This statement, calmly uttered by Commodore Dewey after entering Manila harbor in late April 1898 (l. 2074), became a pre-Internet meme, so much so that I can clearly hear in my mind Bugs Bunny saying it to Elmer Fudd, a strong memory from the many happy hours wasted watching cartoons when young. That's a meme with legs.
The US annexation of the Philippines was largely the unintended consequence and ill-planned afterthought of America's quarrel with Spain over Cuba. Comparisons with our more recent and more moronic imperial adventures in the Middle East are almost too obvious to comment on – but not quite.
I was happy to see President McKinley come in for a sound drubbing for his behavior during the run-up to the Spanish-American. At one point a few years ago during the wretched reign of George W. Bush, his herd of tame pundits – eager to find a narrative to explain GW Bush's presidency more flattering than the one that was taking shape at the time – attempted briefly to resurrect McKinley as an unsung and unappreciated American hero, an interpretation even more unlikely and difficult-to-believe than the one about Saddam Hussein's weapon of mass destruction. Unlike GW Bush, McKinley had actually seen combat during the US Civil War, including conspicuous acts of bravely at Antietam and elsewhere (l. 2269). From this experience, he very reasonably took away a horror of war. However, he lacked the strength of character to resist the pressure of the pro-war party of media barons, Washington bureaucrats, and self-interested exiles, usually (cf. more recently) people who had never been to war themselves.
Concerning the Philippines, McKinley later confessed to a friend that he “could not have told where those darned islands were within two thousand miles” (l. 2810).
In the Dick Cheney role, we have future President Theodore Roosevelt, then Assistant Secretary of the Navy. Roosevelt exercised power disproportionate to his position by virtue of good connections, a weak boss, and sheer bald-faced cheek. One afternoon, ten days after the Maine exploded, Roosevelt's boss left work early to visit and osteopath. While his boss was gone, Roosevelt sent out directive to US Navy commanders around the world to stock fuel and ammunition, asked Congress to authorize him to recruit more men, and cabled Dewey to assemble his ships in Hong Kong harbor. He told Dewey: “In the event of declaration of war with Spain, your duty will be to see that the Spanish Squadron does not leave the Asiatic Coast, and then offensive operations in the Philippine Islands.” This was America's “first step” toward the Philippines, Dewey later recalled (l. 2702).
When he returned to work the next day, Long was annoyed by Roosevelt's orders, but he took no steps to countermand them.
Officially, the Spanish fleet in the Pacific was monitored by the US naval attaché in Madrid, who picked up information from newspaper reports and diplomatic gossip (l. 2680). Fortunately for US imperial ambitions, the US Consul in Manila (like most diplomatic positions at the time, obtained through political patronage (l. 2306)), an elderly Ohio professor named Oscar Williams, had a hitherto undiscovered talent for espionage and peppered Dewey with information vital to an invasion including, most importantly, that Manila harbor was unmined and undefendable (l. 2682).
The battle of Manila Bay was a rout (l. 2778). The Spanish made very basic strategic mistakes at the beginning and the battle went downhill from there. Local insurgents spontaneously joined in harassing the Spaniards on land. The Spaniards thought this was deliberately planned and panicked. Two hundred Spaniards died. No American boats were damaged, and the only US casualty was one man who died from heat prostration (l. 2076).