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Post Remember the Maine and To Hell with Spain
Created by John Eipper on 05/01/15 1:55 PM

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Remember the Maine and To Hell with Spain (Anthony J Candil, USA, 05/01/15 1:55 pm)

"Remember the Maine; to Hell with Spain."

This was the phrase that became a rallying cry for action, which came with the first and only Spanish-American War later that year, in 1898. While the sinking of the Maine was not a direct cause for action, it served as a catalyst, accelerating the approach to a diplomatic impasse between the US and Spain.

The cause of the Maine‍'​s sinking has been always the subject of speculation. Suggestions have included an undetected fire in one of her coal bunkers, even a mine, or her deliberate sinking to drive the US into a war with Spain.

The Maine, nevertheless, was the largest vessel built in at the Brooklyn US Navy yard up to that time, in 1888. Maine and her near-sister ship Texas reflected the latest European naval developments, with the layout of her main armament resembling that of the British ironclad Inflexible and comparable Italian ships.

The Spanish authorities were not evil but close to it sometimes. In 1895, Spain sent General Valeriano Weyler to Cuba to destroy the rebels. Anyone suspected of supporting independence was removed from the general population and sent to concentration camps. Although few were summarily executed, conditions at the camps led over 200,000 to die of disease and malnutrition. The news reached the American mainland through the newspapers of the yellow journalists.

And Americans were feeling proud of their growing industrial and military prowess. The long-dormant Monroe Doctrine could finally be enforced. Common sense suggested that when treading on the toes of empires, America should start small. In 1898, Spain was weak and the United States knew it. It was just a matter of time to wait and soon the opportunity to strike arose.

After the Maine incident, McKinley proceeded with prudence at first. When the Spanish government agreed to an armistice in Cuba and an end to concentration camps, it seemed as though a compromise was in reach.

Nevertheless On April 11, 1898, McKinley asked the Congress for permission to use force in Cuba. To send a message to the rest of the world that the United States was interested in Cuban independence instead of American colonization, Congress passed the Teller Amendment which promised that America would not annex the island.

To be sure there were cooler heads, even as the tensions mounted, US Speaker of the House Thomas B. Reed said, "A war will make a large market for gravestones." Popular author Mark Twain continued to speak out against any possible war, urging the United States not to become embroiled in the affairs of distant nations.

Ten days after the explosion, Under Secretary of the Navy Theodore Roosevelt cabled Commodore George Dewey with the US Pacific fleet in Hong Kong. "Keep in full coal," the communiqué stated. "In the event of declaration of war with Spain, your duty will be to see that the Spanish squadron does not leave the Asiatic coast and then offensive operations in Philippine Islands." Itching for a fight and convinced of the truth of his earlier remarks about the glory of war to the Naval War College, Roosevelt went so far as to refer to President McKinley as a "milquetoast."

McKinley, who had served in the Civil War and participated at the tragic battle at Antietam in the earliest days of that war, told one visitor to the White House: "I have been through one war; I have seen the dead piled up; and I do not want to see another."

The Spanish responded with some concessions, but stopped far short of granting Cuban independence. From without, the President received pressure from the Ambassadors of England, Germany, France, Italy, Austria and Russia to avoid war with Spain. On April 6th the Pope indicated to the President that he would enter negotiations with Spain, requesting that the President delay any actions pending the outcome. The cry from within for retaliation and US support for the "freedom fighters" of Cuba continued to push the United States towards war. On April 4th the New York Journal dedicated an edition to the war brewing in Cuba and called upon the US to intervene. The press-run was one million copies.

On April 20th, while Congress still debated the request for war, President McKinley signed a Joint Resolution for war with Spain, an ultimatum that was promptly forwarded to Madrid with a call for Cuban independence. The Spanish Minister to the United States promptly demanded his passport and, with his Legation, left Washington for Canada.

The following day McKinley received his answer from Madrid.  General Steward Woodford, the US Minister to Spain, was handed his passport and told to leave the country. The Spanish government considered McKinley's ultimatum a declaration of war. With diplomatic relations suspended, President McKinley ordered a blockade of Cuba while the Spanish forces in Santiago began mining Guantánamo Bay.

After that conscience-clearing measure, American leaders threw caution to the wind and declared open warfare on the Spanish throne.

