Friday, November 30, 2007

November 30

Robert Craig Knievel, Jr.

A lot of folks have asked me over the last couple of years why I named this site after Evel Knievel. I don't have an especially good answer, except to say that the name made for a good pun. I never owned an Evel Knievel lunchbox, and I was always too much of a coward to try and emulate his various stunts on the crappy bike I rode as a kid.

Anyhow, this site's namesake passed away today, setting a dark cloud over Clay Aiken's 29th birthday while commemorating the release of a Michael Jackson album titled, appropriately enough, Thriller.


Thursday, November 29, 2007

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.

This is a re-post of last year's entry

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Wednesday, November 28, 2007

November 28

Today is the 65th anniversary of the worst nightclub fire in American history. On November 28, 1942, Boston’s Cocoanut Grove erupted in flames that killed hundreds within a mere 15 minutes. The fire began when a busboy, seeking to replace a light bulb, lit a match while looking for a socket and accidentally set fire to a cluster of artificial palm fronds. The bulb, it turns out, had been removed by a young couple who were making out at one of the tables in the Melody Lounge, one of several large rooms in the club. The busboy survived; the fate of the couple could never be determined.

One of the most popular attractions in the city, the Grove could not have been rigged better for a catastrophe of this magnitude. To deter freeloaders, club owners had most of the exits welded shut. At the time of the disaster, there were only two functioning public entrances to the club. One was a pair of doors that swung inward, while the other was a single set of revolving doors. Both quickly choked with bodies when the fire -- propelled by leaky refrigerator gas and devouring the flammable decorations, drapes and furniture that filled the club -- surged from one room to another and up the stairwells to the building’s top floors.

John Rizzo, a waiter at the Grove, recalled the fire a half century later in the Boston Globe:
Everybody panicked. I knew there was a door across the dining room, but about 150 people were headed for it, and everybody was pressed together, arms jammed to our sides. The flame came down the side of the dining room like a forest fire, and within minutes, the stage was consumed with fire. Before I could get out, I got pushed through a door and fell head over heels downstairs into the kitchen and landed on other people.

At the foot of the stairs, I was lucky enough to get on my feet. Everybody was scrambling, trying to break doors to the stock room. I said forget it, they don't go outside. I saw a heavy lady, Mrs. [Katherine] Swett, the cashier. I said, 'Take the money, let's go,' but she said, 'I can't leave the money.' Later, I saw a big person burned to death, and it was her.
Amazingly, some of the club’s employees tried to make sure patrons settling their bills and paying for their coats at the check stand. During the recovery effort, officials reported that dozens of corpses had been robbed.

The final death toll eventually reached 492 -- roughly half of the night’s patrons. The owner of the Cocoanut Club, Barney Welansky, served four years in prison for negligent homicide. Released in 1946, he died several weeks later of cancer.



Tuesday, November 27, 2007

November 27

Nearly three decades ago, on the morning of November 27, 1978, a 32-year-old former police officer and Vietnam veteran named Dan White assassinated San Francisco Mayor George Moscone and Supervisor Harvey Milk. White, who had served with Milk on the city Board of Supervisors until two weeks before the murders, shot the two men in what he would later claim was a depressed state of mind, evidenced in part by his excessive consumption of Twinkies and Coca-Cola during the previous few months. In death Milk -- who was openly gay -- became a martyr to the gay rights movement.

Described by friends as an “all-American” young man, Dan White had been elected to the 11-member Board in 1977 thanks in large part to his law and order ideology, which included thinly disguised campaign attacks on homosexuals, whom he regarded as threats to the entire city of San Francisco. As one of his campaign brochures explained, right-thinking people like himself would not stand idly by while their civilization crumbled at their feet:
[t]here are thousands upon thousands of frustrated, angry people waiting to unleash a fury that can and will eradicate the malignancies which blight our city. I am not going to be forced out of San Francisco by splinter groups of radicals, social deviates, incorrigibles.
After these “frustrated, angry people” carried him to victory, White clashed frequently with Moscone and Milk among others on the Board; in one of his more celebrated battles, he cast the only vote against a proposed city ordinance to bar discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Disgruntled with the position’s low pay and distressed by marital problems, White submitted his resignation in early November 1978. He changed his mind, however, several days later and asked Moscone to reappoint him. When Moscone refused, White loaded his revolver, came to City Hall and shot the mayor -- once in the chest and twice in the head -- in Moscone’s own office. Making his way to the other side of the building, White requested a brief conversation with Milk, whom he proceeded to shoot five times.

