On this day in 1898, the U.S.S. Maine exploded in Havana Harbor. The battleship was stationed there to support the Cubans fighting for independence from Spain. That night 268 American sailors died and a new war was conceived. Shortly afterward, a vengeful battle cry sounded, “Remember the Maine!”
Journalists William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer inflamed the public’s opinion by sensationalizing this explosion and blaming Spain, even though no one knew what happened. They fabricated names and stories so the public would believe them. Their journalism disregarded responsible reporting simply to sell more newspapers.
Later that spring, the US Navy investigated the explosion and concluded that the ship hit a mine and there was no one to blame. However, the public and many government officials discounted this and called for war. Shortly after, the Spanish-American War began.
A war most Americans may not remember, the US fought Spain for 3 short months. Victorious, the US gained new land and was on the road to building the empire we know today. It also led directly to the Philippine American War.
Here’s the rest of the story:
In 1976, a new investigation revealed that the explosion was caused by spontaneous combustion. There was no foul play and Spain wasn’t involved. The explosion was purely an accident.
Today, the phrase, “Remember the Maine” is a forgotten battle cry. Maybe it’s more a reminder of our country’s history of emotion-driven run ups to violent conflict.
I’m Elsa Glover and that’s my perspective.
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