In the traditions of the Indigenous Australian peoples, their ancestors were created with the land, at the dawn of what is called the Dreamtime, the Dreaming or Alterjinga.
Science tells it a little differently. The original ancestors of the people now known as the Australian Aboriginals emigrated to Australia at some point between 40,000 and 120,000 years ago, with an increasing amount of evidence supporting the earliest date. Due to the wide variation of dates, it is unclear whether they arrived here after a sea crossing, or via a landbridge now submerged. It is not known where they first set foot in Australia, nor how many separate waves of migration occurred.
What is for certain is that these people dwelt in Australia with little or no contact with the rest of the world (the Macassar fishing fleets being one of the few exceptions), for thousands of years before European settlement in 1788. Whether or not one accepts the Dreamtime legend, there remains an undeniable case for considering them to be the traditional owners of the land, displaced and disenfranchised by European imperialism.
The best known of all of the Egyptian Pharaohs, largely due to the sensational circumstances of his tomb’s discovery in 1924. At the time he was placed in it, Tutankhamen is believed to have been about 18 years old, and to have been Pharaoh for about a decade. His age has led many to speculate that he may have been assassinated by his regents, who wished to keep power and legally would not be able to do so once the Boy King reached adulthood.
However, recent research points at a combination of diseases (chiefly malaria, which he seems to have suffered from several times in his short life) and congenital defects (most likely due to the inbreeding that was common in many pharaonic dynasties) as the actual cause of his death – although the political advantages remain the same regardless of the cause.
In the final engagement of the Punic Wars, the Roman forces brought to war to the very doorstep of Carthage. From 149 BCE until the spring of 146 BCE, they laid siege to the city itself, which is located near the site of modern Tunis. The Romans could probably have won sooner, but incompetent commanders hamstrung their efforts. By the time they finally breached the walls and poured into the city, the Carthaginians had turned every building into a fortress, and armed every citizen.
However, the battle was never seriously in doubt. Although both sides suffered terrible losses, a Roman victory was inevitable once the city itself was invaded. The fall of Carthage represented the demise of the last organised opposition to Roman expansion in the Mediterranean, as the Carthaginians were their major rivals in the early days of Roman civilisation.
Although it is commonly taught that the Romans plowed Carthage under and sowed salt in the new fields, this claim does not appear in any contemporary sources, and appears to be an invention of nineteenth century historians.
While there actually was a real Lady Godiva – although, as a Saxon, her name was more likely Godgifu or Godgyfu (Godiva is a latinised version) – it’s unlikely that she actually did ride naked through the streets of Coventry.
Legend has it that she rode naked to protest the taxes that her husband, Lord Leofric, had laid upon the common people, and that, in respect for her sacrifice, all of them looked away as she rode through a busy market day street (except for a tailor named Thomas – the original Peeping Tom – who was apparently struck blind for daring to look upon her).
In these enlightened days, of course, no one believes a word of it – but Coventry’s tourist industry still owes a great deal to women who are willing to get their kit off and go for a ride. (Indeed, the date I’ve used here is the date of the annual commemoration of the ride in Coventry.)
Richard I of England is one of its most legendary kings – better known in those legends as either “Richard the Lionheart”, and “Richard Coeur de Lion” – but probably also one of its worst. Of his ten year reign, he spent about six months (and none at all of his last five years) in England. He also spoke no English, despite being born there. He spent most of his reign fighting in the Crusades, and most of the remainder in his assorted French domains.
His death was from a gangrenous wound taken while trying to put down a rebellion in France. He left behind no direct heir, leading to England and France each being ruled by different claimants – his brother John in England (yes, THAT King John) and his nephew (via his other brother Geoffrey) Arthur in France. His legacy was one of warfare and loss, as neither claimant could conquer the entire territory that Richard has inherited.
James Cook, better known to history as Captain Cook, was born in Yorkshire, the second of eight children. After a period of service and learning in the merchant navy, Cook joined the Royal Navy in 1755, and rose through the ranks to become Captain of his own ship. In this role, he would distinguish himself as one of the greatest navigators and surveyors the world has ever seen.
He is best remembered for his three voyages to the Pacific, where he lead missions that were the first Europeans to set foot on New Zealand and the eastern coast of Australia, and the first people ever to cross the Antarctic circle, among other accomplishments. Even during his lifetime, Cook was so respected the world over that during the American Revolution, the rebel navy had orders not to fire on his ship, but to render him assistance as ‘a friend to all mankind’.
It is a matter of some debate as to whether or not Betsy Ross actually created the first flag of the USA. While it is clear that she did create a design of her own which was widely used thereafter (the distinguishing feature of the Betsy Ross Flag is the arrangement of the 13 stars (or mullets, to use the heraldic term) in a circle). But the story of her creation of the flag seems to have been created from whole cloth a generation or so after the event, and there are enough loose threads in the story to make it clear that it is at least partially false (for example, Betsy Ross never met George Washington, and the records of Continental Congress show no committee to design a flag at that time).
The story of Betsy Ross seems to have been embroidered in order to address the lack of female representation in stories of the revolution, while still being an acceptably feminine role model (by the standards of the day) who would not threaten the nation’s social fabric. And for over a century, it had that role sewn up, appearing in history books as fact. It is only more recently that a generation of historians needled by the inconsistencies have cut truth from fiction.
Variously known as the “Stars and Stripes”, “Old Glory”, or “The Star-Spangled Banner”, the flag of the United States of America originally had 13 alternating stripes of red and white and 13 stars. The 13’s represented the 13 original states of the union, and that numbering is preserved today in the stripes, while each of the 50 states has its own star. The current flag is in fact the 27th incarnation, as it has been updated on numerous occasions as additional states joined the nation – it is also the design that has been in use for the longest period.
The first flag had no set design for the arrangement of stars, and multiple versions of it existed, each one with a different designer and different partisans. The original resolution of the Second Continental Congress on June 14, 1777 failed to specify an arrangement of stars, and indeed, it was not until 1818 that rules regarding the design of the flag, including the numbers of both stars and horizontal stripes, were formalised.
John Batman was a Tasmanian who organised a syndicate of investors to fund him and some other settlers to build a new village on the banks of the Yarra River. Of course, this land was already occupied by the tribes of the Kulin nation, primarily the Wurundjeri and Boonwurrung, each of which greatly outnumbered the small group of settlers Batman led. Thus, Batman made a deal with the chiefs of the Wurundjeri, purchasing a small stretch of land. In time, the village would become Melbourne (today a metropolis of more than four million people, very few of them members of the Wurundjeri or other Kulin peoples).
However, there are many grounds on which to dispute Batman’s treaty. It is a matter of some dispute whether the tribesmen Batman dealt with understood the deal they were making in the same way Batman did – among the Kulin people, as among most Australian Aboriginal peoples, land was not owned by individuals in the same way it was by Europeans. Legally, even by the standards of colonial empires, Batman was also on shaky ground, as he had no authority from the Crown to make such a deal. And while it does appear that, at least to start with, the colonists made efforts to deal in good faith with the various Kulin peoples, misunderstandings were inevitable between two such disparate peoples, leading to bloodshed on several occasions. Later colonists, who were not party to the original deal, treated the Kulin (and in time, the other native peoples of Victoria) much worse. Batman, like so many of the natives, was dead by then.
Nearly a year after the guns fell silent – and five years to the day since the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand – the Treaty of Versailles marked the formal ending of hostilities between Germany and the Allies, Germany’s allies having been dealt with in separate treaties. The Treaty of Versailles was hailed as a great triumph almost everywhere except in Germany, which had been forced to take the blame for the war, forced to disarm and saddled with ruinous war reparations to pay – in addition to surrendering territory to Poland in the east and France in the west, and being stripped of all its colonial possessions.
As such, the treaty imposed a burden upon Germany that was certain to foster resentment and to cripple the German economy. When the Depression hit, a decade later, Germany was one of the places it hit hardest, since the government had to pay reparations ahead of any attempt to alleviate the economic effects. Come the hour, come the man – unfortunately for everyone, the man for that hour would be an Austrian named Adolf Hitler.
“Triumph of the Will” (or in German, “Triumph des Willens”) is the best known film of Leni Riefenstahl. It is a blatant propaganda piece that covers the 1934 Nazi Party rally at Nuremberg, featuring footage of the massive crowds who attended the rally and speeches given by Hitler himself.
Its dubious political associations aside, “Triumph of the Will” is today recognized as a classic of twentieth century cinema, one of the most frequently homaged and parodied works in the cinematic canon, featuring innovations in camera and music use for feature films. Leni Riefenstahl is today acclaimed as a genius of cinematic art, with horribly bad taste in friends.
The 19th, 22nd and 92nd Bombardment Groups were reassigned from Strategic Air Commaned bases in the United States to new bases in South Korea and placed under the overall command of the Far East Air Force of the United States after the North Korean aerial attacks of June 25, 1950. Mostly flying B-29 Superfortresses, these three units were later reinforced by elements of other bombing groups, and defended on sorties by a range of fighter aircraft.
Over the course of the war, B-29s flew 20,000 sorties and dropped 200,000 tonnes (180,000 tons) of bombs. B-29 gunners are credited with shooting down 27 enemy aircraft during the conflict.
It was a bold announcement at the time – at any time, really. When JFK addressed a joint session of Congress, and announced that the USA would put a man on the moon by the end of the decade, he can’t have been sure it could be done. Sure, it was still only 1961 – technological utopianism was the order of the day – but the United States was lagging behind the Soviet Union at that point.
As we now all know, it turns out that it could be done – although with only six months to spare – and Armstrong and Aldrin’s walk on the moon in July 1969 is the most inspiring legacy that John F. Kennedy left behind him.
On the evening of January 2, six men were captured outside the fences of the US Marine base at Khe Sanh, in the Quang Tri province of Vietnam, apparently performing reconnaissance for a planned North Vietnamese attack.
A defector carried information about the attacks to the US forces on January 20, and the attacks themselves began the following day. The US and allied forces quickly joined battle, but were surrounded and besieged. For the next two months, the siege went on, until American forces broke through and relieved the base in March.
The American forces recorded a total of 730 soldiers killed in action, with a further 2,642 wounded and 7 more missing in action. Casualties on the North Vietnamese side are estimated as between 10,000 and 15,000.
Under the terms of the Atlantic Striped Bass Conservation Act of 1984, it became possible for duly appointed local authorities (reporting in turn to state authorities, under the overall coordination of the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission) to declare moratoriums on fishing for the Atlantic Striped Bass – known to fisherman as the Striper – for periods of up to 30 days. But these moratoriums could also be renewed more or less indefinitely, until it was determined by the authority that the population of the fish had recovered sufficiently.
While in most locations, populations of the Atlantic Striped Bass did indeed recover – although the process took around a decade – that was little consolation to the fisherman who lost their livelihoods in the meantime.
At least, according to the calculations of Eratosthenes, it ended on this date.
You know the story: Paris and Helen, Menelaus and Agamemnon, Hector and Achilles, Ulysses and a huge wooden horse. Ten years of war before the walls of Troy, ended finally by gambling on a deception.
In the end, the Greeks swept in, destroying the city and leaving very few survivors. Legend holds that some of them went to Carthage, and then to found Rome; another group of survivors founded London. Being descended from a Trojan was like the first millennium equivalent of being descended from convicts in Australia is today – it was thought cool.
One of the greatest conquerors and military leaders the world has ever known was born in Pella, the capital of Macedon. His father was the king of Macedon, Philip II, and he himself was Alexander the Great. The genealogies of his parents were not merely royal – Philip claimed descent from Heracles, while his mother, Olympias, claimed descent from Achilles – and Alexander’s second cousin was the noted general Pyrrhus of Epirus.
He was raised as a noble’s son, and taught the arts of his class and sex – which naturally included warfare. From the ages of 13 to 16, he was tutored by the philosopher Aristotle, after which he served as his father’s regent while his father was absent pursuing military conquests. After Philip’s death and Alexander’s own accession to the throne of Macedon at the age of 20, Alexander began what would become one of the greatest conquests the world had ever seen.
In the first of three major engagements during his Persian campaign, Alexander the Great and his forces defeated a numerically superior foe. The Persian forces were bolstered by the presence of Greek mercenaries, but hampered by their command structure, which consisted of feuding satraps – the Persian emperor Darius did not fight in this battle.
The battle took place on the road from Abydos to Dascylium (near modern day Ergili, Turkey), at the crossing of the Granicus River (modern day Biga Çay?) – near the site believed to have once been Troy. It was a near thing for Alexander, because the Persians had orders to specifically target him, their leaders having reasoned that Alexander’s forces would fall apart without his leadership.
The reason for Alexander’s untimely end – he was one month short of his 33rd birthday – is unknown. The three leading theories are poisoning, a relapse of malaria or some sort of illness brought on by feasting on May 29. Alexander took ill right after that feast, and never left his bed again afterwards. He died on either the 10th or 11th or June.
Alexander’s death was also the death knell of his empire. Over the next five decades, the empire would fall into civil war, and by 270 BCE it would have devolved into three successor states, the Antigonid Empire in Greece; the Ptolemaic Kingdom in Egypt, Palestine and Cyrenaica; and the Seleucid Empire in Mesopotamia and Persia. The former two would be wholly absorbed by Roman expansion over the next three centuries, along with the western half of the territory of the Seleucid Empire.
The self-proclaimed First Emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang is one of the most important figures in Chinese history. Under his leadership, massive reforms to the legal and economic systems took place – and, not incidentally, numerous scholars and writers were outlawed or executed, and their books burned. He also decreed vast infrastructure projects, including a massive program of road-building, and the creation of the Great Wall of China.
Huang was not responsible for the entire wall, but rather, for the construction of links between pre-existing sections and extending the ends of the them. The project was a long one, and would be completed for centuries, but it sure kept thousands of peasants to busy to rebel for generations at a time, and may have even served some defensive purpose (which is usually considered to be the reason for its construction).
“Crossing the Rubicon” is now an expression for passing the point of no return: this is the original incident from which it derives. In 49 BCE, Gaius Julius, at that time just a general and not yet Caesar, led his army across the Rubicon river, which marked the border of Rome: to cross it marked him as a treasonous leader of a revolt against the Roman state. Famously, he is said to have quoted the Greek playwright Menander, saying “alea iacta est” – “the die is cast.”
Julius would be successful in his quest for the leadership of Rome and its empire (much of which, particularly Gaul, added by his own military genius): which is why history knows him best as Julius Caesar.
The ancient feast of the god Lupercus, Lupercalia was an annual three day festival that ran from February 13 – 15 each year. It was intended to avert evil spirits and purify the city, releasing health and fertility. It is the ancient predecessor of the Christian festival of St Valentine, which is now better known as the more secular Valentine’s Day.
According to Shakespeare, when Julius Caesar attended this particular one, he was offered the crown of a monarch three times and refused it on each of those times. Nonetheless, the reason why he was stabbed to death a month later was apparently his limitless ambition.
Shakespeare’s version might be better known, but the best historical account of the death of Big Julie was written by imperial biographer (and obsequious toady) Seutonius. It is from Suetonius that we have Caesar’s famous last words (asking Brutus ‘even you, my child?’, which Shakespeare rendered as ‘et tu, Brute?’) – although curiously, Seutonius himself reports those words as claimed by others, and for himself believes that Caesar said nothing.
This is somewhat hard to believe, given that Seutonius also recounts that Caesar was attacked by 60 or more men, and received a total of 23 stab wounds from his assailants – it appears that the proximate cause of death was loss of blood. (Fun fact: Caesar’s autopsy report is the earliest one to have survived to the present day.) In a larger sense, the cause of the death of Gaius Julius Caesar was political ambition – his own, and that of others.
She was the widowed queen of Egypt and mother of the heir by birth of Julius Caesar; he was the man who had exposed and shamed the conspirators that killed Big Julie. She was the last of the last: the last descendent of Ptolemy I, of the thirty-third and final dynasty to rule Egypt independently. They were, legend tells us, besotted with each other at first sight.
Never mind that Mark Antony was married to the sister of his fellow Triumvir, Octavius. Never mind that his dallying in Egypt made it possible for Octavius to raise an army against him in Rome, and lead it to a decisive naval victory over Antony’s forces at Actium in 31 BCE. Never mind that Cleopatra, queen of Egypt, was herself the mother of one of those who stood between Antony and the imperial throne.
Because the heart wants what the heart wants, and for a decade, the hearts of Antony and Cleopatra got what they wanted.
