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Principal Causes and Consequences of the Spanish-American War Essay

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Introduction

By far and large, the Spanish-American war is viewed by most scholars as one of the major turning points in the history of both America and Spain in terms of their political, social, cultural and even economic structures (Schoultz, 2009).1

In essence, the Spanish-American was a short-lived war that was fought between the US and Spain beginning in April 1898 and ending in August this same year. However, in the course of the war, other players like Cuba, Puerto Rico, Germany and the Philippines got involved based on their directly or indirect vested interests in the outcomes of the war.

On one hand, there are scholars who are of the opinion that, in spite of the casualties of the war, the Spanish-American war was a necessary endeavor. To support this argument, such scholars point to the positive results that came from the war—especially with regards to the territories that got colonized (Kaplan, 2003).

On the other hand, some scholars criticize the war basing their arguments on the deaths, loss of properties worth millions of shillings, and signing of some treaties which favored the winners of the war while looking down upon the losers, among many other effects that will be duly detailed in the course of this paper.

If we are to get the real picture of the Spanish-American war, then it is inherent for us to dig into the annals of history and get authoritative information on the specifics of the war. It is with that in mind that this paper seeks to give a succinct, yet inclusively representative, chronology of the events of the war—with major emphasis being laid on the causes and effects. Once these events are analyzed, a summative recapitulation will be given.

Causes of the Spanish-American War

Preliminarily, it is worth noting that, just like many wars in history, the Spanish-American war was a culmination of any factors all coming together at one time. In this section of the paper, some of the major factors that contributed to the war are going to be divided into three broad areas:

  1. The Spanish world domination and the American need to overthrow them: This will entail the political, economic, social and cultural factors that pushed the two sides towards the war.
  2. The influence of the mass media and “Yellow Journalism”: Here, emphasis will be laid on the journalistic practices and stories that contributed to the war.
  3. The Cuban Connection: This will specifically focus on the Cuban interest by both America and Spain and how the need to control it led to the war.

The Spanish World Domination and the American Need to Overthrow Them

According to Lennon (2002), Spain was considered as the most powerful nation on earth around the mid 1600s.2 During this time, it controlled several colonies across the world especially in Central and South America, the Caribbean and some sections of Asia.

However, as time progressed, Spain lost some of its colonial territories majorly through civil wars and the struggle for independence. In spite of loosing these territories, Spain still managed to hold on to a few of its colonies like Cuba and Puerto Rico in the Caribbean Islands and the Philippines in Asia.

Shifting our focus temporarily to USA during this time, Musicant, (1998) says that, having been a former colony of Britain; the United States was initially opposed to the issue of colonization as they deemed it as being immoral and unfair to the countries being colonized.

However, as the 20th century approached and the dominance of countries like Spain continued to spread like a wildfire; some leaders in USA who ascribed to the notions of mercantilism began promoting ideas in favor of imperialism.

A key principle in Imperialism was ethnocentrism—which purported that some cultures and tribes were more superior to others thus necessitating the need for control of the weaker cultures (Lennon, 2002). It is on the basis of such ideologies that leaders like of Roosevelt and William Jennings Brian encouraged the people in USA to embrace the ideologies of colonialism.

Many other people also came up to provide moral justifications for engaging into colonization including the need to spread Christian and protestant ideas, viability for trade encouraged by linking up with other nations and the better culture that would result from blending with other cultures (Immerman, 2010).

Resultantly, the demand for the US acquiring her own territories grew exponentially and by the 1890s; America had acquired a fair share of colonial territories making it a vibrant and easily noticeable player in the game of world power dominance (Roosevelt, 1913/1967).

It is during this time (the 1890s) that the idea of colonizing nearby assets such as Cuba and Puerto Rico came into central focus.3 After a few futile attempts of peaceful negotiations for the colonization of these countries failed, it was eminently clear that the only way to colonize the likes of Cuba and Puerto Rico was through war or some form of battle (Loveman, 2010).4

The influence of Mass Media and “Yellow Journalism”

In the 1890s, very few media organizations existed based on immense costs that were needed to run the outlets (Kaplan, 2003). In America, the domination of the media was by William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer.

