days visit to his homeland, to familiar domains, are also a nostalgic trip down memory lane for the dauntless and lordly General.

General Nogales Méndez died as result of a post-surgical infection, in Panama City on July 10, 1937, at the age of 59. Again, at that moment, inexorable march to return to dust, perhaps he had remembered to Shakespeare’s tragedies, Out, out, brief candle! /Lifes but a walking shadow, a poor player, /That struts and frets his hour upon the stage/And then is heard no more. It is a tale/Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, /Signifying nothing.(Shakespeare, Macbeth, act V, scene V).

He was in Panama on Venezuelan official mission. The body of Nogales was brought back to Venezuela and the Funeral was on Monday, August 2, in Cementerio General del Sur (South General Cemetery of Caracas), then forgotten, he was devoid of military funeral and full burial honors to his military rank of Brigadier-general ('Tuğgeneral' of the Ottoman Empire Army).

On 30 August 1937, Wilhelm II, the last German Emperor (or Former Kaiser), his friend, sent a bronze wreath to the Cemetery in Caracas, by means of Captain Max Friedrich Graf Westerholt Gysenberg, husband of Ana María Inchauspe Méndez and brother-in-law of General Nogales. The wreath bears an embossed German inscription translated as, 'To Rafael de Nogales Méndez, Generalissimo in the Great War, one of the most courageous and noble knights that ever I have known.'

General Rafael de Nogales Méndez becomes a Tachiran legend whose name is spoken with respect; a truly reminiscent of that of Harold Glen Borland who brought back, 'When the legends die, the dreams end./When the dreams end, there is no more greatness.' (When the Legends Die, Philadelphia, 1963)

Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham (1852-1936) wrote, 'He is the D'Artagnan of this century' (early 20th-century), and Peter Englund, Swedish author and historian, wrote, ‘If anyone deserves the title “international adventurer”, he does.’ (The Beauty and the Sorrow, An Intimate History of the First World War, translated by Peter Graves, New York, 2011)

In sum, what exactly did the Nogales complete works say? And Jasmina Jäckel de Aldana, Freie Universitaet Berlin contemporary scholar, answers, ‘He was an original thinker.’ (Estudios de Asia y África, vol XXXV, Núm. 1, enero-abril-2000, pp. 101-130). In this sense, Nogales Méndez is not dead. 


General Rafael de Nogales Méndez wrote several books about his experiences:

Four Years Beneath the Crescent (1926, original in Spanish).
A Brave Enemy, now a Trusty Friend (1924, prologued by British Field Marshal Edmund Allenby, 1st Viscount Allenby, his former brave enemy. Original in English).

The Looting of Nicaragua (1928, original in Spanish).

Memoirs of a Soldier of Fortune: General Rafael de Nogales (1932-1934, and announced by Lowell Thomas, U.S. traveler, writer, broadcaster and best known as the man who made Lawrence of Arabia famous. The prologue to English edition was wrote by Robert Bontine Cunninghame Graham, Scottish politician, writer, journalist and adventurer, the first-ever socialist member of Parliament of the United Kingdom. Original in English).

Silk Hat and Spurs (1934, original in English).

* Wadi: Semitic-speaking peoples term, traditionally referring to a dry (ephemeral) riverbed desert or steep-sided watercourse, in dry regions of North Africa through which water flows -a flood-, only after heavy rainfalls.

** Bey: Governor or Prince, a title and respectful form of address used for various high-ranking officials in the Ottoman Empire, especially the governor of a province distinguished by his own flag (sancak).

Monument aux morts de la Grande Guerre - Memorial Park Grande Guerre, Hendaye (France) [Photograph by Samir Sánchez, Boulevard du Général De Gaulle, Hendaye, 2013].

On the wall of ‘Edificio Santa Cecilia’ (the Saint Cecilia Building, this place was the birthplace and early boyhood home of General Nogales Méndez), in San Cristóbal Downtown, you read this inscription: ‘General Rafael de Nogales Méndez /the Most Universal Tachiran of all Times//He was born in this place on 14 October 1877/Died in Panama City on 10 July 1937/The Government of State of Táchira/San Cristóbal, 14 October 1997’ (Photograph by José A. Pulido, 2015).

© Proyecto Experiencia Arte / Experience Art Project 2012-2016. Some rights reserved. Copyright of texts, graphic works and photos belong to each researcher, photographer/office mentioned.