Wednesday, November 29, 2006

November 29

Shortly after dawn on 29 November 1864, Colonel John Milton Chivington of the Third Colorado Calvalry led his troops in concert with the First Colorado Calvary and the First New Mexico Volunteers against an encampment of Southern Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians along Sand Creek, near Ft. Lyon, Colorado. In one of the most horrific massacres in United States history, Chivington presided over the killing and mutilation of nearly two hundred people, the vast majority of whom were women and children under the protection of Black Kettle, one of the Cheyenne "peace chiefs" who had agreed two months before to relocate his people to Indian Territory.

Chivington, an anti-slavery Methodist minister prior to the Civil War, insisted that the Cheyenne and Arapaho were deserving of their fate because they were "hostile to whites." Pointing to a cluster of notorious murders and attacks against white settlers the previous summer, as well as the looting of property which he calculated at a value of $300,000, Chivington claimed that he "had every reason to believe that these Indians were either directly or indirectly concerned in the outrages." Although it was well known at the time that the Indians under Black Kettle were not responsible for the attacks, Chivington was committed to the principle of collective punishment. As he later explained to Congress, the "character of Indians in the western country for truth and veracity, like their respect for the chastity of women who may become prisoners in their hands, is not of that order which is calculated to inspire confidence in what they may say."

Defending truth and chastity -- to say nothing of the mining interests that were anticipating the clearance of Indians from the region -- Chivington's troops descended upon the Sand Creek encampment, stiff with drink and eager to shed their nickname of the "Bloodless Third." Reminding his men that "nits make lice," Chivington ordered his soldiers to spare no one and burn what they chose not to plunder.

John S. Smith, a federal Indian agent and interpreter from Ft. Lyon, witnessed the slaughter and offered his testimony to Congress in 1865
[A]bout a mile above the village, the troops had got a parcel of the Indians hemmed in under the bank of the river; as soon as the troops overtook them, they commenced firing on them; some troops had got above them, so that they were completely surrounded. There were probably a hundred Indians hemmed in there, men, women, and children; the most of the men in the village escaped.

By the time I got up with the battery to the place where these Indians were surrounded there had been some considerable firing. Four or five soldiers had been killed, some with arrows and some with bullets. The soldiers continued firing on these Indians, who numbered about a hundred, until they had almost completely destroyed them. I think I saw altogether some seventy dead bodies lying there; the greater portion women and children. There may have been thirty warriors, old and young; the rest were women and small children of different ages and sizes.
Similar atrocities marked the rest of the day. Afterwards, soldiers mutilated the bodies of the dead, scapling and dismembering them while looting and burning their possessions; Chivington himself appeared at a Denver theater several days later, toting a chain of 100 scalps and the genitalia a Cheyenne woman. Some reports suggested that Chivington also brought a fetus.

Initially celebrated as a heroic victory, the inaptly named "Battle of Sand Creek" soon proved to be a national disgrace. Two Congressional inquiries later condemned Chivington, although a general amnesty granted to soldiers after the Civil War spared him from prosecution. His military career in shambles and his ample political ambitions thwarted, Chivington lived with the memories of Sand Creek for nearly thirty more years, during which time he provided little evidence of the psychological torment he most assuredly deserved. He died -- one hopes quite painfully -- of cancer in 1892.

A railroad town named for the colonel in 1887 was abandoned during the Dust Bowl of the 1920s. Its remains are slowly being overtaken by prairie grass.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

November 28

RARE BIRDFor humanity, the long march to planetary domination witnessed another victory over a hapless competitor two years ago, when the critically endangered po'o-uli -- one of more than two dozen species of Hawaiian honeycreeper, all of whom are either extinct or critically endangered -- suffered a mortal blow.

On 28 November 2004, the last known member of the species died of avian malaria after nearly three months in captivity at the Maui Bird Conservation Center. Two other po'o-uli had been spotted in the wild during the 1990s, but neither had been sighted for at least a year and were believed as well to be dead. Melamprosops phaeosoma had only been known to biologists since 1973, when it was first described by University of Hawai'i students on the east slope of Haleakala volcano; the small finch-like bird numbered around 140 in 1980, but habitat loss and non-native predators like cats, rats and mongoose reduced the po'o-uli to only a handful by 2002. Feral pigs, which are abundant throughout the islands of Hawai'i, also imperiled the po'o-uli by destroying the subcanopy trees on which the birds relied.

In an utterly pointless gesture, tissue samples of the last po'o-uli were extracted and frozen in the unlikely event that cloning technology one day allows us to reconstitute lost species.


By awful coincidence, November 28 is also La Ku'oko'a, the date on which the independent status of the Kingdom of Hawai'i was acknowledged by the British and the French in 1843. The Anglo-French proclamation, issued that day from London, declared that
Her Majesty the Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, and His Majesty the King of the French, taking into consideration the existence in the Sandwich Islands (Hawaiian Islands) of a government capable of providing for the regularity of its relations with foreign nations, have thought it right to engage, reciprocally, to consider the Sandwich Islands as an Independent State, and never to take possession, neither directly or under the title of Protectorate, or under any other form, of any part of the territory of which they are composed.
American commercial interests and manifest destinarians, undeterred by the 1843 proclamation, sought for decades to acquire the islands for the United States. By 1893, the imperial dreams bore fruit as an coup led by American planters disposed of Hawai'ian sovereignty and submitted a formal request for absorption as a territory of the U.S. The never-ratified annexation treaty signed on February 14 of that year reads as a grotesque inversion of the 1843 proclamation:
The United States of America and the Provisional Government of the Hawaiian Islands, in view of the natural dependence of those Islands upon the United States, of their geographical proximity thereto, of the intimate part taken by citizens of the United States in there implanting the seeds of Christian civilization, of the long continuance of their exclusive reciprocal commercial relations whereby their mutual interests have been developed, and the preponderant and paramount share thus acquired by the United States and their citizens in the productions, industries and trade of the said Islands, and especially in view of the desire expressed by the said Government of the Hawaiian Islands that those Islands shall be incorporated into the United States as an integral part thereof and under their sovereignty, in order to provide for and assure the security and prosperity of the said Islands, the High Contracting Parties have determined to accomplish by treaty an object so important to their mutual and permanent welfare.
In 1898, the dissolution of Hawai'ian independence was formalized, and the islands were brought beneath the pacific wings of William McKinley's America. Under U.S. control, the holiday of La Ku'oko'a was suppressed; the American celebration of Thanksgiving -- second only to Columbus day in the canon of imperial holidays -- was offered as a substitute.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

November 25

es-pinochet_390One of humanity's greatest living monsters, the Chilean criminal Augusto Jose Ramon Pinochet Ugarte, celebrates his 91st birthday today. Pinochet, who ascended to power in the aftermath of a 1973 military coup, presided for 17 years over a nation in which democracy and basic human rights were ground to dust under an anti-communist crusade that dominated the Southern Cone of Latin America during the 1970s. Along with the Argentine dictator and mass murderer Jorge Videla, Paraguayan autocrat Alfredo Stroessner, and an array of other right-wing thugs, Pinochet participated in Plan Condor, an anti-communist and "counter-terrorist" campaign that relied on torture, forced disappearances, and political assassinations at home and abroad. Based on documents uncovered in the Paraguayan "terror archive" in 1992, human rights groups estimate that Operation Condor -- for which the United States provided covert support -- resulted in at least 50,000 murders and an additional 30,000 disappearances, with 400,000 Latin American civilians incarcerated for their political activities.