The competition between these two media bigwigs led to the birth of journalism whereby facts and ideas would be exaggerated or twisted to get public attention and increase the sale of newspapers (Lennon, 2002). This competition is what later came to be known as Yellow Journalism.

Owing to the increasing rivalry between America and Spain in their world dominance and colonization efforts; Hearst and Pulitzer chose to capitalize on the opportunity by exaggerating facts and events—obviously favoring the USA, which was their mother country.

For example, in the bid to make the Spanish look bad and unwilling to allow Cuba to gain their independence; Lennon (2002) reports that Hearst and his journalists produced fictitious and ridiculously salacious stories of how the Spaniards were oppressing the Cubans.

Soon, public interest in USA regarding the alleged suffering and oppression in Cuba began to grow with several people calling upon President McKinley (USA president at that time) to “do something” so as to change the situation and help the Cubans (DeGuzmán, 2005).5

It is based on these reports that President McKinley sent American troops into Cuba—something which angered the Spanish and, after a series of other unfortunate events in Cuba which will be explained later, soon led to the war (Schoultz, 2009).

The Cuban Connection

In many ways, the Cuban connection was the major highlight and cause of the war. As was earlier mentioned under the contribution of Yellow Journalism towards the war, the public outcries in USA regarding the Spanish oppression in Cuba pushed the President McKinley towards taking an action—even though, personally, he was not a big proponent of the war (DeGuzmán, 2005).

In January 1898, President McKinley eventually found a reason for justifying his response to the public outcry regarding Cuba when reports by various media indicated that there were escalated riots by Anti-American “Volunatrios and Pro-Spanish people in Havana detesting against the USA saying that it (the US) was poking its nose where it does not belong (Herring, 2008).

It is also around this time that the Spanish Minister to US, Mr. Enrique Dupuy de Lôme is reported to have said that President McKinley was “weak and a bidder for the admiration of the crowd” (Lennon, 2002).

Not being able to stomach the criticisms anymore, President McKinley decided to send US warships to Cuba. A few weeks later, one of the US warships was sunk and, as earlier stated; the yellow journalists together with the US navy soon corroborated a story alleging that the US Maine disaster, which resulted in deaths of around 250 people, was an act of saboteur by the Spanish (Lennon, 2002).

On the other hand, the Cubans who were in dire need for independence had promised support to the USA, in case they decided to help them fight the common enemy—the Spanish. The culmination of these factors is reason why the war eventually erupted.6

The Consequences of the Spanish-American War

Before delving into the effects of the war, it is worth taking note of the following facts about the war. To begin with, the war reportedly began on 3rd July 1898 with the battle of Santiago de Cuba, the fiercest of the naval battle between the Spanish and Americans. In this battle, the Spanish Caribbean fleet was destroyed courtesy of the American soldiers supported by the Cuban independence fighters thus resulting into the besieging of Santiago de Cuba, and, eventually the entire island (Lennon, 2002).

Moreover, Theodore Roosevelt, together with his Rough Riders, were very monumental in the war based on their dedicated attacks and assaults on San Juan Heights and San Juan Hill—two important hills close to the Santiago Harbor which was in great contention (Roosevelt, 1913/1967).7 Seeing that they were overpowered by the Americans, the Spanish tried to flee from the Santiago Harbor. However, the Americans captured them, sunk their ships and killed 323 people with only one American dying as a casualty (Lennon, 2002). This paved the way for retreat and surrender.

In finality, the Spanish-American war ended after 109 days with the signing of the “Treaty of Paris” being the major highlight. It is from this point where the treaty was signed that we are going to consider the consequences of the war.

Treaty of Paris and The Political Effects

Primarily, this treaty was signed on the December of 1898 (109 days after the war had began) between the US and Spain—with the Cubans, Puerto Ricans and Filipinos being sidelined from negotiations of the treaty.

