In class the other day we looked a whole bunch of images that were printed in the US with regards to the fight for Cuban independence from Spain. Today we look at them and are disgusted in a way, that these images were even printed, but also used as a way to promote American intervention in the battle between Cuba and Spain. Despite the clear racism depicted in each of these images, they did sway a lot of peoples thought, and even though the explosion of the USS Maine was ultimately what brought Americans into battle, the thought and idea was around much before that event, in large part due to these images used for propaganda.
The image The Cuban Melodrama is a great representation of a piece of propaganda used in the US as a way to advocate for US intervention in Cuba. In the image you see a man who is downed in all black, and just not looking like a very friendly figure, to say the least, represents Spain. Compare that to Cuba, who is represented by an innocent woman, dressed in a white gown. Of course right in the middle of this painting is Uncle Sam. Here he is like a father figure, comforting innocent Cuba, from big, bad Spain.
Comparing this image to what Hoganson argued in her article is that first of all, women in both America and Cuba had a huge role. In America, people felt as though chivalry was a dying breed, both men and women. On page 44, Hoganson writes, “Americans often viewed Cuba metaphorically, as a maiden, longing to be rescued by a gallant knight.” In the painting discussed above, you can see the chivalry when you think about it. The way Uncle Sam is consoling, comforting, and protecting the woman from the enemy can be seen as very chivalric in my opinion. By using a woman in the image, it also is showing how Cuba is in need of the help of American men. This is important because as Hoganson says, “To many Americans, chivalric standards represented the highest ideals of manhood and womanhood.” This ideal is why images like this are so important. By using an ideal like “chivalry”, it was easy to depict in propaganda like this to enter the war.
One issue you see in a lot of these propaganda images is racism. The war itself is a premise of racism, and you see it here, like in the “Spanish Politeness” image. While the racism is not completely outrageously out there, it is present. The way the Spanish man is presented is as dirty, ugly, and with a knife hidden behind his back. Compare that to Uncle Sam, who is looking scared at the Spanish man, with the USS Maine sinking in the background. In a nation ramped with racism, its not a surprise it is seen here against Spain too.
What makes this war unique, according to Hoganson, is that there was not that element or racism on the Cuban natives as there was on people of color within America, or on Spain. Instead this is where chivalry comes in. Rather than viewing the inhabitants of Cuba, through a race lens, they are viewed as though there need the help of American men.
The two images I selected are part of media and communications in a huge way. These images were a piece of propaganda, and used as a tool for people to advocate for war in Cuba. These were how ideas were spread, and were so important in times like the end/beginning of the 19th and 20th centuries. People would see these in their local newspapers, and posted in places. Images like these were how events like the Spanish-American War happened.
- Hoganson, Kirsten L. Fighting for American Manhood: How Gender Politics Provoked the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars(New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1998), 44-46
- Jay Taylor, The Cuban Melodrama, Puck, 3 June 1896
- Spanish Politeness