On April 25, 1898 the war that had been looking for an excuse to happen, finally became official. The US Congress passed a resolution declaring the United States to be at war with Spain. The Naval blockade of Cuba already underway, Congress made the declaration of war effective as of April 21, thereby legitimizing military actions undertaken in the previous four days.

While few Americans gave little notice or concern to events in the Pacific Islands, and even President McKinley confessed that he could not locate the Philippine Islands "within 2000 miles," American Naval planners had long considered the value of the natural port at Manila on Luzon, the largest of the islands. War with Spain was destined to become a global conflict, and while Admiral Sampson's ships conducted their blockade in the Caribbean, on April 27th Admiral Dewey sailed his ships out of Mirs Bay, China and set their course for Manila. The Spanish-American war would become a battlefield on two, widely separated fronts.

The Treaty of Paris, signed in December, transferred much of Spain's dwindling empire to the United States. Congress's war resolution had renounced US claims to Cuba, but the island remained under military rule for more than three years, and the navy retained a large base at Guantánamo. Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam became US dependencies. Expansionist zeal had led Congress to annex Hawaii in July, and in 1899 the United States and Germany would divide the archipelago of Samoa. America was now a major stakeholder in the Far East.

The war lasted only 3 months and cost the US about 400 killed or wounded. For Spain it was a humiliating defeat. Both her Atlantic and Pacific fleets were sent to the bottom of the sea and with them went Spain's prestige as a world power.

A "little splendid war," as Secretary of State John Hay declared, as by the time Hay took office, the war was effectively over and it had been decided to strip Spain of her overseas empire and transfer at least part of it to the United States. And that was the end of the Spanish empire if it ever was one.

Spain never recovered from losing Cuba and the Philippines, and the anguish and decline of her spirit still remains.

JE comments: What does "never recovering" really mean? Spain's Generación del 98 was a group of writers and thinkers inspired by the defeat in the Spanish-American war, and they were a pessimistic lot.

The United States' two most unabashedly imperialist wars were against Spanish-speaking nations:  Mexico in 1846 and Spain in 1898.

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  • Declarations of War and "Demanding Your Passport" (Edward Jajko, USA 05/02/15 3:14 AM)
    On 1 May, Anthony Candil wrote about the US and Spanish ambassadors "demanding their passports" as their respective nations entered into the 1898 war. Did/do ambassadors have to surrender their passports to the states they are posted to?

    JE comments:  I've often had the same question.  I came across this interesting 1950 essay from Lord Vansittart, a long-serving British diplomat. Even at that time, "asking for your passports" was an anachronism.  Might it have been the same in 1898?


    I hope Tim Brown will give more details.  Certainly the most awkward duty of a diplomat is to have the final conversation with your counterparts of a host country with which you're at war. What do you do, wish them good luck? Say "we should do lunch when it's over"?

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  • US Acquisition of Philippines, 1898 (George Krajcsik, USA 05/02/15 11:01 AM)
    A short addendum to Anthony Candil's excellent post of 1 May. At the Treaty of Paris the USA paid 20 million gold dollars for the Philippines. I found this in a book published in 1905, just seven years after the start of the war, written by Rev. John Bancroft Devins, D.D:  An Observer in the Philippines, or Life in Our New Possessions.  This book is an interesting and amusing source of information then prevalent about the Philippines. (Devins also held the post of editor of The New York Observer.)

    "What did America secure from Spain in return for the twenty million dollars paid for the Philippine Islands? Was the outlay necessary? Was it a wise investment? Have the results achieved warranted the expenditure? Is expansion, as it is illustrated by this experiment, a success or failure? What are the representatives of the American people--military, civil, business, educational, and religious--accomplishing in the New Possessions?"

    So, the Philippine Islands were bought. Unlike the eastern part of Poland, East Prussia, and other areas grabbed by the Soviet Union after WWII.

    JE comments:  A joy to hear from George Krajcsik after several months.  George and I share an interest in obscure old "travel" books, which in the 19th and early 20th centuries, tended to have an imperialist flavor.  Before me right now I have one of my favorites:  the Hon. John J. Ingalls's America's War for Humanity, Related in Story and Picture, Embracing a Complete History of Cuba's Struggle for Liberty, and the Glorious Heroism of America's Soldiers and Sailors.  The date, of course, is 1898, and the lengthy title obviates the need to read the book.