In Chile, at least 3000 died and tens of thousands were imprisoned and subjected to state-sanctioned toture. Of the 3500 women arrested for political causes during the Pinochet years, nearly all reported being sexually assaulted. During the initial months after the 1973 coup that deposed Salvador Allende, the Chilean junta imprisoned so many civilians that stadiums, naval vessels and military camps were enlisted to aid the overburdened penal institutions. New prison complexes were established in the most remote areas of the country. The Direccion Nacional de Inteligencia (DINA), Pinochet's secret police, orchestrated the repression and carried out several assassinations against former Allende officials. In one of their most notorious exploits, DINA agents working with anti-Castro exiles killed Orlando Letelier -- former Chilean ambassador to the US -- and a 25-year old American woman named Ronni Moffitt, who worked at the Institute for Policy Studies. The 1976 car bombing, which took place in Washington, DC, blew Letelier's legs off and nearly decapitated Moffitt. American intelligence officials evidently knew about the plans two months before they were executed.

In late 2004 a commission led by Sergio Valech, the former archbishop of Santiago, published its final report on Pinochet's reign of terror -- the third and most exhaustive of the three commission inquiries into the Pinochet legacy. The Valech Commission heard testimony from 35,000 victims of state repression from the period of 1973 to 1990; Archbishop Valech himelf described the 1200-page report as "an experience without precedent in the world," one that presented Chileans with "an inescapable reality: political detention and torture constituted an institutional practice of the state." More than anything, the report undermined Augusto Pinochet's traditional defense that renegade officers -- a small handful at best -- were responsible for acts of cruelty that had been unjustly exaggerated by opponents of the regime. As the report disclosed,
Practically everyone who testified before the Commission stated that they were detained with extreme violence, some in front of their children, in the middle of the night, with shouts, blows and threats of death made to the detainee and other family members, creating an atmosphere of terror and anguish.

Although prison conditions varied, detainees generally slept on the floor, without a mattress or blanket; they were deprived of food and water or were given scant and awful food. They lived in crowded and unhealthy conditions, without access to toilets or baths, and were subjected to constant humiliation and abuses of power. . . .

Most witnesses described behavioral, emotional and psychosocial effects. Many said they had felt -- and still feel -- insecure and fearful, humiliated, ashamed and guilty; depressed, anxiety-ridden and hopeless. Some persons mentioned alterations in their concentration and memory; others cited conflicts, crises and breakups within their families, as well as conjugal problems. They also mentioned the loss of reference groups and social networks. Most victims mentioned sleep disturbances and chronic insomnia, as well as behavioral inhibitions, phobias and fears.

Although his arrest in England in 1998 did not result in extradition to Spain, where he would have faced trial on more than 90 counts of torture carried out against Spanish citizens, Augusto Pinochet has been stripped of parliamentary immunity in his home country. He will quite likely die before facing charges for an array of crimes, including tax fraud and passport forgery.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

November 21


Today is the 32nd anniversary of George Walker Bush's honorable discharge from the United States Air Force Reserve, bringing his military service to a formal conclusion. He had not flown a plane in over three years and had not performed any identifiable duties since early 1972.

Twenty-seven years after his discharge from the Air Force Reserves, George Bush delivered a speech at Ft. Campbell, Kentucky, where he observed that
There are still terrorists on the loose in Afghanistan, and we will find and destroy their network, piece by piece. The most difficult steps in this mission still lie ahead. Our enemies hide in sophisticated cave complexes, located in some of the most mountainous and rugged territory. These hideouts are heavily fortified and defended by fanatics who will fight to the death. Unlike efforts to liberate a town or destroy Taliban equipment, success against these cells may come more slowly. But we'll prevail. We'll prevail with a combination of good information, decisive action, and great military skill.
A year later, on 21 November 2002, Bush appeared with Tony Blair in a press conference in Prague, where the two were attending the North Atlantic Council summit. During an exchange with reporters, Bush explained that
Saddam Hussein has got a decision to make: Will he uphold the agreement that he has made? And if he chooses to do so by disarming peacefully, the world will be better off for it. If he chooses not to disarm, we will work with our close friends, the closest of which is Great Britain, and we will disarm him. But our first choice is not to use the military option. Our first choice is for Mr. Saddam Hussein to disarm. And that's where we'll be devoting a lot of our energies.
A few minutes later, a reporter asked the American president about Osama Bin Laden, who had recently released a videotape indicating that he was in fact still alive. A year to the day after promising to "prevail" over the terrorists in the mountains of Afghanistan, George W. Bush responded to the reporter's question with a brief joke, promising the journalists that he would have a "formulated answer" the next day.


On 21 November 1967, while speaking to the National Press Club, US General William Westmoreland insisted that progress of the American War in Vietnam was paying off. "We have reached an important point," he observed, "when the end begins to come into view. . . . The enemy's hopes are bankrupt. With your support, we will give you a success that will impact not only on South Vietnam but on every emerging nation in the world."

Seven years later, on the day George W. Bush received an honorable discharge from the United States Air Force Reserves, 2584 Air Force pilots had been killed in Vietnam. None, so far as we can tell, died while defending the skies of Texas.

Monday, November 20, 2006

November 20

ZUMBIOn this date in 1695, Zumbi -- perhaps the greatest of the Afro-Brazilian folk heroes -- was captured and beheaded by Portugese forces, bringing a conclusion to nearly 70 years of resistance from the maroon community of Palmares.

Located in an inaccessible region of Northeastern Brazil, tucked behind the mountains that divided the coastal settlements from the continental interior, the quilombo of Palmares had drawn tens of thousands of fugitive Angolans during the 17th century. Enslaved by the Portugese, the Angolans fled the sugar plantations and established one of the largest settlements in the Western hemisphere. In some accounts, Palmares is known as "Angola Janga" or -- as mistranslated by the Portugese -- "Little Angola," although with as many as 30,000 inhabitants by 1650, there was nothing little about Palmares. Its large population and substantial economic power in the region immunized it against Portugese conquest for decades.

