The weeks that have elapsed since that fatal event ofFebruary 15th have been making history in a mannerhighly creditable to the American government and toour citizenship. Captain Sigsbee, the commander of theMaine, had promptly telegraphed his desire thatjudgment should be suspended until investigation hadbeen made. The investigation was started at once, and75 million Americans have accordingly suspendedjudgment in the face of a great provocation.
For itmust be remembered that to suppose the destruction ofthe Maine an ordinary accident and not due to anyexternal agency or hostile intent was, under all thecircumstances, to set completely at defiance the lawof probabilities. It is not true that battleships are in the habit ofblowing themselves up. When all the environing factswere taken into consideration, it was just about asprobable that the Maine had been blown up by someaccident where no hostile motive was involved, as thatthe reported assassination of President Barrios ofGuatemala, a few days previously, had really been asuicide.
. . . It has been known perfectly well that Spanish hatredmight at any time manifest itself by attempts upon thelife of the American representative at Havana, ConsulGeneral Fitzhugh Lee.
This danger was felt especiallyat the time of the Havana riots in January, and itseems to have had something to do with the sending ofthe Maine to Havana Harbor. The Spaniards themselves,however, looked upon the sending of the Maine as afurther aggravation of the long series of their justgrievances against the United States. They regardedthe presence of the Maine at Havana as a menace toSpanish sovereignty in the island and as anencouragement to the insurgents.
A powerful Americanfleet lay at Key West and the Dry Tortugas, with steamup ready to follow the Maine to the harbor of Havanaat a few hours’ notice. All this was intensely hatefulto the Spaniards, and particularly to the Armyofficers at Havana who had sympathized with GeneralWeyler’s policy and who justly regarded GeneralWeyler’s recall to Spain as due to the demand ofPresident McKinley. The American pretense that theMaine was making a visit of courtesy seemed to theseSpaniards a further example of Anglo-Saxon hypocrisy. That this intense bitterness against the presence ofthe Maine was felt among the military and officialclass in Havana was perfectly well known to CaptainSigsbee, his staff, and all his crew; and they werenot unaware of the rumors and threats that means wouldbe found to destroy the American ship. It was,furthermore, very generally supposed that the Spanishpreparation for the defense of Havana had includedmines and torpedoes in the harbor.
At the time whenthe Maine went to Havana, it was a notorious fact thatthe relations between the Spain and the United Stateswere so strained that that war was regarded asinevitable. If war had actually been declared whilethe Maine was at Havana, it is not likely that theSpanish would have permitted the ship’s departurewithout an effort to do her harm. The Spanish harbor is now and it has been for a goodwhile past under military control; and the Americanwarship, believed by the Spanish authorities to be atHavana with only half-cloaked hostile designs, wasobliged to accept the anchorage that was assigned bythose very authorities. In view of the strainedsituation and of the Spanish feeling that nomagnanimity is due on Spain’s part toward the UnitedStates, it is not in the least difficult to believethat the harbor authorities would have anchored theMaine at a spot where, in case of the outbreak of war, thesubmarine harbor defenses might be effectively be usedagainst so formidable an enemy. To understand the situation completely, it must not beforgotten that the Spanish government at first madeobjection against the Maine’s intended visit to Havanaand, in consenting, merely yielded to a necessity thatwas forced upon it.
All Spaniards regarded the sendingof the Maine to Havana as really a treacherous act onthe part of the United States, and most of them wouldhave deemed it merely a safe and precautionary measureto anchor her in the vicinity of a submarine mine.Doubtless these suggestions will be read by more thanone person who will receive them with entireskepticism. But such readers will not have beenfamiliar with what has been going on in the matter ofthe Cuban rebellion, or else they will be lacking inmemories of good carrying power. The great majority of the intelligent people of theUnited States could not, from the first, avoidperceiving that what we may call the self-destructiontheory was extremely improbable; while what we mayterm the assassination theory was in keeping with allthe circumstances. Nevertheless, although theprobability of guilt was so overwhelming, the Americanpeople saw the fairness and the necessity ofsuspending judgment until proof had been substitutedfor mere probability. And there was in no part of thecountry any disposition to take snap judgment or toact precipitately. No other such spectacle of nationalforbearance has been witnessed in our times.
