A Glimpse of Hell: The Explosion on the USS Iowa and Its Cover-Up

Charles C. Thompson, II, Author W. W. Norton & Company $27.95 (430p) ISBN 978-0-393-04714-1
The U.S. Navy received a barrage of bad publicity after the infamous 1989 explosion that killed 47 sailors and the even more disgraceful coverup that followed. If even half of what Thompson alleges is true, the coverup was the end of a long line of blunders and lies involving the Iowa, which Thompson calls ""a 59,000-ton accident looking for a place to happen."" Though Thompson makes it clear that lax safety and poor training most likely caused the explosion, the navy chose to pin the blame on second-class gunner's mate Clayton Hartwig. For starters, he was rumored to be gay--though the navy never proved that. Also, his family tried to go after the $50,000 life insurance policy that he'd left to a shipmate. But mostly, it seems, it was easier for the navy to blame an enlisted man than to admit that the accident could have been avoided altogether were it not for a deadly combination of arrogance, ignorance and carelessness both aboard the ship and among navy higher-ups in Washington and Norfolk, Va. A former naval officer who produced several stories about the explosion and coverup for 60 Minutes, Thompson has no ax to grind against the navy as an institution. In fact, he clearly loves the navy at its best. He writes with careful attention to detail (and a familiarity with sometimes dizzying military acronyms) and a slow, burning rage at how investigators willfully distorted the truth, misled the public and set out to destroy the reputation of a sailor--seemingly all so that the navy could cover its own brass. (Apr.)
Reviewed on: 03/01/1999
Release date: 03/01/1999
Genre: Nonfiction
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