The War with Spain


the war with Spain was the shortest, most popular and least painful war in US history and it was the logical outcome and epitome of the new spirit which had permeated the American people in the last 15 years of the 19th century.

It was the situation in Cuba that precipitated the war. Cuba had been unhappy under Spanish rule and a bitter and cruel revolution erupted in 1868 that lasted until its repression in 1878 and was called the ten years war.

But the US remained aloof from the war and even in 1873 when Spanish soldiers executed 53 US merchant sailors in cold blood. There was no will to fight in the US, but this would change in 25 years when rebellion broke out, there was a will to fight in the US.

On Feb. 25, 1895 the Cuban insurrectionists rose up once more against Spain and they fought tirelessly, burning sugar plantations and fighting a ruthless guerrilla war.

They had expected that the US would spring to their aid since the US had over $50,000,000 in investments and the sugar trade amounted to over $100,000,000 annually.

Their expectations were frustrated for President Cleveland took a cautious approach and he warned US citizens to stay neutral in the conflict. However, in his annual message to congress on December 7, 1896 he stated "Our obligations to the sovereignty of Spain will be superseded by higher obligations which we can hardly hesitate to recognize and discharge."

Cleveland’s successor, William McKinley did not depart fro his predecessors course when he came into office in March of 1897 and he was by no means a jingoist or an annexationist. In his inaugural address he even stated: "We want no wars of conquest, we must avoid the temptation of territorial aggression."

McKinley like those in his party were more interested in the construction of a Nicaraguan canal, the acquisition of Hawaii and the purchase of the Danish West Indies, but for Cuba he professed only to see peace reestablihed there.

McKinley also hoped that a cautious approach would be best for the conditions of the Cuban people themselves and he was encouraged when a new liberal ministry took over in Spanish government headed by Mataeo Sagasta who had promised to make reforms and allow for self-government of Cuba.

Sagasta recalled General weyler, called the "butcher" due to the fact that he had created concentration camps in Cuba and had carried out a rural pacification policy. In the camps over 250,000 Cuban women and children had died from Spanish cruelty.

In his state of the union message in 1897 Mckinley reported that progress had been made in the Cuban situation and that the Cuban would be allowed some degree of self-government by Spain.

But things were to change quickly.

The American consul in Havana, Fitzhugh Lee who had since the start of the insurrection been calling for US naval ships to protect US lives and property. But by January of 1898 he changed his mind and urged the President to keep US forces away since there were riots in the city. For some reason Mckinley decided to send a cruiser at that moment to demonstrate what he called American good will between Spain and the US.

This proved to be a crucial mistake for on Feb. 15, 1898 the cruiser The Main blew sky high while sitting in Havana harbor and the tremendous explosion instantly killed all 260 US sailors on board.

The explosion of the Maine electrified the country. Most of the US blamed the Spanish and American were furious. An American inquiry into the explosion concluded that an "explosion of a submarine mine caused the partial explosion of the three forward magazines", but the report failed to identify the guilty party of the deed.

The headline of the New York Journal carried the headline "THE WARSHIP Maine WAS SPLIT IN TWO BY AN ENEMY’S SECRET INFERNAL MACHINE" and the article blame the Spanish even though there was no proof. "Remember the Maine" was the buzz word of the day and Americans such as Teddy Roosevelt who at the time was an Assistant Secretary of the Navy called the sinking of the Maine "dirty treachery on the part of the Spanish"

McKinley tried to head off the stampede for war in the US, but at the same time he requested and received $50 million to bolster the nations defenses.

The pressure on McKinley was tremendous as congress demanded that he recognize the Cuban freedom fighters, while the yellow press led by William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal and Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World called out for much stronger action.

The two newspaper were locked in a titanic struggle for circulation in New York and for some years both newspapers had been exploiting the Cuban situation.

Each outdid the other in providing the public with lurid, sensational and often false accounts to excite and satisfy the American appetite for gore and both editors were unconcerned that their irresponsible journalistic accounts were creating a climate for war in the country.