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    • US Acquisition of Philippines, 1898 (Bienvenido Macario, USA 05/05/15 4:05 AM)
      With regards to the US acquisition of the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Guam (see George Krajcsik, 2 May), the proper term used was "ceded." Here's what happened.

      In the Spanish-American War among Europeans, it was only the UK that sided with the US. This was the start of the the UK-US alliance that continues to this day. Germany was the top supporter of the crumbling Spanish Empire. Kaiser Wilhelm II wanted to have a German Empire to rival the British.

      The Kaiser referred to the UK-US team as "the American-British Society for International Theft and Warmongering."

      Germany provided arms and munitions, including military advisers to Spain.

      After the Battle of Manila Bay (May 1898), German and Japanese warships sailed to Manila Bay looking for an angle. In fact, one of the five cruisers of Vice Admiral Otto von Diederichs, Kaiser Wilhelm's naval commander in the Far East, evacuated women and children from a besieged Spanish garrison.

      Admiral Dewey accused the Germans of interfering with the American blockade, and authorized his men to board and search the German ships. Admiral Diederichs was defiant, which created a diplomatic crisis. Kaiser Wilhelm eventually ordered his flotilla out of the Philippines by August.

      Everything in the real world requires financing. In fact, wars are won or lost mostly from the logistic and financial perspectives. Spain lost the war and Germany was holding the largest portion of Spanish war bonds.

      Enter the Bishop of New Orleans. It was the Bishop of New Orleans who suggested to the US government pay Spain $20 million to redeem the Spanish war bonds, mostly from Germany.

      If there was any purchase of real estate after the 1898 Treaty of Paris, it was the friar lands bought by Civil Governor Gen. William H. Taft. The idea was to provide a place for the friars until they all died of natural causes.

      During the Philippine revolution 1896-97 and in the period from 1899 to 1901, 40 priests had been killed with 403 imprisoned. In 1898 there were 1,124 priests present. By 1902 only 472 remained and almost all of them in Manila.

      Reports of the (Taft) Philippine Commission, p. 31. The danger faced by the friars if they went back was summarized pithily by the grandson of a Franciscan friar: "All the friars have to do is to go back to their parishes and sleep one night, and the chances are that they would never awaken."

      See: Taft purchase of Friar lands in the Philippines (pages 9 to 12).


      JE comments: So the $20 million "purchase" of the Philippines was really a payment to the German creditors?  This makes sense, as it would prevent Germany from having an excuse to poke around the Archipelago.  Just a few years later (1902-'03), Wilhelm sent a flotilla to Venezuela, which had defaulted on its loan obligations.  This was Teddy Roosevelt's first international crisis.

      What's this about the grandson of a Franciscan friar?

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  • Remembering the Maine; from Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 05/03/15 4:07 AM)

    Gary Moore responds to Anthony Candil (May 1st):

    In reply to Anthony, unfortunately, we seem to have largely a propaganda view
    of the "splendid little war" between the US and Spain in 1898.

    This is not to say it's clear
    precisely what is propaganda and what is fact, or which images of which side were
    most deceptive. The great majority of Cubans seemed to have favored independence
    from Spain, the insurrectional war effort was a ghastly mess, much of the starvation was
    caused by the "manic" burning of the countryside by the rebels, and when Spain implemented
    its ill-starred reconcentración, most people were already in the towns anyway.

    The figures
    that seem to be everywhere, saying hundreds of thousands starved to death in the camps,
    are little better than rumor-repetitions of what was originally yellow journalism bombast coming
    from insurrectional propagandists--whose imaginations were impressive. The field of history
    is fascinatingly open on the Spanish-American War.

