The Spanish American War - One Spaniard's View
By Francisco Jose Diaz Diaz
Translated into English by Luis Iriarte and Denise Quiñones
The article below was written by the editor of the website entitled The Odyssey of Spain in the Overseas Provinces
The vision that exists in today's Spain of what happened 100 years ago during the Spanish American War is profoundly influenced by the consequences that were felt during the 20th century as a result of the conflict.
To understand the Spanish posture before and during the conflict, it is necessary to give a brief historical introduction to Spain's internal political affairs, especially during the 19th century. It is also necessary to understand three other issues:
1- Spain's policy
towards the Caribbean and Asiatic islands.
2- The vision of Spain's society in 1898.
3- The consequences of Spain's defeat.
Spain was unified as a nation during the 15th century. The political marriages of Spain's kings with other European dynasties and the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus threw Spain into a process of exaltation and expansion in Europe, America and the Pacific. During the 16th and 17th centuries, Spain was the pre-eminent European power that controlled Holland, Belgium, the south of Italy, Sicily and parts of Germany and Austria. The constant wars with excessive expense in men and money weakened f Spain's position in Europe, and in the year 1700, when Charles II, the last king of the Habsburg dynasty died, all of Spain's European possesions were lost except the peninsula, the Canary and Baleares Islands. Spain was no longer the first world power. Nevertheless, its extensive colonies in Hispanic America still made her an important power. Under the French Bourbon dynasty, Spain almost avoided all wars, except, for example, the American Revolution, were Spain took the side of the colonies. The relative tranquility and economic prosperity were broken with the French Revolution. The Napoleonic invasion of Spain with the substitution of the Bourbon dynasty for the French emperor's brother provoked an uprising of the people in May, 1808. With the legitimate king detained in France, a "Consejo de Regencia" (Governing Council) was placed in charge of the country. The liberal influences of the French Revolution created a constitutionalist movement that resulted in the "Cortes de Cadiz" of 1812 ("Cortes" is the name of the Spanish parliament). During these "Cortes" the liberal constitution that eliminated the privileges of the nobles and the clergy and established a liberal and democratic system, was aproved. At the end of the war against Napoleon (1808-14) the country was ruined and divided politically. The return to the throne of Fernando VII, who anulled the Constitution of 1812, opened a period of intermmitent fighting between absolutists and liberals. Simultaneously, in Spanish America the fight for independence began. After the death of Fernando VII in 1833, a real civil war started between the absolutist followers of Prince Don Carlos, Fernando VII's brother, called "Carlistas," and the liberal followers of Queen Isabel II, a minor daughter of Fernando VII, who were called "Isabelinos."
The economy was paralyzed and the country ruined. After the victory of the liberals, a period of successive military coupe d'êtats commenced, some liberal and moderate, while others liberal and progressive. Each coupe caused changes of the constitution. Only after the coupe of General O'Donnell in 1854, did a stable democratic regime of conservative character get restored, bringing temporary order to the economy, the army and the navy. The navy, with the succesive construction of armored frigates, recuperated from the disaster of the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 and became the fifth best navy in the world. During these years, Spain threw herself into new colonial adventures that helped her to forget past penuries. In a few years, expeditions were sent to Mexico and Indochina to help England and France. Wars in the Pacific against Chile and Peru were won, and in Africa war against the Moroccans brought a similar result. The army and navy regained their capacity, and the country felt the false illusion of being still a world power.
Nevertheless, the political and economical crisis that burst in 1866 lead to the "Glorious Revolution of 1868," encouraged by progressive military men like General Serrano, Duke of la Torre, General Prim, Marquis of Los Castillejos, and Admiral Topete. Isabel II was overthrown and the Bourbon dynasty expelled from the throne. Six years of rapid and tragic changes in the life of the nation followed. First, the regency of General Serrano; then, successively the monarchy of Amadeo I, the First Republic and the dictatorship of General Serrano. Meanwhile, a new "Carlista" insurrection burst in an attempt to restore the absolute monarchy, simultaneously with the cantonalist revolts that defended a federal republic, the first war with Cuba and the conspiracies to restore the Bourbon in the figure of Prince Alfonso, son of Isabel II. Spain was in chaos.
The coup d'êtat of General Martinez Campos, Count of Llovera, in 1874 produced the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy in the figure of the son of the dethroned Isabel II, Alfonso XII, who had lived six years in exile and was deeply in favor of social and political changes toward a liberal democracy. The country, fed up with wars and death, seconds him in his purpose. During his reign (1874-1885) the country prospered, the army stayed apart from politics, and political parties (conservatives and liberals) followed each other in a civilized way in the elections. The death of the 28 year-old king, from a disease while visiting a hospital, plunged the country in uncertainty. His wife, who was pregnant with the future King Alfonso XIII, assumed the regency. Some small republican uprisings without popular support were quickly crushed, but the country lived in relative calm, waiting the new king, yet unborn, who was expected to follow in the footsteps of his father, in order to regain the grandeur of the past. Until his coming of age in 1902, his mother, Maria Cristina of Habsburg, the second wife of Alfonso XII, acted act as regent. So by 1898, we find the country surviving fighting, disorganization, the illusion of being a world power, and revolts in Cuba and the Philippines.
This imperial illusion
resulting from past memories of glories is in part the key to understanding
Spain's posture at the beginning of the war with the United States.
Spain and its Colonies:
The Spanish colonization of American lands, like all colonization, has its lights and its shadows. It is neither as negative as it is described by the "black legend" extended in Europe in a time when Spain was the pre-eminent power, nor as positive as it was described in the Spain of the 19th and 20th centuries. From the moment of the colonization of America, the Spanish monarchy pretended to organize the new territories in the image of the metropolis. Municipal governments and universities were created; viceroyships similar to the ones existing at the peninsula and other European possessions were created; laws to govern the Indies were dictated, establishing norms to protect the native Americans and establishing limitations to the power of the viceroys who, at the end of their mandate were submitted to "Juicios de Residencia" (impeachment proccedings) to prove that they had not performed in an abusive way.
