Owner of the Spanish-American War
IN THE complex modern world it is impossible for a single individual to start a major war. Small groups of bankers and munition makers have frequently, if not always, played an important part in initiating wars, but they have acted as groups, not as individuals. William R. Hearst, however, in 1898, almost solely for the private profit of William R. Hearst, succeeded in prodding this country into a wholly unnecessary war which resulted in riveting upon the nation the imperialistic policy that has been followed ever since. It was the first instance of that effective use of newspaper propaganda on a large scale which has become one of the most familiar features of the twentieth century, an outgrowth of democracy perhaps destined to destroy democracy, presenting the sinister paradox of the chief means for the dissemination of the truth being turned against the truth and, at least temporarily, destroying it.
It would, of course, be absurd to assign the whole responsibility for the Spanish-American War to Hearst. The jingoistic propaganda which directly brought about the war was initiated by him, but it was, though reluctantly, taken up by Pulitzer, and eventually many excitable congressmen joined in. And behind them was half a century of expansionist enthusiasm occasionally solidifying into the definite policies of Henry Clay, Polk, Grant, Seward, and Blaine. All of these men, from Clay to Hearst, were more or less unconscious agents of capitalist destiny moving on to its imperialistic end. But as late as 1898 American capitalists, never very intelligent in world affairs,