Sunday, February 21, 2021

Guest Post: February 15, 1898 - Cuban Rebels Arrested while Attacking Ships in Havana Harbor

This article first appeared on Today in Alternate History.

In 1898, U.S. Naval forces were dispatched to Havana Harbor in order to protect U.S. interests during the Cuban War of Independence. In the opinion of many dovish politicians, this ill-advised and preemptive move by the hawkish Assistant Navy Secretary Theodore Roosevelt was a thinly disguised forward deployment in anticipation of a war with the crumbling Spanish Empire.

The chauvinistic desire to build an American empire by acquiring Spanish territories was an extension of Manifest Destiny and the Monroe Doctrine. The growing sense that war-mongers and yellow journalists were agitating for conquest was soon highlighted by the arrests of subversives in Havana Harbor on February 15. Ultimately, political pressure from doves prevailed and the Sampson Board of Inquiry placed the blame on the actions of Cuban rebels. Roosevelt was disgusted by this whitewash and left office soon afterwards.

A Spanish-American war had been averted, but, of course, matters did not rest there. Spain was losing control of the island because she was hopelessly incapable of keeping her far-flung empire together. Despite not having a history of selling-up, the near-bankrupt Spanish government decided to cash in her chips. This occurred right after the next crisis in Morocco , which brought the expanding German Empire into Spain's orbit. One direct consequence of this engagement was the purchase of the Philippine Islands by Berlin. A nascent Great Power, Germany, like the U.S.A., was rapidly playing catch-up in the scramble for overseas territories.

Named after Phillip II of Spain, and dominated by Catholics, the Philippine Islands at least had some religious affinity with their new German overlords. The Kaiser quickly lost interest in Tsingtao and sent the East Asia Squadron of the German Imperial Navy to Manila. Sixteen years of rapid development then followed as Wilhem basked in the summer of his long-desired "Place in the Sun."

The First World War brought unexpected changes to the balance of power. This opened the door to the troubling development of the Japanese conquest of the Philippines on the eve of the U.S. entry into the war. The architects of the Treaty of Versailles would reluctantly create a Japanese Mandate, although the rising civilian disorder under German rule would only intensify under Shinto over-lordship. This acquisition unsettled Western powers for numerous reasons: the precedent of Christians being ruled by non-Christians as well as the strategic position of the Imperial Japanese Navy in the sea-lanes. Immediately after the armistice, the ever-belligerent Theodore Roosevelt called for a U.S.-led international force to expel the Japanese invaders. But the Great Powers were simply exhausted, America was heading towards isolationism, and the broadsheet newspapers mocked "Roosevelt Riders" for its unwanted adventurism.

Oppression on the Philippines was brutal. It was a clear sign of future intent because Tokyo was eyeing nearby strategic resources of oil and rubber under European control. The British and French, who were absorbing other mandated territories, still believed that they could maintain control of their Far Eastern Empires, but the unstoppable rise of Hitler would lead to much more pressing security issues for them much nearer to home. Although the abdicated Kaiser would never forgive the Japanese, Hitler could not care less about the Far East.

With Japanese forces directly threatening U.S. interests in China, there was growing pressure to move the U.S. Pacific Fleet from San Diego to Pearl Harbor in an echo of 1898. However, much like the last months of Buchanan's presidency eighty years earlier, the timing was all wrong for such a change of direction. Having lifted America out of the Great Depression, the former Maryland governor Albert Ritchie was in the final months of his second presidential term. An isolationist America headed to the polls in 1940 with the so-called Japanese Question unresolved. But at some point, the American military would have to confront the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere while the British and Dutch Empires and their allies could still provide a platform for a near-future war in the Pacific.

Robbie Taylor's Addendum:

After Germany's entrance into the Boer War, and German-puppet Spain's North African possessions attacking eastward, the African continent became as embroiled as Europe in the great conflict, devastating a land that had already been sucked dry of resources by Europeans. It is considered that if the Axis powers had not had so much control over Africa due to the German/Spanish alliance dating back to the Spanish-American affair, the outcome of the Second World War would have been much more tilted to the Allied side... 

Provine's Addendum:

The United States would be jolted out of isolationism in 1959 when Japan-Peru relations reached a new level of trade agreements giving Japan, rather than the U.S., preferential treatment. Shocked cries protested violation of the Monroe Doctrine, which was already under fire from Atlantic-facing South American countries courting German diplomacy. Efforts to secure "everything north of the Panama Canal" would lead to extensive U.S. investment in Central America and the Caribbean and a much freer flow of immigration, causing an abrupt about-face with American support for the Castro government in Cuba.

Author's Note:

In reality, the sinking of the U.S.S. Maine contributed to the outbreak of the Spanish-American War. This led to the transfer of sovereignty for the Philippine Islands to the United States, which set the stage for war with Japan.

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