Thursday, September 2, 2010

The Spanish-American War

The Spanish-American War
© 1991 Albert Marrin
182 pages

While still a sophomore in high school, I spotted a book titled The Airman's War in my school library and checked it out. It become a favorite, one of the first history books I ever purchased, and I have enjoyed both Marrin and early aircraft ever since. Recently he came to mind and I checked my local public library to see if they offered anything by him: they did, and this particular book gave me an opportunity to read Marrin again and refresh and strengthen what little I know of the war against Spain.

Marrin's story begins on the night of 15 February, 1898, when an explosion sank the USS Maine, anchored outside Havana. This incident, more likely an accident than a Spanish attack, was the seed out of which newspapermen like William Randolph Hearst manufactured a war -- using his power to inflame the populace and assault any politician who did not bellow for war. From there matters deteriorate, resulting in the American occupation of Cuba, the Philippines changing hands, and a lengthy, costly war against Philippine insurgents who -- surprise! -- were not impressed by their former ally's interest in the Philippines as a de facto colony.

The Spanish-American War, like most of Marrins' works, is written in a personal style. Stories focusing on the horrors of war and perils of soldiers are set inside a colorful narrative with generous background information that succeeds in not only making the war understandable, but in demonstrating the deforming nature of war upon individuals and society. This is especially evident in the chapter on the Philippine  War, where former allies begin indulging in ritual humiliation and torture of the other side, poisoned by lust and violence. Although never shying away from the horrors of war, Marrin tends to err on the side of patriotism -- informing readers that President McKinley opted to annex the Philippines not because he wanted to, but because he feared on their own the Philippines would fall to the British, Germans, or Japanese. (It seems to me that a garrison of troops and a naval base would have established American presence well enough, and the Philippine leader was so favorably disposed to the Americans that he offered ports and areas for bases.) Marrin's account of the rise of the Anti-Imperialist League also isn't exactly friendly: he seemed to stop just shy of giving the League a piece of his mind.

In all, a good read: I'd recommend it to those who think their knowledge of the wars deficient. Marrin's style lends his books well toward readers who are completely new to the subject.


  • Weapons of Satire, a collection of writings by Mark Twain written against the annexation of the Philippines and the American war against Filipinos fighting for independence.  

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