Cleopatra VII, reputedly one of the most beautiful women ever to have lived, was the eleventh and last Ptolemy ruler of Egypt. A cunning politician who had co-ruled with her brothers Ptolemy XIII and XIV until the friction grew to the point where she was deposed and exiled.
She returned to Egypt and reclaimed the throne with the aid of Julius Caesar, with whom she had a son. After the death of Caesar, she manipulated his successors, Octavian and Marc Antony. When the tensions between the two Romans erupted into civil war, she threw in with Antony – who lost the war. Finally, in August 30 BCE, as Octavian invaded Egypt and Antony’s troops defected to the winning side, she and Antony each committed suicide – legend has it that Cleopatra provoked an asp (a poisonous snake native to Egypt) into fatally biting her.
The Battle of the Teutoburg Forest was a stunning defeat of the Roman legions by Germanic tribesmen. 2000 years ago today, the three day battle began, when elements of six different Germanic tribes under the overalll command of Arminius of the Cherusci ambushed three Roman legions under the command of Publius Quinctilius Varus.
The batttle was the first engagement of a war that would last for the next seven years, and end with a Roman defeat. The Romans would end up withdrawing to the opposite bank of the Rhine, which became the border of the Roman Empire for the next four hundred years.
Armininius (or Hermann, as he is known in Germany) has become a folk hero to the German people, a symbol of resistance against invaders, especially Napolean.
The sixth and final ruler of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, Nero was the grand-nephew of his predecessor, the Emperor Claudius and the nephew of Caligula, Claudius’ predecessor. He would become legendary for his cruelty, although most of the accounts attesting to it are from contemporaries who disliked him, and may have been exaggerated. Nero was only 17 when he ascended to the throne – it was only because both these Emperors died without issue that he even got that close to power. If either of the two had had a son, Nero would today be a footnote.
Instead, he would reign for 13 years, being the Emperor during the great fire of Rome in 64 CE (history records that Nero was instrumental in the rebuilding of Rome afterwards – the business about the fiddling seems to have been a rumour spread by his political enemies), and the famed revolts of Britannia (led by Boudicca) and Judea (which ended in the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, and the beginnings of the Jewish Diaspora). Upon his death in 68 CE, (also without issue,) Nero threw the Empire into the chaos and civil war of what became known as the Year of the Four Emperors.
Looking at the history of the last three Julio-Claudian Emperors, one can only conclude that for a people so infamous for their orgies, the Romans must have known a thing or two about birth control.
It’s an iconic image, symbolising madness, decadence and a corrupt lust for power. But did it actually happen?
In all probability, it didn’t. For a start, the fiddle would not be invented for another thousand years – Nero played the lyre. And according to Tacitus, Nero not only wasn’t in Rome when the fire occurred, but raced back to organise the relief efforts and funded a large portion of the reconstruction of the city from his own purse. Hardly a picture of a depraved monster, is it?
The fire is believed to have started near the Circus Maximus. It burned for seven days and five nights – on the fifth day, it was nearly quelled before flaring up with renewed strength. Of the city’s 14 districts, seven were damaged and three destroyed outright.
Eparchius Avitus was a member of the Gallo-Roman aristocracy of the empire in his day. He was a strong proponent of keeping Gaul in the empire, even holding his coronation in Toulouse. However, these views were unpopular with the Roman establishment, or rather, what remained of it after the city was sacked by the Vandals earlier that year.
However, he allowed the Vandals to take Hispania, and along with his appointment of other Gallo-Romans to important roles in his administration, this made him immensely unpopular, and he was deposed as Emperor after little more than a year on the throne.
Olybrius is one of the least distinguished Emperors in Roman history. He reigned over the Western Roman Empire for only seven months, and for that whole time, he was little more than the puppet of the men who had put him on the throne, the general Ricimer and his nephew Gundobad.
Olybrius was of the Roman senatorial class, and by his marriage (to Placida, daughter of Emperor Valentinian III) a member of the Imperial House of Theodosius – the last of that House, in fact. He spent most of his reign distracted by religious matters while Ricimer and (after Ricimer’s death) Gundobad ruled in his name. He died of dropsy, and only three more Emperors followed him before the western empire died too.
The Roman Empire had been in decline for centuries by the time Odoacer deposed the child emperor Romulus Augustus in 476 and declared himself ruler of Italy – the first time any non-Roman had done so.
His Italy remained more or less a client state of the Eastern Empire (the portion of the old Roman Empire that would become better known as Byzantium, and last for just under another millennium), and that in itself helps to illustrate the decay of Rome. From the point several centuries earlier at which Roman expansion ceased, to the splitting of the Empire into East and West in 395 after the death of Emperor Theodosius, the signs had been present for some time, and only growing stronger.
Even Odoacer’s sack of Rome was the third in less than seventy years, and when a nation can no longer defend its capital, you know things aren’t going well. Even so, the use of this date as the official Fall of Rome is fairly arbitrary – there are no shortage of other dates that have a just claim to the title.
Charles I, King of the Franks, was one of the most influential men in European history. His becoming King of the Franks was due to the death of Pepin the Short, “Mayor of the Palace” and king in all but name. But Charles – soon to be known variously as Charlemagne or Carolus Magnus (in the Latin) – found that not all of the Franks assented meekly to his rule. Acquitaine rebelled and had to be reconquered. Meanwhile, Charles had married the heiress to the throne of Lombardy, adding King of the Lombards to his titles in 770.
Before he was done, Charlemagne would succeed in uniting under a single rule more territory than anyone had done since the glory days of Rome, and would in fact be crowned the first Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire (which was, in fact, none of these three things) and known as ‘the father of Europe’. No one would rule as much territory as Charlemagne bequeathed to his heirs for a thousand years, until Napoleon became an Emperor too.
The Abbey at Lindisfarne Island in Northumbria was founded in 635 CE by St Aidan. In the years that followed, it produced one of the most famous illuminated manuscripts, the Lindisfarne Gospels, and became the final resting place of St Cuthbert, who had been Abbot and later Bishop of Lindisfarne. It was a peaceful place of contemplation and worship.
All that changed on June 6, 793 CE. On that day, the Abbey was raided and destroyed by Viking raiders. It was the first major assault on the British Isles by Vikings, but many more would follow over the next few centuries, culminating in England’s invasion and takeover by the Viking-descended Normans in 1066. Some of the monks escaped with the body of St Cuthbert and the Lindisfarne Gospels manuscript, but the abbey itself was destroyed and not rebuilt until after the Norman Conquest.
Urban II had been Pope for seven years in 1095. But the events he is best remembered for had their origin in March of 1095, when an ambassador from from the Emperor of Byzantium called upon him for aid against the Turk, who had captured much of the Anatolian hinterland and would soon press upon Byzantium itself.
At the Council of Clermont in November 1095, Urban called for a Crusade to retake the Holy Land (Palestine) from the Muslims. This would both place Jerusalem in Christian hands and relieve pressure on Byzantium by opening up another front in its war. What would become known as the First Crusade (of Nine) started the following year, in 1096, and lasted (in its active phase) until 1099. It was the most geographically successful of the Crusades, but its longest term effects were the reopening of trade between Europe and the Levant (and by extension, to its trading partners beyond) and the importation of Arabic texts (some of them translations of Greek and Roman texts) that led to the scientific revolutions of the next thousand years.
The Siege of Acre was the first major military encounter of the Third Crusade. It began on August 28, 1189 and concluded with the surrender of the Moslem forces under Saladin on July 12, 1191. For their part, the Christian Crusaders had suffered great losses, exacerbated by the stubbornness of England’s King Richard I, upon whom overall command of the invading forces had devolved.
The death of Gerard de Ridefort, Grand Master of the Knights Templar, and one of the most militarily experienced commanders among the fractious ranks of the Crusaders, took a toll on both the unity and organisation of their forces. After his death, an inconclusive battle broke out on the 4th of October, killing thousands on both sides, but not advancing either cause particularly.
Walter ‘Wat’ Tyler was born in 1341, and little is known of his life before his involvement in the Peasant’s Rebellion of 1381. He is believed to have served in the English army, seeing action at both Crécy and Poitiers, among others.
Tyler joined the rebellion apparently due to his strong egalitarian views, and sought an end, or at least a reform, of the feudal system. He led an army 50,000 strong into London, and their show of force persuaded the king to meet with them. Richard II, who was only 15, met with Tyler at Smithfield, although no account of their conversation survives. Tyler was struck down and stabbed repeatedly – it is widely believed that his first assailant was the Lord Mayor of London, who took exception to Tyler’s perceived ‘insolence’. Upon Tyler’s death, the king declared himself leader of the rebels, and commanded them to disperse. The promises he made to them were not kept, and the other leaders of the revolt were also killed, at his order.
The most notorious of all members of the Holy Inquisition, Tomás de Torquemada’s fervour in punishing heretics and sinners – his fanaticism is one of the chief causes of the poor repute of the Inquisition – may well have been driven by a secret shame: although many of those he persecuted were Jews, he himself seems to have had Jewish ancestry.
Although at first his appointment as Grand Inquisitor – Spain’s first such – was a decision popular with nobles and peasants alike, over time, de Torquemada became so hated in Spain that he traveled everywhere with armed and mounted guards in order to protect him from the people he so often found it necessary to destroy in order to save.
Hernán Cortés was 34 years old when he led the Spanish Conquistador invasion of Mexico. The initial landing took place on the Yucatan Peninsula, in what was then Maya territory. Cortés’ force was only 500 strong, but they were armed with muskets and cannons, as compared to the arrows and spears used by their opponents.
Although initially peaceful, Cortés’ mission was one of conquest, and would eventually result in the destruction of the Aztec nation and its tributaries, and the Spanish conquest of Mexico.
The 12th of October 1537 was a great day for England. The succession was finally assured, as Jane Seymour, third wife of King Henry VIII, gave birth to a son. Edward, later Edward VI and King of England in his turn, was christened three days after his birth, by which time it was quite clear that his mother was ill.
She died on the 24th of October, 12 days after Edward’s birth. Although it was widely rumoured that her death was the result of an ill-advised Cesarean section forced on her by her husband, historians now consider that unlikely, and a retained placenta which became infected is now thought to be the actual cause of her death.
It is notable that Henry VIII, who outlived all but one of his six wives, chose to be buried alongside Jane after his own death in 1547.
Say what you like about Elizabeth I, Queen of England, but she wasn’t afraid to get her hands dirty as a ruler. Even less afraid was her spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham, whose careful interception of the letters of Mary, Queen of Scots, made it clear that Mary – who had a good claim to the English throne in her own right – was plotting to have her cousin murdered and to take her place as Queen.
Under the circumstances, Mary’s arrest, conviction and sentencing to execution were more or less guaranteed, although Elizabeth hesitated to order the death sentence carried out, as she worried that it might set a precedent for Queen-killing, something she had a vested interest in preventing. Her Privy Council took the matter out of her hands, and Mary was scheduled to beheaded on February 8, 1587. In the event, it took two strokes of the headman’s axe to kill her. Her body, clothing and personal effects were burnt to frustrate relic hunters.
Born at almost the end of the 16th Century, Oliver Cromwell would grow to become one of the most important figures of the following century. He was born to a family of the gentry, and lived the first four decades of his life as a gentleman farmer. Had not two changes occurred in his life – an inheritance from an uncle that made him richer, and a conversion to a more Puritan faith.
With these behind him, Cromwell would become first the Member of Parliament for Huntingdon, and rise through the ranks to become Lord-Protector of England by the time of his death. He would also, by this point, by a recigide who had led a civil war against his rightful king, and responsible for an invasion of Ireland that killed thousands, many of them civilians – even today, he is still hated on many parts of Ireland.
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Oliver Cromwell — Monty Python
An iconic event in the history (or more accurately, pre-history) of the United States, the passengers of the Mayflower were primarily of that group known to history as the Pilgrim Fathers. They were religious dissidents in England, known as Separatists. In 1620, they pooled their funds and purchased passage to the colonies of New England, where they intended to establish their own colony.
However, their departure was delayed by the necessity of moving around to avoid religious persecution in England, and it was not until mid-September of 1620 that they finally departed. 102 of them embarked, heading into the dangerous waters of the North Atlantic and an unknowable fate.
Charles the First, destined to end his rein several inches shorter than he began it, was a firm believer in his divinely ordained autocratic rights as King of England, Scotland and Ireland. (He also claimed to be King of France, although even a claim of King of Calais would have been inaccurate, the English having lost their last French possessions in 1558.)
Charles would spend his entire reign battling his own Parliament, with an increasing lack of success, to maintain what he saw as the right and proper prerogatives of the King. Reign and battle both would culminate in 1649, when a revolution led by Oliver Cromwell first deposed, then executed King Charles I.
The Rump Parliament was what remained of the British Parliament after Colonel Pride had purged it a month earlier, leaving only those parliamentarians who supported the army.
On January 6, 1649, the Parliament appointed a total of 135 men to constitute a High Court for the trial of King Charles I for tyranny. A quorum was declated to be twenty of these appointees.
The trial of Charles I commenced shortly thereafter, and duly returned the guilty verdict it was intended to.
It is the decisive exclamation mark that ends the English Civil War. Never before had an English monarch been deposed, tried and convicted of high treason, and then executed. (To date, no other English monarch has suffered the same fate, either.) The decapitation of Charles the First made plain to the people of England and the courts of Europe that the winds of change were blowing in England.
Charles’ son, Charles II, would eventually be restored to the throne that was his by right of primogeniture, and in the interregnum that followed, England would be variously led by Parliament, by Lord-Protector Oliver Cromwell, and briefly, by Lord-Protector Richard Cromwell (Oliver’s less talented and determined son). The restored king was a damned sight more careful of Parliament, and the gradual decline of the power of the monarchy would only continue from this time onwards.
The decisive naval encounter of the First Anglo-Dutch War, the Battle of the Gabbard saw the English, led by Generals at Sea George Monck and Richard Deane and Admirals John Lawson and William Penn triumph over the Dutch, led by Lieutenant-Admiral Maarten Tromp and Vice-admiral Witte de With. The Battle began on June 2, 1653, with a Dutch attack on the English fleet, but their numerical superiority was outweighed by the fact that the English were on heavier, more well-armed ships.
The following day, the English were reinforced, giving them a slight superiority in ship to ship terms (100 to the Dutch 98), but a much greater advantage in firepower, which they wasted little time in applying. The Dutch lost seventeen ships (6 sunk, 11 other captured) while the English lost none, and assured their control over the English Channel and the North Sea, instituting a naval blockade that strangled the Dutch. A month later, the Dutch succeeded in lifting the blockade, and the war ultimately limped to an inconclusive finish the following year. The next two decades would each see the British and Dutch go to war with each other again.
The final resolution of the power vacuum that existed in England after King Charles I was deposed was somewhat inevitable: Oliver Cromwell was always going to wind up at the top of the heap. Lambert’s creation of the Instrument of Government, following the dissolution of the Rump Parliament, and then that of the Barebones Parliament, provided for Oliver Cromwell to be appointed Lord Protector of England for life.
This was kingship in almost every respect: Cromwell would rule until his death, the position would be hereditary, and Cromwell would even wind up dissolving Parliament yet again to put a stop to reforms they wanted that he saw as overly democratic. By the time it ended, with Cromwell’s death in 1658, he was easily as unpopular as Charles had been before him. Some of the smarter Englishmen even realised that the problem with their political system might lie with autocracy in any form rather than monarchy itself.
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Oliver Cromwell — Monty Python
Hated by the Irish for his invasion the previous decade, Oliver Cromwell’s manner of death must have given them some satisfaction. He died from a malarial fever contracted during the invasion (and complicated by what appears to have been kidney stones).
Cromwell had come far and acheived much in his 59 years, but little that he had built long-survived him. His son Richard, who succeeded him as Lord Protector, resigned from that role due to a lack of political support less than a year later, and King Charles II was invited back to England to reinstate the monarchy the year after that.
In 1661, on the anniversary of King Charles I’s execution, Cromwell’s corpse was exhumed, and a symbolic posthumous beheading was carried out. His severed head would be a collector’s item for some years thereafter, before being reburied in 1960.
Charles Mason, a fellow of the Royal Society and noted astronomer, and his sometime assistant, land surveyor and amateur astronomer, Jeremiah Dixon, were hired by certain wealthy interests in what was then the British colony of America to conclude a number of difficult boundary disputes in the young colonies.
Landing in Philedelphia in 1763, Mason and Dixon spent the next four years painstakingly measuring and fixing the proper boundaries between the various colonies, ceasing their work on October 18, 1867. (A team of their subordinates completed the survey in 1787.)
