Explanation of Life

    On the first day, God created the dog and said: "Sit all day by the door of your house and bark at anyone who comes in or walks past. For this I will give you a life span of 20 years."
    The dog said, "That's a long time to be barking. How about only 10 years and I'll give you back the other ten?"
    And God said that it was good.
    On the second day, God created the monkey and said, "Entertain people, do tricks, and make them laugh. For this, I'll give you a 20-year life span."
The monkey said, "Monkey tricks for 20 years? That's a pretty long time to perform. How about I give you back ten like the dog did?"
    And God again said that it was good.
    On the third day, God created the cow and said, "You must go into the field with the farmer all day long and suffer under the sun, have calves and give milk to support the farmer's family. For this, I will give you a life span of 60 years."
    The cow said "That's kind of hard to want me to live for 60 years. How about 20 and I'll give back the other 40 years?"
    And God agreed it was good.
    On the fourth day, God created humans and said, "Eat, sleep, play, marry and enjoy your life. For this, I'll give you 20 years."
But the human said, "Only 20 years? Could you possibly give me my 20, the 40 the cow gave back, the 10 the monkey gave back, and the 10 the dog gave back; that makes 80 years, okay?"
    "Okay," said God, "You asked for it."
    So that is why for our first 20 years, we eat, sleep, play and enjoy ourselves. For the next 40 years, we slave in the sun to support our family. For the next 10 years, we do monkey tricks to entertain the grandchildren. And for the last 10 years, we sit on the front porch and bark at everyone.
    Life has now been explained to you.
    There is no need to thank me for this valuable information. I'm doing it as a public service. If you are looking for me I will be on the front porch.

Pete Swanson                                                    Posted: May 15, 2016

Historic Event: Part II. Opinions on Sinking of Battleship MAINE 

At 9:40pm on the night of February 15, 1898, the American battleship USS MAINE exploded and sank quickly in the harbor of Havana, Cuba. The sunken ship was standing upright on the bottom. Its stern superstructure was above the water with the mainmast nearly vertical; amidships was a twisted wreck; and the forward part, about one third of the ship’s length, was completely below the water.
There were two possible explanations for the disaster: the ship had been sunk by an accident or by a deliberate act. If it were an accident, the commanding officer Captain Sigsbee had to explain how it occurred on board since he was responsible for the safety of the ship. If it were a deliberate act performed by the crew, Sigsbee was still responsible. However, if the act had been carried out by the Spanish authorities in Cuba, by dissident Spaniards acting against their government, or by Cuban insurgents, Spain then was at fault because she was responsible for the safety of the ship in the harbor provided the ship obeyed port regulations. 
If the explosion originated inside the ship, then the sinking was probably accidental and Spain was guiltless. If the explosion originated outside the ship, then it probably was deliberate and Spain was to blame. Given the strained relations between the United States and Spain, determining the cause of the disaster was a very serious matter.
Politics became rampant as to what sunk the MAINE. The Spanish Minister of Colonies cabled “…it would be advisable for Your Excellency to gather every fact you can to prove the MAINE catastrophe cannot be attributed to us.” Captain Sigsbee cabled Secretary of the Navy, John Long: “Probably the MAINE destroyed by mine, perhaps by accident. I surmise that the berth [moored to a buoy] was planned previous to her arrival, perhaps long ago. I can only surmise this.”
In Washington, people were taking positions even when there were no technical facts upon which to base a conclusion. Some who felt the U.S. should stay out of Cuba were certain that the MAINE was destroyed by an accidental explosion. Their view was that the Spanish did not have an opportunity to sink the ship. And others who believed the U.S. should intervene were convinced that the Spanish had destroyed the ship. They were confident that adequate precautions were taken by the Navy to make an accident impossible. With no knowledge of technology, Secretary Long was inclined that the cause was an accident because he viewed that a modern warship with explosives was liable to sudden destruction.
Popular opinion was fanned by inflammatory articles blaming Spain printed in the “Yellow Press” by William Randolph Hearst and Joseph Pulitzer. The phrase, “Remember the MAINE, to Hell with Spain,” became the rallying cry for action. Yellow Press is considered unprofessional journalism by presenting little or no legitimate well-researched news and instead using eye-catching, sensational headlines to sell more newspapers.
The sinking of the MAINE was the dominant topic of discussion in the Navy bureaus. Possibility of an accident seemed to have the most adherents. Lieutenant Frank Fletcher on duty at the Bureau of Ordnance wrote that “…Everybody is gradually settling down to the belief that the disaster was due to the position of the [ammunition] magazines next to the coal bunker in which there must have been spontaneous combustion.” Engineer-in- Chief George Melville suspected a magazine explosion.
Phillip Alger, the Navy’s leading ordnance expert, in an interview published in the Washington Evening Star on February 18, said: “When it comes to seeking the cause of the explosions of the MAINE’s magazine, …the most common cause of these is through fire in the bunkers…I shall again emphasize the fact that no torpedo to our knowledge can produce an explosion of a magazine within.” He also pointed out that a fire on board the CINCINNATI’s coal bunker actually set fire to the fittings and wooden boxes within her magazine. He predicted that if the fire had not been discovered in time, the result would have been an explosion similar to one on the MAINE. 
Assistant Secretary of the Navy, Theodore Roosevelt, was upset. He was convinced that there had been no accident. Roosevelt, therefore, considered Alger’s comments very disturbing because he was taking the “Spanish side.” Roosevelt was concerned that such views would weaken the Navy’s standing before Congress. He was shocked to hear some Republican Congressional leaders state that the MAINE disaster demonstrated the U.S. must stop building battleships. Roosevelt argued that the advanced naval powers also had accidents and that the loss was the price the U.S. paid in its role as a great naval power.
Note: Primary reference is HOW THE BATTLESHIP MAINE WAS DESTROYED by Admiral Hyman G. Rickover, 1976.