At his trial, Dan White successfully argued that the murders resulted from his depression, which diminished his capacity to sort out right from wrong. The jury, finding the “Twinkie Defense” plausible, found him guilty of manslaughter instead of first-degree murder. After serving five years at San Quentin, Dan White killed himself in October 1985.



Tuesday, November 20, 2007

November 20

Edmund the Martyr, King of East Anglia, was killed by Danish invaders -- forces of the Great Heathen Army -- on this date in the year 869. Led by Ivar the Boneless and Hubba Ragnarson, the Danes captured Edmund in battle; before killing him the, they insisted Edmund renounce his Catholic faith, which -- as a proper candidate for martyrdom -- he did not do. Accoring to Edmund’s earliest biographer, events quickly took a turn for the worse:
Then those wicked men bound Edmund and shamefully insulted him and beat him with clubs, and afterwards they led the faithful king to an earth–fast tree and tied him to it with hard bonds, and afterwards scourged him a long while with whips, and among the blows he was always calling the true faith of Jesus Christ. Then the heathen were madly angry because of his faith, because he called upon Christ to help him.

They shot at him with javelins as if for their amusement, until he was all beset with their shots, as with a porcupine's bristles, even as Sebastian was. When Hingwar, the wicked seaman, saw that the noble king would not deny Christ, but with steadfast faith ever called upon Him, he commanded men to behead him, and the heathen did so. For while he was yet calling upon Christ, the heathen drew away the saint to slay him, and struck off his head with a single blow, and his soul departed joyfully to Christ.
More than 800 years later, in 1695, Zumbi -- the great Afro-Brazilian folk hero -- 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, 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 maroon settlements in the Western hemisphere. With as many as 30,000 inhabitants by 1650, Palmares was able to withstand Portugese conquest for decades. Zumbi, born in 1655, grew up to be the fugitive kingdom’s most renowned military leaders.

For fifteen years beginning around 1680, Zumbi and his forces bedeviled the Portugese. In 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.



Monday, November 19, 2007

November 19

12336Two years 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.

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."

this is a re-post of last year's entry

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

November 15

As the second world war ground onward, Heinrich Himmler, commander of the Nazi SS, found himself increasingly preoccupied with the alleged presence of homosexuals in the elite paramilitary organization. In 1936, he had established the Reich Central Office for the Combating of Homosexuality and Abortion. Hundreds of thousands of ordinary Germans were arrested for sexual crimes, and tens of thousands were sent to camps, where the policy of “Extermination Through Work” dominated. In early 1941, Himmler declared that the gay infestation had touched the strings of the Nazi party. “The party,” he announced, “with its branch organizations and the Wehrmach must proceed with ruthless severity against every case of homosexuality that appears in their ranks. If this happens, then the machinery of the state will remain clean, and it must remain clean.”

On November 15, 1941, Himmler’s philosophy was enacted in a secret document, signed by Hitler himself, titled “The Fuhrer’s Decree Relating to the Purity of the SS and Police.” The document announced that "to keep the SS and Police clean of vermin with homosexual inclinations," any SS member member or police officer "who commits unnatural acts with another man or lets himself be abused for unnatural acts shall be punished with death." Offenses deemed "less serious" would result in imprisonment or hard labor for six months or more. As for the number of SS or police officers subjected to these punishments, no reliable figures appear to exist.

Exactly two years later, Himmler issued an order dooming hundreds of thousands of Sinti and Romani people to the Reich's concentration camps scattered across Europe. The Romani and Sinti -- groups commonly known in English as Gypsies -- had been subjected to many of the same laws that pertained as well to Jews; although Nazi racial scientists distinguished between "pure" and "mixed-race" Gypsies, the former group was believed to consist of only about 10 percent of the overall population. During the early years of the Second World War, Gypsies were herded into ghettos or -- as happened more frequently in Eastern Poland and German-occupied Russian lands -- summarily shot by SS officers. Others were transferred to work camps. On November 15, 1943, Germany removed the distinctions between Jews and "nomadic" or "impure" Gypsies, who were henceforth "to be placed on the same level as Jews and placed in concentration camps." Where doubt existed as to the racial identity of a particular individual, "the police commanders will decide who is a Gypsy."

