This Day in History

The post for 1/4/18 can now be found at: bunkandzook.com

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This Day in History

Note to readers: With my next post I will be launching a new blog site, assuming there will be no technological glitches. For those who receive an automatic email you will not have to re-subscribe. Starting 1/4/18 the new address will be bunkandzook.com

December 29th

1835 – Treaty of New Echota signed. This treaty ceded all Cherokee land east of the Mississippi River to the U.S. government. The treaty was signed by a minority faction within the tribe, while the majority opposed it. There had been a push for Cherokee land in Georgia for a number of years. President John Quincy Adams supported Indian sovereignty so their land was protected. That changed when Andrew Jackson was elected. In the original document that the Cherokee signed, any Indian that wanted to remain would be given 160 acres of land and allowed to become a citizen of the state of Georgia. Jackson struck that clause from the document before he signed it. The U.S. Senate ratified it by one vote and the Indians’ fate was sealed. Their forced removal began in 1838 and would ultimately become known as the “Trail of Tears.”

The Trail of Tears is just one section of the road that led America to its heralded greatness.

 1890 – Wounded Knee Massacre. At Wounded Knee Creek, 150 men, women, and children of the Lakota Sioux were killed by the U.S. Army. The actual number killed may be higher than that. Massacre is the proper term although it has often been referred to as a battle. To further validate that perception the army awarded 20 Medals of Honor to soldiers for shooting down mostly unarmed Indians. It was the last confrontation between the government and any Indian tribe.

As if the Trail of Tears wasn’t merciless enough.

 1975 – Bombing at LaGuardia airport. 11 people were killed and 74 injured when a bomb exploded in the baggage claims area of the airport. The case has never been solved leaving open all kinds of theories. Croatian terrorists were one. How a bombing in NYC would help in seeking separation from Communist Yugoslavia remains murky. Equally weak is the theory that Communist Yugoslavia planted the bomb to make the Croatians look bad. The PLO and Puerto Rican nationalists were also suspects. The misguided intention behind most bombings is to bring attention to a cause. But in this instance no one ever claimed responsibility. The FBI took over the investigation from the New York Police Department and since then has released no information. This has furthered speculation toward conspiracy, that the FBI is withholding information. Whatever the real facts are, it remains a cold case.

I have been a news junkie my whole life. So it is strange that I have no memory of this incident at all. Maybe I was wrapped up in some of my own personal drama at that time.

 Birthdays:

1917 – Tom Bradley. Mayor of Los Angeles from 1973 to 1992, he served longer than anyone else, and he also is the only African-American mayor the city has had. Bradley got his law degree while also working as a Los Angeles police officer, then served on the city council before being elected mayor. Some of the accomplishments during his term were the 1984 Summer Olympics, expansion of the Los Angeles International airport, development of a light rail system and the city’s first homosexual rights bill. Criticism of his handling of the riots relating to the Rodney King incident helped bring about his eventual defeat. In his first run at mayor in 1969 Bradley was beaten by incumbent Sam Yorty who played the race card. Finding success with that tactic, Democrat Yorty switched to the Republican Party.

No need commenting on the obvious.

 1953 – Stanly Tokie Williams. Co-founder of the street gang The Crips. Williams led a violence filled life and in 1979 was convicted of four murders and sentenced to death. On death row for 26 years, he proclaimed his innocence the whole while. Those arguing for clemency maintained he had found redemption while in prison. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger rejected that argument and all appeals and Williams was put to death on December 13, 2005, by lethal injection. In a radio interview just hours before his execution, Williams made this rather eloquent statement.

“My lack of fear of this barbaric methodology of death, I rely upon my faith. It has nothing to do with machismo, with manhood, or with some pseudo former gang street code. This is pure faith, and predicated on my redemption. So, therefore, I just stand strong and continue to tell you, your audience, and the world that I am innocent and, yes, I have been a wretched person, but I have redeemed myself. And I say to you and all those who can listen and will listen that redemption is tailor-made for the wretched, and that’s what I used to be…That’s what I would like the world to remember me. That’s how I would like my legacy to be remembered as: a redemptive transition, something that I believe is not exclusive just for the so-called sanctimonious, the elitists. And it doesn’t—is not predicated on color or race or social stratum or one’s religious background. It’s accessible for everybody. That’s the beauty about it. And whether others choose to believe that I have redeemed myself or not, I worry not, because I know and God knows, and you can believe that all of the youths that I continue to help, they know, too. So with that, I am grateful…I say to you and everyone else, God bless. So take care.”

Even assuming guilt without a reasonable doubt, quite often the person being executed is no longer the person who committed the crime. 

1966 – Jason Gould. Son of Eliot Gould and Barbra Streisand.

1985 – Alexa Ray Joel. Daughter of Billy Joel and Christie Brinkley.

Both recognized artists in their own right…maybe. That is the blessing and curse of having celebrity parents. The doors open more easily, but will they ever be truly recognized for their talents.

 

Sources:

wikipedia.org

http://www.history.com/

http://www.onthisday.com

This Day in History

December 22nd

1849 – Mock execution of Fyodor Dostoyevsky. Dostoyevsky had written only one successful novel at this point. He had joined a circle of literary and socialist activists. Members of the group were arrested in April and spent months in prison. In November they were convicted of making abusive remarks about the Orthodox Church and the Government. For this heinous crime they were sentenced to death. On December 22nd six of them were led to a square where a firing squad was at the ready. They were unaware that a day earlier Tsar Nicholas I had agreed to a pardon, with the caveat that it wouldn’t be announced until the last second. Dostoyevsky waited blindfolded while the first three were tied to posts. The order was given to raise rifles and then a rider on a horse dramatically galloped in with the pardon. Dostoyevsky still had to spend four years at hard labor in Siberia.

