Thursday, April 20, 2006

April 20

Those who yodel endlessly and ahistorically about the spectre of "Islamofascism" will no doubt be thrilled to learn that today marks the birthdays of both Adolf Hitler and the prophet Mohammed. So far, it appears unlikely that my daughter -- whose official due date has been set for April 23 -- will choose today to burst forth into this miserable world. The same divine fortune, however, was not bestowed upon Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, the late jazz great Lionel Hampton, or Funny Cide, the horse who blew his shot at the Tiple Crown in 2003. All three were born on April 20.

Although it was not the anniversary of her birth, April 20 was nevertheless an especially awful day for Elizabeth Barton, the "holy maid of Kent." Known for her fits of religious mania and for her ecstatic ravings against sin and vice, the popular and delusional Barton prophesied that the marriage of Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn would invite the Lord's deadly wrath. After being brought into the presence of the king himself, she is alleged to have berated him mercilessly for his annulled marriage to Catherine of Aragon and his decision to remarry Boleyn:
Satan is tormenting me for the sins of my people, but our blessed Lady shall deliver me by her mighty hand... O times! O manners!... Abominable heresies, impious innovations!... King of England, beware that you touch not the power of the holy Father... Root out the new doctrines... Burn all over your kingdom the New Testament in the vulgar tongue. Henry, forsake Anne Boleyn and take back your wife Catherine... If you neglect these things, you shall not be King longer than a month, and in God’s eyes you will not be so even for an hour. You shall die the death of a villain, and Mary, the daughter of Catherine, shall wear your crown.

Henry, the torrent of nonsense washing over him, merely shrugged his shoulders. Over the next year, Barton's accusations against the king became more outrageous and flamboyant. At last arrested for treason and coerced into denying her own prophecies, Barton ascended the scaffold on 20 April 1534.

In the 20th century, April 20 brought two of the worst massacres in American history. On this date in 1914, an army of hired goons opened fire on a camp of striking coal workers in Ludlow, Colorado, killing 17 people -- 10 of whom were children, several of them asphysiated when the tent standing over the hole where they had sought refuge caught fire, sucking the oxygen from their lungs. The septuagenarian labor radical "Mother" Mary Jones, who had come to Colorado in support of the miners, described the massacre in her autobiography:
Immediately the machine guns began spraying the flimsy tent colony, the only home the wretched families of the miners had, spraying it with bullets. Like iron rain, bullets fell upon men, women and children.

The women and children fled to the hills. Others tarried. The men defended their homes with their guns. All day long the firing continued. Men fell dead, their faces to the ground. Women dropped. The little Snyder boy was shot through the head, trying to save his kitten. A child carrying water to his dying mother was killed.

By five o'clock in the afternoon, the miners had no more food, nor water, nor ammunition. They had to retreat with their wives and little ones into the hills. Louis Tikas was riddled with shots while he tried to lead women and children to safety. They perished with him.

Night came. A raw wind blew down the canyons where men, women and children shivered and wept. Then a blaze lighted the sky. The soldiers, drunk with blood and with the liquor they had looted from the saloon, set fire to the tents of Ludlow with oil-soaked torches. The tents, all the poor furnishings, the clothes and bedding of the miners' families burned. Coils of barbed wire were stuffed into the well, the miners' only water supply.

After it was over, the wretched people crept back to bury their dead. In a dugout under a burned tent, the charred bodies of eleven little children and two women were found -- unrecognizable. Everything lay in ruins. The wires of bed springs writhed on the ground as if they, too, had tried to flee the horror. Oil and fire and guns had robbed men and women and children of their homes and slaughtered tiny babies and defenseless women.

Eight five years and 181 miles from Ludlow, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris -- who quite probably had never heard of the Ludlow Massacre -- celebrated the birthday of Adolf Hitler by committing suicide, though not before they had killed thirteen fellow students and teachers at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado.

Lost in the news that day was the untimely death of professional wrestler "Ravishing" Rick Rude, whose mighty heart -- plumped to unnatural dimensions by steroids, pounded by athletic excess into a brittle tube of meat -- at last exploded in his chest.