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The Corresponence of James McNeil Whistler
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Whistler 2003 - Centenary Journal

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15th February 2003 - America at War

One hundred and five years ago on this day, at 2140 hrs, a massive explosion rocked the battleship U.S.S. Maine while it sat in harbour at Havana, Cuba. Two hundred and sixty-one officers were killed. A board of inquiry determined that the cause was a submarine mine, although no solid proof could be presented. However, popular opinion in America had been building against Spain; under Spanish rule a revolution had broken out in Cuba in 1895, and the President of the U.S.A. was eager to secure U.S. interests in the region. The sinking of the Maine provided the excuse for war.

On 3 July 1898 a battle between Spanish and U.S. ships in Santiago Bay resulted in 350 Spanish deaths and 160 casualties. Whistler wrote to Rosalind Birnie Philip two days later with his assessment of the situation: "We have heard a good deal of Spanish bravery! ... Nothing was said of the valour of the Americans who were always out in the open! - Now I think is the time to slightly hint at what is the real interest of the whole campagne [sic] - The world now sees what is the meaning of West Point ... West Point makes an army out of the men of the street" (GUL Whistler P371). Whistler had been educated at that famous military academy.

During the following months and years successful campaigns were fought against the Spanish in the Caribbean and the Philippines, although not without a reverse in public opinion by the early 1900s. American author Mark Twain, in his essay To the Person Sitting in Darkness, wrote (concerning the outcome of the Philippine situation) that "[we] fooled them, used them until we needed them no longer; then derided the sucked orange and threw it away."