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Invading Cuba

June 2024
1min read

The Splendid Little War

directed by William B. Styple, Belle Grove Films, 55 mins., $29.95 . CODE: BGV-2

The “splendid little war,” as Secretary of State John Hay called it, was the Spanish-American conflict of 1898, when seventeen thousand Americans invaded Cuba to liberate it from Spanish rule. While this quiet little documentary repeats some familiar truths about the war—that it marked the first signs of America’s growing world power, that part of its large appeal at home derived from phony press accounts written back in Miami—the film also offers the historical novelty of footage of our soldiers in the Cuban jungle. Even the restaged old newsreel scenes show the real soldiers re-enacting on the spot. This was in fact the first filmed war anywhere. Teddy Roosevelt flexes his combination grin and grimace surrounded by his Rough Rider volunteers, who had won the respect of the professional soldiers they fought alongside. Gen. William Shafter offers a three-hundred-pound mounted target as he leads his men. Americans disembark from boats, and men take cover and pop off shots at San Juan Hill. While not as miraculous as hearing Gettysburg veterans talk in the same filmmaker’s documentary Last Reunion of the Blue & Gray , this glimpse of battles fought in the last century sheds vivid light on a war whose memory often seems more faded. The film is supplemented by a brief audio interview with the last survivor of San Juan Hill, made a year before his death in 1987.

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