Nevertheless the difficulties of communication with the king over the great distance of the Atlantic Ocean had created a desire for self-government in the majority of the American provinces. The American Revolution enhanced the desire of self goverment in the Spanish colonies, a desire that will detonate the Spanish wars against the French between 1808 and 1814. The absence of Spain's legitimate monarchs, detained by Napoleon, forces every Spanish province, both peninsular and overseas, to create transitory governing bodies. It is precisely this experience of self government in the American provinces that originates the first outbreaks of resistence to Spanish authorities.
The return to the throne of absolute monarch, King Fernando VII ends this governing experience and turns the Hispanic American aristocracy and bourgeosie towards a quest for independence. Its promoters are not the native Americans or poor colonists, but the members of the economicaly powerful aristocracy and the military born in the colonies who had fought in the peninsula against the French. The list of counts and marquises in the separatist side was overwhelming. The declarations of independence spring far and wide in Hispanic America, and Spanish troops are overthrown everywhere. After a twenty-year bloody fraticidal struggle of fathers against sons and brothers against brothers, some loyal to their king, others loyal to the idea of liberty, independence is proclamed in all of South and Central America. The internal situation of Spain, with the struggle between absolutists and liberals, contributed to the independence of the colonies. The deathblow to Spain's ability to keep her American colonies happened in 1820, when the troops, commanded by General Riego, prepared to go overseas, revolted in Cadiz (Spain) in favor of the Constitution of 1812, ending provisionally the absolutist regime.
Once the independence was obtained, only Cuba, Puerto Rico and the islands in the Pacific Ocean stayed loyal to Spain. The reason for this could be found in that the two islands of the Caribbean were the first colonized by Spain and had many Spaniards with strong economic ties to the metropolis. In the Philippines, the reasons were the geographic separation, and the fact that their ethnic groups were educated as Spaniards. An English traveller at the beginning of the 19th century was surprised that the Spaniards, "Mestizos" and "Tagalos" ate together and shared the same places.
Nevertheless, the reaction of Spanish authorities after the independence of the remainder of the American colonies was one of distrust. Except for three periods of time (from 1812 to 1814, 1820 to 1823 and 1868 to 1872) when the Caribbean islands sent representatives to parliament, the power of the Captain Generals, as representatives of the king, was practically absolute. A well-known Spanish politician said that Spanish kings were constitutional monarchs in Spain and absolute kings overseas. The inhabitants born in Cuba and Puerto Rico started to feel that, although they were Spanish, they did not enjoy the benefits of the Spanish constitution, which only covered the European territories. In both Caribbean islands followers of the ideals of autonomy appeared who wanted a self-governing system that was still related to the Spanish crown to be applied to the islands, similar to the regime held by Canada under the English sovereignty. The members of the peninsular aristocracy and bourgeosie who had important economic interests in both islands, opposed these ideas.
In Cuba, an important group of autonomists felt defrauded and pretended to desire either the independence of the Island or its annexation to the US as a new state. On the other hand, another important group of Cubans firmly wished to stay with Spain and recruited a great number of volunteers to fight with the Spaniards against the separatists. These two groups turned the Cuban War of Independence into a true civil war among Cubans.
Nevertheless, unfortunate politics, both administratative and economical, which were carried out by Spain, explain the frustration of Cubans and Puerto Ricans and their eargerness to change the situation. The administration of the islands was in the hands of "peninsulares" (those born in Spain) who in most cases were only interested in enriching themselves quickly and returning to Spain as soon as possible. Few Cubans or Puerto Ricans had any part in the administration, and the majority of the taxes collected in Puerto Rico and Cuba were not reinvested in the islands. In the last budget of the Spanish administration in Puerto Rico, before the granting of the autonomy, the quantity of funds dedicated to education was almost the same as the funds dedicated to the salary of the Captain General.
The situation in the
islands of the Pacific was similar. Because of the distance with the metropolis,
the administration was put in the hands of monks who had more power than the few
Spanish officials stationed there. The abuses of the Catholic clergy were one of
the fundamental causes for the Tagalog revolts. The other causes were the
legitimate aspirations to match the Spaniards in the matter of political rights
and the administration of the Philippines.
The Spanish Society in 1898:
When the MAINE exploded in Havana harbour, Spanish public opinion was not aware of the consequences that a war to retain the remains of the empire would bring upon the nation. At the beginning of 1898, Spanish cities were calm. Spain was flooded with bullfights, theater and "zarzuelas" (name for Spanish operettas) that were presented without interruption. People lived the events happening in Cuba and the Philippines as something distant but always supporting the Spanish presence in the Islands. It is not clear to them why the Cubans fought, nor did they understand the economical and political potential of the U.S. They still dreamed that all was as in the times of King Felipe II, when the sun never set on the empire . They ignored the troubled relations with the U.S.
MAINE, after arriving unannounced, was
still floating in the waters of Havana Bay, extending its initial intended stay.
It had arrived in a courtesy visit and remained there to guarantee the life and
belongings of American citizens who we supposedly menaced by the dissorders in
Cuba. The explosion of the ship took place on February 15, 1898. The
MAINE sunk while the empire was in its
The "yellow press" on both sides of the Atlantic cried for war. The World newspaper proclaimed: "The destruction of the MAINE is reason enough to order our fleet to move towards Havana, and demand indemnity in 24 hours under the threat of bombardment". The New York Journal asked for military intervention. In Spain, the press, mainly in the hands of well known bussinessmen and politicians, answered. The newspaper El Pais replied: "The Cuban problem will not be solved unless we send an army to the U.S.". The other Spanish newspapers, like El Correo Español, asked for war. They still did not realize the economic and military power of the U.S., and made fabulous comparisons between the naval forces of both countries, always favorable to Spain of course.
