Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Remember the Maine

“Remember the Maine, to Hell with Spain!” That was a war cry widely heard in the Unites States after the sinking of the USS Maine 114 years ago today, on February 15, 1898. Even though to this day the cause of that sinking is unclear, popular opinion in the U.S. in the weeks following that tragedy blamed Spain.
That popular opinion was formed partly by the use of the slogan Remember the Maine! by William Randolph Hearst's New York Journal. (Three days after the 2/15 explosion the Journal became the first newspaper in history to sell over one million copies.) That slogan, and Hearst’s use of it, thus helped spur the U.S. into the Spanish-American War, which started on April 25 and lasted less than four months (although it didn’t formally end until April 1899).
Hostilities with Spain developed over U.S. concern for how the Cubans were being treated by Spain, which claimed Cuba after Columbus first landed there in 1492 and considered Cuba its possession for the next four centuries.
In 1895 the Cubans began a war of independence from Spain, a struggle which was favored by the U.S. even though they did not become directly involved until three years later. As a result of the Spanish-American War of 1898, Cuba became an independent nation in 1902, although in 1903 Guantanamo Bay was leased in perpetuity to the United States.
The United States profited from the 1898 war in additional ways: at the close of that war Spain ceded the Philippine Islands, Puerto Rico, and Guam for the sum of $20 million. In spite of considerable efforts of the Anti-Imperialist League, there was a considerable expansion of U.S. territorial possessions.
But why write about all this now? I am writing about this issue because I am gravely concerned that some incident in the very near future, real or imagined, will trigger a U.S. attack on Iran. There seems to be a growing likelihood that there will be some sort of military strike by Israel, perhaps jointly with the U.S., in an attempt to keep Iran from developing a nuclear weapon. Some “incident” could easily light the fuse for such a strike.
In addition to “Remember the Maine!” helping to spur the Spanish-American War, the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1964, which escalated the War in Vietnam, was based on claims of attacks on American warships that didn’t actually happen. (Actually, there were two separate confrontations with the North Vietnamese, one actual and one now recognized as non-existent.)
“Let there be no doubt,” President Obama declared in his 2012 State of the Union address, “America is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and I will take no options off the table to achieve that goal.”
There are some politicians who are quite vocal about the possible need to engage in preemptive military action against Iran. If there were to be some incident in which American, or Israeli, civilian or military forces were attacked, or even thought to be attacked, by Iranians, that could easily become an excuse for beginning military activities against Iran. I hope that doesn’t happen, but I am fearful it might.
In the same January 24 State of the Union address, the President declared that “a peaceful resolution of this issue [Iran getting a nuclear weapon] is still possible.” Let us pray that he and Congress will make every possible effort to find such a resolution of the problem.


  1. Thanks, Leroy, for the reminder from our imperialist past and the warning about our imperialist present. Of course, the U.S. will not be able forever to prevent other moderately sized countries from getting the bomb. I remember many years ago when I first read a book on ancient Greece. When I finished, I thought: We're [the U.S.] not Athens or Jerusalem; we're Sparta!"

  2. An amazing look at political fark. A good reason to diligently pray for those in governmental authority (without adding our own fark).

  3. I am surprised to learn that the Philippines was included in the 20 million payment. Filipinos had already gained control of the Philippines save for Manila. Admiral Dewey sailed into Manila and promised to join forces with the Filipinos to defeat Spanish forces. The Filipinos found themselves deprived of the independence they had largely earned on their own. It took American forces three years of warfare to finally gain control of the country. This was so the United States could fulfill it manifest destiny.
    Les Hill

  4. My son Keith (who, I am happy to say, is also a Thinking Friend) sent the following comments by e-mail, and we have just discussed the issue more by telephone. Here are his comments, which I post with his permission; I will post my response later.

    "I’ve been thinking about that too, with the Israeli claims in recent days that Iran was trying to set off bombs targeting Israeli nationals in various places. But the problem isn’t the excuse; as your examples indicate, excuses can be manufactured as needed. The real issue is whether the world can live with a nuclear Iran or whether taking military action against Iran would be the lesser of two evils to prevent (or delay) them from becoming a nuclear threat, if diplomacy and sanctions won’t work. Very scary times and no easy answers from where I sit."

