An American President claims that an attack on U.S. property was the work of a foreign enemy. The nation's largest newspapers promote the deception. After months of drumbeating, the President leads the U.S. to war against that country even though it is an ocean away and poses no real threat to the United States. We're talking about President Bush and Iraq, right? In this case, the answer is no. The President is Republican William McKinley; the year was 1898, and the enemy was Spain, but just like with Iraq, America was going to war -- whether there was reason to or not.
In 1898, Spain and the United States were on opposite paths. Rapidly expanding industrialization caused America's military might to mushroom, while the halcyon years of the Spanish Empire had long since ended. Spain still held on to a few colonies, however, most notably in Cuba and the Philippines, and those parcels left American imperialists licking their lips, like a pack of wolves circling a herd of rabbits.
Coincidentally or not, the late 1890s also marked the height of a newspaper war between two journalism titans, Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst. To boost circulation, both beat the drums for war. One oft-told story had Hearst sending illustrator Frederic Remington to depict Spanish atrocities in Cuba, which Hearst was playing up in his newspapers. The newspaper baron allegedly told Remington, "You furnish the pictures. I'll furnish the war." McKinley's version of the weapons-of-mass-destruction threat began on February 15, 1898 at 9:40 pm, when the USS Maine suddenly exploded and sunk in Havana Harbor. Newspaper headlines screamed about Spain's dastardly act, and despite a lack of evidence that Spain had somehow decided to sow the seeds of its own destruction by destroying a United States ship, most Americans believed the charges. Congress soon got into the act with a resolution on April 19, demanding that Spain relinquish Cuba and authorizing the President to use force if Spain refused. Although Spain acceded to most of the American demands, it didn't go far enough for the President, and war was declared on April 25.
As you read The Nation's coverage, notice that many of the questions raised in the articles are still being discussed today. The Spanish-American War may have begun more than a hundred years ago, but in some ways it is still being fought.
In This Pack
The writer says that certain newspapers are "lying" the country into war while a second editorial says the "penny dreadfuls are producing so many scary headlines that readers have stopped being scared by them (March 3, 1898).
The chief trouble between the United States and Spain is not the Maine but rather a mutual misunderstanding, and if people think that the Cuban problem will end with the Spanish explusion they're wrong. Governing the island could be distastrous for the United States (March 3, 1898).
Prime minister Sagasta says Spain won't back down (March 3, 1898).
Should the United States annex Hawaii? (March 3, 1898)
The author says that three Senate resolutions usurp the power of the presidency and move the country closer to war with Spain (April 21, 1898).
Two editorials discuss the politics behind the warmaking efforts (April 21, 1898).
Can the President legally call out the militia to fight a foreign country that is not preparing to invade US soil? (April 21, 1898).
War or Peace
Congress has played its hand, and now its up to President McKinley to decide whether America should go to war (April 21, 1898).
The Education of War
The Nation examines the economic and sociological reasons behind war (April 21, 1898).
The British say that national hysteria is reponsible for pushing the United States into war (April 21, 1898).
The War and After
Now that war is at hand, The Nation speculates about its outcome (April 28, 1898).
The article discusses the long decline of the Spanish Empire (April 28, 1898).
The Nation briefly reports on Dewey's victory at Manila, and another editorial asks whether the sinking of the Maine has been avenged (May 5, 1898).
An article examines African-American attitudes toward the war (May 5, 1898).
The President gives thanks to God. The Nation says God had nothing to do with America's victories (July 14, 1898).
The Terms of Peace
As the war ends, The Nation discusses what will come next (August 18, 1898).
The Nation addresses the future of America's role in the Philippines (August 25, 1898).
Hawaiians did not appear happy about American annexation (August 28, 1898).
Returning soldiers criticize the conduct of the war, raising the question of who benefits from censorship (August 3, 1899).
Imperialists are now setting their sights on Santo Domingo (August 3, 1899).
Our President, Right or Wrong
The President is wrapping himself around the American flag to boost support (August 3, 1899).
Emerging news about the origins of the war are proving embarrassing to press and the US government (July 11, 1901).