What did the Spanish-American war look like from Spain's perspective? Did the general population support the war? What were the reasons why Spain lost, was the general public aware of these reasons during/after the war, and what did they do about them? Thanks!
How would it matter if people support war when Spain was not the aggressor? They supported it as it was a defensive war. In these times it was obvious to fight.
I read a Polish book, some years ago, later on the evening (I live in CET zone) I will provide this as a source if someone is interested, but the main idea was that Spanish knew they were about to lose. EDIT: I added this below as UPDATE 2
It was just a matter of honour for them. I think, however, they did not expect it would end so soon and in such decisive way.
The reasons were obvious: long distance from Spain both to Cuba/Puerto Rico and Philippines, much worse navy and fighting (on Cuba) in fact on enemy terrain. After losing the core of her navy, Spain was not able to continue fighting.
The Wikipedia states
You might want to read it further, as it is shown, that the war led eventually to economic success for Spain. Please also read about Generation of '98.
As Felix Goldberg noticed in his comment below the post, the problem seems to be more complicated than I expected at first.
It is clear that US wanted to control Cuba and did some provocations (like USS Maine), but it was Spain who declared war. In the Library of Congress there is a timeline of events and shortly the Cuban insurrection (but this could be some disorder) began, than Philippine revolution started.
It seems that Spain asked European powers for assistance, e.g. on 1896-08-09
(The last part proves Felix's note about not losing core of her fleet but core of expeditionary forces. Spain could have had some knowledge and the threat of attack in Europe could be serious).
This suggests that USA made aggressive policy against Spain, while Spain was attempting to find (after military suppression, however) peace solution, for example on 1898-01-01
It was obvious that Spain could have not accepted it. It was a common practice, and such ultimatum was a direct reason of the WW1. This was also backed by newspaper propaganda. What I may suppose, such ultimatum was not welcomed in Spain and moreover, on 1898-04-13
This is obviously aggressive policy against interior policy of Spain. So on the same day or before April 19th
This eventually led to declaration of war by Spain.
The book I was referring to was "Wojna amerykańsko-hiszpańska na morzu 1898" by Paweł Olender.
Some citations (translated by myself):
In the Cuba herself there were also anti-American riots:
(later a memo of Cervera taken from S.G. Nunez The Spanish-American War. Blocades and Coast Defence, Washington 1899, pp. 33-34)
The book says nothing about common people in Spain. It seems, that as military officers were against the war, they were forced to act by politicians.
I am not really an expert on history but I can give you a insider view (I am Spanish) from what we study at school and from what my grandfather told me and the general feelings of the population at that moment..
Spanish-American war is known informally in Spain as "The Cuban War". It mainly represents the end of the Spanish Empire as we lost the last colony. We still had at that time some colonies in Africa (Morocco, Sahara and Guinea) but for some reason it was considered "The End of the Empire", probably because we considered America as our empire...
About the Maine explosion
There are three theories about it:
The theory of an inside job was widely spread among Spanish population in that moment and following years ("What an useful coincidence"). Nowadays the people think that was an accidental explosion. Nearly no one in Spain believes that it was an attack from Spain.
About the war itself
The general feeling is that we were drawn into war by Americans. Even if the Spanish Army in Cuba was ok, the Spanish Navy was clearly obsolete, they had no chance against modern warships. The Spanish Admiral Cervera was ordered to break the blockade. He thought it was a suicide and he sent a telegram to Government in Spain but honored the order. He sailed close to the coast to make easier for sailors to save their lives.
Spanish government tried to prosecute Cervera but he was so popular that charges were withdrawn. Most of the people in Spain thought that Cervera was a hero with an impossible task by corrupt politicians.
After the war
As @Voitcus correctly indicates, Cuba was another province of Spain with same rights as regions like Madrid or Galicia. Most of the Spaniards felt humiliated... by their own country. People thought that there were "two Spains": The official one (a fake Spain) and the real one: Sad, poor and pessimistic.
This war is the origin of "Generation of '98", an important cultural movement.