Throughout the 17th century, the Portugese periodically assembled war parties to move against Palmares. While they occasionally captured several hundred maroons, they were never able to conquer the quilombo and endured countless reprisals that killed hundreds and disrupted the plantation economy be encouraging further slave defections. Nevertheless, the Portugese assaults exacted a toll on Palmares, and by the late 1670s the "king," Ganga Zumba, reached an accord with his people's antagonists -- in exchange for accepting Portugese authority and rendering recent fugitives to the Europeans for re-enslavement, the people of Palmares would be offered amnesty and their freedom.

Zumbi, a young Angolan born in Palmares around 1655, rejected the overture and assembled a resistance movement that bedeviled the Portugese for over fifteen years. After Ganga Zumba's timely and somewhat suspicious death in 1680, Zumbi -- who had served as a commander of war under Ganga Zumba -- assumed the leadership of Palmares. War with the Portugese swiftly resumed.

In 1692, an irregular force led by the Indian fighter and slave catcher Domingos Velho was commissioned to bring Palmares into submission. Within two years, Velho's forces had laid seige to the quilombo and destroyed it. Zumbi escaped the final battle of this campaign in February 1694, when hundreds of his fighters were captured and hundreds more killed at his royal compound of Cerca do Macaco. By November 1695, however, his fortune came to an end when he was betrayed by a fellow fighter and taken captive by the Portugese, who beheaded him on the spot.

Lofting his head to the coastal town of Recife, the Portugese displayed it in the central plaza as proof of Zumbi's mortality.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

November 19

12336One year ago today in Iraq, Marines from Kilo Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division allegedly massacred two dozen civilians in the town of Haditha. Among the dead were six children under the age of fourteen as well as an elderly man shot to death in his wheelchair.

On November 20, the day after the incident, the Marines issued a statement announcing that "a US Marine and 15 civilians were killed yesterday from the blast of a roadside bomb in Haditha. Immediately following the bombing, gunmen attacked the convoy with small-arms fire. Iraqi army soldiers and Marines returned fire, killing eight insurgents and wounding another."

With the exception of the first three words, nothing in that statement appears to have been true. Lance Corporal Miguel Terrazas had indeed been killed when his humvee was struck by an IED shortly after 7 a.m. Over the next several hours, however, Marines from Kilo Company are believed to have stormed four houses, where they left only a small handful of survivors. Nine-year-old Eman Waleed, who lived in the first house attacked by the US, described the events to Time magazine:
First, they went into my father's room, where he was reading the Koran and we heard shots. . . . I couldn't see [the Marines'] faces very well—only their guns sticking into the doorway. I watched them shoot my grandfather, first in the chest and then in the head. Then they killed my granny.

. . . We were lying there, bleeding, and it hurt so much. Afterward, some Iraqi soldiers came. They carried us in their arms. I was crying, shouting "Why did you do this to our family?" And one Iraqi soldier tells me, "We didn't do it. The Americans did."

After the killings were concluded, Marines swept back through the four homes.
Lance Corporals Andrew Wright and Roel Ryan Briones was charged with the task of photographing the dead and removing their bodies, at which point they were brought to a local morgue in American body bags. Among those whose bodies Briones carried was that of a young girl who had been shot in the head. "I held her out like this," he explained to the Los Angeles Times, "but her head was bobbing up and down and the insides fell on my legs."

"I used to be one of those Marines who said that post-traumatic stress is a bunch of bull. But all this stuff that keeps going through my head is eating me up. I need immediate help."

Wright and Briones each earned Purple Hearts after the Haditha Massacre.

Less distressed by the slaughter was Lance Corporal James Crossen, who was injured in the explosion that killed Terrazas. "Probably half of them were bad guys and you just don't know," he told the Associated Press, "so it really doesn't cross my mind. [...] Being so far away and it being so hot... you just lose control sort of and kind of stop caring what happened and I'm pretty sure that's what happened over there."

To this date, no charges have been filed in the Haditha massacre, although investigations -- in keeping with the customary deferral of justice -- are ongoing.

Friday, November 17, 2006

November 18

300px-JonestownUrged on by a delusional religious maniac named Jim Jones, nearly 1000 people ended their lives on 18 November 1978 in Jonestown, Guyana, after drinking a concoction of cyanide, valium, choral hydrate, Penegram and grape Flavor-Aid. The catastrophe at Jonestown was arguably the largest mass sucide in human history.

Jones, the son of a Klansman who originally hailed from Indiana, sold monkeys door-to-door to finance his first ministry in downtown Indianapolis, where he founded an organization that eventually became known as the People's Temple. Dismayed by the city's racism and convinced that Indianapolis would be annihilated in a nuclear war, Jones moved the People's Temple ministry to Northern California during the mid-1960s, believing his followers would be safer there. Part religious cult, part social service agency, the People's Temple is perhaps best understood as a "charismatic bureaucracy" that appealed to some of the poorest, most desperate, and most marginalized Americans living in an era of tremendous social upheaval and dislocation. African Americans joined the People's Temple in comparatively large numbers, drawn to Jones' anti-racist vision and his anti-poverty programs. Proposing a creed described by Jones as "apostolic socialism," the Temple established soup kitchens, health clinics and daycare centers, residential homes for the elderly and a ranch for the developmentally disabled; they offered financial support to a San Francisco pet shelter and established a fund to assist the families of slain police officers; and they fleeced their members, urging them to surrender their property and savings to support the good works of the Temple.

Facing increasing legal troubles in California, Jones leased several thousand acres of jungle from the Guyanese government in 1974 and relocated his ministry to South America, where his followers were promised an earthly paradise. Instead, the colony foundered. Swelling to more than 900 members by 1977, Jonestown suffered from food shortages while its residents labored from sunrise to sunset to support the "People's Temple Agricultural Project." By late 1978, Jones himself was heavily addicted to phenobarbitol. Discipline inside the colony became increasingly harsh, as recalcitrant children were punished by being locked in crates or lowered into a dry well where they were told monsters lived.

When California Congressman Leo Ryan visited Jonestown with a group of former Temple members and several reporters and photographers, the visit did not go swimmingly. Ryan had come to Jonestown to investigate rumors of human rights abuses, and during his visit several Jonestown families defected and requested that Ryan take them with him when he left. Around 5:00 p.m. on November 18, members of the People's Temple gunned Ryan and four others down as they waited in a small aircraft to leave Guyana. That night, all but a handful of Jonestown's residents died from massive doses of poison. Although the event is usually described as a mass suicide, it should be noted that two-thirds of the Jonestown population consisted of young children and the elderly, most of whom quite probably did not drink the grape cocktail willingly.