The lines they laid down, although resurveyed since that time, formed the basic lines of the borders between the colonies (and later the states) of Delaware, Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia. Later, as these states took different sides in the Civil War, the line came to symbolise the political and cultural border between the southern and northern states.
Revere was a silversmith from Boston who would become an important player in the American Revolution. On the night of April 18, 1775, he was the first of a group of riders who spread the news of British troop movements in Charlestown to the towns of Somerville, Medford, and Arlington, finally arriving at Lexington to meet with Samuel Adams and John Hancock at about midnight. In his wake, other riders – perhaps as many as forty – carried the news in all directions.
A number of urban myths have become attached to Revere’s ride, not least its name, the “Midnight Ride”. It’s also untrue that Revere shouted “The British are coming!” – shouting would have attracted the attention of British patrols, and the actual message of Revere was “The Regulars are coming out” (something confirmed by Revere and numerous witnesses).
They are an ageless conspiracy that has existed since the dawn of time, secretly guiding the affairs of nations and peoples… but they’re also, apparently, a relatively small group of Freemasons living in or around a fairly unremarkable Bavarian town in the 1770’s, led by one Adam Weishaupt (who may or may not also have been, or have replaced, George Washington at some point).
The Bavarian Illuminati, as this group is referred to by historians for simplicity’s sake, quickly grew to a membership of over 2000 men (no women were members) by the time it was suppressed a decade later. Known members other than Weishaupt include Goethe, Ferdinand of Brunswick, Johann Gottfried Herder and the diplomat Xavier von Zwack, with numerous others speculated to be members, including most of the ruling and creative classes of southern Germany, Austria and nearby areas at the time.
An advance party for the First Fleet to colonise Australia entered Botany Bay on this day. The Governor of the colony, Arthur Phillip, sailed the armed tender Supply into the bay, and weighed anchor. Two days later, they were joined by the other ships of the Fleet. However, the poor quality of the soil led to the entire fleet decamping, and landing instead in Port Jackson 8 days later, at what was named Sydney Cove by the Governor.
The French explorer La Perouse entered Botany Bay on the same day, January 26, too late to claim the land for France. The British penal colony was, of course, never heard from again.
William Bligh, whatever else you might say about him, had three inarguable qualities. First, he had the strength of his convictions, and second, of course, he had appalling interpersonal skills. The latter wasn’t necessarily a problem to a ranking officer in the British Navy of the late 18th Century, or so you might think. (You might also think it wouldn’t be a huge impediment to a Governor of New South Wales in the early 19th Century, for that matter).
As it turns out, Bligh is one of the few men in the history of the British Empire to have been both the cause and loser of two rebellions against his authority. The first of these was the infamous mutiny on the HMS Bounty, led by Fletcher Christian, in which 18 mutineers defeated Bligh and 22 of his loyal men, setting all but 4 of them adrift in a single longboat. (2 other men stayed neutral through the mutiny, and remained on board the Bounty.)
It was at this point that Bligh showed his other skill: superb seamanship. Over the course of the next 47 days, Bligh steered his longboat from Tofua to Timor. Christian and the men on board the Bounty went to Tahiti and eventually fetched up on the Pitcairn Islands.
The French phrase “Qu’ils mangent de la brioche” is usually translated as “Let them eat cake”, and is widely attributed to Marie Antionette.
However, in the original – Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s Confessions, which he finished writing in 1769, when Marie Antoinette was 13 – the remark is attributed only to “a great princess”. The phrase was attributed to Marie Antionette only after the Revolution began, and many citations for it exist prior to this, and not referencing her. In fact, the emerging consensus among historians at this time is that the Rousseau was referring to Marie-Thérèse, the wife of Louis XIV, and pre-dates Marie Antionette by at least a century.
The last king of France was not even a king at the time of his execution. He had been arrested the previous August and stripped of all his titles and styles when the monarchy was abolished a month later – his name at the time of his death, according to the newly formed French republic, was Citoyen Louis Capet. Louis faced his beheading bravely, and spoke to the onlookers, forgiving those who called for his execution.
The tragedy of it all is that Louis had been one of the greatest reformers in the history of the French monarchy, and had repeatedly instituted (or attempted to institute) policies that would help the common people of France. However, his reforms were repeatedly blocked by a nobility jealous of its privileges – especially those reforms that would have harmed them financially. The reforms they did allow through often proved economically disastrous – Louis and his advisers were poor economists. As king, the ultimate responsibility rested with Louis, and as a man, he paid the ultimate price for it.
Jean-Paul Marat was a fiery republican journalist who was an important figure in the French revolutionary movement. A scientist (he translated Newton’s “Opticks” into French, among other accomplishments), after the revolution, he devoted himself to politics and propaganda. He was heavily involved in the factional struggles surrounding the revolution.
It was this latter that led to his death. Charlotte Corday was a member of a rival political faction, the Girondists, who believed that Marat was largely responsible for the fall of the Girondists – and that the outcome of that factional struggle might well lead to outright civil war in France. And so it was that Corday surprised Marat in his bathtub one night, stabbing him once in the carotid artery, which killed him in very short order. Later that year, he was immortalised in a painting, “The Death of Marat” by Jacques-Louis David, which has become an iconic image of revolutionary martyrdom.
Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon were a pair of English astronomers who were hired by Thomas Penn and Frederick Calvert, respectively the proprietors of Pennsylvania and Maryland, to resolve a boundary dispute between the two colonies in 1763. The two had worked together for two years before that, Dixon serving as Mason’s assistant.
The survey took three years to complete – and the pair remained in America for another two years after that, being admitted to the American Society for Promoting Useful Knowledge, in 1768, before they left American in the same way they had entered it: via Philadelphia.
Napoleon had grand dreams of empire when he embarked for the Middle East in 1798. And at first, they seemed warranted. His forces took Malta in June 1798, and then eluded the British Navy for nearly two weeks as they crossed the Mediterranean to Egypt. On July 1, the fleet landed at Alexandria, although Napoleon himself was still at sea.
Perhaps this is why his orders were ignored, and his forces invaded the city during the night, taking it with little resistance. Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign was a mixed success: on land his forces triumphed over the Egyptians and ended the rule of the Mamelukes; at sea, they lost a disastrous engagement with the British. Undaunted, Napoleon continued with his plans to invade Syria, but a combination of harrying from the British at sea and the Ottomans on land, coupled with uprisings of the conquered (notably at Cairo in October 1798) eventually forced him to withdraw. The lasting results of his invasion were few: Egypt remained an Ottoman possession, although the decline of the Ottoman Empire was now undeniable; and the discovery of the Rosetta Stone led to great advances in archaeology, making it possible to translate hieroglyphics into modern languages.
People like to describe modern American politics as a blood sport. They have no idea.
Back in 1804, former Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton and sitting Vice President Aaron Burr fought a pistol duel that would result in the death of one and the arrest of the other on changes of murder. Burr and Hamilton, who were members of opposing political factions, had hated each other for years. Part of it was personal – Hamilton in particular had engaged in character assassination of Burr in the press – and part of it was political, tensions then being at least as high as they are today.
In the early morning of July 11, 1804, the two met at the Heights of Weehawken in New Jersey (a popular dueling ground at that time). On the day, Hamilton intended not to fire directly at Burr, at least not on the first round. Burr, on the other hand, did intend to hurt Hamilton, and probably would have done an even better job of it had he been a better shot. As it was, Burr mortally wounded Hamilton, although he did not die until the afternoon of the following day.
By Illustrator not identified. From a painting by J. Mund. – Lord, John, LL.D. (1902). Beacon Lights of History. Vol. XI, “American Founders.” (London: James Clarke and Co Ltd. Republished as a Project Gutenberg eBook, 2004-01-08. eBbook no. 10644., Public Domain, Link
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Lazy Sunday — The Lonely Island
The first extra-territorial land battle fought by the armed forces of young United States of America. It is the source of the Marine Corps Hymn (“To the Shores of Tripoli”), because the American forces – which consisted mostly of a few hundred mercenaries, backed by three ships – were led by 54 marines. It was the decisive engagement of the First Barbary War (fought between the United States and Sweden on one side and the so-called Barbary States – the Eyalet of Tripolitania and Morocco – on the other).
The battle itself took place after the mercenary forces, led by 8 US marines, attacked the fort at the city of Derna, taking it after heavy fighting against a greatly numerically superior enemy. The surrender of the Barbary forces came a month later, and the US set an early precedent for its poor treatment of its veterans by stiffing the mercenaries on part of their pay.
It is possibly the most notorious defeat in military history, a textbook example of strategic and logistical errors: Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow, in the chilly Winter in 1812. This day, December 14, marks the date upon which the French were finally expelled from Russian territory.
A combination of factors – worsening weather, an over-extended supply chain, the scorched-earth policy of the Russian peasantry and the guerilla tactics of the Russian military being the most well-known – came together to make the French position in Moscow untenable. When Napoleon left the army to shore up his political position in France, the already poor morale of the French army sank lower still, and the remaining commanders ordered a retreat, most likely in order to prevent a mutiny.
Thus began one of the most infamous and fatal retreats the world has ever seen. In addition, the defeat was the beginning of the end for Napoleon, whose fortunes declined over the next few years, finally culminating in his defeat in the battle of Waterloo in 1815
In the annals of military pointlessness, few battles are quite as ridiculous as the Battle of New Orleans. It was fought 16 days after the official end of the War of 1812, of which it was a part, due to the fact that the peace treaty was signed in Europe, and the news took two months to reach America.
The Battle of New Orleans was important to later American history, though. It ended the war with a decisive American victory (in a war where neither side had managed to seize the advantage over the other), and it brought to prominence a commander named Andrew Jackson, who would later become the seventh President of the USA.
Nat Turner’s first vision was a striking one: the Spirit appeared to him and told him to take up Christ’s cross and suffer in his place, metaphorically. Turner interpreted this as a call to arms, and began laying plans for a rebellion (which would eventually bear fruit in August of 1831).
For the meantime, Turner continued to work in slavery, building his forces and biding his time, and growing ever stronger in his faith. How much he suffered we can only guess at, but based on the events of the slave rebellion he led, it must have been a great amount.
Nat Turner was a slave in the fields of Virginia. Unusually well-educated and literate for a slave, Turner’s intelligence was matched only by his religious fervour. In May 1828, he saw a vision in the heavens, confirming his intuition that he was destined for great things. In 1831, he witnessed an eclipse of the Sun, which to him appeared as the hand of an enormous black man reaching for and obscuring the solar disc.
He took this as an omen that the time of rebellion was at hand, and began planning in earnest. In August of that year, Nat Turner led a slave rebellion that would be the largest in American history, and which would contribute to the tensions that erupted into Civil War a generation later.
By William Henry Shelton (1840–1932) – Image was found on Encyclopedia Virginia. The print is in the Bettman Archive. The image has been printed on p. 321 of 1882’s A Popular History of the United States, and p. 154 of 1894’s History of the United States from the Earliest Discovery of America to the Present Day., Public Domain, Link
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Nat Turner — Reef the Lost Cauze
Nat Tuner was a black slave in Virginia who believed he was divinely inspired to lead his people to freedom. The rebellion he led in 1831 is the single largest slave rebellion in the history of the United States of America, with a death toll of at least 160 people (100 of them black, including Turner himself, 60 of them white).
The rebellion was a bloody and vengeful affair on both sides, but in the end, Turner’s slaves – for the most part lacking horses and firearms – had little chance against the white establishment. Many of them were killed in the fighting, and the few surviving ringleaders were tried and hung – by people who believed they were divinely inspired to deny them their freedom.
In August 1831, guided by visions sent from God (or so he claimed), black slave Nat Turner led a rebellion of slaves in Virginia. Turner and his fellow rebels killed between 55 and 65 white men, women and children (accounts vary as the exact number). But the rebellion was put down quickly, and most of the rebels were slain or captured (and then, for the most part, executed).
Nat Turner eluded capture for many weeks after the end of the slave rebellion he had led. It was not until October 30 – more than two months later – that he was captured. He was tried in Jerusalem, Virginia, and defended by white lawyer Thomas Gray. The trial did not take long – on a single day, he was tried, convicted and sentenced to death. Turner was hung on November 11, 1831. Controversy regarding his goals and methods continues to this day.
This time around, there’s no better way to tell it than with the actual lyrics. All you need is a little scene setting – it’s the Democratic Party’s National Convention in Baltimore, Maryland, in the year 1844:
In 1844, the Democrats were split.
The three nominees for the presidential candidate
Were Martin Van Buren, a former president and an abolitionist
James Buchanan, a moderate
Louis Cass, a general and expansionist.
From Nashville came a dark horse riding up:
He was James K. Polk, Napoleon of the Stump
Austere, severe, he held few people dear
His oratory filled his foes with fear.
The factions soon agreed:
He’s just the man we need
To bring about victory,
Fulfil our manifest destiny,
And annex the land the Mexicans command.
And when the votes were cast the winner was:
Mister James K. Polk, Napoleon of the Stump
And there you have it 🙂
I don’t intend to make a habit of simply quoting large slabs of lyrics here – it’s lazy, for one thing – but on this occasion, I felt an exception had to be made. There’s no way I could have summarised the same information as lucidly or as elegantly as this.
Beginning about a year into the Crimean War (1853-6), the Battle of Balaclava is perhaps the best known engagement of the war. Its outcome was indecisive; it did not end the siege of Sevastopol, but neither were the Allied losses so great as to constitute a major defeat.
But in its very unimportance, it became something else. An inspiration and a beacon of courage and chivalry. For this one bloody day of fighting saw the famous charge of the Light Brigade, immortalised in poetry by Kipling and Tennyson. As such, its effect on British morale helped that nation and its allies hang on until victory was achieved. (Ironically, the legendary charge was an error resulting from a misinterpreted order.)
Michael Davitt was born in County Mayo, Ireland, in the year 1846, during the worst of the Great Famine (known outside of Ireland as Irish Potato Famine). He grew up passionately devoted to the cause of Irish freedom, which led him to join the Irish Republican Brotherhood.
It was as a member of the latter that he was arrested while waiting to collect an arms shipment in Paddington Station, London. He was charged with treason and convicted to 14 years imprisonment with hard labour. Davitt, not unreasonably, claimed that he had never received a fair trial or an adequate defence. In prison, he kept busy writing his political allies, and these letters became a part of their ammunition in demanding an end to the unjust imprisonment and cruel treatement of Irish political prisoners in the United Kingdom. He was released on December 19, 1877, after serving seven and a half years of his sentence, and given a hero’s welcome in his return to Ireland.
General George Armstrong Custer went into battle at Little Big Horn under a number of false impressions.
He was under the impression that he would be facing no more than 800 Native Americans, rather than more than twice that number – Sitting Bull and Crazy Horse had recruited assiduously, knowing that a battle was coming. He was under the impression that his major challenge would be preventing the escape of the enemy forces, rather than defeating them. And finally, he was under the impression, based on these assumptions, that the force under the command of his subordinate Major Reno would be far more effective in battle than it proved.
But with Reno’s forces isolated and routed, Custer’s forces were outnumbered and surrendered. More than 200 men in Custer’s army, including Custer himself, were killed.
A great war leader of the Ogala Lakota people, Crazy Horse fought the US Cavalry for more than a decade, in many successful battles in the 1860s and 1870s, most notably at the Battle of Little Big Horn in 1876. Crazy Hprse was acclaimed a great and brave warrior among his own people and other Indian tribes who fought against or alongside him.
But the battles, successful though they were, took a heavy toll. The Indians had greater knowledge of the territory in most of them, and were often tactically superior to their foes – but the white man had apparently endless numbers and superior technology (especially in terms of killing from range). Crazy Horse surrendered on May 5, 1877 at the Red Cloud Agency, located near Fort Robinson, Nebraska. He lived near there until his death exactly four months later.
Michael Davitt was a member of the Irish Republican Brotherhood (IRB), a revolutionary movement that espoused armed uprising as the only way to rid Ireland of British rule. He mostly participated in arms smuggling operations, and it was on one of these that he was arrested in 1870.
He was sentenced to 15 years hard labour in Dartmoor Prison, where he was subjected to casual brutality and solitary confinement. The letters he sent, describing his treatment, were read aloud in the British House of Commons by sympathetic politicians, and a public outcry against the treatment of Davitt and other Irish prisoners led to his early release. He received a hero’s welcome on his return to Ireland, and returned at once to the struggle, albeit now concentrating on non-violent political actions.