I had never heard of this episode and can only wonder how it affected his future writing. The literary world can be grateful for the reprieve and not denied such great works as “Crime and Punishment” and “The Brothers Kamarazov”.

 1961 – I finished boot camp at Great Lakes Naval Center and received two weeks leave. Relieved, and a bit proud at having survived the ordeal, I relaxed on the train taking me to Minneapolis where my parents would be waiting. M— sat in the seat next to me. He was from a small farm town, Henderson, similar in size and with the same German heritage as Lester Prairie. We had met the day we were inducted and had gone through boot camp together. I don’t know what we talked about on the train ride, probably speculating on our futures.

Fast-forward three years. San Diego Navy Base. I had less than a week left in the Navy. My ship was in port and I was walking across the base. Somebody yelled out my name. It took me a moment to recognize M—.

He had been a quiet, shy kid. In three years he had acquired a swagger. We talked, laughed, and told stories about the last three years. Neither of us was going back to Minnesota. I was staying in California, having enrolled in Cerritos Junior College in Los Angeles. He was going to Arizona with a Mexican-American buddy who was also being discharged. They planned to open a taco stand. I was impressed, he was nothing like the kid I had met three years ago. But then neither was I.

The Navy has a way of doing that.

Fast-forward two more years. Now I was back in Minnesota, going to college at St. Cloud State. Summer school. I was in my hometown one weekend and went with a couple of old high school buddies to a street dance at Henderson Sauerkraut Days. I hadn’t gone there thinking about M— but sure enough, I ran into him. He had come back to Minnesota also. I was excited upon seeing him but that feeling wasn’t mutual. He was married and his wife was holding a baby. She was sullen, disinterested and stared off in a different direction while we talked. I asked him about the taco stand in Arizona. Either he was a very good actor or truly had no notion what I was talking about. After desultory attempts at conversation we bid indifferent goodbyes. We were only 22 but M— looked old, tired and beaten.

Life has a way of doing that.

 1963 – Cruise ship Lakonia burns. 180 miles from the island of Madeira in the Atlantic Ocean, on the evening of the 22nd, the Lakonia caught fire. The fire started in the hairdressing salon and spread quickly. Warning bells sounded but were weak and many passengers didn’t hear them. The P.A. system also malfunctioned and panic spread. The crew was Greek and German and the passengers came from all over Europe so language difficulties added to the confusion. The ship filled with smoke and some lifeboats burned. The order was given to abandon ship and with some lifeboats destroyed and others unable to lower due to rusted davits, some people had to jump into the water. By the time rescue ships arrived 95 passengers and 33 crewmembers had lost their lives. The captain and eight other officers were charge with negligence. The ship’s advertising brochure promised “A holiday you will remember the rest of your life.”

Truth in advertising.

 Birthdays:

1696 – James Oglethorpe. Founder of the colony of Georgia. Oglethorpe had been a prison reformer in England and an advocate of a classless society. He fought hard against debtors prisons. He believed if given a chance the poor could be made into productive members of society. With that in mind he founded the colony with rules prohibiting slavery as well as large landholdings. Oglethorpe also treated the local Indians with dignity, respecting their customs and trying to protect them from unscrupulous traders. Apparently his liberal outlook did not extend to women however. He required each plot of land to have a man at its head. Still, most of his views were centuries ahead of his time. His philosophy was that life is not about self, but about others.

Not exactly the philosophy of current U.S. leadership.

 1868 – John Nance Garner. Vice President from 1933 to 1941 after FDR beat him out for the nomination in 1932. He described the vice presidency as “not worth a bucket of warm piss.” He was frequently at odds with FDR and in 1940 tried to wrest the nomination from him but failed. He was replaced on the ticket by Henry Wallace. Garner supported a poll tax that hindered the voting rights of blacks, other minorities and poor whites. He was also anti-labor union and opposed the deficit spending of FDR’s New Deal.

In today’s world Garner would probably be a Republican.

 1949 – Maurice and Robin Gibb. Along with their brother, Barry, they formed the Bee Gees, one of the top selling rock and roll groups of all time. They were especially successful when they turned to disco in the 70’s. Both died relatively young, Maurice at age 53 and Robin at 62.

Rock and roll takes its toll on musicians, other than the Stones.

 

Sources:

http://www.todayifoundout.com

http://www.oldsaltblog.com

http://www.onthisday.com

http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org

wikipedia.org/

This Day in History

Oops, thought I posted this two days ago.

December 16th

755 – An Lushan Rebellion. China at the time was ruled by the Tang Dynasty. An Lushan was a general who was a favorite of the Emperor’s court. That was not enough for he saw himself as the head of a new dynasty. With a huge army at his disposal he began conquering territory and put the Tang’s in a difficult situation. They hired mercenaries to protect their empire and the military operations forced them into debt. An Lushan furthered his cause by treating vanquished foes with kindness, causing many to switch to his side. His quest ended due to intrigue within his own ranks. His son, with aspirations of his own, assassinated him. And then his son in turn was assassinated. The rebellion soon fell apart. The effects of the rebellion however, the price the Tang Dynasty paid, eventually led to the unraveling of the empire.

 Contrary to popular belief the Tang Dynasty did not invent the powdered fruit-flavored drink.

