Remembering the Maine for 115 Years (What We’re up Against)

February 16, 2013

By Mickey Z. via Facebook

“I should welcome almost any war, for I think this country needs one.” – Teddy Roosevelt (1897)

February 15, 1898 was a muggy Tuesday night in Havana Harbor. Some 350 crew and officers settled in on board the 24-gun battleship USS Maine.

“At 9:40 p.m., the ship’s forward end abruptly lifted itself from the water,” writes author Tom Miller. “Along the pier, passersby could hear a rumbling explosion. Within seconds, another eruption—this one deafening and massive—splintered the bow, sending anything that wasn’t battened down, and most that was, flying more than 200 feet into the air.”

The Maine had exploded, 268 U.S. sailors were dead, and the February 16, 1898 headline on William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal blared:  THE WARSHIP MAINE WAS SPLIT IN TWO BY AN ENEMY’S SECRET INFERNAL MACHINE.

The “enemy” was Spain—colonizer of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines.

“[Hearst’s] paper accompanied the story with a half-page sketch, concocted entirely from the artist’s imagination, that purported to show the location of the mine that had ripped through the ship, and of the wires that linked it to the Maine’s engine room,” says journalist George Black.

Hearst was soon offering a $50,000 reward “for the detection of the perpetrator of the Maine outrage.” By late April, despite Spain’s willingness to negotiate for peace, the Spanish-American War had commenced.

Stop me if you’ve heard all this before…

“You furnish the pictures, and I’ll furnish the war”

By the time the American “sleeping giant” was jarred into awareness by the Maine explosion, Cuban and Filipino rebels were already fighting Spain for independence in their respective lands. The Maine was in Havana Harbor in 1898 on a purportedly friendly mission.

“Yet,” writes Miller, “the visit was neither spontaneous nor altruistic; the United States had been eyeing Cuba for almost a century.”

“At a certain point in that spring, McKinley and the business community began to see that their object, to get Spain out of Cuba, could not be accomplished without war,” Howard Zinn adds, “and that their accompanying object, the securing of American military and economic influence in Cuba, could not be left to the Cuban rebels, but could be ensured only by U.S. intervention.”

American newspapers, especially those run by Hearst (New York Journal) and Joseph Pulitzer (New York World), jumped on the Maine explosion as the ideal justification to drum up public support for a war of imperialism.

“Tabloid headlines depicting Spanish atrocities against Cubans became commonplace, and the influential papers of both men were outdoing each other in the sensationalized screaming for war,” says historian Kenneth Davis.

When Hearst sent Frederic Remington to Cuba to supply pictures, the well-known artist reported that he could not find a war. “You furnish the pictures,” Hearst famously replied, “and I’ll furnish the war.”

Spain was easily defeated, the legend of Teddy Roosevelt’s heroism was manufactured whole cloth, and both the Cubans and Puerto Ricans found themselves exchanging one colonial ruler for another.

Meanwhile, in the Philippines, where U.S. soldiers were ordered to “Burn all and kill all,” over the next decade, 600,000 Filipinos were eventually wiped out…all to the war cry of “Remember the Maine! To hell with Spain!”

Again, stop me if you’ve heard all this before…

“Shooting humans beats rabbit hunting”

Three years before the U.S. used the Maine incident to provoke war against Spain, the Filipinos fought Spain in what author Luis H. Francia calls, “the first Asian revolution against a Western colonial power.”

The U.S. war against Spain all but ignored the fact that the Filipinos had not only defeated their colonial oppressors but had created the Philippine Republic, headed by Emilio Aguinaldo. All this mattered little to those calling the shots in the land of the free.

“It is the short-lived, three-month-long Spanish-American War that Americans are taught to remember,” says Francia. “What they are not taught about is its more vicious sequel, the 1899 Philippine-American War.”

The Philippine Islands were ceded to the U.S. in the December 1898 Treaty of Paris in (for $20 million—less than $3 for each of the country’s 7 million inhabitants). The Philippine Republic, of course, did not accept these terms without a fight.

“There was a heated argument in the United States about whether or not to take the Philippines,” Zinn explains. President McKinley claimed to have “went down on my knees and prayed to Almighty God for light and guidance.” According to the president, his god urged him to “uplift and civilize and Christianize” the Filipinos, after which McKinley was able to sleep “soundly.”

“The Filipinos did not get the same message from God,” says Zinn.

While the resulting war officially ended in 1902, guerrilla skirmishes continued until 1910. This little-known war produced a ratio of casualties similar to the proportion in the U.S. invasion of South Vietnam: more than 4,000 U.S. soldiers and roughly 600,000 Filipinos (often called “niggers” by the conquering Americans).

Also predating Vietnam were the hellish stories of U.S. behavior. One captain explained that the Filipino city of Caloocan was “supposed to contain 17,000 inhabitants.” After the American army got through with it, Caloocan contained “not one living native.” Another soldier wrote home, “shooting humans beats rabbit hunting.”

“More civilians died in the Philippine War than any other war in modern history up to that time and just as in Vietnam, large-scale atrocities were committed against civilian villages and then reported in the press as magnificent victories over ‘fanatical’ Moro tribesmen,” explains historian Paul Atwood.

“Many American officers were veterans of genocidal campaigns against Native Americans, with whom the pesky guerrillas were equated,” adds Francia.

Theodore Woolsey, a Yale law professor, explained at the time: “Filipinos are incapable of gratitude, profligate, undependable, improvident, cruel, impertinent, superstitious, and treacherous; all are liars even in the confessional.”

Elihu Root, U.S. Secretary of War, claimed the military intervention was being conducted “with scrupulous regard for the rules of civilized warfare…with humanity never surpassed.” But one American general showed he was more adept with wartime spin when he explained it was “necessary to adopt what in other countries would probably be thought harsh measures.”

Please stop me if you’ve heard all this before…

USS Maine Postscript

In 1976, Admiral Hyman Rickover of the U.S. Navy mounted an investigation of the Maine episode. Rickover and his team of experts concluded that the explosion was probably caused by “spontaneous combustion inside the ship’s coal bins,” a problem common to ships of that era.

Never forget, comrades: This is what we’re up against.

Photo: Sam T