The porajmos -- "the devouring," as it has come to be known among the Romani -- ultimately consumed between 200,000-500,000 lives.

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Tuesday, November 13, 2007

November 13


Whenever I teach the American Civil War, I always end the last lecture on the conflict by reading a passage from Walt Whitman's funeral hymn for Abraham Lincoln, "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd."
I saw battle-corpses, myriads of them,
And the white skeletons of young men, I saw them,
I saw the debris and debris of all the slain soldiers of the war,
But I saw they were not as was thought,
They themselves were fully at rest, they suffered not,
The living remained and suffered, the mother suffered,
And the wife and the child and the musing comrade suffered,
And the armies that remained suffered.
I also read this passage whenever we look at war memorials -- particularly the Vietnam Memorial in DC, which substantiates like nothing else that crushing sadness in Whitman's verse. Anyone who's visited the site knows this.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall was dedicated 25 years ago today. This is a photo taken by my father sometime in the early 1990s, when he visited the wall for the first and -- to my knowledge -- only time. As I've written before, Dad never expected to survive the American war in Vietnam, where he served as a helicopter pilot for nearly two years before returning to live another forty. While he was in Vietnam, seven pilots and passengers from his company lost their lives; he may have known as many as six others who died in the year after he left. Overall, roughly half of Dad's training group, which included somewhere between 300-400 young men, never made it back from the war.

One of those killed was CWO Kenneth Edward Messenger, whose name is visible just below center in this photo. I didn't see this picture -- and never heard the story about Dad's visit to the wall -- until a day or two after he had passed away. As a result, I was never able to ask him about his friend, who died in May 1968 from a mortar that struck his sleeping quarters during a brief NVA/NLF offensive known to Americans as "mini-Tet." Donald L. Merry and Lloyd Lockett -- the men whose names bracket Messenger's -- also died the same day as Messenger, as did nearly 30 others on panel 55E, which contains 199 names.

Based on what little information I've been able to gather over the past month, Messenger was about three weeks from leaving that awful war for good. He was 27 -- three years older than my father -- and had never been married, never had kids. His parents may or may not still be alive, and there are no websites devoted to his memory. Still, though, he had musing comrades who remained and suffered, and they have -- as my father did -- carried his memory with them. On a Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund site, one of Messenger's neighbors at the airfield in Soc Tran posted a brief tribute to someone he barely knew:
The mortar round that stole his life was the first of many. He surely never heard it, he never suffered. The impact of it blew me out of my bunk, the beginning of another horrible night of man killing man. I never knew him, but he was my neighbor, and my brother in arms, another American serving with honor. I didn't know him, I wished I had. We fought all night, the war stopped at dawn, as usual. I cried when I learned of his fate. I never knew him, but I dearly miss him and I will never forget his name.



Friday, November 09, 2007

November 9

On November 9, 1938, Ernst Vom Rath -- a German official living in Paris -- died from a gunshot wound he’d sustained several days before. Vom Rath’s killer, a Polish Jew named Herschel Grynszpan, shot him out of frustration over the expulsion of thousands of Polish Jews -- including his own sister -- from their homes in Germany. Unwilling to accept the refugees either, the Polish government herded the deportees into squalid camps. After making his way to the German Embassy, Grynszpan shot Vom Rath on the morning of November 7.

After Von Rath died, Nazi mobs erupted throughout Germany and Austria. In an event known ever since as Kristallnacht -- usually translated as "the night of broken glass" -- Jewish property and community institutions were sacked with the approval and encouragement of German and Austrian authorities, who issued orders that police were not to interrupt the pogroms. More than 8,000 Jewish shops were damaged or destroyed, as civilians and SA stormtroopers attacked buildings with sledgehammers, leaving the streets covered in shards of broken windows. Jews were beaten to death; 30,000 Jewish men were taken to concentration camps; and 1,668 synagogues were ransacked, with 267 set on fire.

In Dinslaker, an industrial city in western Germany, a Jewish orphanage came under assault.
I opened the door: about 50 men stormed into the house, many of them with their coat- or jacket-collars turned up. At first they rushed into the dining room, which fortunately was empty, and there they began their work of destruction, which was carried out with the utmost precision. The frightened and fearful cries of the children resounded through the building. In a stentorian voice I shouted: "Children, go out into the street immediately!". . . .

