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For many years the island of Cuba had been under strict Spanish control. The colony had lots of valuable land, a good population, and a growing sugar industry. However, as time went on, their desire to separate from Spain and become their own country became hugely evident. Cuban life under Spanish regime was corrupt, even the very basic of rights that citizens deserved were not being taken into consideration. Rebellious activities began popping up on the island, announcing to other nations and to Spain that Cubans meant business.
Although only four years earlier the U.S. enacted the Wilson-Gorman Tariff on Cuban sugar in order to crush their economy and make it easier for Spain to keep control, in the spring of 1898, the U.S. began fighting for Cuban freedom in the Spanish American War. Many events and reasons are argued to be the cause of U.S. involvement in the war for the island’s freedom; nevertheless, the biggest reasons were that the American government wanted to help, expand, and civilize the colony, announcing to the rest of the world that they were a great power. A major reason the U.S. invaded Cuba to fight for their freedoms, was that the citizens living there were in desperate need of protection from the Spanish military. Because of Cuban-staged rebellions using guerilla warfare, in 1896, the Spanish sent in General Weyler, also known as “The Butcher,” to halt the attacks. Many Cubans were sent to “reconcentration” camps that Spanish troops claimed allowed them to easier protect the citizens.
The ugly truth however was revealed in letters from the U.S. Consul General in Cuba, Fitzhugh Lee. Conditions at these camps were devastating, there was an immense lack of cleanliness, light, food, water, and even clean air for the prisoners (“Reconcentration”). 77 percent of the men, women, and children held in the camps died (“Reconcentration”). When the American public heard of these atrocities, they were outraged and screamed for the government to take action against Spain. Lee also sent letters to President Cleveland advising him to send ships to Cuba, incase American settlers there needed protection for themselves and their property (“Prepared”). For he feared even the American settlers there might be harmed by Spanish enforcers. The, “bloodshed, starvation, and horrible miseries now existing there…” needed to be put to a stop (“President William”).
Cuba was not small, and had valuable land and resources the U.S. could use if they helped ensure freedom and become a protectorate of the colony, another huge reason to help the Cubans fighting. Almost 15,000,000 acres of unexplored forests covered the Island where seemingly “exhaustless” iron mines lay, just waiting for use (“March of”). New employment possibilities were endless with better wages for citizens that ever before, something the U.S. economy needed greatly (“March of”). Land that American settlers already owned there, was also in need of protecting (“Prepared”). If the U.S. did not protect the citizens living in the island, the all important sugar commerce, trade, and business with America would cease (“President William”). Americans felt very strongly at this point that war with Spain for Cuban freedom must be waged. Another, and controversially the biggest reason the U.S. invaded Cuba and fought with the Spanish for its freedom was that they wanted to show the rest of the world that they were superior, that it was their duty as a superpower to civilize the more, “undeserving” nations. Senator of Indiana at the time, Albert J. Beveridge said, “… this nobleland God has given us [Americans]; a land that can feed and clothe the world…” (“March of”). He claims Americans are “God’s chosen people” and should therefore be an example to others that they are the voice of liberty; that because of them, Cubans will finally know liberty and civilization (“March of”). President McKinley said that the United States owed it to the Cuban people, fighting for the same liberties Americans had fought for so many times before, to ensure that they were given their freedom (“President William”).
The U.S. government wanted to prove to the world that they were “top dog” and could fight for whatever they wanted and easily win. War was a very manly thing to do at the time and citizens in North America were aching to attack the Spanish and show off their power. Many argue that the main reason for U.S. involvement in protecting Cuba during the Spanish American War, was the destruction of the USS Maine. Newspaper writers called Yellow Journalists, wrote sensationalized news stories with eye-catching headlines about topics such as the explosion that blew up the naval ship. These articles were not well researched and their only real purposes were to entertain and gain readers. Because the journalists promoted the idea that the Spanish caused the explosion, American citizens were of course outraged. However, even before the ship was destroyed, the U.S. government was thinking about and planning to send ships to Cuba (“Prepared”). Citizens were already furious with the unjust way Cubans were being treated in their own land (“Reconcentration”). Whether or not the the explosion of the Maine was the fault of the Spanish, the war for expansion and civilization was already on its way. All the hype about the destruction of the ship was just a tactic used by the journalists and government officials to back up their endless list or reasons to attack the Spanish.
The publicity of the USS Maine added to the anger in the hearts of American citizens, but was not the initial or the main spark that started the hatred. The reason the United States invaded Cuba in 1898 was due to their want for expansion and civilization of the colony. The U.S. wanted to prove to the rest of the world that they were a national superpower and were capable of helping the Cuban citizens gain freedom from Spain. This “splendid little war” Americans called it after, was waged for the trade, business, and most of all, pride.
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