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All the Perl that's Practical to Extract and Report

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  • The Spanish-American war was a catalyst for American imperialism, rather than the result of it. Expansionism aside, America was isolationist through most of the Spanish occupation and the Cuban revolt. Even as diplomacy failed post-rebellion, military involvement was still simply limited to asset protection. Until the Maine. (Remember the Maine? :-)

    The Maine incident and America's subsequent military involvement is probably more telling of the newly-found muscle of the American media than anything. McKinley certainly didn't want the war. But the unchecked media fueled a growing population of imperialists, and McKinley caved. (And once he caved, he was all in. Teddy, on the other hand, was imperialistic through-and-through, but only from the standpoint of power projection on the world stage.)

    Even then, we didn't invade Spain. Spain was a dying colonial empire. We were only interested in their American territories. (The Carribean being the key to Central America, and Central Amercia key to South America.) Our involvement with the Philippines originally was simply because that's where the Spanish Pacific fleet was located. The entire conflict lasted just a couple months, and it was the unexpected inclusion of all of Spain's colonies that kickstarted the governmental power trip - minor conflicts like the Filipino War [perl.org] and the Banana Wars.

    If I'm to draw any parallel between the two conflicts, it's the government's realization of and adapation to the power of the media. McKinley recognized the sway the media had over the people, and became the first president to staff a press corps in the White House to use it to his advantage. The U.S. is allowing embedded journalist limited real-time access for the first time first and foremost to protect itself and sway world opinion. (Rather than, say, because the people have a right to know.)

    Other parallels may be drawn. The horrific treatment of the people by the ruling party. The back-door negotiations for the ruling party to simply pull out. The advantage the American military enjoyed over the enemy.

    But the disjunctions are far greater. The U.S. and Spain didn't have its eyes on each other. The issue was Spanish rule (and its affect on American interests) in Spain's territories. (To counter, one might argue al-Qaeida "occupation" of such "territories" as Afghanistan and Iraq, but al-Qaeida only operates in and does not control those countries, and that would also refute the "no direct involvement" claim of the article.) The Spanish-American War was popularly supported, but not governmentally driven. The current conflict is largely just the opposite. World opinion was, at worst, neutral, for the U.S. in the former; it's largely negative currently.

    A better, but not perfect, comparison may very well be the Mexican-American War instead. Polk had been able to talk his way into Oregon, but Mexico wasn't budging on his request for the southwest. He wanted a war, but he just couldn't start one. So he found cause - in the form of sending the Army into Mexican-claimed south Texas to draw the Mexican Army into attacking first. That single act then justified the invasion of Mexico in an effort to protect ourselves and our interests. Congress didn't necessarily want the war. The people didn't necessarily want the war. But the U.S. was engaged, and they felt rather unpowered to object to it.