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Spanish-American War and the Philippines

A war for independence from Spanish rule had begun in Cuba in 1895, a guerrilla war. Spain's General Weyler tried to separate Cuba's rural population and its guerrillas. Hundreds of thousands of Cubans were herded into camps, which became disease-ridden centers of malnourishment. In the US press, Weyler was called a "Butcher." Some in the US were alarmed too because sugar cane fields were being burned and a lot of these fields were owned by US citizens. People in the United States who owned property there or were involved in trade with Cuba tended to support the rebels.

In late 1897, Spain removed General Weyler from Cuba and granted Cuba self-rule in domestic matters. Cubans wanted to continue fighting for full independence. In January 1898, the United States sent to Havana a battleship, the USS Maine, with the idea that it would have a calming influence. And through diplomatic channels the US sent to Spain words of friendship. Spain sent a naval ship to New York in exchange. But in February the USS Maine blew up, killing 266 US sailors. Spain proposed a joint investigation, which might have had a calming influence. But the US refused, held its own inquiry and falsely concluded that the Maine was destroyed by a mine placed under the ship. Today it is believed to have been an internal explosion.

In the United States, "Remember the Maine" became a slogan. President McKinley detested war, and he had hoped that political pressure and negotiations would resolve the conflict in Cuba, but he gave into the public's passion. He requested authorization from the US Congress to intervene in Cuba. Congress granted his request, by a vote of 311 to 6 in the House and 42 to 35 in the Senate. An ultimatum was sent to Spain either to leave Cuba or face war. On 1 April 1898, Spain sent its refusal, and the Spanish-American War began.

The US Navy went on the offensive, and on May 1 it destroyed Spanish ships at Spain's old colony in the Philippines, at Manila Bay — without any US casualties. In June, US Marines landed at Guantanamo Bay. On July 1 the Battle of San Juan Hill was fought, killing 1,200 US citizens and 593 Spanish. In July, through the French Ambassador in Washington, Spain requested a cessation of hostilities and negotiations. On August 11, the US defeated Spain's forces on the island of Puerto Rico, and on that day the US agreed to end the fighting. A formal peace treaty was signed in Paris in December. From Spain the US acquired the Philippine Islands, Guam and Puerto Rico, and it recognized Cuba as independent. In January 1899, the US extended its acquisitions by claiming the uninhabited island of Wake, in the middle of the Pacific, so it could have a cable link to the Philippines.

The Filipinos did not assume that their nation was Spain's to give. They created a new constitution, but the United States refused to recognize the new republic, led by Emilio Aguinaldo. These were times of colonialist expansion in the Pacific. (The US had established a base for the US Navy at Pago Pago in 1878 in Samoa, where they had been in competition with Germany.) And in the US were strategists who believed that if the US didn't rule in the Philippines other powers, such as Germany and Japan, would rush in and take possession. An alternative might have been to establish an alliance with the Philippines that included defending it against an invasion by other powers, but this was not to be. There were those who favored annexing the Philippines for greater access to trade. And some missionaries favored annexation, although Filipinos were already largely Catholic.

On 4 February 1899, near Manila, fighting erupted when two US Army privates fired upon and killed three Filipino soldiers. On February 6, the US Senate ratified the treaty with Spain, and on that day President McKinley signed the bill that made the Philippines a US possession. In the coming months in the Philippines, US troops pushed northward into the central Luzon plain. The force under Aguinaldo retreated into the northern mountains, where they began guerrilla warfare, which spread to various other islands in the Philippine Archipelago. The US was now in another war that some of its citizens, Mark Twain among them, opposed. There were those in the US who disliked the dissent, and they called for the support of our troops in the Philippines, and they were joined by an American general in the Philippines who complained about the loyalty of some at home.


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