Monday, February 15, 2010

Remember The Maine, To Hell With Spain................

I was just sitting here and I noticed it was 9:40 P.M. The very time that a explosion ripped apart the battleship U.S.S. Maine in Havana, Cuba on this date back in 1898. The Maine sank in a very short time taking 266 men with her, 8 more died later in hospitals.

It had been long suspected that the cause of the explosion was either Spanish sabotage, or a underwater mine triggered by the Spanish. The Maine had been sent to Cuba to protect American interest in the middle of a rebellion of the Cuban people against the Spanish. Most Americans made no bones about the fact that they supported the Cubans, so the Maine was a big statement to the Spanish. The press, as always never let facts get in the way of a good story, started beating the drum about Spanish perfidy and printing stories about the evil Spaniards and pretty soon, had the American public fired up to the point that the American government didn't have any choice but to go to war. Later, there has been much research and study that MIGHT indicate that the explosion may have been caused by spontaneous combustion of coal in the ship's bunker, which was located right beside the forward powder magazine. A fire in the coal bunker in old ships was a major problem. Those kinds of fires got hot, real quick and the heat generated could start other fires and set off powder in magazines. Again, at this late date and lack of evidence there is no way of knowing what truly caused the explosion.

The Spanish American War was on the whole very successful for the Americans. The Spanish were beaten so badly that they never regained their prominence as a world power. The American Navy out fought the Spanish Navy at every turn and almost destroyed it's ability to function and support the Spanish land forces in Cuba. When an American ship was literally shooting a Spanish battleship to pieces at the battle of Santiago Bay and the American gunners were cheering, the American Captain Philip ordered the gunners to be silent with the command, " Don't Cheer Boys! Those poor devils are dying" The American Navy sank 6 Spanish ships in the battle, and lost none of their own.

Yep, it was a pretty good war, we ended up with Cuba, Puerto Rico, The Philippines, Guam, and other odds and ends. America became a world power and a force to be reckoned with.

We soon learned however that being a world power would lead to world class problems. The Philippines in particular became a festering sore that would be a lot like our later experiences in Vietnam. In the Philippines we also had our first experiences with Islamic fundamentalist in the Moro tribes that also rose in revolt. This was the proving ground of the 45 cal cartridge which was considered the only effective round to stop a charging Moro full of hate and Islam.

Oh yeah, one more thing. A certain assistant secretary of the navy just couldn't stay at home when America's young men were going out to fight, so he used all of his political influence to organize a military unit to join the war. The unit was originally commanded by Leonard Wood, but when Wood was promoted in the field, this gentleman was made commander of the unit, The 1st U.S. Volunteer Calvary. This unit was also known as the Rough Riders and the Assistant Secretary of the Navy was Theodore Roosevelt. Of course everyone knows that Roosevelt led the Rough Riders up the San Juan Heights in the assault on Kettle Hill, but few know about the pistol he carried with which he "bowled over a few Spaniards, like rabbits" with. It was a Colt revolver in 38 caliber that had been salvaged from the wreckage of the battleship Maine.

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