Richard Tropp, a member of the leadership group and one of the last people at Jonestown to die, left a note that urged the world to study the history of the Jonestown colony and someday achieve the ideals of "brotherhood, justice and equality" for which Jim Jones had supposedly fought. As the bodies accumulated, Tropp described the scene:
There is quiet as we leave this world. The sky is gray. People file [in] slowly and take the somewhat bitter drink. Many more must drink. Our destiny. It is sad that we could not let our light shine in truth, unclouded by the demons of accident, circumstance, miscalculation, error that was not our intent, beyond our intent.
A 45-minute audio tape wasrecorded by Jones as he guided the "destiny" of Jonestown to its conclusion. Toward the end of the tape, Jim Jones attempted to reassure the Jonestown children that their deaths would be painless -- that they would merely go to sleep and be at peace. The children were evidently not persuaded by Jones' words, as their heartbreaking cries suggest.

His utopian project having failed utterly, Jim Jones died from a self-inflicted shotgun blast to the head.

November 17

79472aThe trial of William Laws Calley, Jr., a second lieutenant in the United States Army, began on this date in 1970. Calley was charged with the deaths of 109 "Oriental human beings." Calley's victims were defenseless Vietnamese peasants who numbered among the 500 slaughtered on 16 March 1968 by soldiers from Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 20th Infantry Regiment, 11th Brigade, Americal Division -- one of whose platoons Calley led to little acclaim. Widely regarded as incompetent, peers and subordinates often noted that he was incapable of reading maps or using a compass.

The atrocities at My Lai occurred less than two months after the beginning of the Tet Offensive. US forces were carrying out the policy of "search and destroy" throughout Quang Ngai province, where such operations killed over 50,000 civilians and destroyed roughly two-thirds of the provincial villages in 1967-1968. When Charlie Company was instructed to move against four hamlets that constituted the village of My Lai, they expected to find remnants of the 48th NLF Battalion; encountering nothing of the sort, the company destroyed the village and nearly everyone in it. After more than a year of official silence, the story of My Lai surfaced in November 1969 thanks to the investigative journalism of Seymour Hersh and several courageous letters written to Nixon administration officials and Congressional leaders by soldiers who had witnessed war crimes in Vietnam and had heard about the events of March 1968. Lt. Calley was formally charged on 5 September 1969.

At Calley's trial, Private Dennis Conti testified for the prosecution:
Lieutenant Calley came out and said, "Take care of these people." So we said, okay, so we stood there and watched them. He went away, then he came back and said, "I thought I told you to take care of these people." We said, "We are." He said, "I mean, kill them." I was a little stunned and I didn't know what to do. He said, "Come around this side. We'll get on line and we'll fire into them." I said, "No, I've got a grenade launcher. I'll watch the tree line." I stood behind them and they stood side by side. So they -- Calley and Meadlo -- got on line and fired directly into the people. There were bursts and single shots for two minutes. It was automatic. The people screamed and yelled and fell. I guess they tried to get up, too. They couldn''t. That was it. They people were pretty well messed up. Lots of heads was shot off, pieces of heads and pieces of flesh flew off the sides and arms. They were all messed up. Meadlo fired a little bit and broke down. He was crying. He said he couldn't do any more. He couldn't kill anymore people. He couldn't fire into the people any more. He gave me his weapon into my hands. I said I wouldn't. "If they're going to be killed, I'm not going to do it. Let Lieutenant Calley do it," I told him. So I gave Meadlo back his weapon. At that time there was only a few kids still alive Lieutenant Calley killed them one-by-one. Then I saw a group of five women and six kids -- eleven in all -- going to a tree line. "Get 'em! Get 'em! Kill 'em!" Calley told me. I waited until they got to the line and fired off four or five grenades. I don't know what happened....
Calley's use of the Nuremberg defense -- that he was merely following orders -- did not withstand the scrutiny of the jury. On April Fool's Day 1971, two days after Calley was convicted and sentenced to life in prison, President Nixon ordered him transferred to house arrest, partly in response to the outpouring of public support for the now-convicted mass murderer.

After three years of living in his Ft. Benning apartment, Calley was paroled in September 1974. He continued to describe the events at My Lai as a "battle," although not one round of enemy fire was taken that day.

In the spring of 1972 South Vietnamese forces -- claiming to be rooting out NLF "terrorists" -- destoyed the hamlet to which most of the survivors of My Lai had been relocated.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

History Carnival XLIII

Welcome to the 43rd installment -- if I recall my Roman numerals correctly -- of the History Carnival. Thanks to Sharon Howard, co-ordinator of this Carnival, for offering me the chance to host this, and thanks to the nearly two dozen people who submitted nominations. Apologies as well for the slight delay in getting this posted. You would think that a state represented by Sen. Ted "Series of Tubes" Stevens would have better internet service than it does, but the past week has brought dozens of interruptions and system crashes, making for a somewhat erratic process of carvival-making. On the plus side, I've blown a lot less time watching YouTube than usual.

Having now perused every single blog in the Cliopatra Blogroll, I feel entitled -- or at least obligated -- to make a few observations.

First, there's a lot of incredibly interesting writing being produced out there by people who research, teach, or otherwise love history. If you haven't spent an hour or two clicking through the list to find new sites to bookmark, you're really missing out on some neat stuff. I probably added six or seven new blogs to my list as I was working on this carnival....

Second, there are a lot of blogs out there that haven't been updated in months. To those slackers, I ask: What are you people doing with yourselves? Get back to work already. It's particularly painful to read posts from, say, July insisting that "I'm going to start blogging more regularly now" -- followed by absolutely nothing. My favorite moment of unfulfilled ambition came from a blogger who observed -- on 5 December 2005 -- that "I should really try write in this more . . ."

That being said, here are some interesting thoughts from people who have not yet been consumed by the void:

Memory and Forgetting

Alterdestiny founder Erik Loomis runs an interesting series every Tuesday called "Forgotten Americans," which examines the lives of people whose contibutions -- for good or ill -- have been needlessly overlooked. Last week's entry revived the memory of Madison Grant, one of the more repugnant contributors to World War I-era xenophobia and white supremacy. A timely post, for all sorts of reasons.

At Millard Fillmore's Bathtub, we learn of a collection of Dorothea Lange photos taken during the Japanese internment; the photos, evidently, did not represent the camps in an especially positive light, and so they remained more or less buried in the National Archives until recently.

Speaking of unseemly histories, Michael Brooks considers the forgotten legacy of the revolutionary-era "political arsonist" John the Painter, a Scottish-born rascal described by at least one historian as "America's first terrorist." A career criminal and delinquent servant, John the Painter was taken by the revolutionary spirit and returned to England in 1775, whereupon he began a series of attacks on British ports.

It's nothing but smiles and sunshine at Damn Interesting, where we read about the lonely life of William Sidis, an early 20th century child prodigy and public sensation who -- after seemingly being destined to join the ranks of the world's great mathematicians -- finished his short life as a destitute recluse who feared anything more complex than an adding machine.

