Last Updated 28 Jan 2021

The Oxford American Dictionary

Category Cuba, United States
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According to The Oxford American Dictionary, a fact “is a thing that is known to have occurred, to exist, or to be true," while an opinion is “a view or judgment formed about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge. ” Written in 1898, Albert Shaw’s work, “The Blowing Up of the Maine,” provides examples of the differences between fact and opinion that can be found in a writing style called “yellow journalism.

”Coined in the late 19th century, the phrase “yellow journalism” was used to describe newspapers that used a combination of verifiable data, sensationalism and distorted imagery to increase sales and/or influence public viewpoints. In “The Blowing Up of the Maine,” author Shaw emphasizes emotion and anti-Spanish bias, while limiting facts, in his description of the destruction of the USS Maine, an American warship harbored briefly in Cuba’s Havana Harbor, to achieve the following goals: promotion of American nationalism and justification of the subsequent conflict between the United States and Spain that led to the Spanish-American War.

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He accomplishes those two objectives through discussion of the following:

  • America’s collective opinion of Spanish policy and actions,
  • Spain’s anti-American sentiment,
  • The federal government’s response to Spain and growth of the American military.

Additionally, Shaw’s style allows readers to compare and contrast fact and opinion in his rendition of this part of American history. Firstly, Shaw’s focus on emotionalism is demonstrated at the beginning of his accounting with a description of the American public’s feelings about the explosion of the USS Maine.

He states, “…75 million Americans have accordingly suspended judgment in the face of a great provocation…to suppose the destruction of the Maine an ordinary incident and not due to any external agency or hostile intent was, under all the circumstances, to set completely at defiance the law of probabilities. ” While Shaw does infuse a factual approximation with his reference to America’s population, with the 1900 United States Census indicating 76,212,168 Americans, he presumes to know the feelings of the entire American populace. In 1900, approximately sixty percent of Americans lived in rural areas (U.S. Census, 1900).

And only 1. 3% of the population had telephones (Guinee, 1995). Consequently, communications across country were limited, and the first national opinion survey wasn’t administered until 1916 (Converse, 1987). Thus, it would have difficult for Shaw to have documented the actual feelings of the entire American population. Additionally, Shaw infers that the explosion of the USS Maine was caused by Spanish aggression. Without reference to actual data, he suggests that it was highly improbable that the event was caused by anything other than an attack from Spain.

In 1898 and 1911, the U.S. Department of Navy conducted investigations, concluding that a mine had caused the destruction of the warship (Naval Historical Center, 2003). According to the U. S. Navy, “Technical experts at the time of both investigations disagreed with the findings, believing that spontaneous combustion of coal in the bunker adjacent to the reserve six-inch magazine was the most likely cause of the explosion on board the ship” (Naval Historical Center, The Destruction of the USS Maine section, para 12, 2003). To date, no final cause of the Maine’s destruction has been determined (Naval Historical Center, 2003).

Shaw continues his emotional description of America’s opinion of Spain in a series of additional references. He states, “There are a few people in the United States – we should not like to believe that more than one hundred... who believe that the United States ought to join hands with Spain in forcing the Cuban insurgents to lay down their arms... ” Shaw makes assumptions about the opinions of the American public, assuming that less than 1% would support Spain’s actions, without actual facts to support his statement. He later states, “The people of the United States do not intend to help Spain hold Cuba.

On the contrary, they are now ready, in one way or another, to help the Cubans drive Spain out of the Western Hemisphere. If the occasion goes past and we allow the Cuban struggle to run on indefinitely, the American people will have lost several degrees of self-respect…” Again, Shaw presumes to know the thoughts of all Americans and uses an emotional appeal to emphasize his views. He makes no reference to a poll or survey taken of American sentiment, and leads the reader to conclude that all Americans are ready to go to war with Spain to end its rule of Cuba, without any data to back his opinion.

Additionally, he infers that America’s failure to aid Cuba against Spain would be wrong, if not immoral. Secondly, Shaw also discusses Spain’s “feelings” about America throughout “The Blowing Up of the Maine” to further strengthen support for his opinions. He says, “It has been known perfectly well that Spanish hatred might at any time manifest itself by attempts upon the life of the American representative at Havana, Consul General Fitzhugh Lee.