A series of border disputes between British settlers and the Zulu people escalated to the point where, in late 1878, the British sent an ultimatum to Cetshwayo, the ruler of the Zulu nation, requiring among other things that he disband his army, pay reparations and once more allow Christian missionaries into his lands. Cetshwayo ignored the ultimatum, which expired on January 10, 1879. The following day, a British and allied forced under Lieutenant General Frederick Thesiger, the 2nd Baron Chelmsford, invaded Zulu territory.
The Zulus had a massive numeric advantage over the British (over two to one), and were also fighting on their own land. The British, on the other hand, were better armed, with rifles and cannons as compared to the Zulu’s assegai (short spears). The Zulu nearly succeeded in overwhelming the British at Rorke’s Drift, but were turned back with enormous casualties on both sides. Another Zulu attack, at Islandwana, was more successful, and turned back the British. However, less than six months after the war’s commencement, the British had triumphed, and the Zulu nation’s power was broken forever.
Michael Davitt and Charles Parnell were the two leadng lights of the Land League of Mayo. Formed in response to the Land Act of 1870, which was actually intended to make life for Irish farmers less harsh. Unfortunately, most of the good it might have donw was wiped away by years of economic depression that followed it – and even had that not been the case, it fell far short of what the Irish wanted. The demands of the Land League were the three F’s: Fair rent, Fixity of tenure and Free sale. It was one of the major resistance movements against British Rule in Ireland, intended as a way to fight for Irish Independence within the system, and to relieve some of the burdens of occupation.
Inevitably, resistance crystallised around it to become something less legal and more overt: the period of prolonged civil unrest and low level rebellion generally known as the Land War, and the Land League of Mayo was suppressed as a revolutionary organisation in 1881, and many of its leaders thrown into prison.
Perhaps best known for his architectural legacy, “Mad” King Ludwig was born on August 25, 1845, and became the King of Bavaria on March 10, 1864. In the twenty-plus years of his reign, he was responsible for the creation of numerous buildings, many of which have since become popular tourist attractions, and almost all of which display, to say the least, an unusual aesthetic. Notable examples include the Winter Garden of the Residenz Palace in Munich (now dismantled); Neuschwanstein Castle (completed only after his death, and the inspiration for the Disneyland castles); parts of Linderhof Castle and Herrenchiemsee Castle. Ludwig was also unusual among monarchs in that he paid for the majority of his constructions out of his own pocket, rather than the realm’s.
In 1886, Ludwig’s uncle, Luitpold, deposed him amidst allegations of insanity – Ludwig’s castles being exhibit A. The following day, the king died in mysterious circumstances – he was found floating in shallow water in Lake Starnberg, but he had not drowned. Ludwig was known to be a strong swimmer, and in any case, an autopsy found no water in his lungs, nor other visible injuries. The likelihood is that he was either poisoned, or fell victim to a stroke or heart attack.
Ludwig is remembered fondly in Bavaria to this day, especially by those who work in the tourism sector.
The Boxer Rebellion was a four year long uprising by native Chinese who fought against Japanese and European imperialism. The very name of the event is a textbook example of such imperialism: how dare the ungrateful peasantry of China reject the gifts of conquest, opium, economic disruption and famine that the Great Powers of the world had chosen to inflict upon them? An Eight Nation Alliance consisting of the United States, Japan, the United Kingdom, Austria-Hungary, Russia, France, Germany and Italy set out to teach them the error of their ways.
Not that the Boxers were without their faults too – there were massacres of Christian missionaries and Chinese Christians, with an estimated 100,000 civilians killed by the rebels. (Another 5000 civilians were killed by the Alliance.) There is no record of how many Boxers were slain, but approximately 2000 Chinese soldiers and 1000 Alliance soldiers were killed in the fighting, before the Eight Nation Alliance forced China to sign a humiliating peace accord on September 7, 1901. The Boxer Protocol’s terms included the execution of government officials who had supported the Boxers, an indemnity payment so great that it exceeded China’s total annual tax income and the requirement for China to pay for the occupying garrisons of its conquerors.
Michael Davitt was 60 years old when he died in Elphis Hospital, Dublin. In his six decades of life, he’d been a Fenian revolutionary, served seven years of a fifteen year sentence for treason, was pardoned, and imprisoned again on new charges relating to his activities with various groups agitating for Irish freedom. He was elected as a Member of Parliament, but disqualified due to his confinement. He toured the world, giving speeches to raise awareness of the issues facing Ireland.
Although he did not live to see the struggle for Irish self-determination completed – indeed, some would say that it still has not – he was instrumental in many of the developments that led towards it, notably the Land Act of 1881 and the Ashbourn Act of 1885. After his death, he became an inspiration to others whose struggles resembled his – notably, Mahatma Gandhi attributed the origins of and inspiration for his own peaceful resistance to Davitt’s life and work.
No one really knows what Emily Davison had in mind when she ran in front of the racehorse Amner that day. She had already established herself as a determined and clever protester – seriously, take a look at some her prior stunts – and it can’t be ruled out that this was intended as another one.
She was carrying a suffragette banner, so some sort of protest was probably intended. She was also carrying a return train ticket and a ticket for dance being held by the Suffragettes later that day, so it’s unlikely that she intended to die. Most likely, she expected the horse to stop.
For whatever reason, the horse did not. Davison was trampled and died four days later of a fractured skull. Whether it was her intent or not, she became a martyr to the Suffragette movement.
World War One was, according to the commonly held wisdom, unavoidable. The complex web of alliance and counter-alliance that bound the European powers to each other did make declarations of war on the part of each nation more or less inevitable once an inciting incident occurred.
That incident turned out to be the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand on June 28, 1914. Over the next thirty days, declarations of war started one after another, in two opposed chains of political allies. On one side: Austria-Hungary, Germany and the Ottoman Empire. On the other side, the United Kingdom and its Commonwealth, France, Russia, Italy, Japan, and eventually, the USA as well.
It was the first truly worldwide war, fought in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia and the Atlantic Ocean. World War One lasted for four years and a little under four months. It killed 16.5 million people, the greatest single toll of any conflict to that date, and despite the propaganda of the following years, it did not end wars.
The Battle of Lone Pine – or, if you’re Turkish, the Battle of Kanli Sirt – was a five day long engagement between the ANZAC forces and the Turkish defenders during the Gallipoli campaign of 1915. Part of a larger Allied Assault called the August Offensive, it was about the only successful one, where Australian forces captured their objectives, reinforced them and held them against the Turkish counter-attack. Unfortunately, after August 10, 1915, conditions returned to the stalemate that had previously obtained on the Dardanelles front, and the assault would be abandoned entirely in December of that year.
But in August, 2200 Australians and 5000-6000 Turks were killed or wounded in action, and all for a few square miles of mud that had little impact on the wider conduct of the war. Seven Australians were awarded the Victoria Cross for their actions in the battle, for what it’s worth. Today, Lone Pine military cemetery is the site of commemorative services every ANZAC Day.
In 1916, with the hated English overlords distracted by the First World War, a group of Irish revolutionaries decided that the time was ripe to rise up, overthrow the Sassenach and declare an independent republic of Ireland. However, the Irish forces were massively outnumbered by their colonial rulers, and to add insult to injury, the English also had a massive technological superiority.
The uprising began on Monday, March 24 of 1916 in Dublin – the day after Easter. It would last for a grand total of six days before it was put down. Most of its leaders were captured, and thence imprisoned or executed for their parts in the revolt. However, as the first major uprising since 1798, it reinvigorated the Irish independence movement, and the next – and ultimately successful – Irish rebellion began only three years later.
Manfred von Richtofen won his first aerial combat with Jasta 2 in the skies over Cambrai, France, on 17 September, 1916. Between that day and his death in 1918, he shot down another 79 aircraft – and that figure includes only confirmed kills. If unconfirmed kills are included, his tally may have exceeded 100 kills.
Nor was von Richtofen merely a force to be reckoned with on his own – as leader of the Flying Circus, he and his men killed a total of a total of 644 enemy aircraft. It was at this time that he became known as the Red Baron.
He was eventually shot down himself on April 21, 1918, although who fired the fatal shots has never been confirmed.
Also known as the third Battle of Ypres, the Battle of Passchendaele was an attempt to capture the strategically important village of that name in Belgium. Entente forces led by the British attacked on July 11, 1917, in what would become a long and drawn out struggle. Over the next five months, the battle would become synonymous with the mud in which it was so often fought. It would also be one of the first major land engagements to involve tanks (although only on the Entente side – the first tank vs tank battle did not occur until April the following year).
The battle swung both ways at different times, and some historians even classify it as two battles in a single campaign, with a comparative lull between them. Like many battles in World War One, it has become emblematic of the pointlessness and brutality of war. The battle finally ended on November 10, 1917, with the fall of Passchendaele to Canadian forces. More than 560,000 soldiers were killed in total, with the German losses exceeding the Entente losses by only 40,000. Although the battle was won, if not for the entry of the Americans into World War One that year, it might have proved a Pyrrhic victory, especially in light of the Russian surrender on the Eastern front, which had freed up German forces there to fight in the west.
Passchendaele did teach valuable tactical lessons to the victors, mostly at the unit level and mostly applicable only to trench warfare. Interestingly, Adolf Hitler was a veteran of Passchendaele, and considering the difference between the German invasions of Belgium in 1914 and 1940, one cannot help but wonder what lessons in strategy and tactics he drew from the experience.
By 1917, British and Commonwealth forces under General Allenby were slowly progressing northward through Turkish-occupied Palestine, but stalled when they came to Gaza. In October 1917, the third battle of Gaza – the third attempt to wrest it from the Ottoman Empire – began.
The battle at Beersheba (or Birüssebi, as it was then known) was only one facet of this larger battle, but it was here that the critical breakthrough of the battle took place. The decisive moment came with the charge of the Australian 4th Light Horse Brigade, who covered six miles to smash through the Turkish lines and capture the town and its strategically important wells more or less intact (15 of the 17 wells remained usable). This victory also marked the last successful horse cavalry charge in modern warfare.
One of the greatest political figures of the Twentieth Century, Nelson Mandela was born in the village of Mvezo, in the Umtata district of South Africa. He was descended from a cadet branch of the ruling clan of Umtata, the Thembu dynasty, and his father served for a time as village cheif in Mvezo.
From these not exactly humble beginnings, Mandela would go on to become a prominent anti-aparthied activist who engaged in acts of violent sabotage against the ruling white regime in South Africa; to serve 27 years in prison as a result of this; and finally, to become the first Prime Minister of a racially equal South Africa when apartheid was finally dismantled. For his long life of work, and his influence in promoting peaceful change (at least, after his imprisonment he did), he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1993, which he shared with Frederik Willem de Klerk, the white leader with whom Mandela had successfully ended apartheid.
Edwin Lutyens was one of the greatest British architects, possibly the greatest of his era. His design for the Cenotaph was originally intended to be a temporary structure, but became so beloved of the British people that it was replaced with a permanent version made of white stone. Its design has often been copied elsewhere in Britain and in other Commonwealth nations, and it is the centre of Remembrance Day events each November 11.
Like all cenotaphs, its design is that of an empty tomb, a memorial to ‘the Unknown Soldier’ – to all those who lost not merely their lives but their identities, but also to all those who served. It is sometimes referred to as “The Glorious Dead.”
Hitler was the 55th person to join the German Worker’s Party – the same party that later re-named itself the National Socialist Party. In less than two years, he rose to a position of such popularity and influence that he was more or less able to blackmail his way into being appointed its leader.
On July 11, 1921, he resigned from the party. Fearing that this would cause a split in the party from which it could not recover, the leadership panicked. Hitler then announced he would only return to the party if made leader (or “Fuhrer”). After some umming and erring, the party gave in to his demand, and on July 29, he was introduced as the party’s Fuhrer for the first time. He would remain Fuhrer for the next 24 years, including his years spent in prison during the Twenties (although a deputy took over some responsibilities in this time).
Ferdinando Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were two Italian-born labourers and anarchists resident on Massachusetts. On May 5, 1920, they were arrested for a robbery that had taken place the previous month. They were tried and convicted of the robbery.
Later, in 1921, they were tried again for a murder, and again convicted. The two men were sentenced to the electric chair, and executed on August 23, 1927.
Their arrests and trials aroused considerable controversy, both at the time and ever since. The prosecution’s case had many holes in it, and it was widely believed that the two men were convicted not so much for being guilty of the crimes they were accused of, as for being anarchists.
50 years to the day of the execution, Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis issued a proclamation declaring, “Any stigma and disgrace should be forever removed from the names of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti. We are not here to say whether these men are guilty or innocent. We are here to say that the high standards of justice, which we in Massachusetts take such pride in, failed Sacco and Vanzetti.”
Trotsky was Lenin’s second-in-command during the Russian Revolution, and later the first leader of the Red Army and a high-ranking Politburo member. But after the death of Lenin in 1924, he lost power and position to Stalin. In 1928, Trotsky was exiled to Alma Ata in Kazakhstan. A year later, he was expelled from the Soviet Union, and sent to Turkey, accompanied by his wife Natalia Sedova and his son Lev Sedov.
His exile marked the end of any serious internal opposition to Stalin in the Soviet Union, with most of his followers either fleeing the country or surrendering. Trotsky continued to advocate his opposition to Stalin from outside the country. A constant thorn in Stalin’s side, he was assassinated in Mexico by a Soviet agent in 1940.
Unanimously passed by the Reichstag on the evening of September 15, 1935, the Nuremberg Laws were the first legal codification of Nazi anti-Semitism. There were two laws: the Law for the Protection of German Blood and German Honour, which prohibited marriages and extramarital intercourse between “Jews” and “Germans” and also the employment of “German” females under forty-five in Jewish households; and The Reich Citizenship Law, declared those not of German blood to be Staatsangehörige (state subjects) while those classified as “Aryans” were Reichsbürger (citizens of the Reich). In effect, this second law stripped Jews of German citizenship.
In addition, the laws contained a codification of who was considered to be Jewish, defined by how many grandparents one had who were Jewish or German. There were four statuses under the law, of which two were considered Jewish and two German. A later expansion of the law extended its provisions to Gypsies and Negroes. These laws remained in effect until the German surrender, nearly ten years later.
It was a serious business: there were pressing legal, moral, theological and political reasons why the King of England could not marry an American divorcee. But such was King Edward VII’s love for Wallis Simpson that he was prepared to ignore all those things. The heart wants what the heart wants.
But ignore them he could not: as King, he was head of the Church of England, which at that time forbade the marriage of divorced people. Moreover, many citizens of the nations of the British Empire – Britain not least among them – did not want a twice-divorced American as their Queen. The establishment in England tended to view Wallis Simpson as little more than a gold digger.
Edward remained stubborn, and on the 10th of December, 1936, he announced his abdication from the throne (although under law, it was not legally binding until Parliament ratified it). Edward’s brother became the next king, George VI, and Edward was created the Duke of Windsor, and upon their marriage, Wallis Simpson became the Duchess of Windsor.
The co-founder of the American Indian Movement – a major ‘Red Power’ group in the civil rights struggles of native Americans – Dennis Banks was born in the Leech Lake Indian Reservation in Minnesota. Dennis Banks, of course, was simply his white name – in the Ojibwe language of his people, the Anishinaabe, was Nowa Cumig (which means ‘centre of the universe’).
As a leader of the American Indian Movement, he participated in numerous protests and demonstrations, often clashing with the law and even getting convicted a few times. In recent years, he has been a leader of the annual Sacred Run movement and served as a member of the Board of Trustees for Leech Lake Tribal College, a college with a primarily native American student body.
In the wake of the fall of France to the Nazi advance and the desperate evacuation of British forces from Dunkirk, Winston Churchill, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, rose in the House of Commons to reassure the nation (and its allies). The speech he made that day is now routinely considered one of the greatest orations of the Twentieth Century.
The whole speech is worthy of your attention, but only these last three paragraphs are reproduced here:
What General Weygand called the Battle of France is over. I expect that the Battle of Britain is about to begin. Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilization. Upon it depends our own British life, and the long continuity of our institutions and our Empire. The whole fury and might of the enemy must very soon be turned on us.
Hitler knows that he will have to break us in this Island or lose the war. If we can stand up to him, all Europe may be free and the life of the world may move forward into broad, sunlit uplands. But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new Dark Age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science.
Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for a thousand years, men will still say, ‘This was their finest hour.’