Moderates were shocked by the outright lies of the two newspapers. The respected editor of the Nation E.L. Godkin wrote of the coverage of the Maine incident "Nothing so disgraceful as the behavior of these two newspapers has been known in the history of journalism. Gross misrepresentation of facts, deliberate misrepresentation of tales calculated to excite the public and wanton recklessness in the construction of headlines, have combined to make the issues of the most widely circulated newspapers firebrands scattered throughout the country. It is a crying shame that men should work such mischief simply in order to sell more newspapers.

Missionaries and other religious groups also clamored for strong action and war against Spain.

However, the American business community led by Marcus Hanna, John D. Rockefeller and Andre Carnegie were staunchly against the US entering war with Spain.

War, they claimed disrupted prosperity, imperiled currency stability, interrupted trade and endangered commerce. In fact, the great Boston financier, S.M. Weld informed senator Henry Cabot Lodge "You were sent to Washington to represent one of the largest business states in the country. The business interests of the state require peace and quiet, not war. If we attempt to regulate the affairs of the whole world we will be in hot water from now until the end of time."

But on March 17, 1898 an event occurred that had a profound effect on the country and made McKinley’s neutral stand untenable.

Senator Proctor, a moderate republican had just returned from an trip to Cuba to investigate the conditions of the civilian population there and what he saw shocked him as he publicly described the horrors that faced 400,000 Cuban civilians in Spanish concentration camps. He also urged the US to intervene in the war to help alleviate these terrible atrocities being committed against the Cuban people.

By the middle of March, The Wall Street Journal urged the US to intervene in the War as did the American Sugar Trust which was losing some $200 million due to the war.

McKinley then demanded the Spanish withdrawal from the island and Spain was receptive, but McKinley was not satisfied with the Spanish reply. But By April the Spanish had ordered their Generals to suspend all hostilities in Cuba and an armistice of sorts went into effect.

Whether McKinley had in fact exhausted every effort to achieve a peaceful settlement is debatable for Spain was clearly leaning towards accepting the American plan for Cuba and the war had become very unpopular in Spain.

But by this time war fever swept congress and by April 19, 1898 a joint resolution passed both houses of congress that authorized the president to use force to eject Spain from Cuba.

On the 25th congress declared that a state of war existed between the two countries since the 21 st of April.

It was in the words of John Hay "A splendid little war". Admiral Mahan had predicted that it would last a short three months and he was wrong by one month.

As for the US navy it was in superb shape due to a modernization program that began in the 1890’s.

The theater of the war was in both the Caribbean and the Pacific and the outcome of the war was never in doubt as far as US policy makers were concerned.

On April 24th Admiral George Dewey commanding the Asiatic squadron set sail from Hong Kong to the Spanish owned Philippines Islands to destroy the Spanish fleet there.

On May 1 he carried out his instructions by sinking every Spanish war ship in Manila Bay and Mckinley then dispatched an army under the command of General Wesley Merritt to take the city of Manila. By July 31 11,000 soldiers had landed on the island of Luzon.

On August 14 Manila fell.

Admiral William Sampson in the Caribbean sank the Spanish fleet at the battle of Santiago Harbor thus ending Spanish sea power in the Caribbean. This victory for the US was on July 3. On the 25th General Shafter occupied Santiago and General Miles captured Puerto Rico.

On July 26, Spain was ready to give up and on August 12 an armistice was signed in Washington by which Spain freed Cuba and ceded to the US Puerto Rico, and Guam in the Marianas.

The crucial question confronting McKinley on the eve of the peace was precisely how much of Spain’s empire would fall to the US. Earlier the Teller Amendment ruled out that Cuba would become a formal colony or state of the US. But Puerto Rico and Guam would become colonial possessions.

But what of the Philippines? Which was a vast island archipelago inhabited by a alien people with alien culture and if the islands became American could they be incorporated? Would they become states? What shape would the new American empire take? Would it be like Britain or Rome or would it remain a continental empire?

Clearly McKinley had not contemplated holding territory in Asia and Dewey’s attack on Manila was not to take the Philippines but to prevent the fleet stationed there from steaming to the Caribbean.

Still there were some in the US who saw the acquisition of the Philippines as a base for the commercial penetration of the China market. But there was never any evidence to suggest that McKinley thought in these terms.

But by the time the war came to end McKinley’s attitudes had changed as well.

By October 28th in the treaty negotiations with Spain the US demanded all of the Philippines.