 1838 – Battle of Blood River. Fought in what is now South Africa, white settlers known as Voortrekkers, or Trekkers, fought Zulu chieftain Dingane and an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 of his warriors. The Trekkers force, led by Andries Pretorius, numbered only 470. The Trekkers, armed with muskets in addition to two cannons, formed a barricade with their wagons. The Zulus attacked with short-handled spears, effective only at a closed distance. Their ranks were decimated by the firepower. The water of the Ncome River ran red with blood, thus giving the battle its name. An estimated 3,000 Zulus were killed while the settlers suffered only three slightly wounded.

This battle led to the creation of an ethnic nationalism among the whites. They believed it was God’s intervention that led them to victory and gave them divine right to establish a state. Pretorius was given a farm by the Trekkers as a reward and he named it Welverdient which translates into “Justly Earned.”

I’m somewhat suspicious of the numbers here, of the Zulus involved and their casualties. As the saying goes: “History is written by the victors.”

 1943 – Tamiami Champion train collision. 73 people were killed and 200 injured in this train accident. The Tamiami Champion ran between New York City and Florida. In North Carolina three cars of the southbound train derailed and tilted onto the adjacent tracks. A brakeman failed to flag down the northbound train and it slammed into the derailed cars at 85 miles per hour. Among the dead were 52 servicemen going home on leave for the holidays. The train’s name, a combination of Tampa and Miami, was retired after the crash.

I hate to fly and love to travel by train. In addition to comfort I’ve always felt safer on a train. Despite stories like this I am going to continue to hold onto that belief.

 Birthdays:

1775 – Jane Austen. 19th century English writer. Popular at the time, her writing, including “Sense and Sensibility” and “Pride and Prejudice” has stood the test of time. Some argument could be made that she is even more popular now. Austen’s charm was her characterization of ordinary people, something that stylistically hadn’t been done before. She was published anonymously, perhaps because England wasn’t ready for a female novelist. Her identity wasn’t revealed until after her death at the early age of 41. Austen never married and not much is known about her life. Potential biographers have been frustrated because her only sister, wanting to protect her reputation, destroyed most of the 3,000 letters she had written in her lifetime.

As I do this blog my reading list keeps getting longer.

 1899 – Noel Coward. English playwright. December 16th seems to be a day for English writers. Coward wrote a large number of plays, some of which like “Blithe Spirit” are still presented today. He was also an actor, composer, director, singer, wit, and known for his flamboyance. Flamboyance at that time could be a euphemism for homosexuality and more a sign of the times then a commentary on him. During WWII Coward left the entertainment field to head the British propaganda office in Paris. One of his quotes from that time: “If the policy of His Majesty’s Government is to bore the Germans to death I don’t think we have time”. King George VI wanted to give Coward a knighthood for his war efforts. Churchill convinced him to withhold the award, his reason being that Coward had been fined for some minor offense. The real reason being that Coward was gay. He never publicly discussed his sexual preferences. He thought talk of sex of any kind was tasteless.  From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noël_Coward

“Even in the 1960s, Coward refused to acknowledge his sexual orientation publicly, wryly observing, “There are still a few old ladies in Worthing who don’t know.”

Fascinating man.

1909 – Henricus Verbunt. Member of Dutch Resistance. From https://www.tracesofwar.com/…/Verbunt-Henricus-Arnoldus-Adrianus-Petrus “The “Verzetsherdenkingskruis” (Dutch Resistance Memoration Cross) was posthumously awarded to the children of Hendricus A.A.P. Verbunt by the mayor of the city of Tilburg. As a civil servant he helped the resistance by making false identity papers. On 26 May 1944 he was executed by the Germans for his involvement in the assassination of a collaborator named Piet Gerrits.”

The above paragraph is the total of what I could find on Henricus Verbunt. A courageous man, a hero, who gave his life resisting one of the greatest evils the world has known. Seems like there should be more.

Sources:

http://www.thoughtco.com

wikipedia.org/

http://www.onthisday.com

http://www.fayobserver.com

http://www.britannica.com

http://www.tracesofwar.com/

This Day in History

December 11th

1903 – British expedition to Tibet begins. Also called the British invasion of Tibet. The reason for the invasion was based on rumor. Britain feared that China, who controlled Tibet, was going to give it to Russia, thus opening a path for Russia to invade British controlled India. Despite China’s denial Britain invaded Tibet to establish a presence there. The Dalai Lama was forced to flee. (Nothing new there) A Tibetan force 1,500, mostly armed with swords and flintlock muskets, was decimated by British machine gun fire. The British commander urged his gunners to “bag” as many of the fleeing enemy as they could. An estimated 600-700 Tibetans were killed. The British campaign continued victorious and Tibet was eventually forced to capitulate. The terms of the negotiation allowed Britain to trade in Tibet, prohibited Tibet from having diplomatic relations with any other foreign power, and Tibet had to pay a large indemnity to Britain.

Tibet essentially had to pay reparations for the right to be invaded. Imperialism at its finest.

1919 – Boll weevil monument dedicated in Enterprise, Alabama. The reason for the monument is because the boll weevil destroyed cotton crops, farmers turned to planting peanuts, which in turn brought greater prosperity to the area. It might be the only known monument honoring a pest. The statue of a woman raising a pedestal with an enlarged boll weevil in it has been the target of much vandalism over the years.

Well, driving to Alabama to see the Boll Weevil Monument certainly would seem to be a necessary addition to anybody’s bucket list.

