By the late 1800s, the Spanish empire was rapidly waning and primarily consisted of Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Guam.
But Spain’s hold over Cuba was becoming tenuous. The Cuban people were growing increasingly unhappy with Spanish rule, and the Ten Year’s War of 1868-1897 did not alleviate their grievances. Although the war was over, minor rebellions continued.
Americans had their eyes on Cuba at this time for two reasons: A few wealthy investors had about $50 million invested in the Cuban sugar and tobacco crops and the iron industry, and the American citizens identified with a people seeking independence from imperialism.
A Cuban exile group based in New York was propagandizing about the cruel and inhumane treatment Spanish rulers were imposing on the Cuban people. The mainstream media, led by William Randolph-Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer, were exaggerating and fabricating stories of Spanish barbarism. When sent to cover the situation for Hearst’s newspapers, artist and correspondent Frederick Remington wrote back, “There is no war. Request to be recalled.” Hearst replied, “Please remain. You furnish the pictures, I’ll furnish the war.”
With American sentiment ramped up in favor of the Cuban people and against Spain and with wealthy interests growing increasingly concerned about the safety of their investments, President William McKinley sent the USS Maine to Cuba to protect Americans and their investments. On Feb. 15, 1898, three weeks after it arrived and while docked at harbor, the U.S.S. Maine exploded and 260 American sailors died.
Hearst’s newspapers immediately placed the blame for the explosion on a Spanish mine. In the ensuing days, Hearst’s newspapers ramped up the war fever in the American people. On April 22, 1898, McKinley ordered a blockade of Cuba’s northern coast and the port of Santiago. The next day, a joint resolution of Congress declared Cuba an independent nation and demanded a withdrawal of Spanish forces. On April 24, Spain declared war on the United States. The U.S. Congress, determined to be the first to declare war, declared war on April 25, but made it retroactive to April 22.
The war was over in less than four months and resulted in a free Cuba and the annexation by the United States of Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Guam, and a “temporary” tax on long distance telephone calls that lasted until 2005 and reaped almost $94 billion, about 230 times the cost of the war. It also began America’s march toward imperialism we see coming to fruition today.
An official U.S. Navy Court of Inquiry determined the ship was blown up by a mine. But more likely the explosion was the result of an accidental spark in a dusty coal bin or an act of sabotage carried out to draw America into the war.
Regardless, there is little doubt the yellow journalists of the day exploited the incident, and it is one of the first false flag events used to direct U.S. foreign policy.
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