Spanish-American War Research Paper

By the second half of the 19th century the United States declared its sovereignty and became the independent state. The United States were constituted on a strong ideological basis. The prevailing national idea was the aspiration to freedom and the new democratic values.

The people of the United States realized their mission to spread the ideals of freedom beyond the boundaries.

In 1840’s the leaders and politicians introduced the new term, Manifest Destiny (Manifest Destiny). This term explained and approved the expansion of the American ideals of freedom to the West. The country developed rapidly and there was real need to expand its territory. There were some reasons for such expansion. First of all the land was the indication of wealth for the colonists. There was a high growth of population in the country. The country passed two depressions, in 1818 and 1839. The frontier lands were cheap or even free.

The 19th century was the century of reshaping the political map of the world. Spain which used to the superpower was loosing its world domination. By the second half of the 19th century Spain had its possessions only in the Pacific, Africa, and the West Indies. Much of the empire had gained its independence and the areas remaining under the Spanish influence were about to demand their independence. Now and then there were revolts in Cuba and the Philippines and the Spanish government had neither financial resources nor appropriate manpower to coup with the numerous revolts against the Spanish rule. The Spanish government found the best solution to build the concentration camps in Cuba for rebels. Faced with defeat, and a lack of money and resources to continue fighting Spanish occupation, Cuban revolutionary and future president Tomás Estrada Palma secured $150 million dollars from a U.S. banker to purchase Cuba’s independence, but Spain refused. He then deftly negotiated and propagandized his cause in the U.S. Congress, eventually securing the bill for U.S. intervention (Wikipedia).

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On February 15, 1898, the American battleship USS Maine in Havana harbor suffered an explosion and quickly sank with a loss of 266 men. There was no any distinct proved evidence as for the cause of explosion, but the American press declared it was the act of sabotage of the Spaniards. There were suspicions that there was really an act of sabotage but committed by the Cuban revolutionists to involve the United States into the war with the Spaniards in order to liberate Cuba. So, the formal reason for the war between the United States and Spain was doubtful and unclear.

The economic background of the US – Spanish war was expressed by Senator John M. Thurston of Nebraska: “War with Spain would increase the business and earnings of every American railroad, it would increase the output of every American factory, it would stimulate every branch of industry and domestic commerce.”(Wikipedia).

U.S. President William McKinley was not a supporter of the war with Spain, but the explosion of Maine and public opinion created by the press forced him to agree with the decision of starting the war. On April 25, Congress declared that a state of war between the United States and Spain had existed since April 21st (Congress later passed a resolution backdating the declaration of war to April 20th).

Thus, the formal reason of the war was suspicions of the Spanish sabotage of the US military vessel. The real reason of the war had an economic background. The official aim of the United States was to liberate Cuba from the Spanish domination. These 3 factors constituted the background of the Spanish war.

The US – Spanish war was full of controversies. Though the formal cause of the war was the liberation of Cuba from the Spanish rule, the real reason was the expansionism policy of the United States in the Caribbean. The history of the US – Puerto – Rican relations during the war and after it is the vivid example of the controversial position of the United States in the US – Spanish war. Located at the north east of the Caribbean Sea, Puerto Rico was a key to the Spanish Empire since the early years of conquest and colonization of the New World (Marisabel Brás).

Of all Spanish colonial possessions in the Americas, Puerto Rico is the only territory that never gained its independence. Internal and geopolitical dynamics during the last quarter of the nineteenth century, nevertheless, brought dramatic political, social, and economic changes to the island, setting the stage for the development of its national institutions and the transformation of its political system as a United States territory during the twentieth century.

During the early 1860s, local Spanish authorities, alarmed by conspiracies from separatist groups, applied severe measures against all acts of dissidence on the island. Freedom of the press was non-existent, and group discussions were monitored by the government. The island was ruled by “leyes especiales”; extraordinary decrees dictated by the Captain Generals, or governors, appointed by Spain.

