War with Spain - Charles Morris

Final Considerations

Our history is practically ended. We set out to describe the war with Spain, and have carried that forward to its concluding event The signing of the protocol was equivalent to concluding a treaty of peace, for there was no question but that this would be its ultimate result. A dozen loose threads of consequences of the war remained floating in the air, but these we can merely name; in what they will end is for the future to decide.

The conclusion of the war did not put an end to the hostile relations between the native inhabitants of the Spanish colonies and the Spanish soldiers and residents. The people of Porto Rico manifested the same bitter hatred against the Spaniards as animated the Cubans, and the close of hostilities between the contending parties was followed by violence on the part of the natives, largely instigated by reports of outrages committed by the Spanish soldiers in their retreat. The town of Cota was burned and the Spanish residents were obliged to fly for their lives, while throughout the surrounding country the terror-stricken Spaniards appealed to the Americans for protection. This was given where possible, and two newspapers which violently called for vengeance were suppressed, but it was not easy to prevent individual examples of persecution. The turmoil, however, could only continue until the evacuation by the Spaniards and the full American occupation of the island

In Cuba the insurgents remained in arms, and it was evident that some degree of hostile relations would persist between them and the Spanish soldiers until the evacuation was completed and a temporary American protectorate established. Commissions were appointed by the President to proceed to these islands and arrange for them a form of government, to continue until their final status should be decided. The commissioners appointed for Cuba consisted of Rear-Admiral W. T. Sampson and Major-Generals M. C. Butler and James F. Wade; those for Porto Rico were Rear-Admiral W. S. Schley, Major-General John R. Brooke, and Brigadier-General W. W. Gordon. Captain-General Blanco headed the Spanish commission for Cuba and Captain-General Macias that for Porto Rico.

Congress had resolved that Cuba should be independent, but as the conditions there became better understood serious doubts were entertained of the ability of the insurgents to maintain a civilized form of government. Many of them were ignorant negroes. Knowledge of political affairs was sadly lacking among them, and a large number of the inhabitants, alike of Spanish and of Creole birth, fearing anarchy in place of settled government, were anxious for the United States to retain possession of the island. It seemed not improbable that, in view of the considerable depopulation of Cuba during the war, an influx of Americans might replace the vanished inhabitants, and the island in this way eventually come under American control. In any event an American protectorate would probably need to be long maintained, for the people were evidently unfit to govern themselves.

The disposal of the Philippine Islands was an equally pressing problem, this, by the terms of peace, being left to the decision of a commission of five members from each country, who were to meet for consideration of the subject not later than October 1. The American commissioners, as appointed by President McKinley, were the Secretary of State, William R. Day, Senators C. K. Davis, of Minnesota, William P. Frye, of Maine, and George Gray, of Delaware, and Hon. Whitelaw Reid.

As to what should be done with the Philippines, a wide difference of opinion, prevailed in the United States. Many called for a retention of the whole group; many others opposed retaining any, looking upon an extension of American dominion to those distant waters as a dangerous experiment. The probability seemed to be that the island of Luzon would be annexed, while the remaining islands might be left to Spain to be governed under strict regulations devised by the Commission. The old unjust and cruel rule would certainly not be permitted.

As in the West Indies, so in the Philippines, there was a native element to be dealt with that was likely to give trouble unless its wishes were considered in the settlement. The reports of irritation of the natives against the Americans were exaggerated or unfounded, and at a conference with their leaders they expressed their full willingness to co-operate with the Americans and to surrender their arms if assured that the islands would remain an American or a British colony or protectorate. But they positively refused to remain under Spanish rule, and declared that they dared not disarm until they knew who were to be their future- masters. Aguinaldo, in an interview held with him, said that he was in command not of an army, but only of an unruly rabble, and was earnest in his desire that the Americans should give the Philippines a free and liberal government, to whose establishment he would lend his full support.

On August 20 an imposing naval demonstration took place in the harbor of New York, the leading war-vessels of the West India fleet—the battle-ships Iowa, Indiana, Massachusetts, Oregon, and Texas, and the cruisers New York  and Brooklyn—entering the harbor on that day, where they were received with an ovation that amply testified to the admiration of the people for the battle-scarred ships, their commanders and crews.

Rewards were dealt out freely to the heroes of the navy. Dewey, as already stated, had been early made a rear-admiral. The same reward was given Sampson, Schley, and Howell. Sampson being advanced eight numbers on the navy list and Schley six, so that Sampson outranked Schley, instead of being subordinate to him as previously. Rewards were dealt with a liberal hand to other officers of the navy and army, the three months of war giving to many worthy officers an advance in rank greater than they were likely to have attained in twice that many years of peace.

The very valuable service rendered by the navy in the war, and the disposition of European powers to add steadily to their strength upon the sea, could not fail to give rise to a desire to add largely to the strength of the American navy, and fit it for possible contest with stronger powers than Spain. Though five new battleships were nearly completed, and three more, with four monitors, had been ordered in the recent session of Congress, this was thought to be insufficient to meet the new requirements arising from the recent war. The Board of Experts, which includes the chiefs of all the bureaus of the Navy Department, agreed upon a general programme of additions to the navy to be recommended for consideration by Congress at its next session.

