Was the Spanish-American War a just war?  

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Determining if the Spanish-American War was a just war depends on a person’s perspective. The Spanish believed the United States had no right to interfere in the affairs of Spain’s colonial possessions. They also believed the American press inaccurately portrayed events that occurred in the Spanish colonies and how the...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Determining if the Spanish-American War was a just war depends on a person’s perspective. The Spanish believed the United States had no right to interfere in the affairs of Spain’s colonial possessions. They also believed the American press inaccurately portrayed events that occurred in the Spanish colonies and how the Spanish acted. The Spanish felt this war was not justified, because American actions were based on inaccurate facts and principles.

The Americans believed they had the right to protect people who were allegedly being mistreated. They felt the Spanish were brutally mistreating the Cubans, and as a result, this mistreatment required a response from the United States on moral grounds. Additionally, the United States wanted to spread what it believed was a superior way of living to other areas of the world, in a colonizing mindset. One way to do this was to go to war and defeat a colonial power. Americans believed they were following similar actions that the Spanish used to acquire colonies in their empire. As a result, Americans believed their actions were justified as they attempted to gain an overseas empire.

Some of the people the United States conquered felt that American actions at the end of the war weren’t just. For example, the people of the Philippines wanted to get their independence after Spain was defeated in the Spanish-American War. They believed the American refusal to grant their independence wasn’t just, because this action went against the desire of many of the people living in the Philippines and was contrary to the American ideal of independence (as played out in 1776). Additionally, the United States placed restrictions on Cuba's independence with the passage of the Platt Amendment.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Spanish-American War came about because the long decline of Spanish influence in the New World was culminating.  In other words, Spanish colonies in South America and Caribbean had been breaking away from Spain from the 1820's onward, primarily because of the US's example of breaking away from England.  Having lost its presence in Mexico and southern North America, first the country of Texas, followed by the US, expanded into those areas during the 1840's.  By the time of the Spanish-American War in 1898, Spain had been nearly driven from the New World, and the US became the dominant power in the region. Are wars of expansion just?

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

It seemed as if the Spanish- American War was fought on the principles of freedom and statehood, and at the same time, seemed to deny them.  If we apply the ideas of statehood and autonomy from the Colonial times to the situation at stake in this conflict, one sees some level of comparison present.  There were issues of state sovereignty present and the idea of self- determination was present.  American influence at the time was one where its own survival was not being directly threatened or challenged.  The offensive on Cuba helped to strengthen American interests in the region.  It was interesting to see how the same principles that guided America's drive for freedom could not be applicable to other nations striving for the same thing.  In this sense, one could see the war as not necessarily being just.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

This is hard to answer because it is not clear what a "just" war is.

It was clearly a morally good thing for Cuba to become independent of Spain.  We assume that all countries deserve to rule themselves.  So in that sense, it was just.

But the US did not actually allow Cuba to rule itself after the war (see Platt Amendment).  In addition, the US took Puerto Rico and the Philippines (not to mention Guam).  The Philippines, in particular, wanted independence and it took a very nasty war to suppress them.  So in that sense it was not just.

 

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team