The Spanish-American War - dummies

By Steve Wiegand

When Cuba revolted against Spain in 1868, most Americans weren’t very interested. But in 1898, when the Caribbean island rebelled again, America took notice. The difference was that by 1898, the United States was Cuba’s best customer for its sugar and tobacco crops, and its biggest investor. So when the fighting destroyed American property in Cuba, the country’s interest was aroused.

Some Americans wanted to free Cuba from Spanish oppression. Some wanted to protect U.S. economic interests, and others saw it as a chance to pick off some of Spain’s colonies for America.

The anti-Spain flames were fanned by New York newspapers that tried to outdo each other in reporting about Spain’s “atrocities.”

“You furnish the pictures,” New York publisher William Randolph Hearst told an illustrator for his New York Journal, “and I’ll furnish the war.”

In January 1898, the U.S. battleship Maine was sent to Havana when it was reported that American lives were in danger. On February 15, the Maine mysteriously exploded, killing 260 U.S. sailors and officers. By April, America and Spain were at war.

It was, in the words of one American official, “a splendid little war.” In the Philippines, a U.S. fleet commanded by Commodore George Dewey blasted a Spanish fleet and U.S. soldiers easily took the islands. Cuba took a little longer to conquer, but the Spanish forces there also fell.

The four-month war cost 5,642 American lives, all but 379 to disease. And a grown-up America now had the makings of an empire on its hands.