Facing the back of the building, we were able to watch how everything in the house was being systematically destroyed under the supervision of the men of law and order – the police. At short intervals we could hear the crunching of glass or the hammering against wood as windows and doors were broken. Books, chairs, beds, tables, linen, chests, parts of a piano, a radiogram, and maps were thrown through apertures in the wall, which a short while ago had been windows or doors.

In the meantime the mob standing around the building had grown to several hundred. Among these people I recognized some familiar faces, suppliers of the orphanage or tradespeople, who only a day or a week earlier had been happy to deal with us as customers. This time they were passive, watching the destruction without much emotion.
In the aftermath of the two days of rioting, a police report from Muggendorf observed that "[o]ne segment of the people is of the opinion that the conscious actions and associated arrests and destruction were far too mild."

Indeed, Kristallnacht only marked the beginning of worse things to come. In the ten months before Germany invaded Poland and launched the second World War, well over 100,000 Jews fled the country.

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Thursday, November 08, 2007

November 8

On the evening of November 8, 1923, several hundred young German national socialists led by Adolf Hitler attempted to seize control of the German state. Descending on a Munich beer hall, the young Nazis attempted to seize the Bavarian commissar and other government officials while they were attending a political meeting; over the next 24 hours, the plot unraveled spectacularly, and 20 people -- 16 plotters and four Bavarian police officers -- lost their lives. Hitler and the leaders of the putsch were tried, convicted and sentenced to five years in prison. During his confinement, Hitler passed his time working on a book.

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.

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Wednesday, November 07, 2007

November 7

Although Illinois was technically a “free state” in the late 1830s, slavery continued to exist within its borders until 1845, when the state’s supreme court issued a ruling that effectively ended the “peculiar institution” for good. Nevertheless, like most northern states, Illinois maintained a ferocious commitment to white supremacy in both law and fact. Free blacks were denied the right to vote, hold office or serve in the militia, and they were obligated register their certificates of freedom with the state. After 1829, they were required to post $1000 bond before settling in a state that would eventually be known as the “Land of Lincoln.” In 1822, advocates for human bondage managed to secure a popular referendum on the question of rewriting the state constitution to fully legalize slavery. The measure lost, though it attracted more than 40 percent of the vote.

Most white citizens of Illinois -- even those who opposed slavery -- loathed blacks and wished them gone in one way or another. Thus, “colonization” societies sprouted throughout the state, encouraging the US to cleanse itself by transporting African descendants back from whence they had involuntarily come. Genuine abolitionists like Elijiah Lovejoy, the Maine-born editor of the Alton Observer, were hardly welcome; much of white Illinois wished people like him gone as well, and in November 1837 they received their wish. On November 7, several months of escalating confrontation in Alton resulted in Lovejoy’s murder at the hands of a white lynching party, who laid siege to his office, smashed his printing press -- the fourth one to receive such treatment since his arrival in Alton the previous year -- and filled his torso with bullets. Crying “Oh God, I am shot,” Lovejoy died within minutes.

He was buried on what would have been his 35th birthday, November 9, 1837. His wife Celia -- six months pregnant with their second child -- was too distraught to attend the funeral.

While abolitionists across the nation quickly praised Lovejoy as a martyr to the antislavery cause as well as to the principle of a free press, he was predictably cast as a villain throughout the Midwest and the South. The Missouri Republican, commenting on the episode shortly after the killing, condemned “mob violence” while placing the blame for Lovejoy’s death on his own actions:
[W]hen we see a man recklessly, wantonly, and mischievously persist in a course which others are sure to regard as an outrage on their feelings, which is sure to inflame the popular mind and lead to violence, we have but little sympathy for his sufferings. He who willfully excites the tempest should be the first to feel its violence.
More than twenty members of the mob were tried for the destruction of the press and the murder of Elijah Lovejoy. All were acquitted.

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Monday, November 05, 2007

November 5

On November 5, 1916, two ships loaded with 300 workers and labor activists embarked from Seattle to Everett, which lay a short trip north through the Puget Sound. Most of the passengers were affiliated with the Industrial Workers of the World, a radical union organization formed in 1905 with the aim of uniting workers regardless of race, skill level, or national origin. Founded in Chicago, the I.W.W. was nevertheless most visible in the western states, especially in the mining and logging communities of the Rockies and Pacific Northwest. In 1916, Everett had been the setting for a series of lumber mill strikes and battles over free speech; that summer and fall, as I.W.W. members -- known as “Wobblies” -- arrived in the city to support the striking shingle weavers, they were prohibited from speaking in public and distributing pamphlets. Dozens were arrested in the weeks leading up to the November 5 confrontation.