    Hearst (the other yellow journalism giant, v. Pulitzer) almost certainly never sent the telegram
    one hears about in the literature, saying "I'll furnish the war," but his reporters in Cuba were
    so mendacious that the false yarn comes from one of them (Creelman) in a memoir. Meanwhile,
    modern apologists for Hearst, who say he was smeared, conveniently forget the headline he
    really did run: "How Do You Like the Journal's War?" There in that earliest dawn of cinema, entire
    naval battles in the Spanish-American War were faked for two-minute shorts, and the awed
    audiences never seemed to complain about ingenious toy ships with little pinches of gunpowder
    behind them for the flash. It could be that the Web world, though clotted with rumor patterns
    of its own, might build momentum for a deeper revolution--in the re-examination of the
    conveniences of history, starting with this lied-about ground of jingoism, occasional real heroism,
    and happy imaginational free fall.

    It's also necessary to expand the hoax-fraud-illusion questions onto the Maine. True, Admiral
    Rickover's investigation in the 1970s pointed (sort of) to an accidental coal-bunker fire--but this, too, was a finesse in the spirit of its age. There's plenty of reason for asking
    whether sabotage really was the cause--even though the hull was blown outward,
    seeming to rule out a nautical mine or stationary torpedo. And when I say questions
    I don't mean there are answers. How hard would it have been to smuggle explosives on board
    in cargo? Perhaps Eugenio Battaglia has a background opinion. The bottom line is an atmosphere
    of illusion so dense that modern discourse on the subject has largely abdicated to one
    or another appealing assumption.

    JE comments:  The Edison shorts depict the first war ever captured in moving images.  Here's an excellent YouTube compendium:


    Note the "blanketing" of a US soldier in one of the early scenes.  I'm reminded of Sancho Panza's manteamiento in Don Quijote.  I assume the firing squad scene was staged?

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    • Remembering the Maine (Eugenio Battaglia, Italy 05/04/15 4:23 AM)
      Excellent post from Gery Moore (3 May) on "Remembering the Maine."

      According to many around the world and as Curzio Malaparte wrote, the average American is profoundly good and also believes he or she is right; therefore when the US government decides to go to war it cannot openly say so but has to create the conditions of a casus belli against the US. Then with the use of all possible media and propaganda it creates a situation of Good against Evil. This is easily digested by the people, who are finally ready to fight to save the country and the world.

      On a Navy ship should be impossible to smuggle explosives on board.

      JE comments:  But don't all nations seek a casus belli when going to war?  I'm reminded of Polish "provocations" against Germany prior to 1 September 1939.

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      • Still Remembering the Maine; from Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 05/04/15 4:22 PM)

        Gary Moore sends this response to Eugenio Battaglia (4 May):

        My thanks to Eugenio for his nautical expertise
        on cargo probabilities re the Maine prior to the Spanish-American War. 

        I agree with John Eipper that the dreaming up of a convenient casus belli
        is an ancient and universal pattern, only borrowed by American war fever in 1898.

        But if the Maine explosion was truly a freak coal-bunker accident, there is
        something almost mystical here. The single worst thing in the world for Spain--and the single best thing for the expectations of war fever--happened as if
        by magic. Maybe the shake-out is that strange things certainly are possible--but the stranger they get, the more they deserve a closer look.

        JE comments:  Anthony Candil (next) sends a further analysis of the events leading up to the 1898 war.  Anthony asks the frank question:  was Spain looking for trouble?

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      • Causes of Spanish-American War (Anthony J Candil, USA 05/04/15 4:51 PM)
        John E is right about all nations seeking a casus belli before going to war, but in my view in 1898 Cuba was a geopolitical aberration and Spain in a sense was looking for trouble.

        Lying only 90 miles from the Florida keys, astride the entrance to the Gulf of Mexico, Cuba was separated from Spain by the vast expanse of the Atlantic Ocean. Yet Cuba remained one of Spain's two colonies in the New World. (The other was Puerto Rico.)  It was governed from Madrid much as it had been governed since it was first occupied and settled by Spain in the times of Columbus.

        Cubans were not as compliant in 1898 as they had been during most of the colonial period, especially when the other Spanish Americans severed their ties with the mother country by 1821. Cuba has evolved from a slowly growing colony into the world's leading sugar producer, a relevant feat for the Spanish Crown and a development that required the importation of steadily increasing numbers of African slaves. As a result, by 1840 there were in the island approximately 430,000 slaves, and approximately 60 percent of the population was black or mulatto. Fearing a repetition of the upheaval that wiped out Haiti's white planter class in 1791, Cuban creoles (native-born Cubans of Spanish descent) refrained from imitating their mainland counterparts and risk all in a bloody and ruinous confrontation with the metropolis' military might.