The German advance into Belgium in the spring of 1940 was swift and decisive. Belgium was militarily unprepared for war – as late as November 7, 1939, the Belgian government had called for an end to hostilities – and even if its military had been prepared, it was massively outgunned by the Nazi war machine. The invasion of Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg began on May 10, 1940.
By May 17, the Belgian capital of Brussels had fallen to the German advance, and deciding that the Allied cause was lost, King Leopold III surrendered to the Germans against the advice of his government on May 28, 1940. He would spend the rest of the war as a prisoner of the Nazis, while the majority of his government went into exile (primarily in Britain) and continued to lead Free Belgian Forces in the fight. Belgium was eventually liberated in 1944, although it was not until the end of the German Ardennes Offensive in 1945 that fighting on Belgian soil concluded.
The Battle of Britain is virtually unique in the annals of wartime history for being one of the few extended campaigns to be fought almost entirely in the air – most other aerial conflicts named battles were single engagements, but the Battle of Britain lasted for nearly five months.
What it was, basically, was the way that air supremacy was decided in the Western European theatre of World War Two. The Axis forces launched an all-out aerial assault on Britain, bombing both civilian and military targets in what became known as The Blitz. Much has been written about the tactical superiority of the British, and there’s certainly truth in that – the Luftwaffe outnumbered the RAF by 2 to 1 in raw numbers, for example. But in the end, the British simply outlasted them. If the Luftwaffe had been better equipped in terms of manpower and aircraft, they might have succeeded in the end, but the RAF was perhaps the pre-eminent air force in the world in 1940, and they demonstrated this here, in their finest hour.
It would be another two years before the momentum of World War Two turned decisively against the Germans, but this was the first major victory of the Allies, and Germany’s inability to conquer Britain at this point would lead Hitler – never that interested in invading the British Isles to begin with – to turn his attentions eastward, leading inexorably to the twin defeats of Stalingrad and El Alamein, and finally, to the unconditional surrender of his nation after he committed suicide in despair.
In early 1941, the Allied forces in North Africa, comprised mostly of British and Commonwealth units (the Australians being the largest of the Commonwealth contingents), were making very good progress in driving the Italian forces out of Libya (which the Italians had conquered in 1911). The port of Tobruk was captured by Australian forces from the 6th Division on January 22 along with 27,000 Italian troops.
But in March, Rommel and his Afrika Korps arrived in North Africa to bolster the Italian forces. On March 24, Operation Sonnenblume commenced, an opportunistic effort to push back the Allies. Rommel’s advance was very successful, as the British had sent many of the forces previously stationed in North Africa to fight in Greece, and much of what remained, especially the armour, had fallen back for maintenance and recovery. On April 4, the Axis forces recaptured Benghazi, and by April 10, had encircled Tobruk. An assault on April 11 proved inconclusive for both sides, and the siege commenced in earnest.
The 14,000 men who remained in Tobruk were primarily Australians, with some British and Polish soldiers among them. Collectively, they became known as ‘the Rats of Tobruk’, when the Australians adopted the name they had been given in German propaganda as a badge of honour. (They even made their own service medal in the likeness of a rat, using metal from a German Bomber that they had shot down.) Nearly 4000 of them would give their lives while the siege lasted. The first attempt to break the siege, Operation Battleaxe, was launched by the Allies on June 15, but failed in its goals. The siege was lifted on November 27, and Tobruk would eventually be relieved on December 7, 1941, the same day that the Pearl Harbor attacks brought the US into the war. The siege had lasted a total of 283 days.
To this day, there is no clear explanation of his motives, but the facts in the case are these: on May 10, 1941, Rudolf Hess – the third most powerful man in Nazi Germany behind Hitler and Goring, flew a plane to Scotland, where he crash landed and was taken into custody. He had come on a mission of peace, trying to secure an end to hostilities between Germany and the United Kingdom.
However, his offer was quickly disavowed by the German government, and Hess stripped of al authority. He spent the rest of the war as a p.o.w., and stood trial alongside the other surviving Nazis at Nuremberg.
It seems that he had experienced some sort of guilt-motivated nervous breakdown, causing him to undertake his quixotic mission. It remains an open question whether his guilt was about the war by itself, or also about the Holocaust.
One of the deadliest chemicals ever invented, Zyklon B is a derivative of Prussic acid. It was invented in 1922 by a small team of German chemists led by Nobel Prize winning chemist Fritz Haber, whose previous creations included mustard gas and other chemicals of warfare used in World War One.
In 1941, the gas was first deployed in three death camps: Auschwitz-Birkenau, and Majdanek, and Sachsenhausen. Its first large scale use was one September 3, when 600 Russian POWs, 250 Polish POWs and 10 criminals were killed at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Some of the victims survived more than 24 hours of exposure to the gas – when this was discovered, additional quantities of it were pumped into the killing chambers. By the time the war ended, an estimated 1.2 million people were killed with Zyklon B, most of whom (960,000) were Jews.
Of all things, it was the entry of the United States into the war that prompted Hitler to move the Holocaust into high gear. Now that the Americans were in it, the usefulness of the remaining Jews as hostages was at an end, and Hitler saw no reason to delay the complete destruction of the Jewish race – all the ones he could get his hands on, at least – a moment longer.
This announcement was made to a group of fifty or so of the highest ranking Nazis, chiefly the politicians and bureaucrats who formed the Third Reich’s top echelon, whom Hitler had summoned to a meeting in the Reich Chancellory. Himmler, Goebbels and Bormann are all known to have attended the meeting. Moreover, documents related to this meeting – including Goebbels’ diaries – make it clear that the plan to exterminate the Jews was not carried out without Hitler’s knowledge or responsibility, but that he was an enthusiastic proponent and participant of it. The following year, 1942, would account for almost half the total Jewish deaths in the Holocaust all by itself.
The Japanese air raid on Darwin was mounted by 242 Japanese planes launched from four aircraft carriers. It was intended to soften up the air force and navy bases there in preparation for the Japanese invasion of Timor the following day. Between 9:58 and 10:40AM that day, the planes sank three warships and five merchant ships, while damaging ten more. Twenty-one dock workers were killed in the raids.
This would be the first of a total of 97 air raids against targets either in Australian waters or on the Australian mainland. Most of these were on various sites across the northern coast of Australia between Port Hedland, Western Australia and Townsville, Queensland, with the great majority of them being on military or civilian targets in Darwin. The last air raid took place on November 12, 1943, striking Parap, Adelaide River and Batchelor Airfield (all in the Northern Territory). By that time, the tide of war had turned, and Japan could no longer strike so close to Australia, although the end of the war was still nearly two years away.
By RAN Historical Collection – This tag does not indicate the copyright status of the attached work. A normal copyright tag is still required. See Commons:Licensing for more information., Public Domain, Link
As mentioned in:
Tojo — Hoodoo Gurus
It is one of Australia’s greatest military triumphs: a simple holding action across a narrow dirt trail that spanned the inhospitable mountains of the central spine of New Guinea. A much smaller Australian force aided by allied natives struck, fell back, harassed and repeated these steps against the might of the Japanese Army.
Although at almost every step the Australians gave ground, they slowed down the Japanese advance to a crawl, while nibbling away at their forces until the invaders’ supply lines were hopelessly over-extended – and until the Australians could be reinforced. The tide of battle swiftly reversed, but the retreat of the Japanese was much less a fighting retreat than that of the Australians had been.
Motor Torpedo Boat PT-109, under the command of Lieutenant junior grade John F. Kennnedy, was one of 15 PT boats sent out on a mission to intercept the Tokyo Express on the night of August 1, 1943. Along with three other boats of the flotilla, it stayed behind to guard the retreat of the others and continue patrolling.
At about 2am in the morning, on a moonless night, the crew realised that they were about to collide with a Japanese ship. The destroyer Amagiri rammed them amidships, cutting the boat in half.
Under the command of Kennedy, all but two of the crew made it to safety on Plum Pudding Island, from which they were rescued by PT-157 six days later.
By Collections of the U.S. National Archives, downloaded from the Naval Historical Center , Public Domain, Link
As mentioned in:
PT-109 – Jimmy Dean
Consistently one of the highest ranked Presidents in United States history, far and away the longest serving President, and despite the long years since his death, one of the most controversial, Franklin Delano Roosevelt was only 63 years old when he died. It was his thirteenth consecutive year as President, and the last year of World War Two.
Roosevelt had long suffered from polio and his health had become increasingly fragile in the last years of his life, with the stress of leading his nation through World War Two taking its toll on him. In the last months of his life, he was diagnosed as suffering from hardening of the arteries, and his death was the the result of a cerebral hemorrhage. His death shocked and dismayed America and her allies, as the details of Roosevelt’s health had been a closely held secret. The nation mourned his lost, and on V-E Day, less than a month later, President Harry S. Truman, who had succeeded Roosevelt, dedicated the victory to the fallen man.
The world entered a new age – the nuclear age – when the scientists and soldiers of the Manhattan Project test detonated the first ever atomic bomb at White Sands in Nevada. Less than a month later, two more bombs just like it would destroy Hiroshima and Nagasaki, bringing World War Two to an abrupt end.
On the day, however, no one knew quite how destructive the bomb would be (some worried that it would ignite the entire atmosphere of the planet, for example), or how long its effects would last. But after the explosion, Robert Oppenheimer’s apropos quote from the Bhavagad Gita was generally agreed to be the most apt: “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”
The Enola Gay left its base on Tinian with two companion aircraft on the morning of AUhust 6, 1945. It flew for the Japanese mainland, aiming for the city of Hiroshima. Its payload was the nuclear bomb codenamed ‘Little Boy’, which was dropped and detonated over the target at approximately 8:15 local time.
Of the 340-350 thousand people who lived in Hiroshima, about 20% were killed in the blast itself. Another 20% died of injuries sustained in the blast or its aftermath, or from radiation sickness. Still more died later of related medical issues such as a cancer. All in all, about 200,000 human lives were ended by the first use of a nuclear bomb as a weapon of war. Hiroshima itself was devastated – the few structures that survived the inital blast were damaged or destroyed in the resulting fires.
Along with the detonation of another nuclear bomb, ‘Fat Man’, over Nagasaki three days later, and similar destruction and death there, the attack on Hiroshima was the proximate cause of Japan’s surrender to the Allies, thus ending World War Two.
During the Second World War, Japanese propagandist and DJ Tokyo Rose broadcasted to American and Allied soldiers from somewhere behind enemy lines. Her broadcasts were intended to disrupt morale, although it is questionable how much of a real effect thay had. Still, it was rumoured that she named individual GIs, and that she accurately predicted attacks.
In fact, “Tokyo Rose” seems to have been was not one woman but a group of women, possibly as many as a dozen. The identity or identities of Tokyo Rose hasve never been conclusively established, but the best known suspect is Iva Toguri D’Aquino, who was charged with various crimes related to Tokyo Rose on September 5, 1945 (two days after the official Japanese surrender).
She was tried for treason and other crimes, convicted despite somewhat dubious evidence against her, and sentenced to ten years imprisonment, plus a fine of US $10,000. She was later paroled after serving a little over six years of her sentence. In 1976, an FBI investigation found that several witnesses had lied on the stand to damage her chances. On his last day in office, President Gerald Ford granted Toguri a full and unconditional pardon, and restored her US citizenship.
Named for then US Secretary of State George Marshall, the Marshall Plan is one of the largest foreign aid schemes ever put in place by any nation. Beginning in 1948 and ending in 1951, the Marshall Plan gave over 12 billion dollars worth of aid to various Western European nations, intending to help them rebuild after World War Two.
In all, 16 nations – Portugal, Iceland, Ireland, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, West Germany, Belgium, Luxembourg, Holland, Switzerland, Austria, Norway, Sweden, Greece and Turkey – received differing amounts to assist in reconstruction, particularly of their industrial capacity and general infrastructure. The plan was originally supposed to last until 1953, but America was unable to afford this largess and the war in Korea at the same time.
The first of the pieces of legislation that would collectively form Apartheid to be created by the National Party after they took power in 1948. It was a self-evidently a pointless piece of law in its own right – only 0.23% of all marriages in South Africa from 1946-1948 were mixed – but it was the thin end of the Apartheid wedge, the beginning of that oh so slippery slope.
The law was repealed in 1995, after the fall of the Apartheid regime.
Joe McCarthy was a shameless political hack who hitched his wagon to that never-failing engine of conservative vote winning: the United States’ phobic response to the word Communism. It all began with one speech, given before the Republican Women’s Club of Wheeling, West Virginia on February 9, 1950. It hit all the notes he’d later become famous for: unsubstantiated accusations, specific numbers of people without anything resembling names, and the constant insistence that Communists in the USA (who numbered somewhere around 1% of 1% of the population) were imminently about to overthrow the government.
Over the next few years, McCarthy would go after the Reds under America’s beds, no matter where those beds might be. When he decided to take on the Red threat in the US military, he went too far. His meteoric career came to a screaming halt, and he died a pathetic alcoholic in 1957. But between 1950 and 1954, he changed the world – unfortunately, not for the better.
The Korean War was caused by the conditions holding since the end of World War Two. Korea had been split in half along the 38th parallel, with the USSR holding the north and the USA holding the south. As each sponsor state helped its occupied area to set up their own government, the two Koreas moved in increasingly different directions. Although negotiations for reunification continued almost up to the outbreak of war, tensions rose throughout the period especially from 1948 onwards.
On June 25th, 1950, North Korean forces poured over the border into South Korea, and the war began. The South Koreans were swiftly joined by a US-led coalition backed by the United Nations (the USSR was boycotting the UN Security Council at this point, and was thus unable to veto this action). The would last into 1953, costing hundreds of thousands of lives, until a ceasfire was negotiated, with the border still set roughly at the 38th parallel with little change to its pre-war location.
On June 25, 1950, North Korean forces poured over the border separating the North and South parts of the peninsula, invading South Korea. This was considered a threat by the United States for two reasons: first, because the North Korean regime was Communist, and the Domino Theory was still widely believed; and second, because if South Korea fell, it would threaten American and allied forces in Japan.
Two days later, America announced that it would come to the aid of South Korea. Aside from the desire to oppose Communism, the Truman administration was keenly aware of the failures of appeasement at the start of World War Two, and did not wish to repeat this mistake.
In the end, the Korean War would last a little more than three years, cost nearly 4 million lives in total, and set the precedent for the Vietnam War – all for some very minor changes in the border between the two states.
It’s commonly believed that this is where Nixon got his start in politics, but in fact he was a member of Congress (representing the California 12th) from 1946 to 1950. But by 1950, he’d made enough of an impact in California to secure the Republican nomination to run for the Senate.
His Democratic opponent was left-leaning Helen Gahagan Douglas, who was widely derided as an actress with no business in the serious world of politics despite having spent more years in Congress than Nixon had. Nixon won comfortably, but even in her defeat, Gahagan had the last laugh: she it was who bestowed upon Nixon his nickname of “Tricky Dick”, which would dog him for the rest of his career (and indeed, in the wake of Watergate, seem rather prophetic).
The nuclear tests at Enewetak were part of a series called Operation Greenhouse. The bombs in the Greenhouse series were smaller in size, weight and amount of fissile material used. At the time they were made, the US had already begun creating a stockpile of such weapons in advance of testing.
Operation Greenhouse was not the first test of the Eisenhower administration, but it was the first to take place at the Pacific Proving Grounds (which were, technically, not even US territory, being instead land held under a United Nations mandate). The aggressive testing schedule of 1951 was largely in response to Soviet Union’s first successful nuclear test in August 1949.
The Bantu Authorities Act was one of the major foundations of apartheid in South Africa. It permitted the forced removal of black Africans to government-designated “homelands” (or bantustans). There were a total of twenty such areas, located across South Africa and South West Africa (Namibia) – usually in the less desirable parts of the nation.
The South African government liked to pretend that these were independent states – this made it easy to justify spending very little on them, with the result that the black populations living in them lived in squalor and poverty. Those who had work had to travel to and from South Africa proper each day, for work that was poorly paid, and often unsafe and degrading.
The bantustans were abolished in 1994, when the era of apartheid finally ended.
Eisenhower didn’t originally want to run for President. He’d been repeatedly urged to by Harry Truman over the previous years, but Harry wanted Ike to be a Democrat, and Ike’s family were dyed-in-the-wool Republicans. At one point, he retorted to Truman that if he was going to run, it would be as a Republican, not a Democrat.
