Tuesday, November 30, 2010

God Calls it Quits

In the two months since they had been kicked from Heaven, Satan and his minions had pushed the world over the edge. A minor assassination of a prince among the human empire of Austro-Hungary had led to war, which was an understandable course among vengeful men. Through divine inspiration, the war would go into stalemate, proving to men the futility of war. With modern technology of print followed by the vocal word from radio, it would be a new chance to inspire love and brotherhood that had been given by Jesus as he had walked the earth. Through the past 19 centuries, he had waited as Immanuel at the right hand of God in Heaven for His Kingdom on Earth, and now was his time to return.

Mankind, however, seemed once again too evil to embrace the government of Heaven. Instead, they wrapped themselves in an unending war, guided by Satan. In the west, soldiers would slay one another with new technologies: machine guns and poison gasses. In the east, near Łódź in the Polish lands, the humans added up hundreds of thousands of casualties in an indecisive battle that, out of arrogance, both considered victories.

God considered waking humanity and ending the war with a new plague, an influenza, but He at last decided the New Earth would not be worth the trouble. Hope had gone out of it. The Earth to come would be filled with decadence, heart-rending poverty, greater wars splitting the atoms themselves, and artificial, digital worlds where men would give up his body as well as his soul to mere entertainment. Having only recently annexed Earth, it already seemed too much to bother.

He had destroyed the world before, of course, with a Flood and planned to destroy it again with fire on the day of Judgment, but it all seemed too much now. There was hope, but it was distant and the rewards too small to carry the pain. God looked upon the whole of Creation and found it... depressing. He decided to end it.

Doing so, however, would mean the loss of His creations, the humans He genuinely loved. The love seemed only one-sided now, nothing but pain. Even so, he would have to eliminate Immanuel as well, His being on Earth. Without an Earth, there would be no need. It was pain, but it would be over quickly enough.

And God said, "Let there be naught," and the Earth was gone.

Now darkness was again upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved alone upon the face of the waters.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

November 27, 1864 – J. Wilkes Booth Decides to Continue in the Oil Business

Famed actor and oil tycoon of the nineteenth century John Wilkes Booth once very nearly gave up the stake in the Pennsylvania Oil Boom of the 1860s that would make him his great fortune. Profitable crude oil in Pennsylvania had been discovered by Colonel Edwin Drake, who also developed new drilling techniques for easy removal, in 1859 and made a rush for new wealth in the region. Booth created a company with his friends John Ellsler and Thomas Mears called Dramatic Oil, which would soon be renamed Fuller Farm Oil but would continue to play on the Booth’s fame to help in the sale of shares.

A native of Maryland, Booth considered himself a Southerner throughout, despite his years of acting and touring in the North. When the South seceded, he publically applauded the action as “heroic.” His wealth and fame grew as the fate of the South dimmed, and many said he became obsessed with the “tyranny” of the Union. According to some, Booth was even involved in a kidnap plot for Abraham Lincoln, supposedly the reason for his 10-day trip to Montreal in 1864. Union-sympathizers called for banning him from the stage, and he was arrested for treasonous speech in Missouri in 1863, but even his fellow actors, who had long suffered from his notorious scene-theft, admitted that he was gifted.

On November 25, just after his famed performance with his brothers Edwin and Junius in Julius Caesar in New York’s Winter Garden Theater, Booth fell from the stage amid the applause and broke his leg. The next day, he was treated in his brother Edwin’s New York home, where the two argued bitterly about John’s hatred of the North. Out of survival, the two were forced to agree to disagree, and Booth settled on plans for bringing his acting career back to Washington, D.C., later that winter. He intended to sell off his shares in the oil business despite a significant loss, but on the morning of the 27th, his doctor judged his leg and noted, “It’s broken now, but it’ll heal to be stronger than ever.”