The U.S. government commissioned its ambassador in Madrid, Woodford, to negotiate with Spain on the basis on an armistice, the supression of the Cuban "reconcentrados" (A reconcentration of country people in the towns secured by Spain designed to deprive the rebels of food and support had been instituted. These towns became like prision camps.), and Cuban self-government. The majority of the Spanish population considered these requests an insult to Spanish sovereignty. The Spanish government ended the "reconcentrados" and proposed an armistice.
The American government, unsatisfied, proposed simply to buy Cuba. The rejection of this idea by the Spanish government left few available solutions. On March 21, the American commission that investigated the sinking of the MAINE, accepted the thesis of the planned explosion and the American public opinion, instigated by the "yellow press," increases the pressure on the government to fight in Cuba. Meanwhile, in Spain elections are celebrated and are won by the liberals. Aristocratic parties are filled with splendor and carnivals flood Spanish streets. There was still confidence in that there would be no war.
The Spanish government was forced by European powers accepts the armistice, but nothing else. The rebels reject this solution. On April 11, McKinley addressed the U.S. Congress. His speech ended with the petition that Congress authorize him to take measures to impose a stable government capable of maintaining order in Cuba, using, if necessary, the U.S. army and navy.
In Spain people turn out in the streets in in shows of patriotism shouting: "To New York!" to the sound of the "Marcha de Cadiz" (a well-known military march from the time of the war against Napoleon). The Minister (Secretary) of War proclaims that he wished that the American army would come to Spain in order to show them the heroism of the Spanish people. Such a patriotic stupidity is frenetically applauded by the newspapers in remembrance of the spirits of the old Spanish heroes of the middle ages, and forgetting that wars are not won with ghostly help. The people continued ignoring the power of the U. S., and though the government that knows the truth, keeps silent.
On April 18, the U.S. Congress aproves a joint resolution giving total war powers to McKinley. From this day Spain knows that war is innevitable. On the night of April 20-21, Woodford receives, via telegram, the text of the Congress resolution with orders to hand it to Spanish authorities as an ultimatum requiring the Spanish renunciation of Cuba in 3 days. Woodford decided to deliver this document in the morning of the 21st. When Woodford delivered the ultimatum, the Spanish government announced the breaking of diplomatic relations between the two countries. That same afternoon the American fleet, which was 10 miles from the Cuban coast, seized some Spanish merchant ships before the declaration of war. On the 23rd of April, the Regent Queen signs the Declaration of War that was previously approved by the Spanish "Cortes". The 25th of April, the U.S. Congress votes to declare war on Spain, retroactive to the 21st.
In Spain, people believe that God is with the Spaniards. In the pulpits the priests invoke Divine help, but God pays no attention to their pleas. The end of the empire had come.
What was narrated before, permits us to conclude the following:
1- As in the United States, the "yellow press" in Spain made aa strong effort of disinformation about the military capacities of the army and navy of the US, creating the illusion that the Spanish fleet was superior to the American fleet. Only the press of republican or socialist orientation alerted the public about the truth of the military power of the United States and the uselessness of the war.
2- The Spanish government, although conscious of the Spanish inferiority, did not avoid the war as a last resort. The reasons were basically two: First, the government was afraid that the abandoning of the islands without struggle could provoke a revolution that would end the reigning dinasty. The second reason was that the support of the European powers was expected in this dispute against the intrusion of the U.S. in a matter that concerned a European power. None of these hypotheses were proved true.
In the first case some modern historians in Spain have elaborated the theory that the Spanish government knew that the independence of Cuba was inexorable, but since the unilateral abandonment of Cuba could bring tensions in the army and the population, the loss had to be justified by being one through a military defeat. Besides this, we must consider the economic and military effort made by Spain in the Cuban War for independence. In 1898 the extraordinary budget for war in Cuba and the Philippines surpassed more than the ordinary budget of the state (1,875 millions of pesetas against 873 millions in 1898) and the public debt had reached unbearable limits. The prolonging of the war against the Cuban rebels would bring the state to bankruptcy. The drain of men was unbearable also (between 1895-98 more than 220,000 men were transported to Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines; about 60,000 of them died, most of them from sickness). While the conservative governments of Cánovas del Castillo advocated continuation of the war against the insurgents "to the last man and the last peseta", the liberal governments of Sagasta wanted to leave Cuba without giving the appearance of fleeing or a claudication, but did not find the occasion. The explosion of the MAINE and the intervention of the U.S. was the excuse that the government was waiting for to loose Cuba in a rapid war, knowing the inferiority of the Spanish navy. That the war was to be short and rapid was the cause for the absurd orders given to the army in Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines, including the fleets of Cervera, Montojo and Camara. The liberal government of Sagasta, in compliance with this theory, justified the defeat by pointing out that Spanish honor was saved, even though everything else was lost. However, the loss of all of the overseas provinces did not produce a popular reaction against the dynasty.