”He states, “The Spaniards themselves, however, looked upon the sending of the Maine as a further aggravation of the long series of their just grievances against the United States. They regarded the presence of the Maine at Havana as a menace to Spanish sovereignty in the island and as an encouragement to the insurgents. He also notes, “The American pretense that the Maine was making a visit of courtesy seemed to these Spaniards a further example of Anglo-Saxon hypocrisy.

”And, finally, he adds, “…Spain on her part was trying to raise money to buy ships and secure allies. ” Shaw’s descriptions lead the reader to assume that a Spanish attack on America was imminent and something that America prepare for and expect. Again, Shaw expresses his opinions without supporting data. He makes no references to Spanish official documents or policies, or to statements made by Spanish leaders, that would prove Spain harbored ill feelings towards Americans or intended to attack the United States.

Instead, he incites America’s emotions with his allusions that Spain caused the destruction of the USS Maine and has been preparing for war with America. Finally, Shaw appeals to American patriotism by discussing actions performed by the federal government and the subsequent growth of the military. He uses a mixture of fact and opinion, again presuming the entire American population is aware of a series of actions undertaken by the American government to prepare for war against Spain. He does not, however, provide verification of the information he writes. He states the following,

“The whole country has known that…government work was being prosecuted with double or quadruple forces of men, working by night as well as by day; that ammunition factories, iron and steel plants, and every other establishment capable of furnishing any kind of military or naval supplies were receiving orders from the government and were working to the full extent of their capacity; that our naval representatives were negotiating abroad for additional warships; that new regiments of artillerymen were being enlisted for the big guns on the seaboard; that naval recruits were being mustered in to man newly commissioned ships; that the railroads were preparing by order of the War Department to bring the little United States Army from western and northern posts to convenient southern centers. ” He adds “…on March 8 [three weeks following the destruction of the USS Maine], the House of Representatives unanimously voted to place $50 million at the unqualified disposal of President McKinley as an emergency fund for the national defense – …followed by an equally unanimous vote of the Senate…a very large sum to place in the hands of one man…no part of the $50 million will be squandered by the administration.

” While the reader could verify Congress’ allocation of funds to the Executive branch of government for national defense, how could Shaw know that all plants were “working to full capacity” or determine that as many as two to four times as many men were working to prepare American for war? Or how would Shaw know exactly how the funds would be spent? Again, Shaw makes predictions regarding the conflict with Spain, this time about the American government. Shaw adds statements like, “The quickness and inventiveness of America[s]…have no parallel in Europe,” “Americans had been…building or buying…high speed and stanch qualities, capable of being quickly transformed into naval dispatch boats or armored and fitted with torpedo tubes.

Probably not a single private Spanish citizen could turn over to his government such a vessel…,” and “[America] the most highly developed mechanical and industrial nation will by virtue of such development be most formidable in war…, a situation that the Spaniards in general are evidently quite unable to comprehend. ” Shaw emphasizes the strength of American “might” (comparing it to Spain) and an increase in the size of the military to promote nationalism and gain public support for the war. Again, Shaw offers no data to support his opinions, only making the assumption that America would be better equipped for conflict than the Spanish. In conclusion, Shaw’s “The Blowing Up of the Maine” is an example of “yellow journalism,” using a combination of fact, emotionalism and opinion to promote patriotism and public support of war with Spain.

While there is no definitive proof that works like Shaw’s caused the Spanish-American War, sensationalist writing does rouse emotions. According to historians, a debate still continues: Did yellow journalism create the conflict between America and Spain, or simply demonstrate what contemporary Americans felt at that time? While the question remains unanswered, readers are able to compare fact and opinion and come to their own conclusions.

References

  1. Converse, Jean M (1987).
  2. Survey Research in the United States: Roots and Emergence 1890-1960. Guinee, Kathleen (1995).
  3. A Journey through the History of Information Technology. Naval Historical Center (2003).
  4. Destruction of USS Maine. U. S. Census (1890).
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