Analysis & Opinions - War on the Rocks

What One Word Teaches Us About the Uncertainty of American Empire

| Feb. 12, 2021

George B. Cortelyou, a mostly forgotten historical figure, authored one of the most important insider accounts of the final days before the Spanish-American War. His diary is one of the few contemporary descriptions of what was happening in the White House and what was going through President William McKinley's mind before he requested authorization to use military force on April 11, 1898.

The Spanish-American War directly led to the annexation of the Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico, as well as governance of Cuba. The war was one of the most pivotal moments in U.S. foreign policy history, and its causes remain debated.

Cortelyou's diary is archival gold. He wrote many diary entries in shorthand. Upon acquisition of the diary, the Library of Congress translated those entries and opened the diary to public research in 1967. One word from a critical diary entry on April 2, 1898 has never been translated — until now. My translation of that single word dispels two longstanding, powerful myths about the war that launched a sprawling overseas American empire....

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Mukharji, Aroop.“What One Word Teaches Us About the Uncertainty of American Empire.” War on the Rocks, February 12, 2021.

The Author