 1928 – National League President, John Heydler, proposes that major league baseball adopt the designated hitter rule. A tenth player who would bat in place of the usually weak hitting pitcher. The American League was against the rule, mostly because the National League had suggested it. Baseball Commissioner Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis was reportedly in favor of the rule but it was abandoned before it reached him. It wasn’t until 1973 that the American League adopted the rule. The National League opposed it then, mostly because the American League wanted it.

It was a bad idea in 1928 and it’s a bad idea now.

 Birthdays:

1863 – Annie Jump Cannon. Astronomer. Valedictorian at Wellesley College, she helped create the Harvard Classification System, which organized and classified stars based their temperatures and spectral types. She was nearly deaf because of an illness, probably scarlet fever, and this caused her to be somewhat isolated socially so she threw herself into her work. She worked mostly in the field of Spectroscopy, the study of the interaction between matter and electromagnetic radiation. Cannon was originally hired, with some other women, by the Harvard Observatory to map and define every star in the sky. Men operated the telescopes and took photographs while women examined and catalogued the data. She developed a system of dividing stars into spectral classes and in her lifetime identified around 350,000.

Cannon published catalogs of stellar spectra, was curator of astronomical photography at Harvard, and received honorary doctorate degrees from around the world. She and her female counterparts were also criticized for doing “men’s work” and not being housewives. Maybe because of her physical handicap, Cannon never married. Like many dominant women of that era she was a suffragist.

Fascinating woman. To accomplish so much in an era when it was even more difficult for women to be recognized for their achievements. And to do it with a handicap no less. Although her deafness was probably an asset when having to work around men.

 1937 – Jim Harrison. Novelist and poet. Harrison lived in the UP, Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He embraced the outdoors and wrote mostly about the woodsy, rural lifestyle of the UP. He was a hard-living, hard-drinking, hard-writing man who despised literary pretension. He also became upset whenever his writing was compared to that of Hemingway. Harrison’s best-known work is probably “Legends of the Fall” which was made into a movie starring Brad Pitt. He survived a stint in Hollywood as a screenwriter. A quote of his from that period: “If you’ve known a lot of actresses and models, you return to waitresses because at least they smell like food.” He died from a heart attack at age 78, sitting at his desk writing in longhand.

With great joy I read many of Jim Harrison’s books years ago. His words were close to the land and part of it. His name is going to go back on my reading list.

 1939 – Tom Hayden. Political and anti-war activist. Hayden’s claim to fame includes being one of the Chicago Seven defendants and his marriage to actress Jane Fonda. Neither role garnered him many points in conservative circles. He was a Freedom Rider during the Civil Rights struggle and was a co-founder of SDS, Students for a Democratic Society. He was a radical who also served more traditionally in the California Assembly and State Senate. He ran for higher political offices in California but was never elected. Hayden died in 2016.

If the trial had been televised the Judge Hoffman vs The Chicago Seven might have been the highest grossing reality show of all time. The drama and shenanigans in the courtroom were certainly fun to read about. For me at the time Hayden was a bit player with Abbie, Jerry and the Judge stealing most of the scenes.

Sources:

https://en.wikipedia.org

http://www.onthisday.com

http://www.nytimes.com

E pluribus unum

Out of many, one. This Latin phrase appears on the Great Seal of the United States. The original concept being that out of thirteen separate colonies came one nation.

I spent last Thanksgiving weekend in Washington, D.C. with my sister, Jan, and my brother-in-law, Dave. We came as tourists and we embraced that role. Our first stop was the Capitol building and the start of the tour was a twenty-minute introductory film entitled “E pluribus unum”. It was a nicely done film that was a tribute to the ideals of our nation’s beginning. The greatness of America lies in the noble concept of what we should try to be. That we fall short of that goal is sad and frustrating, yet the groundwork is there for us to continue the effort. What also impressed me was the respectful attention of the audience. After the film was over we filed out in a contemplative silence, as if pondering what we should and could be. I whispered to my sister, “I think a certain president might benefit from seeing this film.”

The rest of the day was spent at the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History. As evidenced by this blog I’m a history nut so I was in a happy place. I’ve been to various Smithsonian museums before and because of massive crowd sizes the experience wasn’t what I had hoped for. We had chosen a good weekend and while the museum wasn’t empty the crowd size was manageable.

On Saturday we went to Mt. Vernon. We arrived early when the crowd was sparse and there was little waiting in lines. We were led through Washington’s house and saw some of the original furniture, including the bed in which he died. I both admired and felt sorry for the volunteers working there. Having to give the same presentation to endless groups of tourists had to be mind numbing and surpassed my love of history.

George Washington was a slaveholder and the magnificence of Mt. Vernon would not have been possible without an enslaved workforce. That fact was not glossed over in the presentation while still trying to be dealt with delicately. It was pointed out that Washington had qualms about the practice because he freed his slaves in his will, yet while he was alive he did nothing to challenge the practice. After the house tour we wandered the grounds on our own. As we did the slave issue remained in my mind. We were honoring this great man and his beautiful estate, and yet this could also be viewed as a monument to the contradictive nature of our nation. Our fledging nation’s early economic survival and success depended upon an evil system. And the reward for the descendants of that system is still to be treated as second-class citizens.

