December 1958 | Volume 10, Issue 1
But if it is easy to understand why the Spanish war brought unexpected problems to the Army, it is not quite so easy to see why the country got into that war in the first place. Mr. William Miller considers this question in his first-rate New History of the United States , and concludes that “every justification has been offered for America’s going to war with Spain because no clear justification can be found.”
As its title indicates, Mr. Miller’s book is concerned with the whole story of America’s growth and development, and not simply with the military phase of it. It is a very good job—one of the best single volumes on American history currently available to the general reader—and its section on the Spanish war is perceptive and thoughtful.
We considered it our duty to liberate Cuba, our destiny to open new markets in new lands, our obligation “to bring western culture to the dark places of the earth.” If it is hard to say just why we finally decided to do this in 1898 rather than at some other time, Mr. Miller’s suggestion is perhaps as good as any other —“throughout the nineties Americans seem to have set their souls upon having a war.” But we began this war by announcing that any annexation of territory would be “criminal aggression”; then we annexed Hawaii, announced that we would take Puerto Rico and Guam, and finally demanded complete cession of the Philippine Islands. In the end, the task of suppressing the “Philippine insurrection” took more time, men, and money than the original war itself had taken; and America found itself with a colonial empire, the mere possession of which had a profound effect on American life thereafter.
A New History of the United States , by William Miller, with an introduction by Frank Friedel. George Braziller, Inc. 474 pp. $5.00.
The line from all of this to American intervention in the First World War is direct and clear enough; and the reaction of the early igao’s, in which the people of this country tried unavailingly to re-enter the lost world of isolation and innocence, was both inevitable and doomed to failure. And it is one of the great virtues of this fine book that Mr. Miller moves so easily and persuasively from Admiral Dewey’s salvos in Manila Bay to the middle of the twentieth century.
It is good to stand off and take a look at that progression, because it has brought us a good deal of bewilderment and confusion. Colonel Croghan’s chain of tiny army posts in the 1840*8 looks no more remote and out-of-date now than does the mental and emotional attitude which was then developed. With the Spanish war we stepped off into a wholly new kind of world, in which the old vision of a self-contained, selfsufficient America went into permanent obsolescence. The vision may be gone, but the deep optimism which it bred still remains, and “the country itself often finds it hard to escape its pleasant childhood and youth.”
But the adjustment has to be made, and it is taking place. To realize that the age of innocence is indeed gone forever and that profound new responsibilities are inescapable is essential, and this realization is increasing. As Mr. Miller puts it: “We and our allies have met many of the challenges of a new barbarism almost despite ourselves. Our values remain humane; we cherish the preservation of the single life, the individual spirit, voluntary unity. The preservation and extension of American ideals is the task of our maturity.”