Little Known Works of Famous Authors

Student Name: John R. Taylor

     Subject: HIS. 252  18:00

     Author: William E. Leuchtenburg,

     Title: The Needless War With Spain

      In his 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.

      According 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.

     Mr. 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 century.

     Even though 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.

     In early 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.

     With the 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.

     A week 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.

      They say 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.

     As American 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? 

     All the 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? 

     The only 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. 

     The Spanish-American war, as wars go, was not a bad war.  As wars go that is.

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