The Role of USS Maine in Spanish American War: Clandestine Destruction in Cuban Waters

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A “false flag” is defined as being an action or attack through a clandestine identity while implying another nation or group of people as the culprit (False flag, n.d). The 15th of February, 1998 marks the date the famous U.S. Navy battleship called the “USS Maine” exploded and sunk in the Havana Harbour (Profile: USS Maine, 2003). The explosion killed over 260 men aboard the ship (Gravlin, 2003). Initially, the Americans claimed Spain to be the perpetrator of the explosion. Newspapers all over the country boasted the catchy slogan “Remember the Main, To Hell with Spain (Profile: USS Maine, 2003, para. 1)”. There are many claims surrounding this historical event ultimately resulting in the Spanish-American war, including the famous conspiracy I will be analyzing that insists the explosion was not the result of an attack by the Spanish but rather self-inflicted and came from the interior of the ship (‘Twas a Mine, 1898, p. 3). Through examining several factors, including the conditions of the environment around the ship, the ship itself, and sociopolitical factors, I believe in the conspiracy theory surrounding this historical event that the explosion of the USS Maine was in fact, a false flag operation.

When analyzing the social and historical background of this conspiracy, it is clear why this theory arises. A few years prior to the ship’s sinking, Cuba dived into political turmoil with Spain after the Spanish army wanted to defeat the Cubans. They did this by forcing Cubans out of their own villages into fortified towns with a lack of food and sanitation resulting in the death of over 20,000 Cubans (Hastedt, 2016, para. 2). Spain was in domination over Cuba at this time and they were content with this power. Later, after rebellion by the Cubans, the Spanish decided to grant Cubans equal political rights. Many Spanish people were unhappy with this decision and as a result, Spanish loyalists began rioting in Cuba (Hastedt, 2016, para. 4). There was a lot of tension brewing between the United States and Spain over this rebellion and rioting as America had ties with Cuba. It was also known that the U.S. had interest in many colonies under Spanish control. The United States had over $50,000,000 invested in Cuba at the time and had many businesses, properties, and workers there (Norris, 2014, p. 1-2). Those involved with these investments began to worry for their safety and protection of their property and investments and so the USS Maine was sent to the Havana harbour during this time. It would serve as a form of protection for possible upcoming threats to American property and investment. 

Though this was the reasoning for the USS Maine being sent to Cuban waters, the Americans simply said the ship was sent as a friendly courtesy to Cubans to keep allied (Hastedt, 2016, para 4). Shortly after the battleship was sent into the Havana harbour, it was blasted, sinking the ship and leaving almost all crew members dead, resulting in the Spanish being blamed, allowing for the U.S. to rightfully declare war on Spain (Spanish-American War, n.d., para. 1). The social and political context of this conspiracy tells one a lot. I personally believe that in the context of what was going on at the time, a self-inflicted disaster makes sense. The U.S. had many investments in Cuba at the time and the rioting and rebellion was a threat to their investment in the country. Furthermore, the United States was looking to rise to imperialism and at the time, Spain exercised a lot of control over colonies that were of interest to the U.S. It would logically align that American forces wanted to create minor disaster as a false flag in order to rightfully declare war on Spain so they could acquire more colonies, and allow Cuba, a country they invested in to gain independence so that they could continue to profit (Spanish-American War, n.d., para. 4).

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Both sides of the argument raise several points in trying to disprove or prove the conspiracy. These statements can be analyzed through both logic and principles of critical thinking in order to help form an unbiased opinion. There are a few arguments against the conspiracy that the explosion was a false flag and it indeed was a result of Spain’s doing. The first of these being the argument that an “accidental” explosion would reflect terribly on the U.S. Navy and their officers, painting them with incompetence and unprofessionalism (Norris, 2014, p, 5). The issue with this argument is that it reflects a hasty conclusion. This argument jumps to the conclusion that the U.S. Navy would look bad for letting something like this happen. Though, in reality there is no actual evidence to support that this would be the consensus from a minor disaster, in the grand scheme of American military, that would have occurred by accident. This conclusion is solely derived from personal opinion as at this time, the U.S. was on a strong imperial rise, and surely would leave most people unbothered by a small-scale military accident. Another case is made in those saying that naval officers were made aware of the dangers of coal bunkers and in-turn were very detailed in carefully monitoring temperatures, ventilation, and storing ammunition far from potential hazardous distance. It insists that officers being aware that the result of this sort of catastrophe would likely result in the deaths of most or all of the crew would deter them from triggering a war by killing hundreds of their own men (Norris, 2014, p. 5-6). 

I find this particular point valid and logically sound as sacrificing several hundred of a particular military force’s own soldiers would generally not be the initial idea or plan for the sole purpose of economic and political gain, that is not even guaranteed in the first place. The final main point that is used to disprove this conspiracy is that after the explosion occurred, American naval officers ran their own inquiry ultimately describing that they noticed the keel of the USS Maine was bent upwards from the blast. They stated that this exhibits that the explosion was most likely external, though this was never confirmed (Norris, 2014, p.6). While this point logically suffices at surface level, there is a significant appeal to false authority associated with it. The people that made this inquiry were naval officers who are experts in their field of warfare strategies and on-board procedure. They were not shipwrights or part of an investigative dive team, nor do the military duties of an officer formally include inspecting the physical build of battleships. With this being said, it is not a valid claim to say that the naval officers are right simply because they are officers. Though they are experts in the operation of the ship, they are not shipwrights, and likely not experts on the ship’s build itself making this claim subject to being picked apart on the basis of critical thinking.

