American Blunder in the Philippines

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HIST102 : Week 3 – Assignment: American Blunder in the Philippines May 27, 2012
Kier O'Neil
Student
American Public University

On May 1, 1898 Commodore (later Admiral) Dewey guided his naval attack squadron into Manila Bay and quickly and decisively defeated the Spanish fleet. Not a single Spanish ship survived and not a single American life was lost. Simultaneously the Spanish were being attacked by land on all sides by native Filipino insurgents. With no hope of reinforcements or re-supply the Spanish sued for peace. A tenuous situation presented itself to the Americans, now in charge of a strategic archipelago with a native population striving for independence. I intend to argue that while the Americans had good intentions of allowing Filipino self-rule, the political and perceptual environment in the US made it inevitable that the Americans would end up at war with the Filipinos that they intended to liberate. America had been focused inward since the end of the Civil War in 1865. Tired of war they looked to fulfill their Manifest Destiny of claiming the entire continent and pacifying the indigenous Indian population. Railroads were being built to tie the entire country together coast-to-coast, and settlers were moving west to claim land and a new life. There was a general malaise towards international affairs for 25 years after the Civil War. The 1890 census changed all of that when it declared that the frontier no longer existed and by Frederick Jackson Turner's contention that "the first period of American history is over." (Miller 1984). Spain, in the 1890’s, was ruling over a crumbling empire. Insurgents were active in both Cuba and the Philippines which kept their forces on constant alert.  Prime minister Cánovas del Castillo, who had long dominated and stabilized Spanish politics, was assassinated in 1897 leaving a Spanish political system that was not stable and could not risk a blow to its prestige (Ruiz June 1998).  Práxedes Sagasta, who supported Cuban autonomy, took power in Spain and negotiated Cuban self-rule to begin on January 1, 1898. A small riot erupted in Havana only 11 days later and President McKinley felt that it was prudent to send the battleship USS Maine to Cuba to protect American citizens and interests. Another seemingly unrelated, but very important, factor came into play also. In 1895 William Randolph Hearst bought the New York Journal Newspaper and went in a head-to-head circulation war with Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World newspaper. Hearst spearheaded a movement that came to be known as ‘yellow journalism’. Yellow Journalism was characterized by scare headlines in huge print, often of minor news; lavish use of pictures, or imaginary drawings; use of faked interviews, misleading headlines, pseudoscience, and a parade of false learning from so-called experts; and dramatic sympathy with the "underdog" against the system (Mott 1941). Hearst realized that newspapers sold on emotion. Large headlines that targeted people’s patriotism or compassion sold better than those that blandly stated facts. Hearst had a few years’ experience before the Maine blew up but once that event happened journalistic integrity took a backseat to a good narrative. Even though history has borne out that the explosion was probably caused by munitions being stored too close to the boilers, and President McKinley also felt that it was an accident, once the press started putting a spin on the event popular opinion changed so dramatically that it could not be changed back. It didn’t help that McKinley’s fiery Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Theodore Roosevelt, was fanning the flames of war either. On February 17 the Journal’s headline was “Destruction of the Warship Maine was the Work of an Enemy” and in bold, identical sidebars offered a “$50,000 reward for the Detection of the Perpetrator of the Maine Outrage!” (Journal 1898). The situation in the Philippines at the time was beginning...
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