The United States had considerable political ambitions in the latter part of the 19th century. Apart from the fact that it had grown vastly since the end of the Civil War, it resented the considerable Spanish influence in South America and also Central America but the principal bone of contention was Cuba, the large and prosperous island off the coast of Florida. Reports started reaching the US on Spanish atrocities committed there and there were considerable revolts against Spanish rule there with several of the islanders clamouring for the US to intervene. Although President McKinley was initially rather reluctant to declare war against Spain at first he relented after pressure from his cabinet. The situation in various other countries which were administered by Spain also created problems with the international community and thus the US needed to exert its influence in several of these areas. It was also important to note that nationalist sentiment in countries such as Cuba and the Philippines had been festering for years and the sitaution was fast reaching boiling point in these countries.
Events leading to the war
The United states had had its eyes on several Spanish possessions in the carribean ever since the early 19th century when the Monroe doctrine esposued that the country should exert its influence far beyond its actual shores. Islands such as Guam, Puerto Rico and the Dominican republic were listed as being prime targets for US occupation with Spain also suffering from post Imperialist stress and weakening on the international stage. These countries were rich in natural resources and were also startegically important to the United states as through them they could also control foreign policy close to their shores especially after the westward expansion into California and other conquests such as New Mexico which came later. The United States had been following events in the caribbean for several decades and was also concerned about political instability in these areas which were damaging to its substantial business interests.
However the real bone of contention was Cuba which had been struggling for its own independence for over three decades. The Spanish ruled the country with an iron fist as it was important to them and they tolerated no dissent with any popular uprinsings and revolts being ruthlessly and often violently suppressed. In fact after some dithering, the Spanish herded most of the Cuban natives intopurposely built concentration camps which led the US to call them extermination camps. The rates of death and sickness in these camps were quite alarming and the stories which came out of Cuba precipitated American intervention. The moralists inside the US urged the government to intervene at some point.
Spain also treated Cuba as part of its own country and civil liberties were extremely limited with most of the islanders impoverished and the island’s weath shipped back to Spain. Being a major producer of sugar and tobacco, Cuba was also an interesting market for American expansion and thus very important for its planned expansion into world trade.However the US alraedy had significant buusiness interests in Cuba and actually did not really want the island to be independent so initially it called on the Spanish to restore order after several small revolts began erupting in the capital Havana. This created a situation of status quo with the Spaniards forcing their hand and the US attempting to moderate the situation while the islanders were kept in the dark over their prospects.
Cuba declares independence
After the country declared independence, the USS Maine was blown up in Havana and that was the lighting of the fuse which eventually forced the US into the fray. War was declared in 1898 after McKinlay had threatened to begin arming Cuban insurgents in exchange for Spanish quelling of the uprising.
The situation in the Philippines
The Philippines had been a Spanish colony since 1565 and after a relatively benign administration for around 300 years, the country’s new liberal elite began to imitate the ideas emanating from Europe on decolonization and nationalism. This led to several small uprisings in manila in the mid 19th century but these were also brutally suppressed by the Spanish. US influence in the area began with a fleet which was stationed there and which had no real port of call so the United States began to influence foreign policy and looked upon the Philippines as ripe for its own expansion.
The Philippine leaders rose in revolt against the Spaniards and were backed by the US fleet in 1897. This eventually destroyed the Spanish fleet but then had to contend with European intervention which it successfully overcame against heroic odds. This led to a successful armistice where the US continued to control the Philippines for a number of years.
Guam and Puerto Rico
The US adopted similar tactics to the Philippines in both these islands while also keeping at arm’s length beforehand. However both countries had their own problems with Spain and were also constantly on the brink of revolution so the tipe was ripe for the US to intervene.
The war and its aftermath
In a series of quick campaigns which were similar to the Blitzkrieg used by the Germans in the Second World War, the US easily defeated the Spaniars in all four theatres of war and gained possession of the Philippines, Cuba, Guam and Puerto Rico without much ado. One of the heroes of the war was forthcoming President Theodore Roosevelt who with his ‘Rough Riders’ regiment conducted great battles and acquired a number of fine victories in Cuba.
Initially entered into as a war of liberation, the Spanish-American war eventually increased US influence in foreign policy which was to see it have a considerable hand in the turn of world affairs over the next century. The war also marked the end of Spanish influence in the Caribbean and continued its decline as a major foreign power which had been going on for centuries.
The United States continued to increase its sphere of dominance as a result of the Spanish-American war and this could be said to be the precursor of the Korean, Vietnam and Iraq wars. Although it was a success initially, American administration in Cuba came to an ignoble end in 1957 when Fidel Castro’s Communists took power and they have been there ever since. The same happened in Vietnam although the US still administers Puerto Rico and Guam as important dependencies. Still the US-Spanish war is an important chapter in US history and should not at any stage be discounted.