As we walked about I noted that almost all the visitors were white, aside from those who I guessed were from different countries. What I didn’t see were any African-American tourists. I guess that shouldn’t be surprising. I was proved wrong about that however, and in a positive way. We arrived at Washington’s tomb just as a ceremony was beginning. A group stood in front of the tomb while a guide explained that Washington wanted to be buried at Mt. Vernon rather than at the Capitol. A young girl volunteered to lead the crowd in the Pledge of Allegiance and the guide asked if there were any active military members or veterans in the crowd to lay a wreath at the tomb. Nobody raised a hand and I panicked. I couldn’t be the only veteran there! This definitely was not my thing, I never step forward, I hate to be noticed. Fighting an obligatory urge, my right arm remained frozen to my side. I had voluntarily raised it a long time ago and it had cost me three years of unhappiness. This was not the type of acknowledgement or recognition I would seek. Fortunately someone else stepped forward. I was happy to see it was a black man, the first black tourist I had seen that day. He very solemnly and proudly performed the duty, complete with a salute at the end. Pulled it off a lot better than I would have. The guide thanked and asked him to identify himself. He was a Lt. Colonel in the Air Force. I would have approached and said something complimentary except he was an officer. I hadn’t liked officers in the Navy and I guess I haven’t made peace with that yet.

From Mt Vernon it was on to Arlington National Cemetery. Dave’s father was interned there and we went to pay our respects. He had been a Marine and fought in the battles of Saipan and Iwo Jima. I had met him, a kind, decent man who certainly deserved our thanks and respect. We then walked to the gravesite of JFK. A set of steps up a hill led to the site. The sky had been a bright blue when we were at Mt. Vernon, then clouded over for our visit to Arlington, but the sun broke through again as we climbed the steps. An aura of solemnity encompassed the whole cemetery and was especially noticeable at JFK’s gravesite. Fifty-four years have passed since his death and on this day, and probably every day, there was a stream of people visiting where he had been laid to rest. All I could think was such a terrible loss for our nation.

Sunday dawned with a bright sun but with a chilly wind. I decided to visit the Vietnam Memorial by myself, and agreed to meet up with Dave and Jan later. Our hotel was close to the Capitol so I walked almost the whole length of the mall. With not too many people about it was a peaceful, serene, albeit long walk. I’ve been at the Memorial before and it never fails to impress me. Since it is my generation being memorialized I am biased, but I cannot conceive of a more moving tribute to those fallen.

So many names, too many to comprehend, so I did what I’ve done in the past. I’d stop, pick one name and read it, out loud if no one was near me. I knew nothing about him, where he was from, how he died, only that his name was on a wall because of that awful war. A small show of recognition for the sacrifice he had made. My thoughts turned to my cousin Billy who had recently passed away. We had been very close as boys, less so as adults because we had drifted off in different political directions. I went into the Navy, Billy into the Marines. I was already out and in college when Billy returned from Vietnam. The night he got back he called me, said he had to talk. I drove to his family’s farm and got there about 8PM. I was a little older; we were about 22 and 20. We didn’t drink, we played a card game he had played in Nam, and he talked. I listened. To an unburdening of experiences, fear and trauma. We were still talking when his father got up in the morning to milk cows. It was the night my politics changed, the night I became anti-war. Billy and I never re-visited that conversation. I have done oral history interviews with veterans of WWII and Korea and at a family gathering I asked Billy if he would want to do that. After a long, uncomfortable pause, he nodded and said maybe. He died unexpectedly before that ever happened.

Reading the names on the wall, thinking about my cousin, I had to leave before my emotions became too de-stabilized. I took another long walk, to Ford’s Theater, where I met Dave and Jan. The rest of the day was devoted to Lincoln. We toured the theater, where I learned more about the assassination plot, and then went to Lincoln’s Cottage. Now well within the city’s boundaries, at the time of the Civil War it was a country retreat for Lincoln. As at Mt. Vernon, we walked the same floors, occupied the same space, these great men had.

Delving back into our nation’s history, there was a constant, a theme, that was impossible to escape. Slavery. It was always there. On the backs of enslaved labor so much had been built. And its price has still not been paid. A disproportionate number of names on the Vietnam Wall belong to African-Americans. And yet we have those in this country who wave Confederate and Nazi flags. Two great divides in our country are the Civil War and the Vietnam War, and we are still dealing with each. I also fear we are embarking on a third great divide. Until we come to grips with the racial issue we will not be a healthy, whole, or great nation. How we reach that point I don’t know. A start might be to show the film “E pluribus unum” in schools, Legion halls, libraries, community centers across the nation.

This Day in History

November 30th

1487 – German Beer Purity Law passed. Reinheitsgebot, as later versions of this law became known, regulated what ingredients could be used in the making of beer. The law stipulated that the only barley, hops and water could be used to make beer.

This law has been in place for 530 years, or 517 years longer than the Thousand-Year Reich. The world would have been better off if Germany had stuck to just making beer.

 1753 – Benjamin Franklin awarded Copley Medal. The Royal Society of England gave out this medal for scientific achievement. It was the Nobel Prize of its era. Franklin received the medal for his work on electricity.  “Franklin showed that electricity consisted of a “common element” which he named “electric fire.” Further, electricity was “fluid” like a liquid. It passed from one body to another.” (1) And of course there was Franklin’s famous kite experiment proving electricity and lightening were the same. It led to his invention of the lightening rod.

Science has always moved us forward, despite those who resist it. No doubt Franklin had his detractors also, those who ridiculed him for his kite experiment. But no matter those who deny science, the lightening rod is still in use in today’s world…and the oceans are still rising.