Around noon that day, as the Verona approached the city, thousands of residents lined the shore, welcoming the Wobblies, who sang “Hold the Fort,” an English transport workers’ song. Hugo Gerlot, one of the younger members of the party, scaled the flagpole to wave at their supporters. When the ship settled in to the dock, several hundred armed and deputized locals began shooting. Gerlot was among the first to be hit; he tumbled lifeless from the flagpole. Though some of the passengers were armed and returned fire, most were not and took refuge. As the ship’s engineer testified later at trial, the assault on the Verona was intense and brief.
As the engines died I heard a crackling sound. At about the same time sounds came down the smoke-stack of bullets hitting it. I started toward the window to look out at the rock, but I was hit by a bullet under the arm. I dove into the engine-pit; there were already some I.W.W.’s there, seeking refuge. In about ten seconds it got too hot for me there, so I ran out at the stern and got behind the switch-board . . . . It was too hot there, and I went into the boiler-room and told the fireman to start the fires [of the oil-burning engine]. He didn’t want to come out for fear of being shot, but I said, ‘Someone has to get a move on here or we’ll all be shot.’ We backed out. The whole time we were at the dock seemed about three to five minutes,
In addition to Gerlot, four passengers on the Verona -- Abraham Rabinowitz, Gus Johnson, Felix Baran and John Looney -- died in the attack, as did two Everett deputies, C.O. Curtis and Jefferson Beard. Another six I.W.W. members leaped overboard and disappeared, likely drowned as they sought to escape the gunfire.

Arrested on their return to Seattle, 74 Wobblies faced trial for conspiracy to commit murder. In a trial that received national attention the following spring, all of the accused were acquitted.



Saturday, November 03, 2007

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."

More than 250 150 years later, on November 3, 1954, Godzilla -- awakened by a nuclear test arose from the sea and destroyed Tokyo.



Thursday, November 01, 2007

November 1

On November 1, 1911 the world's first bombing mission took place when an Italian pilot named Giulio Gavotti dropped four hand grenades on Turkish troops camped at Ain Zara in Libya. Flying at an altitude of 600 feet, Gavotti took four small grenades from a leather pouch, screwed in the detonators, and tossed each missile over the side. Gavotti’s scheme injured no one.

Gavotti’s underwhelming air raid took place during the early weeks of the Italo-Turkish War, initiated by Italy in September 1911 in the hope of seizing Libya from the disintegrating Ottoman Empire. The invasion of North Africa was urged on by an Italian press who insisted the conquest of Libya would be quick, inexpensive, and glorious. It was not. Although Ottoman Turk forces were defeated by October 1912, they managed to hold out for more than a year, during which time Italy squandered 80 million lira per month -- nearly three times the projected monthly cost of the conflict, which was expected to end much sooner than it did. With the Turks defeated, Italy then faced two decades of resistance by Libyans who preferred not to be attached to either the Ottoman or the Italian empire.

Though Lt. Gavotti's raid produced no casualties and was initially regarded by other nations as ungentlemanly, the use of air power as an instrument of war became one of the 20th century's more rueful contributions. A year after the Ain Zara bombing, French pilots dropped bombs in Morocco; in 1913, Serbs in French-built planes bombed Turkish forces during the First Balkan War; by the end of World War I, German Zeppelins had lobbed nearly 200 tons of bombs over England, killing more than 550 civilians. Things only went downhill from there, as subsequent decades would bring about the rubbling of Guernica, London, Dresden, Tokyo, Chongqing, Hiroshima, Hanoi, Beirut, and Baghdad among hundreds of other targets.

On November 1, 1952 -- less than half a century after Giulio Gavotti unwrapped his grenades and transformed the nature of warfare -- the United States successfully tested the world's first hydrogen bomb on the Pacific atoll of Enewetak, located in the US-owned Marshall slands. "Mike," as the device was known, weighed over 80 tons and generated a 10-megaton blast. The mushroom cloud surged 37 kilometers into the atmosphere and rendered the island uninhabitable for the next five decades. Enewetak's original inhabitants had been relocated after World War II so that their island could be used to test nuclear weapons. Forty-three such tests took place there between 1948-1958, though none came close to rivaling the destructive power of "Mike."

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