We find a less morose batch of posts at Boston 1775, where a week-long series explores the death and ressurection of "Pope Night" during Revolutionary America. (Why aren't modern holidays this much fun? Drunken brawling? Burning effigies? What's not to love?) J.L. Bell doesn't tell us if John the Painter was involved in any of these festivities, but we can only assume he would have approved.

And finally, two posts from Gracchii and Scott McLemee remind us of the global contexts for thinking about English liberties and the legacy of Ben Franklin.


Although November 11, 1918 brough a conclusion to one of the most stupidly conceived wars in human history (see below) it also marked the birth of Kurt Vonnegut, as Syntax at Scrutiny Hooligans reminds us. If you haven't re-read Slaughterhouse Five recently, now would be a good time. My first Vonnegut book was Breakfast of Champions, which permanently unhinged my brain as a 13-year-old.

If not for the icy hand of death, Warren Harding would have turned 141 on November 2. Offering kinder words than I did on the anniversary of his demise , Dr. History provides some generous birthday spin that makes Harding sound like less than the catastrophic embarrassment he actually was. A real feat, that....

And speaking of counterfactuals, Mark A. Rayner at The Squib wonders what might have happened if the 1605 Gunpowder Plot had actually succeeded. (Hint: It doesn't end well for the Catholics.)

Elsewhere, Matt remembers Annie Oakley on the 80th anniversary of her death, and The Old Foodie commemorates the birth of the Australian whaling industry (and offers a recipe for whale goulash -- a dish that played no more than a minimal role in the decline of the Southern Right Whale and Humpback Whale populations).

War and Peace

Armistice/Remembrance/Veteran's Day was observed across the blogosphere, with some of the more worthwhile thoughts appearing at Conservative History, Project History, and Martini Republic, who reminds us that poetry was only good thing to emerge from that pointless slaughter.

At Respectful Insolence and Airminded, the proprietors engaged in a debate over Richard Dawkins' recent observations on air war and collateral damage. Dawkins argued that the development of "smart bombs" tells us something significant about our diminishing willingness to accept civilian casualties during war; Orac questions Dawkins' understanding of World War II and disagrees with Dawkins' assumption that war planners didn't wish to minimize "collateral" damage. Airminded, in response, takes issue with Orac's critique, pointing out that in fact if we read the words of the war planners correctly, "there was no collateral damage at Dresden."

Down Under, Gill Pollack discovers that "the only enemy action in Australia during World War I was by an ice cream vendor who murdered children in the name of the Turkish Sultan. If the story was told as a movie, audiences would assume that it was pure fiction." As Pollack tells the story, we learn that it's not.

We can't be sure how Donald Rumsfeld might have responded to the predations of a Turkish ice cream vendor, but now that his schedule has been cleared of unnecessary appointments, perhaps we can find out. Meantime, over at Jon Swift's blog, we are asked to entertain the modest proposal that Rumsfeld will be remembered as "the greatest Secretary of Defense since Robert McNamara."

And speaking of errors, Miland Brown discovers a major mistake in the Discovery Channel's series on The Battle for Rome. Brown explains that Julius Caesar did not -- contrary to the show's depiction -- decimate an entire legion for mutiny. Good for him, I say.

Finally, Rob Farley discusses the awful fate of the Yamato, one of the most storied battleships in the Imperial Japanese Navy.


Evidently, some elections took place last week in the US. Turning current events to their own advantage, Charles Swift at Boston History takes a look at the Massachusetts gubernatorial election for 1812, which among other things gave us the term "Gerrymander." Elsewhere, Brian Dirck at the Abe Lincoln Blog wonders why so little attention has been paid to the 1860 election. And David Kaiser -- a few days before the polls opened -- offered some historical comparisons to the 1918 and 1930 elections, as well as some important thoughts on the "political illiteracy of the American people," including the man whose party fared not so well on Nov. 7. Jon Swift suggests that political illiteracy and voter irrationality might be blunted by "self-correcting voting machines" among other innovations.

And over at Red State, Academic Elephant suggests with a straight face that this election might resemble the 1945 ouster of Winston Churchill as British Prime Minister. Um, ok. We'll keep that one in mind. (Next Update: 15 November 2067).


Republican control of Congress and Rumsfeld's tenure at the Pentagon were not the only entities to surrender their mortal form this month. Clifford Geertz' death brought forth numerous tributes, as Ralph Luker reported. Less well-remembered -- but certainly worthy of note -- was Sid Smith, whose short educational films warned American youth of the 1950s and 1960s about the perils of running with scissors, performing dangerous bicycle stunts, smoking marijuana cigarettes, and recruiting adults to buy them alcohol. (You can watch some of Davis' oeuvre here.)

Other recent passings include the wrestler and civil rights activist Sputnik Monroe, whose work is discussed in a remarkable post by Renegade Eye;
and tennis great Hamilton Richardson, who battled diabetes while remaining near the top of the American ranks for years.


For those who still read in the old-fashioned sense, Natalie Bennett recommends the autobiography of Nobel Peace Prize winner and Iranian political activist and feminist Shirin Ebadi; less enthusiastic about her reading list is The Little Professor, who advises against reading the latest biography of Anne Boleyn. We can be certain, meanwhile that while few in the blogosphere will actually read Jimmy Carter's latest book, everyone will have a hack at it.

A few interesting online primary sources were discovered this week. At the Ten Thousand Year Blog, David Mattison gets quite excited about the new Darwin archive. (The creationist archive can supposedly be found here.) And over at the always entertaining Kircher Society, we read about Google's new e-text version of Kirby's Wonderful and Scientific Museum, a massive six-volume, 19th century compendium of the bizarre.

And finally, if you wake up each day -- as I do -- and wonder which pseudo-historical figure you most closely resemble, you might have a go at this quiz, brought to our attention by way of Chris at Historicus, who evidently resembles Myamoto Musashi, the legendary 16th century Japanese swordsman.

The next carnival is scheduled for December 1, to be hosted by the incomparable Barista. You can submit nominations by e-mail (Tiley[at]internode[.]on[.]net].) or via the official submission form here.

Monday, November 13, 2006

November 13

EthelUnIt has been one thousand and four years since the St. Brice's Day Massacre, when the English King Aethelred ("The Unready") ordered the killing of every Dane in his country. Explanations for the slaughter are varied. According to the 12th century chronicles of John of Wallingford, the English -- particularly the men -- resented the Danes because of their impeccable cleanliness, which made them somewhat more appealing to the local women. More plausibly, Ethelred was motivated by concerns that the Danes were plotting against his rule. Indeed, the Danes had occupied and governed much of the central and eastern regions of England (known as "Danelaw") since the late ninth century; although the English kings had gradually eroded the holdings of Danelaw, Viking raiders had accelerated their raids against the countryside since a.d. 980, extracting tributes that depleted the nation's wealth.

