“Remember the Maine, to Hell with Spain!”
That was a war cry widely heard in the Unites States after the USS Maine sunk 114 years ago today in 1898.

The cause of that sinking is unclear even today, but popular opinion in the United States in the weeks following that tragedy blamed Spain.

That popular opinion was formed partly by the use of the slogan “Remember the Maine!” by William Randolph Hearst’s New York Journal.

(Three days after the explosion, the Journal became the first newspaper in history to sell more than 1million copies.)

That slogan, and Hearst’s use of it, thus helped spur the United States into the Spanish-American War, which started on April 25 and lasted less than four months – although it didn’t formally end until April 1899.

Hostilities with Spain developed over U.S. concern for how the Cubans were being treated by Spain, which claimed Cuba after Columbus first landed there in 1492 and considered Cuba its possession for the next four centuries.

In 1895, the Cubans began a war of independence from Spain, a struggle that was favored by the United States even though they did not become directly involved until three years later.

As a result of the Spanish-American War of 1898, Cuba became an independent nation in 1902, although in 1903 Guantanamo Bay was leased in perpetuity to the United States.

The United States profited from the 1898 war in additional ways: at the close of that war Spain ceded the Philippine Islands, Puerto Rico and Guam for the sum of $20 million. In spite of considerable efforts of the Anti-Imperialist League, there was a substantial expansion of U.S. territorial possessions.

But why write about all this now? Because I am gravely concerned that some incident in the very near future, real or imagined, will trigger a United States attack on Iran.

There seems to be a growing likelihood that there will be some sort of military strike by Israel, perhaps jointly with the U.S., in an attempt to keep Iran from developing a nuclear weapon.

Some “incident” could easily light the fuse for such a strike.

In addition to “Remember the Maine!” helping to spur the Spanish-American War, the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1964, which escalated the war in Vietnam, was based on claims of attacks on American warships that didn’t actually happen.

(Actually, there were two separate confrontations with the North Vietnamese, one actual and one now recognized as non-existent.)

“Let there be no doubt,” President Obama declared in his 2012 State of the Union address, “America is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and I will take no options off the table to achieve that goal.”

There are some politicians who are quite vocal about the possible need to engage in pre-emptive military action against Iran.

If there were to be some incident in which American or Israeli civilian or military forces were attacked – or even thought to be attacked – by Iranians, that could easily become an excuse for beginning military activities against Iran.

I hope that doesn’t happen, but I fear it might.

In the same Jan. 24 State of the Union address, Obama declared that “a peaceful resolution of this issue [Iran getting a nuclear weapon] is still possible.”

Let us pray that he and Congress will make every possible effort to find such a resolution to the problem.

LeroySeat was a missionary to Japan from 1966-2004 and is both professor emeritus of Seinan Gakuin University and pastor emeritus of Fukuoka International Church. This column appeared previously on his blog.

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