What had caused McKinley to change heart over annexing the Philippines? He had been under tremendous pressure from all sides. There were missionaries who longed for souls to save despite the fact that the majority of the Filipinos were already Catholic. There were steamship operators who visualized profits on the transport of goods and people and there were naval planners who dreamed of bases and coaling stations and an enlarged naval establishment to defend US colonial possessions.

There were businessmen who wanted Asia markets and imperialists who wanted to plant the American flag on far-flung shores and fulfill our manifest destiny of civilizing native races.

All those interests were neatly summed up by senator Albert Beveridge in speech he made in January of 1900. "We will not abandon our opportunity in the orient. We will not renounce our part in the mission of our race...And we will move forward to our work, not with howling regrets like slaves whipped to their burdens, but with gratitude for a task worthy of our strength and thanksgiving to almighty god that he has marked us as his chosen people."

The treaty was signed on December 10, 1898 in Paris and for all the colonial possessions the US would pay $20 million to Spain. But there was great opposition to the treaty by many important anti-imperialists.

Some of the anti-imperialists included the Silver Democrats such as William Jennings Bryan, the Gold Democrats such as Grover Cleveland, writers such as Mark Twain and Jack London and Mother Jones, Gaylord Whilshire, the psychologist William James, the labor leader Samuel Gompers and the capitalists such as Andrew Carnegie and Rockefeller.

In fact many of these people banded together to form the Anti-Imperialist League.

But not all the people of Cuba and the Philippines were happy about becoming colonial dependencies of the US.

The great Filipino patriot Emilio Aguinaldo had long fought against Spain for Filipino independence. In April of 1898 he had been brought to Luzon in an American vessel to organize guerrilla forces there and help the Americans finish off the Spanish.

But Aguinaldo had not bargained for trading one master for another and when a US flag was raised over Manila on January 5, 1899 he proclaimed himself head of the revolutionary Filipino Republic that he and thousands of his followers had actually created earlier in August of 1898.

A guerrilla war broke out in the Philippines for the US would not surrender what it had just acquired. On the night of Feb. 4 1899 the insurrection broke out and the revolutionary war, as the Filipinos called it lasted until July 1902 at the cost of $600 million and 4,000 US lives.

The marines fought many battles against Mindinao guerrilla forces and the colt 45 semiautomatic was first developed as a weapon for close jungle fighting against Filipino insurgents. The United States also used the same tactics that were used by Spain in Cuba, namely concentration camps and rural pacification tactics and many atrocities were committed against the Filipino people by US forces.

So, the US emerged from the war as the possessor of an im,perial domain stretching far into the Pacific and at Asia’s door. The continental republic of the US had been transformed into a maritime empire. The cherished principle of the founding fathers to steer clear of extracontinental involvements had been abandoned forever and America’s international difficulties began with this war.

The US had entered the 20th century with a bang and no longer resembled the country it had been a scant 25 years earlier.

The US had entered the 20th century heavily enmeshed with Asia affairs and with commitments and interests that were to lead directly to a great Pacific war with Japan.

At the same time the US was formulating its Asia policy since it had acquired the Philippines and this was called the Open Door Policy.

The idea of the policy was to guarantee open trade in China despite the fact that the European powers were bent on carving territories out of China by securing leaseholds.

When the Boxer Rebellion broke out in 1900 the US along with the other major powers including Japan sent 2500 troops.

At the same time the US began to become alarmed at Japanese expansionism in the Pacific and particularly in China. In 1895 Japan had easily defeated China in war and demanded concessions of territory especially in Korea.

In the early 1900’s Japan had also easily defeated Russia and this shocked the European world for it was the first time that an Asian race had defeated a European power.

As the Japanese expanded into Korea in 1905 the US became alarmed to the point that President Roosevelt called the Philippines our Achilles heel in the orient. Roosevelt was in many ways an appeaser of Japanese aggression in the orient for he claimed that American interests in eastern Asia had to depended in the final analysis on Japan’s good will.

