Spain and the United States once went to war. The primary cause of the war was colonialism, with Spain being a declining colonial nation and the United States being an up and coming power. During the war the United States seized the Philippines from Spain and began administering it as a colonial possession of their own. The Filipinos themselves had a mixed view of America, which was at times both their liberator and their conquerer (Northrup, 2011). During the American occupation the US Army took part in the fight against Emilio Aguinaldo and his forces, ultimately driving the Spanish Empire from the country completely (Dyal et al., 1996). After this was accomplished the United State did not withdraw its military from the islands that made up the country. It quickly became apparent that America intended to stay and take on the role of colonial overlord. For the Filipino people the new boss was much the same as the old boss.
While it did not spark anti-war movements like the Vietnam War most of a century later it was controversial at the time. The pro-war part of the population was caught up in in a sort of semi-religious fervor, summed up by Albert Beveridge as fulfilling America’s divine mandate to bring freedom and democracy to the entire world (Northrup, 2011). He and others like him supported the war as in keeping with God’s plan for America. He remarked that God had bestowed talents over America, and as a believer in Manifest Destiny he regarded the American continent itself as a gift from God intended for the American people.
This led to a debate over whether America’s glory should be confined to the continental United States or spread abroad. The global expansion of American influence justified as being part of a divine mandate, not the pursuit of riches and power (Dyal et al., 1996). The worldwide expansion of the American economy was seen as part and parcel with the spread of American political institutions. God wanted expansion, Beveridge believe, and if Germany was able to govern foreign lands then America had a duty to set example by doing so itself. This went along with a recognition that Europe’s wealth and industrialization was in large part due to the sources gained from their own colonial ventures (Northrup, 2011).
The supposed divine sanction of the project not withstanding, the American occupation of the Philippines was as brutal and inhumane as any colonial enterprise. American propaganda downplayed this, portraying America’s presence in the Philippines as uplifting the natives and giving them a chance at a better life (Northrup, 2011). No less of a figure than Mark Twain mocked this idea. Twain bitterly condemned the war as an expression of human greed and evil. At one point he said that the flag of the United States should be updated in recognition of the conquest of the Philippines, replacing the Stars and Bars with a flag of black and white stripes next to a skull and crossbones. In another example he used his immense literary talent to rewrite The Battle Hymn of the Republic into a bitter satire mocking the entire venture. Twain savagely derided the war and its supporters as a betrayal of the ideals and principles the country had always claimed to embody (Dyal et al., 1996). The nation supposedly born in liberty was fighting a war of conquest.
The American government presented its conquest of the Philippines as an act of heroism. It was seen as part of America’s special purpose, an extension of the Manifest Destiny doctrine that called for American ideals to be spread the world over (Northrup 36). Thus the war and following occupation was seen as being mandated by God and a sign of America’s strength and divine favor (Dyal et al., 1996). The argument over whether America was in the right continued well after they were victorious on the battlefield. Americans, then as now, saw themselves as the good guys. That meant that unlike the evil Spanish Empire they cared about rights and human dignity. This did not jibe with a brutal and ongoing campaign against local guerillas. This had serious implications for America’s self-image (Dyal et al., 1996). The historical context contributed to this, because before and during the Spanish-American War American propaganda had played up the abuses of Spanish Empire and cast America as the hero that would bring liberty to Spain’s unwilling subjects (Northrup 69). All of this colored views of America’s victory in the war (Dyal et al., 1996). America had committed genocide and large-scale conquest in the past, but this was a war fought on what was indisputedly foreign soil to force American rule on people who showed very clearly that they did not want it.
Dyal, D., Carpenter, B., & Thomas, M. (1996). Historical Dictionary of the Spanish American War (1st ed.). Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press.
Northrup, C. (2011). The American economy (1st ed.). Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO.
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