Centennial of America's 'Splendid Little War' gets scant attention
MADRID, Spain (AP) -- The centennial of the Spanish-American War, the
conflict that showed the world the United States' potential as a global
power, is slipping by with little fanfare other than a U.S. postage stamp.
Under the Treaty of Paris signed Dec. 10, 1898, Spain handed over Cuba,
Puerto Rico and the Philippines -- the last vestiges of its already crumbling
Memorial services and exhibitions have focused on the sinking of the USS
Maine in Havana harbor on Feb. 15, 1898, which killed 267 officers and
sailors. A commemorative stamp was issued to pay tribute to the battleship
enshrined in the American consciousness by the cry "Remember the Maine!"
But beyond that, the centennial of what President Theodore Roosevelt called
"a splendid little war" has gone virtually unnoticed by Americans.
"One of the conflicts with the greatest implications for Americans even
has all but faded from the modern American mind," historian Patrick
McSherry lamented on a half-finished Spanish-American War Centennial
Although the cause of the Maine's destruction has always been in dispute,
the war-thirsty "yellow press" blamed the "perfidious Spanish," and
increased the pressure on the U.S. government to go to war.
The United States purportedly fought in the name of freeing the Spanish
Caribbean and Pacific from the shackles of Spanish colonialism. The war
lasted less than four months, and left more than 3,000 Americans dead --
the vast majority of them from disease.
Joseph Smith, who teaches U.S. history at Exeter University in England,
the war "soon became a bit embarrassing," because of the ambiguous U.S.
attitude toward colonialism, an uprising and subsequent war in the
Philippines and ongoing, delicate relations with Cuba.
For the Philippines, there was little to celebrate until 1946, when the
States finally granted independence.
Puerto Rico observed the 100th anniversary of the U.S. invasion with an
official ceremony. But attention was focused more on the war's legacy: the
debate over the island's status as it prepared to choose between statehood,
independence or remaining a commonwealth.
Cuba, as it has for years, commemorated the deaths of its independence
heroes and ignored the U.S. role in getting rid of the Spaniards.
In Spain, a handful of commemorations, mostly art exhibitions and academic
seminars, looked on the bright side: a cultural flowering inspired by the end
of the empire.
The writers, philosophers, scientists and artists known as the Generation
'98 created one of the most dynamic periods in Spanish culture.
Spain's wounded pride has healed as well, and it now enjoys excellent
relations with the United States.
Bolstered by major international companies in telecommunications, energy,
tourism and banking, Spain has embarked on a commercial "reconquest" by
investing heavily in its former colonies.
Copyright 1998 The Associated Press.