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America 1900 | Article

1900s Devastation and Conflict


War in the Philippines 
The outcome of the Spanish-American War left the US with a new-found degree of global power and influence. It also presented a dilemma of sorts for President William McKinley. The 1898 Treaty of Paris awarded the US annexation of the former Spanish colonies of Puerto Rico, Guam, Cuba, and the Philippines. Initially, American forces were greeted as liberators by Filipinos glad to be rid of Spanish occupation. Soon however, it became clear that many in the US did not see the Filipinos as being fit for self-rule. The comments of Indiana Senator Albert Beveridge reflected an opinion held by some in the US who believed that God "has made us the master organizers of the world...that we may administer...among savages and senile peoples." Despite the vocal objections of those who deplored such imperialistic notions as running counter to the tenets of American democracy, President McKinley ended up siding with those who felt the Philippines were too strategically important to the US to be governed by the Filipino people. McKinley declared his intention to "educate the Filipinos, and uplift and civilize and Christianize them," and mobilized 20,000 US troops to get the job done. What was predicted to be a quick and relatively bloodless pacification of a backward people quickly escalated into a prolonged war. Filipinos, led by Emiliano Aguinaldo, having declared themselves a sovereign republic in 1898, employed the tactics of guerrilla warfare that confounded the American forces. The US was finally able to defeat the Filipino forces in 1902. But it had required the efforts of 70,000 troops, over 5,000 of whom were killed. More than 8,000 Filipinos died in the conflict. 

The Galveston Hurricane 
Over Labor Day weekend 1900, while many of his fellow residents of Galveston, Texas sought relief from the unusually hot September weather by wading in the cooling waters of the Gulf of Mexico, Isaac Cline focused his attention on weather developments hundreds of miles away in the Caribbean. Cline, the station chief at the Galveston weather bureau, was concerned with the movements of a hurricane packing winds in excess of 100 m.p.h. that was racing toward Florida, possibly headed across the Gulf. Cline's concerns were well founded. On September 8, Galveston, situated on a narrow spit of land 30 miles out on the southeast coast of the Lone Star state, was pummeled by the most severe hurricane to date to hit the US. 

The 38,000 residents of Galveston had bravely contended with dangerous weather before. But no previous storm compared to the fury of wind and water that left the city entirely cut off from the mainland by late in the afternoon of the 8th. One-third of the city was literally swept off the map as violent waves, in the words of Isaac Cline, "acted as a battering ram." Six thousand people lost their lives, among them Cline's wife. Another 10,000 were left homeless. Reporter Richard Spillane wrote of "streets choked with debris, sandwiched with corpses; a city lifeless and bloomless." 

When the winds finally calmed by late Sunday survivors turned their attention to burying the dead and rebuilding, nearly from scratch, their city. City leaders drew up plans to pump tons of sand from the Gulf of Mexico to raise the city by 7 feet, while construction of a concrete sea wall was planned to shield Galveston from future destruction. 

The Boxer Rebellion 
With the secret encouragement of Dowager Empress Tz'u Hsi, the Boxers initiated a campaign of murder, beginning with Chinese Christians and eventually targeting foreigners. In June, the German, British, Austrian, Dutch, Belgian, and Italian legations in Peking were seized as the Boxers stormed the city shouting, "Kill, kill-death to the foreigners!" The United States, already enmeshed in a bloody conflict in the Philippines, joined France, Germany, Austria, Italy, Russia, Japan, and Great Britain in sending troops to China. By mid-August the international coalition had succeeded in driving the Boxers out of Peking. As punishment for the actions of the Boxers, the Chinese government was ordered to pay $333 million to, and further expand the trade privileges of, the nations who defeated them.

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