When word of that got out, Henry Cabot Lodge entered Eisenhower’s name on the ballot for the New Hampshire Primary without Ike’s knowledge. Garnering considerable popular support and a number of endorsements in newspaper editorials, Ike did no campaigning, saying only that if he won, he would contest the election. Eisenhower easily emerged victorious, winning 50% of the votes on March 11, 1952. The next day, he announced that he would indeed run, and come November, he was elected the 34th President of the United States. Richard Nixon was his Vice President.
CIA director Allen Dulles ordered the creation of the MKUltra project intending it to create techniques to fight what was believed to be an extensive Communist brain-washing program (at various times identified as being conducted by one of, or some combination of, North Korea, China and the USSR). Its scope became broader than that, attempting to create drugs for mind control, for compelling the truth from interrogation subjects, for duplicating the symptoms of various diseases, for stimulating or retarding aging, and more. Often, subjects were experimented on without their knowledge or consent, leading to several nervous breakdowns and at least one confirmed suicide, as people who did not know they were drugged assumed that they were losing their minds.
The project ran from 1953 through to 1973, although many of the records of it were destroyed in 1974 (a measure ordered by CIA director Richard Helms as the Watergate scandal mounted). This lack of records helped to conceal the extent and outcomes of the program when they were investigated by both the Church Committee and the Rockefeller Commission, but enough was found to confirm much of what was suspected of the program, and the information made public. A further investigation took place in 1977, after the discovery of MKUltra records that had escaped the destruction of the rest due to being misfiled. Afterwards, several of those drugged in the program sued the government for the lack of informed consent, not all of them successfully. Even now, it is not clear whether we know everything about the MKUltra program.
Beginning as a strike by 300 construction workers in East Berlin on June 16, 1953, what would become known as the East German Uprising rapidly spiralled out of control of the authorities.
This led to greater and greater measures being employed to stop the uprising, which only intensified the reaction on the part of the protestors. The flames of rebellion were fanned by West German radio, which broadcast the news all over communist-controlled East Germany, leading to a wave of sympathetic strikes across the entire nation that continued for some days after the 17th.
An estimated 40,000 protestors gathered in East Berlin the next day, and numerous other rallies, strikes and protests took place elsewhere in the nation. In the capital, the protests were brutally suppressed by Soviet troops, with nearly 500 deaths caused by rioting or summary executions, and just under another 2000 people injured. More than 5000 people were arrested for their roles in the uprising.
In later years, the anniversary was celebrated as a national holiday in West Germany, under the name of the “Day of German Unity”. In East Germany, it was remembered, but celebrated rather more furtively.
Julius and Ethel Greenglass Rosenberg were a married couple from New York City. Of Jewish-American origin, the two had met in 1936 at a meeting of the Young Communist League.
Julius joined in the army in 1940, where he served in the Signal Corps, working on radar equipment. He was recruited by the NKVD as a spy in 1942, and passed a considerable body of data to the Soviets, notably the proximity fuse used to shoot down Gary Powers in 1960.
But with the arrest of Klaus Fuchs at Los Alamos, the dominoes started to fall. Fuchs fingered another spy: his courier, Gold. Gold has also been a courier for David Greenglass – Ethel’s brother. Greenglass testified that he had been recruited by Julius, though he denied Ethel’s involvement.
The Rosenbergs were convicted on March 29, 1951, and sentenced to death on April 5. The conviction helped to fuel Senator Joseph McCarthy’s investigations into anti-American activities by U.S. citizens. While their devotion to the Communist cause was well-documented, the Rosenbergs denied the espionage charges even as they faced the electric chair. They were the only two American civilians to be executed for espionage-related activity during the Cold War.
The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists is one of the world’s most prestigious scientific publications in the world. Its first issue, published on December 10, 1945, was only two pages in length. It has grown since then.
In June of 1947, its cover featured, for the first time, what became known as the Doomsday Clock. This would become the regular cover for Bulletin, throughout the run of its print edition, and even today’s online version, which has no cover per se, maintains the clock. The number of minutes before midnight – measuring the degree of nuclear, environmental, and technological threats to mankind – is periodically corrected; when it was first published, the clock was set at seven minutes to midnight.
In September of 1953, Volume IX, Number 7, the Clock was set to 2 minutes to midnight – the closest they had ever been. The hands remained here until January of 1960, and in the following years, would peak at 17 minutes to midnight. In 2018, the hands were once again set to 2 minutes to midnight, where they remain to this day.
The fall of Dien Bien Phu marked the unofficial end of French Indo-China. The French Far East Expeditionary Corps was comprehensively defeated by the Viet Minh communist-nationalist revolutionaries – the first time that a colonial occupier had been so defeated. The causes of the defeat are many, but the two most prominent are the evolution of the Viet Minh from a loose group of disorganised guerilla bands into a force equivalent to standing national army, and a series of poor decisions made by the French defenders.
The Vietnamese victory came only after 55 days of battle, with large losses on both sides: as many as 2000 French dead and over 4000 Vietnamese. The fighting was close and deadly, often resembling the trench warfare of World War One as the siege progressed. In the final victory, almost 12,000 French prisoners were taken, and many died in captivity from wounds received in the fighting, or as a result of beatings, disease and starvation while imprisoned.
The official end of the first Indo-China War came later that year, although it would cast a long shadow, inspiring other rebellions in the French colonies of Madagascar and Algeria, two separate coups d’état in France itself, and of course, the Second Indo-China War – better known today as the Vietnam War.
Joseph McCarthy had been hunting the Reds under America’s beds for years when he turned his attention to the Army in 1953. But this time, it went badly for him. At the end of the Korean War, the Army was popular. And McCarthy’s own fortunes were fading, which fed his alcoholism and led to displays of arrogance as he tried to recapture the power he had once had.
In 1954, McCarthy was confronted by Joseph Welch, the Army’s head attorney. In a memorable exchange, he was repeatedly rebuked by Welch for trying to tar a young man in Welch’s office with his slurs. The part the Welch is most remembered for is these words:
“Let us not assassinate this lad further, Senator. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?”
Listen to the song – the actual sample appears in it.
Gamal Abdel Nasser was a colonel in the Egyptian army who wasn’t satisfied with the status quo of post-colonial Egypt. He had formed highly critical opinions of his political masters, especially King Farouk, as a result of his experiences in the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. Returning to Egypt, and drawing some inspiration from the contemporary coup d’etat in Syria, he began plotting revolution.
In 1952, the revolution began in earnest. Nasser and his allies eventually triumphed, with Muhammad Naguib becoming the first Egyptian President on June 18, 1953. But tensions between the factions of Nasser and Naguib were not eased by victory or the new responsibilities of government. After an assassination attempt that Nasser was able to blame on Naguib’s faction, which found its power greatly diminished by Nasser’s crackdown on them. Finally, in 1956, Nasser became the President de jure – he had had the de facto power of the title for a year or so by that point.
The fall of Cuba’s Batista government, after six years of fighting between government forces and Castro’s revolutionary army, was officially complete when Castro and his soldiers captured Havana on January 8, 1959.
Wild scenes of celebration ensued, as Castro’s army were hailed as liberators throughout the city. Law professor José Miró Cardona had created a new government with himself as prime minister and Manuel Urrutia Lleó as president on January 5, and the United States had officially recognized this new government two days later. Upon Castro’s arrival in Havana, he was appointed Commander-in-Chief of Cuba’s Armed Forces.
A month later, Miró suddenly resigned, and on February 16, 1959, Castro was sworn in as Prime Minister of Cuba.
By Anonymous – Museo Che Guevara (Centro de Estudios Che Guevara en La Habana, Cuba), Public Domain, Link
As mentioned in:
We Didn’t Start The Fire — Billy Joel
On May 1, American pilot Gary Powers was shot down while flying a Lockheed U-2 over the USSR on a covert surveillance mission, photographing military and other targets. Four days later, the American government released disinformation stating that Powers had gone missing and was presumed dead while flying over Northern Turkey. On May 7, Khrushchev released information demonstrating that the Americans had lied, causing a massive loss of face to the Eisenhower administration, and heightening Cold War tensions. Not only was Powers still alive, but his plain had been captured mostly intact. Indeed, the Soviets were even able to develop some of the photos Powers had taken.
This was unfortunate timing, to say the least, as the Four Powers summit in Paris was due to begin on May 14. Krushchev demanded an apology from the United States, and when Eisenhower proved recalcitrant, he walked out of the summit. Soviet-American relations deteriorated notably as a result of these incidents.
Powers was tried for espionage, pleaded guilty and was convicted on August 19, Although his sentence called for 3 year’s imprisonment and 7 years of hard labor, he served only one and three-quarter years of the sentence before returning to the West in a hostage swap deal.
Originally launched on October 21, 1950 at Krasnoye Sormovo Factory in Gorky, the S-80 was a Whiskey Class submarine, and was later overhauled between 1957 and 1959. On January 27, 1961, the S-80 was sailing through the Barents Sea (a portion of the Arctic Ocean between the Svalbard Islands and the Arkhangelsk Oblast, directly north of Murmansk). At about 1:27am, the S-80 dropped below snorkel depth, but a mechanical fault caused portions of the submarine to flood.
Alarm spread, but not as quickly as the water and the cascading mechanical faults. In the end, a total of 68 men – the complete complement of officers and crew – lost their lives in the sinking. The S-80 and the men aboard it were not found for seven and a half years.
Give the US Army some credit: their solution to the fact that they were ill-trained for fighting in jungles was a simple one. They’d simply get rid of the jungle. While there was some earlier testing of herbicides in 1961, it wasn’t until 1962 that large scale deployment of the Rainbow Herbicides – Agents Pink, White, Purple, Green, Blue and (most infamously) Orange – began. Over the course of ten years, until 1971, nearly 20 million gallons of assorted herbicides would be used.
The policy was largely a failure at its stated goal, but it did do wonders for the bottom lines of various military contractors and led to a boom in birth defects among the children of soldiers and civilians exposed to it on both sides in the years to follow the war.
By USAF – Scan from Dana Bell, Air War over Vietnam, Volume IV. Arms and Armour Press, London, Harrisburg (PA), 1984, ISBN 0853686351, p. 11, cites U.S. Air Force as source., Public Domain, Link
As mentioned in:
Orange Crush — R.E.M.
Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov was a Soviet Navy officer with the rank of Flotilla Commander who saw action during the Cuban Missile Crisis. On September 27, 1062, in his position as both flotilla commander, and second-in-command of the Russian submarine B-59, Arkhipov refused his captain’s authorisation for the use of nuclear torpedoes against the United States Navy, a decision requiring the agreement of all three senior officers aboard (the three officers in question being the captain, Arkhipov and the political officer).
Arkhipov kept arguing with the captain until they agreed to a compromise of surfacing and letting Moscow make the decision. Moscow did not authorise the use of nuclear weapons, fearing that such use would lead to an all out thermonuclear exchange, and likely the destruction of the entire world.
Arkhipov’s later career saw him rise the rank of vice-admiral before he eventually retired during the 1980’s and later died in 1998. After his death, the Russians revealed the truth of his role in preventing nuclear war in 1962, and Arkhipov was hailed by politicians, leaders and ordinary people the world over for the heroism he displayed.
César Chávez is perhaps the most famous Latino or Mexican-American civil rights activist in history. He was a very astute user of the media, and made the union cause very sympathetic to the American public.
One of the major steps in this process was the formation of the he National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) in 1962. Later called the United Farm Workers, which was created by the merger Agricultural Workers Organizing Committee (AWOC) led by Filipino organizer Larry Itliong, and the National Farm Workers Association (NFWA) led by Chávez.
“The Feminine Mystique” is the book most credited with kickstarting Second Wave Feminism. Betty Friedan took aim at a number of targets, most of them to do with assumptions that the current roles of women in American society. Friedan disagreed with Freudian psychology and functionalism in sociology, pointing out how often each was used to suggest that societal roles were biologically determined.
Friedan received a huge number of letters from women, and as a result founded the National Organisation of Women (which she became the first president of), one of the most influential feminist organisations in America. It’s a damned shame that so much as what Friedan was criticising remains true in society.
Cardinal Montini of Milan has been considered by some as a potential papal candidate in 1958, but as a non-member of the College of Cardinals was not eligible for selection. Pope John XXIII was chosen instead, seen as something of a non-entity and a safe choice by those who voted for him. He turned out to be the greatest reformer the Papacy had seen in centuries, calling the epochal Vatican Council II that changed the dogma and practices of the Catholic Church more than any single event since the Council of Nicea 1600 years earlier.
John died in office, and Giovani Montini became Pope Paul VI, inheriting the still going on Vatican Council II, which he saw completed and its reforms implemented over the course of his 15 year reign. Paul’s particular focus was restoring relations with the Orthodox churches of Eastern Europe who had split from the Catholic Church centuries earlier, but he excluded no one in his reaching out to all Christians, other faiths and even atheists. He was also the first Pope to visit six continents.
On October 8, 1963, en route to Shreveport, Louisiana, Cooke called ahead to the Holiday Inn North to make reservations for his wife, Barbara, and himself. When the Cooke party arrived, the desk clerk told them there were no vacancies. While his brother Charles protested, Sam was furious, yelling to see the manager and refusing to leave until he received an answer. His wife nudged him, attempting to calm him down, telling him, “They’ll kill you,” to which he responded, “They ain’t gonna kill me, because I’m Sam Cooke.”
The group drove away calling out insults and blaring their horns, heading for the Castle Motel on Sprague Street in downtown Shreveport. But the police were waiting for them there, and arrested the group for disturbing the peace. The New York Times ran a UPI report the next day, headlined “Negro Band Leader Held in Shreveport,” and African-Americans and their allies in the Civil Rights movement across the country were outraged.
Cooke wrote “A Change Is Gonna Come” inspired by and about this experience. The song went on to become an anthem of the Civil Rights Movement, and is widely considered Cooke’s greatest composition, and one of the greatest songs in the history of popular music. In 2019, then-Shreveport mayor Adrian Perkins apologized to Cooke’s family for the event, and posthumously awarded Cooke the key to the city.
One of the defining events of its era, the assassination of President Kennedy remains a remarkably controversial one, even today. Conspiracy theories abound as to who shot Kennedy and why.
While the official story, that Lee Harvey Oswald did it, with the rifle, in the book depository, is plausible, it is also notably incomplete – there are any number of holes and anomalies in it. The murder of Oswald only two days later, before he could stand trial, has done nothing to quell these uncertainties.
On a symbolic level, the death of Kennedy was the end of an era in many ways. Quite aside from the idealism that he brought to the nation, his death marked a change in the way America saw itself – no longer the lily-white paladin, but more the grim avenger willing do the dirty work no one else would – although in fairness, this change of self-image would take the rest of the decade to be complete.
When it was first created, the Neutron Bomb was hailed as a triumph of efficiency and progress. In theory, it would kill the population of its affected area, while leaving the buildings standing. The bomb would have a lesser degree of heat and concussive force than an ordinary nuclear bomb, but a greatly increased amount of radiation.
The bomb was never used in a combat situation, and its production has been largely discontinued. The United States, the Soviet Union, China and France all had developed neutron bombs, but no country is currently known to deploy them.
The Selma to Montgomery marches were a series of civil rights protests held in Alabama during March 1965. The first of them took place on March 7 of that year, when between a group of 500 and 600 negroes began a march from Selma to Montgomery, the state capitol, with the intention of registering to vote – something legally permitted under the United States Civil Rights Act of 1964, but resisted with every legal means and quite a few extra-legal means in many states, especially in the southern United States.
The march began peacefully, but when the marchers reached the Edmund Pettus Bridge, which spanned both the Alabama river and the Dallas County line, their path was blocked by state troopers and county policemen, some of them deputised specifically for this task. The police attacked the marches with batons, tear gas and mounted charges. 17 marchers were hospitalised and 50 more treated for lesser injuries. A photograph of Amelia Boynton, beaten unconscious and lying on the road of the bridge, became front page news, and the reaction was swift. President Lyndon Johnson and Martin Luther King both condemned the violence, as did many others. A second march was held on Tuesday, March 9, and a third on March 21-25. The third march began with around 8000 people, but that number had swelled to 25000 by its final day. In the end, the voting rights of the protesters were upheld by the courts, but the struggle was long and painful.
The Dominican Civil War was not even a week old before Lyndon Johnson decided that it posed a threat to US interests (to be fair to Johnson, the Cuban Missile Crisis was only three years earlier, and Johnson was worried that ‘another Cuba’ was about to form). The US Marines landed near Santo Domingo (the capital of the Dominican Republic) on April 28, and had captured the city within a day or so – the Constitutionalist forces surrendered the city on the following day.
The Dominican Civil War dragged on until September, and American forces remained in occupation until July of the following year, when somebody the US liked could be elected.