I studied this at school and I remember my grandparent, an air force general, telling me his vision of this history. He was born in 1920 and he really felt, influence of his father and the rest of the society, the pessimistic view and sadness. It was shocking seeing how important this was for him. He thought Spain had an incorrect approach about colonies and we should had followed a different approach as the British did with the Common Wealth.
Twenty years later something similar happened again in Spain: The Annual Disaster, where irregular troops from Morocco defeated the "superior" Spanish regular army, again because of corruption.
A war non-wanted by Spain but was used by press as a justified case to defend cuba.
In the final XIX. century had just discovered new updated modern armament, however, in that moment, was one step behind big power.
In the navy, the new adquisitions were 1 submarine, 1 battleship, 4 heavy cruisers, 4 destroyers and the rest of the fleet was simply to modernize the obsolete armament of the warships. In quality, the majority of the warships were outdated by the time of the war, In quantity were a lot. The biggest warships were 2 Ironclad (outdated) and 1 battleship (recently acquired). So, in correct terms, was in process to modernize the navy.
When the war started, the oldest warships were in Philippines so thats why for the modern US navy was like a "walk". In contrast, Cuba was reinforced with the new 3 destroyers and new 4 heavy cruisers that were modern for the time, but they faced to the big 5 US Battleships. I mean, too much for them.
The case of the army was like the navy, also modernizing, machineguns, modern rifles etc... in spite of acquiring new innovations didnt arrive to the whole infantry.
At the end, USA was facing Spain in its worst moment. The rif war in the middle of First world war marked the last chance to recover the ancient status. That war was costly but at the end recovered reputation. Spain had the fleet completely modern, even, the air force and tanks industry born.
From Spanish perspective Cuba was as Spanish as modern day Alaska o Hawaii American for the USA. The war was considered as civil unrest.
Yet, the war has been dragging on intermitently for years, and the small, but steady number of casualties turned the public opinión as tired of the war as was the Viet-Nam war for the American public after 1968.
The fleet was not outdated, the average age of the main ships of the line was 10 years.
Nevertheless, the design reflected a strategic differences with the US fleet: The strategic scenario handled was that Spain might fight a seagoing campaign on two fronts: Cuba and the Philipines. As such, ships must have great seagoing capabilities and authonomy. To achieve this, they somewhat needed to sacrifice armour and firepower (speed and moeuvring would compensate for this). On the other side, the US fleet was the oppsite: Designed as leviathans for coastal defense, they had faulty designs (rememeber the Maine and her explosión) and rather por seagoing capabilities. But on the other side they sported a very consitent armour and firepower. With this in mind, the original Spanish plan was to dedícate the fleet for commerce riding and hit-and-run tactics along the US Eastern coast, which was largely unprotected with outdated 1860's rempart. This looked feasible, as experience showed that they always outmanoeuvred the US fleet. The British Empire forbade this possibility arguing about the liberty of the seas. As such -and mainly for political reasons- the fleet was sent to a pitched battle both in Manila and Santiago with the expected results: Whilst the hit-per-shot ratio was greater on the Spanish side tan on the US, the Spanish shells could not pierce US armour, whilst the US could... simple physics. That is why the Spanish commander Cervera tried again and again to reason with Madrid about the folly of engaging the US fleet at 70 miles of US territory.
Only has to see the differences: The battle of Cuba: Spanish Fleet: 4 heavy cruisers and 2 destroyers. American Fleet: 5 battleships, 1 heavy cruiser, and 2 light cruisers. An the battle of Manila Bay: Spanish Fleet: 2 medium cruisers (outdated not even had any metal armour (wooden) ), 4 light cruisers and 1 gunboat. American Fleet: 1 heavy cruiser, 3 medium cruisers and 2 gunboats.
The differences are oustanding. In spain were: 2 Ironclads (outdated), 1 modern battleship, 3 destroyers, 1 submarine, 1 heavy cruiser and several light cruisers. The armament couldnt be said as outdated "the Hontoria guns" were good for that time, even were exported to the UK but the best guns and the best armour was for the only Spanish Battleship Pelayo.
These are the best details of the spanish navy in that time.