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Post Remembering the Maine; from Gary Moore
Created by John Eipper on 05/03/15 4:07 AM

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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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