The Spanish American War of 1898
by sagar24hotmailcom (student)
The Spanish American war which took place in 1898, proved to be a turning point in the history of the United States, qualifying the country as a world power. The war ultimately remolded the country’s foreign policy as a result of reforming the nation’s interests in demonstrating humanity and morality as its norms. The war against Spain was not merely due to America’s desire to aid Cuba in receiving their independence; however, it was a result of the constant controversies that existed between the two countries, which finally reached its tipping point after the explosion of the USS Maine battleship. The war and all events that followed it, continuously showed US to be an imperialistic and capitalistic nation, with only concern for itself.
There were many emerging philosophies that led to the eventual confrontation with Spain, most of which were due to America’s personal interest. With the end of the Civil War, America’s main concern was expanding its borders. Once it had gained all the land from ocean to ocean, up to Canada and down to Mexico, the drive of manifest destiny led to seeking colonies in the Pacific and Caribbean. Additionally, ideas presented by Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan, Founder of the Naval War college and author of books based on the “influence of sea power upon history,” began to seep into the desirous minds of Americans. They yearned to adapt Mahan’s idea which suggested the need to build a powerful maritime force, both naval and commercial, in order for the US to rise against all in such a competitive world. He also suggested expanding the country’s trade by increasing oversea markets for American goods.
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Building upon the desires of manifest destiny and the influences of Mahan’s ideas, Americans also aspired to spread Christianity and democracy, contributing to this age of “neo-imperialism.” They did not want to entangle themselves in any existing tensions, but felt that it was fine to be actively involved in ongoing world affairs. With the Monroe Doctrine in play, preventing interference of European countries into the Latin Americas, the US was ready to throw out its net and see what it could pull in.
Around this time, the Cubans were seeking independence from Spain due to the atrocities of Spanish rule. General Weyler, sent to Cuba by Spain, was establishing concentration camps for the captured rebels, which soon came to be known in America. The US felt the need to help, of course for the benefit of Cuba, claiming to have no personal interests. However, America never did anything for the good of others, regardless of what it claimed. The United States profited from businesses invested in sugar and mining operations within Cuba, which seemed to be the more probable reason for its intervention. Moreover, Cuban revolutionaries led out propaganda campaigns, which involved the destruction of America’s sugar mills and railroads, to ensure US’s involvement. As if that was not enough, Jose Marti led these campaigns in New York City to gain the support of the American citizens.
Another contributing factor to the Spanish-American War was the rising of yellow journalism. This incorporated tactics of exaggeration and sensationalism about the events occurring in Cuba, to keep readers buying newspapers. Articles and photographs dispatched by Hearst and Pulitzer were non-existent, yet they caught the attention of ingenuous Americans. McKinley asked Spain to give Cuba their freedom, which they refused. With Americans forcing a reformed policy in Cuba, and both Spain and the US trying to prevent war, another general was sent to Cuba. However, before things to could change for the better, America’s battleship USS Maine, which was sent to Havana in an effort to protect US citizens in Cuba, blew up due to a detonation of mines under it. Because of the death of many American sailors on the ship, alongside the hostile events occurring, US pointed a finger at Spain, holding them responsible.
Although Spain was most likely not at fault, with yellow journalism implanting doubtful ideas into the heads of American readers, the suspicion grew strong and ultimately pressured President McKinley to declare war on Spain. The US entered the war “to help Cuba gain its independence” and through the Teller Amendment claimed that it had no intention to annex Cuba. With the war ending in success, America felt the need to continue its involvement with Cuba, and therefore passed the Platt Amendment. This amendment basically locked down Cuba’s decision making ability, and required that it consult the US before making any treaties. Additionally, it gave the US the right to intervene whenever it felt necessary and, most importantly, gave US the rights to a naval base at Guantanamo Bay. Of course, the war was solely to benefit the Cubans and help them fight for their “independence” which would immediately be restricted by the US once the war was over. US was well on its way in becoming an imperial nation; and as it pulled in its net, it had taken up Puerto Rico and Guam from Spain.
As mentioned, the war went well for the US, having a finely built navy due to Mahan’s influence. However, sending ships between America and Asia, sought out to be a problem since the only possible route required a trip around the tip of South America. This soon called for a canal to be built in Central America, allowing for the ease of access between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The need for a canal had been recognized earlier, however, many attempts at creating it failed. Finally, the US, seeking new ways to increase commercialism, tried negotiating with Colombia to build a canal through Panama, which at the time belonged to them. The Colombians, greedy with their transactions, refused the offer, but that did not stop the US.
With the Panamanians revolting against Colombia, the US stepped in and took advantage of the situation, once again offering to solely help Panama, as they had done with Cuba. Their “help” led to the development of the Hay-Buneau Treaty, in which the US guaranteed independence of Panama in return for a permanent lease on a strip for the canal. The canal was to be operated and managed by the US in sovereignty, paying Panama 10 million at the start, followed by an annuity of $250,000. Moreover, the canal became another means of profit to the US as they charged other nations fares in order to use it; deeming it a great investment.
In an effort to expand its own nation and prevent the expansion of other European nations, Roosevelt created the Roosevelt Corollary. This extension of the Monroe Doctrine, gave US the right to intervene in the Caribbean and Central America, if it sought necessary due to economic concerns that may arise. Roosevelt had realized that European countries had lent far more money then was repayable to these countries, eventually leading to financial difficulties and a need for outside economic control. However, the US did not want to give European countries that advantage, and therefore offered an extending hand to ensure his neighboring countries were remained “stable, orderly and prosperous.” This was US’s new means of controlling the entities within the Western Hemisphere.