1967 – Eugene McCarthy announces candidacy for President. The senator from Minnesota challenged the President from his own party in the primaries. McCarthy was opposed to the Vietnam War and frustrated by America’s continued involvement there. Pundits and the press dismissed his chances but young people (Clean for Gene) rallied behind him and he did well in the early primaries. Enough so that LBJ decided not to run for reelection. McCarthy’s success also prompted Bobby Kennedy to get into the race.

After Kennedy’s assassination Hubert Humphrey, also from Minnesota, won the nomination. At that time primary results did not automatically translate into delegates at the convention. Many Democrats felt disenfranchised by the results of the tumultuous convention in Chicago and Humphrey ended up losing the election to Richard Nixon. The party changed its nominating rules after that to try make the process fairer.

Given the results of the last go round, with super-delegates and what not, the Democrats still haven’t gone far enough. How does that go: “If you don’t learn from history you are bound to repeat it.”

 Birthdays:

1810 – Oliver Winchester. An American businessman who purchased a floundering firearms company and became successful manufacturing the Winchester repeating rifle. It has been labeled the “gun that won the West.”  “Oliver Fisher Winchester was an innovative and driven man who saw the future of firearms.” (2) I wonder if he foresaw the carnage of Las Vegas, Sutherland Springs, Orlando, Sandy Hook…

Winchester died in 1880 and his son, William, inherited the business. He died only months later. William’s wife believed the family was cursed by the spirits of those killed by the rifle.

There’s a lot more spirits to do the cursing now.

1874 – Winston Churchill. Prominent British statesman and twice Prime Minister of England. He famously led, and rallied, England during the darkest hours of WWII. He inspired that nation to stand up against the Nazi onslaught. Before the war he had a somewhat checkered and erratic career. In WWI, as First Lord of the Admiralty, he was the architect of the disastrous Gallipoli campaign. He somehow left the stain of that slaughter behind and went on to become one of the world’s greatest and best known leaders of the twentieth century.

Awareness comes to a child in stages, at least it did to me. First of self, next of family, extended family, and then the ever expanding world. As my education progressed and awareness grew, one of the first names I remember hearing from the international stage was Churchill. Because of the way his name was spoken I assumed he must be a great man. My first impression wasn’t wrong.

 1924 – Shirley Chisholm. 1st African-American woman elected to Congress. Chisholm served from 1969 to 1983 representing the 12th District of New York. Also, in 1972, she was the first woman to run for the presidential nomination for the Democratic Party. During the primaries she received criticism for visiting segregationist George Wallace in the hospital after he was shot. Later Wallace used his influence among Southern Representatives to help her pass a law requiring minimum wage for domestic workers. After her political career was over she lectured at colleges. Included in her themes were polarization and intolerance: She said “If you don’t accept others who are different, it means nothing that you’ve learned calculus.” A lesson it seems, that we as a nation are still sadly resisting.

While in office all of Chisholm’s staff was women, and half of those were black. Chisholm stated that during her political career she faced more discrimination because she was a woman than because she was black.

And now add sexual harassment to the challenges a woman faces in those hallowed halls of Congress.

 (1) www.ushistory.org/franklin/science/electricity.htm

(2) www.winchesterguns.com/news

Sources:

wikipedia.org/

http://www.ushistory.org/franklin/science/electricity.htm

http://www.americaslibrary.gov

http://www.jofreeman.com

http://www.onthisday.com/

http://www.winchesterguns.com

This Day in History

November 23rd

1867 – Manchester Martyrs executed. Three members of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, Wm. Allen, Michael Larkin, and Michael O’Brien were hung for their role in the murder of a British policeman. They were involved in a plot to help two fellow Fenians escape from British custody. In the course of the escape a guard was killed. All of it was part of a rebellion to end England’s rule over Ireland. The men became martyrs to the cause due to crying out “God save Ireland” from the gallows. Partly a religious war, partly a fight for independence, the “Troubles” have been going on since 1603.

My November 14th Boss Tweed post mentions how the conflict even spilled over to New York City. A peace finally has been brokered and however uneasy, there is now no armed conflict or bombings taking place.

 1943 – William D. Cox banned from baseball. The owner of the Philadelphia Phillies was banished because he bet on his own team. Pete Rose, All-star player and manager, has also been banned from baseball for betting on his own team. And at one point in his career Rose played for the Phillies.

Maybe it’s something in the water in Philadelphia.

 1988 – Reagan vetoes ethics bill. From http://www.nytimes.com

“President Reagan announced today that he would pocket veto legislation tightening restrictions on lobbying by former Government officials and imposing them on members of Congress for the first time.” The bill would have banned former employees from lobbying on issues in which they were involved while in government. Reagan said the bill was “flawed and excessive,” that’s why he vetoed it.

Ethics in government? I can see where that would be a hard sell.

Birthdays:

1859 – Billy the Kid. Small time criminal, vigilante, cattle rustler and gunslinger, Billy the Kid, alias William H. Bonney, led a short and eventful life. Born in Manhattan as Henry McCarty, probably illegitimate to use the terminology of the time, his mother moved to Kansas when he was a child. Orphaned at age 14 he soon turned to crime. He is believed to have killed eight or nine men. A jailbreak allowed him to escape the hangman’s noose once, but he was gunned down in New Mexico several months later by sheriff Pat Garrett.

Why do some otherwise small time characters receive such notoriety and lasting fame? Could it simply be the name change? Given the same deeds, I somehow doubt that Henry the Kid would have achieved the same status.

