The Spanish American War: An Argumentative Essay Example


In 1898, the United States fought a “splendid little war.”  The war originated from the Cuban struggle to gain independence from Spain.  All sides understood 1898 as a watershed year, a moment in which outcomes would be both defined and influential.  First, the U.S. invaded the Philippines and blockaded Cuba taking over the Spanish navy in the Pacific and the Caribbean.  Then the U.S. won the battle at San Juan Hill, a decisive victory, leading to the Treaty of Paris which granted the U.S. control over Cuba, Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines.  Many historians acknowledge the importance of the war, but they all have extremely different views on why the U.S. got involved and what caused the Spanish-American War.  Historians such as Richard Hofstadter, Walter LaFeber, Kristin L. Hoganson, and Louis A. Perez Jr. all have impressive arguments but vary depending on what values they adhere to most. 

To start off, Hofstadter points out in his article “Cuba, the Philippines, and Manifest Destiny” that the United States got involved in the war with Spain because of the American psyche.  He refers to this time as “the psychic crisis of the 1890s.” (Hofstadter 1951, 148) The great depression was central to the psychic crisis and also generated emotional distress.  According to Hofstadter, the nation appeared corrupt like an empire ready for collapse.  He says that war was inevitable, and the U.S. needed to prove they could keep up with European powers.  Hofstadter believes the only way to fix the American psyche was to fight an old-fashioned war. 

Next, historian LaFeber believed that the primary cause of the United States’ involvement in the war was economics.  The U.S. needed markets and in order to preserve the American system and the growth of the economy, war was essential.  Rapid industrialization and war formed an immediate link between each other especially during the time of the 1890s and the Spanish-American War.  LaFeber also argues that before the War of 1898, economic interpretations dominated historians' views of war, but now this has significantly changed.  

The third historian, Hoganson, argues that America was becoming too feminine.  She says the only way the U.S. could regain its manhood was through war.  In addition, her main argumentative statement is how, “gender worked as a motivating ideology and a political posture in debates over war and empire.” (Hoganson 1998, 9) She believes males had to fulfill their basic responsibility of becoming more “manly” and that a cultural approach to the war was a necessity.  Another piece of evidence to support her argument is when she says, if America continued to be feminine, then they would follow in the footsteps of Spain.  This idea could lead to a disastrous political system marked by dissension, self-interest, and dishonor.  

The last historian, Perez, views America as a creepy figure in the world.  As a Cuban native, he argues that the larger purpose of the U.S. intervention in the war was not to assist the establishment of a free republic but to obstruct or interfere in the Cuban achievement of national independence.  Another key point Perez emphasizes is that any fragment of evidence pointing to the cession of Cuba to a foreign power would be an immediate signal for war.  While Perez holds tension in his mind, he refers to some major political figures in the American government, who provide substantial evidence.  President McKinley, a political figure who is willing to collaborate with Cuba, references that the U.S. was there to help Cuba.  Perez immediately realizes that America was an acquaintance and that the U.S. aided in the destruction of Spain’s colonial rule over them.  

Although these four historians have profoundly different views, there are many interpretations between them that overlap.  Hoganson makes a case for agreement between her arguments and Hofstadter’s arguments with the idea of gender qualities. To begin with, Hoganson states, “the depression of 1893 exacerbated anxieties about manhood.” (Hoganson 1898, 11) It’s evident that the psychic crisis was, in many regards, a crisis of manhood.  The key difference between Hoganson and Hofstadter’s arguments is that Hofstadter argues about the American psyche being thrown off because of protests and racism.  In Hofstadter’s argument, he claims the brain of the country was depleting.  In contrast, Hoganson does not agree with LaFeber’s argument.  Hoganson thinks economics had nothing to do with the United States’ involvement in the war.  According to Hoganson, if the markets drove the U.S. policy then the U.S. should have acted on the situation during the 1890s depression.  Different from Hoganson’s and Hofstadter’s arguments, LaFeber lays it out there and says that the absence of economic factors in causing the war has been greatly exaggerated.  LaFeber also says that the United States’ survival and possibility drive its foreign policy.  In his mind, the U.S. became involved in the war purely for the money, not for the little guys like Cuba.  This evidence in LaFeber’s article relates closely to how Perez saw the United States.  Perez viewed Americans as people defining themselves with common national interests.  He takes into account John Quincy Adams’ idea that Cuba was a source of security for the United States.  Former President James Buchanan also agrees with Perez in that, “the acquisition of Cuba would greatly strengthen our bond of Union and insure the perpetuity of our Union.” (Perez 1898, 502) As stated in this quote Perez begins to see the U.S. as benefactors and this is exactly what LaFeber argues.  

Despite the fact that all historians have compelling evidence, LaFeber’s arguments are found to be the most convincing.  To begin with, LaFeber’s article as a whole makes the most sense because it first introduces how other historians might think, and then goes into his own opinion.  Since economics is at the heart of a stable country, his argument clearly supports why the U.S. would have gotten involved in the Spanish-American War.  Taking advantage of Cuba proved to be a collaboration between sides, where both benefited from the results.  The acquisition of Cuba put a cushion on American markets and security.  On top of this, LaFeber says that, “domestic affairs are the main determinant of foreign policy.” (LaFeber 1968, 91) This statement is the most prominent example of how his argument proves to exceed the others.  Basically, the major events that take place inside of a nation's borders, in this case the United States, directly affect how the nation will deal with other countries.  With this in mind, LaFeber expands on one more piece of evidence from President McKinley.  McKinley says that the nation's economy was best developed by a business-government partnership along with a tranquil bond.  The incentives of America getting involved in the war were abundant but most plausible in LaFeber’s argument of economics. 

Four historians Richard Hofstadter, Walter LaFeber, Kristin L. Hoganson, and Louis A. Perez Jr. each provided their opinions on why the U.S. got involved in the Spanish-American War.  Even though there is so much information accessible, in the end, we still will not know for sure who is right.  Historiography is valuable because it allows the reader to interpret different historical events written in the eyes of many historians from different backgrounds.  With the ability to consider personal thoughts and opinions, it makes historiography so much more interesting than other pieces of literature.  

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