The Generations of ’98

A hundredth anniversary of the first Columbian voyage in 1992, the fiftieth anniversaries of Pearl Harbor, D-Day, and Hiroshima, and the elaborate tribute to the Marshall Plan last year, the public hardly clamors for another celebration. At least one year of respite is needed before what surely will be another extravaganza-the fiftieth anniversary of NATO in 1999.

Yet 1998 marks the centennial of the Spanish-American War, the “splendid little war” that resulted in the independence (or transfer in sovereignty) of Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam and, more than any event since the Civil War, shaped Americans’ view of themselves and their country. The scope of both the Second World War and the Cold War convinced most Americans that these were the watershed events of the twentieth century. But as we near its end, we should reflect on the lesser known period at the beginning of the century, when Americans for the first time saw their country as a serious world player on a par with her European older brothers, Slaying the decadent Spanish dragon and putting an end to its empire was just the first step. A new American brand of power was summoned to replace the stale colonial model and leave a mark on the old and new worlds alike.

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