USS Maine Mast Memorial
Two-hundred and fifty-eight American sailors were sent to their death on February 15th, 1898 due to mysterious circumstances that resulted in an explosion. Relations between Spain and America were extremely tense because of the Cuban revolt against Spain and the United States loyalty that resided with Cuba. The sinking of the USS Maine—caused by an enigmatic explosion—had massive impacts due to how people with varying sociocultural backgrounds rationalized the ordeal. Nevertheless, after the manipulation of these 258 casualties by the infamous yellow journalists and the era’s politicians, a monument was erected in their honor in 1902 but was transformed into the Spanish-American War Memorial. Nevertheless, 17 years after the explosion, a memorial was raised in Arlington National Cemetery called the USS Maine Mast Memorial.
Backstory and Context
The USS Maine was commissioned for only three short years before it met its end along with 258 innocent people. It sank on February 15th, 1898 off the Havana harbor in Cuba. It was there to try and calm tension between the United States and Spain that arose due to the Cuban War of Independence. The Cuban War of Independence (1895-1898), the third and final of the liberation wars between Cuba and Spain. The other two were called the Ten Years War (1868-1878) and the Little War (1879-1880). The last three months of the Cuban War of Independence resulted in the Spanish-American War due to the explosion of the USS Maine, which finally resulted in Cuba gaining its independence.
A short two days after the explosion, the exploitation of the event caused the media to coin the well-known phrase: “Remember the Maine! To Hell with Spain!” Paul Ryer says in his The Maine, The Romney, and the Threads of Conspiracy in Cuba¸ “the Maine affronted Spanish ultra-loyalists…provided an appealing target for Cuban insurgents or…pretext for North America intervention.” In this excerpt, Ryer is subtly yet cleverly demonstrating the exploitation of the terrible event for political gain. For instance, as seen in the newspaper article (that is mentioned in the images section), the United States used this as fuel to influence American support for the Spanish-American War. “People were actively associating [the Maine] with war, with heroes, with the sentiments of the heart rescuing a helpless Cuba from the hands of tyrant Spain.” The previous quote is from Jill DeTemple, and it further supports Ryer’s point that the explosion of the USS Maine was used to influence Americans’ support for a resolution against Spain.
However, a book published by Tiburcio P. Castaneda, La Explosion del Maine, shines a different light on the perverted event. He rationalizes that the Maine could have met its untimely end due to “an accident caused by an electrical short circuit.” The thing to note here is that Castaneda was of Spanish origin, and his literary piece was published in 1925 for the Queen of Spain herself. This previous sentence beautifully demonstrates how one remembers the USS Maine strongly depends on sociocultural characteristics.
Additionally, in the political cartoon (mentioned in the images section as well) demonstrates how Spain viewed this mysterious—and according to Ryer, controversial—tragedy. The political satire contributes further reinforcement to Ryer by stating that it allowed for action against Spain. The Captain-General was reportedly informed that there was a possible ploy to destroy the USS Maine. Nevertheless, it was decided for this piece of information to remain undeclared per President McKinley due to its likely falsehood. Unfortunately, this piece of information proved all but false.
In conclusion, the corrupted history of the USS Maine, including the arguable explosion and the unwelcome end of 258 sailors, is a depressing yet pertinent lesson for all to learn. The story of the Maine preaches caution to those naivetes to be aware of people in power possessing the capacity to manipulate the dead’s words for their own purpose. Along with Castaneda, Ryer, and DeTemple, people possess immensely different rationalizations of tragedies due to their sociocultural backgrounds. And when these rationalizations may instill fear within a specific people, a whole nation can be moved, like the story of the Maine ultimately starting the Spanish American War.
"Cartoon of Belligerent Uncle Sam Placing Spain on Notice." Cartoon. Wikimedia.org. Accessed March 5, 2019. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Independence_Seaport_Museum_226.JPG#/media/File:Indepe.
Jill. 2001. “Singing the Maine: The Popular Image of Cuba in Sheet Music of the
Spanish-American War.” Historian 63 (4): 715–29.
Rice, Donald Tunnicliff. Cast in Deathless Bronze: Andrew Rowan, the Spanish-American War, and the Origins of American Empire. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press, 2016.
Ryer, Paul. "The Maine, the Romney and the Threads of Conspiracy in Cuba." International Journal of Cuban Studies 7, no. 2 (2015): 200. doi:10.13169/intejcubastud.7.2.0200.
"Who Destroyed the Maine?" New York Journal (New York), February 17, 1898, Greater New York ed. Accessed March 18, 2019. https://media.pri.org/s3fs-public/styles/story_main/public/story/images/MaineNYJ.jpg?itok=XAIcdX5V.