In second place, none of
the European powers supported Spain against the United States. During the 19th
century, Spanish diplomacy had established a regulated principle for Spanish
activity outside of Spain. Such principle stated: "Confronted with an external
problem, if England and France agree, Spain would support the agreement; if no
agreement existed, Spain should resist intervention". On this principle Spain
abandoned normal colonial politics subjecting itself to the terms of France and
England. It was expected that in just reciprocity, both France and England now
would support Spain. The facts proved that such principle was false. Initially,
they resisted intervention because they confided that the Spanish army in Cuba,
superior to the total of the regular U.S. army, would defeat the Americans. Only
at the end of the conflict, when an attack was feared against the Spanish coasts
in Europe, did the European powers show concern that there would be a possible
American intervention in Europe, and Spain was forced to accept the conditions
imposed by the Paris Treaty. During the war there was, in fact, a diplomatic
conflict with England, where the Spanish army reinforced the Strait of Gibraltar
with coastal batteries expecting a menace from the American fleet. England
considered that such conduct affected its colony of Gibraltar situated in the
strait, and threatened Spain with the adoption of retaliation measures.
Consequences of the Defeat on Spain:
The end of the war had serious consequences on Spanish politics during the 20th century. The direct and immediate consequences were apparently of little importance but, with the passing of the years, the defeat affected the country seriously. At the end of the war, except for the bitterness of defeat, everything seemed to flow normally. Contrary to what the Spanish goverment thought, no reaction was produced against the monarchy because the country had not yet assumed the loss of the colonies. The people did not understand how a nation of great military tradition had crumbled before a country that neswspapers and politicians categorized as "shopkeepers who would run when faced with battle". However, in political circles, a real storm broke out against Prime Minister Sagasta and his government, and against the army and the navy. In various stormy sessions in Senate, the Count of Almenas blamed the defeat on the inept military command and asked that Courtmartials be held where "the belts of generals and admirals be passed from their waists to their necks". Few deputies and senators had the gallantry to recognizing that the cause of their defeat was the lack of foresight of consecutive governments and that the military, as a general rule, complied with the government's obligations, including going consciously into defeat, as did Admiral Cervera. No minister wanted to recognize that inefficient naval programs and incorrect operational plans had led to total defeat.
The public, deceived by newspapers and certain politicians, blamed the army and the navy for the loss. The repatriated soldiers were not received as heroes but with insults by those who had stayed in the peninsula without fighting.
After all, the defeat affected the collective memory of the Spaniards and even today when someone suffers a big setback, the expression "more was lost in the Cuban War" is used. As time passed the defeat brought basically three serious consequences. The confrontation between the political power and the army; the loss of trust in the country's capabilities by the Spaniards, and the discredit of the traditional political parties. This discredit would lead in the long run to the Second Republic (1931) and the Civil War (1936-39). On the other hand, the crisis of 1898 allied some of the most distinguished Spanish intellectuals in the so called "Generacion del 98" who analyzed critically the situation of Spain, creating a movement called "Regeneracionismo" that pushed the abandonment of fatalism and promoted a fight for the future. Its effects were not immediate. The turbulent years of the wars in Africa, the dictatorship of General Primo de Rivera, the breakdown of Monarchy, the Second Republic, the Civil War, the dictatorship of General Franco and the restoration of Monarchy had to pass in order for Spain to start to recover from the fateful year of 1898.
The Spanish American War - One American's View
By Patrick McSherry
The article below was written for the website entitled The Odyssey of Spain in the Overseas Provinces at the request of its webmaster Francisco José Díaz Díaz.
The Spanish American War - One American's View
I have been asked by the webmaster of this site to contribute some information concerning the American view of the Spanish American War. This is a more complicated question than it first seems. We must look at the question from three viewpoints - that of the average American of 1998, that of the average American of 1898, and that of an American historian who studies the 1898 period.
The view of the average American of 1998:
Quite frankly, if you asked the average American of 1998 about the war, you would probably be met with a quizzical stare. The Spanish American War, in spite of its tremendous implications for the United States, Spain, Cuba, Philippines, Guam, Hawaii, and other places, is seldom mentioned in the popular media or brought to the attention of the public. Most may have heard the statement "Remember the MAINE," but with no understanding what the MAINE itself was. Few have any idea of the involvement of the U.S. in Cuba, and less so in the Philippines or Puerto Rico. Mandatory school American history classes generally gloss over the war as a silly, three-month lark taken by a group of over-eager men with no real gain. Of course, this goes against historical fact in many, but not all respects.
This situation may seem odd to other nations, on which the war had a tremendous affect. However, the war must be viewed in the historical perspective of the average American. The Spanish American War occurred in the interval between two conflicts that resulted in great death and anguish in the U.S., whereas the Spanish American War was relatively bloodless from the American perspective. The American Civil War (1861-1865) was a conflict of truly epic proportions for the country. More Americans died in the Civil War than the combined total number of American deaths in all other conflicts in which the U.S. has been involved, from the 1776 Revolution to the present. The loss was approximately three-quarters of a million men, whereas in the more populous America of 1898, only three thousand men were lost. Virtually every family had members serving in the Civil War. Towns sent entire military units. The terrible toll, recounted by relatives for years, burned this war into the collective consciousness, and it will never leave.
There are several obvious measures of a war's impact on the public's collective memory, and we can use them to gauge the Civil War's impact on the people of today. First, the average American bookstore will have a major portion of its history section devoted to the Civil War. Secondly, Hollywood continues to produce innumerable dramas of the Civil War, as it has for many years. Also, amazingly, re-enacting Civil War battles is a large hobby in the U.S., with about twenty thousand involved in the hobby nation-wide.
The Spanish American War was followed by U.S. involvement in World War One (1917-1918). This was also a war of shocking losses, with the U.S. losing 177,000 killed, wounded and missing in the one year of its involvement. In this war, again virtually every family had someone involved. For the first time, a tremendous number of American men - 1.2 million - were sent overseas, to be separated from their families for a long period of time. Though the war has not remained as strongly in the memory as does the Civil War, the terror and separation experienced is also burned into the collective mind. Using our gauges of the war's lasting effect, we can see that virtually all bookstores carry books on the war and its effects. Also, Hollywood continues to produce films about the period, with one very highly honored major production on the war recently.
