February 15, 2012 - Remember the Maine Day

Remember the Maine!” was the angry cry that rallied Americans to a war in 1898.  

The Maine was a battleship that had exploded while at anchor in Havana Harbor, Cuba, on this date in 1898. Tragically, around 260 members of the crew died as the ship quickly sank. Although there wasn't good evidence to establish responsibility for the explosion, many people at the time jumped to the conclusion that Spain was at fault, and the war cry went up from upset crowds...Sure enough, two months later the U.S. formally declared war on Spain.

What did happen to the Maine? Some authors think that the ship exploded when an undetected fire in one of her coal bunkers reached the gunpowder in the magazine (a magazine is a room in which gunpowder and other explosives are kept in a fort or a ship), but a recent investigation by National Geographic Magazine (this time, magazine means what you think it means!) used computer-modeling to show that this theory doesn't match the evidence from the sunken ship. Another theory is that the Maine was deliberately sunk by American forces to drive the U.S. into a war with Spain. We call that a conspiracy theory! Apparently the most likely theory is that the ship was the victim of a naval mine. Today, nobody seems to think that a bomb or torpedo hit the ship, although newspaper headlines suggested those things at the time.

I suppose this day has been declared Remember the Maine Day to commemorate the sailors who died. But we can also take the day to consider the fact that being angry about a bad event, and wanting to blame someone for it, are not necessarily good reasons to get into a war or take revenge in an even more tragic event. In 1898, a few newspaper owners were guilty of deliberately whipping up war hysteria in the public; these days, radio talk-show hosts and television pundits often seem guilty of trying to ratchet up fear and hysteria in the public. Perhaps the Spanish-American War would have been fought over some other precipitating event...or perhaps calmer heads could have won the day, and war could have been avoided. Will we today allow ourselves to be manipulated by the blame-game, speculation, and rallying cries, or will we try to look at evidence and strive for peaceful solutions to problems?

By the way, if you happen to live in NYC, you could check out the monument to the sailors who died in the USS Maine explosion, at the southwest entrance of Central Park. No matter what the cause of the Maine explosion, no matter what the aftermath, these sailors deserve the tribute of being remembered today.

Also on this date:

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