Friday, September 10, 2010

1890s: 1898

Looking to round out the 19th Century and begin transitioning to the next, I read David Traxel's 1898: The Birth of the American Century to learn more about the events leading up to and during the Spanish American War and how results of the conflict officially changed America's role in international relations.

In hindsight, the events of this year do seem to be a natural termination of the trends of the previous four decades.

Formal reconstruction and recovery from the Civil War was more or less over, with a new economic, political, and race relations equilibrium established. And the generation of the war was beginning to hand over the reigns to the next. I had never contemplated the concerns of having US troops on their way to Cuba pass through the American South--this was the first time since the Civil War/Reconstruction and no one knew how the public would react. The fact that they were cheered is telling of how the country's focus and priorities had changed in just a few years.

The changing of national focus had been seen in the fast migration and "taming" of the West, which had an almost sudden end, as the frontier was officially gone by the 1890s. Industrialization, with its urban focus and complementary need for trade, including international trade, to keep the economic engine churning was leading to a new interest in foreign conerns--a"foreign" concept to the isolated mentality established with the Revolution.

Urbanization and communications had allowed the media to emerge as major players in the country's actions, with the popular lead up to the war by the competing newspapers and their moguls as the classic example of creating news. It seems almost too neat of a story, with figures too large for life.

Traxel's book is okay. Not great, but readable and interesting enough. 2/5 stars. The main portion of the book is the war, but it is sandwiched between general survey history chapters on various cultural and political topics.

The book did, however, feel like a movie that was written with a sequel in mind.

The Germans were being set up as a future bully / enemy with their actions in the Philippines. The year ended with the European powers now having to consider America as a player in their events. And Teddy Roosevelt, after his introduction a few books ago, is emerging as a big hero.