This programme embraced the construction of fifteen sea-going fighting ships. Three of these were to be battle-ships of greater tonnage and speed than any now in the navy, their displacement to be 13,000 tons and their average cruising speed 19 knots. Their main batteries were to be composed of four 12-inch rifles, and their secondary batteries to include fourteen to sixteen 6-inch rapid-fire guns. There were also recommended three first-class armored cruisers of 12,000 tons displacement and 22 knots' speed, to be covered with heavy armor from stem to stem, and to mount four 8-inch rifles in turrets and ten or twelve 6-inch rapid-fire guns in broadside. Nine other cruisers were provided for, three to be second-class protected and armored ships and six third-class protected ships. The building of a number of troop-ships for colonial service was also recommended, to be capable of carrying twelve hundred soldiers, with their supplies and baggage. These were deemed necessary in view of the newly acquired colonial possessions of the United States.

That the United States would need a larger standing army in the future was equally evident, though it was felt that great dependence would need to be placed on the National Guard, the latter to be much better trained and disciplined than heretofore. By this means a large and effective army could be made available at short notice and at small cost in case of exigency. As regarded the volunteer army raised for the war, steps were taken immediately after the signing of the protocol for disbanding a large number of the troops, though the requisites of garrison duty in the newly acquired territory rendered it necessary to keep a considerable contingent of them for some time under arms.

The suggestion was made that the United States should add to its official corps a General Staff, such as is employed by European governments, to take charge of military matters in times of peace and keep the army in a fixed state of readiness for war. In such a case the lack of material, awkwardness, and inefficiency displayed in the early days of the war with Spain would not be likely to recur in future conflicts, and even a hastily levied army could be put into the field more quickly and under far better conditions than in the instance here under consideration.

As regards the formation of a large standing army, which some advocate, the recent action of the Czar of Russia gives voice to the feeling which is widely entertained concerning the military establishments of Europe. He advocates a reduction of these immense armies as crushing and dangerous elements of the body politic and as threatening obstacles in the way of the development of settled conditions of peace. It is sincerely to be hoped that the international conference to this end proposed by him may yield the desired result. Whether it does or not, the movement of the Czar is a decided step in the right direction, and the disarmament which he suggests cannot fail in the end to come.

Complaints as to the treatment of the sick soldiers continued, severe blame being laid on the War Department, the chorus of detraction spreading until it affected the press of the country like an epidemic. To what extent this blame was deserved could not be decided in the heat of the moment, and needed to be left for later and cooler consideration and a possible official investigation. Much sickness prevailed, not only among the soldiers brought home from Cuba and encamped at Montauk Point, but also in the home camps at Manassas and Chickamauga, while the supply of food was said to be absolutely unadapted to the needs of the sick, the water to be contaminated with disease germs, and the other requisites lacking or inadequate to the situation. To overcome the difficulty new camps were established in healthier locations, to which the sick soldiers were removed, and steps were taken to provide them with suitable food and shelter. The lack of proper care and attention may have been in a measure unavoidable, but there was certainly much neglect and inefficiency, for which some one was to blame, and official red tape in many instances seems to have set aside the dictates of common sense and humane sentiment.

A few words on the probable effect of the war on the nations concerned and we have done. Spain has lost all, or nearly all, her remaining colonies, but whether this is likely to prove an injury or an advantage to her it remains for time to decide. The colonies of Spain for several centuries immensely exceeded in extent those of any other nation, yet history yields no evidence that any benefit was ever derived from this vast colonial dominion. Even in the early days, when gold flowed in rich streams into the coffers of Spain, this wealth served to enrich the commercial nations surrounding her, not herself. In fact, her colonies proved a deadly incubus, draining off her energy and yielding nothing of value in return. Absorbed in the government of these distant possessions, the home interests of Spain were sadly neglected, industry remained stagnant, commerce undeveloped, and while the nations around were making immense strides forward in prosperity, Spain, once foremost among them all, sank steadily into decadence.

It may be that the loss of her colonies will prove to her a blessing instead of a curse. Having no interests to care for abroad, she may devote new attention to her interests at home, and develop her natural resources until in time she regains something of her old rank among the nations. Whatever be the effect of the loss of her colonies upon Spain, it cannot but prove a blessing to the colonists themselves, who have escaped from the most severe and crushing of despotisms, and taken their place among the free and self-governed people of the earth. The colonial policy of Spain was from the first to the last a cruel and barbarous one, and the moral sentiment of mankind long ago demanded that it should be brought to an end. The United States has proved the evangel of liberty and prosperity to the manumitted peoples.

As regards the effects of the war upon the United States, they are likely to be much less important. The war was but a passing incident in the history of this country, not a vital problem. It has given us an increased knowledge of our strength and resources, and won us a new and high respect in Europe, but has added little to these powers and resources. It has given us island colonies, but what benefit these are likely to bring us it is too soon to say. We have stepped into what some designate a dangerous imperial position, but this simply means that our growing interest in the concerns of the world has been unmasked by the events of the war, not that these three months of hostilities have brought us any new strength or higher importance. They have but swept away the mist of misconception and revealed our real importance to the powers of the world. It must soon have manifested itself in any event.

Two results may be spoken of. The war has had a valuable effect in removing the shreds of ill feeling remaining between the North and the South, and welding the two sections of our country into one strongly cemented Union; and it has aroused a strong sentiment of affinity between the Anglo-Saxon peoples of the earth which may in the end prove a leading factor in the histories of the nations. The English-speaking peoples have grown mighty and all-pervading with the passage of the years, and with joined hands they would be all-powerful. But it is in peace, not in war, that the great republic of the West is destined to prevail. It is with the olive-branch, not the sword, that it should stand before the world. It may again be forced into war, as it has been forced by Spain, but peace is its mission, industry its interest, prosperity its goal; and the invasion of the world which in the future it is destined to make will be that of commerce, not of arms; of thought, not of force; of the beneficent products of the soil and the mill, not the direful harvest of fire and sword.