Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Black Tom Island

This topic was suggested by loyal reader Dalek, and I confess I had not even heard of it.

In 1916, Black Tom Island, in the Jersey Harbor, was a munitions depot. Prior to the British Naval blockade in 1915, American-made munitions were sold to both sides of WWI, but after that, the American markets were closed to the Germans and they decided to strike at those munitions.
On the night of July 30, 1916, there was estimated to be two million pounds of ammunition in freight cars on the island, and also 100,000 pounds of TNT aboard the Johnson Barge No. 17, which was tied up to the pier to avoid a $25.00 towing charge. Shortly after Midnight, fires were spotted on the island near the pier. Attempts were made by some to put out the fires before an explosion occurred, but around 2 AM, a massive explosion occurred. The explosion was the equivalent of an earthquake measuring 5.5 on the Richter Scale. The blast was felt as far away as Philadelphia. The clocktower of the Jersey Journal, over a mile away, was hit and stopped at 2:12AM. Windows were broken for miles around, as far as 25 miles, and people all over the region thought that an earthquake had struck. Buildings were cracked and items fell from shelves. Property damage from the attack was estimated at $20 million ($ 390 million in 2009 dollars)

Black Tom pier just after the blast

Hundreds of people were injured and as many as seven may have died.

The attack also did considerable damage to the Statue of Liberty, located a few thousand feet away. The damage amounted to somewhere around $100,000, but that is nearly 2 million in 2009 dollars. Shrapnel pierced the arm and the skirt and the torch has been off limit to visitors ever since.

A view of Liberty Island from the site of the explosion

Today, the Black Tom Island incident is considered to be an act of terrorism against the United States, and like many of the actions undertaken by the Germans in the 20th Century, probably did them more harm than good. It led directly to the passage of the Espionage Act of 1917, and also like the unrestricted submarine warfare, did much to enrage the people of America and cast Germany and the Central Powers in an evil light.

Perhaps most disturbingly, the true nature of the attack was hidden from the people by President Woodrow Wilson. He did this because it did not suit his political ends and would cause the American people to rightly reject his anti-war and isolationist policies. He was in the midst of a reelection campaign and instigated a massive cover up to hide the truth.

Now, I am neither a truther nor a birther, and I only enjoy conspiracy theories in a social and recreational way, but seeing what has happened in the past does make me wonder...
What if we had been lied to about another terrorist attack?
Are there other "accidents" that it has been convenient to explain away?
I don't know whether to put on my Kevlar helmet or my tin foil one.

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