News and Document archive source
copyrighted material disclaimer at bottom of page

NewsMinedeceptionswar-pretext-lies — Viewing Item

Remember the maine pretext rush { February 15 2003 }

Original Source Link: (May no longer be active)

'Remember the Maine' -- Therein lies a 105-year-old message for those who would rush to war
Saturday, February 15, 2003

Star-Ledger Staff

Those who argue that the Bush administration should restrain its war aims in Iraq until there is real evidence of a smoking gun might find support from an episode in history that had its genesis 105 years ago today.

To most Americans at the time, there was no question that a Spanish mine or torpedo destroyed the battleship USS Maine in Cuba's Havana Harbor on Feb. 15, 1898, becoming the catalyst that triggered the Spanish-American War, and sparking the rallying cry, "Remember the Maine."

But war might have been avoided had the truth been known and diplomacy prevailed.

It would not be the last time the United States would intervene militarily in another country using a pretext that turned out to be unfounded. In 1964, the U.S. committed forces to South Vietnam based in part on reports of a Communist attack on its naval warships in the Gulf of Tonkin, for which there was no evidence.

The captain of the Maine, who survived the disaster, insisted his ship had been blown up. So did the American press, stirred to a fury of indignation. Navy investigators in 1898 reached the same conclusion, stating that an external agent detonated the ship's powder magazines. Another inquiry in 1911 was inconclusive.

In 1976, however, Admiral Hyman Rickover published his book, "How the Battleship Maine Was Destroyed," which cited the conclusion of two experts on the effects of explosions on ship hulls.

Applying modern scientific knowledge to the problem, the experts determined that a fire started by spontaneous combustion in a coal bunker transferred heat through a bulkhead to one of three powder magazines, setting off a chain reaction. This is the accepted view of most naval authorities today.

Spain had been trying to quell a long-running rebel insurgency to free Cuba, "Cuba Libre," when the Maine steamed into busy Havana Harbor on Jan. 25, 1898, for what was officially described as a mission of "friendly courtesy," and to protect American lives and property in the event of rioting.

The ship swung peacefully at anchor on the humid evening of Feb. 15. The bugler sounded taps at 9 p.m. Forty minutes later, with many of the crew asleep in their hammocks, a tremendous explosion rocked the vessel, followed by a second devastating blast even more deafening. Many of the sleeping sailors and marines were incinerated in the searing fires below decks. Some were hurled into the harbor, where they drowned.

Newspapers in America were quick to point fingers. William Randolph Hearst's New York Journal placed the blame on an "ENEMY'S SECRET INFERNAL MACHINE." Joseph Pulitzer's New York World proclaimed the blast was caused by a bomb or torpedo. The Journal and the New York Herald offered a reward of $50,000 for evidence of a mine.

A month-long U.S. Navy inquiry concluded the blast was not accidental, that a mine had exploded beneath the ship's hull, but its report stopped short of pointing an accusatory finger.

Spanish investigators insisted that the ship's powder magazines were too close to its coal bunkers, in which fires were known to start by spontaneous combustion. A common practice on warships of the time was to position coal bunkers around the perimeter of the ship as added "armor" to protect magazines, which were inboard.

Suspicion fell on Spain, also on the "peninsulares"--Spaniards in Cuba who favored the mother country's rule -- and even the freedom-seeking guerrillas, with whom most Americans sympathized.

At any rate, the blast became the excuse for Congress to declare war on Spain. It became the turning point in the history of the United States. When it was over, America had acquired overseas territories and the status of a world power. American diplomat John Hay called it "a splendid little war."

A Jerseyan's cause

Although the explosion that killed 266 sailors may still remain a tantalizing mystery for some, there is no doubt about who deserves much of the credit for rescuing the burned-out hulk from becoming a "dime museum" to titillate the curious.

When Kearny resident and Civil War veteran Alfred King got wind of a salvage company's proposal to raise the wreck from the muck of Havana harbor and put it on exhibition for a fee, he raged that it was a "sordid scheme" and the "conception of a ghoul."

"Every sentiment of patriotism and decency must revolt at the mere proposition," fumed King, who had been a friend of President Lincoln. King was living at the time at the New Jersey Home for Disabled Soldiers, known locally as "the Old Soldiers' Home," overlooking the Passaic River.

"If the Maine is to be raised," wrote King, a Union Army survivor of the South's infamous prison at Andersonville, Ga., "let her not be turned into a raree-show (cheap street show) or a patent medicine advertising billboard, but let her be towed out to sea, nail to her mast her holy flag, and bury her with honors."

King's campaign of fiery letters to newspaper editors and appeals to legislators won the day. Congress adopted a bill, and the United States government took charge of the half-submerged wreck. Army engineers built a huge cofferdam around the hulk, pumped out the water to permit repairs to make it seaworthy, and refloated the ruined vessel.

Then, on March 16, 1912 -- 14 years after the explosion -- the ship, its deck blanketed with roses, was towed beyond the three-mile limit, given a U.S. Navy salute and abandoned with its sea cocks open. Under leaden skies, it quickly sank out of sight in 600 fathoms, the Stars and Stripes the last to disappear below the waves.

"King's role in having the Maine disposed of with dignity was widely acknowledged at the time," said Kearny city historian William Styple, "but it faded from later accounts of the disaster and its aftermath.

"It was important enough, however, for President (William Howard) Taft to come to Kearny in June 1912 and present King with a 10-inch armor-piercing shell from the Maine as a gift from the government."

King, in turn, presented the memento to the town. Today, the 500-pound projectile, surmounted on a granite pedestal that is an exact replica of the Maine's capstan, stands in Kearny's American Revolution Bicentennial Park at town hall.

Before the Maine was scuttled, the Navy honored many requests for relics from the ship, sought after by cities and towns across the country. In addition to Kearny's 10-inch shell, the Kearny Historical Museum in the city's public library has on display a heavy bronze porthole deadlock from the ship.

King was also instrumental in the construction of the Maine monument in Havana.

A native of Maine, King joined the Union Army and served in a unit attached to a brigade commanded by the one-armed Gen. Philip Kearny, for whom the town of Kearny, his home, is named. After the war, King settled in Kearny and for years crusaded to keep the memory of the slain general alive. King died in 1927 at the age of 86.

Ellsberg gulf of tonkin { August 4 1964 }
Empire of lies { June 15 2003 }
Faked gulf tonkin 1812 { November 19 2002 }
Government lied intelligence before { June 21 2003 }
Gulf of tonkin presidential lies { June 15 2003 }
Maine contraversey
Pretext for vietnam war proven false { December 2008 }
Remember the maine pretext rush { February 15 2003 }
Rememberthemaine { February 15 1998 }
Vietnam war pretext faked { October 31 2005 }
War pretexts maine { May 7 1915 }
War rally remember the maine

Files Listed: 12


CIA FOIA Archive

National Security
Support one-state solution for Israel and Palestine Tea Party bumper stickers JFK for Dummies, The Assassination made simple