The thought settled into Booth’s passionate support for the South. The war had taken a terrible turn, but it would be over soon, and there was always the fact that the South could rise again. He decided that he would help the rebuilding of the South privately and for the rest of his life would denounce the Federal Reconstruction policies. As his mind filled with dreams, he realized he would need money to make them concrete. Instead of pulling out of the oil business, Booth sent telegrams to Ellsler and wired his savings to rebuild equipment destroyed by hasty use of explosives.

After the war ended, Booth married Lucy Hale and conducted expert business savvy organizing Booth Oil, which would buy out Fuller Farm as well as the majority of other oil production companies in the region. In 1870, he would spark conflict with Rockefeller’s Standard Oil out of Ohio, which controlled the refineries. Booth and Rockefeller battled for years to dominate the industry, with Booth using influence through Ellsler in Cleveland to block Rockefeller’s buy-up of competitors. When Rockefeller overspent on purchasing rivals, Booth cut his prices to the other companies, destroying Rockefeller’s empire, which eventually was absorbed.

Armed with untold millions of dollars, Booth lived a fairly modest life and sank much of his money into investment in the South. Factories went up in Virginia, mills began production in the Carolinas, universities reopened, and new railroad lines spread through the Deep South. On top of his business, Booth also toured the South using his acting talent and raw passion in speeches to reinvigorate the Southern cause. Booth would even run for president in the famous five-party election of 1892, though many Southern Democrats gave more attention to winner Grover Cleveland.

When oil fields began to open in Texas after the gusher at Spindletop, Booth began to tour the West in search of new fields. While in the northwest Oklahoma Territory town of Enid, Booth would die in 1903 at age 65 from what many said was exhaustion and others suspected as heavy drinking. In the Republican administrations of Roosevelt and Taft, Booth Oil would become a favorite target of anti-trust action. The company would be broken up, but its effect on the national economy continued to be obvious as New Orleans surpassed New York City as the nation’s busiest harbor and industrial production in Georgia alone outpaced the growing Midwest. For all of his actions, Mr. Booth truly will always be remembered among the American people.


In reality, John Wilkes Booth sold out of the oil business and pursued his passionate hatred of the Union. Upon hearing of Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse, Booth changed his conspiratorial plans from kidnapping to assassination, which would be carried out April 14, 1865, as he shot President Lincoln in Ford’s Theater, making Booth forever notorious in the American memory.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

November 25, 1940 – Russia Joins Axis

After nearly two months of dealing, Russia announced that it would be joining Hitler’s Axis. Stalin had ordered his minister Molotov to widen the scope of the discussions in Berlin to solve potential problems with spheres of influence. Simultaneously, Soviet ambassadors appeared in Sofia, promising the Bulgarian Prime Minister that Russia’s objection to Bulgaria joining as well would be withdrawn as per the shared military rights among the Axis nations. The world was shocked by the news, especially Britain as it faced the horrors of the Blitz against an even stronger foe.

Hitler, too, was shocked. Months ago, he had ordered “Instruction Number 18” on November 13 to plan for an invasion of Russia to solidify control of oil reserves and begin the enslavement of the Slavs. Now, Stalin had agreed to Hitler’s terms with a few added secret terms:

• German troops leaving Finland in exchange for guarantee of Soviet peace with Finland as well as supplies of nickel and wood.
• A mutual assistance treaty Bulgaria.
• The southern boundary of the Soviet Union guaranteed at Baku and Batumi with special consideration given to Germany to supply oil from Azerbaijan.
• Japanese handover of Sakhalin oil and coal in exchange for compensation and similar consideration.
• Soviet bases established in Bulgaria.

While the renewed pressure on the Bosporus irked Hitler, the guarantee of oil impressed him too much. He shelved his invasion plans, for the time, and met with Stalin in Sofia for the signing ceremony December 7, 1941. Though unknown at the time, Hitler had also been pressuring Japan into a sneak attack on the United States, but, seeing his war with Britain over soon, reneged on the plan, prompting Japanese command to call back the fleet hours after its launch on November 26. Franklin Roosevelt, wary of the significance of the diplomatic dealing, referred privately to the signing of the pact as “a date which will live in infamy.”