  5. Coincidentally, I've recently finished the book, The Canal Builders by Julie Greene. (Link to my review.) Thus, I'm currently more fixated that example of American international power.

    The Panama Canal construction began in 1904 six years after the Spanish-American War, and it also was very much a product of American exuberance at being self perceived as a world power. If the vote to return sovereignty to Panama had not passed in 1978, it may never had passed during subsequent years because of increased polarization in American politics. Thankfully, its passage has spared us from one additional burden of colonial-like arrogance.

  6. In response to Keith's comments:

    Since the U.S. went into Iraq without an excuse to get rid of weapons of mass destruction, there likely would be the desire to have some excuse this time. And it is precisely the manufacturing of some excuse that I was writing about, as the Maine became an excuse for war with Spain.

    I don't think an "incident," real or imagined, would be the cause of an attack, but it would help justify such an attack. The sinking of the Maine didn't cause the Spanish-American War, it seems. But the "Remember the Maine" slogan drummed up popular support for that war.

    An "incident," real or imagined, would not be the cause of an attack on Iran, but it would, no doubt, be used to stir up support and to quell opposition.

    Iran having nuclear weapons is certainly a legitimate concern, but I am also concerned about Israel having such weapons--and Pakistan. These are scary times, indeed, but I cannot see the U.S. launching another preemptive strike as being a good solution to the problem.

  7. With Iran's latest nuclear advancement boast today, the threat is most real.

    It will also not help that Obama will be advised that he needs to take a tough stand. His desire to be re-elected may encourage him to do more than he might otherwise.

    Unfortunately it is becoming less and less obvious what the the peaceful solution to this situtation is.

  8. Comments received by e-mail from an esteemed Thinking Friend in Kentucky:

    "I agree with your perspective, Leroy. It is frightening to think that we may get into another Middle Eastern conflict."

  9. In America, we like to find simple solutions to simple problems. With Iran, neither the problem nor the solution is simple. All the mid-east problems are interconnected, from Yemen to Syria to Afghanistan. Unfortunately, the areas where outsiders could most successfully influence the Islamic world are exactly where no progress at all is happening, namely Kashmir, Chechnya, and Israel. These in turn exacerbate other problems, such as the strange connection of the failure of India and Pakistan to settle Kashmir to the support of Pakistan for the Taliban out of fear of Indian influence in Afghanistan. Yes, our war in Afghanistan may well have been lost in the tundra of Kashmir!

    And yet, the jingoists are beating the drums for intervention in Iran. Not that this is new. Remember McCain singing "Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran" during the 2008 campaign? We have just found barely enough fig leaf to obtain political cover to get out of Iraq. We are still looking for the fig leaf in Afghanistan. And, besides Iran, we are considering whether we could follow-up our apparent success in Libya with a similar action in Syria. Then again, maybe we need to go into Yemen, or even our old friend, Somalia.

    Personally, I think a great idea for Iranian policy is to dust off an old cold war strategy, and try containment. This is basically what we have done for about 30 years, and the Iranian theocracy is showing its age. We may yet have to act in Syria on humanitarian grounds, but no such imminent threat exists in Iran. Indeed, what would be a threat to the civilian population of Iran would be a shooting war with us. Send in the diplomats. And wait for the Arab Spring to spread a little farther.

  10. I appreciate, as always, the insightful comments of TF Craig. In contrast to his recommendation for a policy of containment, though, on Thursday 32 U.S. Senators issued a statement in opposition to the idea of containment.

    According to "The Hill," the measure they introduced Thursday, which said containment was not a viable strategy, continued to promote the prospect that a military conflict could be on the horizon.

    In that regard, Sen. Lieberman said Iran has “only two choices: Peacefully negotiate to end your nuclear weapons program or expect a military strike to disable that program.”

  11. Your line of thinking may not far off:

    New Pew Research Center poll. "Nearly six-in-ten (58%) say it is more important to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons, even if it means taking military action. Just 30% say it is more important to avoid a military conflict with Iran, even if it means that country develops nuclear weapons. There have been reports in recent weeks that Israel may soon attack Iran's nuclear facilities. About half of Americans (51%) say the United States should remain neutral if Israel takes action to stop Iran's nuclear program, but far more say the U.S. should support (39%) than oppose (5%) an Israeli attack."