'Honor In The Dust' by Emmett Strode - WSET.com - ABC13

'Honor In The Dust' by Emmett Strode

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On the second terrace at Monument Terrace in downtown Lynchburg there is a bronze plaque dedicated "To the memory of Soldiers, Sailors & Marines of the Spanish American War 1898-1903." The memorial was erected by the United Spanish War Veterans of Virginia, it  is flanked by two fountains I have not seen in operation in the 15 years I've lived in Lynchburg.

It seems all but forgotten. A monument to a war that is all but forgotten by most Americans.

Gregg Jones offers "Honor In The Dust" (New American Library, 2012) as a sort of remedy for our foggy collective memory.

Most Americans, if asked about the Spanish American War, can only recall Teddy Roosevelt and his rough riders charging up San Juan Hill. A few will "Remember the Maine!" And just maybe one or two will recall Commodore Dewey's defeat of the Spanish fleet at Manila Bay. That is the extent of most of the popular memory of what became our first, and only, attempt to establish an American Empire.

The war in Cuba was wrapped up fairly quickly creating several popular heroes such as Roosevelt and Leonard Wood. But the war in the Philippines changed from a war against Spanish imperialists, who had ruled the islands for hundreds of years, to a war against the very Filipinos who had welcomed our invasion force because they thought we came to free them from their oppressors.

The war in the Philippines became our first true experience facing a guerilla force determined to resist American occupation. It was also the war that helped establish the Marine Corps as an elite fighting force, creating numerous heroes and scapegoats along the way. Jones' book chronicles all of this along with the rise of Teddy Roosevelt from Assistant Secretary of the Navy to war hero to Vice President and eventually, with the assassination of William McKinley, to President of the United States.

War fever was stirred up by the popular press of the day. Papers owned by Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst pushed for a war against Spain and when the U.S. S. Maine blew up in Havana harbor the papers screamed for revenge against the Spanish. Hearst and Pulitzer's papers reported the Spanish were responsible for the loss of the Maine and most of her crew. The newspaper tycoons got their wish. Soon the United States launched what Secretary of State John Hay called our "splendid little war."

As far as the conquest of Cuba and Porto Rico (sic) are concerned, it was a "splendid" and short little war. Fighting by conventional means with conventional forces, we soon over powered the Spanish, freed Cuba and placed Porto Rico under our "protection." But the war in the Pacific was different. Guam fell quickly. The Philippines morphed from a war of liberation into a war of occupation.

In addition to Roosevelt and Dewey the war made household names of men like Leonard Wood, General "Howling Wilderness" Jacobs, "Fighting Fred" Funston and John Quick. It also made scapegoats of men like Marine Major Little W. T. Waller. A hero of the Boxer Rebellion in China, he was court-martial ed  and acquitted of the murder of 11 Filipinos.

The War in the Philippines was the first recorded use of the torture of prisoners by American forces using something called "the water cure." Nearly identical to something we came to know in the 21st century as "water boarding." Something our troops in the Philippines said they learned from the Spanish.

Jones' style is easy to read. His book is well researched. For those interested in finding out how we got to where we are in the world today, it is an informative read.

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