The establishment of liberal government in Spain between 1869 and 1873 led to granting certain rights to Puerto Ricans. Puerto Rico even got its representation to the Spanish Cortes and self governance from Spain. This period of the short-lived self-government experiment came to an abrupt end one month later with the advent of the Spanish-American War.

“Liberating” Caribbean from the Spanish rule the United States realized the significance of its domination over Puerto – Rico. The island’s value to US policy makers was as an outlet for excess manufactured goods, as well as a key naval station in the Caribbean.

The Treaty of Paris gave the United States full control over all former Spanish military installations as well as some 120,000 acres of land formerly owned by the Spanish Crown on the island. The main military posts were located in the capital city of San Juan along with military bases in the towns of Cayey, Aibonito, Ponce, Mayagüez, Aguadilla and the adjacent island of Vieques. Puerto Rico remained under direct control of US military forces until the US Congress ratified the Foraker Law on April 12th, 1900, bringing a civilian government to the island (Marisabel Brás).

The US occupation of Costa Rica followed by the long term its annexation is one of the main controversies of the US – Spain war, a controversy between the formal cause, liberating Cuba and the real dominative objective in the Caribbean.

At 2.34 am GMT and 5.34 am Baghdad Time on 20th March 2003 (9.34 pm EST on 19th March 2003), the armed forces of the United States of America (“the USA”) and of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland (“the UK”) commenced warlike operations against the Republic of Iraq (“Iraq”) with air and missile strikes against “targets of opportunity” in Baghdad. Those strikes were eventually followed up by a ground invasion of Iraq, the overthrow of the Iraqi government and the occupation of Iraq (Legality of the Iraq war).

The war in Iraq was a part of anti-terrorist operation commenced by the United States after the cruelest terror act ever committed in the history of mankind which got its name “9/11”. The terrorism became the plague of the present.

Though the advocates of the theory of state by Hobbes consider the war to be the natural state of a man, i.e. a state of war is typical for a human being, a war should at least be accompanied by a certain procedures to make it legal if “legality of war” is applicable in general terms.

First of all if we compare both war conflicts in the history of the United States we understand one similar feature. There are economic reasons in the essence of both conflicts. In the case of the Spanish war it was cited by the words of Senator John M. Thurston of Nebraska above.

In order to understand the reasons and backgrounds of both wars it is necessary to realize the global political situation preceding both wars.

The second half of the 20th century was marked by the Cold War, a strong confrontation of two superpowers, USSR and the United States. That confrontation sometimes approached the military conflict in its development. The thesis “what is bad for my opponent is good for me” was used throughout this confrontation by both opposing sides.

The post-World War II history of relations of the United States and the USSR was the history of the superpowers confrontation. Several times world was under the threat of the global nuclear catastrophe. When the USSR started its aggression in Afghanistan the United States supported the Anti – Soviet regime in Afghanistan. After the collapse of the USSR the usual permanent threat for the United States from the “Empire of Evil” disappeared but there were a number of groups and regimes provided with the modern arms and technologies by the superpowers. These regimes and groups created their activity on the basis of terrorism, neglecting the norms of the international laws and headed by the irresponsible arms race.

Afghan, Iraq and other regimes were among them. The 9/11 became a milestone in the history of global security. It created the distinct borderline between two epochs, an era of military support of “enemies of my opponent” and the era of realizing that the terrorism regime does care who his enemy is, the most important is the presence of such enemy or if he is absent he should be nominated. The international community got the new global threat but it was not ready to coup with it from the military, political and legal points of view.

The formal reasons of both wars where unclear and unjustified. There was neither proved evidences of attack of Maine by the Spaniards no possession of the mass destruction weapon by Saddam Hussein.

