Teach American History Blog

Forgotten Wars

There are quite a few different organizations that send us emails. Recently, Lisa passed along to me the October e-newsletter from the National Council of History Education. One of the articles was entitled "Remembering to Teach a Forgotten War," written by Dr. Kyle Ward who teaches at St. Cloud State University. His article began by narrating an exercise that he uses with his students:

"I begin by telling them that this event started with an unexpected attack on Americans, killing a great many and capturing the attention of the United States and the world. In the days and weeks following this tragic event, there was a great deal of debate as to who exactly caused this attack and why. After a while, blame was squarely placed on a group of people who many Americans felt had been antagonistic to the United States for some time. All of this caused a war, with the U.S. invading a country over whichit appeared we would win a fairly easy victory. But to the surprise of many, the Republican President and some in his administration made a command decision, and the U.S. soon turned its attention to another war in a different nation. The president quickly sent U.S. troops into this second nation, diverting them from what most people thought was the primary target. After a few years of fighting, the president, under a lot of pressure from anti-war activists and the Democratic Party, made a grandiose sppech in front of the media claiming that this second war was over, even though guerrilla-style fighting lasted for years to come."

Dr. Ward then turns to his class and asks what war he is talking about; they almost always answer the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. He is, however, describing the Spanish-American War, focused first on Cuba and Puerto Rico and then being transferred to the Philippines. We could spend a long time talking about the importance of this conflict with Spain in the shaping of modern America: how Americans felt about imperialism, their involvement in world affairs, how it affected domestic challenges, and so on.

My question, though, is this: would this comparison with the Afghanistan/Iraq wars help in the teaching of the Spanish-American war? I would hope that high school students would be informed enough to know about our present-day conflicts in the Middle East, and my 5th grade daughter knows some of what is going on there. But, would the comparison only cloud the issues more, or would it help students understand what was going on in 1898?

Or, perhaps a better question to ask is how do you cover the Spanish-American War? How much time are you able to devote to it in your classrooms? I found that it is part of one of the state standards (5.5.06 b; 7.2). Do you cover it in a day? Mix it up with other discussions of the time period? Is Teddy Roosevelt an important figure in your discussions of the conflict, or are there others that are more prominent?

Posted by Jason Mead - Friday, 10/07/2011, 09:17 AM - Comments -