Hitler realigned his troops into new position and re-activated the invasion of Britain through Operation Sea Lion for 1942. Though the Germans were unable to achieve full air superiority, the German Navy managed to hold off the Royal Navy long enough for the largest amphibious assault in human history behind a screen of mines. Initially, the Germans would overcome British defenses, pressing nearly to London, but Churchill kept his vow of continuing the fight from his bunker beside Parliament and held the Germans at the GHQ line. While the Royal family was evacuated to Scotland, thousands of Brits rose up in defiance with sabotage behind German lines. The Royal Navy and the RAF continually challenged German superiority at sea and in the air, leaving historians to claim that the defense of Britain counted as the longest siege of the modern day.

The Invasion of Britain would prove to be Hitler’s quagmire. At last the American people would stand against German aggression as well as Japanese invasion of the Philippines, sending thousands of troops to the British lines. Nearly 3.9 million German troops would be involved in the effort, but the resilience of the British and her allies became unbreakable over the course of two years. After the introduction of the V-2 rocket, which struck targets after sub-orbital arches and beyond the speed of sound, the Germans gained the upper hand by devastating the defending fleets. With secure supply lines, German forces finally overwhelmed the island. In 1948, Hitler would tour conquered London while the Crown established a government-in-exile in Canada.

Meanwhile, Stalin began his “liberation” of the Turks from British influence. The invasion and occupation of Turkey would lead Soviet forces to further “peacekeeping”, marching into the Middle East and securing Iraq and Iran’s rich oil fields. The sites proved instantly rebellious, and millions would die as Stalin attempted to purge any anti-Soviet thought from the deeply rooted Muslims. The continual struggle against imperialism wore down the Russian people, prompting a revolution after the Stalin’s death in 1953.

Russia turned on itself, and an aging Hitler finally saw his chance. He had been held at the Atlantic by Allied submarines, pushing southward into Africa in association with the Spanish and Italians. In 1955, under the pretext of defending German economic interests and the pledge of Russian oil, the Red Army marched on Moscow as it had meant to do 14 years before. While the various parties of Russia had fought one another, they all agreed upon the goal of ridding Russia of invaders, and the whole of the nations turned on Hitler.

Atomic bombs, which had been used by Americans to bring down the Japanese Empire, proved an ineffective strategy for Hitler’s army as the peoples of the former Soviet Union were ubiquitous rather than isolated. It is said that the stress of the Russian occupation delivered the stroke that killed Adolph Hitler April 30, 1957, at age 68. Infighting among his potential heirs weakened the Nazi regime, which would fall apart as Stalin’s had done.

With renewed opportunity, the stalemate across the Atlantic had broken, and the Allied forces charged into Europe through the rebellion of Britain. Conquered lands erupted in anti-Nazi revolution, and soldiers routinely deserted than fight for a colony whose mother country was in such peril. By 1964, the last Axis government in Bulgaria would surrender, and World War II would be declared over. Led by the United States, a new world order under democracy through the United Nations would be attempted with its founding in 1966.

In reality, Stalin did not offer Hitler rights to oil. Albert Speer, Minister for Armaments and War Production for Germany, would later admit “the need for oil certainly was a prime motive” for Operation Barbarossa, the German invasion of the Soviet Union. Predicting war as inevitable, Hitler signed War Directive No. 21 on December 18, just weeks after refusing to reply to Stalin’s counteroffer of an alliance.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

November 24, 1947 – Hollywood Ten Exonerated thanks to Charlie Chaplin

In the days of the post-war conservatism, the House Un-American Activities Committee stepped up its investigations of the suspected Communist threat to the United States. Created in 1938, the committee served the same purpose as several before it, such as under Overman in 1918 and Fish in 1930. Special committees had worked to investigate fascist or socialist plots in the 1930s and early ‘40s, and Congress finally voted to create a standing committee for the HUAC at the close of WWII. They had considered investigating the actions of the Ku Klux Klan, but instead focused on communism as a more direct threat to the US Constitution.

