Was the Spanish-American War Truly as John Hay Said, a “Splendid Little War”

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Was the Spanish-American war truly as John Hay said, a “splendid little war”? Why or why not?

The Spanish-American war was for the American government the first step on the road to becoming a “global, police power”, for the Spanish it was the dissolution of Cuba and their empire, from said conclusion is it fair to name such a war a success, an aforementioned “splendid little war”?[1] This essay hopes to examine the limitations of Hay’s statement, the war was to irreversibly “shape relations between the United States and the rest of the globe for the coming century”, and it was the trigger that ultimately taught the U.S. the cost of World imperialism. It is impossible to label such a conflict as totally triumphant and simplistic, it was fraught with diplomatic complications, both domestic and colonial, as is written herewith.

The situation in Cuba before American intervention had always been precarious; Cuban rebels had continually opposed Spanish rule throughout the 19th Century, such was the animosity between the Cubans and Spanish that it culminated in the erection of some of the first Spanish concentration camps (reconcentrado). Dubbed “Butcher Weyler” by the American press, Spanish general Valeriano Weyler sought to curtail the uprisings, thus causing numerous deaths and epidemics among the Cuban inhabitants.[2] This onslaught erupted both the Cuban population and the American press into a fierce frenzy; American readers experienced a “battle of gigantic proportions” between two rival newspapers, (New York Journal and New York World), “in which the sufferings of Cuba merely chanced to furnish some of the most convenient ammunition”.[3] With so much public attention, the Cuban crisis became a great exhibition of jubilation; there was much desire for intervention in the affair. Said exaltation was further prompted by the events of February 15th 1898, when the battleship USS Maine exploded in Havana Harbor killing 266 American sailors. Demands for war with Spain were imminent and colossal, the “yellow journalism” and its fabrication of news intoxicated the “whole Country with war fever”, slogans of “Remember the Maine! To Hell with Spain!” became very popular.[4] Theodore Roosevelt, assistant secretary of the navy, had always been of a militaristic nature, having commented that “This country needs a war”, and proclaiming President William McKinley as “white-livered” with “no more backbone than a chocolate éclair”, had proclaimed the disaster “an act of dirty treachery on the part of the Spaniards”.[5]

The longing for war by the public and certain members of government following the atmosphere of hostility prompted, reluctantly, McKinley to declare war on Cuba. Having blockaded Cuba on April 22nd, Spain then subsequently declared war on April 24th. The Spanish-American war was initially a “splendid little war” as described by Hay; it was an “unbroken series of American victories” within only 10 weeks of combat.[6] The major campaign of the war occurred at San Juan Hill, where a unit of newly formed Rough Riders under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Roosevelt along with two regiments of African American soldiers stormed a position atop Kettle Hill. So successful was the battle that Roosevelt “would rather have led that charge than served three terms in the U.S. Senate”, that he had been “revelling in victory and gore”. The combination of defeat at San Juan Hill and around the port of Santiago in which “474 Spanish were killed…while only one American was killed and one wounded” initiated the surrender of Santiago on July 17th, and the capitulation of Spain on July 26th 1898.[7] The Treaty of Paris of 1898, signed on December 10, 1898, ended hostilities between the Spanish and the U.S. The Treaty of Paris deemed that Cuba would become an autonomous country, and the U.S. acquired Puerto Rico and Guam with the understanding that Spain be paid twenty million dollars for the Philippines. The scandalist treaty was the...
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