This Week in History

The American bid for empire

Tristan Dzoch, BU History Club

On Feb. 15, 1898 the USS Maine was destroyed in a mysterious explosion killing more than half of the crew. At the time, the Maine was thought to have been destroyed by a mine that Spain was “responsible” for planting.

The resulting Spanish-American war lasted for only four months, beginning in April and ending in August, finishing with a Spanish defeat and the United States taking control of the remains of the Spanish Empire, namely places such as Guam, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines.

While the war may not be discussed much today, it is still important to note that the war cost the United States, according to the Library of Congress, around three thousand lives and over two hundred and fifty million dollars.

The acquisition of a far-flung empire with many new cultural groups residing in it has prompted some to refer to the actions that the United States took before and after the Spanish-American War as American Imperialism.

Some people living in the Philippines after the Spanish-American War may have seen the American occupation as only a continuation of the Spanish regime, as the Philippine-American War began only a few months after Spain ceded the islands to the United States. 

This war lasted for around three years, with Filipino casualties rising to over 200,000 civilians and combatants, almost 50 times the number of casualties the United States suffered.

In the case of Puerto Rico, there was no violent war fought over the island. However, the first Puerto Rican elections in March of 1898, one month before the Spanish-American War, were obviously cut short due to the conflict.

While not a part of the war, the islands of Hawaii were also annexed during this time period to secure American interests in the Pacific Ocean, giving them another base in the region along with Guam.

In my view, the Spanish-American War should be remembered for the continuation of the policy of American Imperialism. Since its inception, the United States has made small, but impactful attempts at creating and maintaining its own empire akin to the colonial empires of Europe. 

The Spanish-American War is one of the more obvious examples of American Imperialism in history, with the annexation of Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Guam, and the lives lost in the Filipino-American War should not be forgotten.

Tristan is a junior History major and is the President of the BU History club.