The Spanish-American War
in 1898, and resulted in the United States of America gaining control over
the former colonies of Spain in the Caribbean and Pacific.
In the 1890s the American newspaper chains of Hearst and Pulitzer had been
engaged in a struggle to out do each other in circulation, and one of their
most prominent features were tales of great atrocities (some based on fact,
some not) which the cruel Spanish masters were inflicting on the hapless
native Cubans. Cuban rebels had been fighting for their independence from
Spain for some years, and it is a matter of debate as to exactly how close
they were to achieving it before the war between Spain and the United States
broke out. Some in Washington had been expecting war with Spain for some
time; the Navy was known to have plans drawn up for attacking the Spanish
in the Philippines over a year before hostilities broke out.
The Start of the War
On February 15, 1898 the American battleship USS Maine
harbor suffered an explosion and quickly sunk with a loss of 260 men. The
American Press proclaimed that this was certainly a despicable act of sabatoge
by the fiendish Spaniards, despite the complete lack of evidence that this
was the case. (Indeed, expert opinion considered an accidental boiler explosion
to be as likely a reason as any for the ship's fate.) The press aroused
the public to demand war, with the slogan "Remember the Maine! To hell
US President William McKinley was favorable inclined to war. Spanish
minister Práxedes Mateo Sagasta did much to try to prevent this, including
withdrawing the officials in Cuba against whom complaints had been made,
and offering the Cubans autonomy short of full independence. American public
sentiment, however, would admit to no half measures. On April 11 McKinley
went before Congress to ask for authority to send American troops to Cuba
for the purpose of ending the civil war there. On April 19 Congress passed
joint resolutions proclaiming Cuba "free and independent", demanded Spanish
withdrawal, and authorized the President to use such military force as
he thought necessary. In response Spain broke off diplomatic relations
with the United States. On April 25 US Congress declared that a state of
war between the United States and Spain had existed since April 21st.
The first battle was in the Philippines where on May 1, Commodore George
Dewey commanding the USA Pacific fleet in six hours defeated the Spanish
squadron, under Admiral Patricio Montojo y Pasarón, in Manila Bay. Meanwhile
Philippine nationalists led by Emilio Aguinaldo attacked the Spanish on
land, and many of the Spanish troops surrendered.
In Cuba Theodore ("Teddy") Roosevelt became a war hero when he led a charge
at the battle of San Juan Hill outside of Santiago as lieutenant colonel
of the Rough Riders Regiment on July 1. The Americans were aided in Cuba
by the pro-independence rebels lead by General Calixto García. The Spanish
Atlantic fleet was trapped in Santiago Bay, and was defeated by the U.S.
Navy on July 3. The Spanish ground forces in Santiago surrendered to the
U.S.A. on July 17.
End of the War
With both fleets incapacitated, Spain realized her forces in the Pacific
and Caribbean could not be supplied or reinforced, so Spain sued for peace.
Hostilities were halted on August 12. The formal Peace Treaty was signed
in Paris on December 10, 1898 and was ratified by the United States Senate
on February 6, 1899.
On August 14, 1898, 11,000 ground troops were sent to occupy the Philippines.
When US troops began to take the place of the Spanish in control of the
country, warfare broke out between US forces and the Filipinos. A long
and bloody war was fought (unsuccessfully) to quash the Filipino desire
for independence, with thousands of military and civilian casualties.
Imperialism where the United States justified
war because it was good for business. In the words of Senator Thurston
of Nebraska: "War with Spain would increase the business and earnings of
every American railroad, it would increase the output of every American
factory, it would stimulate every branch of industry and domestic commerce."
It was also the start of a short lived American Empire in which America
would be forced to manage the affairs of several small colonies, much like
the many Empires of Europe.
Congress had passed a resolution in favor of Cuban independence before
the war started, and after debate the USA decided to allow this, although
American forces occupied Cuba until January 28, 1909. The USA annexed the
former Spanish colonies of Puerto Rico, The Philippines, and Guam. The
idea of the United States as an imperial power with foreign colonies was
hotly debated domestically, with President McKinley and the Pro-Imperialists
winning their way over vocal opposition.
The Spanish-American War was also where "yellow journalism" got its
start. Newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst is reported to have
responded to a request by illustrator Frederick Remington to return from
a Havana that was quiet, by saying, "Please remain. You furnish the pictures
and I'll furnish the war." (Orson Welles deliberately mocked this particular
quote in the movie Citizen Kane.) The Hearst papers did much to
agitate public sentiment in favor of war before it started.
According to data from the United States Department of Veterans Affairs,
the last surviving U.S. veteran of the conflict, Nathan E. Cook, died on
September 10, 1992 at the age of 106.