1882 – John Heinrich Rabe. Rabe was a German businessman and member of the Nazi Party who was living in Nanking, China at the time of the Rape of Nanking. He became head of a small group of Westerners who established the Nanking Safety Zone which helped an estimated 200,000 Chinese escape massacre. At the time, 1937, Japan and Germany had an Anti-Comintern pact and Rabe used his party credentials to stall and deflect the Japanese assault on civilians. The number of people slaughtered by the Japanese army is estimated to be anywhere from 60,000 to 200,000.

Rabe received little credit for his heroic and humanitarian efforts. When he returned to Germany he tried to publicize the Japanese atrocities, even trying to send a letter to Hitler. This brought on Gestapo attention and interrogation. It was only through the intervention of his employer that he was released. And then after the war, because of his Nazi Party affiliation, he was arrested first by the Russians and then the British. He was released but stripped of his work permit he lived the postwar years in abject poverty. When the people of Nanking learned of his plight they raised a sum of money and the mayor went to Germany to give it to Rabe. And every month thereafter a food package from Nanking arrived for him. Rabe died of a stroke in 1950.

So many Nazis escaped justice, with Gestapo members even working for the CIA. Yet a decent Nazi, perhaps the only one and pardon the oxymoron, suffers for his humanity.

 1888 – Harpo Marx. One of the members of the Marx Bros. madcap comedy team. Harpo left school after the 2nd grade and got his education on the streets of New York. With his brothers they first performed in vaudeville, then the stage and finally successfully transitioned to moving pictures in Hollywood. Unable to keep up with the fast talking wit of his brothers, they took away his lines. Offended at first, he countered with his mime act complete with honking horn. Harpo, a confirmed bachelor, finally married later in life and then adopted and raised four children.

Quite possibly the only mime I’ve ever liked. And I know this is a stretch but in looking at their photos, I see a similarity between Billy the Kid and Harpo Marx. Maybe it’s simply the head ware, or something in the shared stance, but check it out.

 

Sources:

wikipedia.org

http://www.onthisday.com

http://www.nytimes.com

http://www.history.com

http://www.harposplace.com

This Day in History

November 19th

1873 – Boss Tweed convicted. William Tweed was a corrupt New York City politician, head of a Democratic political machine called Tammany Hall. He wielded influence in the 1850’s and 60’s, and pilfered government funds to the tune of tens of millions of dollars, and became the third largest landowner in New York City. He kept New York’s burgeoning Irish population in check which made him valuable to the city’s elite. He exercised control with force and by dispensing favors and money. One example, in the building of a courthouse, a carpenter was paid $360,000 for one month’s work.

Tweed was constantly under attack by cartoonists in New York papers and it infuriated him. They portrayed him as a corpulent figure with a huge diamond stickpin on his chest. He said he didn’t mind if negative things were written about him because most of his constituents couldn’t read, but the pictures were killing him. Tweed’s undoing continued with the Orange riot of 1871. He allowed an Irish Protestant parade to celebrate an Orange victory over the Catholics. A mob of Irish Catholics attacked the parade and in the ensuing riot sixty people were killed displeasing the city’s elite. Without their support investigations began of his corrupt practices. Convicted, he briefly escaped to Spain but was recaptured, extradited, and died in prison.

A corrupt politician going to prison, now there’s a trend I wouldn’t mind seeing continue.

1923 – Oklahoma state senate impeaches Governor John Walton. Walton had declared martial law in Oklahoma to combat Ku Klux Klan terrorism. To do this he suspended the writ of habeas corpus, which the state constitution forbid any government official to do. The crackdown inflamed the legislature, most of whom were members of the Klan. When first elected Walton ushered in some popular reforms designed to help farmers. He also supported education and instituted a program to give free textbooks to all Oklahoma school children. A true progressive, he also prosecuted companies ignoring state regulations and he increased spending on welfare. On the negative side he appointed family and friends to government posts, some of the positions being unnecessary. There were also suggestions he took bribes for political favors and his distractors accused him of Socialism. He made enough enemies in his short reign that the impeachment charges were easily passed.

It is uncertain what his greatest crime was, his role as a corrupt politician or being anti-Klan.

 1984 – San Juanico, Mexico disaster. Located just outside Mexico City, a liquid petroleum gas farm experienced a series of explosions that killed 500-600 people, injured 5,000-7,000 more, and destroyed much of the town. A gas cloud from a leaked tank drifted into an open flame and exploded. Over the next twelve hours subsequent eruptions followed as gas tank after gas tank exploded. It has been recorded as one of the worst industrial accidents of all time.

If this was huge news in the U.S. at the time, I have no memory of reading about it. Hard to believe that such a catastrophic event escaped my notice. Maybe those in charge of what we need to know assigned it to a back page.

 Birthdays:

1805 – Ferdinand de Lesseps. Builder of the Suez Canal. De Lesseps was a French diplomat who led the development of building a canal that connected the Red Sea and the Mediterranean. He later tried to copy that success by building a sea level canal across the Isthmus of Panama. Beset by disease (yellow fever and malaria) and corruption, the project was abandoned and later sold to the U.S government. In the aftermath of the failure, France prosecuted and convicted de Lesseps of misuse of funds.

I’ve read “Path Between the Seas” by David McCullough and he documents what began as a noble attempt by de Lesseps eventually turning into a huge Ponzi scheme.

 1831 – James Garfield. 20th President of the United States. A successful Union general in the Civil War, Lincoln convinced him to resign his commission and run for the House of Representatives. Lincoln remarked that it was easier to find major generals than loyal Republican congressmen. From Ohio, he served nine terms in the House before winning the 1880 Republican nomination. His first order of business upon being elected was to fight corruption and bring back prestige to the Presidency. After only two hundred days in office he was assassinated.

