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Timeline: Pearl Harbor: Timeline stop: 1898 America Becomes a Pacific Power

American Flag Until the late nineteenth century, very few Americans cared about creating an overseas empire. As a democratic nation that began as a group of colonies, the U.S. felt that it could make do with the rich land and resources within its borders. It wasn't until the late 1800s that influential Americans began to argue that the U.S. should follow the example of Britain, France, and other European nations in gaining colonies overseas. These "imperialists" believed that America needed overseas bases for its navy and markets for the goods being produced in factories and on farms.

In 1898, the U.S. and Spain fought a brief war. The direct cause was that the U.S. supported rebels on the Caribbean island of Cuba who wanted independence from Spain. The greatest impact of the U.S. victory over Spain, however, was felt thousands of miles away in the Pacific. The U.S. took over Spain's Pacific possessions, including the Phillippine Islands.

During this same period, several nations including Britain, Germany, France, and Japan were taking control of China's port cities. The U.S., recognizing that it could lose its profitable trade with China, announced an "open door policy". The policy proposed support for China's independence while guaranteeing equal trading rights for all nations. The "open door" policy, however, did not sit well with Japan. Japan was seeking its own Pacific empire. It had seized Korea from China in the 1890s and had even carved out territory on the Chinese mainland. Protests by the European powers, however, caused Japan to give up this territory.

Also in 1898, the U.S. took the islands of Hawaii as an American territory. Hawaii was especially prized by the U.S. Navy for a fine natural port on the Island of Oahu. Its name was Pearl Harbor.
As the nineteenth century came to a close, the stars and stripes flew on islands scattered throughout the Pacific Ocean. But could that flag fly peacefully so near the rising-sun flag of the Japanese?

Imperialists - people who want a national policy of gaining foreign territories or establishing dominance over other nations.

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