On November 24, 1963, Jack Ruby changed the course of history when he shot and killed Lee Harvey Oswald before Oswald could stand trial for the murder of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Since Oswald was in police custody at the time, Ruby was swiftly arrested and brought to trial.
Throughout the course of his trial and later statements, Ruby gave a number of contradictory statements regarding his motives for the murder. One point on which he did remain solid over the years was his insistence that he had acted alone, and was no part of any conspiracy to kill the President. In trial, he was convicted and sentenced to death, a sentence he managed to have overturned in 1965.
However, before his case could be retried, Ruby entered hospital on December 9, 1966. Although he complained only of a cold, doctors diagnosed him with cancer, and he died less than a month later, convinced that his cancer had been artificially created and that he was being murdered.
The County Borough of Blackburn was, in 1967, the governing body of the Blackburn area. Blackburn is an industrial town in Lancashire, but one that was declining as a result of the cotton industry’s slow fading away. Perhaps it shouldn’t be a surprise, therefore, that in that year, the roads in the borough had 4000 potholes in them – one for every 26 people living in the affected area.
The newspaper story about this incident, extrapolating from these figures, calculated that there must be two million such potholes in Britain’s roads, with 15% of them (300,000) in London. The fact that there are 4000 holes there is probably the single most widely-known fact about Blackburn, although presumably at least some of them have been repaired in the nearly 5 decades since John Lennon drew them to our attention.
From slight beginnings, Rolling Stone magazine would go on to become one of the world’s great organs of music journalism, while also gaining respect for its excellent political reportage. The brain child of Jann Wenner, who started in San Francisco with borrowed money, it differed from most of the underground press at that time by eschewing radical politics (while still being notably left-leaning) and aspiring to standards of professional journalism.
One of their early successes was the serialisation of Hunter S. Thompson’s Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in its pages, the first publication of that legendary work. Aside from Thompson, notable writers for Rolling Stone have included Cameron Crowe, Lester Bangs, P.J. O’Rourke and Matt Taibbi.
Never fear, Hook fans: they were finally featured on the cover of the Rolling Stone (albeit as a caricature rather than a photo). It is unknown how many copies they bought for their mothers.
About 200 protestors gathered outside a bowling alley in Orangeburg, South Carolina to demonstrate in favour of the civil rights movement and in opposition to the Vietnam War. After the demonstration moved on to the South Carolina State University campus, police intervened. Accounts of what happened next varied – the police have always claimed that they were returning fire after being fired upon, but no other witness to the events has ever corroborated this, and the majority stated that the police fired first, and so far as can be determined, the protestors were not carrying any firearms.
In the chaos that followed, three African-American teenagers – Samuel Ephesians Hammond Jr., Delano Herman Middleton, and Henry Ezekial Smith – were shot dead by police. At least 26 other protestors were injured. Although nine police officers faced charges as a result of the shooting, all were acquitted. On four occasions since 2003, the South Carolina state legislature has failed to hold a vote on whether to mount an official investigation into the killings.
The Mỹ Lai Massacre is the best known American military atrocity in history. It was committed by U.S. Army soldiers from the Company C of the 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 11th Brigade of the 23rd (American) Infantry Division. Estimates of the total death toll vary from 347 (the American estimate) to 504 (the Vietnamese estimate), and included men, women, children and infants. Some of the women were also raped.
The army initially was quite successful in covering up the massacre, and it was not until October 1969 that the first reports of it appeared in the American media. Public outcry was swift and vociferous. 14 officers were court-martialed for the killings, but only one – by the merest coincidence, the same one who had talked to the media – was convicted. Lt. William Calley was convicted on 20 charges of murder, and served a total of three and a half years for these crimes before being paroled.
Martin Luther King won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964, after years of non-violent struggle for civil rights. By 1967, he was moving on from that. While it remained an important part of his goals, he had also become a vocal opponent of the Vietnam War and in 1967 established the Poor People’s Campaign – both of which reflected an approach to social justice that was increasingly based on class rather than race.
King was assassinated in Memphis, Tennessee as he stood on the balcony of his hotel. A single shot fired by James Earl Ray caused a remarkable amount of damage, and although King was raced to a nearby hospital by his friends, the doctors were unable to save him. His death led to riots in many American cities (other than Indianapolis, where Bobby Kennedy made one of the greatest speeches of his career, and found his plea for cooler heads heeded), and a national day of mourning was declared by the President.
For eight glorious months in 1968, it appeared that some of the liberalisation that was sweeping the West had taken root in Czechoslovakia. The Prague Spring, as it was called, was a period when political controls on the populace of the nation were relaxed: restrictions of movement, speech and commerce were all reduced or removed, and the people rejoiced.
The Prague Spring came to an end when the Soviet Union decided to demonstrate why it had absorbed the easternmost portion of Czechoslovakia at the end of World War Two: without the defensible mountains of the Carpathian range to protect, there was little to stop the tanks of the Soviets – and those of Poland, Hungary and Bulgaria – rolled into the country, and restored Soviet control and Soviet oppression. It would be another 21 years until the Velvet Revolution fulfilled the promise of the Prague Spring.
The People’s Park in Berkeley was first created in 1969. The site was formerly occupied by houses, but those began to be demolished pending redevelopment by the University of California in February 1968. However, the money ran out. Only partially demolished, the site was allowed to sit derelict for more than a year. In April 1969, the site was occupied by a mixed of group of local residents and political activists who declared it the People’s Park. The university was caught off-guard by this, but negotiated with the occupiers, eventually promising to notify and consult them before proceeding with any developments.
Governor of California, Ronald Reagan, regarded this agreement as an outrageous capitulation to people he characterised as “communist sympathizers, protesters, and sex deviants.” On Thursday, May 15, 1969, he dispatched officers of the Califorian Highway Patrol and the Berkeley police precinct to clear the park, which they entered at 4:30 in the morning. But the occupiers resisted, and more protestors arrived to aid in the struggle. By midday, more than 3000 people had gathered in an attempt to reclaim the now fenced-off park from the 159 law enforcement personnel assigned to patrol its borders. Protestors threw rocks and bottles at police, police fired pepper gas and tear gas canisters at protestors, and the situation deteriorated.
Both sides were reinforced by new arrivals, bringing the total number of police to 791 and the total of protestors to more than 4000. Police began to fire shotguns into the crowd, causing more than 100 injuries (129 hospital admissions and an unknown number of unreported injuries). One protestor, a UC Berkeley student named James Rector, was killed in the struggle. Undeterred, Reagan sent 2700 National Guard troops to restore order that evening, declaring a curfew throughout Berkeley and arresting large numbers of students, hippies and other ‘suspicious characters’. The following April, Reagan publicly said of the incident “If it takes a bloodbath, let’s get it over with.” He remains a hero of the Republican Party to this day.
The first President of Vietnam, who died on the 24th anniversary of his accession to that role, Ho Chi Minh is best known in the west as the leader of North Vietnam during the early parts of the Vietnam War. In particular, he was responsible for the move away from traditional military engagements towards the guerilla tactics that eventually (as he predicted) wore the US down.
Ho Chi Minh was 79 years old when he died, and had lived through French, Japanese and then French occupation again in his life. He was a staunch communist, abandoning his birth name of Nguyễn Sinh Cung in token of his ideals, and a firm believer in an independent Vietnam.
After his death, his body was embalmed, and has been on display in a mausoleum in Ba Dinh Square in Hanoi ever since, even though his will requested that he be cremated.
In 1960, Nigeria achieved independence from the British Empire. Following independence, Nigeria was divided primarily along ethnic lines and in January 1966, members of the Igbo ethnic group began a military rebellion, intending to secede from Nigeria and form an independent sovereign state as the Republic of Biafra.
The official secession was proclaimed in May 1967, but was followed almost immediately by an invasion. The Nigerian army reclaimed its lost territory inch by blood soaked inch, and finally, a ceasefire was reached in January 12, 1970. Over one million people had died in the war.
Idi Amin was already fairly notorious by 1971. As the commander in cheif of Uganda’s armed forces, he had recruited heavily amongst tribes not sympathetic to the Ugandan majority, and built himself a considerable power base. The Ugandan Prime Minister, Milton Obote – formerly an ally to Amin, but now worried about his subordinate’s increasingly obvious ambitions – reclaimed that post in October 1970, reducing Amin in rank to commander in cheif of the army.
In January 1971, Amin struck back. In a lightning military coup, he seized power on January 25. Publically, Amin announced that he was a soldier, not a politician. He promised that his military government would be only a caretaker regime until new elections could be held, and to release all political prisoners. On February 2, he proclaimed himself President of Uganda, a post which he held until he too was deposed, in 1979, after years of corruption, ethnic cleansing and economic mismanagement.
The facts of the matter are distressingly simple: United States Army troops, under the immediate command of 2nd Lieutenant William Calley, entered the village of Son My in Vietnam on March 16, 1968. They killed an unknown number of people in that village, generally estimated to be between 100 and 400. Some of them were assaulted or raped before their deaths; almost all of them were non-combatants.
The army covered it up. An investigative committe headed by one Colin Powell whitewashed the incident, and so it might have remained, had not some of the men in the unit (and others who knew them), made great efforts to bring it to the attention of the American government and media. Investigative reporter Seymour Hersh began investigating the story nearly a year after the events of the massacre, and eventually formed a fairly full picture of it, largely from conversations with Calley. The story was published in 33 newspapers on November 12, 1969. It was immediately controversial, and strongly increased opposition to the war in America. Hersh won a Pullitzer in 1970 for his efforts; Calley was convicted of murder in 1971 for his. He was the only person convicted of any crimes in relation to the massacre.
On January 30, 1972, the Northern Ireland Civil Rights Association held a rally which marched through the Bogside area of Derry, in Northern Ireland. And that’s about the last detail that anyone agrees on for the next few hours.
Accounts of the size of the crowd vary from 300 to 30,000, and of its behaviour even moreso. The level of hostility by each side to the other is disputed, with each accusing the other of causing the events that followed.
What happened after that is not disputed. Members of the UK armed forces, primarily representing the 1st Battalion, Parachute Regiment, opened fire on the march. 26 protestors were shot by police and military forces, half of those fatally (another died months later from injuries attributed to the shots). Two more were injured when hit by military vehicles.
Understandably, the event became known as Bloody Sunday.
On the morning of June 17, 1972, a young journalist named Bob Woodward was working the court beat in Washington DC. It was a pretty dull assignment for the most part, until that day, when five men – Virgilio González, Bernard Barker, James W. McCord, Jr., Eugenio Martínez, and Frank Sturgis – were arraigned for a burglary at the Watergate Complex, which housed the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee.
The five men were operatives in the pay of the Nixon government, and the most notorious scandal in United States political history was only beginning. By the time it was over, Woodward and his co-writer Bernstein would be household names, as would their informant, known for more than two decades by no other name than the alias of Deep Throat. Moreover, Nixon would resign in disgrace, and numerous members of his government would wind up facing criminal charges for their participation in the burglary, the cover-up that followed, and any number of other such dirty tricks that the Nixon White House, which referred to these activities as “ratfucking”, was wont to engage in.
Jane Fonda, daughter of Henry Fonda, and a well-respected actress in her own right, was also a prominent anti-war activist during the Vietnam War. She went further than most others did, though. She visited Hanoi, meeting with North Vietnamese officials and American prisoners of war. On August 22, 1972, she made a broadcast of her impressions from her visit, and was photographed wearing an NVA uniform.
These facts are undeniable. Pretty much everything else regarding her visit is a matter of considerable controversy. A persistent rumour states that she handed notes passed to her by POWs to the NVA, leading to the torture of those prisoners. However, the prisoners actually named in this rumour (circulated as an email), have denied that she did this – and made it clear that they are no fans of her actions, either.
One of, if not the, most controversial cases in the history of jurisprudence in the United States, Roe v. Wade (in full: Jane Roe, et al. v. Henry Wade, District Attorney of Dallas County) was the decision that drew the line stating where in a pregnancy an abortion could occur – and not coincidentally, drew a big line in the cultural divide of America.
Ultimately, the decision provided that abortions could occur at any point prior to the third trimester of the pregnancy – and being the decision of the highest Federal court, it overrode the laws and court decisions of every state in the union. The court’s decision was based on the Constitutional right to due process (as specified in the 14th Amendment), and the more implicit right to privacy.
The decision satisfied no one, and the debate regarding abortion (for a value of debate that includes the occasional murder committed by people who hold “thou shalt not kill” as one of their most sacred moral precepts) continues even today.
Patricia Hearst was 19 years old when she was kidnapped from her apartment by the Symbionese Liberation Army. Heir to the Hearst family’s millions, she was originally kidnapped for the ransom money, but soon became a victim of Stockholm Syndrome. On April 3, she announced that she had joined the SLA, adopting the name Tania.
Two weeks later, she participated in a bank robbery alongside other members of the Army, and a warrant for her arrest was issued. She was arrested in September, tried and sentenced to 35 years imprisonment. Later, Hearst was pardoned of all crimes, and became an occasional actress.
It is the single greatest scandal to have ever touched the office of the President of the United States: Richard Nixon was impeached by Congress. Which is to say, he was charged with criminal offences related to his office. More specifically, the charges related to his role in the Watergate scandal and its attendant (and failed) cover-up.
In little more than a fortnight, Nixon would resign the Presidency in shame, and his hand-picked successor would immediately give him the quid pro quo of a pardon that also covered Nixon for “crimes yet to be discovered.” This allowed Nixon to avoid actually facing the charges against him, and made him one of the few people to have been pardoned for crimes he was never convicted of, or even tried for; and also did untold damage to the institution of the Presidency, which would never again be as respected as it had been before 1973.
After the long, slow death of a thousand cuts that was the Watergate scandal, Nixon’s decision to resign from the Presidency – even in disgrace – must have come as something of a relief to him. Starting with the Watergate break-in, on June 17, 1972, which led to the revelation of the Nixon administration’s dirty tricks squad – and getting worse and worse as the attempted cover-up ballooned and failed.
Nixon fought, though. He fought as hard as could, as long as he could – for more than two years. But in the end, his only remaining choice was to leave on his own terms before he was forced out. The pardon that his hand-picked successor gave him – which was for all crimes including those yet to be discovered – was no doubt also a consideration.
The Khmer Rouge were a Communist movement allied to the Viet Cong. When the United States military pulled out of Vietnam and Cambodia in 1975, they left a power vacuum that their opponents were quick to exploit. The Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot, championed a particularly oppressive form of dictatorship that called for a return to medieval technology and an abandonment of urbanisation.
With the fall of the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh, the Khmer Rouge took control of the country. All the citizens of Cambodia were forced to leave the cities, to practice subsistence agriculture in the rural areas. The regime was infamous for its cruelty and brutality, to say nothing of its near genocidal policies. It is estimated that in the four years of their reign, as many as two million people were killed, either in concentration camps, summary executions or simple starvation. In fact, during the years of the Khmer Rouge, Cambodia became known as the Killing Fields – more than 20,000 separate mass graves were created in these years.
On November 11, 1975, then Governor-General John Kerr dismissed the ALP government of Gough Whitlam and installed Leader of the Opposition Malcolm Fraser (of the Liberal Party) as a caretaker Prime Minister until a double dissolution election could be held.
The precipitate cause was the inability of the ALP government to pass Supply (Budget) bills in the face of a hostile Senate. However, Whitlam, unaware of Kerr’s decision when they arranged to meet that morning, had planned to call a half-Senate election, which would likely have solved that particular problem. Kerr, however, had already made his decision. While, under the Australian Constitution, he had the legal power to take this action, he was widely seen as lacking the moral authority.
The double dissolution election was held on December 13, 1975, and delivered a massive victory to Fraser, allowing him to govern in earnest. (Under the terms of his caretakership, he had not been permitted to introduce any legislation other than passing Supply bills and calling the election.) Ironically, December 13 is also when Whitlam’s planned half-Senate election would have taken place.
Steve Biko was born in King William’s Town, south Africa in 1946. He went to the University of Natal, where he studied medicine. While he was studying, he became involved in various political causes. By the late sixties, he was head of the Black Consciousness Movement, a grassroots anti-apartheid movment.
Biko and the BCM played a significant role in organising the series of protests which culminated in the Soweto Uprising of 16 June, 1976. In the aftermath of the uprising, which was crushed by heavily armed police shooting school children protesting, the authorities began to target Biko further.
