Tuesday, February 15, 2011

February 15, 1898 – Would-be Saboteurs Caught aboard USS MAINE

Shortly after nine o’clock in the evening, a group of men were caught attempting to sneak aboard the USS Maine while it rested in Havana Harbor, defending American interests during the Cuban insurrection. The five men were carrying with them explosives and were believed to have been headed toward the storage of the ship’s powder charges for its six-inch and ten-inch guns. The discovery had been nearly happenstance as one man coughed too loudly and the crew on patrol thought to double-check.

The men were separated and questioned, and each gave wildly different stories. Crewmen leaked the investigation, and rumors exploded into news. Fueled by yellow journalism, the men were believed to be saboteurs from Spain, attempting to knock America out of its defensive position with Cuba; or, Cubans hoping to spark a war between the United States and Spain; or, mercenaries hired by the U.S. government to blow up their own ship and instigate a war that would bring in a wealth of captured territory for a new empire. Some even said that they had been hired by newspapermen Hearst or Pulitzer to precipitate a reason to sell more papers, but these rumors did not appear in print.

The whole of America rose up in anger over the ordeal, but there was no consensus on how to act. Some demanded war with Spain, others demanded war with the Cuban revolutionaries that America had previously supported, and still others demanded the Maine to leave Havana and the US wash its hands of the whole matter. President McKinley weighed his options carefully and finally decided to bring the diplomatic ordeal with Spain to an end as quickly as possible. He dispatched orders to Admiral Dewey in Hong Kong to sail toward the Philippines (also fighting for its independence) in case anything got out of order. Congress and the President worked together to create a reasonable ultimatum for Spain, ignoring many of Republican Senator Redfield Proctor’s demands for war. The Spanish government weighed its options and finally decided to concede in Cuba and the Philippines

In exchange for a massive gift of “dollar diplomacy” (to be paid back by bonds from the new Cuban and Filipino governments), Spain would grant its colonies their independence. America, meanwhile, would gain valuable coaling stations and naval bases. The Pilón-Woodward Treaty that summer ironed out the diplomatic details, and the cries for war were silenced. Several Americans, such as Assistant Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt, spoke out that the nation had not acted valiantly enough, but for the most part the populace had come to ease with international relations. Other imperial-minded Americans called for expansion into the Pacific rather than merely opening markets, such as conquering the Philippines rather than holding content with bases at Manila and Luzon. Letters from Sanford Dole the newly formed Republic of Hawaii offered the islands to McKinely.

Hawaii would become the new battleground as many politicians and businessmen hoped to support it as a new territory. However, the American Anti-Imperialist League formed around such famous members as Andrew Carnegie, Mark Twain, Samuel Gompers, and Senator George Boutwell. Their collective clout broke up the imperialist calls prominent in the press, and America returned to a sense of dollar diplomacy as McKinely refused Dole’s offer. Hawaii would later be returned to the Hawaiian Royal family, and it retains close political ties to the United States to this day.

The divided Republican Party in 1900 would result in the narrow election of President William Jennings Bryan and Vice-President Dewey, heralded as the man who won the Philippines its independence without firing a single shot. Dewey received a great deal of political criticism for his comment that "Our next war will be with Germany," which was proven correct some eighteen years later.

“Remember the Maine!” became a popular cry among Navy security as they patrolled in the early twentieth century. A policy of stringent observance of any possible attack became the norm, which proved effective in the detection of the Japanese carrier fleet approaching the base at Pearl Harbor in 1941.

In reality, the Maine suffered a grave explosion that destroyed the front third of the ship with the rest sinking almost immediately. Only 94 of the 355 crew survived, and the spirit of revenge rose up from America, urged on by the New York Journal’s cry for war. The widely successful Spanish-American War brought a new age of expansionism to the United States with gains in Puerto Rico, Guam, and the Philippines.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Site Meter