By Marc Kelley
Syndicated by: Montana News
In 1898, the US Military consisted of approximately 25,000 soldiers, who were scattered throughout our country. The bulk of our forces were stationed in the western US, and assigned to oversee the Native American Indians. This reality would give opportunity, for the formation of the 1st United States Volunteer Calvary and the men who would become known as, Roosevelt's Rough Riders.
The Spanish American War came to pass, as a result of several complex issues. By 1890 Cuba had been unsuccessfully battling Spain for its independence for many years and by 1895, the Cuban people had more than they could tolerate from Spain. Cuban revolutionary and national hero, Jose Marti, led a grass roots revolution, in a final attempt to seize power from the Spanish. A series of riots ensued resulting in destabilizing the Cuban economy and placing US interests in the region, at risk. In response to the violence, then US President William McKinley sent the warship, USS Maine, to Havana, with orders to protect the US citizens living in Cuba at the time. Three weeks later, as the Maine sat moored in Havana Harbor, an explosion occurred, killing 261, of the 355 American Sailors and Marines on board.
While infuriating many in the US, the destruction of the USS Maine, did not result in an immediate declaration of war. True to their colors and self-serving ideology, the 'Fake News" media, without any evidence, immediately proclaimed this an "unprovoked attack" on a US vessel and demanded retaliation.
Looking to capitalize and profit from the sinking of the Maine, both the New York Journal and the New York World newspapers began an intense campaign of "yellow journalism." Both newspapers exaggerated and distorted any piece of information they could get about the sinking. When the facts did not fit the media narrative, information was fabricated to sell the story, Spain alone, was responsible for bombing the USS Maine. Finally, in what can only be seen as grandstanding, Randolph Hurst, owner of the New York Journal offered a 50,000 reward for the conviction of the individual responsible for what he described as a " deliberate act of war".
A Naval Board of Inquiry was dispatched to Investigate the cause of the explosion which ultimately sank the Maine. Leading this investigation, was the Officer in Charge of the Florida US Navel Station, Commander, William S. Cowles. Cowles ordered a diver be sent to the bottom of the harbor to assess first hand, the damage to the Maine. After gathering as much information as he believed possible, Commander Cowles returned to Washington DC and presented his report. As with many catastrophic events, identifying the exact cause for the explosion could not be determined. The official Navel report indicated the Maine had struck a mine, as it floated in the Havana Harbor. Striking the magnetic mine, ignited the Maine's powder locker, resulting in the explosion. However, Cowles did present another explanation for the explosion. Many investigators believed, the explosion was the result of a spontaneous combustion fire, which began in the coal storage bin of the Maine; and in turn, ignited the ships forward powder locker, containing over 5 long tons, of explosives. The official report left a great deal of doubt to the exact cause of the explosion, which resulted in the sinking of the Maine. What was very clear, is this report did not fit the narrative being pushed by the media. As a result of the constant "fake news" reporting, public opinion was swayed and the people of the US convinced, Spain had purposefully attacked our warship.
On April 25, 1898 the US declared war on Spain and we would begin the Spanish American War. Roosevelt would resign as Assistant Secretary of the Navy and form his now iconic, USV, Rough Riders. As a firearm enthusiast, Roosevelt secured the best weapons for his men. As a collector and historian, he also understood the emotions, which firearms themselves. elicit in their owners. In addition to the information about the explosion gathered by the Navy diver when he dove on the wreck of the Maine, he also discovered a pistol, which he retrieved. The pistol was given to Commander Cowles, who in turn carried it back to Washington DC and presented it to his Brother-in-law. The pistol in question was a Colt M1892 Army & Navy, Revolver. The pistol was a first generation, double action revolver which utilized a swing out cylinder for loading and chambered in 38 Long Colt. The legend tells us, this very same revolver, recovered from the Maine, carried back to Washington DC and presented by Commander Cowles to then Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Theodore Roosevelt; is in fact, the pistol you would have found, under the flap holster, on the right hip of Colonel Roosevelt, in the iconic photo, as he and his men stood upon San Juan Hill.
In a war that would last only 10 weeks, the US would emerge as the dominate global power and usher in what is called the Dawn of the American Century. Many Americans interpreted our emergence as the first global superpower, as part of our manifest destiny; believing, US expansion was both our right and an inevitability. Opposition to this new role was clearly vocalized using the same argument we are having today. Liberal celebrities joined with liberal politicians to form the American Anti-Imperialist League, claiming America never was that great. Believing supporters of US nationalism were, immoral, insane and wicked, the movement would be short lived following the emergence of WW I and the Anti-Imperialist league would be defeated in the battle of public opinion.
The stories and legends of Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders made Roosevelt an overnight war hero and catapulted him into our nations political spotlight. Roosevelt was elected governor of New York in 1898 and vice president of the United States in 1901. He became the youngest president to date later that year, when President McKinley was assassinated just months into his second term. Establishing what is now known as "big stick ideology", Roosevelt utilized his belief, US foreign policy must: exercise intelligent forethought and decisive action, sufficiently in advance of any likely crisis. Negotiations must be done peacefully, while simultaneously reminding our adversaries, we also possess a very "big stick"…the brave men and women of our military.