The beginning of an effective presidency cut short by an assassin’s bullet. The great American tradition of bullets over brains, now backed by the NRA, goes back a long ways.

 1938 – Ted Turner. Media mogul, billionaire and philanthropist, Turner founded the 24 hour TV news channel CNN. He also owns the Atlanta Braves baseball team.

Despite his charitable giving of untold millions to good causes, my image of him is more negative. In the 1991 World Series, inarguably the greatest World Series ever played, I remember him sitting in the stands, with his movie star wife, doing the racially offensive and insulting “tomahawk chop.” Justice was served, at least to me, in that the Minnesota Twins prevailed over the Atlanta Braves.

 

Sources:

http://www.okhistory.org

http://www.onthisday.com

wikipedia.org/

http://www.whitehouse.gov/

This Day in History

November 14th

1942 – Naval Battle of Guadalcanal. The fighting, mostly at night, was a series of sea battles from November 12th to November 15th. The action on the 14th & 15th is sometimes called the Second Battle of Guadalcanal. The Japanese force was comprised of a battleship, four cruisers and nine destroyers. The U.S. fleet, reeling from heavy loses in the first few days of fighting, countered with a scratched together force of the battleships USS South Dakota, USS Washington, and four destroyers. Action commenced around 2200 on the night of the 14th. Shells exploding and ships blowing up lit the night sky with fire. A war correspondent’s description: “From the beach it resembled a door to hell opening and closing… over and over.” Hundreds of Japanese and American sailors lost their lives in the fighting. Sailors named the area where the fighting took place Ironbottom Sound became because so many ships were sunk there.

Despite being outmanned the Americans emerged victorious. The Japanese lost their battleship, two cruisers, and three destroyers. The American losses were all four destroyers and the South Dakota was badly damaged but remained floating. The result was that the Japanese were unable to send in fresh troops as reinforcements in the fight against the marines desperately holding onto Henderson Field. Historian Eric Hammel sums up the significance of the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal this way: “On November 12, 1942, the (Japanese) Imperial Navy had the better ships and the better tactics. After November 15, 1942, its leaders lost heart and it lacked the strategic depth to face the burgeoning U.S. Navy and its vastly improving weapons and tactics. The Japanese never got better while, after November 1942, the U.S. Navy never stopped getting better.”

My generation of sailors was trained by the generation that fought WWII. It is said that the military trains for the last war, not the next one. Although we didn’t know it, ship versus ship battles were a thing of the past by the time I was in the Navy. After Guadalcanal there would only be one more time that battleships would square off in WWII, and probably history.

If anybody wants to read a riveting account of the sea battles at Guadalcanal, check out “Neptune’s Inferno”.

1972 – Dow Jones closes over 1,000. For the first time in history the Dow closes above 1,000 points.

How quaint.

 1982 – Lech Walesa freed. Public outcry forced the Polish government to release the popular labor leader. Walesa was chairman of Solidarity, a federation of unions composed of workers and farmers. Solidarity led strikes in Poland until the Communist government declared martial law and the organization illegal. Walesa was arrested and confined for eleven months. The union was eventually successful and Poland experienced more political and religious freedom.

Walesa received the 1983 Nobel Peace Prize. In 1989 Solidarity was legalized and in 1990 Walesa was elected President of Poland. He was defeated for reelection by a Communist candidate in 1995.

A union man, a man who stood with the worker, a man who helped bring about the fall of the Iron Curtain, Walesa was, to me anyway, an inspiration and a hero.

Birthdays:

1889 – Jawaharlal Nehru. The first Prime Minister of India, he served in that capacity from 1947 to 1964 when he died. He joined the Indian National Congress in 1919 and was an early follower of Gandhi in India’s fight for independence from Britain. Protesting against British rule landed him in jail for a total of nine years. As Prime Minister Nehru advocated for secularism, democratic socialism, free education for children, civil rights for women, and he challenged the caste system. He led India at a very turbulent time as it emerged from being a colonial state to a free nation. His daughter, Indira, and his grandson, Rajiv, both later served as Prime Ministers of India.

It is both a testament to the two men, and also somewhat sad, that the only two names most can associate with India are Gandhi and Nehru.

 1908 – Joseph McCarthy. A Senator from Wisconsin, he led an “investigation” into his own charge that Communists had infiltrated the U.S. government. His crusade was described as a witch hunt by his distractors, and that group eventually included just about everybody. His interrogation tactics during public hearings included bullying and browbeating and came to be known as “McCarthyism.” He projected himself as a true patriot and he saw communists everywhere, including Hollywood. He destroyed people, ruined careers and built paranoia. A Hollywood blacklist was created that included directors, actors and screenwriters. Guilt could merely be by association. McCarthy’s undoing was when he went after supposed communists in the U.S. Army. The hearings were televised and the public saw his vicious tactics live and public opinion turned against him. In one of the more famous rebuttals, Joseph Nye, special counsel for the Army, said. “Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last? Have you left no sense of decency?”

It seems bullying, insults and intimidation have re-emerged in the current political sphere. A sense of decency should again be demanded…by the American public if the politicians lack the courage.

 

1948 – Prince Charles. Heir to the throne of England who had a brief, non-speaking role in the Princess Diana stage drama.

I’ve gotten a few lucky breaks in life, like not having been born a prince.

 

Sources:

wikipedia.org/wiki/Naval_Battle_of_Guadalcanal

http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history

http://www.onthisday.com

http://www.britannica.com