Book Review: An Unwanted War

An Unwanted War:  The Diplomacy Of The United States & Spain Over Cuba 1895-1898, by John L. Offner

Diplomatic history is one of the more underrated genres of history, and this book is certainly a worthwhile history that examines a subject of great personal interest to me and also one where diplomatic history was particularly important in shaping the destinies of several nations.  Yet even as this book is a stellar example of the importance of diplomatic history in shaping the behavior of nations, it is also a reminder of the limits of diplomacy.  After all, both Spain and the United States sought very hard over the period of years to avoid this war.  Indeed, there had been at least some push for the invasion of Cuba going back at least to the 1850’s with the Ostend Manifesto and in the period from 1895 to 1898 the problem of Cuban freedom and the behavior of the Spanish became a major political problem within the United States, while simultaneously the demands of Spanish honor prevented the sort of actions that would have convinced the United States that Spain wanted peace, which would have required substantial freedom for Cuba.  Likewise, the Cuban revolutionaries themselves (to say nothing about their Philippine counterparts) were considerably reluctant to invite the United States to intervene on their behalf, a wise caution as happened to be the case in retrospect.

This book is a bit more than 200 pages and fourteen chapters.  The book begins with a preface and then moves on to three points of view of the Cuban revolution–the Spanish, American, and Cuban side (1).  After that the author discusses the interplay between President Cleveland and Spanish prime minister Cánovas over Cuba (2), and then the initial interactions between Cánovas and McKinley that were much along the same lines (3).  The author moves on to discuss the Woolford mission that provided an indirect way for the United States and Spain to seek peace, showing Woolford’s inability to relate to the Spanish mood (4), and then discussing the attempts by Sagasta to reform in Cuba (5) and how those reforms failed (6).  After that the author discusses the shocks of the De Lôme Letter and the Maine Disaster (7) and then the backdrop for diplomacy that existed in Spain and the United States (8) and the failure to solve the resulting crisis (9).  After that the author finishes the book with a discussion of the Spanish suspension of hostilities (10), the descent into war (11), and the preliminaries to peace (12) before going into the peace protocol that ended the brief war (13), and a conclusion (14), as well as an appendix, notes, bibliography, and index.

It is clear, at least, from the documentation that neither the government of Spain nor that of the United States wanted to fight.  There were, of course, people on both sides who wanted to fight, but the people in charge of both governments wanted to find some formula for peace that would provide for the honor of both sides.  Yet both sides were unable to do so.  While the press on both sides tended to inflame the populace of both Spain and the United States towards war, both governments sought without success to find some way of preserving mutual honor and dignity, until war came and the Spanish empire was found to be entirely worthless as a military force in the world, to the extent that Spain was able to be neutral in both World Wars because it was not viewed as being militarily powerful enough to worth having as an ally.  That is a matter this book does not deal with, but what the book does discuss is a thoughtful look at the decision-making and diplomatic efforts of both nations in a critical period that passed the torch from one empire to another.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American History, Book Reviews, History, International Relations, Military History and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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