This is the USS Maine, the ship that started the Spanish American war. She was in Havana harbour in Cuba in 1898 to “protect US interests” during the Cuban revolt against Spain. She sank in mysterious circumstances on the night of 15th Feb.
Conspiracy theorists have suggested that the Maine was sunk by the US themselves as a pretext to start the war.
Whatever the reasons for the sinking, the war with Spain was given credence, not by the sinking, but by the treatment of the sinking in the press. Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst were engaged in a pitched battle for circulation in New York. They invented the concept of “tabloid journalism” or as it was then called “yellow press”. Yellow press journalism ignores principles such as good research and reasoned argument in favour of sensational headlines, graphic or shocking content and explicit photographs. It is journalism aimed at selling papers. It is also ironic that the doyen of tabloid journalism, Joseph Pulitzer, gave his name to the prize for excellence in Journalism.
Pulitzer and Hearst leaped on the Maine sinking and turned it into a national cause.
The USS Maine was not a great loss to the US navy. Heralded as a great addition to the fleet when she was launched in 1889, she then wallowed in dock for three years awaiting delivery of armour plating. A pre-dreadnought heavy cruiser, she is an example of clouded thinking in battleship design that became obsolete the day Dreadnought was launched in 1906. In truth Maine was already obsolete by the time she was commissioned into the navy in 1895.
The Maine had two big gun turrets carrying four 10 inch guns. The big gun turrets are housed in sponsons that jut out from the fore-starboard and aft-port quarters of the ship. In the photo above you can see the starboard Turret. With our knowledge of subsequent ship design we can see all sorts of problems with the big gun placement.
Firstly the guns cannot fully traverse. The starboard gun can only fire effectively to starboard. To fire to port required a deck cutout with very restricted lines of sight. The port side guns are even more restricted. This means that in action at sea the four big guns can never effectively aim and fire at the same target. Deck section cutaways were needed just to allow them to fire fore and aft.
Secondly, with the big guns mounted off the ships central axis the recoil from the fire has a destabilizing effect on the ship, making her rock. Even in normal sailing conditions the low mounted – off centre sponsons took on water. All in all she was a lemon.
In 1899 during the Battle of Manilla, the poem below was published. It made Kipling a household name in the USA. It was read in the Senate by Benjamin Tillman, who argued against the US annexation of the Philippines.
The White Man’s Burden: The United States and The Philippine Islands; by Rudyard Kipling
Take up the White Man’s burden, Send forth the best ye breed
Go bind your sons to exile, to serve your captives’ need;
To wait in heavy harness, On fluttered folk and wild
Your new-caught, sullen peoples, Half-devil and half-child.
Take up the White Man’s burden, In patience to abide,
To veil the threat of terror And check the show of pride;
By open speech and simple, An hundred times made plain
To seek another’s profit, And work another’s gain.
Take up the White Man’s burden, The savage wars of peace
Fill full the mouth of Famine And bid the sickness cease;
And when your goal is nearest The end for others sought,
Watch sloth and heathen Folly Bring all your hopes to nought.
Take up the White Man’s burden, No tawdry rule of kings,
But toil of serf and sweeper, The tale of common things.
The ports ye shall not enter, The roads ye shall not tread,
Go mark them with your living, And mark them with your dead.
Take up the White Man’s burden And reap his old reward:
The blame of those ye better, The hate of those ye guard
The cry of hosts ye humour (Ah, slowly!) toward the light:
“Why brought he us from bondage, Our loved Egyptian night?”
Take up the White Man’s burden, Ye dare not stoop to less
Nor call too loud on Freedom To cloke your weariness;
By all ye cry or whisper, By all ye leave or do,
The silent, sullen peoples Shall weigh your gods and you.
Take up the White Man’s burden, Have done with childish days
The lightly proferred laurel, The easy, ungrudged praise.
Comes now, to search your manhood, through all the thankless years
Cold, edged with dear-bought wisdom, The judgment of your peers!