Can the American public be manipulated into supporting a needless war and the invasion of foreign soil?
On February 15, 1898, the U.S.S. Maine exploded in Havana Harbor, Cuba. Two days later–a month before a naval investigation issued its finding that it was “unable to obtain evidence fixing the responsibility for the destruction of the Maine upon any person”–the New York Journal drew its own conclusions: “Destruction of the War Ship Maine was the Work of an Enemy.” Newspaper Publishers William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer understood that a war with Spain would both sell newspapers and elevate them to positions of national prominence. They stoked the public’s hunger for war with their cry: “Remember the Maine. To Hell with Spain.”
When the U.S. officially declared war against Spain on April 25, Commodore George Dewey, commander of the American squadron in Hong Kong, received orders to attack the Spanish fleet in Manila, Philippines. Among the Spanish ships was the Isla de Mindanao, a transatlantic passenger steamer that had been requisitioned by the Spanish navy.
By dawn’s early light on May 1, Commodore Dewey directed his captain, “You may fire when you are ready, Gridley.” Within six hours, with the loss of only one American casualty, Dewey had either sunk or captured the entire Spanish fleet.
(Battle of Manila Bay, 1 May 1898 Commodore George Dewey directing the battle from on board USS Olympia. Painting by R.F. Zogbaum, 1899. This painting had formerly been owned by Admiral & Mrs. George Dewey.)