Between Meanings and Memories of 1898

The war of 1898 was fought over and about a great many things: some were apparent and discernible then, others were not so clear-then or now. All parties involved understood 1898 as a watershed year, a moment in which outcomes were both defining and decisive, at once an end and a beginning: that special conjuncture of historical circumstances that often serves to delineate one historical epoch from another.

It is difficult to ascertain the larger meanings of 1898 under these circumstances, or even where and how to situate a war of global proportions into the larger realm of these experiences. It is possible, however, to contemplate 1898 as denouement, possessed of an internal logic of its own that while perhaps not entirely predictable was highly probable, an eventuality foretold in pursuit of interests foreseen. It is the central argument of this essay that the U.S. war with Spain was in large measure about Cuba, and specifically the degree to which North American policymakers determined that national interests were implicated in the outcome of the Cuban insurrection. That is, that the larger purpose of the U.S. intervention was not to aid and abet the establishment of a free and fully sovereign republic, such as Cubans had envisioned a Cuba libre, but rather to obstruct or otherwise impede the Cuban attainment of national independence.

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