TR created an Asia policy that would not stand in the way of Japanese aggression in Asia. In 1905 TR sent Secretary of War Howard Taft to Japan to meet in Tokyo with the Japanese PM Katsura. After reviewing the Japanese navy and army Taft opened the talks by stating that the president was worried over the safety of the Philippines and also he added that the Japanese protectorate over Korea would be good for peace in the Far East. Whereupon Katsura replied that Japan harbored no aggressive designs on the Philippines. These talks have been termed the Taft-Katsura Talks.

To Underline his respect for the Japanese in the area TR at once closed the American legation in Korea at Seoul and we were the first nation to do so.

A domestic situation in California threatened to upset the nation’s foreign policy and it concerned the presence of Japanese on the West Coast and principally in California.

Between 1870 and 1905 some 100,000 Japanese had immigrated to the West Coast and most of them to California.

Their immigration was encouraged by their government as a peaceful form of imperial expansion, but there was wide scale agitation in California for their exclusion for they constituted what was called the "yellow peril".

There were open attacks on Japanese children and women and anyone of Asian ancestry was suspect and discriminated against.

In October of 1906 the San Francisco school Board passed a resolution banning Japanese children from its schools.

The Japanese were furious and Anti-American riots broke out all over Japan and newspapers advocated war with America for this insult. By 1907 TR was openly worried about a pacific war with Japan over this issue.

War talk was very much in the air throughout 1907 on both sides of the Pacific. Things were so tense that TR ordered the governor general of the Philippines, in secret code, to prepare to defend the Islands against an imminent attack by the Japanese. The Navy Department was also ordered to do a ship by ship comparison between the US and Japanese Navies.

At the same time in Tokyo, the navy staff for the first time began preparing plans for a war with the Americans that would begin with an attack on the Philippines.

TR sought a way out of the dilemma for he had to avoid this war for he clearly saw it as a war that the US would lose, and lose very quickly at that.

Part of the problem was that by July of 1906 the Pacific had been stripped of battleships for they had been transferred to the Atlantic were there fears of a war with Germany.

The US had no battleships in the Pacific almost no cruisers and had no fortified bases in the Pacific for refueling.

In this tense environment TR had no choice but to back down and support the Japanese on the immigration issue and he made every effort to force San Francisco to rescind the segregation order. He finally succeeded with a pledge to stop the immigration of Japanese to the US.

An arrangement was reached in 1908 called the Gentlemen’s agreement that placed upon Tokyo the responsibility for regulating Japanese movement to the US. The Japanese agreed to issue passports only to former residents of America and to relatives of the presently residents.

At the end of TR’s term a meeting took place between Secretary of State Elihu Root and Ambassador Takahira in late 1908. The two statesmen pledged to maintain the status quo in the Pacific which meant that the US would disturb Japanese territorial ambitions in Korea and China. Additionally both powers agreed to support the Open Door Policy that supported the independence and integrity of China and the principle of equal opportunity for commerce and industry".

TR’s hands were tied in Asia. It was clear that the American people would not fight to defend the open door policy or the Philippines nor did the US have the necessary force at the time to stop Japanese expansionism and the only alternative to provoking a war with Japan which the US would have surely lost was to appease Japan.

It is ironic that TR urged the acquisition of the Philippines as an open door to the China trade, but to keep the Islands during his presidency he had silently acquiesced to the closing of markets in Manchuria to American goods.

At once point TR wrote "if the Japanese chose to follow a course of conduct to which we are adverse, we cannot stop it unless we are prepared to go to war, and a successful war in Manchuria would require a fleet as large as Britain’s and an army as large as Germany’s." We had neither at the time.

Taft who became president after TR did everything he could to thwart Japanese expansionism in China, but he had no support from any of the European powers. Japan was more important as a world player than the US at the time.

The outbreak of the war in Europe in 1914 gave Japan a superb opportunity to pursue with greater intensity its primary purpose of reducing China to a state of virtual vassalage.

With the European powers engaged in a terrible struggle thousands of miles away Japan had no fears of European objections to Japanese expansion in China.

France and Britain encouraged Japan to attack German holdings in Asia.

And the Japanese true to their alliance of 1904 with the British attacked Tsingtao in November of 1914 and captured it as well as the German concessions in Shantung.

At the same time the Japanese fleet occupied the German insular possessions in the Pacific: namely, the Marianas, Carolines, and the Marshalls.