Sunday, July 18, 2021

"Remember the Maine!"


     Many communities have a square, a little park at the center of their downtown. My hometown, Berea, Ohio has a triangle, aptly called "The Triangle," and I was strolling around it with the friends we were visiting in May, on our way out to Virginia for our younger son's graduation.     
    "Wait a minute," I said, breaking away from our group. "I want to go look at that plaque made out of a piece of the Maine."
     I hadn't seen it in a decade or two, but I knew it was there, somewhere. It took a bit of searching. For an uneasy moment I thought it had been carted away. Not every tribute that is taken down is done so because it's become offensive; some just are irrelevant. 
     But there it was, an actual memento, cast from a piece of the ship that blew up in Havana Harbor on Feb. 15, 1898. That fact must have impressed me as a child and stuck in mind. "Cast from metal recovered from the USS Maine," it says on the plaque, the way after 9/11 pieces of the Twin Towers were worked into memorials. 
     It was a similar attack, maybe, with a considerable loss of life. The USS Maine sank with a loss of most of its crew. Hit by a mine, it was believed at the time, and the sinking was cast as provocation and atrocity and blamed on the Spanish, who were trying to put down a Cuban independence movement. "Remember the Maine!" became a rallying cry, and the U.S. entered into one of its more lopsided imperialist wars.
     I pass it along as a reminder that monuments do, in fact, influence us. I know what the Maine was, not because of any history class, but because of this green oxidized slab of bronze that I passed regularly for the first 18 years of my life. The memorial doesn't mean I particularly venerate the Maine—some historians suspect it was blown up, not by a Spanish mine, but through some ineptness in the management of the ship's engines and coal supplies. I could see that. My concern was nostalgic, not historic. Some U.S. history books never even mention the Maine, and probably just as well. You can't remember everything.
     Though there is a value to the story. The moral of the Maine sinking is to remember the dubious excuses we use for going to war—like the Gulf of Tonkin incident, or the weapons of mass destruction that weren't there. They seem so important at the time. But they're really not. We say we remember them, and we do, for a time. Then we forget and move on.


  1. Wasn't this used as propaganda by the Hearst papers to elicit outrage and garner support for the war? We tend to forget that Fox and company aren't the first right wing propagandists. A certain Chicago paper comes to mind.....................

  2. And the NY Times won a pulitzer for their 'expose' of WMD's which did not exist. This lowered my opinion of the times, and the prize....I don't think everyone 'forgets', note the AP poll of 21% trusting the newspapers...

  3. Given enough time, almost all atrocities that bring about wars are eventually "forgotten"...after the eyewitnesses and the participants and those who lived through that particular historical event are mostly no longer alive. The sinking of the Lusitania during World War I is one example. There are no longer any WWI veterans still alive.

    Soon, all the WWII survivors will also be gone, and even the cry of "Remember Pearl Harbor!" will be "forgotten"...except in history books and in documentaries. Long before this century ends, when everyone reading this will be long-forgotten dust, the same thing will happen to September 11.

    The only war-connected atrocity that may not be forgotten, at least for a few more generations, is what we have come to call the Holocaust. But as the last survivors die, first-hand memories and accounts are already fading. Now more than ever, the haters deny it ever happened. The young never hear about it, or shrug it off. A century from now, who knows what it will be called, or if it will even be remembered at all? Probably not so much. Especially after that dark chapter of history repeats itself.

  4. Interesting that you mention The Maine as Cuba is now undergoing disturbances.
    The demonstrations are suspicious as there is no face to go with them. No leader.
    It would surprise me that their President is right when he accuses some foreign faction of spreading misinformation via social media.
    Yes, the Cubans should be upset. But not with their government. They should be upset with the US as we deprive them of food and medicine.
    If they were only a democracy like Haiti, the people would be happy.
    Yeah, right.

    1. And why do we not trade with Cuba? Oh yeah, the United States holds grudge like an Irishman.

    2. I meant to say say wouldn’t surprise me.

  5. Interesting that Bush the Younger recently commented publicly, in disagreement with withdrawal from Afghanistan. Most agreed with the reason for our initial endeavor there, but most have come to believe that staying there in the state of diminishing returns is folly. All empathy for the fate of Afghan women doesn't affect our inability to change Afghani culture. What I would like to hear is W speaking up about the mendacity of Republicans and the fantasies that spew endlessly from the Party he once led. That might actually lead to real change.


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