On April 19, 1989, Turret Two aboard the recommissioned battleship USS Iowa
exploded, killing 47 men. In A Glimpse of Hell
, former naval officer, newspaper reporter, and 60 Minutes
producer Charles Thompson has written an authoritative exposé of the United States Navy high command's consistent efforts to manipulate the evidence of that disaster and slander deceased seaman Clayton Hartwig. The Iowa
investigation is contextualized by Thompson's startling insights into the moral universe of the navy's masters, a cabal so protective of their own jobs that they prepared press releases indicating that an out-of-control Tomahawk missile launched from the Iowa
was actually a part of a federal and military crackdown on an illicit marijuana field in Alabama. Unlike the Tomahawk debacle, the falsehoods embroidered into the investigation of the Turret Two disaster did become public, as naval officials accepted a noticeably botched report from investigators who "lost" two 2,700-pound projectiles and consistently claimed, with no foundation, that Hartwig, killed in the explosion, was a murderous and suicidal psychopath who blew up the turret in revenge for a thwarted homosexual affair. Two years later, they were forced to admit that they had no clear and convincing evidence linking Hartwig to the explosion and apologized to his surviving family members. (The family later initiated a $12 million defamation lawsuit against the U.S. Navy.)
As active duty officers rebuffed his own investigation, Thompson found that many personnel, including captains and admirals, were willing to talk when their careers were no longer on the line. A Glimpse of Hell assiduously follows the Iowa story with a dedication that honors the dead and their families, as one journalist does more to expose the careerism and sexual preoccupations of ranking naval officers--and their consequences--than any government investigative agency. --James Highfill
From Publishers Weekly
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 gayAthough 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 sailorAseemingly all so that the navy could cover its own brass.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.