3 thoughts on “The Black Tom Island Explosion and Fire–100 Years ago Today

  1. Fascinating article. Thanks for posting that. Very informative about the development of the USCG’s mission during the 20th Century.

    I would, however, take issue with the article’s author over this final line:

    Quote: “They also represent the living legacy of the Black Tom Island incident of 1916, the first terrorist attack in American history.”

    This view may be controversial, but here’s my take on it: This was not a terrorist attack. As the article itself states, this was an act of sabotage committed by a German agent which was confirmed by the German government in 1939. The target was supplies of munitions heading for enemies of Germany during wartime. The targets were, in the main, vessels of the flags of those enemies of Germany. It was an act of military aggression committed on the territory of an ally of the enemies of Germany with whom Germany was not yet in direct conflict, so it was certainly a complicated situation. But it was not terrorism. Terrorism would have been bombing New York City in order to dissuade the US from rendering further assistance to the enemies of Germany. By comparison, Black Tom Island can be viewed as a valid military target.

    Terrorism is a very fashionable word, these days, but we should not abuse it’s definition or we risk rendering it meaningless.

    • I would concur, terrorism is not accurate. Terrorists inevitably claim credit, because they are trying to make a point, change behavior, or enhance their own reputation. The Germans hoped this would be considered an unfortunate accident and attempted to avoid taking credit or blame.

      It was sabotage, the only complicating factor was that the US was not at war with Germany at the time. We were willing to sell to Germany too, but of course they had far fewer opportunities.

  2. Very interesting. The author also fails to mention either the Texas City or Port Chicago explosions, which also contributed to the CG’s changing role in Port Security.

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