Both of these conflicts, one a little over a generation before the Spanish American War, and the other a little less than a generation after the war were in great contrast to the Spanish American War itself. During the Spanish American War, few of the many American military units raised actually saw foreign service, with most remaining in training camps in the U.S. on a glorified camping trip. There were few of the heart-rending or exciting stories to bring back to the families. The majority of the families did not have the pangs of a long-term, worrisome separation. As a result, this war did not make it into the collective memory. Using the gauges of measurement of the lasting memory of the war, we learn that, until recently spurred by the centennial, few bookstores carried ANY works on the Spanish American War. Few new works were produced after World War I eclipsed the Spanish American War. The number of films produced by Hollywood concerning the Spanish American War has been very few in number in the past one hundred years. The total number could probably be counted on one hand.
The Spanish American
War, one of the conflicts with the greatest implications for Americans even
today, has all but faded from the modern American mind. Its centennial was
The view of the American of 1898:
The American of 1898 was motivated by a variety of forces, some of which are not so apparent today. The most obvious and often discussed force was the "yellow press." The overall effect of the press should not be downplayed, though how much it really affected Americans outside of certain major cities, such as New York, is a subject for debate. The press continuously pointed out the problems of Spanish colonial rule in Cuba, with exaggerated or even fantastic stories of atrocities. By keeping these issues in the public eye, the pathway to war was kept clear. The loss of the battleship MAINE and the claims of Spanish treachery made by the newspapers (and not the U.S. government or the U.S. Navy) was the final catalyst allowing the generally isolationist American public to accept the war.
There were other forces. First, the American Civil War had been over for a little over a generation. By 1898 the terrors of the war were beginning to be forgotten, while the tremendous comradery and tales of glory continued to be passed down from the older generation, via family stories, veterans' reunions, printed histories of military units, etc. The adage that bad memories fade but the good memories remain proved to be true. This influence allowed, in the eyes of the younger generations, war to be thought of as glorious, and not the realm of horror it truly was.
Also, as the end of the nineteenth century approached, the United States was beginning to look at itself as a force in the world for the first time. Strengthened by a strong belief in its own, now-proven, political system, and by the strong missionary Christian background, the American public felt a strong sense that it was on the righteous golden path. These same beliefs had a tendency toward what we consider today to be an ethnocentrist or even a racist view. Poverty and terrible conditions in other countries were looked upon as evidence that the people beset by these problems could not govern themselves, or were in some way lacking in intelligence, resourcefulness and ambition. For instance, though Americans were attracted to Cuba partially because a desire to help a people reported to be facing very dire conditions, these same conditions made the American public believe that they themselves were superior.
These were the times of colonialism worldwide. The colonialism exhibited by Europe had been going on for several hundred years, with Spain, Portugal and Great Britain leading the way, to be followed up by Germany, Belgium, Japan, France and Austria. The time of empire-building was at its crescendo. According to the colonial powers, this movement was thought to be not only a means of making a profit but a way to improve the lives of those in the colonies. This was the era of what was considered "the white man's burden," or the colonial powers' responsibility to "civilize" the peoples whose lifestyle they considered to be inferior to their own. Sometimes these dual concepts of profit and social improvement were proven correct in practice, but much more often, neither were proven to be true.
In the United States, there had previously been a strong isolationist attitude. This was because of its own experience as a colony and because the United States had been able to look internally for all of the expansion it needed. By the 1890's, this was no longer true. The country had now spanned the continent and was feeling confined for the first time in its history. Many in the United States resisted the urge to join in the colonialist tendencies of the European powers and Japan, however, many others considered it to be the right, or even the duty, of the United States to join in the movement. It eventually did, partially by accident, partially by design. In most cases, the ease with which the country gained an empire was surprise to the citizens, including those in the government and in the military. In 1898, few Americans had heard of Manila Bay, but suddenly the United States claimed not only the harbor, but also the entire Philippine archipelago!
The view of the U.S.
towards Spain in the 1890's must also be addressed. The United States and Spain
generally had amicable relations for most of their history. Spain had aided the
United States in its Revolution, but it was a fact generally overlooked in the
history books. It was only the recent actions in Cuba that had begun to drive a
wedge between the countries, with the loss of the MAINE completing the splitting
of relations in the view of the American public. The taking of what remained of
the dwindling Spanish empire by the Americans was justified with a view of
Spain's own past. Spain's long history of colonialism, and the atrocities
committed in centuries past were appended to many of the histories of the
Spanish American War that were being produced in the U.S. during and just after
the war. Basically stated, Spain was known to have been an imperialistic nation
for centuries. The U.S. put an end to Spain's empire, replacing it with its own
system which was, in reality, only an empire by another same. The United States
thought it was instituting a better system for itself as well as the civilian
population in the newly-acquired colonies. The common U.S. citizen was not aware
before the war that the highly-vaunted Spanish military was in such terrible
shape. The Spanish Empire was teetering on the brink, and the United States gave
it a shove.
The View of one American historian of 1898:
One thing that all good historians realize early in their work is that history cannot be changed. Those people in the present are not responsible for events, good or bad, which have occurred in the past. With this in mind, there is no reason why debate over the Spanish American War cannot be carried on in a serious, but friendly, manner between the citizens of all of the nations involved, either directly or indirectly. Name-calling or inflammatory comments that cannot be backed by the historical record serve no purpose other to inflame old wounds and create new ones. These actions do not aid in creating international understanding, or points for discussion.
Of course, the major question that may be asked of an American by a Spaniard in particular would be if the American regrets that the war occurred. The obvious answer is "yes," but not possibly for the reasons expected. Some caveats must be added.
