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.
Vladimir Nabokov’s 1955 novel is one of the most controversial books of the twentieth century. Its subject matter – a middle aged man lusting after a teenage girl (the title character, although the name is a pet name he had for her rather than her actual name) – along with the clear unreliability of the narrator, making it unclear how true his words are, made the book both fascinating and infuriating to many readers.
The novel was filmed twice, in 1962 and again in 1997, and brought to the stage on multiple occasions, but surely its greatest accolade is that an entire genre of porn is named after it.
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.”
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 Children’s Crusade is the name given to a variety of fictional and factual events which happened in 1212 that combine some or all of these elements: visions by a French or German boy; an intention to peacefully convert Muslims in the Holy Land to Christianity; bands of children marching from various other European nations to Italy; and finally, the children being sold into slavery and failing entirely in their admittedly unlikely and quixotic mission.
It has become a byword for tragedy, waste, naivete and religious stupidity, although of course, since it was never officially sanctioned by Rome, the Catholic Church denies all responsibility for it.