Mickey Gussow                                                        Posted: May 9, 2016

Historic Event: Part III. Investigation on Sinking of Battleship MAINE: 
Courts of Inquiry

With the MAINE deserted, twisted and torn, lying on the bottom of the Havana harbor, the United States and Spain each had cause to investigate the ship’s sinking on February 15, 1898. For the Americans, it was because the wreck was their ship; and for the Spanish, because the sinking occurred in their harbor.
The Navy had procedures for investigating the disaster by convening a court of inquiry. It is a fact-finding body established to handle important cases where serious blame exists, but with no certainty as to where the blame should be assigned.  
Captain William T. Sampson was appointed as president of the court of inquiry. Sampson and the three other officer–members of the court had high professional standing. President William McKinley and his cabinet believed that their findings would be approved. Sampson, who graduated first in his class from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1861, had served as Chief of the Bureau of Ordnance and as head of the torpedo squadron at Newport, RI. He was, therefore, well qualified to determine the question whether an internal or external explosion had sunk the MAINE. The other members collectively had technical expertise on matters relating to coal and electricity and the structure of the MAINE.
While the MAINE was still burning, the Spanish had already begun their own investigation setting up a court of inquiry under Captain Peral as judge. To reach a clear conclusion, he needed technical information from the Americans on contents of the ship and access to the wreck. When the U.S. coastal steamer BACHE arrived with divers, it seemed unlikely to Peral that his investigation could go much further. He was given some but inconsequential help by the Americans. Captain Sigsbee, commanding officer of the MAINE, invited the Spanish to witness a few early operations and gave them some plans of the ship. On February 20, Captain Peral summarized his findings based primarily on observations of three officers from the naval artillery, engineers, and torpedo brigade, who had circled the MAINE in a small boat. Peral believed that an internal explosion had sunk the MAINE, although he admitted the need for much more detailed information to confirm his belief.
The Spanish were convinced that the U.S. had too much at stake for a fair joint examination. Theodore Roosevelt, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, had argued with McKinley and others that the American public would not accept a joint effort over reports about Spanish atrocities in Cuba. There also were inflammatory reports by the American press after the MAINE had sunk. Therefore, the Spanish request for a joint examination was refused by Washington. For most Americans, only their investigation could answer the question fairly of how over 250 of their countrymen had lost their lives. 
On February 21, the U.S light house tender MANGROVE, with the court of inquiry on board, arrived in Havana.  
The next article will relate the deliberations and findings of the American court of inquiry.

