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A People's History of the United States

by Howard Zinn
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In Zinn's chapter on "The Empire and the People," why was there so much public opposition for the war in the Philippines but very little for the war in Cuba?  

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Zinn concludes that military action in both Cuba and the Philippines was motivated by conquest and financial gain. However, he argues that the American public better understood the war's objectives in Cuba.  As a result, there was greater support for it. 

Zinn feels that proponents of war in Cuba put forth a narrative the American people understood.  The business community sought the opening of Cuban markets. However, they were able able to conceal this economic motive in favor of patriotism.  Proponents of war made American expansion resemble "an act of generosity -- helping a rebellious group overthrow foreign rule."  This narrative suggested that Cuban rebels were fighting for their independence from the oppressive Spanish.  The American public saw this as similar to their colonial struggles with England: "Popular support of the Cuban revolution was based on the thought that they, like the Americans of 1776, were fighting a war for their own liberation."  The "national mood for intervention" was aided by a press willing to report about Cuban insurgency against the Spanish empire.

The media found its rallying point in February 1898.  The sinking of the U.S.S. Maine went very far in convincing the American public of the need for action.  While "there was no evidence ever produced on the cause of the explosion," the mood of the public "grew swiftly in the direction of war."  The American public was able to support war because they understood a narrative in Cuba similar to their own and took offense to the aggression against the U.S.S. Maine. When American newspapers blared, "Remember the Maine, to hell with Spain" it was a signal of public support for military action in Cuba.

American expansion and the riches that went with it was also evident in action against the Philippines.  However, Zinn makes clear the absence of a clear narrative.  There was no real act of overt aggression from Filipino forces. The American public could not see the threat posed, as it could with the attack on the U.S.S. Maine.  Increasingly, it looked like the American forces were acting as the agent of empire as it sought to control resources of and economic outlets in the Philippines.  

Zinn argues that unlike the national unity for military action in Cuba, there was vociferous dissent regarding war in the Philippines.  Organizations such as the Anti-Imperialist league wanted to educate "the American public about the horrors of the Philippine war and the evils of imperialism."  The American public heard calls such as "God damn the U.S. for its vile conduct in the Philippine Isles."  This was not something experienced in the conflict in Cuba. 

Zinn also believes that racial dynamics furthered this dissent. In Cuba, the Americans fought the Spanish. However, in the Philippines, the target was people of color.  Zinn discusses how large segments of the African-American community spoke out against the conflict in the Philippines.  Convinced that economics motivated the war while African-American rights were being denied, religious clergy "called the campaign in the Philippines 'an unholy war of conquest' and referred to the Filipinos as 'sable patriots.'" African-Americans had to confront an uncomfortable reality.  Zinn argues that they were fighting for a nation that denied them their rights and against a people who looked very similar to them:

There were four black regiments on duty in the Philippines. Many of the black soldiers established rapport with the brown-skinned natives on the islands, and were angered by the term "nigger" used by white troops to describe the Filipinos...  The Filipino rebels often addressed themselves to "The Colored American Soldier" in posters, reminding them of lynchings back home, asking them not to serve the white imperialist against other colored people.

This racial component was not evident in the military action in Cuba.  It serves as another reason why there was such dissent regarding it in the Philippines.

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