Sunday, December 21, 2014

U.S. Navy Frees Cuba

Review by Bill Doughty

The United States Navy helped the people of Cuba achieve independence from "corrupt, repressive Spanish colonial reign," writes Ivan Musicant in "Empire By Default" (Holt, 1998), a comprehensive reference about a decade of "profound turbulence."

The 1890s included a major economic depression, the annexation of Hawaii, and war with Spain over Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines.

Also during the turbulent decade that led to what the author calls the dawn of the American century:
"The powers, East and West, were carving up the prostrate body of defenseless imperial China. Great Britain, Germany, Russia, France and Japan had scooped out large chunks for naval bases, railroads, mining concessions, and trading zones, eyeing one another with the deadly suspicion of thieves splitting the loot."
Africa was still being partitioned by imperial powers, an "avaricious Japan" was already setting its sights on East and South East Asia, and tensions were high with Germany over Samoa. And in 1895 some Americans were nearly ready to go to war again with Britain over its "arrogance" in the Americas, including over Venezuela's boundaries.

Meantime, Germany, Japan and Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt were inspired by the strategic concepts of Capt. Alfred Thayer Mahan, author of "Influence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660, 1783." A stronger more powerful Navy was the advantage in the Spanish-American War.

Author Musicant opens and closes the 658+ page "Empire By Default" with references to the great naval thinker. It's another indication of how great Mahan's influence is to the development of the modern Navy and American century.

"Empire" includes copious notes, an extensive bibliography, supporting photos, and a helpful index. Historical profiles are provided on Jose Marti, Antonio Maceo, General Campo, General Weyler, Secretary of the Navy Long, Commodore  Dewey, Capt. Sigsbee, Senator Proctor, Capt. Sampson, Brig. Gen. Shafter, and Commodore Schley, among others.

Musicant shows how a mysterious explosion aboard USS Maine ignited war, how Col. Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders took San Juan Hill, and why readiness is so important to success in warfare. "In training, discipline, education, seamanship, and engineering, the Spanish navy was woefully behind its American enemy."

The Spanish-American War demonstrated the capabilities of expeditionary forces, reminding the nation of the significance of the Marines, the need for interservice interoperability, and the importance of accurate assessment of capabilities.
"The war for Cuba – and the Philippines and Puerto Rico as well – would depend, in chief, not on the strength and number of soldiers in the field, but on who controlled the sea, and here Spain had not the slightest chance of success. Falling into a fatal mode of military fantasy, in 1895 Spain adopted a new rating system for its navy that was wholly unrealistic and went far to dupe the nation and even foreign naval observers, who should have known better, into classifying the Spanish navy into a much higher material category of strength and readiness than it deserved."
The defeat of Rear Adm. Cervera in Cuba was a turning point not only for the United States Navy but also for the world against imperialism and monarchy. The Spanish Empire was coming to an end just as the United States "forged a new empire" based on altruism and independence, according to Musicant.

The Spanish American War guaranteed the building of a canal in Central America so the Navy could move from ocean to ocean.

And, with the annexation of Hawaii, the nation became "a commanding presence in the Far East ... as a naval base projecting power to the Orient."

"The battle had wrested for the U.S. Navy total control of the sea," Musicant writes. "America, as Alfred Thayer Mahan had predicted, now looked outward."

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