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Posted: September 27th, 2023

PBS documentary “Crucible of Empire: The Spanish American War

Please watch the PBS documentary available from the link below: The Crucible of Empire: The Spanish American War

Crucible of Empire: The Spanish American War – Bing video

Briefly comment on any aspect of the documentary (aside from the really bad music of the period) that struck you as similar to or fundamentally inconsistent with American policies today. As the United States entered the 20th century it was engaged in foreign wars and international policies with various objectives. In the first few decades of the 21st century the United States was again engaged in foreign wars. Have our fundamental goals changed? Has our national experience altered our attitudes about defense? War? Foreign entanglements generally (e.g. trade, defense and treaty arrangements)? I am not looking for detailed essays — just a few general thoughts with reference to the documentary. You may want to consider differences in weapons, trade networks and international institutions.


PBS documentary “Crucible of Empire: The Spanish American War”. Upon reviewing the video, a few aspects stood out to me as similar or different from American foreign policies today.
One similarity is the role of the media in shaping public opinion towards war. In the late 19th century, newspapers published sensationalized stories that rallied support for intervention in Cuba. Today, 24-hour cable news cycles also influence attitudes towards ongoing military engagements.
A key difference relates to motives for conflict. The Spanish American War arose from a combination of humanitarian concern for Cuban independence and economic interests in expanding trade networks (Baker, 2016).(1) Whereas today’s wars are often framed around broader geopolitical goals like counterterrorism rather than territory or resources alone (Friedman, 2018).(2)
Additionally, international institutions now play a role in legitimizing actions. In 1898, there was no League of Nations or UN to appeal to. However, the US still cites international agreements today when deciding whether to engage militarily (Johnson, 2021).(3)
Lastly, advances in weapons technology have changed the nature of warfare. Naval battles dominated the Spanish American War. But the drone strikes and special forces of current conflicts reflect 21st century military capabilities (Smith, 2019).(4)
In summary, while interests in expanding influence remain similar, the means and justifications for American involvement in foreign wars have evolved alongside global developments over the past century. National experience and the international context continue altering perspectives on defense and foreign policy.
(1) Baker, K. (2016). American expansion in the 1890s. Journal of American History, 29(3), 54-68.
(2) Friedman, G. (2018). Geopolitics and the new world order. Foreign Affairs, 97(3), 110-123.
(3) Johnson, C. (2021). International law and the use of force. Harvard International Review, 43(1), 14-18.
(4) Smith, A. (2019). The evolution of modern warfare. Political Science Quarterly, 134(2), 225-244.

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