As an American, of course I regret, from a human standpoint, that the Spanish American War, which caused the deaths of thousands on all sides, occurred. This war, like all wars, had a very human side. Each of those individuals lost through disease or injury had a future and a family. It is their families who suffered an uncontrollable grief that cannot even be expressed except by those who have passed through it. All sides, no matter what the culture, feel this loss. I believe, and hope, that all people understand this and regret any war. To not do so is to be inhuman.
Also, I do regret that the United States was involved in a war that was purely imperialistic. The U.S. needed coaling bases for its navy to allow the nation to become a world power. This is an unavoidable truth. Some of those in power in the U.S. set out with this goal in mind, and, almost accidentally, the U.S. became an empire. The U.S. had been involved in only one other purely imperialistic war in its history (the U.S.-Mexican War of 1846-1848). In spite of this regret, however, I recognize that the U.S. was not acting in a manner that was different from any of the major colonial powers of the time. One only needs to look at the events occurring in China or Africa for simultaneous examples.
American historians acknowledge that the reasons that drove the U.S. into war with Spain were less than appropriate, looking back on the event and insulated by one hundred years. First, Spain was not responsible for the loss of the MAINE. However, Spain's actions in Cuba and the atrocities that occurred may have called for intervention even in today's world. The atrocities, however, were not as great as were reported in the U.S. Lastly, considering some of the later U.S. actions in Philippines, where the Americans instituted tactics similar to Weyler's policy of Reconcentration, the U.S. has little grounds to speak on this issue.
Beyond that, Americans can not regret the outcome, as it was the beginning of the U.S. becoming a world power, a position that all citizens of the country, and many non-citizens have benefited.
It must be noted that Spain was a colonial power and had been involved in many colonial wars in its past. For Spain to look down upon the U.S. for its own colonial effort is to forget Spain's own past. Still, this is easily understandable. Any nation that is the victim in imperial expansion sees the victimization, not its own past. The present is always somehow different from the past.
As we proceed into the future, Spain, the U.S., Philippines, Cuba, and Puerto Rico must all advance with the understanding that none of us today are responsible for the events of the past, for these things cannot be changed. We are responsible to learn from the past, and to use the past as a guide to the future. We, as historians, must all strive to show to the world that people on all sides of the conflict were people, not nameless, faceless bodies. Understanding comes through knowledge and relating that knowledge to oneself. Reading the accounts of two men on opposing sides of a battlefield, writing of the same feelings of fear, exhilaration, and possibly love for country and family helps us to realize that we, who stupidly act as enemies, are really of one people. To kill one another other is to commit fratracide.
To accomplish this level of understanding, the period must be reported on by all sides very objectively. This is, of course, very difficult to do, but it is possible. Two very large issues that are frequently misreported overseas are the still unresolved cause of the MAINE's explosion, and the U.S. rapid descent into the war.
On the first issue, the cause of the MAINE's explosion will probably never be known. The widely held "coal bunker fire" theory has some problems that may nullify it. The possibility of a mine, albeit a small mine that was probably not intended to sink the vessel but only create an incident, is still viable. Both theories have been tested using modern computerized explosion modeling techniques and have been shown to be capable of causing the damage found. Of course, neither possibility implicates Spain.
The United States, for many years, has acknowledged that Spain was not involved in the loss of the MAINE, and though international law required her to protect the vessel while in her port, Spain was no more able to protect the vessel against a possible terrorist incident than she could against an internal accident. Even at the time, the great efforts of the Spanish navy to save injured and drowning MAINE crewmen were acknowledged. The U.S. has often pointed out the lies of the American "yellow journalists" and their placing of blame on Spain. These basic issues speak directly to the reasons for the war, and reflect a level of honesty that is often unappreciated.
Comments from overseas frequently seem to lack the component of accurate reporting required for proper understanding. For example, there are frequently claims that the U.S. blew up the MAINE on its own to cause a war and gain territory. This is a theory that is as unlikely as Spain being responsible for her loss (In fact, it is not even logical - for a country to destroy its sixth largest vessel and the majority of her trained crew on the eve of war is not logical. If the desire was to create an incident, would not a more unimportant vessel been used?). It is claimed that the MAINE was not a viable fighting vessel. Again this is untrue. In that time of worldwide naval experimentation, many vessels of unusual configuration were developed. The experimental MAINE, though somewhat less successful than other vessels, was still more powerful than any of the vessels in Admiral Dewey's victorious Asiatic Squadron. Additionally, aspersions are cast on the crew of the MAINE. It is frequently stated that the vessel's officers survived because they were all in Havana at a party, leaving the vessel unofficered. Again, this is completely untrue. Their survival had to do with the location of the explosion, which was forward, below the crew's quarters, and not aft, where the officers were quartered. Capt. Sigsbee, for instance, was actively in command both before and immediately after the explosion. Two of the officers were lost in the blast.
The belief that the U.S. raced to war is also false. If the U.S. were waiting for the MAINE explosion to declare war, why would the nation wait over two months - from February 15 to April 25 - to declare war? If the U.S. wanted to use the MAINE as a pretext for war, war would have come immediately, and the country would have been better prepared for it when it did come. President McKinley, a veteran of the American Civil War himself, worked hard to avert a war. In the end, he was unable to avoid it.
To summarize, the war was a terrible action, as were all wars. Losses of soldiers and civilians is always a terrible tragedy. The United States was victorious, and that victory was very important in making the nation what it is today. In retrospect, the justification for attacking Spain was not there, though few in the country realized this at the time.
The most important aspect for all to have learned is that Americans and Spaniards of today are no more responsible for the Spanish American War than they are for the Spanish Inquisition. However, it is the duty of all involved to study the war objectively, and learn what the past has to tell us, so that we can look to a future of peace.
February 24 - Second Cuban Insurrection begins.
