James A. Marples, 32
Rose Hill, Kansas

A century ago, the sinking of the Maine hurled the United States into the Spanish–American War.

Many people remember the “Rough Riders” and the slogan “Remember the Maine” from their history classes in school. Fewer people realize that both of those subjects were invariably linked by events exactly a century ago in 1898.

In the waning years of the last decade of the 19th Century, Cuba was bubbling with discontent. At that time, Spain controlled Cuba as well as Puerto Rico in the Atlantic and Guam and the Philippines in the Pacific.

The U.S. battleship Maine anchored over her grave in the harbor of Havana, Cuba. This photo was taken at 4:00 pm, February 15, 1898, the date of her destruction.

In many ways, Spain had overreached its attempt to be a global powerhouse. True, that nation’s presence was seen around the world, but Spain was unable to motivate allegiance other than by what many considered brute force. The harsh treatment Cubans allegedly received at the hands of the Spanish military received wide notoriety in the American newspapers, particularly in the sensational articles printed by William Randolph Hearst’s publication syndicate.

U.S. President and Brother William McKinley was initially hesitant to impose American intervention. He felt that unless America was directly and adversely affected, it was America’s position to stay clear of the combatants. Tensions came to a head on the night of February 15, 1898, when the Maine was sunk by a tremendous explosion. As a result, a total of 260 lives were lost in Havana Harbor, Cuba.

Public outcry was enormous in America. On April 20th, President McKinley approved a Congressional Resolution demanding the withdrawal of Spain from Cuba. Spain took a belligerent attitude which led to an all-out assault by the U.S. Navy which destroyed the Spanish fleet anchored in the Philippines on May 1, 1898.

Only two months later, on July 1st, American troops penetrated deep into Cuba. The 1st Volunteer Cavalry (more commonly known by its nickname, the “Rough Riders”) commanded by Lt. Col. Theodore Roosevelt charged up and captured the infamous San Juan Hill, near Santiago de Cuba. Also in that month, yet another American force occupied Puerto Rico.

Under such massive attack, the Spanish government requested a settlement. By the terms of the peace treaty signed at Paris, France, on December 10, 1898, Spain relinquished Cuba and ceded the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Guam to the United States. As a result of the Spanish–American War, the United States became a world power. On his return from the war, Theodore Roosevelt was elected Governor of New York and, soon thereafter, Vice President of the United States. He promptly became a Master Mason. This undoubtedly strengthened his character as he assumed the Presidency on September 14, 1901.

Although a century has passed, the old adage is especially true with regard to Cuba: the more things change, the more they stay the same. Many people are filled with discontent in Cuba today. As during the War of 1898, today nearly all economic trade between Cuba and America has been halted and Cuba’s future stability is seen as crucial to America’s national security.

We can learn many lessons by remembering the events of 1898. If Bro. Roosevelt were alive today, most likely he would urge us to: Remember the Maine and the Rough Riders, too.