The current crisis on the Korean peninsula, which shows no sign of abating today, began on March 26 with the sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan, allegedly by North Korean torpedoes. Hopefully the situation won't escalate to violence, but the Cheonan would certainly not be the first sunken ship to start a war:
The U.S.S. Maine
In response to civil unrest in Cuba over Spanish rule that threatened the safety of local U.S. nationals, the President William McKinley ordered the battleship Maine to Cuba in January 1898 to help keep the peace. While stationed just offshore on Feb. 15, the ship and its 10,000 pounds of gunpowder exploded, killing 260 crewmembers. The blast touched off a storm of anti-Spanish fervor in the United States that only intensified when investigations of the incident proved inconclusive. Though the U.S. Navy is wary of highlighting the Maine's destruction as a cause of the subsequent Spanish-American War, few deny that it was a major turning point in the road to conflict as "Remember the Maine" became a national catchphrase.
The R.M.S. Lusitania
The Lusitania, a British oceanliner carrying nearly 2,000 passengers, was hit by a German U-boat on May 7, 1915 while crossing the Atlantic Ocean. A single torpedo was enough to send the ship to the bottom in a mere 18 minutes. As with the Maine, the sinking of the Lusitania — and the drowning of 128 Americans — provoked intense public outcry in the United States, While the official White House response was more measured at first, the sinking of the Lusitania was instrumental in convincing a skeptical American public to support sending U.S. troops to Europe two years later.
The U.S.S. Arizona and the U.S.S. Oklahoma
Japanese aircraft launched a surprise attack on the U.S. Navy at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, in an effort to prevent U.S. intervention in the Second World War. The attack left 18 naval vessels damaged or destroyed, including eight battleships, and over 3,000 dead. In a speech to Congress the next day, U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt condemned Japan, and 33 minutes later, the United States was officially at war.
The U.S.S. Maddox
On Aug. 2, 1964, the American destroyer Maddox came under North Vietnamese attack, taking torpedoes and shellfire from three patrol boats in the Gulf of Tonkin. Responding with its own guns, the Maddox repulsed the attack with assistance from supporting aircraft. Two days later, it reported another North Vietnamese attack. Though the second report was subsequently disproven, Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution on Aug. 7, authorizing U.S. President Lyndon Johnson to use whatever means necessary to fight the North Vietnamese.
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