Crucible of Empire demonstrates how and why the Spanish-American War constitutes such an important milestone in U.S. history. This program examines the events and attitudes that led to war, followed by an exploration of the conflict and its outcome. Early film footage and stills of battle scenes, plus rich visuals, a compelling story, and intriguing analogies to current foreign policy make Crucible of Empire a riveting documentary.
The Spanishâ€“American War was a conflict in 1898 between Spain and the United States, effectively the result of American intervention in the ongoing Cuban War of Independence. American attacks on Spain's Pacific possessions led to involvement in the Philippine Revolution and ultimately to the Philippineâ€“American War.
Revolts against Spanish rule had been endemic for decades in Cuba and were closely watched by Americans; there had been war scares before, as in the Virginius Affair in 1873. By 1897â€“98, American public opinion grew angrier at reports of Spanish atrocities in Cuba. After the mysterious sinking of the American battleship Maine in Havana harbor, political pressures from the Democratic Party pushed the administration of Republican President William McKinley into a war he had wished to avoid. Compromise proved impossible, resulting in the United States sending an ultimatum to Spain demanding it immediately surrender control of Cuba, which the Spanish rejected. First Madrid, then Washington, formally declared war.
Although the main issue was Cuban independence, the ten-week war was fought in both the Caribbean and the Pacific. American naval power proved decisive, allowing U.S. expeditionary forces to disembark in Cuba against a Spanish garrison already reeling from nationwide insurgent attacks and wasted by yellow fever. Cuban, Philippine, and American forces obtained the surrender of Santiago de Cuba and Manila owing to their numerical superiority in most of the battles and despite the good performance of some Spanish infantry units and spirited defenses in places like San Juan Hill. With two obsolete Spanish squadrons sunk in Santiago de Cuba and Manila Bay and a third, more modern fleet recalled home to protect the Spanish coasts, Madrid sued for peace.
The result was the 1898 Treaty of Paris, negotiated on terms favorable to the U.S., which allowed temporary American control of Cuba and, following their purchase from Spain, indefinite colonial authority over Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines. The defeat and collapse of the Spanish Empire was a profound shock to Spain's national psyche, and provoked a thoroughgoing philosophical and artistic reevaluation of Spanish society known as the Generation of '98. The victor gained several island possessions spanning the globe and a rancorous new debate over the wisdom of expansionism.