Wednesday, 9 April 2014

spanish armada or tonkin ghosts

The story of America’s other non-contiguous state is also a fascinating one and how it came to be is impacted not just by time and tide (and volcanic eruptions) or even just simple avarice (as I assumed).  Neither was Manifest Destiny a universally accepted doctrine of the expanding Republic.  It is true that the Kingdom of Hawai’i was ultimately annexed by the United States due in part by agitators who owned plantations and backed supporters in the overthrow of the royal family.  The seated US government, however, under the leadership of anti-imperialists, was exonerated of any interference, both in unseating the monarchy or encouraging the new democracy (a very short-lived republic) to make the transition to accession as an American territory.   The timing of events during the late 1800s and culminating in 1903 were the ripples broadcast of a larger stratagem for America to assert its strength as a world power.  The interest and acquisition of the Pacific island group began with the Spanish-American War, a forgotten and long-distant conflict itself but responsible for many of these geological artefacts and discontinuities.  Prior to the US Civil War, successive regimes in the US were interested in obtaining Cuba, a colony of Spain, for its farmlands and to enslave its native population—rather than importing slaves from Africa.  Spain refused to sell to America at any price and America’s own intervening civil war put a halt to ambitions of empire for several years.

 After the Civil War ended, however, the idea for conquest was renewed, enervated in part by nascent revolts in Cuba towards Spanish rule, which had been going on for years.  America saw the chance to feed the unrest, aided by the yellow-journalism, sensational and negative press by reporters Pulitzer and Hearst (whose names now seem to epitomise just the opposite quality in reporting).  The mysterious sinking of an American battleship in Havana harbour pushed the American president, William McKinley, reluctant for war and with no interest in colony building until and unless America could solve her existing domestic problems, into all-out war with Spain.  Perhaps part of the American public’s appetite for war was paradoxically just emerging itself from a horrendous and prolonged conflict and wanted to unite in one cause—though not a very just or honourable one, and perhaps a cause also picked by munitions-manufacturers.  The theatre quickly spread from the Caribbean to Spain’s colonies in the Pacific, and after ten weeks, the crippled Spanish navy demanded peace be brokered.  The Treaty of Paris awarded the US all Spanish colonies outside those in Africa—sort of a pyric victory, though, as the engagement brought waves of epidemic illnesses back to the US and introduced the country to the concept of crusading, which it tried very hard to avoid and has never been able to shake since.  Independence was eventually given to Cuba (with the lease in perpetuity of fort in Guantรกnamo Bay), Panama and the Philippines (all had to fight for it and were the subjects of other wars) but much of the rest of America’s overseas holdings came as a result of this little war: Puerto Rico, the US Virgin Islands and Guam are among the islands that came into US control—American Samoa sort of got caught up in the wake.  Though Spain was no longer a threat to the US and the Philippines wanted to be dependent of the US and not vassal to some other foreign power, the US sought to incorporate Hawai’i for strategic reasons, as the island was approximately midway between mainland America and its most remote holdings.