Date: Tue, 28 Apr 98 18:12:54 CDT
From: (Rich Winkel)
Organization: PACH
Subject: POLITICS: U.S. Marks First Centry as Global Power
Article: 33528
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
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/** ips.english: 485.0 **/
** Topic: POLITICS: U.S. Marks First Centry as Global Power **
** Written 4:07 PM Apr 27, 1998 by newsdesk in cdp:ips.english **

U.S. Marks First Centry as Global Power

Analysis by Jim Lobe, IPS, 24 April 1998

WASHINGTON, Apr 24 (IPS)—The United States Saturday quietly marks the 100th anniversary of the day the U.S. Congress declared war on Spain—a moment when this nation attained global power status and began, what Time-Life publisher Henry Luce later hailed as, The American Century.

The war, which ended with Spain's defeat in less than six months, was a watershed in U.S. and world history. At one blow, Washington established itself as both a Pacific and Atlantic power, a status that would be enhanced in 1914 with the completion of the Panama Canal.

Among smaller Spanish territories, the United States seized Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines, setting off struggles within those countries and with the United States which, 100 years later, remain unresolved in many ways.

The war also marked the end of the country's continental expansion, launched 100 years before by 13 ex-British colonies hugging the Atlantic seaboard. The nation's leaders had been determined to stay out of European quarrels and focus instead on enlarging their own domain—where possible through settlement and money but through conquest, where not.

Despite its historical importance, however, the Spanish- American war's centennial has gained little notice here. Apart from small exhibits in two New York museums, a new book, 'Empire by Default' and a scattering of newspaper articles noting the anniversary of the explosion that sank the U.S. battleship 'Maine' in Havana harbour in February, 1898, the event which galvanised public opinion against the Spanish, the anniversary has been greeted n silence.

Part of the reason is the culture's notorious aversion to history.

History is more or less bunk, said Henry Ford, the country's greatest capitalist, declared in 1916. But it is also true that the United States never has liked to acknowledge its overseas conquests. As newspaper columnist Walter Lippmann remarked in 1926, when a new batch of Marines were being sent to Nicaragua to quell yet another revolt in what amounted to a 20-year occupation: We continue to think of ourselves as a kind of great, peaceful Switzerland, where we are in fact a great expanding world power. Our imperialism is more or less unconscious.

Imperialism always had been seen in the United States as, in one scholar's words, ruthless strength taking advantage of innocent weakness—in other words, a distinctly European system and the cynicism, selfishness, authoritarianism and decadence associated with the Old World. These attributes were not consistent with the Yankee self-image of an enterprising, free, democratic and, hence, morally superior people identified with nothing less than God's will.

Even in the early 19th century, however, U.S. leaders were casting envious eyes overseas for reasons that were decidedly self-interested. In 1823, President Thomas Jefferson noted that Cuba would be the most interesting addition that would give the young country control over the Gulf of Mexico and Central America. President Abraham Lincoln's Secretary of State William Seward saw the purchase of Alaska from Russia (called Seward's Folly at the time) as a downpayment on eventual U.S. access to China.

But rising between slave and free states, which eventually erupted in the 1861-65 civil war, as well as the popular focus on westward expansion, made these ambitions premature. It was not until after the civil war, the completion of a continental railroad system, and the economic booms which propelled the country into the ranks of the world's biggest economic powers that the infrastructure of global power was put in place.

Once in place, however, that infrastructure became infused with the same sense of divine mission which had previously been applied to continental settlement. In a hugely popular book published in 1885, Congregationalist minister Josiah Strong predicted, As goes America, so goes the world, in all that is vital to its moral welfare.

If I read not amiss, this powerful (Anglo-Saxon) race will move down upon Mexico, down upon Central and South America, out upon the islands of the sea, over upon Africa and beyond, wrote Strong, the head of the progressive Home Missionary Society in the Darwinist rhetoric of the time.

The same race, bearers of the largest liberty, the purest Christianity, the highest civilisation was destined to impress its institutions upon mankind, according to Strong.

Catholic Spain was the natural target for this missionary zeal, and not only because it was Europe's weakest power with territories coveted by Washington, but for moral reasons as well. As early as the 1790s, US schoolbooks depicted the Spanish conquest of Latin America as cruel and avaricious. They flocked to America, for the purpose of carnage and plunder.

That image was strengthened by the sensationalism and outright fabrications of the new yellow press of William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer 100 years later, particularly after Gen. Valeriano Weyler assumed command of the Spanish forces in Cuba in 1896 and unleashed an aggressive military campaign, including concentration camps for non-combatants, in order to subdue Cuban insurgents.

Their reporting, which penetrated every corner of the country with the help of the just-created Associated Press telegraph wires, depicted the struggle as a war for humanity. Cuba Libre became a household phrase even in the dustiest frontier towns of the West.

On April 23, Congress passed resolutions recognising Cuban independence, and Spain reacted by declaring war the next day. Congress' own declaration on April 25 marked the formal beginning of the war.

Within just a weeks, the U.S. Navy obliterated the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay and Theodore Roosevelt charged up San Juan Hill to launch a political career that would propel him to the presidency.

Rather than grant independence to these colonies, however, President William McKinley decided to occupy them to fulfill a great trust that the nation carried under the providence of God and in the name of human progress and civilisation. ...Our priceless principles undergo no change under a tropical sun. They go with the flag.

The American Century had arrived.