        After the rest of the Spanish American empire disintegrated, nevertheless, if anything Cuba's colonial government gradually turned more despotic. The members of the planter class and the intellectuals who had initially opposed independence then began to show their dissatisfaction. Some, favoring reform over revolution, opted for demanding self-government within the framework of the empire. Others sought annexation to the United States as a means of gaining political and economic freedom while preserving slavery. Neither movement made any headway. Annexationism became impractical after the US Civil War. And the prospect of concessions from Spain faded out after the failure in April 1867 of the Junta de Información convened by the Madrid government to discuss the reforms demanded by the Cubans. Feeling the impact of increased taxation and an international economic crisis, a group of planters, cattlemen and other patriots raised the banner of independence on 10 October 1868. In the end the beginning could be compared to the American movement for "no taxation without representation."

        Thus began the Ten Years' War. The Cubans were unable to overthrow Spanish power on the island, but nevertheless the old colony based on slavery and aristocracy passed away after the strife had ended with a "no-victors" peace in 1878. The long-established dictatorial government machine was dismantled, and, at least in theory, Cubans were assured representation in the Cortes (the Spanish parliament) and some elective institutions at home. An emancipation law was enacted in 1880, and six years later slavery finally came to an end. Cuban society then began to evolve gradually toward a more egalitarian pattern of racial relations, which were markedly less tense than in the United States.  At the same time, owing to a great influx of Spanish immigrants (about 709,000 arrived between 1868 and 1894), Cuba's population underwent a process of intensive Hispanization, particularly noticeable in the principal cities, that explains the special relationship that has been ongoing with mainland Spain no matter what.

        Cuba's economy became even more closely linked with that of the United States than it had been earlier in the century. On the one hand, the tobacco industry was partially transplanted to the US south. On the other, due to a sharp drop of sugar prices that took place from early 1884, the old Cuban "sugar nobility," unable to mechanize and cut costs, began to disintegrate and lose its dominant role in the island's economy and society. This facilitated US penetration of the Cuban economy. In 1894 nearly 90 percent of Cuba's exports went to the United States, which in turn provided Cuba with 38 percent of its imports. That same year Spain took only 6 percent of Cuba's exports, providing it with just 35 percent of its imports. Clearly, Spain had ceased to be Cuba's economic metropolis.

        By this time the nationalistic spirit ignited and solidified by the Ten Years' War had brought forth an organized pro- independence movement such as had never been seen in Cuba before. Its inspirational guide and promoter was José Martí, a middle-class poet and journalist, who had lived in exile in New York City for about twelve years. Fighting broke out again on February 24, 1895 with several uprisings in the east of the island. Blacks and mulattoes became the backbone of what subsequently came to be the Cuban liberation army.

        By 1898, Captain General Valeriano Weyler with an army of more than 200,000 men, the largest army ever to cross the Atlantic until the Second World War, regained the initiative. Seeking to starve out the rebels operating in the countryside, he herded the rural population into garrisoned towns, kind of "concentration camps," where bad and inadequate food and lack of sanitation brought death to thousands of peasants--some 50,000 in Havana province alone. The rebels retreated to rural areas in the eastern provinces and from there carried on guerrilla operations. The war thus settled down to one of attrition and destruction. Since the Spaniards were unable to defeat completely the rebels and the rebels lacked the resources to drive them from the island, some kind of stalemate was reached.

        Cuba nevertheless had developed a well-defined Spanish type of society, and a real national tradition had been in the making in the country for many decades. But the loyalist merchants, speculators, and government officials had also lost their preeminence, and many Cubans had come to hate and despise everything Spanish, thinking only of the corruption and oppressiveness of Spanish rule.

        There were others who thought of the rebellion against Spain as a racial and social struggle for control of the island, and predicted that upon the withdrawal of the Spaniards it would sink into anarchy, racial warfare, and perhaps an Hispaniola-like division into two parts.

        In my view the blind and selfish policy of the Spanish monarchy was at the root of all troubles and revolutionary movements in the whole Spanish America, similar to a point to what the British monarchy did also in the thirteen colonies in the 1770s.

