The 20th century is known as historians as the ‘American Century’, it’s hard to think about how the world would look like without America coming out as a Great Power and doing the things it did, but back in the 18th century, it was hard to imagine that they would be so strong. After all, the biggest war they had was a war they had with itself. However, after the Spanish-American War everything changed.
The United States of America’s victory against the Spanish in the Spanish-American War was a pivotal moment for America, introducing it as a Great Power on the world stage alongside nations like Great Britain, France and Germany. After the war, America would get imperial aspirations and go from having no oversea colonies to having Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Guam, Hawaii and planned to build a canal in the Panama. So what if the Americans lost, or at least, had a white peace with the Spanish where neither side lost or gained anything? This is one possible outcome.
Escalation and Background
In 1895, the Cubans fought for independence against their Spanish overlords. The war was brutal, rebels blew up sugar mills and burned houses. Spanish troops led citizens to ‘protected areas’ to cut off supplies to the rebels, and about 10% of the citizens died due to disease or other causes. With all the journalists and warmongering politicians like Theodore Roosevelt and Henry Cabot Lodge calling for an intervention in Cuba for supposedly humanitarian reasons, America was looking like it would join the war. At 9:40 on the evening of February 15, 1858, the USS Maine exploded. Controversy over who did it still rages. It could’ve been the Spanish, who could’ve done it to spite the US, or it could’ve been the Cuban rebels who wanted to get the US on its side. Nevertheless, Congress declared war on the Spanish Empire.
The war itself was very one-sided, the Spanish troops in Cuba was sick with Yellow Fever and the squadrons of ships that were sent to both Cuba and the Philippines were outdated and were easily destroyed, leading to a heavy loss of life. It was a total victory for the Americans. But what if things had gone differently? What if the Spanish troops at Cuba, sick and tired as they were, beat off the unorganised American troops?
Outcomes for the Spanish
In our timeline, the lost of this war was considered a disaster for the Spanish, but it had mixed blessings. Even though the Americans won the war, they paid $20 million for the infrastructure of the islands that they now had. This money was used to build modern infrastructure in the Spanish homeland, such as steel, chemical and electrical industries. However, it destroyed the political stability that the ruler Alfonso XII achieved in his short rule.
We can assume that since America wouldn’t have taken over the colonies, Spain would never have had this massive influx of capital, but at the same time, would strengthen the Spanish spirit back home and make the government more stable. However, even so, the Spanish treasury would be empty as the rebellion in the Philippines drained it significantly. In addition, even without the US intervention, Cuba was winning the war. While there is discussion on whether or not the Cubans could’ve finished the job and won on their own, I believe they could, or at least earn more autonomy, as the Spanish simply couldn’t supply the men in both the Philippines and in Cuba.
The situation in the Philippines would probably continue like in our timeline, the rebels would declare independence and found the First Philippines Republic. While in our timeline neither the Americans nor the Spanish recognised the newly found Republic, we can assume to spite the Spanish or simply to weaken their position, the Americans would acknowledge it, while the Spanish would continue to fight, leading to a drawn out guerrilla campaign in the deep jungles of Asia.
In conclusion, had the Spanish won, the Spanish Empire would probably have continued existing for longer than it did in our timeline.
Outcome for the Americans
Before the war, America ranked in power alongside countries like Belgium and Sweden, afterwards, it was a full fledged Great Power alongside Great Britain and others. Had they lost the war, this would’ve reaffirmed the Europeans’ belief about America, a regional power that could be strong when it really wanted to, but not as strong as the established great powers.
Prewar America was kind of like a huge dragon split into two sides. On one side, it wanted to be an imperialistic power like the European Empires, but on the other side, it wanted to follow its beliefs. After all, America was a colony that rebelled against Great Britain and got its’ independence, how would it look if they went and conquered other people for imperialistic reasons? After the war, it was different. The public wanted to go, as the Founding Fathers put it, look for monsters to slay. After all, the Spanish-American war had such a low cost, some ~2,910 dead and ~1,577 wounded. It brought glory to America, got them new lands that they felt they had a responsibility to civilise, to give them the gift of democracy. However, even back then, people like Anti-Imperialists like Mark Twain said it was bad and they shouldn’t do it. If they lost the war, the anti-imperialists would likely have more bullets to shoot, calling it things like a folly or a waste of time. The public would think so too, and presidents like Theodore Roosevelt wouldn’t have been voted into office. As a result, the US would likely have been more isolationist and never would’ve developed the jingo they had to go abroad. They likely wouldn’t have annexed Hawaii as they wouldn’t want to go abroad, and the Panama Canal could’ve been built by someone else.
Basically, if America had lost the war, they would’ve kept to themselves a lot more, kept less colonies, built more infrastructure and developed the states. While they were still strong and still could’ve had bustling industries, they would not have recognised as a great power due to their loss to the Spanish. Though, had something like World War I happen, they could have risen to that status by doing what they did in our timeline.
The result of the Spanish-American war was that America rose to the world stage and Spain fell hard. While we can assume the Spanish Empire would’ve lasted longer, it is hard to assume what would happen from there, considering the major role America played throughout the 20th century.