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American History: January/February 1998 From the Editor

Originally published on Published Online: August 11, 1998 
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Thoughts on History

One of a magazine editor's most painful tasks is cutting perfectly good articles so they fit into the space allotted. As a result, sometimes the more leisurely reflections about the causes and effects of historic events are sacrificed. A case in point is this issue's article on the battleship Maine by Michael D. Haydock.

One thing that ended up on the cutting room floor was Mr. Haydock's observations on some of the events that followed the Spanish-American War. Haydock wrote, "In the years between the death of the Maine in 1898 and her final burial at sea in 1912, the world changed in many ways, and the United States fully assumed its new role as a major power. Under the Rough Rider-turned-president, Theodore Roosevelt, the United States began construction of an inter-oceanic canal across Panama. When the Maine went to its final rest the canal was nearly completed, and the long and dangerous journey from Pacific to Atlantic around Cape Horn, such as that of the Olympia, would soon be an adventure of the past. In the Philippines, an insurrection by natives, unhappy that they were not granted their independence, had broken out and been quelled. By the time the insurrection ended in 1904, 20,000 insurgents had been killed and another 200,000 Filipinos had died from famine and disease. At the height of the fighting, 75 percent of the United States Army was engaged in the Philippines, and American dead eventually totaled 4,200.

"The United States Navy, faced with enormous new responsibilities in the vast Pacific, had begun construction of a large new base on a blue-green bay of tranquil beauty on the island of Oahu, in recently annexed Hawaii. The natives of the islands had long known the bay for its riches, and the name they had given it–Pearl Harbor–stuck.

"Whatever the cause of the sinking of the Maine had been–and it is likely that debate on that question will never cease–the United States had entered a new era."

It makes you think. What if the Maine had not sunk in Havana harbor? Without the American presence in the Pacific, there through the acquisition of the Philippines from Spain in the resulting war, would the United States and Japan have clashed in the late 1930s? Would the Japanese have attacked Pearl Harbor, bringing the U.S. into World War II? Perhaps when we remember the Maine we should also remember Pearl Harbor.

When playing such "what if?" games, you can assume the smallest event will behave like a falling snowflake that sets off an avalanche. Of course, another theory of history argues that no single person or event, by itself, can have major consequences. History's weave is made of many threads, and cutting one of them will not noticeably alter the fabric.

We also had to delete a small but interesting anecdote from Mr. Haydock's article. It seems that when navy diver Andrew Olsen was exploring the sunken battleship for the first court of inquiry, he removed the ship's commissioning pennant and gave it to a friend. The friend put it away in his attic and forgot about it. The pennant remained there for 57 years, until it was rediscovered and presented to Maine Governor Edmund Muskie in 1956 at a ceremony in the Officers' Club of the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

Haydock did not mention Captain Sigsbee's bathtub, but I will. It seems that after the Maine was salvaged in 1911, souvenirs from the battleship became quite popular. An Ohio congressman obtained the bathtub and gave it to his hometown of Urbana, Ohio. Urbana did not see much appeal in the battered and rusty relic, so the town passed it on to nearby Findlay. After seeing service as a coal bin and then as a display in the local courthouse, the tub was exhibited in the Hancock Historical Museum, where you can see it today. It is one unusual way to remember what happened to the Maine a century ago.

Tom Huntington, Acting Editor, American History

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