        Cuba took over 100 years to come to the same situation. In 1898 the United States simply came to the rescue.

        (By the way, in 1898 one foreign military observer appointed at the Spanish Headquarters of General Valeriano Weyler, was no other than a young British first lieutenant named Winston Churchill. There are even some who infer that the information on tactics and methods used by the Spanish Army in Cuba was put to work in the subsequent Boer War, and led to the eventual victory of the British forces.)

        JE comments:  The British also set up concentration camps in South Africa.  Was this a direct "inspiration" from Spanish tactics in Cuba?

        I cribbed this photo off the 'Net:

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        • Did Spain "Deserve" the War of 1898? From Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 05/05/15 4:54 PM)

          Gary Moore writes:

          My thanks to Anthony Candil on the Spanish-American War, for revising 200,000
          in his earlier post about the reconcentration camps to "thousands"--which seems
          a better fix on the underlying judgment of history, which is roughly: "Who knows?"

          But I still don't see how this means Spain was asking for it in the provocative
          casus belli sense. Sure, Spain shouldn't have been holding
          stubbornly onto Cuba, but they seemed to be bending over backward not to provoke
          the US. There is discussion (which I haven't verified for the underlying judgment)
          that the Maine showed up in Havana harbor unannounced and the Spanish were
          gracious anyway, while having begun other conciliatory measures. In this field
          (or harbor), "asking for it" tends impinge on the big mystery: How did the
          ship explode? The stubborn colonialism Anthony usefully describes would still
          not seem to put Spain that far over the edge.

          New York Herald reporter George Rea
          wrote in detail about a large population segment in Havana interestingly called
          "laborantes" (common insurrectional Cuban Spanish, from Latin in a landmark
          magazine article), meaning they were civilians but were "working" for the insurrection,
          and sometimes going to tireless lengths. But surely they wouldn't have gone that far--would they?

          JE comments:  Does this mean a false flag operation?  Certainly no party in Cuba had more to gain from the Maine's destruction than the insurrectionists.  But most conspiracy theories surrounding the sinking concern a deliberate action from the United States itself:


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          • Conspiracy Theories about the USS Maine; from Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 05/06/15 2:47 PM)

            Gary Moore follows up on his post of 5 May:

            In reply to John Eipper's interesting reference to the Wikipedia
            version of false flag theories on the sinking of the Maine before
            the Spanish American-War in 1898: Citing the Castro government
            on the Maine is like citing Ahmadinejad on 9/11: Get serious. The
            sedimentation of the present Cuban government atop the old Spanish-
            American War mysteries would seem to be a major factor that makes
            that field so blank, and so intriguing.

            And as to Wikipedia, I liked the
            image offered a while back that it's half-full/half-empty, though I would
            give it much more credit: maybe 90 percent full (useful) or more. But unfortunately,
            one narrow vein where Wikipedia tends to buckle has to do with credulous
            enthusiasms, especially on emotional issues like human rights atrocities
            (the 1890s Cuban death camps), and a related track, our old friend casus belli
            (like the Maine). Anybody can get in there and put their pet theory or advocacy
            position in Wikipedia, and when the issue is emotional enough, crusaders seem
            to mistake cluelessness for righteousness.

            Leaving aside the long Wikipedia
            reference to Castroite speculation, John has, again, very usefully steered us to
            a summary of all the various investigations of the Maine sinking over the years.
            Synopsis: Nobody really knows what blew it up, but sabotage is at least as credible
            a guess as a coal bunker fire--which was never more than a shrugging guess
            even from its most prominent advocate, Admiral Rickover. One thing that
            is shown by the various high-flown computer modelings, etc., is that the Maine
            mystery seems unlikely to be solved by flashy forensics. But will the opening
            of Cuba open a wealth of previously unconsidered archives/memoirs/clues
            leading to new insights from unexpected directions?

            JE comments:  Wikipedia does not suggest one far-fetched but not entirely implausible theory:  that the insurrectionists themselves destroyed the Maine to ensure US intervention in the conflict.

            Granted, conspiracy theories don't "work" unless they contain at least a grain of plausibility.

            "Crusaders seem to mistake cluelessness for righteousness":  I'm going to remember that turn of phrase.  It applies to countless scenarios.

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