In terms of the arguments that insist the accuracy of the conspiracy, there are several. The first significant one is that warships at this time were considered hazardous due to the combination of coal bunkers and heavy amounts of ammunition stored in close proximity. In turn, bunkers required close monitoring by seamen (Norris, 2014, p. 6). In order for an accident to occur there had to be a letup in monitoring by the seamen on board. While this is entirely possible, those arguing for the conspiracy say that this is unlikely and the disregard for surveillance of the bunkers had to be of larger intent. This claim does not carry much substance as there is no evidential statement to it. There is no proof surrounding the idea that a seaman on board decided not to keep eyes on the bunker so the explosion would occur. This idea is simply based off of mere speculation which does not form a sound argument. The next argument is that there was never any evidence retrieved of any mines or externally released weaponry that could be linked to the disaster. Furthermore, there were never any alerts for approaching watercrafts such as submarines or boats. Winds were also low on the day of the explosion, debunking the possibility of a drifting explosive setting off the blast (Norris, 2014, p. 5). This point is very valid as it uses circumstantial evidence surrounding the event including weather, water patterns, lack of water vessels in the area, and lack of explosives and weapon debris around the ship. All of these points prove that in order for the attack to have been from Spanish forces, it would have had to have gone completely and entirely undetected by the several forces that inspected this case. Another point is used to prove the conspiracy. As stated by the Havana harbour naval watch commander, there was no disarray of the water and no dead fish were found around the site of the explosion. This is considered odd as the only way the water would not be visibly upheaved is if the explosion came from the interior of the ship. Likewise, the only way marine life would be virtually unaffected is if the blast ignited from the interior of the USS Maine (‘Twas a Mine, 1898). 

These two conclusions are valid and logically well founded as they are based on evidence and a credible source being the watch commander whose job and formal training is for him to keep a close eye on enemy ships in the harbour. Another claim on the side of the argument for the conspiracy is that the blast was investigated by a Spanish naval dive team who had come to the conclusion that the explosion was from the interior of the ship. They stated that spontaneous combustion occurred in the coal bunkers due to the fact that they found the bunkers were not ventilated properly. This set off ammunition near by resulting in an internal explosion (Gravlin, 2000, para. 2). This holds logical clarity in the fact that the team investigating the USS Maine blast were people who did this for a living. They were trained at investigating destruction at sea, and knew what to look for in determining the cause of shipwrecks. Lastly, the argument that the Spanish would have never done such a thing surfaced. Claims that Spain wished to avoid war with the United States filled newspapers and articles. Spanish forces were aware of capacity of the American military and they were aware of the American quest to gain control over as many colonies as possible. Spanish forces knew they were an easy target especially with the Cuban-Spanish riots, and so Spain did not wish to instigate a battle (Haydock, 1998). This last claim logically makes sense when analyzing the historical climate during this time. Though it is impossible to verify that these thoughts were actually running through the commanders of the Spanish forces, it is reasonable to use the context of the politics, economics, and social events to conclude that this was a likely possibility.

When investigating the two sides to this popular and ongoing, unresolved conspiracy, there are plausible arguments from both view-points. Through my own research of social, political, economic, and historical factors of the year of 1898, between American, Cuban, and Spanish relations, I have come to the belief that this conspiracy is in fact true, and that the explosion of the USS Maine was not inflicted by Spanish forces, but rather a false flag operation by the United States. Furthermore, the technicalities and validity behind the claims surrounding circumstantial evidence that insist on the truth of the conspiracy help solidify my belief. Between the lack of vessels in near proximity, lack of wind allowing explosives to drift to the ship, lack of weaponry or mines found, lack of deceased marine life, absence of water movement at the time of the blast, as well as the confirmation of mis-ventilation leading to spontaneous combustion from a naval dive team, I believe there is no chance that the attack came from the exterior of the ship. 

I believe that the ultimate goal of the United States government was to extend their wealth and quest for imperialism by continuing relations with an independent Cuba, as well as acquiring the colonies of the Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico, which they successfully did (Spanish-American War, n.d., para. 4). In order to do this, the U.S. needed rightful reason to declare war on Spain, and at the time, Spain’s growing antagonistic relationship with Cuba was enough for the American government to intervene by dispatching the USS Maine to Cuban waters. Self-inflicting an explosion killing over 200 men and then immediately placing the blame towards Spain using propaganda would get their nation’s support. War was then declared, Spain was ultimately defeated, colonies were gained, Cuba gained their independence, and the United States was ultimately able to rise as a powerful nation. This leads me to firmly believe they completed their mission, and this conspiracy is not much of a conspiracy at all, but rather the truth behind the destruction of the USS Maine.

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