Millegan Stews

The hero Admiral Dewey sells soap . . .

David Traxel©1998
Alfred A Knopf
368 pps - First American Edition
War Fever

F. J. HILGERT, the Associated Press man in Cuba, had managed to get a brief cable out before the censors shut down the line. At 2:10 a.m. the New York World's office was galvanized by the news, and within an hour had an edition on the streets with a four-column headline: "U. S. S. MAINE BLOWN UP IN HAVANA HARBOR." There was also a four-column engraving of the ship that had been in the files, and a story about her reputation as a "Jonah" or "Hoodoo" ship. Scovel's cable arrived soon after and was incorporated into later editions with the headline "WORLD STAFF CORRESPONDENT CABLES IT IS NOT KNOWN WHETHER EXPLO-SION OCCURRED ON OR UNDER THE MAINE.

Pulitzer's World had scored a "beat," but William Randolph Hearst and his Journal were not far behind. Hearst had gone home before news of the disaster arrived, so the night editor immediately telephoned him. Hearst asked what else was on the front page.

"Only the other big news," was the answer.

"There is not any other big news," Hearst said. "Please spread the story all over the page. This means war!"

There was not much information in the early stories, but through the headlines and the details emphasized there was already a slant being given to the event. The World's first headline, given above, is an example: by using "blown" instead of "blows" the act is presented as deliberate; in the second the implication is that a submarine mine might have destroyed the ship. Both the World and Journal began their coverage of the story with implications of Spanish treachery that were to become more overt in the coming days.
. . .

McKinley told Senator Charles Fairbanks of Indiana, "I don't propose to be swept off my feet by the catastrophe. My duty is plain. We must learn the truth and endeavor, if possible, to fix the responsibility. The country can afford to withhold its judgment and not strike an avenging blow until the truth is known. The Administration will go on preparing for war, but still hoping to avert it. It will not be plunged into war until it is ready for it."

But many were being swept by their anger into making a quick judgment: "The Maine was sunk by an act of dirty treachery by the Spaniards, I believe, Theodore Roosevelt wrote a fellow member of Harvard's Porcellian Club on February 16, but he expressed these feelings just to close friends, being careful to use only the word "accident" in public dealings. In

Roosevelt now lived at the office most of the time, although both his wife and his son Ted were still seriously ill. On the morning of Friday, February 25, Edith was so feverish that, afraid she was going to die, he summoned the famed Sir William Osler from Johns Hopkins Medical School in Baltimore to attend to her. Then, propelled by duty, he went off to the Navy Department.

John Long [Secretary of the Navy] had been unable to sleep much since his nightmarish awakening in the predawn hours of the sixteenth, and his body had been afflicted with aches and pains that could be relieved only by "mechanical massage" applied to his stomach and legs by an unusual electric -powered machine under the command of a Washington osteopath. Feeling a need for the attentions of this technological wonder, Long took the afternoon off on the twenty-fifth to hobble first to the osteopath, then to his corn doctor. The burdens of office were left on the well-braced shoulders of Theodore Roosevelt, who knew exactly what needed doing.

First a cable to Commodore Dewey ordering him to assemble the Asiatic Squadron in Hong Kong and prepare it for offensive operations in the Philippine Islands "in the event" of a declaration of war with Spain; then orders to "Keep full of coal" to other squadron commanders around the world and an authorization for navy coal-buyers to obtain all they could; rendezvous points for scattered ships were named; ammunition in warsized quantities was ordered; guns necessary to convert yachts and commercial steamers to warships were commanded to be taken out of storage; requests were made to both houses of Congress to pass bills authorizing the recruitment of enough sailors to man an expanded battle fleet. A very busy afternoon, and a satisfying one.

After he had completed his labors, the assistant secretary stopped by to see his chief at home, who was resting so comfortably that the younger man must have decided not to worry him with too detailed an account of what he had accomplished. When John Long came into his office the next morning he was shocked, "because during my short absence I find that Roosevelt, in his precipitate way, has come very near causing more of an explosion than happened to the Maine ... the very devil seemed to possess him yesterday afternoon." Nevertheless, however precipitate, none of the orders was countermanded, although the secretary decided never to leave Roosevelt in charge again.