So, even though the treaty mentioned Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Filipinos, it is clear that the treaty was mainly signed to benefit and satiate the interests of the Spanish and Americans (who were the war winners) while sidelining the losers and people who had apparently contributed greatly towards the starting and ending of the war (Musicant, 1998).8

In the treaty, America’s possessions, in terms of colonial power, was increased as they were given control of Puerto Rico, and Guam while they sold the Philippines for $20 million (Lennon, 2002). Also, the treaty managed to free Cuba who, for long, had been fighting for their freedom. On the other hand, the US gave back the city of St. Augustine Florida to the Spanish.

It is worth mentioning that, unlike the treaties signed previously, the Treaty of Paris did not give the acquired territories a promise of rights for citizenship or statehood. In other words, the treaty considered the acquired territories like Puerto Rico of being unable to self-govern their own based on their inferior ranks going by the imperialistic characteristic of ethnocentrism (DeGuzmán, 2005).

Additionally, America’s name was added to the list of existing colonial empires—something which they had previously fought against and branded as demeaning during the days when they were subjects of Britain (Lennon, 2002). Other treaties, or rather legal amendments also saw their way into the extensions of this treaty.

For example, before the war, US congress (which chiefly constituted of Anti-imperialists) had passed the Teller Amendment committing to grant Cuba Independence. After the war and Cuba being awarded its freedom, the senate (mainly consisting of pro-imperialists) passed the Platt Amendment which forced a peace treaty on Cuba which forbade the Cubans them from getting into treaties with other nations.

According to Herring (2008), the Platt Amendment was considered to be a stab-in-the back move to the Cubans who had trusted the US and helped them during the war, only for US to go against their words after the war.

As a matter of fact, the Platt Amendment gave the US control of Cuba in terms of providing a permanent Navy base in Cuba and giving them freedom to stabilize Cuban Militarily as they wished. It is from such freedoms that later treaties were signed between US and Cuba thus paving way for the rise of imperialistic strongholds of US in Cuba like the famed Guantanamo Bay.

The Philippine-American War

The annexation of the Philippines, as a result of the Treaty of Paris, caused huge problems. In essence, the Filipino had allied with US during the Spanish-American war hoping that they, just like Cuba, would be able to gain their independence. Failing to accord them independence infuriated the Filipinos and made them feel betrayed. Consequently, on the 23rd day of January 1899, the Filipinos forcefully proclaimed independence and elected Emilio Aguinaldo as their president.

Immediately, the US responded by sending its army to put down the fake Filipino government thus resulting in war and protests from the natives silently supported by Germans who had vested interests in Puerto Rico.

In spite of not having a strong military influence, the Filipinos dragged the US into a hot battle that lasted longer than the Anglo-Spanish war claiming close to 4000 American lives and immense destruction of properties being witnessed.

However, on 21st March 1901, America finally managed to capture Aguinaldo, forced him to oath loyalty, take a pension from the US and retire peacefully while ensuring that no more revolts were witnessed from the Filipinos. This, eventually, led to the calming down of the Filipinos and thus the halt of the Philippine-American War.

Socio-Economic and Cultural Effects

The Spanish-American war has both positive and negative socio-economic and cultural effects. Starting with the negative side, Loveman (2010) asserts that the war expectedly resulted in the loss of properties, deaths of useful individuals in the society, and the loss of freedoms and political power—all which had a direct negative economic impact.

To this effect, Herring (2008) reports that the collapse of the Spanish empire—especially in losing Cuba—caused national trauma which, in effect, reduced their economic strength.9

Still on the negative side, the war resulted in blood between some Spaniards and Americans, Filipinos and the US, Cubans and Spaniards, Germans and Americans (based on the Filipino contention) thus destroying the moral fabric of the relatively good cultural and social environment that previously existed (Musicant, 1998).

On the positive side, however, the war resulted in better economies by some nations, like the US who had new trade avenues in their colonized countries (Lennon, 2002). Cuba’s freedom also had a relative positive impact as the exit of the Spanish paved way for investments by their own people (Schoultz, 2009).

In Spain, modicum economic gains were witnessed from the investments made by Spaniards who came back from US and Cuba pumping money and business ideas into their home economy.