Spanish war spread beyond Cuba involving a number of countries into it. One of them was Puerto Rico. During May 1898, Lt. Henry H. Whitney of the United States Fourth Artillery was sent to Puerto Rico on a reconnaissance mission, sponsored by the Army’s Bureau of Military Intelligence. He provided maps and information on the Spanish military forces to the U.S. government prior to the invasion. On May 10, 1898, U.S. Navy ships were sighted off the coast of Puerto Rico. Spanish gunners stationed at Fort San Cristóbal fired the first shot (a 15-cm breech loaded Ordóñez rifle round), missing the USS Yale, an auxiliary ship under the command of Capt. William Clinton Wise. Two days later on May 12, a squadron of 12 U.S. ships commanded by Rear Adm. William T. Sampson bombarded San Juan, Puerto Rico. During the bombardment, many buildings were shelled, terrifying the population of San Juan. On June 25, the Yosemite blocked San Juan harbor.

On July 18, General Nelson A. Miles, commander of the invading forces, received orders to sail for Puerto Rico to land his troops. On July 21, a convoy of 3,300 soldiers and nine transports escorted by the USS Massachusetts sailed for Puerto Rico from Guantánamo, Cuba. On July 25, U.S. troops landed at Guanica, Puerto Rico and took over the island with little resistance (Wikipedia).

The result of the Spanish war was the United States gained all former colonies of Spain in the Caribbean and Cuba was granted formal independence but this independence was formal and there were a lot of restrictions imposed by the United States. The results of the Spanish war proved the economic basis of the war.

The Spanish – American war opened the expansionism policy of the United States. It created very dangerous precedent the consequences of which present nowadays. It showed that the territorial expansion may be done by the war means, the economic goals could be gained by the military conflicts.

“Congress had passed a resolution in favor of Cuban independence before the war started. When the war ended, Congress debated reneging on this promise, but eventually agreed to Cuban independence. However, the Senate passed the Platt Amendment as a rider to an Army appropriations bill, forcing a peace treaty on Cuba which severely curtailed its freedom of action in foreign affairs and allowed the United States considerable freedom to intervene in Cuban affairs. It also provided for the establishment of a permanent American naval base in Cuba, which would lead to the establishment of the base still in use today at Guantanamo Bay. The Cuban peace treaty of 1903 would govern Cuban-American relations until 1934.” (Wikipedia)

The United States annexed the former Philippines, Puerto Rico and Guam. Thus the United States became the imperial power with the foreign colonies. It contradicted to the very essence of the United States and its declarations on the independence and democracy. This caused strong opposition inside the country on one hand but it also gained the support of a part of a population heated by the slogans on the pride and the self esteem of a nation.

One more very important effect of the American – Spanish war was that it united the nation, the South and the North of the United States. The common enemy made both parties, which had been involved into the Civil War, forget their antagonisms.

The annexation of Puerto Rico has been going on up to now. The liberation of Cuba being the major reason of the Spanish war led to the annexation of Puerto Rico and this could not meet an approval of Puerto Rico people.

Ramon Emeterio Betances wrote “I do not want us to be a colony, neither a colony of Spain nor a colony of the United States.” (Wikipedia). On the other hand the Puerto Ricans being the residents of the United States Commonwealth voted to reject the complete independence, but still they are exempt from Federal income tax and other provisions of Federal regulation.

One of the lessons of the Spanish war for the United States was the United States at the end of the nineteenth century recognized that its military forces had faced serious organizational, logistical, and medical challenges in that conflict. The war clearly pointed to a need for military reform in the United States, and in its aftermath Congress enacted some critical reform legislation (Hendricks, Charles).

Similar lesson was obtained during the Iraq war or the anti-terrorist operation in Iraq. The events of 9/11 made all countries, and the United States in first turn realize a new global threat, a threat of terrorism. The United States of America happened to be unprepared to this new threat. The 9/11 attacks showed that the police methods of preventing the threat of terrorism were insufficient. The terrorists have necessary finance, contacts, and combatants to commit actions which according to their tragic consequence may be compared with those of the military war or operations.

