On February 18, 1898 the American battleship, USS Maine exploded in the harbor of Havana Cuba and catapulted the United States onto the world stage. Above is a photo of a porthole that was recovered from the wreckage and is on display at the National Infantry Museum.
Tensions between the US and Spain had been on the rise as the people of Cuba were fighting Spain for the freedom. America supported the rebels but was in such a position where they could not do so openly. In fact President McKinley sent the Maine to Havana, with permission from the Spanish government, to protect Americans in the country. When the ship inexplicably exploded that night over 200 American sailors lost their life and all any one could ask was why?
The initial investigation placed the cause for the explosion on a mine that had detonated underneath a powered magazine. When the results of the inquiry were made public, the American press immediately laid the blame on the Spanish and demanded that the US intervene in the rebellion on the side of Cuba. Before long the fervor for war grew and led to Congress declaring war on Spain on April 23, 1898. The war itself did not last long, Spain had long been on the decline and none of the other powers felt compelled to help. Before long the US Navy had all but obliterated the Spanish Navy while the ground forces took Cuba and the Philippines, among others.
Several years later, a follow-up inquiry into the fate of the Maine, contradicted the mine findings and instead suggested that the cause of the explosion was spontaneous combustion inside the power magazine. Even today the actual cause of the explosion is debated and serves as fodder for conspiracy theorists. It does seem mighty convenient that such an event occurred just when the desire to create and American Empire at the expense of a dying European power seemed the most, opportune.
To read more about the Maine click here.