After two years, hearings began to investigate communism in Hollywood. The West Coast city was a powerful player in American society, feeding media to the populace that may subvert the Constitutional government. Certain films such as Song of Russia and Mission to Moscow were obviously pro-Soviet, but they had been created in the time Russians were needed to combat Hitler. Now Congress readied to clean out the communists as the Cold War would turn former allies into potentially dangerous enemies.

Accusations of Hollywood had not been uncommon already. For years, J. Edgar Hoover and his FBI had kept files on actors, directors, and writers. Charles Chaplin, a native of London, was a particular target, especially in 1942 after Chaplin had pressed publically for opening a second front in Europe. While the front did open with the invasions of Italy and France in 1944, Chaplin was considered something of a warmonger despite his 1940 film The Great Dictator lampooning Hitler and his regime.

Hollywood weights such as Walt Disney and president of the Screen Actors Guild Ronald Reagan testified that there was in fact a communist threat in Hollywood. Other Hollywood leaders such as Humphrey Bogart and John Huston organized the Committee for the First Amendment to resist government crackdown. From a list of alleged members of the Communist Party was created, and ten screenwriters and directors refused to answer questions as to their membership in the Party (an illegal activity at the time), citing their rights under the First Amendment for assembly and free speech.

While the Screen Actors Guild voted to allow officers only if they took pledges against communism, the House of Representatives prepared to vote on a citation of the “Hollywood Ten” under contempt for Congress. In the speeches leading to the vote, Charlie Chaplin, who had flown to Washington specially, was asked to speak. Several congressmen groaned and the word “clown” was heard, but Chaplin firmly took his place and began his speech with, “I am not an American. But, I am not Un-American. I know what Americans stand for, and I have seen it make great victory in Europe against a terrible enemy. To let the outstretched hand of America tighten back into a fist at this time would create a land of fear and anger when what Americans truly want is peace and prosperity.” Quoting the United States Constitution and Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, Chaplin railed the notion that judging a person by thought and not action went against Jeffersonian principles that had founded the nation. He concluded by reiterating, “I am not an American, but I support Americans. It is up to the vote of this House to decide whether their America is true to its name.”

The vote for citation would fail only slightly, 180 to 183. December 3, MPAA president Eric Johnson and a collection of film makers would issue a press release from the Waldorf Hotel stating that Hollywood would not take collective business actions against the ten suspected men. While some might be fired or hired on the principles of free market employment, a “blacklist” would be unthinkable. The Red Scare of the ‘40s would die back, though the Communist Party would not make any great gains in the conservative Greatest Generation.

Some, such as J. Edgar Hoover, would continue to investigate anti-American activity, discovering the espionage of Alger Hiss. While Hoover would have great success, he would go too far in his bitterness against Chaplin. In 1952, while Chaplin was in London to attend the premiere of his film Limelight, Hoover would attempt to revoke Chaplin’s re-entry permit. The Immigration and Naturalization Service would erupt in scandal that would end with Hoover’s forced resignation in 1953. Chaplin would return to America and gain citizenship in 1961 at age 72.

In reality, Charlie Chaplin did not speak before Congress. The House voted to cite the Hollywood 10, and the MPAA followed with its Blacklist. Over 300 people would suffer the crackdown on left-leaning actors, writers, and directors with only a few able to recreate their careers. Chaplin would be exiled from the United States, not returning until 1972 for business reasons. In his exile, Chaplin wrote, “. . . Since the end of the last world war, I have been the object of lies and propaganda by powerful reactionary groups who, by their influence and by the aid of America's yellow press, have created an unhealthy atmosphere in which liberal-minded individuals can be singled out and persecuted. Under these conditions I find it virtually impossible to continue my motion-picture work, and I have therefore given up my residence in the United States.”

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

November 23, 534 BC – Thespis Insults the Gods

Since the dawn of language, and perhaps before with simple hand gestures, mankind had performed the art of storytelling. Great hunts, tragic tales of lovers, and, most importantly, the epics of the gods all served as material to be related to one another and the younger generations for entertainment and moral instruction. Storytelling among the ancient Greeks evolved out of the chanting of priests to become a more secular chorus, telling the tales of great men and gods, especially Dionysus, the patron of the art.