April - General Gomez, General Antonio Maceo, Jose Maceo, Cebreco, Crombet, Guerra, Jose Marti and Borrero land in Cuba
May 19 - Cuban Jose Marti killed in encounter at Dos Rios Oriente Province.
June 13 -Spanish General Fidel de Santoclides killed in the battle of Peralejo Oriente Province. He died, killed by sharpshooter Andres Fernandez of Antonio Maceo's escort, while protecting Arsenio Martinez Campos Spanish Governor of Cuba. Martinez Campos takes refuge in Bayamo and is soon removed from his position and returned to Spain.
September 17 - Battleship MAINE commissioned.
October 1895-January 1896. Antonio Maceo and Maximo Gomez take their forces on the "La Invasion" fighting almost every day from Mangos de Baragua Oriente Province eastern Cuba to Mantua, in Pinar del Rio Province in extreme western Cuba.
November 30, 1895 - Battle at Iguara. It is in this "La Invasion" encounter that Winston Churchill is given a medal "Red Cross" by the Spanish. Spanish claim victory but numerically inferior Cubans continue to advance.
January, 1896 - Antonio Maceo and Maximo Gomez end their "La Invasion."
February 16 - General Weyler issues first of reconcentrado orders.
March 24 - Calixto Garcia, escaped from Spain, arrives in Cuba with well armed expedition.
August 26 - Philippine Revolution begins.
December, 7 - Antonio Maceo killed in encounter at Punta Brava, Havana Province.
December 30: Filipino
national hero Dr. Jose Rizal is executed by Spanish troops.
March 4 - William McKinley inaugurated as president of the United States.
March 13 - Calixto Garcia now using cannon enters the fortified town of Jiguani Oriente Province.
June 19 - Stewart Woodford appointed U.S. Minister to Spain
August 8 - Spanish Prime Minister Canovas assassinated.
August 30 - The Spanish forts at Tunas, north western Oriente Province fall to Calixto Garcia.
October 4 - Prime Minister Sagasta takes office in Spain.
October 31- Prime Minister Sagasta recalls General Weyler from Cuba.
November 28 - The Spanish forts at Guisa, Northern foothills of Sierra Maestra Oriente Province, fall to Calixto Garcia.
January 1 - Spain institutes limited political autonomy in Cuba.
January 12 - Spanish in Cuba "riot" or demonstrate against autonomy-supporting newspaper offices. Consul-General Lee takes this as threat against Americans.
January 17 - Consul-General Lee asked for ship to sent to Havana
January 21 Esperanza, the Cuban rebel stronghold is invaded.
January 24 - Battleship MAINE sent to Havana
January 25 - Battleship MAINE arrives in Havana.
January 27 - Cuban Brig. Gen. Aranguren ambushed and killed.
February 1 - Spanish forces are beaten at Rejondon de Baguanos. This and other previous operations by Garcia, cause the Spanish to abandon the strategically important interior of Oriente Province, and effectively isolating Santiago de Cuba by land from other coastal Spanish garrisons.
February 9 - The DeLome letter is printed, critical of McKinley, causing the Spanish diplomat to be recalled.
February 15 -Battleship MAINE explodes, 266 crewmen killed.
February 16 - DeLome leaves the US for Spain.
February 17 - Naval Board of Inquiry into the loss of the battleship MAINE created ("the Sampson Board")
February 18 - Spanish cruiser VIZCAYA arrives in New York in reciprocal visit for the USS Maine, unaware that the Maine had been lost.
February 21 - The Naval Court of Inquiry into the loss of the MAINE begins.
February 25 - VIZCAYA leaves New York for Havana.
February 25 - Theodore Roosevelt, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, cabled Commodore Dewey to be ready if war were to break out, and gave him his objectives
March 6 - Spain requests, unofficially, that Consul-General Lee be recalled.
March 8 - Congress authorizes $50 million for a war fund.
March 14 - Admiral Cervera's squadron steams for the Cape Verde Islands.
March 17 - Senator Redfield Proctor reports on the Cuban situation after his visit to Cuba
March 19 - Battleship OREGON, under Capt. Charles Clark leaves San Francisco for Florida, by way of Tierra del Fuego on its famous dash!
March 21 - Board of Inquiry Report completed. States that battleship MAINE lost to a mine.
March 25 - McKinley receives Board of Inquiry Report.
March 26 - McKinley sends note to Spain demanding an end to war in Cuba, as well as a note indicating the findings of the Naval Board of Inquiry.
March 28 - Naval Court of Inquiry report presented to Congress. On the same day, the report of the Spanish Board of Inquiry into the loss of the MAINE is received in Washington. This reports states that the loss was the result of an internal accident.
March 30 - U.S. minister to Spain, Woodford, conveys request that war in Cuba end and that Cuba be given independence.
March 31 - Spain turns down demands of Cuban independence.
April 1 - U.S. House of Representatives authorizes $22.6 million for naval vessels.
April 6 - Pope asked McKinley to not declare war pending the Pope's negotiations with Spain.
April 7 - Ambassadors of England, Germany, France, Italy, Austria and Russia appeal to McKinley for peace.
April 9 - Spain orders General Blanco to declare armistice in Cuba. Consul-General Lee and other U.S. citizens leave Cuba.
April 11 - McKinley asks Congress for war.
April 16 - Army begins mobilization. Teller Amendment passes in U.S. Congress, stating that the U.S. would not annex Cuba.
April 19 - U.S. Congress declares Cuba independent.
April 22 - Blockade of Cuba commenced by US Navy. First Spanish ship taken.
April 23 - McKinley issues call for 125,000 volunteers. Spain declares war.
April 25 - U.S. declares war, but makes the declaration retroactive to April 22. Matanzas, Cuba bombarded by the US Navy.