Unquestionably, the whole community has been intenselyeager for news; and it is perhaps true that certainnewspapers, which have devoted themselves for a monthor more to criticizing the sensational press, might aswell have been occupied in a more energetic effort tosupply their readers with information. The fact isthat the so-called war extras, which for many dayswere issued from certain newspaper offices at the rateof a dozen or more a day, have not seemed tocommunicate their hysteria to any considerable numberof the American people, East or West, North or South,so far as our observation goes. The situation has simply been one of a very absorbingand profound interest, while the suspense has beenvery trying to the nerves. The possibility that ourcountry might soon be engaged in war with a foreignpower has been a preoccupying thought not to bedismissed for a single hour. The whole country hasknown that a fateful investigation was in progress inHavana Harbor; that coast-defense work was beingpushed all along our seaboard; that in all theshipyards, public and private, government work wasbeing prosecuted with double or quadruple forces ofmen, working by night as well as by day; thatammunition factories, iron and steel plants, and everyother establishment capable of furnishing any kind ofmilitary or naval supplies were receiving orders fromthe government and were working to the full extent oftheir capacity; that plans were being made for fittingout merchant ships as auxiliary cruisers; that ournaval representatives were negotiating abroad foradditional warships; that new regiments ofartillerymen were being enlisted for the big guns onthe seaboard; that naval recruits were being musteredin to man newly commissioned ships; that the railroadswere preparing by order of the War Department to bringthe little United States Army from western andnorthern posts to convenient southern centers; andthat while we were making these preparations Spain onher part was trying to raise money to buy ships and tosecure allies. All these matters, and many othersrelated to them, have within these past weeks made animmense opportunity for testing the news gatheringresources of the American press.
. . . When, therefore, on March 8, the House ofRepresentatives unanimously voted to place $50 millionat the unqualified disposal of President McKinley asan emergency fund for the national defense – thisaction being followed by an equally unanimous vote ofthe Senate the next day – it was naturally taken forgranted all over the country that the situation wasbelieved by the President to be extremely critical.The continued delay of the Board of Inquiry – whichhad been oscillating between Havana and Key West,conducting its proceedings in secret and maintainingabsolute reticence – had naturally served to confirmthe belief that its report would show foul play; andit appeared that the President was basing his greatpreparations of war, in part at least, upon hisadvance knowledge of the evidence secured by thecommission.
The unanimity of Congress in support ofthe President created an excellent impression abroad.Fifty million is a very large sum to place in thehands of one man. It might have been supposed that there would have beenmembers in both houses who would have insisted uponthe appropriation of this money for specific purposes.
That not a single man was found to make objectionshowed a very great capacity for united action in atime of emergency. It also showed, of course, howgreat is the confidence that Congress and the Americanpeople repose in the honor, wisdom, and public spiritof their Presidents. At the time of the Venezuelaincident, Congress in similar manner, came unanimouslyto the support of President Cleveland. In that case,however, there was not the remotest possibility ofwar; and the episode was merely a diplomatic one inwhich it was deemed important to show that ourgovernment could rely absolutely upon the wholesupport of the people. The South on all such recentoccasions has been foremost in expressions ofpatriotism. The vote of $50 million, although an extraordinarymeasure justified only by the imminent danger of war,was clearly an act that no peace-loving man couldreasonably criticize; for preparation is often themeans by which conflict is avoided.
A larger Navy wasin any case greatly desirable for our country, withits long seaboard on the Atlantic and the Pacific andits vast commerce; while the better fortification ofour principal ports was an urgent necessity. Since thepreparations that have been made so hurriedly duringthe past few weeks have been of a defensive nature,and since they have been carried out upon lines whichhad been duly considered in advance, they will havepermanent value, and there will have been involved avery small percentage of waste. If Congress had beenwise enough in the past three or four years to laydown more warships in our own yards, it would not havebeen necessary to contribute millions to foreignshipbuilders. No part of the $50 million will be squandered by theadministration; but it is to be regretted that thisemergency fund had not been already expended duringthe five preceding years by more liberalappropriations for coast defense and navalconstruction. The great shipyards of the UnitedStates, both public and private, are now at the pointwhere, with a sufficient amount of regular work to do,they would speedily be able to compete on equal termswith the best shipbuilding plants of Europe. Iron andsteel supplies are now much cheaper in the UnitedStates than anywhere else, and it is only therelatively small amount of shipbuilding that has beendemanded by our government that has made it moreexpensive to build a war vessel here than else where.
