The Spanish American War and The Cuban War for Independence by Diana Ferraro

The Spanish--American War--a conflict between Spain and the United States in 1898--coexisted with the ongoing Cuban War of Independence. A typical conflict between a powerful empire living its last chapter and an energetic and rich country with the will to prevail competed for the world’s attention with the last Latin American war for Independence from Spain. Two writers, the Cuban José Marti (1853-1895) and the American Stephen Crane (1871 -1 900) wrote about these wars. José Marti's role as a patriot would surpass his role as a poet, becoming the “Apostle" of the Independence and losing his life in a skirmish at the beginning of the Independence war, and Stephen Crane, as an American correspondent of war, would survive the sinking of his ship and live many adventures in Cuba. Both have left memorable pages about the war, which go beyond politics to enter in the history of man as a suffering being, struggling for freedom, and in the need to accept war as a sometimes unavoidable mean.


José Marti

José Marti (January 28, 1853 -- May 19, 1895) was a Cuban national hero and an important figure in Latin American literature. In his short life he was a poet, an essayist, a journalist, a revolutionary philosopher, a translator, a professor, a publisher, and a political theorist. As part of the Cuban Freemasons and through his writings and political activity, he became a symbol for Cuba's struggle for independence against Spain in the 19th century, and is referred to as “El Apóstol," the "Apostle of Cuban Independence."

Born in Havana, he was the son of poor Spanish immigrants. Thanks to the aid of his teacher, he was able to go to high school just at the time the Ten Years' War, Cuba's first struggle for independence, began. Marti quickly committed himself to the cause, and was soon arrested. Freed after a few months, Marti began the exile that would characterize the better part of the rest of his life.

He went first to Spain and from 1881 until his fateful return to Cuba in 1895, Marti spent much of his time in New York. He reported on life in the United States for many newspapers in Latin America and he wrote everything from poetry (Versos Sencillos, 1891 ) to essays on the United States which he admired for its energy and industry as well as for its Constitution. While pursuing his literary career, he planned the second Cuban struggle for Independence and founded in 1982 the Cuban Revolutionary Party. In 1895, Marti arrived in Cuba to be killed in a small skirmish two weeks later.

His death was used as a cry for Cuban independence from Spain by both the Cuban revolutionaries and those Cubans previously reluctant to start a revolt. Latin Americans worshiped him too and, as the Nicaraguan poet Rubén Dario said, Marti belonged to “an entire race, an entire continent." The concepts of freedom, liberty, and democracy are prominent themes in all of his works. After the 20’s and 30’s, one of his poems from the book, "Versos Sencillos" was adapted to the song, "Guantanamera", which has become the definitive patriotic song of Cuba. -- (From: Library of Congress- Wikipedia- josé-marti)

Stephen Crane

Stephen Crane (November 1, 1871 -- June 5, 1900) was one, an American novelist, short story writer, poet and journalist. Prolific throughout his short life, he wrote notable works in the Realist tradition as well as early examples of American Naturalism and Impressionism. He is recognized by modern critics as one of the most innovative writers of his generation.

Soon after the USS Maine exploded in Havana Harbor on February 15, 1898, under suspicious circumstances, Crane was offered an advance by Blackwood's Magazine for articles "from the seat of war in the event war breaking out" between the United States and Spain. His health was failing, and it is believed that signs of his pulmonary tuberculosis, which he may have contracted in childhood, became apparent. With almost no money coming in from his finished stories, Crane accepted the assignment and left England for New York. In early June, he observed establishment of an American base in Cuba when Marines seized Guantanamo Bay. He then went ashore with the Marines, planning "to gather impressions and write them as the spirit moved." Although he would write honestly about his fear in battle, others observed his calmness and composure. He would later recall "this prolonged tragedy of the night" in the war tale "Marines Signaling Under Fire at Guantanamo". After showing a willingness to serve during fighting at Cuzco, Cuba, by carrying messages to company commanders, Crane was officially cited for his "material aid during the action". He continued to report upon various battles and the worsening military conditions.

In early July, however, Crane was sent to the United States for medical treatment for a high fever. Although Crane had filed more than twenty dispatches in the three months he had covered the war, the World's business manager believed that the paper had not received its money's worth and fired him. In retaliation, Crane signed with Hearst's New York Journal with the wish to return to Cuba. He traveled first to Puerto Rico and then to Havana. He sporadically sent out dispatches and stories; he wrote about the post-war mood in Havana, the crowded city sidewalks, and other various topics. Crane finally left Havana and returned to England to meet a lover on January 11 , 1899.

Before dying of tuberculosis at age 29, he published several essays, novels, and even a volume of poetry. Crane's most famous novel, 'The Red Badge of Courage' (1895), is a Civil War tale. (From: The Library of Congress- Wikipedia)

Versos Sencillos


Yo quiero salir del mundo
Por la puerta natural:
En un carro de hojas verdes
A morir me han de llevar.

No me pongan en lo oscuro
A morir como un traidor:
¡ Yo soy bueno, y como bueno
Moriré de cara al sol!


