Splendid Little War: Also Known as the Newspaper War


The war between Cuba and Spain received major notoriety when American newspapers made it front page news.

The phrase “splendid little war” is taking from a statement John Hay, State Ambassador to England, made to Theodore Roosevelt while Roosevelt was Colonel of the Rough Riders. His full statement read:

It has been a splendid little war; begun with the highest motives, carried on with magnificent intelligence and spirit, favored by that fortune which loves the brave.

According to Frank Freidel’s book, The Splendid Little War, the war was splendid to most of the United States population who had been removed from the actual fighting that took place.

Media and Sensationalizing War

Newspaper publishers, such as Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer sensationalized the war in order to sell papers. What the American people received as actual events of the war were primarily written to gain support for the United States involvement in Cuba. Prior to the Spanish-American War the United States was in a deep depression and many influential businessmen felt that a war with Spain would not only help the United States economically, but also helped the United States to become a world power. For the men fighting the battles before the fall of Santiago the war was “grim, dirty, and bloody as any war in history.” Although the war was not the magnitude of other wars fought by the United States, only lasting a little over a year, the incompetence, and the luck of the Americans kept the war from stretching into a full-blown battle.

Isolated from the World

The United States was still a young nation in 1898 when the war with Spain began. It was not considered a world power. It was separated by oceans from European countries. It was a loner in its own state of affairs. The United States knew little about foreign politics, but would soon make a major appearance on the world stage destined to change American history forever.

Political Dissatisfaction

As the United States media became aware of the atrocities happening in Cuba by Valeriano Weyler, the Secretary General of Spain, they pressed the United States government to get involved with Cuba’s independence from Spain. Grover Cleveland, the United States President at the time when the revolts in Cuba began did not want to become involved with Cuba’s defiance against Spain. The Democratic party became so dissatisfied with Cleveland that he was not reelected for a second term. William McKinley took office as president in 1897.

USS Maine Explodes

While docked in the Cuban harbor the USS Maine mysteriously explodes February 15, 1898. Immediately the United States newspapers blamed Spain and on March 28 the Naval Court of Inquiry determined that the Spain did indeed blow the ship up. However, the determination remained questionable.

United States Goes to War

With the influence of the newspapers Americans were all the more outraged that an American ship had been destroyed and gave President McKinley no choice but to go to war.


  1. Frank Freidel, The Splendid Little War (Boston: Little, Brown and Co. 1958)