Hearst needed a war to build his newspaper circulation. Roosevelt needed a war to sate his blood-lust and desire for military glory. Lodge needed a war to reinvigorate American manhood and to enlist American manhood in his "Large Policy" of American Empire. Between them, thanks to the ignorance and stupidity of the American people, they pulled it off.
Their adversary was Speaker of the House, Thomas Brackett Reed, "the Czar," the most powerful politician in Washington. Reed, an honest and incorruptible politician, saw Lodge's policy of "American exceptionalism" as naked imperialism that stood in total opposition and in great danger to American purposes. Reed saw Roosevelt's war lust as a diversion of national purpose from the reconstruction of an economy that increasingly served a shrinking minority at the expense of the American people. But Hearst, Roosevelt, and Lodge made "peace" an epithet. The American people, whose gullibility is never-ending, were captivated by war-lust. Reed lost confidence in the American people whom he so well served. Reed could find no moral purpose in pushing the country toward war over nothing but fake news reports by "yellow journalism."
Only a few years previously, Reed had had to halt the Cleveland administration from going to war with Great Britain over a British boundary dispute with Venezuela concerning mineral-rich land claimed by British Guyana. Somehow this boundary dispute, which had no more to do with US security than Honduras, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, Georgia, Ukraine, and the South China Sea have today, was seen as a "threat to US national security."
Roosevelt and Lodge were ecstatic over the possibility of War with Great Britain. War was its own goal. Roosevelt wrote to Lodge: "I don't care whether our sea coast cities are bombarded or not; we would take Canada." Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, hard facts prevailed over American war lust. The American navy had three battleships. The British had 50. If only Washington had gone to war with Great Britain over a British boundary dispute with Venezuela. The total destruction of the American navy and coastal cities might have taught Americans a lesson and made the population less lustful for war and more suspicious of Washington's war lies: the Gulf of Tonkin, Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, Iranian nukes, Assad's use of chemical weapons, Russian invasion of Crimea, etc.
Roosevelt and Lodge searched for a weaker adversary than the British navy and settled on Spain.
But how to bring about a war with a declining and tired 400-year old empire far removed from American interests?
Hearst, desperate to sell newspapers, knew what to do. He hired the artist, Frederic Remington, a painter and sculptor much worshipped by American conservatives today. Remington provided a drawing, filling half of the front page of Hearst's New York Journal, of a comely nude young woman surrounded by sinister Spaniards. Hearst alleged that three lady passengers on the US mail steamer Olivette were strip-searched in the Harbor of Havana, Cuba, by leering Spanish males.
America had a rare moment of rational thought and philosophical reflection during the brief period of its Founding Fathers. Ever since America has been a country of pulp romances and court histories written as "chivalric derring-do." Hearst asked where were the knightly American males who would rescue womankind from these indignities at the hands of cruel, wanton, Spaniards.
Hearst repeated the story with Evangelina Cisneros, "a beautiful young woman from the gentlest of families." In Hearst's story Evangelina went to the Island of Pines to beg for her elderly father's release from the cruel Spaniards. As she resisted the sexual advances of the leering Spanish prison commander, she was thrown into a squalid prison for prostitutes.
Having created his heroine, Hearst rushed to rescue her. Hearst hired the son of a Confederate cavalry colonel, Karl Decker, to rescue the fair lady. Thousands of words were printed to describe Decker's daring rescue, but what really happened is that Hearst bribed the Spanish guards to let her go from her comfortable hotel room. Having freed "one Cuban girl," Hearst wanted to know "when shall we free Cuba."
Teddy Roosevelt wanted to be the star of the event. Senator Lodge and the American newsman Richard Harding Davis made it so. Teddy charging up the hill, leading the Rough Riders, not urging from behind, defeated the Spanish all by himself and won the war.
What did it mean for the Cubans, a mixed and varied peoples, who had been fighting the Spanish for independence for years before self-righteous, self-serving Americans saw the opportunity to advance their interests and careers?
For Cubans, it meant swapping one master for another.
General William Shafter, the American in charge of the invasion force, declared: "Why these people [Cubans] are no more fit for self-government than gunpowder is for hell!" Calixto Garcia, who had been fighting for 30 years for Cuba's liberation from Spain, was not allowed to be present when Spain surrendered Cuba. It was purely an American show devoid of the revolutionaries in whose name the war had been fought.
Roosevelt wrote home that the Cubans had fought badly and were not responsible for their liberation from Spain. It was Teddy and his Rough Riders who brought freedom to Cuba. The Teller Amendment passed by Congress in 1898 guaranteeing independence to Cuba was superseded by the Platt Amendment of 1901. The Platt Amendment gave Washington the right to intervene in Cuba whenever Washington pleased.
Dr. Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the US Treasury for Economic Policy in the Reagan Administration. He was associate editor and columnist with the Wall Street Journal, columnist for Business Week and the Scripps Howard News Service. He is a contributing editor to Gerald Celente's Trends Journal. He has had numerous university appointments. His books, The Failure of Laissez Faire Capitalism and Economic Dissolution of the West is available (more...)