April 21, 1898
The Spanish-American War
Yellow journalism whips up support for a short war that makes the United States a colonial power.
Front page of the Chicago Tribune (Chicago Tribune / December 2, 2003)
Future president Teddy Roosevelt led a charge of cowboys and college students up a hill in Cuba. Future poet Carl Sandburg fought with an Illinois regiment in Puerto Rico. Painter-sculptor Frederic Remington illustrated the war. Novelist-reporter Stephen Crane wrote it up. So did London Daily Graphic correspondent Winston Churchill. He later became known for other things.Whipping up war fever was the era's yellow journalism, marked by exaggeration or just plain lies. William Randolph Hearst, owner of the New York Morning Journal, reportedly cabled Remington with directions to illustrate Spanish atrocities in Cuba.
"You furnish the pictures," Hearst wrote, "and I'll furnish the war."
Many Americans began clamoring for war with Spain after an explosion sank the USS Maine in Havana harbor in February. The explosion's source is still a mystery. When a declaration of war came, the official reason was Spain's treatment of Cuba, a Spanish colony.
On May 7, the Tribune scored a scoop by printing details of Commodore George Dewey's decimation of the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay even before President William McKinley received the news.
The New York World received a dispatch from its correspondent too late for its final edition, but Tribune managing editor James Keeley had kept his staff on alert. When the story came in from the World's press service, the paper was ready to produce an extra. Keeley called the White House with the news.
Spain was defeated in 113 days. America acquired the Philippines, Guam and Puerto Rico at a cost of fewer than 400 battle deaths, although because of disease, total fatalities topped 500.
It had been a popular war, but one who was skeptical about the country's readiness to rule colonies was Mr. Dooley, the fictional saloonkeeper created by Finley Peter Dunne of the Chicago Evening Post.
"I know what I'd do if I was Mack," said Dooley's friend, Mr. Hennessy, referring to McKinley. "I'd hist a flag over th' Ph'lippeens, an' I'd take in th' whole lot iv thim."
"An' yet," said Mr. Dooley, "tis not more thin two months since ye larned whether they were islands or canned goods."