In November 1002, Aethelred announced that the cleansing would begin:
For it is fully agreed that to all dwelling in this country it will be well known that, since a decree was sent out by me with the counsel of my leading men and magnates, to the effect that all the Danes who had sprung up in this island, sprouting like cockle amongst the wheat, were to be destroyed by a most just extermination, and thus this decree was to be put into effect even as far as death . . . .
Wallingford and William of Jumieges among other later chroniclers reported that Danish women were buried waist-deep in the earth before being set upon by mastiffs; children were crushed with rocks. It being harvest month, English mobs used farm implements to dispatch their victims. Few were spared. Aethelred was particularly pleased to report that the Danish population of Oxford, "striving to escape death," took refuge in St. Frideswide's Church. When their pursuers were unable to force them from the church, "they set fire to the planks and burnt, as it seems, this church with its ornaments and its books."

Unremarked in Aethelred's account, of course, was the fact that none of the refugees survived the fire. He generously appropriated funds for the reconstruction of the church.

The Danes would have their revenge soon enough, as Aethelred's shortsighted policy only magnified the anger of Sweyn Forkbeard, the ruler of Denmark, whose sister Grunhilde was among those killed on 13 November 1002. The following year, Forkbeard commenced a ten-year campaign that ultimately sent Aethelred aflight to Normandy in 1013. Alas, Forkbeard was only able to savor his victory for a short time. Five weeks after taking the crown of England in December 1013, the vengeful Dane died unexpectedly.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

November 12

scruz1On 12 November 1991, two weeks after Sebastiao Gomes was shot in the stomach at point-blank range by an Indonesian soldier, thousands of East Timorese defiantly marched through the streets of Dili before being slaughtered by the hundreds at Santa Cruz cemetery, not far from Gomes' fresh grave. East Timor, which the Portugese had abandoned in 1975 after four centuries of colonial rule, suffered grievously under the subsequent Indonesian occupation, which crushed East Timorese independence after nine days; with the exception of the Catholic church, civil society in East Timor was utterly suppressed beneath the anti-communist pretense of the Suharto regime. In October 1991 a UN-sponsored delegation from Portugal was scheduled to in Dili to investigate the conditions of Indonesia's occupation. In preparation for the visit, the military began digging mass graves in Taci-Tolu, Hera and Maloa among other places as a warning to those who might have considered speaking with the delegation. The Indonesian military began arresting blacklisted civilians en masse. Gomes, a student activist, sought refuge in the church of San Antonio de Motael with other pro-independence youth who intended to meet with the UN delegation there. When the delegation canceled its visit, the Indonesian forces stormed the church killing Gomes in front of dozens of astonished witnesses.

On the morning of November 12, after attending a memorial mass for Gomes, thousands of East Timorese marched from Motael church to Santa Cruz Cemetery to lay flowers at Gomes' gravesite. Along the way, the marchers were harrassed by police and intelligence agents, who pelted the procession with rocks and attempted to divert the march away from the cemetery. When the mourners reached Santa Cruz, several army trucks appeared and armed soldiers poured forth.

Allan Nairn, who was on assignment in Dili for The New Yorker, described the massacre to the Senate Foreign Relations committee in late February 1992. As Nairn explained, he and Amy Goodman of Pacifica Radio stood between the soliders and the demonstrators, assuming -- incorrectly -- that the Indonesian soldiers would not fire on foreign journalists.
But as we stood there watching as the soldiers marched into our face, the inconceivable thing began to happen. The soldiers rounded the corner, never breaking stride, raised their rifles and fired in unison into the crowd. Timorese were backpedaling, gasping, trying to flee, but in seconds they were cut down by the hail of fire. People fell, stunned and shivering, bleeding in the road, and the Indonesian soldiers kept on shooting. I saw the soldiers aiming and shooting people in the back, leaping bodies to hunt down those who were still standing. They executed schoolgirls, young men, old Timorese, the street was wet with blood and the bodies were everywhere.

When it was over, nearly 300 people were dead and hundreds more wounded. An additional hundred East Timorese were "disappeared" shortly after the massacre. Constancio Pinto, one of the leaders of the underground independence movement in East Timor, wrote several years later that
[t]he situation in Dili and throughout East Timor was very tense in the days following the massacre. Indonesian soldiers were arresting young people throughout the city. Many were brutally tortured. The Indonesians killed many of those wounded at the cemetery who they transported to the military hospital by crushing their skulls with rocks and injecting cold water into them instead of medicine. On November 15, I received information that the military had taken 68 people arrested at the cemetery to the bank of the Be-Mos River a little more than one mile south of Dili and gunned them down. Such reports were common.

As many as 200,000 East Timorese may have been killed by the Indonesian military between 1974 and 1999, although the final totals will likely never be known.

Throughout Indonesia's occupation of East TImor, the United States remained one of its strongest patrons, offering it billions of dollars in economic and military assistance while vetoing numerous UN Security Council resolutions condemning the Indonesian occupation and calling for its immediate withdrawal.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

November 11

November 11 marks the anniversary of the armistice that brought World War I -- one of the most irredeemable conflicts in human history -- to a pathetic conclusion. The agreement, which called for the cessation of hostilities at precisely 11:00 a.m., was hastily signed between 5:12 and 5:20 a.m. in a rail car in the Compiegne forest, near to the spot where France had capitulated in the Franco-Prussian War of 1871. Over the previous month, the Central Powers and their allies had collapsed one by one. Bulgaria agreed to an armistice at the end of September; the Ottoman Empire fell a month later; in early November, Austria and Hungary signed separate armistice agreements as the empire of the Hapsburgs disintegrated after a mere half century of life. With their allies removed, and with the November Revolution roiling at home, Germany agreed to the armistice on terms dictated completely by their enemies. For their part, the Central Powers offered up nearly seven million dead to this fruitless conflict; nearly nine million of their foes -- both combatants and civilians -- suffered identical fates. The wounded numbered in the tens of millions. The influenza pandemic stifled the lives of millions more over the next two years, to say nothing of the deacdes of economic despair, ethnic rivalry, open warfare and genocide that ensued.

priceThe last man to die for this epic mistake is conventionally believed to be George Lawrence Price, a 25-year-old Canadian soldier who was shot through the chest by a German sniper at 10:58 a.m., two minutes before the armistice officially took effect. Price was stationed with Company A of the 28th Northwest Battalion, which was ordered to secure the French town of Havre as well as the nearby Canal du Centre. After their company helped to secure both, Price led Arthur Goodmurphy and two other soldiers on an ill-advised patrol of the far side of the canal, where they were sprayed with machine gun fire from a nearby house. While searching for the German soldiers who had fired on him and his men, Price was struck by a single bullet at 10:57 and died, cinematically, in Goodmurphy's arms less than a minute later. Fifty years after Price's death, a plaque was erected in his honor in Havre, where his body was originally laid to rest in the Old Communal Cemetery. His body was eventually removed to the St. Symphorien Military Cemetery in Mons, Belgium. There, along with 406 other identified casualties of the war, Price shares a resting ground with the first soldier killed on the Western Front -- the sixteen-year-old English Private John Parr, who died near Mons on 21 August 1914.