Mickey Gussow                                                        Posted: September 13, 2016

Historic Event: Part IV. Investigation on Sinking of Battleship MAINE: 
Naval Court of Inquiry 

    The naval court of inquiry conducted its first meeting on February 21, 1898, on board the light house tender MANGROVE in Havana, to find the cause of the sinking of the MAINE and persons responsible. Captain Sigsbee, commanding officer of the MAINE, prepared his case in carefully qualified statements. He assumed there was little coal in the forward bunkers. All regulations on the stowage of inflammables and paint and the disposal of waste and ashes were strictly enforced. All the fire alarms worked. And he had ordered the placement of guards to safeguard the ship from unwelcomed boarders.      From his testimony, the court thought that he was unfamiliar with the engineering complexities of the ship, though it considered him a good seaman and brave man.
There was no doubt that an explosion took place on one or more of the forward magazines of powder charges for the ship’s guns. There were four logical possibilities: internal accident, internal deliberate act, external accident, or external deliberate act. If the explosion was external, the force from outside the ship had to be strong enough to detonate part of the magazine.
    The ship was well disciplined so there was no reason to think that anyone on board had deliberately destroyed the ship. Divers had found the keys to the magazine in the proper place in Sigsbee’s cabin. This meant that no one was in the magazines after they had been properly secured.
    If the court accepted the testimony of Sigsbee and his officers, the internal causes for the explosion were ruled out so that only an external force could have set off the magazines. And for this external cause, the wreck itself offered the best evidence. But analyzing the damage was very difficult because diving conditions were poor, visibility was bad, and the water was filthy and almost opaque. Further, the pieces of twisted wreckage were not only difficult to identify, but also capable of cutting life lines and air hoses.
    After consultation with a naval architect and detailed review of the ship’s drawings, it became possible to describe the major characteristics of the damage. A most baffling problem was the massive upheaval of the ship about 59 feet from the bow. The keel had been driven upward so that it looked like an inverted V at a location just forward of the magazine that had exploded. The court confronted a key question. Could a magazine explosion alone cause the damage to the keel or could a mine have detonated the magazines? The court believed that a mine likely had set off the explosion.
    President McKinley, Secretary of the Navy Long, Congress, and the nation anxiously awaited the findings of the court of inquiry. Captain Sampson, president of the court, was not in a hurry to release the findings. He was holding sessions behind closed doors. Regulations specified that not even McKinley or Long could receive information until the court had completed its findings.
    McKinley could not wait for the court to finish its work before taking steps to prepare the nation for war with Spain. On March 8, he and Long directed Rear Admiral O’Neil to put the Bureau of Ordnance on a war footing. The next day he placed a $4 million order for ammunition. Congress too was active by unanimously appropriating $50 million for defense.
    The court held its last session in Havana on March 15. When it finally completed the investigation, the court returned to Key West on March 17.
    The court’s findings were written in only a few pages. It concluded there had been two explosions. The first one lifted the forward part of the ship and forced the keel into an inverted V. This could have happened, the court wrote, only by the explosion of a mine placed under the bottom of the ship. The second explosion had folded back the main deck and was caused by the magazine. The court was unable to find any evidence blaming the sinking of the MAINE on any person or persons.
    On March 28, the report, complete with transcripts of the testimony, was sent to Congress and released to the press. The findings of the report were one factor, among many others, that influenced President McKinley and Congress to declare war with Spain. 
    The next article will describe some theories offered debunking the court’s conclusion that a mine sunk the MAINE.

