The Spanish-American War

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THESIS : “ The United States didn’t want to get involved in the Spanish-American War, but was dragged into it due to yellow journalism, they wanted to control the seas, and wanted complete control over Cuba.”


For 113 days during the summer of 1898, the United States was at war with Spain. Neither the president of the United States, nor his cabinet, nor the the queen of Spain, nor her ministers wanted the war wanted the war. It happened eventhough they made their best efforts to prevent it. It happened because of ambition, miscalculation, and stupidity; and it happened because of kindness, wit, and resourcefulness. It also happened because some were indifferent to the suffering of the world’s wretched and others were not (O’Toole 17). By winning the war the United States proved the the rest of the world and to itself that it could and would fight against foreign nations. For many years, world power had been concentrated in the countries in Europe. Nations such as Great Britain, France, Germany, and Spain had the most influence in global affairs. But a shift in power was gradually taking place as the United States matured. The young nation gained wealth and strength. Its population grew immensely, and many people believed it would become a major world power (Bachrach, 11) Spain was one of the many European countries that had territory in the United States. Spain controlled mostly some islands off the coast of Central America. The most important of these were Cuba and Puerto Rico. The United States was led to believe that the Spanish mosgoverned and abused the people of these islands. In fact, Spain did overtax and mistreat the Cubans, who rebelled in 1868 and again in 1895. Thus, the American people felt sympathetic toward the Cuban independence movement. In addition, Spain had frequently interfered with trade between its colonies and the United States. Even though the United States had been a trading partner with Cuba since the seventeenth century, Spain sometimes tried to completely stop their trade with Cuba. In Spain doing so, this sometimes caused damage to U.S. commercial interests. The United States highly disagreed with Spain’s right to interfere with this trade relationship. (Bachrach, 12) The United States was also concerned that other trading and commercial interests were threatened by the number of ships and soldiers Spain kept in the area. If the United States had to fight a war with Canada or Mexico, these Spanish forces could quickly mobilize against the United States.

