Back in 1823, when the United States was a brash young contender, President James Monroe dashed off a letter to the crowned heads of Europe saying their land grab activity was okay so long as they weren’t grabbing lands he wanted to grab. Jimmie had an eye on Indian Territory. He was a visionary who knew in his heart of hearts the USA would someday emerge as a world power. His vision even anticipated the Homestead Act of 1860 which legitimized a domestic land grab closer to home.
During the previous 300 years Spain and Portugal had been up to their armpits “colonizing” North, South and Central America along with vast swaths of territory in the Pacific. By the early 1800s Spain could lay claim to the entire Pacific Coast from what we know now as the southern Oregon border as far south as the tip of Antarctica. But they were getting stretched thin on the home front.
In 1808 Napoleon invaded Spain and Portugal and took the Royal Families hostage. You might think grabbing lands from your next-door neighbor is the epitome of dirty pool. Not back then. Populist points of view on the Continent were relatively straight-forward. Everybody hated everybody who wasn’t them and the French even hated those who were them if they lived out in the country.
To make matters worse the natives in the out-lying colonies in our own neck of the woods got restless. Maybe we’d set a bad example for enslaved people everywhere with the success of our American Revolution. Maybe indigenous populations everywhere were sick and tired of getting conquested. In any case South and Central American folks decided they wanted independence. They overthrew the “legitimate” governments and tossed the foreigners out. The whole continent of South America was on fire.
And then the revolution hit Cuba. We backed the rebels. After all we’d told the Europeans fifty years earlier in no uncertain terms, we didn’t want no stinking interference in our backyard. Besides the USA was emerging from a protracted period of depression and everybody knows nothing cures depression like a good old-fashioned war.
In 1898 President Bill McKinley sent the battleship Maine down to Havana to protect American citizens. Somebody sank the sucker. Nobody knows who. Mighta been Spain. Mighta been the rebels. Might even have been Teddy Roosevelt who at the time was Secretary of the Navy but who resigned his post to lead the Rough Riders to an easy victory.
The USA had a formidable navy. Spain was down to two rowboats and a rusty frigate. After six months of one-sided war Spain threw in the towel. The USA got the Philippines, Guam and Puerto Rico. Cuba became a USA protectorate which was as close as they could get to independence until Fidel Castro came along but that’s a whole ‘nother story.