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HISTORY AS LITERATURE: A War Nurse in Cuba The Spanish American War Journal of Amy Wingreen "The Poor Men Were So Glad to See Me:" A War Nurse in Cuba, 1898 / Amy Wingreen Although the Spanish-American War was both brief and relatively bloodless, it was accompanied by major changes in the way Americans thought about themselves and it established the United States as a power in world politics. The immediate spark that ignited the war was the public outcry following the sinking of the Maine, and the rallying cause was to secure freedom for tyrannized Cuban nationals. But this conflict surely had as much to do with changing ideas about America's destiny and a belief that the nation was "coming of age" on the eve of a new century. It marked the beginning of U.S. imperialism and became an important symbol of post-Civil War national unity. In many ways, the war with Spain was similar to the Gulf War nearly a century later. Because of a great economic boom spurred in no smaU part by Reconstruction , the United States had already become an economic power, if not yet a military one, by virtue of its huge industrial growth in the thirty years following the Civil War. A generation of young men who had never experienced the horrors of war and who were determined to play a larger role in world affairs was on the verge of taking over leadership from the old generation. It was a time when many Americans began to hold firmly the contradictory beliefs in freedom and self-determination and, simultaneously, in the "divine right" of the United States to expand its boundaries. The disappearance of the American frontier left us looking for new markets and new worlds to conquer. Social Darwinism was one of the popular philosophies of the day, preaching the survival of the strongest nations in a world of inevitable and natural international competition. America's pride had been damaged by incidents such as the boarding of an American steamer, AlltanCa, by Spanish gunboats in 1895—a reminder of the treatment the United States had always gotten on the seas by the European powers. Newspapers had a field day with the theme of Spanish arrogance. William Randolph Hearst and other purveyors of yellow journaUsm fanned the war fever with incendiary headlines and stories that were exaggerated or in some cases completely fabricated. In his unending quest to seU stiU more newspapers, Hearst was determined to foment a war, and he even took credit for it in the headline "How Do You Like the Journal's War." When Frederick Remington, who had been sent down to sketch scenes of the Cuban insurrection, asked to come home because he could find no such scenes, Hearst cabled back, "You furnish the pictures, I'll furnish the war." A real turning point in the intensity of the newspapers' war with Spain came when the military governor imposed strict censorship on the The Missouri Review · 99 press in Cuba and imprisoned several American newspapermen. Headlines began screaming for American intervention to protect its citizens. When soon after, Remington erroneously depicted a young maiden being strip searched on an American ship by a group of leering Spanish ghouls, the effect of the front-page Ulustration on public opinion was immediate and dramatic. Yet the war with Spain was not merely the work of a single interest, nor was it something that happened out of the blue. The mid-1890s had been a time of domestic unrest in the United States, and there was almost certainly a connection between the economic downturn that had begun in 1893 and lasted several years and the country's embrace of "jingoism" in foreign affairs. By this time, as well, the United States had considerable business interests in the area. American investments in Cuba amounted to $50 miUion, and the annual trade figure exceeded $100 million. By 1895, the United States was buying 83% of Cuba's exports whUe only 6% went to Spain. During this period, the United States was absorbing hundreds of thousand of refugees who had fled the tyrannies of the Old World, and they were naturally inclined...


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