The response to those cruel attacks against civilians should have been done by all means. The only question arises on the adequacy of these responses. On the other hand, after finishing the Cold War the problem of proliferation the weapon of mass destruction became of the high importance for the former opponents, the United States and the ex-USSR. Both parties are not interested in the mass destruction weapon proliferation. The main reason of such change is the change of political priorities and inability to control the regimes which would have an access to nuclear or any other mass destructive weapon. On the other hand the attacks 9/11 indicated that the threat does exist and there is no guarantee that the world is safe if terrorists would have the mass destruction weapon. On the other hand, terrorists are not associated with any country directly and the problems of national security which deterred the arms race and the use of weapon do not exist for the terrorists. The terrorists’ organizations may get the nuclear weapon and support from the existing regimes. That means that adequate measures should be taken against the regimes which support terrorists.

The next very important question is the legitimacy of such actions from the point of view of the international law. The next question which is no less important than the previous one is if terrorists associated with some particular country, i.e. with its rulers, how legal are the military actions against the entire country. All these questions are similar to those which were on the eve of the American – Spanish War. In the first case there was an attack on Maine, and then the military actions as a response and America annexed some territories, namely Costa Rica as a result.

The Iraq war may be considered as the repetition of the historic scenario occurred long ago which led to the war with Spain.

The Iraq war is the first war in the history of mankind objected to mass destruction weapon deterrence. The logic of this war is rather controversial. If we link Iraq to 9/11 attacks, as it was done by the Bush Administration, then there is no logic in the war at all. If Hussein had something common with Al-Qaeda and possessed the Weapon of mass destruction, the question is why he did not use his weapon or provide Al-Qaeda with his weapon to commit attacks on the United States. Hussein could not under evaluate the response of the United States no matter what kind of weapon was used. The mass destruction weapon and terrorist attack would cause the similar reaction of the United States.

Another question is no less important and maybe even more is the question of the Iraq war legality. The United States assumed the possibility of the preventive wars. If the preventive wars are considered to be legal then what is the legality of such wars. What criteria should define when the war is the only one possible action aimed to prevent the proliferation of the mass destruction weapon?

Three types of legislation are involved into the issue of Iraq war and these legislations at least have to answer the question on conformity of the war commencement to the laws. The United States made its best to involve its allies to Iraq war to make it some kind of lawful.

The Great Britain entered the war in alliance with the United States. According to the UK legislation, the UK constitutional settlement, a decision to declare war or to commit the armed forces of the Crown to warlike operations is a matter of the Royal will (“the Royal Prerogative”).

In the case of the Iraq, Parliament was asked to authorize the invasion of Iraq by resolution, and the Public Administration Committee of the House of Commons is now looking at ways to develop a new mechanism by which certain categories of Prerogative powers, such as that of going to war may, only be exercised with the consent of Parliament (Legality of the Iraq War).

Though the United States acquired the support and assistance of its allies, one of them, the Great Britain acted contradicting its national legislation while joining the United States in Iraq campaign, i.e. illegally.

The leaders of the two belligerent powers, the United States of America and the United Kingdom put forward rather different justifications for the invasion of Iraq before the invasion and, since the invasion, as pretexts advanced at the time have proved unjustified, they have shifted their ground.

The Bush pretexts for the invasion of Iraq were:

  • that Saddam Hussein’s regime had links to the Al Quai’da terrorists who were responsible for the 11th September 2001 twin towers atrocity in New York;
  • that the Saddam Hussein regime possessed Weapons of Mass Destruction which could fall into terrorist hands;

The Blair pretext was limited to the second Bush pretext. Blair acknowledged right from the start that there were no substantiated links between Saddam Hussein and Al Quai’da.

In fact Blair’s real reason for joining Bush’s war was his personal belief that the United Kingdom must always support the United States of America in any war (Legality of the Iraq War).

The position of the United Nations towards the war conflict in Iraq was expressed by Secretary General Koffi Anand. “The United Nations secretary general, Kofi Annan, declared explicitly for the first time last night that the US-led war on Iraq was illegal.

Mr Annan said that the invasion was not sanctioned by the UN Security Council or in accordance with the UN’s founding charter. In an interview with the BBC World Service broadcast last night, he was asked outright if the war was illegal. He replied: “Yes, if you wish.”