On the 21st of August, 1977, he was arrested at a roadblock. He was assaulted while in custody, and suffered severe injuries. On the 11th of September, he was driven, naked in the back of a police vehicle and still badly injured, for 1500 miles to Pretoria prison. He was declared dead shortly his arrival there, which the police claimed was due to a hunger strike.
Biko became a martyr of the anti-apartheid movement, and in a more general sense, of oppressed peoples everywhere.
Albino Luciani was the Patriarch of Venice, prior to his ascension to the throne of St Peter. He was much loved as a Pope, both for his humilty and his general joyousness.
His Papal name, John Paul, combined the name of his two immediate predecessors, John XXIII and Paul VI – and was subsequently the name of his successor – largely due to the fact that John Paul I died after only 34 days in office (which makes him the eleventh shortest lived Pope).
His theology was unusually liberal for a Pope, including discussing the possibility of ending the church’s opposition to contraception. For this reason, along with Luciani’s comparative youth (he was 65 when he died, young for a Pope), it is widely rumoured that he was assassinated (which would hardly be unprecedented for a Pope), but no conclusive evidence has ever emerged.
One of the briefest reigning popes, Pope John Paul I (his papal named honoured his two immediate predecessors, John XXIII and Paul VI) died at the age of 65, apparently of a heart attack. Inevitably, conspiracy theories regarding his death were widespread later that same day – institutions as powerful and secretive as the Vatican tend to breed them like flies.
Still, it is interesting that John Paul I was one of the most liberal Popes in many years (possibly even moreso than the current Pope Francis), and that his expressed positions on many issues dismayed the more conservative Catholics. His two immediate successors to the Papal throne were both very much hardline conservatives, who were quick to throw cold water on some of John Paul’s planned reforms. The former Cardinal Albino Luciani’s greatest legacy would be his papal name – his successor called himself John Paul II. (Disappointingly, no subsequent pope has named himself George Ringo.)
One of the most controversial British heads of state since King Charles I, Margaret Thatcher was 64 when she became Prime Minister, and had been in Parliament for twenty years. She rapidly became known for the strength of her convictions – which unfortunately included more than a few she’d developed after drinking the free market kool aid.
Margaret Thatcher would serve as Prime Minister until 1990, presiding over the privatisation of many government services and Britain’s successful prosecution of the Falklands War in 1982. Few world leaders have ever been as hated by the left, or as good at unintentionally recruiting for it.
The Iranian Revolution of 1979 was a decisive turn against Western influences, and a new, theocratic constitution that effectively made Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini dictator for life as part of a return to Islamic values. Among these was the banning of almost all Western culture, including most modern music. (With the exception of some music by Queen – the late great Freddie Mercury was of Persian descent, after all.)
Khomeini is gone now, but the bans remain in place.
Oscar Romero was a passionate advocate of social justice and human rights. As the Catholic Archbishop of San Salvador (the capital of El Salvador), this made him one of the repressive government’s most highly placed and widely respected opponents. He repeatedly called for the soldiers who served on the Salvadorian “Death Squads” to lay down their arms and end their brutal repression of their fellow Christians.
In order to send a message in no uncertain terms, he was shot and killed while celebrating mass on Sunday, March 24, 1980. His funeral on the following Saturday was disrupted by further assaults. Although in the short term Romero’s opponents succeeded in silencing him, they made of him a martyr to the cause of all who would oppose them. Today, thirty years later, Oscar Romero is a candidate for sainthood in the faith he gave his life for.
The 1980 United States presidential election was among the most bitterly fought of the Twentieth Century. Four years after the electorate had punished them for Watergate and Vietnam, the Republicans roared back into power behind Ronald Reagan, who crushed sitting President Jimmy Carter, winning 44 of the 50 states in the Electoral College. Carter’s defeat set a number of records for a Democratic President – none of them good.
Under Reagan, the United States would spend the 1980s being increasing bellicose and interventionist, just at the time that the USSR was collapsing under the weight of its own contradictions. Domestically, he began the trend of deregulation and globalization that led to such triumphs as the 2008 Global Financial Crisis. His eight years as President are still remembered by Republicans as a golden age, thus disproving the notion that viagra has no psychological side effects.
Bobby Sands was 27 years old and a member of the British Parliament when he died in the Maze prison in Lisburn, Northern Ireland. He had spent the last 66 days of his life in a hunger strike, protesting to be declared a political prisoner rather than a regular criminal – his sentence in the Maze was as a result of his actions with the IRA.
In death, Sands became a martyr to the cause of Irish liberation, and attracted sympathetic messages from allies of the IRA all over the world, as well as neutrally aligned governments and media outlets. Perhaps the best summation came from the Hong Kong Standard, which stated that it was ‘sad that successive British governments have failed to end the last of Europe’s religious wars.’ Thirty years and more gone, and that war grinds on.
A three-part memorial located in Washington DC, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial consists of three parts.
The largest is the Memorial Wall, on which the names of more than 50,000 men and woman who died or went missing in action are listed chronologically in order of death, from 1955 to 1975. The other two are a sculpture called The Three Soldiers and the Vietnam Women’s Memorial.
The memorial was opened in 1982, and represented an important milestone in America’s long healing process after the chaos and death of the Vietnam War. It remains a popular tourist attraction today.
Ronald Reagan was, it’s fair to say, something of an ideologue. And that quality was never more on display than the day when he addressed the 41st Annual Convention of the National Association of Evangelicals. It was in this speech that he labelled the USSR both an ‘evil empire’ and also ‘the focus of evil in the modern world’. Reagan liked to portray himself as living in a simple world of absolutes, of good and evil. (In truth, the man, his worldview and the actual world were also significantly more complex than that.)
In a prideful speech, he decried the temptation of pride, which in his construction, would have meant disagreeing with him. His conservative base lapped it up, but the speech heightened tensions in the Cold War. Five years later, when meeting with new Soviet leader Gorbachev, Reagan walked back his earlier words, saying that his opinion had changed. So perhaps he was better able to resist the temptation of pride than he’s given credit for.
It was one of those moments that America thinks is funny – and wonders why the rest of us don’t.
President Ronald Reagan, not realising that the mike he was on was live, joked that he had passed legislation to end the Russian threat forever. The punchline, of course, was “We begin bombing in five minutes.”
Now, there are conspiracy theories aplenty about whether or not he actually knew the microphone was live, but he remained stalwart in his claims that he had not, and that was good enough for most people. It remains an oddity in American politics: a shocking gaffe that probably helped Reagan win re-election later that year.
The 1984 United States presidential election was a victory lap for Reagan, and he achieved the greatest electoral college majority in American history. Four years into his Presidency, he was only getting more popular with the electorate.
Reagan’s second term would be marred by scandal, especially the Iran-Contra scandal, by a resolute refusal to acknowledge the growing AIDS epidemic and by the growing perception that Reagan himself was becoming increasingly detached from the day to day duties of his office. (He was later diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease in 1994, but when the earliest symptoms manifested is a bitterly contested issue.) His eight years as President are still remembered by Republicans as a golden age, thus disproving the notion that viagra has no psychological side effects.
In the 1980s, the two most insecure men in the world were Ronald Reagan and Muammar Qaddafi, both of whom were aging wannabe-alpha males whose greatest fear was being thought weak. Unfortunately, one of them was the US President and the other was the dictator of Libya. So the clash of egos played out in civilian lives lost to terrorism and military lives lost to reprisal.
In 1986, Libyan agents bombed a nightclub in West Germany on April 5, killing three people (one of them a US serviceman) and injuring 229 more. Ten days later, the US sent a force of 45 jets to raid a range of military targets in Libya. The raid was considered a major success, destroying barracks, aircraft and air defences, and killing 45 soldiers and 15-30 civilians. Two members of the attacking force were also killed.
Reagan celebrated like he was personally responsible for the success of the mission; Qaddafi fumed and escalated his support of anti-US terrorism; most of the world condemned both leaders for their actions and the actions they ordered.
The Velvet Revolution was a non-violent revolution in Czechoslovakia, following on from the fall of the Communist regimes of East Germany, Hungary and Poland. It began when police suppressed a protest march on November 17. The suppression led to a range of other protests across the country, starting from November 19. Some of the strikes became permanent, and even the state controlled media could not hide the mounting chaos.
After ten days, the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia came to the conclusion that they could no longer hold power. They gave up their monopoly on power, and the following day, the constitution was amended to remove their leading role in the state. Although free elections were not held until June of 1990, it was on this day that Communist rule ended in Czechoslovakia.
Like the Communist Parties of all the Eastern European states, the Bulgarian Communist Party found its power and authority undermined by the reforms made by Mikhail Gorbachev in the Perestroika era. The immediate cause of the fall of the Communists was the break up of a demonstration in Sofia in October 1989. Public outcry led to the replacement of Todor Zhivkov, the ruling autocrat, with Petar Mladenov, but this was too little too late.
As the people of Bulgaria remained restive, and as other Communist states in Eastern Europe fell (notably the fall of the Berlin Wall in East Germany and the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia that November), demands for similar reforms mounted. Finally, Mladenov complied. On December 11, he announced on national television that Communist Party would relinquish power, and in June of the following year, the first free elections since 1939 were in held.
Merry Christmas Romania! Have a free democratic state, a dictator’s corpse and a happy new year!
One of the most vicious dictators of the Communist era, Nicolae Ceauşescu is perhaps second only to Stalin in sheer numbers of his own people that he had executed. He was the President of Romania for more than 22 years, and in that time, he made a lot of enemies, chiefly among his own citizens.
The 1989 revolutions across Eastern Europe gave inspiration to Romanians, and on December 16, an uprising began in Timişoara in response to yet another attempt by the Ceauşescu regime to stamp out religion. By December 22, Ceauşescu and his wife Elena were attempting to flee the country, but to no avail. On Christmas Day, they were tried and sentenced to execution. The Ceauşescus were killed by a three member firing squad. They were not much missed.
A noted populariser of the ideas of Alfred Korzybski, especially general semantics, Samuel Ichiye Hayakawa was a Japanese-American academic. He wrote numerous books on semantics and language, some of which remain in use as textbooks even today (notably his “Language in Thought and Action” which is now in its fifth edition).
Hayakawa was the president of San Francisco State College from 1968 to 1973. As president, his most notable action was the creation of an Ethnic Studies department after pressure from Black Panther and student protesters. In 1977, he became a member of the United States Senate (California, R), a role which he held until 1983. He died in 1992 at the age of 85.
The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is primarily intended to end tariffs between the USA, Canada and Mexico, allowing for the free trade of goods and services between them. Of course, it also revisited copyright to bring certain films back out of the public domain (because there’s such a thing as too much freedom where Hollywood is concerned), and some agricultural tariffs were not covered by it either.
All in all, twenty years on, NAFTA’s legacy is a mixed one, having ultimately turned out to be neither as bad as some feared or as good as some promised. Economics is many things, but none of them is ever simple.
After a somewhat difficult election – the previous incumbent had left the Liberal Party to run as an independent, but he remained a friend of the sitting Liberal Prime Minister, who didn’t want to run anyone against him – Julie Bishop was elected to the lower house of the Australian federal Parliament as Member for the seat of Curtin, in West Australia. Bishop had come from a background in law, and was 42 years old at the time of her election.
She had been pre-selected by far-seeing members of the party who believed she had what it took to be a Cabinet Minister, and she quickly proved them right, ascending to the Ministry (as Minister for Ageing) in 2003, and remaining a Minister (or Shadow-Minister when in Opposition) until she chose to step down in 2019.
Saparmurat Niyazov was the first President of the independent republic of Turkmensistan following the break up of the Soviet Union in 1990. He was also, by anyone’s standards, a raving egomaniac. In fact, during the 15 years of his reign as President-for-Life, he was regarded as one of the world’s most repressive dictactors, and the propagator of a cult of personality whose any rival was Kim Il Jung.
One of the most visible of his monuments to himself was a literal monumemt: the Neutrality Arch in Ashgabat, the Turkmen capital. It was 75 metres tall, illuminated at night – and its uppermost 12 metres consisted of a solid gold statue of Niyazov that rotated to face the sun. Officially, it commemorated Turkmenistan’s offical political stance of neutrality. Unofficially, it appears that the major reason Turkmenistan was neutral is because even Niyazov wasn’t quite deluded enough to think he could take over the world. After Niyazov’s death in 2006, the monument was demolished by his successors, who wished to show the world the Turkmenisatan was sane again.
John Prescott Ellis was 47 years old on the night of the 2000 US Presidential Election. He had spent most of his adult life working in the media as a political consultant, briefly taking time out to work in actual politics during the ’88 and ’92 Presidential Elections. He had been working for the Fox Network for the last few years when 2000 rolled around.
At 2:16 AM (EST), live to air, John Ellis called the state of Florida for George W. Bush, making the Fox the first network to do so. (Oddly, Fox was also the last of the network to retract from the earlier calling of Florida for Gore.) This in itself was unexceptional – and would have remained so even in the chaotic mess that the 2000 election became – but for one small detail: John Prescott Ellis and George Walker Bush are first cousins.
Remember above when I mentioned that Ellis worked in real politics for a little while? He worked on his uncle, George H. W. Bush’s two election campaigns. And although family pride is understandable, at the time, the Fox network was still claiming to be non-partisan. This incident was among those that first indicated that the Fox network was willing to do pretty much anything in support of its chosen political allies.
It is the defining moment of the modern era. If you were old enough to remember it at the time, then you remember how you heard it, remember the image of the plane hitting the second building, remember it all.
Four separate planes were hijacked by terrorists belonging to Al Qaeda. One was brought down by the passengers when they realised what it was supposed to do. The other three were rammed into buildings – one into the Pentagon, one into each of the two towers of the World Trade Centre in New York City. Nearly 3000 people were killed in the attacks, and more died in the aftermath, killed trying to rescue others.
The reaction was one of shock, grief and anger. Within weeks, the world was plunged into war, first in Afghanistan, then in Iraq – a state from which it is yet to emerge.
Nine days after the 9/11 attacks, George Bush gave his country what so very many of them were crying out for: a rallying cry, a cause and an outlet for vengeful bloodlust. The War on Terror – which has, nine years on, failed to achieve almost any of its stated goals (but which conspiracy theorists allege has achieved a number of its unstated goals) – has cost billions of dollars and thousands of lives.
The PATRIOT Act (in full: the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001) doesn’t just mark the zenith of Congress’ love affair with torturous acronyms. It also marks the point where, in the name of protecting the freedoms of American citizens, Congress (with the enthusiastic collaboration of the executive branch) deemed in necessary to restrict, abrogate and even destroy those self-same freedoms.
Among other things, it introduced a sweeping new surveillance regime (including controversial provisions such as library record data mining and so-called “roving” wiretaps), increased the punishments for terrorism, provided for compensation for the families of people killed by terrorists, and beefed up both border security and the investigation of money laundering. In short, it was a mixed bag of things, some of which had a fairly tangential relationship to terrorism. Supporters of the Act (and it would cost a politician their career not to be one) said it was a reasonable and logical step to fight terrorism; opponents decried its attack on civil liberties and constitutional rights.
The Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste Depository is exactly what it sounds like: a facility located inside Yucca Mountain, Nevada. It was exhaustively researched as a potential facility throughout the eighties and nineties, and finally given the go ahead in 2002. It is intended that it be a safe place to store radioactive materials for up to a million years (the longest anticipated time for the materials in question to remain radioactive).
Although construction has commenced, there have been numerous delays, and the Obama administration has repeatedly cut the funds available for the project, which is now unlikely to be ready for use before 2020.
So that’s something to look forward to.
In one of the more astonishing displays of the Bush Government’s belief that it was above the law, Valerie Plame Wilson was exposed as an agent of the CIA by journalist Robert Novak of the Washington Post. In the fine tradition of Woodward and Bernstein, Novak subjected secret information he had obtained to the utmost scrutiny before deciding to publish it in the national interest.
I’m kidding, of course. Novak was a stooge for Richard Armitage at the State Department, who leaked classified information to Novak for what appear to have been two purposes: one, to prejudice the trial of Scooter Libby, a Bush White House staffer whose criminal trial was a great embarassment to the administrationl and two, to demonstrate to Plame and her fellows at the CIA, who had placed reporting the truth about Iraqi weapons plans above the desires of the administration for a casus belli.
That’s right: the United States government deliberately exposed one of its own secret agents, ending her career and endangering the covers of other agents, pretty much from infantile pique that this woman had the unmitigated gall to do her job properly, instead of in ways that were politically convenient for it. Not since Job has loyalty and trust been so unjustly repaid.