20
Apr
09

On This Day, April 20: Hearst’s War

April 20, 1898

McKinley asks for declaration of war with Spain

President William McKinley asks Congress to declare war on Spain on this day in 1898.

In 1895, Cuba, located less than 100 miles south of the United States, attempted to overthrow Spanish colonial rule. The rebels received financial assistance from private U.S. interests and used America as a base of operations from which to attack. The Spanish military responded with brutal force; approximately 100,000 Cuban civilians died in wretched conditions within Spanish concentration camps between 1895 and 1898. McKinley originally tried to avoid an armed conflict with Spain, but the American media, led by newspaper baron Randolph Hearst, lambasted McKinley as “weak” and whipped up popular sentiment for a war to give Cubans their independence.

On February 17, 1898, the battleship USS Maine, moored in Havana’s harbor, sank after being rocked by two explosions; 252 men onboard were killed. Hawks in the media and within the government immediately blamed Spain, and President McKinley, abandoning his hopes for neutrality in the Cuban-Spanish conflict, bowed to Congressional calls for war. (It was later discovered that the explosion was caused by the spontaneous ignition of faulty ammunitions onboard the Maine.)

Swift, successful naval battles in the Philippines and the army’s capture of Santiago and Puerto Rico, led by future President Theodore Roosevelt and his band of “Rough Riders,” ended what became known as the Spanish-American War in four months with relatively few casualties. The quick success boosted American confidence, leading to further intervention in foreign affairs in an attempt to liberate what were, in the eyes of the U.S. government, at least, oppressed nations yearning for democracy and independence. Although contemporaries of McKinley and Roosevelt called it a “splendid little war,” the Spanish-American War is now viewed by most historians as a war of American imperialism.

“McKinley asks for declaration of war with Spain,” The History Channel website, 2009, http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history.do?action=Article&id=501 [accessed Apr 20, 2009]

On This Day

1139 – The Second Lateran Council opened in Rome.

1689 – The siege of Londonderry began. Supporters of James II attacked the city.

1769 – Ottawa Chief Pontiac was murdered by an Illinois Indian in Cahokia.

1775 – The British began the siege of Boston.

1792 – France declared war on Austria, Prussia, and Sardinia. It was the start of the French Revolutionary wars.

1809 – Napoleon defeated Austria at Battle of Abensberg, Bavaria.

1836 – The U.S. territory of Wisconsin was created by the U.S. Congress.

1902 – Scientists Marie and Pierre Curie isolated the radioactive element radium.

1945 – Soviet troops began their attack on Berlin.

1962 – The New Orleans Citizens’ Council offered a free one-way ride for blacks to move to northern states.

1967 – U.S. planes bombed Haiphong for first time during the Vietnam War.

1972 – The manned lunar module from Apollo 16 landed on the moon.

1978 – The Korean Airliner 007 was shot down while in Russian airspace.

1988 – The U.S. Air Forces’ Stealth (B-2 bomber) was officially unveiled.

1999 – 13 people were killed at Columbine High School in Littleton, CO, when two teenagers opened fire on them with shotguns and pipebombs. The two gunmen then killed themselves.

April 20, 1971

“Fragging” on the rise in U.S. units

The Pentagon releases figures confirming that fragging incidents are on the rise. In 1970, 209 such incidents caused the deaths of 34 men; in 1969, 96 such incidents cost 34 men their lives. Fragging was a slang term used to describe U.S. military personnel tossing of fragmentation hand grenades (hence the term “fragging”) usually into sleeping areas to murder fellow soldiers. It was usually directed primarily against unit leaders, officers, and noncommissioned officers.

Fragging was rare in the early days of U.S. involvement in ground combat, but it became increasingly common as the rapid turnover caused by the one-year rotation policy weakened unit cohesion. With leadership and morale already declining in the face of repetitive Vietnam tours, the withdrawal of public support led to soldiers questioning their purpose on the battlefield. The situation worsened with the gradual U.S. troop withdrawal that began in 1969. As some troops were withdrawn, discipline and motivation declined as many remaining soldiers began to question why they had to continue fighting.

Fragging incidents in combat were usually attempts to remove leaders perceived to be incompetent and a threat to survival. Most fragging incidents, however, occurred in rear-echelon units and were committed by soldiers on drugs or because unit leaders were enforcing anti-drug policies. Unit leaders who were perceived to be too stringent in the enforcement of discipline or regulations sometimes received warnings via a fragmentation grenade, with the safety pin left on, but with their name painted on it left on their bunk, or a smoke grenade discharged under their bunk. Most understood the message, and intimidation through threat of fragging far exceeded actual incidents.

“”Fragging” on the rise in U.S. units,” The History Channel website, 2009, http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history.do?action=Article&id=1796 [accessed Apr 20, 2009]

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