John R. Taylor
HIS. 252 18:00
William E. Leuchtenburg,
Needless War With Spain
essay Mr. Leuchtenburg portrays Americans of the late 19th century as
expainsionistic, jingoist who were just chomping at the bit for a fight. That
though president McKinley was opposed to war, and in the end Spain seemed to be
very much willing to submit to all of the American demands in order to avoid
intervention by the U.S., war was declared nevertheless. Leuchtenburg gives
newspaperman such as William Randolph Hearst of the New York Morning Journal,
and Joseph Pulitzer of the New York World a not too small part in stirring up
the pro-war sentiment by over-dramatized, and sometimes totally fabricated
reports from Cuba. But it's the American people themselves he blames for the
war-lust that was prevalent in the 1890's.
to the essay, the United States entered a war that they had no vital interest
in, and with no idea of the results of victory, much less defeat. That as a
consequence, we acquired an overseas empire that we did not know what to do with
or how to govern. In the end the U.S. did many of the things that they had
condemned other nations,(most notably Spain), for doing.
Leuchtenburg supports his assumption by sighting such cases as the dispute with
Great Britain over the Venezuelan boundary, and the quotation of Senator Shelby
M. Cullom who in 1895 said, "It is time that some one woke and realized the
necessity of annexing some property. We want all this northern hemisphere, and
when we begin to reach out to secure these advantages we will begin to have a
nation and our lawmakers will rise above the grade of politicians and become
true statesman." The author states that the United States had no vital
interest or that there was no American national interest of major
importance involved in the Cuban rebellion or the other international
confrontations in which the U. S. was party to in the last decade of the 19th
Leuchtenburg tells of some of the severe, harsh, and sometimes horrible measures
used by Spaniards such as General Weyler in crushing the insurrection, he
maintains that the American press and public opinion saw the events in Cuba as
much more one-sided than they really were. He believes it was political
partisanism more than a commitment to Cuban independence that moved McKinley
from his pacifistic policy. That if Bryan could build a coalition of Free
Silver Democrats and War Hawks, it would make for a unpleasant campaign in 1900.
1898 McKinley sent the battleship Maine to Havana. The official
explanation was that it was a courtesy visit demonstrating that so nonsensical
were the rumors of danger to American citizens that our ships could again resume
their visits to the island. At lest part of the real reason was to protect
Americans in the event of anti-American riots. A riot in Havana on January 12,
1898 gave rise to such fears.
Maine at anchor in Havana Harbor, a private letter from the Spanish minister at
Washington was released to the public. In the letter the Spanish minister
attacked McKinley and worst yet suggested that the negotiations then going on
over a commercial treaty were not being conducted in good faith.
later all hope of peace was lost, as the Maine sank to the bottom of Havana
Harbor. The cause of the explosion which sank the Maine is to this day unknown,
but Leuchtenburg is as convinced today that it was an internal explosion, as
Americans were convinced then that it was a Spanish mine.
hindsight is 20-20; but is it? Mr. Leuchtenburg titled his essay "The Needless
War with Spain". I wonder if the author feels any war is needful. To
say war, any war is bad is an understatement. To quote General Sherman himself
" war is hell", is perhaps an understatement. When men are asked to kill other
men, and asked to maybe die themselves, it is hard to think of a vital
interest that is worth such a high price. Today we hear much talk of this
vital interest. Some say this thing is a vital interest to our nation, while
other just as prominent people say the thing is not a vital interest.
citizens we are no better or worse than any other group of humanity. We, like
they, have our good and our bad. From Albanians to Zulus, we are much more the
same than different. Having said this, I say there is nevertheless a
difference. That difference is not the people, nor even the governments of the
peoples, but of the ideas and principles that this nation was founded on. Were
the founders of this nation then superior men? No, they were just men to, with
the vices and hypocrices of men. But those ideas were superior; the inalienable
rights of men, equality under the law, government by the governed. These high
ideas must be implemented by less-than perfect men so much of their nobility
sometimes wears off, but the ideas are none the less pure. Still, do we have a
right to impose these ideas on other cultures, even if they don't wish to have
our high and noble principles? And who is to be the judge of what the people
want? Should the internal affairs of a nation or people be left to them, no
matter how the rights of the citizens are being abused?
great minds are in agreement, that democracy and capitalism are the worst
possible systems, except for all the others. When is it right to give
these systems to others, with or without their wanting it? Is it right to allow
self-determination to rob liberty and justice?
vital interest that should cause men to go to war should be that which
threatened to take away or not allow the liberties and inalienable rights of
man. Was the Spanish-American war needless? No, it was not needless. But the
question should not be was the war needless but rather was it worth it. I don't
know. Nor does anyone, with any degree of certainty. How much is a life
worth? There are things more valuable than life itself. However, to say this
is worth the lives that were lost and that is not, is a hard thing for a mortal
man to say.
Spanish-American war, as wars go, was not a bad war. As wars go that is.