An armed conflict between Spain and the US in 1898 that began in the aftermath of the internal explosion of USS Maine in Havana harbor in Cuba killing 266 men and leading to U.S. intervention. Without waiting on an investigation, American mainstream media, dominated by newspaper magnates Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst, outright fabricated stories of horrible conditions in Cuba under Spanish rule. The War put a large nail in the coffin of Spain’s global empire, and by the end of 1898, the US, which was founded in opposition to imperialism, found itself in control not only of Cuba, but of the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Guam, and Hawaii.
The Spanish Empire was the first truly global empire, reaching its territorial height in the late 1700s. By 1898, Spain was losing territories regularly. Cuba too was becoming increasingly hard to control and a minor revolution had broken out. This wasn’t welcome news to people in the United States who owned Cuban sugar, tobacco and iron industry properties valued at over $50 million (worth ca. $1.2 billion today).
The main stream media, then dominated by newspaper magnates Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst, exaggerated – and outright fabricated – stories of horrible conditions under Spanish rule. Following the age-old maxim, “If it bleeds, it leads”, the newspapers published stories about Spanish death camps, Spanish cannibalism and inhumane torture. The newspapers sent reporters to Cuba. However, when they got there, they found a different story. Artist and correspondent Frederick Remington wrote back to Hearst: “There is no war. Request to be recalled.” Hearst’s famous reply: “Please remain. You furnish the pictures, I’ll furnish the war.” And he did. His newspaper, continually screaming how Spanish Cuba was going to hell in a hand basket, convinced big business interests in the US to put pressure on anti-war President William McKinley to protect their Cuban investments. McKinley, in response, sent the USS Maine battleship to Havana Harbour as a calming show of force.
Three weeks after arriving, on the night of February 15, 1898, the USS Maine exploded, killing 266 men. There are two theories for the explosion: some believe the explosion was caused by an external mine that detonated the ship’s ammunition magazines. Others say it was caused by a spontaneous coal bunker fire that reached the ammunition magazines. Currently, the evidence seems to favor the external mine theory.
Without waiting on an investigation, America’s mainstream media blamed the tragedy on Spain and beat the drums for war. By April, McKinley yielded to public pressure and signed a congressional resolution declaring war on Spain. To help pay for the Spanish-American War, congress enacted a “temporary” tax of 3 percent on long-distance telephone bills. This was essentially a tax on the rich, as only about 1,300 Americans owned phones in 1898. Although the Spanish-American War ended in 1898, the temporary tax was only abolished in… 2005. Over its lifetime, the 107-year-old tax generated almost $94 billion – more than 230 times the cost of the Spanish-American War.