Saturday, April 22, 2006

April 22

If my daughter elects to be born today, she will join interesting company. Immanual Kant and Vladimir Lenin squirmed loose from their mothers on this date in 1724 and 1870, respectively; for several years afterward, they introduced no original ideas into the world. On this date in 1906, both Eddie Albert Heimberger and the Swedish Prince Gustaf Adolf, Duke of Västerbotten, were born. Heimberger, who dropped his last name for his career as an actor, is best remembered for his leading role in the surreal television series Green Acres, costarring the Hungarian madwoman Zha Zha Gabor; Prince Gustaf Adolf, who was at the time second in line to the Swedish throne, perished in a horrific plane crash in 1946, when a crew member forgot to disengage a rudder lock before takeoff, sending the Douglas Dakota craft nose-first into the ground. Also killed in the crash was American actress and opera soprano Grace Moore, who had not yet completed her religious conversion to Catholicism. The status of her eternal soul is uncertain.

Robert Oppenheimer, one of the creators of the atomic bomb, was born on 22 April 1904. Years after the Trinity test in July 1945, Oppenheimer recalled the moment in a television interview:
We knew the world would not be the same. A few people laughed, a few people cried, most people were silent. I remembered the line from the Hindu scripture, the Bhagavad-Gita. Vishnu is trying to persuade the Prince that he should do his duty and to impress him takes on his multi-armed form and says, "Now, I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds." I suppose we all thought that one way or another.

Earlier that year on Oppenheimer's 41st birthday, Adolf Hitler is alleged to have admitted defeat while cowering in the FĂĽhrerbunker; having resolved himself to suicide, he did not in fact do so until April 30. On Oppenheimer's 11th birthday, 22 April 1915, German forces deployed chlorine gas against French, British and Canadian troops in the Second Battle of Ypres. Although French and German forces had previously used chemical weapons, these earlier attacks had consisted of tear and sneezing gas and did not pose a mortal threat. Chlorine gas, by contrast, destroyed the lungs and esophagus of its victims and caused slow, fiendish death by asphyxiation.
Captain Hugh Pollard, writing in his 1932 Memoir of a VC, offered the following description of the effects:
Dusk was falling when from the German trenches in front of the French line rose that strange green cloud of death. The light north-easterly breeze wafted it toward them, and in a moment death had them by the throat. One cannot blame them that they broke and fled. In the gathering dark of that awful night they fought with the terror, running blindly in the gas-cloud, and dropping with breasts heaving in agony and the slow poison of suffocation mantling their dark faces. Hundreds of them fell and died; others lay helpless, froth upon their agonized lips and their racked bodies powerfully sick, with tearing nausea at short intervals. They too would die later - a slow and lingering death of agony unspeakable.

On this date in 1993, the Holocaust Memorial Museum was dedicated. A year later, a comotose Richard Nixon died several days after suffering a massive stroke. After Nixon was buried a week later, Hunter S. Thompson offered the following words of remembrance:
If the right people had been in charge of Nixon's funeral, his casket would have been launched into one of those open-sewage canals that empty into the ocean just south of Los Angeles. He was a swine of a man and a jabbering dupe of a president. Nixon was so crooked that he needed servants to help him screw his pants on every morning. Even his funeral was illegal. He was queer in the deepest way. His body should have been burned in a trash bin.