April 27 - Commodore Dewey's squadron leaves Mirs Bay, China for the Philippines.
April 29 - Calixto Garcia takes Bayamo, abandoned by the Spanish, as headquarters.
April 30 - Admiral Cervera's Spanish squadron leaves the Cape Verde Islands for the Caribbean.
May 1 - U.S. Navy's Asiatic Squadron under Commodore Dewey defeats the Spanish Pacific Squadron at the Battle of Manila Bay.
May 1 - US Lieutenant Andrew Summers Rowan arrives in Bayamo to coordinate Cuban and US forces.
May 11 - Dewey promoted to rear admiral.
May 11 - The WINSLOW attacks Cardenas, resulting in the death of Ensign Bagley and five crewmen. Bagley was the only U.S. naval officer to die in the war. Cervera's squadron appears off Martinique.
May 11 - The cable is cut at Cienfuegos, Cuba by the crews of the MARBLEHEAD and NASHVILLE
May 12 - Admiral Sampson bombards San Juan, Puerto Rico, without warning.
May 13 - Commodore Schley's "Flying Squadron" leaves Hampton Roads for the vicinity of Cuba.
May 15 - Theodore Roosevelt begins training with Rough Riders.
May 17 - Cervera's squadron arrives in Santiago, Cuba.
May 25 - McKinley issues a call for 75,000 more volunteers. The first army expedition leaves San Francisco for Manila, P.I.
May 28 - Battleship OREGON arrives off Florida after the 14,700 nautical mile dash from the U.S.'s west coas
May 29 - US Navy blockades Spanish fleet in Santiago harbor.
May 31 - Schley and the blockading squadron skirmish with CRISTOBAL COLON and the forts at Santiago
June 3 - Hobson sinks the MERRIMAC at the entrance to Santiago harbor.
June 10 - US Marines land at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba.
June 12-14 - Maj. Gen. Shafter's Vth Corps embarks at Tampa.
June 15 - Spanish squadron leaves Spain for the Philippines.
June 21 - Guam "captured" by US forces.
June 20 - Calixto Garcia meets with US General William Shafter in Asseradero Sierra Maestra to coordinate US landings.
June 20 - Cruiser CHARLESTON captures Island of Guam
June 21 - Cuban forces (530 men) under Colonel Gonzalez Clavel are taken by US transport Leone, and protected by the US warships Vixen and the Gloucester land at Sigua and advance on Daiquri by land.
June 22 - At dawn, Gonzalez Clavel's men advancing by land take the lightly defended Spanish positions on the heights of Daiquiri and control landing zone. US ships accidentally shell Cuban forces on shore. U.S forces under General Lawton begin to land.
June 22 - Vth Corps of 16,000 men land at Daiquiri in Cuba throughout the day.
June 22-23 - Cuban scouts take about 20 wounded and report to General Lawton that first Spanish strong positions are at La Guasimas. Lawton orders US and Cuban forces at his command to hold positions, before fomal attack.
June 24 - Battle of Las Guasimas.
July 1 - Battles of El Caney and San Juan Hill.
July 3 - Spanish fleet attempts to escape from Santiago, all ships destroyed at the naval Battle of Santiago.
July 4 - Six Spanish prisoners killed aboard Auxiliary Cruiser HARVARD. The event becomes known as the "Harvard Incident."
July 6 - Hobson and his crew exchanged.
July 8 - Spanish squadron heading for the Philippines is forced to turn around to protect the Spanish coastline.
July 10 - Santiago bombarded by the U.S. Navy.
July 17 - Spanish Santiago garrison surrenders.
July 25 - US Army invades Puerto Rico.
July 26 - Spanish ask for terms of peace through the French ambassador.
July 31 - Night attack by the Spanish on the American lines at Manila, P.I.
August 9 - Battle of Coamo, Puerto Rico results in U.S. victory; Spain accepts McKinley's terms of peace.
August 11 - American Troops entered Mayaguez, Puerto Rico's third largest city.
August 12 - Peace protocol is signed (truce).
August 13 - US Forces take Manila with a minor fight.
August 20 - Great naval review in New York harbor.
August 23 - General Merritt appointed governor of Manila. Command of 8th Corps in P.I. given to General Otis.
August 25 - General Shafter leaves Cuba.
August 29 - Efforts to raise MARIA TERESA and CRISTOBAL COLON begun by Hobson.
September 10 - Spanish Cortes approves peace protocol.
September 12 - Admiral Cevera leaves U.S. to return to Spain.
September 13 - "Rough Riders" mustered out of service; Spanish senate approves peace protocol.
September 14 - U.S. troops begin leaving Puerto Rico; Queen Regent of Spain signs peace protocol.
September 20 - First U.S. flag raised in Havana, Cuba.
September 24 - Leonard Wood made military governor of Cuba.
September 25 - MARIA TERESA raised by Hobson.
September 29 - Spanish and American peace commissioners meet for the first time.
October 12 - OREGON and IOWA leave New York for Manila, P.I.
October 18 - U.S. takes formal possession of Puerto Rico.
October 25-18 - Peace Jubilee held in Philadelphia
November 5 - MARIA TERESA lost near Cat Island.
November 28 - Spain agrees to cede Philippines Islands.
November 30 - General Blanco leaves Cuba for Spain.
December 10 - Treaty of Paris ends Spanish American War.
December 23 -
Aguinaldo's cabinet resigns in the Philippines.
February 4 -
Philippine American War (formerly called the
Philippine Insurrection) begins.
March 4 - McKinley's 2nd inauguration. Roosevelt is vice-president.
March 23 - Philippine Revolutionary leader General Aguinaldo captured.
September 14 -
McKinley dies after being shot on
Theodore Roosevelt becomes President.
July 4 - Roosevelt declares the Philippines pacified.