“Remember the Maine”

That was the battle cry that led America into war with Spain in 1898. The Battleship Maine which had been visiting Havana blew up in the port. American newspapers were all over the story and urged America to declare war. We did. We won. When I was a kid seventy years later researchers concluded that the Maine’s explosion had nothing to do with Spanish saboteurs.

Today the hothead Trump, who got elected by making fun of George W. Bush’s War in Iraq for being a mistake is saying, without qualification, that Iran, Saudi Arabia’s enemy, just attacked oil tankers off their waters. Never mind that Trump has been ignoring Congress’s objections and selling missles and other war materials to the Saudi army. They are infamously trigger happy.

In 1976 a neutral investigation suggested that the cause of the explosion was more mundane

In a Wikipedia article this is how it was surmised to have taken place:

Wegner suggests that a combination of naval ship design and a change in the type of coal used to fuel naval ships might have facilitated the explosion postulated by the Rickover study. Up to the time of the Maine’s building, he explains, common bulkheads separated coal bunkers from ammunition lockers, and American naval ships burned smokeless anthracite coal. With an increase in the number of steel ships, the Navy switched to bituminous coal, which burned at a hotter temperature than anthracite coal and allowed ships to steam faster. Wegner explains that anthracite coal is not subject to spontaneous combustion, but bituminous coal is considerably more volatile and is known for releasing the largest amounts of firedamp, a dangerous and explosive mixture of gases (chiefly methane). Firedamp is explosive at concentrations between 4% and 16%, with most violence at around 10%. In addition, there was another potential contributing factor in the bituminous coal: iron sulfide, also known as pyrite, was likely present. The presence of pyrites presents two additional risk factors, the first involving oxidation. Pyrite oxidation is sufficiently exothermic that underground coal mines in high-sulfur coal seams have occasionally experienced spontaneous combustion in the mined-out areas of the mine. This process can result from the disruption caused by mining from the seams, which exposes the sulfides in the ore to air and water. The second risk factor involves an additional capability of pyrites to provide fire ignition under certain conditions. Pyrites derive their name from the Greek root word pyr, meaning fire, as they can cause sparks when struck by steel or other hard surfaces. Pyrites were used to strike sparks to ignite gunpowder in wheellock guns, for example. The pyrites could have provided the ignition capability needed to create an explosion. A number of bunker fires of this type had been reported aboard warships before the Maine’s explosion, in several cases nearly sinking the ships. Wegner also cites a 1997 heat transfer study which concluded that a coal bunker fire could have taken place and ignited the ship’s ammunition.[78]

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