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Student Work

Spanish-American War: Paper B

"The explosion of the U.S.S. Maine caused the United States to invade Cuba in 1898." Use the documents provided and your own knowledge to evaluate this statement. Do you agree with this explanation of the causes of the Spanish American War? Why or why not? Use and cite evidence from the documents to support your analysis of this statement.

Student B

The Spanish American War was a good thing, we got Cuba as a territory, we showed everyone that we are not pushovers, and we showed that we are a dominating force in the world.[1] I agree with the causes of the Spanish American War. Many Cubans were being treated badly in camps said to protect the Cubans. The Maine, a proud ship was sunk, sailors with lives were taken by the "treacherous butchers paid by Spain".[2] The sight of four hundred and sixty women and children thrown on the ground, bodies piled along the ground so much that it is impossible to take one step without walking over a body. The Spanish American War was a necessity and was a good thing.[3]

The truth is, that we are a dominating force in the world today, we control and abundance of land and we are loved by many countries.[4] The fact that we went to war with Spain shows that we can do things for good and not just for ourselves.[5] We can do many things not only for the People of the United States of American but for Cuba, a lonely country needing a defender from the Spanish tyrants. If England, and Germany can govern foreign land so can we.[6]

  1. While she articulates a clear position, she does not answer the question. Like other students, she answers an imagined question—Spanish-American war--good or bad?
  2. Here, she uses information from the documents to argue that the war was a good thing. However, she cites the words from the "Journal" document as if they were unquestionable truth.
  3. She seems to equate the humanitarian reasons that Student A cites with "good" or legitimate reasons for war. This makes sense, but she seems to understand her task as one of judging the past, even defending U.S. actions, rather than analyzing cause.
  4. Here she makes assertions about the present that depart from the inquiry’s question and sources.
  5. Here, she extends her response to the imaginary question—adopting what could be characterized as a defensive tone.
  6. Again, she shows that she has read the documents and quotes from Beveridge, even if without attribution. However, she takes the text at face value and uses it to support a position that doesn’t answer the question but does get at something she wants to say.

Commentary

The Spanish-American War inquiry asks students to explain the causes of the War by evaluating the statement: "The explosion of the U.S.S. Maine caused the United States to invade Cuba in 1898." The document set presents a variety of long and short-term causes that challenge the notion that the explosion of the Maine singularly caused the war. With careful reading, students will understand that there were multiple causes for the war. Above is one of two examples of student work that address this question, but do so in fundamentally different ways.

Student B, in the essay above, does not answer the inquiry question. Rather she argues that, "The Spanish American War was a good thing." She uses the essay as an opportunity to take a position on what the role of the U.S. should be in the world, a radical departure from the inquiry question and sources available. This is not unusual: other students did the same (even if taking an opposing view), leaping at the chance to take a position on America’s role in world affairs.

See Paper A for a contrasting example where the student successfully answers the inquiry question.