Socially and culturally, some good language patterns emerged. For example, the intermingling between the US and Puerto Rico led to a hybrid of people able to speak English and Spanish on top of their native languages.

Similarly, Filipinos were also able to speak German, Spanish and English on top of their native language (Immerman, 2010). Also, there was an improved interrelation between the Northern and Southern people who, prior to the war were not able to speak to one another (Lennon, 2002).

Other General Impacts of the War

  • The birth of opinion-based and hyperbole journalism (Yellow Journalism)
  • The shift in global power and recognition of the US as a superpower and the rise of a new generation of imperialist leaders in the USA like Theodore Roosevelt.
  • Increased Involvement of Africans into the military based on their monumental impact during the war, for example, Booker T. Washington.

Increased involvement of political groups like the rough riders in national politics

Conclusion

In conclusion, the increase of imperialist leaders getting into the US government led to more expansionist ideas being circulated around the country thus creating the thirst for power consolidation rather than just focusing on progress.

Nonetheless, the lessons learnt from the war by all the involved parties served, and still serves, as a great reminder for the importance of dialogue, peaceful coexistence and good international relations amongst various nations and countries regardless of their different ethnicities.

This, probably, is the reason why, up to date, the politics of international relations still plays an irreplaceably key role in the balance of social, political, cultural, technological and social aspects of our lives.

List of References

DeGuzmán, M., 2005. ‘Consolidating Anglo-American Identity around the Spanish-American War’, Ch.3 of Spain’s Long Shadow. The Black Legend, Off-Whiteness and Anglo-American Empire, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Herring, G. C., 2008. From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign relations since 1776. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Immerman, R. H., 2010. Empire for liberty: a history of American imperialism from Benjamin Franklin to Paul Wolfowitz. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.

Kaplan, R. L., 2003. American journalism goes to war, 1898–2001: a manifesto on media and empire. Media History, 9 (3).

Lennon, K., 2002. Causes and Impacts of the Spanish-American war,

Loveman, B., 2010. “The New Navy’, Ch.6 of No Higher Law. American foreign policy and the western hemisphere since 1776, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Musicant, I., 1998. ‘State of the Union’, Ch.1 of Empire by Default. the Spanish-American war and the dawn of the American century, New York: Henry Holt.

Roosevelt, T., 1913/1967. ‘An Autobiographical Defense’, Ch.11 of The writings of Theodore Roosevelt, New York: Bobbs-Merrill.

Schoultz, L., 2009. That Infernal little Cuban republic: the United States and the Cuban revolution. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Footnotes

1 Schoultz, L., 2009. That Infernal little Cuban republic: the United States and the Cuban revolution. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. P.10-20.

2 Lennon, K., 2002. Causes and Impacts of the Spanish-American war.

3 DeGuzmán, M., 2005. ‘Consolidating Anglo-American Identity around the Spanish-American War’, Ch.3 of Spain’s Long Shadow. The Black Legend, Off-Whiteness and Anglo-American Empire, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

4 Loveman, B., 2010. “The New Navy’, Ch.6 of No Higher Law. American foreign policy and the western hemisphere since 1776, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

5 DeGuzmán, M., 2005. ‘Consolidating Anglo-American Identity around the Spanish-American War’, Ch.3 of Spain’s Long Shadow. The Black Legend, Off-Whiteness and Anglo-American Empire, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

6 Musicant, I., 1998. ‘State of the Union’, Ch.1 of Empire by Default. the Spanish-American war and the dawn of the American century, New York: Henry Holt.

7 Roosevelt, T., 1913/1967. ‘An Autobiographical Defense’, Ch.11 of The writings of Theodore Roosevelt, New York: Bobbs-Merrill.

8 Musicant, I., 1998. ‘State of the Union’, Ch.1 of Empire by Default. the Spanish-American war and the dawn of the American century, New York: Henry Holt.

9 Herring, G. C., 2008. From Colony to Superpower: U.S. Foreign relations since 1776. Oxford: Oxford University Press. P.15-25.

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