Spanish-American War Documentary a History Lesson with Spark

Article excerpt

"It was all about that battleship of Maine," trumpeted the old song, paying homage to the fabled cause of the United States' first 20th century conflict.

Crucible of Empire: The Spanish-American War opens with the jingoistic tune about the doomed ship and then proceeds to vividly unravel the true complexity of America's venture into war and imperialism.

The two-hour documentary, narrated by Edward James Olmos and featuring the voices of actors and politicians as prominent figures, airs at 9 tonight on PBS stations, including Jacksonville's WJCT TV-7.

It's a history lesson with spark and drama. And it has contemporary resonance, says Daniel B. Polin, who with Daniel A. Miller wrote and produced the film. "It's really the first war in which many of the elements which play such a key role in 20th century interventions appear," says Polin, citing the role of the media in fanning public support for war as one example.

"It's as though we were rehearsing interventions that were going to happen. We get to see how these forces intersect and what it takes to actually get the United States to intervene," he says.

Larger-than-life characters, including publisher William Randolph Hearst, Cuba's freedom fighter Gen. Maximo Gomez and Filipino revolutionary Emilio Aguinaldo, help bring to life the multifaceted story of Crucible of Empire. So do the historians who have not reached unanimity on the conflict and its roots. …