Mickey Gussow,November 5, 2016                        Posted: November 19, 2016

Historic Event: Part V. Investigation on Sinking of Battleship MAINE: 
Debunking the Theory that a Mine Sunk the MAINE 

    Doubts about the sinking of the MAINE, due to a mine placed on its bottom, continued during and after the Spanish-American War of 1898. Following is a summary of these doubts:

Captain Sigsbee, Commanding Officer of the MAINE
    His position was that the MAINE was not welcomed because the Spanish feared that its presence would lead to riots. He argued that the ship was piloted deliberately to a mooring buoy. According to the naval court of inquiry, the ship at the mooring was sunk by an external explosion. Sigsbee reasoned, therefore, that the cause must be a mine placed at that location before or after the MAINE’s arrival in Havana..

Lieutenant Colonel John T. Bucknill, British Royal Engineers
    Bucknill was an expert on mines and their effects, having performed experiments with explosives against the double bottom of the HMS OBERON. After scrutinizing the testimony of the court proceedings, he concluded that the findings were absurd. He questioned how a mine large enough to drive the ship’s bottom 30 feet above its normal position could have been placed at the mooring. Planting the mine would require a large working party and more time than the 18 hours before the Spanish knew of the MAINE’s arrival. In that time the Spanish could not execute laying a mine undetected as close as 300 feet from the wharves and 400 yards from the German training ship GNEISENAM. Also it would have been difficult to lay the mine after the ship arrived because Sigsbee had alerted the crew.
    By analyzing the wreckage, he concluded that a large mine would have caved in the bottom of the ship, producing a dome-shaped damage instead of the sharp angular upward shape. Further, a mine explosion would create a column of water, but none was seen. 
    He believed that there had been two detonations. Spontaneous combustion in the coal bunker caused the first explosion. The second one was caused by the slow-burning powder in the magazine.

Rear Admiral George W. Melville, Chief of the Bureau of Steam Engineering
    As Chief Engineer of the Navy, Admiral Melville was noted for reforming the service by placing Navy engineers on a professional rather than an artisan footing. He also introduced innovations like a water-tube boiler and floating repair ship.  
    Melville delivered another attack upon the mine hypothesis. In 1898 he declared that an accident had sunk the MAINE. After retiring, he set his views in a letter appearing in the June 1911 issue of The North American Review. His belief that Spain did not want war was based on Spanish correspondence disclosed after the war that a struggle with the United States would be a catastrophe.
    Melville observed that no individual had come forward since the sinking to claim a part in laying the mine. He recounted that America had experience with Spanish mines. Two American ships had struck mines in Guantanamo Bay but neither exploded.  
Melville wrote that the complexity of the damage and opacity of the water made it difficult to assess what happened. Raising the MAINE and examining the damage, he thought, would provide the answer to its sinking.
Spanish Inquiry

    Results of the Spanish inquiry were sent to the U.S. Secretary of State. Spain debunked the theory that the mine had been detonated remotely by stating that at the time of explosion, there was no wind and the water was calm. Since the MAINE was motionless under these conditions while tied to its mooring, a mine would have to be detonated remotely by electricity rather than by contact with the hull. But neither wire nor a control station had been discovered.
    The inquiry repeated the observation made by Bucknill that a mine explosion was likely to produce a column of water, but none was sighted. Also it is usual to find dead fish after an underwater explosion, but none were found.
    The report noted [to the dismay of the U.S. Navy] that “every naval officer knew the dangers from spontaneous combustion of coal: it was astonishing that powder magazines should still be placed adjacent to coal bunkers.”

    The next article will describe the raising of the MAINE.

Note: Major source is “How The Battleship MAINE Was Destroyed,” by Admiral Hyman G. Rickover, US Navy (Ret.). 