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U.S. officials especially wanted Spanish troops out of Cuba because it lies only ninety miles of the coast of Florida. Over the years, then, the United States built up a great deal of resentment toward Spain, although it was unable to oppose such a powerful nation. At the same time, Spain’s power was gradually weakening. Its economy had declined, and its military ships and weaponary were antiquated and in disrepair. Rapid political change toward the end of the noneteenth century further weakening Spain’s power. Because political parties were attempting to overthrow its monarchy, the Spanish government was forced to devote many of its soldiers to defending the monarchy. As a result, there were fewer resources available for defending its distant colonies around the world. The stage was set for the United States to take stand against Spain. The United States didn’t want to get involved in the Spanish-American War, but was dragged into it due to yellow journalism, they wanted to control the seas, and wanted complete control over Cuba (Bachrach, 13). The American press played a major role in leading the United States into a war against Spain in 1898. The press aroused a nationalist sentiment to such a fever pitch that President McKinley came to believe that if he did not fight the Spanish, he and his political party would suffer. This uproar was stimulated by two giants of the American press world. During the entire course of the Cuban rebellion, from 1895 to 1898, two rival newspapers foight their own war in the United States to gain supremacy in the American newspaper market. Both were published in New York City, and both had enormous national circulation and influence. These newspapers used the events in Cuba as a backdrop of their own journalistic rivalry. By reporting events in Cuba in a biased, inaccurate, and inflammatory way, these newspapers led the American public to demand that the quarrel with Spain be settled through war (Bachrach 30). The moment was ripe for a military spirit to seize the American people. It had been more than thirty years, a full generation since the Civil War, which ended in 1865. As historian Gregory Mason points out, people had forgotten the horrors of that bloody conflict, and many yound men were eager to fight a war against Spain. There was yet another reason why the journalists of the period were so influential. In the days before the radio and television, newspaper were the major source of news. Publishers exercises a tremendous amount of political influence. But newspapers did not attempt to adhere to a policy of objective presentation of facts. In the 1890’s, it was common for a newspaper to report the editor’s interpretation of the news. If the information was inaccurate or even false, it was rarely challenged by the public, who had little or no means to verify it (Bachrach, 30). Before the Spanish-American War, the press began to print any story it could find about the events in Cuba. Whether or not the news was verified, it was presented as though it were completely true. Step by step, the press heightened the American sense of outrage at reputed Spanish brutality toward the Cuban rebels. The two men who were primarily involved in thepress were William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer. These men, especially Hearst, Became associated with the new, colorful but irresponsible approach to journalism known as yellow journalism. Willian Randolph Hearst was born into a wealthy Californian Family. He went to New York City and bought the New York Journal in 1896. When Hearst purchased it, the Journal operated as newspapers do today. It reported stories only after their accuracy had been checked and prided itself on a fair, objective approach to news. It also was a failing financially. Hearst wanted to revive the Journal’s circulation and make his newspaper the most powerful in the American politics. Another man, however, stood in the way of his goal. This man was Joseph Pulitzer, the owner of the New York World. The World was easily the dominant newspaper in the United States when Hearst arrived in New York City. It had the largest circulation of any newspaper in the country. It cost two cents a copy, and more than half a million copies a day were sold. This was an enormously large readership for the 1890’s. The World was so tremenously successful because of Pulitzer’s journalistic methoda. Pulitzer ordered his reporters to stretch and distort the news. His paper reported on the most sordid murders and elaborated upon details if they were paticularly bloody and horrible. These stories kept circulation up. By using these tactics, Pulitzer proved that the public had an incredible and continuous interest in such matters. Hearst decided to outdo Pulitzer. He was convinced he could make the Journal more popular than the World, and he used his family’s fortune to do it (Bachrach, 35). All of Hearst’s information in 1896 was obtained from Cuban exiles living on the Lower East side of New York City. These men had no firsthand information about Cuban events. Nevertheless, they became “reporters” for the Journal. Based on their “accounts,” the Journal told the world that the Spanish had “roasted twenty-five Catholic priests alive” and had “resumed inhuman practice of beating Cuban prisoners to death.” Hearst saw that his sensationalism attracted readership because the circulation of the Journal began to increase. So he decided to control all news relating to the events in Cuba personally. Each story written by a reporter was edited by Hearst. Since Hearst wanted the United States to go to war with Spain, he always edited the stories to place the Spanish in the worst possible light. The Spanish government soon refused all reporters permission to leave Havana to witness events firsthand. So the reporters made up stories, artists depicted them, and Hearst edited and published them in his newspaper. It was Hearst who dubbed the Spanish general in Cuba “butcher Weyler” for the atrocities he was reported to have committed against Cuban rebels. The Journal called Weyler a “human hyena” and a “mad dog.” Its description of the general was extreme: Weyler, the brute, the devastator of haciendas, the destroyer of families and the outrager of women....pitiless






Bibliography

Barnes, Mark R. Puerto Rican Land Campaign, Part 1. Online. Available: http//www.spanam.simplenet.com/puertoland1.htm. 11/29/99. Barnes, Mark R. Puerto Rican Land Campaign, Part 2. Online. Available: http//www.spanam.simplenet.com/puertoland2.htm. 11/29/99. Barnes, Mark R. Puerto Rican Land Campaign, Part 4. Online. Available: http//www.spanam.simplenet.com/puertoland4.htm. 11/29/99. Conway, Christopher. Imperialism. Online. Available: http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Ithaca/9852/usimp.htm. 11/29/99. Couttie, Robert. Philippines. Online. Available: http://www.spanam.simplenet.com/Philippines.htm. 11/29/99. McSherry, Patrick. Casualties. Online. Available: http//www.spanam.simplenet.com/casualties.htm. 11/29/99.


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