La imagen del rey, por ley,
Lleva el papel del Estado:
El niño fue fusilado
Por los fusiles del rey.

Festejar el santo es ley
Del rey: y en la fiesta santa
¡ La hermana del niño canta
Ante la imagen del rey!


Por la tumba del cortijo
Donde esta el padre enterrado,
Pasa el hijo, de soldado
Del invasor: pasa el hijo.

El padre, un bravo en la guerra,
Envuelto en su pabellón
Alzase: y de un bofetón
Lo tiende, muerto, por tierra.

El rayo reluce: zumba
El viento por el cortijo:
El padre recoge al hijo,
Y se lo lleva a la tumba

Plain Verse


I want to get out from this world
Through the most natural door:
In a carriage of green leaves
I’ll be driven to my death.

Don’t confine me into darkness
To let me die as a traitor:
I’m a good man and, as good as I am,
I’ll die with the sun on my face.


By law, the king’s image
Carries the role of the State:
The child has been shot
By the guns of the king.

To celebrate one’s saint,
Is the king’s law: and that day
The boy’s sister has to sing
By the image of the king!


At the farmhouse’ grave
Where the father is buried,
The son goes by, as a soldier from the invader;
The son goes by.

The father, a brave in the war,
Wrapped in his flag,
Stands up, and with a slap,
Lays him down, dead, onto dirt.

The lightning glistens, the wind
Buzzes over the farm:
The father lifts the son
And bears him to the grave.


(Source: Library of Congress-Literature ofthe Spanish-American War) From “War Memories:

The next day we went shooting. It was exactly like quail-shooting, I'll tell you. These guerillas who so cursed our lives had a well some five miles away, and. . .it was decided that it would be correct to go forth and destroy the well. Captain Elliot of C company. . .was to start out at the next daybreak. He asked me if I cared to go, and of course I accepted with glee; but all that night I was afraid. Bitterly afraid. The moon was very bright, shedding a magnificent radiance upon the trenches. I watched the men of C and D companies lying so tranquilly--some snoring, confound them--whereas I was certain that I could never sleep with the weight of a coming battle upon my mind. . .In the morning I wished for some mild attack of disease, something that would incapacitate me for the business of going out gratuitously to be bombarded. But I was in an awkwardly healthy state, and so I must needs smile and look pleased with my prospects.

A description for the New York World, July 1 , 1898:

Further on the two companies of marines were going through a short, sharp inspection. Their linen suits and black corded accouterments made their strong figures very business-like and soldierly. Contrary to the Cubans, the bronze faces of the Americans were not stolid at all. One could note the prevalence of a curious expression-- something dreamy, the symbol of minds striving to tear aside the screen of the future and perhaps expose the ambush of death. It was not fear in the least. It was simply a moment in the lives of men who have staked themselves and have come to wonder which wins--red or black?

And glancing along that fine, silent rank at faces grown intimate through the association of four days and nights of almost constant fighting, it was impossible not to fall into deepest sympathy with this mood and wonder as to the dash and death there would presently be on the other side of those hills--those mysterious hills not far away, placidly in the sunlight veiling the scene of somebody's last gasp. And then the time. It was now 7 o'clock. What about 8 o'clock? Nine o'clock? Little absurd indications of time. . .these indications of time now were sinister,

Garcia Lorca: Busto de Hombre Muerto sombre with the shadows of certain tragedy, not the tragedy of a street accident, but forseen, inexorable, invincible tragedy.

Actual battle:

I knew then that one of my pals was going to stand up behind the lanterns and have all Spain shoot at him. The answer was always upon the instant: "Yes, sir."

Then the bullets began to snap, snap, snap, at his head, while all the woods began to crackle like burning straw. I could lie near and watch the face of the signalman, illumed as it was by the yellow shine of lantern-light, and the absence of excitement, fright, or any emotion at all on his countenance was something to astonish all theories out of one's mind. . .

These times on the hill resembled, in some ways, those terrible scenes on the stage--scenes if intense gloom, blinding lightning, with a cloaked devil or assassin or other appropriate character muttering deeply amid the awful roll of the thunder-drums. It was theatric beyond words: one felt like a leaf in this booming chaos, this prolonged tragedy of the night. Amid it all one could see from time to time the yellow light on the face of a preoccupied signalman.

Another account of the violence of war, from "War Memories":

I heard somebody dying near me. He was dying hard. Hard. It took him a long time to die. He breathed as all noble machinery breathes when it is making its gallant strife against breaking, breaking. But he was going to break. He was going to break. It seemed to me, this breathing, the noise of a heroic pump which strives to subdue a mud which comes upon it in tons. The darkness was impenetrable. The man was lying in some depression within seven feet of me. Every wave, vibration, of his anguish beat upon my senses. He was long past groaning. There was only the bitter strife for air which pulsed out into the night in a clear penetrating whistle with intervals of terrible silence in which I held my own breath in the common unconscious aspiration to help.


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