Friday Cat Blogging


Henry. My wife's greatest wish is that Henry dies in his sleep sometime soon. Since we added another hungry mouth to the household, the boy has taken to spraying the front door, attacking the dogs randomly, and yowling at all hours of the night while sitting in his litterbox. A healthy twelve years old, he's always been high-strung, so most of his current offenses are differences of degree rather than of kind. Although he's one of the friendliest cats I've ever known, he goes berzerk during times of stress; my old vet in Minneapolis, for instance, was unwillling to see him unless it was an emergency, thanks to several visits during which at least three doctors and assistants were required -- with the aid of special feline restraint devices -- to hold him down.

All that being said, Henry's greatest pleasure in life is beer, which he will drink directly from the bottle.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

November 8

eternalOn 8 November 1937, an art and documentary exhibit Der Ewige Jude ("The Eternal Jew") opened at Munich's German Museum, as the Nazi party escalated its political scapegoating of European Jews. Over 412,000 visitors viewed the exhibit, which lasted three months in Munich before traveling to Vienna and Berlin for extended runs throughout 1938 and into early 1939. Representing the most extensive collection of anti-semitic propaganda in pre-war Germany, Der Ewige Jude was loaded with vile caricatures of Jews, who were depicted as Asiatic, sadistic Bolshevists with hooked noses, sloping brows and thick lips. Pseudo-scientific charts, attesting to the perils of race-mixing and the physical inferiority of Jews, also lined the halls of the German Museum. The exhibit followed on the heels of a similar display of over 600 examples of "degenerate," cosmopolitan art inspired -- or so it was alleged -- by the decline of "heroic" classical forms and the Aryan virtues they possessed. Several weeks after the opening of Der Ewige Jude, the Reich Propaganda Directorate assumed control over the degenerate art exhibit along with the Great Bolshevik Exhibition, thus clarifying the three perceived dangers to the German volk.

Before Der Ewige Jude closed its run in Berlin on 31 January 1939, German Jewish children were expelled from public schools; the Kristallnacht occurred, as anti-Jewish pogroms erupted in Germany and Austria in early November 1938; the compulsory "Aryanization" of the German market was completed, as Jewish merchants were obliged by law to sell their businesses for minimal compensation; and tens of thousands of Austrian and German Jews were arrested and sent to concentration camps, including Mauthausen and Dachau.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

November 7

327455On 7 November 2004, four years to the day after George W. Bush was first "elected" to the presidency, United States and Iraqi forces began pounding the Iraqi city of Fallujah in an operation known as Phantom Fury. As Marine Lieutenant-Colonel Gareth Brandl explained to an embedded BBC reporter, "the enemy has got a face. He's called Satan. He lives in Falluja. And we're going to destroy him."

It is unclear whether Satan was killed or captured during the second battle of Fallujah, but one of the other residents Fallujah offered the following account to independent journalist Dahr Jamail. Describing the aftermath of the attacks, "Ahmed" explained:
The Americans didn't care about us. All the medical people left the city and the only people in the city are Fallujans or from Ramadi or other cities who came to try to help us. Anyone who left their house would either be shot by American snipers or recruited by the Mujahideen. So we stayed inside most of the time and prayed. The more the bombs exploded the more we prayed and cried. Every night we said goodbye to one another because we expected to die. You could see areas where all the houses were flattened, there was just nothing left. We could get water at times, but there was no electricity ever. Even those of us who do not fight, we are suffering so much because of the U.S. bombs and tanks. Can't they see this is turning so many people against them?

Intended to root out and destroy several thousand insurgent fighters who had nested themselves inside the city, the nine-day barrage included the use of thermobaric ("fuel-air") and cluster munitions, as well as white phosphorous, which the US insisted was merely for illumination purposes and not -- as prohibited by the 1983 Convention on Chemical Weapons -- as an anti-personnel weapon. Operation Phantom Fury reduced a third of the city's 200 mosques to rubble; destroyed as many as 10,000 buildings; permanently displaced 150,000 residents, most of whom fled to squalid refugee camps; and killed thousands, hundreds of whom were numbered among the 50,0000 civilians without the means to leave the city prior to the seige. Although the US claimed to have killed over 1200 insurgent fighters, the main target -- a Jordanian known as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi -- managed to escape the city along with hundreds of other non-local fighters.

Two years after the completion of Operation Phantom Fury, nearly all of Anbar province -- with the sole exception of Fallujah -- was under the control of Sunni insurgents.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

November 5

Atomic_Bomb1On this date in 1951, the first phase of Operation Buster-Jangle concluded with the Easy Shot explosion, a 31-kiloton blast that exposed thousands of troops from the 231st Engineer Combat Battalion to large doses of radiation. Easy Shot was the fifth and final test in the "Buster" series; two low-yield "Jangle" detonations followed later in the month on November 19 and November 29.

Exploding 1314 feet above the ground, Easy Shot was heaved from a B-45 bomber while soldiers circled the area at 15,000 feet in a C-54 aircraft. Their sole purpose was to absorb radiation so that its effects -- including changes to the subjects' "visual acuity" -- might be measured. On the ground, Company A of the 231st Engineering Battalion was six miles from the blast, having already been brought into a forward position in preparation for Able Shot on October 22. After each detonation, Company A was transported to ground zero to repair the desert and retrieve debris; they were not provided with respiratory equipment. Private Bill Bires was present throughout the Buster series and recorded his experiences throughout the Buster-Jangle series. On 5 November 1951, he wrote,
we marched around to our grandstand viewing area to watch Shot Easy which would turn out to be the largest of all the shots yet. It was at Shot Easy, I believe, that one of our squad tents (16-man tent) was blown down in our bivouc area, about 6 miles away, which was an indication of the power of this device. The brilliant flash and thunderous noise that accompanied the explosion struck me with awe and fear. The heat from Easy warmed our backsides on a cold, winter morning in the desert. When I came away from the test site this time, I came away with the realization that we could destroy ourselves. These people weren't stopping. The explosions kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger.

Easy was more than twice the size of the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima. The mushroom cloud that accompanied this was just awesome in relationship to the expanse of Yucca Flat. The ever changing colors boiling up in this ever changing cloud - purples and reds and oranges and reds and blues and yellows - just the turbulence that you could see - this boiling cloud gave one a sense of the power unleased by the Atom Bomb.
Although at least 400,000 US soldiers participated in atomic and nuclear tests from 1945 to 1963, long-term studies of the health effects of those exercises were never conducted by the Atomic Energy Commission or the Department of Defense. While individual levels of exposure were monitored at each test by radiation badges, the badges were removed and sent to what soldiers referred to as a "black hole." For decades afterward, test participants were prevented from discovering exactly how much radiation their bodies had absorbed.