Mickey Gussow (Waterford)                                            Posted: 24 December 2016

Part VI. Investigation on Sinking of Battleship MAINE: Raising the MAINE

The Naval Court of Inquiry in 1898 concluded that the MAINE was sunk by a mine placed under the bottom of the ship. It believed that raising the MAINE would offer the best evidence to corroborate the court’s finding. Analyzing the damage in the ship’s current form was very difficult because diving conditions were poor, visibility was bad, and the water was filthy and almost opaque. Further, the pieces of twisted wreckage were not only difficult to identify, but also capable of cutting life lines and air hoses.
Some years later after the Spanish-American War of 1898, retired Rear Admiral George W. Melville, former Chief Engineer of the Navy, wrote in 1911 that raising the MAINE and examining the damage would provide the best assessment to what caused the ship’s sinking. Captain Charles Sigsbee, commanding officer of the MAINE and Captain French Chadwick, a member of the Court, also were convinced that if the MAINE were raised, an examination of the wreck would confirm the findings of the Court of Inquiry.
Eventually some action had to be taken on removing the wreck. It was occupying valuable space in Havana harbor and silt was building up around the hull creating a shoal. Further, many patriotic groups wanted souvenirs of the ship. Finally, Congress in 1910 appropriated $650,000 to remove the MAINE, recover an estimated 70 bodies still in the ship, and transport them and the ship’s mast to Arlington Cemetery. The Army Corps of Engineers was assigned to do the work. Congress had no intention of calling for a new investigation.
Brigadier General William H. Bixby, Chief of Engineers, selected three experienced Army officers to form the MAINE board to plan and supervise the effort. Captain William Black, board leader in charge, requested and received permission from Cuba to work in the harbor. Spain was asked if they wanted to send a representative but refused, thinking the matter would only reopen old and painful wounds.
President William Taft received a detailed plan on October 10, 1910. It called for constructing a cofferdam (watertight enclosure pumped dry to permit working on a ship below the waterline) around the MAINE, pump out the water, expose the hull, cut away and remove the most damaged parts, and then refloat the rest. Taft approved the plan. In early December, tugs, launches, dredges, barges, and scows surrounded the hulk.
Although it was the Army’s assignment to raise the MAINE, the Navy was involved. It provided the plans of the ship, lists of equipment, and weights of various components believed still on board. The Navy sent a naval constructor, William B. Ferguson, to advise the Army on matters dealing with the ship’s structure. He was tasked also to prepare a report on the condition of the MAINE for later use by the naval board of inspection and survey. Ferguson had impressive academic and work credentials. An honor graduate of the Class of 1900, U.S. Naval Academy, ranked 2nd in his class, he also earned a Phi Beta Kappa at the University of North Carolina and a graduate degree in engineering from MIT.
Difficulties grew quickly when pumping out the water, showing signs of leakage from the cofferdam. But even at this stage it was easy to see that damage was greater than anyone visualized. Barnacles encrusted the wreck, thick layers of silt covered the decks, and other areas were severely corroded. The deterioration was so great that it was believed if the cause of the explosion could ever be determined. Nevertheless, under these appalling conditions, Ferguson photographed the wreck from various angles, painted marks on the hull to indicate keel and frame numbers, and made models to help explain what may have happened.
On February 13, 1912, the cofferdam was flooded and the MAINE floated. On March 16, the hulk of the MAINE was towed to sea and sunk four miles off the coast of Cuba. The Army Corps of Engineers used small charges of dynamite to remove the heavy wreckage in the harbor that remained deeply embedded in the mud.
The Vreeland Naval Board of Inspection, headed by Rear Admiral Charles Vreeland, was tasked in 2011 by an order signed by the Secretary of the Navy: 
“The Board will make an exhaustive examination of the wreck of the MAINE and state whether in its opinion there is anything shown, or any new evidence developed, that would indicate the cause of the explosion which destroyed the vessel.”
The board, consisting of four other members, all very technically competent, arrived in Havana on November 20, 1911. They frequently visited the wreck and studied the material which Ferguson had provided.
In summary, the Vreeland board found that the general condition of the wreck was not very different from that described by Captain Sampson’s Court of Inquiry except that the damage was more severe than expected. The board believed that a magazine explosion could account for the upraised keel. There was no other way, the board found, to account for the damage except by a mine.  
The Naval Board of Investigation of 1911 thus confirmed the finding of the Naval Court of Inquiry of 1898.
The next installment will describe the effort by Admiral Hyman G. Rickover to study the loss of the MAINE in view of modern technical knowledge.

Micky GussowJanuary 5, 2017                                    Posted: 6 January 2017