The Splendid Little War
February 15th, 1898, all is quiet in Havana Harbor. The crew of the USS Maine is sound asleep less a few solitary watchmen. The brackish sea air and the calm ocean breeze are soothing and peaceful. This would hardly suggest the terror about to erupt on this “peaceful” visit to the Spanish-controlled Cuban harbor. At 9:45PM, a violent explosion rips the Maine apart sending it plummeting down to the muddy sea floor and killing nearly all of her crew. All of the Spanish boats in the harbor rushed to the aid of the American vessel and its survivors: the commander, Captain Charles D. Sigsbee, and a few lucky crewmembers. Even though Captain Sigsbee, a favorite of the Naval Department, urged President McKinley not to react in an aggressive manner toward Spain, the media, namely New York newspaper editors Pulitzer and Hearst, already inflating current issues relating to the Cuban revolution, spin the incident out of control. The American public goes mad with suspicion of Spanish fowl play and the sinking of the USS Maine serves as the immediate catalyst to the Spanish-American war.
This “Splendid Little War” is deeply rooted in Spain’s rule over Cuba as a colony infringing upon American interests in Cuban agriculture and goods. The first episodes of war-like acts between the U.S. and Spain began with the explosion of the USS Maine in 1898. After the catastrophe, many attempts to solve the mystery behind the explosion and withhold peace took place, including the ambassadors of England, Germany, France, Italy, Austria, Russia, and the Pope appealing to president McKinley for peace. Despite numerous efforts against it, McKinley asks congress for war April 11, 1898 and U.S. troops mobilized on April 16. The Teller amendment passes through Congress stating that the U.S. would not annex Cuba. Congress declares Cuba independent on April 19. Shortly after the United States Navy blockades Cuba the first Spanish ship was taken. By April 25, both Spain and the U.S. declare war. The Spanish-American War was an extremely quick war, highlighted in history by Theodore Roosevelt and his Rough Riders in the battle of San Juan Hill. Spain was completely stomped. On the way to capture the Philippine Islands, Spain’s most worthwhile colony U.S. Naval forces also capture Guam. Closer to home, the U.S. took Puerto Rico on October 18 after completely obliterating the Spanish home fleet. The Spanish Navy was so torn apart in fact that a Spanish squadron heading for the Philippines was forced to turn back to defend the home front. After all was said and done, this war was over in little more than eight months with the Treaty of Paris on December 10. The Spanish-American War is a pivotal point in American history in that it signifies the end of the depression after reconstruction and establishes the U.S. for the first time as a force to be reckoned with across the world.
As with all events in modern history, especially wars, the view of that event by the masses is typified by how the media spins it. The Spanish-American War is know as being the “Splendid Little War” by the general American public. With Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders the U.S. went in, kicked ass and got its jump into the forefront of the struggle for world economic and territorial power of the time. What is important though is the fact that with all of the sensationalism or “yellow journalism” of the time a more important event that cost more resources and lives that all the battles of the Spanish-American war put together, the Philippine Insurrection, was almost completely forgotten by the American public. You really cannot blame the society of the time because they really needed a good war to get the country going again.
Usually, when a major event such as a war takes place, American society and attitude are forever altered. Sometimes this can be a good thing and sometimes bad. Most often than not it is a mixture of both. The Spanish-American War fits into the former category although mostly it has had a bad impact upon society. The good that this conflict has done to society is obvious. Americans divided and depressed after a civil war were trying to put the pieces back together. After the Spanish-American War, the country was finally back together again and industry was booming. In addition, this war is the number one reason that became a major world power. This is definitely not a bad thing. Now although this war had a good impact on American industry and togetherness, it had a profoundly bad effect on the American attitude and world policy. This war established the haughty American belief that we can defeat anyone easily. The imperialistic policy and big brother attitude of the United States kicked off around this time as well. This is bad for the most part because the U.S. sometimes sticks its nose a little too far in everybody’s business, wasting valuable resources and effort that could be better used taking care of affairs and problems at home.
In conclusion, the “Splendid Little War” has had a mostly negative impact on the U.S. This is mostly in part due to the view that American society had about it: brought on by the newspaper headlines of the time. Although it would be easy to say that this could have been changed or eliminated this was not at all possible. The Spanish-American War and it’s effect upon society was inevitable; always and forever the mass media will shape and twist the general American view into just about anything they want. This circle of change will continue throughout history and will always be part of who we are, Americans.