He then added unequivocally: “I have indicated it was not in conformity with the UN charter. From our point of view and from the charter point of view it was illegal.”( Legality of the Iraq War).

The results of the invasion to Iraq are known very well. The United States and its allies failed to find any evidence of the weapon of mass destruction.

At the same time it is worth noting that the United States is the only Western democracy which did not sign the international treaties banning antipersonnel landmines and prohibiting the use of incendiary weapons such as napalm and white phosphorus in areas, including cities, where civilians are at risk (The Guardian).

After the United States and its allies fail to find what they were supposed to, the new motto appeared; the motto “to liberate people of Iraq from Saddam”. Such reason can cause nothing but confusion. What is the legal basis of removal of the president of the independent country by means of force? It is unlikely that any existing legislation could find any legal provision for doing it.

On the other hand the world community needs to acquire some legal basis to coup with the global terrorism. The Iraq war showed both legal and political collisions. On one hand if assumed that Hussein was the initiator of 9/11 attacks then he needs to be prosecuted by some international tribunal but not by the court in Iraq, a country president of which he was. Hussein as any other political leader had his supporters and opponents in Iraq that is why he could not count on the fair court process from the very beginning.

The similarity of the Spanish war and that in Iraq though are not so clear, still could be found. The Spanish war was aimed to expand the American influence in Caribbean; the United States joined the “club” of colonial owners as a result of the war.

The Iraq War is the attempt to legalize the theory of the “preventive war”. This theory is very dangerous because the limit of “prevention” has not yet been defined. After the Spanish War America gained the control over the territories which originally had not been parts of the United States.

After the Iraq War, America and its allies gained the control over one of the major exporters of oil. There is a lot of confusion in America regarding the terms of “preventive war” and “preemptive war”. The preemptive war is the use of force against the threat of attack which is imminent. The classical example of the preemptive war was the 6 Day War of Israel against Syria, Jordan and Egypt in 1967. The results of that war were rather successful.

In the US – Iraq case there was no any direct threat or it is better to say “proved threat” to the national security of the United States. The preventive war is considered to be an attack against the emerging regimes which may bring real threat to national or global security if they develop their arms further.

The major reason of the Iraq war was the economical one. Iraq is very attractive for the United States because of its oil deposits.

The United States had to re-evaluate the significance of the preventive war after the Iraq occupation. The basic question which had to be answered but was not what benefits the war brought for the national security of the United States. The mass destruction weapon as it was stated above was not found. The links of Hussein to Al Qaeda were not proved.

The economic benefits of the Iraq are clear from the statement of the U.S. Energy Information Agency: Iraq contains 112 billion barrels of proven oil reserves, the second largest in the world (behind Saudi Arabia) along with roughly 220 billion barrels of probable and possible resources. Iraq’s true resource potential may be far greater than this, however, as the country is relatively unexplored due to years of war and sanctions. Deep oil-bearing formations located mainly in the vast Western Desert region, for instance, could yield large additional oil resources, but have not been explored. (U.S. Energy Information Agency)

The access to the huge oil deposits of Iraq is the main cause of the US intervention against Iraq. The war in Iraq is very similar to Spanish War. The backgrounds of both wars are purely economic ambitions of the United States.

Manifest Destiny, available at, retrieved 8.12.2005
Spanish-American War, Wikipedia, available at, retrieved 8.12.2005
Legality of the Iraq war, available at, retrieved 8.12.2005
Hendricks, Charles. The Impact of the ‘Disaster’ of 1898 on the Spanish Army, available at, retrieved 8.12.2005
Legality of the Iraq War, available at, retrieved 8.12.2005
The Guardian – 16th September 2004
Jonathan B. Tucker. “The wrong weapon in the wrong place,” Los Angeles Times, 01 December 2005. available at,0,1436429.story?coll=la-news-comment-opinions, retrieved 8.12.2005
U.S. Energy Information Agency, available at, retrieved 8.12.2005,
Marisabel Brás, THE CHANGING OF THE GUARD: PUERTO RICO IN 1898, available at, retrieved 8.12.2005

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