Interventionist America: The Spanish War Essay

1683 words - 7 pages

When America claimed independence from Great Britain and became a self-governing nation, one of the founding fathers’ most ardent desires, and indeed one of the foremost principles upon which the nation was founded, was isolation from the affairs of other countries. Having just turned their backs on the Old World, the new republic had no wish to become embroiled once more in the wars, alliances, and false-faces of Europe’s nations. Thomas Jefferson believed that, “[It is] fundamental for the United States, never to take active part in the quarrels of Europe.” Explaining the reasons for this necessary separation, he argued, “Their political interests…their mutual jealousies, their balance of power, their complicated alliances, their forms and principles of government, are all foreign to us. They are nations of eternal war” (Maybury, iii). This policy of non-involvement was further cemented by James Monroe in his famous Monroe Doctrine of 1823, which essentially declared that America would not tolerate Europe meddling her affairs, and in return America would grant Europe the same consideration (OurDocuments, n. pag.). How did the nation transition so drastically from this non-interventionist philosophy of foreign affairs to the current global network of interventionism and political crisis? The 1898 Spanish-American War was a first and drastic step towards modern policy, swiftly followed by the United States’ interference in Panama. America’s first foray directly into European affairs, World War I, proved to be the turning point for American intervention and the beginning of the end for the principle of isolationism. Together, these three occurrences initiated a chain reaction, the repercussions of which continue to resound throughout the globe.

Although not usually recognized as such, the victory in the Spanish-American War was one of the most important steps towards a modern interventionist America, defending “interests” in the far reaches of the globe (PBS, n. pag.). Launched largely by government propaganda and flagrant yellow journalism, Cuba became grounds for major United States expansion into both the Caribbean and the Western Pacific. Victory also resulted in a Cuban Constitution open to wanton U.S. intervention and, additionally, overseas territories in the Pacific that provided an avenue for the spread of American agenda. In this vein, economic historian Richard Maybury contends that, “[The] Spanish-American War and conquest of the Philippines were the most important conflicts the U.S. has ever fought. They were small…but they were when Americans stopped thinking like the 1776 Sons of Liberty – and when they began thinking like the enemy that the Sons of Liberty were fighting, the Europeans” (Maybury, 130). The documentary Crucible of Empire: The Spanish-American War further examines this issue. “The new territory…enlisted the U.S. into the ranks of Europe's imperial powers--surely a difficult position for a nation not only founded in...

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