In 1990, the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act provided $75,000 for each soldier exposed to radiation during those early years of the Cold War. That same year, as the United States mobilized for the first Persian Gulf War, Portland resident Bill Bires -- the Korean War vet who documented the Buster-Jangle explosions from a few miles away -- founded Northwest Veterans for Peace.

Friday, November 03, 2006

November 3

olympe de gougeThe revolutionary French essayist and playwright Marie Olympe de Gouges was executed by guillotine two hundred and three years ago today. An abolitionist and advocate for women's equality in public as well as in all matters of love and marriage, de Gouges went so far as to insist that married women had the right to divorce their husbands and have affairs with other men -- and that the children of such illicit unions be regarded without legal discimination or public scorn. Equally scandalous were her beliefs that women "must be equally admitted to all honors, positions, and public employment according to their capacity and without other distinctions besides those of their virtues and talents." In works such as the Contrat Social and Déclaration des droits de la Femme et de la Citoyenne, de Gouges challenged not merely the traditional conventions of French society, but ran afoul as well of the morality of the Jacobins, who had begun severing the heads of their political opponents a few months before. Courting danger, de Gouges criticized the execution of Louis XVI in January 1793.

Accused of "having composed a work contrary to the expressed desire of the entire nation," de Gouges was arrested and tried on 12 Brumaire (2 November), Year II of the Republic. Her writings were introduced as evidence that de Gouges had violated Article I of the laws of March 29, which ruled that "whoever is convicted of having composed or printed works or writings which provoke the dissolution of the national representation, the reestablishment of royalty, or of any other power attacking the sovereignty of the people, will be brought before the Revolutionary Tribunal and punished by death." Throughout the trial, according to the official court record, "the accused, with respect to the facts she was hearing articulated against her, never stopped her smirking. Sometimes she shrugged her shoulders; then she clasped her hands and raised her eyes towards the ceiling of the room; then, suddenly, she moved on to an expressive gesture, showing astonishment; then gazing next at the court, she smiled at the spectators, etc." The verdict of the court affirmed the charges against her.

Around 4:00 p.m. the following day, Marie Olympe de Gouges was led to the scaffold. After crying out for the assembled crowd to avenge her death, de Gouges' head was lopped off into a basket.

Reporting on her execution in the place de la Revolution, one source judged that "Olympe de Gouges, born with an exalted imagination, mistook her delirium for an inspiration of nature. She wanted to be a man of state. She took up the projects of the perfidious people who want to divide France. It seems the law has punished this conspirator for having forgotten the virtues that belong to her sex."

Thursday, November 02, 2006

November 2

Harriman and JohnsonOn 2 November 1967, Lyndon Johnson met with more than a dozen foreign policy advisers over lunch to discuss the progress of the American War in Vietnam. It was four years to the day since the assassination of Ngo Dinh Diem, in whom Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy had placed so much hope for the future of South Vietnam; no one at the meeting drew attention to the anniversary. The "Wise Men," as they were often called, generally agreed that the war effort had seen "great improvement and progress" in recent months. McGeorge Bundy, Walt Rostow and Douglas Dillon each pointed out that the South Vietnamese government needed to act more aggressively against corruption, but the "general feeling" among Johnson's advisers -- according to the minutes of the meeting -- was that the US needed to "press forward" with the war.

Rededicating themselves to the war -- which by the end of 1967 would have cost 20,000 American lives while sapping $2 billion per month from the public treasury -- the advisers turned to the question of how the government might better convey the progress and overall importance of the war to ordinary Americans. Bundy urged Johnson to continue emphasizing the "light at the end of the tunnel" in his public addresses, while Omar Bradley recommended that Johnson blame the media for the administration's problems. Perhaps, he added, Johnson needed some catchy new patriotic slogans. Several advisers noted that the public appeared to be confused as to why the United States was fighting in Vietnam -- and that a strong public relations campaign might be in order to clarify those reasons (none of which were actually specified during the meeting). Others hoped that briefings from Ambassador Ellsworth Bunker might settle a restless Congress, while Robert Murphy suggested that the United States needed to promote a "hate complex" against Ho Chi Minh, much as it had done with Hitler during World War II.

With no specific consensus on how best to massage public perceptions of the war, the "Wise Men" were completely unanimous in their view that an American withdrawal from Vietnam was "unthinkable," in the words of Henry Cabot Lodge.

"Absolutely not," said Acheson, while Bundy added that withdrawal from Vietnam was "as impossible as it is undesirable."

According to Supreme Court Justice Abe Fortas, one of Johnson’s closest friends and most trusted advisers, "The public would be outraged if we got out."


The details of this meeting would have greatly distressed Norman Morrison, a Quaker from Baltimore, Maryland. Morrison, however, was not alive to witness Johnson's efforts to implement the advice of the "Wise Men," nor was he able to witness the Tet Offensive in early 1968, when the optimistic predictions and public reassurances of the administration collapsed in a bloody heap.

Exactly two years before the Johnson's luncheon with his advisers, Norman Morrison drove with his infant daughter Emily and a can of kerosene to the Pentagon, where he set himself on fire in full view of the office occupied by Secretary of State Robert McNamara. Morrison was the second of three Americans who -- following the example of several Vietmanese Buddhist monks -- immolated themselves in 1965 to protest the war. Eighty-two-year old Alice Hertz had set herself alight on March 16 in Detroit; Roger Allen LaPorte, sixty years younger than Hertz, would do the same in New York City on November 9, exactly a week after Morrison's protest.

Robert McNamara, who was not present at the November 2 meeting, announced his resignation less than a month after the second anniversary of Morrison's death.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Brief (Not Entirely) Self-Promotional Interruption

If you happen to be one of the people who deliberately read this site -- as opposed to the 90 percent of my hits that come from folks searching for this image -- you might be interested to know that nominations for the Cliopatra Awards (for history blogs) are being accepted throughout the month of November. If anyone should feel motivated -- though given the subject matter here, I can't imagine why you would be -- there are a few archived posts with which I'm somewhat less than unhappy:

(1) October 18 (Jesse Helms)
(2) August 22 (Nat Turner)
(3) August 29 (Rais Massacre)
(4) And finally -- if you're thinking about the category of "Best Series" -- there are the nine posts I wrote back in April, during the week or so before my daughter was born.

You should also also consider the Forgotten Americans series over at Alterdestiny. Erik doesn't have them archived into a single collection, but each Tuesday he writes about someone (or some group) whose contributions to the past have been unnecessarily overlooked -- recent entires have included Myles Horton, The Cahokia Peoples, Diane Nash, and Philip Vera Cruz. They're all worth reading and nominating.