"You furnish the pictures, and I'll furnish the war."
— William Randolph Hearst
and semi-quoted in Citizen Kane
"A splendid little war."
—John Hay, U.S. Secretary of State
The Spanish-American War of 1898
was what happened when The United States of America tried to conquer most of The Kingdom Of Spain's colonies
, i.e. Cuba and the Philippines but not Spanish Morocco or Spain itself.
Through the mid-to-late 19th century, Cuban nationalism and separatism was on the rise. The result, given Spain's utter reluctance to let the colony go, was inevitably violent. Uprisings were attempted, but they were all crushed with varying degrees of brutality. One day, the USS Maine
, an American Armored Cruiser sent to implicitly threaten Spain with war if they didn't hurry up and give Cuba to the USA
, blew up and sank in Havana Harbor. The US took the opportunity to blame the Spanish, who were quite right to have stated that it was a tragic US Navy accident at best (a result of poor ship-design and notoriously lax safety regulations) and a Wounded Gazelle Gambit
at worst. In any case, US President William McKinley
was personally reluctant to make a war of the matter, but the US' law-making body - Congress - passed a resolution which effectively forced him to demand that Spain give Cuba 'independence' - which would mean that the USA would effectively run its government and economy just as it did every other nominally-independent country in Latin America bar Argentina - or make it a US Colony. Or else. Though a far weaker country, the Spaniards were a proud people who quietly hoped that the US would just give up on the idea if they put up a good fight. Naturally they refused, and the US declared war upon them.
While Spain's giving up Cuba was the original casus belli
, the US ended up demanding the same deal for all of Spain's overseas colonies. The people of Puerto Rico also took the opportunity to demand independence, for instance, as did the peoples of the Philippines - who were already in open revolt and had established a provisional government which the US negotiated with. The US' naval power was employed to great effect, though the performance of the army was a little lacklustre - the US Army were inexperienced and ill-organised, and lost a great many officers due to Spanish snipers using 'smokeless'-powder weaponry (the US Army still used 'black-powder' weapons, which gave off dark clouds of gunpowder when fired
). American and Cuban Revolutionary forces soon worked together to make good use of their numerical superiority over the Spanish loyalist and government forces, however. The infamous Charge at San Juan Hill [in which future US President 'Theodore Roosevelt
' first attained national fame] and the Battle of Manila Bay, a Curb-Stomp Battle
if ever there was one, are good illustrations of the course of the war at large.
Spain soon sued for peace, and a Treaty concluding the war was signed in Paris later in the year of '98. In what was termed domestically as 'the Great Disaster' they ceded Cuba, the Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico to the United States. It was a blow to the Spanish national psyche and pride, one which gave birth to a wave of Spanish writers called The Generation of '98. Meanwhile, the Filipinos felt very left out of all this - the negotiations had been concluded without any reference to them or their representatives - and demanded the same independence terms as Cuba. The US refused and a second, more brutal guerilla war ensued as the Americans crushed the provisional Philippine Government and exterminated the rebels while establishing their own 'independent' regime over the islands.
The conclusion of the war marked a new height of US National Pride and also the zenith of belief in "Manifest Destiny" - the notion that the US was destined to rule over (all of the) Americas by virtue of its... well, innate virtue and (racial-moral) superiority. The USA's ability to project its influence into the Pacific and China; and Latin America; was of course enhanced by its newest conquests, leading to a period of 'imperialism' (in the bad sense) and events such as US involvement in the Qing Empire's 'Boxer Rebellion'
and The Banana Wars
Tropes involving the Spanish-American War include:
- Charles Foster Kane, as a William Randolph Hearst expy, manipulates the public opinion for the war.
- The Western Pursued (1947) starring Robert Mitchum, whose protagonist wins the Medal of Honor fighting in Cuba.
- John Milius's The Rough Riders, a 1997 miniseries depicting the Cuban campaign. Starring Tom Berenger as Roosevelt, Gary Busey as General Joseph Wheeler and Sam Elliot as Captain Bucky O'Neill.