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Useful Notes / Spanish-American War

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"Remember the Maine, to Hell with Spain!"
"You furnish the pictures, and I'll furnish the war."
William Randolph Hearst, allegedly and semi-quoted in Citizen Kane

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. All, that is, with the exception of the very last one; in 1898, with half the entire island in-revolt, it looked as if Cuba really would gain her independence. In the midst of this process, 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 quickly seized upon this opportunity to intervene in the war before the rebellion could throw the Spanish out entirely and declare independence, with the US's investigation into the incident implicating the Spanish - who were quite right to have stated that it was a tragic US Navy accident at best (probably due to a coal fire)note  and a Wounded Gazelle Gambit at worstnote .


While US President William McKinley was personally reluctant to make a war of the matter, the US public were baying for Spanish blood and the USA's law-making body - Congress - passed a resolution which effectively forced him to demand that Spain give Cuba 'independence' in very short order. This proposal 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 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 the US negotiated with the Filipino provisional government-in-exile in Hong Kong, later ferrying their leader, General Emilio Aguinaldo, back to the Philippines to "resume" (more like, again take charge of) their revolution against Spain. US naval power was employed to great effect, though the performance of the US Army, which had been underfunded in the post-Civil War Reconstruction and whose only experience for the past three decades had been assymetrical warfare against the Indians, was hampered by inexperience, hasty training, and inferior equipment - the Spanish troops carried Mauser repeating rifles employing modern ("smokeless") powder, while National Guard and volunteer units in the US Army largely still used Springfield "Trapdoor" single-shot black-powder rifles note , which gave off dark clouds of gunpowder when fired, and the US artillery was equipped with Civil war cannon converted to breechloaders. 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 Hillnote  (in which future US President Theodore Roosevelt first attained national fame) and the Battle of Manila Baynote , 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,note  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. It didn't soften the blow much that the US agreed to pay Spain $20 million for seizing the Philippines after the armistice.

Meanwhile, despite McKinley's promise of "benevolent assimilation," 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 clashed with the since re-established Philippine Republicnote  while establishing their own colonial regime over the islands. The Philippine-American War (the older US-centric term is the "Philippine Insurrection") was officially declared to have ended with the collapse of the Philippine Republic in 1902, but there were still hostilities until 1913 due to its remnant military forces and other resistance groups, and these goings-on were officially labeled as "banditry" or "brigandage". Meanwhile, the Muslim Moro peoples of the southern Philippines,note  who had never been completely conquered by the Spanish (and had never quite allied with the Philippine Republic, despite the latter claiming to include them), continued to resist American rule as well in what was called the "Moro Rebellion" until 1913. As a whole, the Philippine-American war is estimated to have killed up to 200,000 Filipinos (with some estimates going even higher) and several thousands of American soldiers as well. Many Americans were actually very much against annexing all of these overseas territories, with the most prominent of them forming the Anti-Imperialist League and including the ranks of such figures as Andrew Carnegie, Samuel Gompers, William James, Jane Addams, Grover Cleveland, and Mark Twain.

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.

Not to be confused with the Spanish American Wars of Independence

In Fiction:

  • In Citizen Kane 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 Elliott as Captain Bucky O'Neill.
  • The Golden Apple begins with Angel's Roost holding a victory parade for the "boys in blue" returning from the war.
  • Humorist George Ade wrote two satirical dialogues, "Children Cannot Understand These Things" and "Two Rebellions," condescendingly explaining the benevolent purpose of the American occupation of the Philippines to a little boy and a Filipino native, respectively. Ade's musical The Sultan of Sulu is a thinly-veiled portrayal of the same.
  • Amigo (2010) is an indie production about a "typical" battle of the Philippine-American war, featuring a village head torn between collaborating with the American invaders and assisting his brother who has joined La Résistance.
  • The Filipino biopic Heneral Luna (2015) revolves around the life and campaigns of General Antonio Luna, one of the major leaders in the Philippine-American War.
    • And its sequel, Goyo: Ang Batang Heneral (2018), about the "Boy General" Gregorio del Pilar, one of the right-hand men of the Filipino revolutionary leader, and republican president, Emilio Aguinaldo.
  • Posse opens in Cuba during the Spanish-American War. Colonel Graham orders the 10th to rob a Spanish gold shipment; planning to use this as an excuse to brand them deserters and execute them. The 10th escape with the gold, and Graham and his men chase them across the Wild West.
  • The English version of ABBA's "Fernando" is rumored to be about two Mexican veterans of the war, with one of them becoming nostalgic for it when they hear drumming outside.
  • In Hardcase, the protagonist Jack Rutherford is a veteran of the Spanish-American War who was declared missing in action. He was actually a prisoner-of-war, and by the time he is realeased and returns home, he finds his wife has sold their ranch and run off with a Mexican revolutionary. He goes after her and gets caught up in the early days of The Mexican Revolution.