In a time of real emergency, however, the resources ofthe United States would prove themselves great enoughto supply our own people and the whole world besides.The quickness and inventiveness of American mechanics,engineers, and manufacturers have no parallel inEurope. On a year’s notice the United States mightundertake to cope evenhanded with either the Dual orthe Triple Alliance – although we have now only thenucleus of an army and the beginning of a navy, whilethe European powers have made war preparation theirprincipal business for a whole generation. It is to besuspected that one reason why the American people havebought the newspapers so eagerly during the past weeksis to be found in the satisfaction they have taken inlearning how a strictly peaceful nation like ourscould if necessary reverse the process of beatingswords into plowshares. It is true, for example, that we have built only a fewtorpedo boats and only a few vessels of the type knownas destroyers; but we have discovered that about ahundred very rich Americans had been amusingthemselves within the past few years by building orbuying splendid oceangoing, steel-built steam yachtsof high speed and stanch qualities, capable of beingquickly transformed into naval dispatch boats orarmored and fitted with torpedo tubes. Probably not asingle private Spanish citizen could turn over to hisgovernment such a vessel as the magnificent Goeletyacht, the Mayflower, which was secured by our NavyDepartment on March 16; not to mention scores of otherprivate steam yachts of great size and strength thatwealthy American citizens are ready to offer ifneeded.
It is the prevailing opinion nowadays, it is true,that nothing is to be relied upon in naval war buthuge battleships, which take from two to three or fouryears to build. But if a great war were forced upon ussuddenly, it is altogether probable that Americaningenuity would devise something wholly new in the wayof a marine engine of war, just as American ingenuityimprovised the first modern ironclads. We have alreadyin our Navy a dynamite cruiser, the Vesuvius, which inactual warfare might prove more dangerous than a halfdozen of the greatest battleships of the Europeannavies.
There has just been completed, moreover, andoffered to our government, a submarine boat, theHolland, which seems to be capable of moving rapidlyfor several miles so completely submerged as to offerno target for an enemy; and it may well be that thetorpedoes discharged from an insignificant littlevessel capable of swimming below the surface like afish might prove as fatal to the battleships of anenemy as the alleged mine in the harbor of Havana wasfatal to our battleship the Maine. Nowadays, warfare is largely a matter of science andinvention; and since a country where the arts of peaceflourish and prosper is most favorable to the generaladvance of science and invention, we stumble upon theparadox that the successful pursuit of peace is afterall the best preparation for war. Another way to putit is to say that modern warfare has become a matterof machinery, and that the most highly developedmechanical and industrial nation will by virtue ofsuch development be most formidable in war. This is a situation that the Spaniards in general areevidently quite unable to comprehend.
Their ideas arealtogether medieval. They believe themselves to be ahighly chivalrous and militant people, and that thepeople of the United States are really in great terrorof Spanish prowess. They think that Spain could makeas easy work of invading the United States as Japanmade of invading China. Their point of view isaltogether theatrical and unrelated to modern facts. A country like ours, capable of supplying the wholeworld with electrical motors, mining machinery,locomotive engines, steel rails, and the structuralmaterial for modern steel bridges and “skyscrapers,”not to mention bicycles and sewing machines, isequally capable of building, arming, and operating anunlimited number of ships of every type, and ofemploying every conceivable mechanical device forpurposes of national defense.
In the long run,therefore, even if our preliminary preparations hadbeen of the scantiest character, we should be able togive a good account of ourselves in warfare. . . . Quite regardless of the responsibilities for the Maineincident, it is apparently true that the greatmajority of the American people are hoping thatPresident McKinley will promptly utilize the occasionto secure the complete pacification and independenceof Cuba. There are a few people in the United States -we should not like to believe that more than 100 couldbe found out of a population of 75 million – whobelieve that the United States ought to join handswith Spain in forcing the Cuban insurgents to lay downtheir arms and to accept Spanish sovereignty as apermanent condition under the promise of practicalhome rule. It needs no argument, of course, toconvince the American people that such a proposalreaches the lowest depths of infamy.
It is much worsethan the proposition made by a few people in Europelast year that the victorious Turks should have thecountenance and support of the great nations of Europein making Greece a part of the Turkish empire. For theTurks had fairly conquered the Greeks; and if Europehad kept hands off, Greece would have been reducedvery quickly to the position of an Ottoman province. But in Cuba it is otherwise. The insurgents, with nooutside help, have held their own for more than threeyears, and Spain is unable to conquer them. The peopleof the United States do not intend to help Spain holdCuba.
On the contrary, they are now ready, in one wayor in another, to help the Cubans drive Spain out ofthe Western Hemisphere. If the occasion goes past andwe allow this Cuban struggle to run on indefinitely,the American people will have lost several degrees ofself-respect and will certainly not have gainedanything in the opinion of mankind.