According to ancient manuscripts studied by modern historians, some 2500 years ago, a creative Greek by the name of Thespis of Icaria attempted to introduce “acting” to western civilization. Rather than singing from the chorus or as a solo storyteller, Thespis stepped alone in the amphitheater and sang from behind a mask as if he were Dionysus himself. The audience was struck, unsure quite what to think until an elder from the front stood and called, “Blasphemer!”

Thespis was obviously not Dionysus, and portraying himself to be an avatar of a god was a strict crime of sacrilege. He was taken before the Athenean court, given fair trial, and exiled from the city for fear that the gods would instigate a plague or bad fortune in a city allowing such arrogance. Thespis disappears from history, and acting would forever be a distasteful action among the European peoples.

Storytelling, however, flourished. During the republic and empire of Rome, satyr songs would give long, satirical descriptions of modern life in rich verse. Bards and monks relating the story of the Passion delighted audiences throughout the Middle Ages. As Europeans began to explore and colonize other peoples, they encountered new types of storytelling such as the shadow play of Japan and the body-language of dance among Southeast Asian and Polynesian peoples, many of which would find their places among European theater. Other arts, such as Japanese kabuki and African mask-dances would be frowned upon as barbaric and arrogant lies where “actors” portrayed themselves as true people or even spirits.

It would not be until the invention of the motion-picture camera that acting would return to the view of the western world. Originally, the camera was used to capture important events such as the funeral march of royalty or shocking images like staged train crashes. Through the work of French and later German “directors”, a new style of voyeurism would be shown as people invisibly watched the lives of others. Reality films would gradually fade as “fakies”, scripted and acted fictional accounts would be recorded and shown. Initially as scandalous as the acting of Thespis, counter-culture would embrace the stories, and its significance would eventually gain some recognition among the populace at large along the same lines of modern dance and lyric-less poetry.

Even in today's forward-thinking times, fakies are viewed as morally questionable, not necessarily evil, but not as genuine of an entertainment as a well told story.


In reality, according to the writings of Aristotle and others, Thespis was well received in his first-person portrayals, even of Dionysus. He spread his fame, as well as the new style of portraying characters through various masks, traveling in a wagon throughout Greece. Third-person storytelling, while still significant, takes a supporting role to acting on stage or film.

Monday, November 22, 2010

November 22, 1307 – Knights Templar Gain New Crusade

Since the fall of Jerusalem to Saladin in 1187, the Knights Templar had been in decline. They fought on through the crusades in the losing fight to keep Christian kings in the Holy Land. Their monastic headquarters stood at Acre and cities in the north for a century, but Moslem troops forced them off the mainland to Cyprus. The stronghold there fell in 1302 to the Mamluks, and the Templars had lost their mission. What to do with the Templars stood as the question of the day.

Pope Clement V, newly appointed in 1305, offered the suggestion of merging the Knights Templar with the Knights Hospitaller, who were forming up a monastic state in Rhodes as the Teutonic Knights had in Prussia. Both Grand Masters of the two orders ultimately rejected the idea, but, while the discussions were carried out in France, the pope also discussed charges of heresy and corruption that had been brought against the Knights Templar. While questionable, the allegations stood, and the pope sent a letter to the French king Philip IV to investigate. Philip, who was gravely indebted to the Knights Templar in the funding for his wars against England and Flanders, saw this as an opportunity to eliminate the would-be bankers.

On October 13, 1307, Philip gave the order to arrest dozens of top Templars, but Grand Master Jacques de Molay escaped secretly. Over the coming weeks, false confessions of idolatry and sinful rituals would be torn from the Templars under torture. Philip pressured Clement V to give an order that the rest of the Templars be arrested and convicted; with the Order gone, Philip's debts would be struck out. However, the network of Grand Master de Molay enabled the Templar to gain the attention of the pope. Even as Clement had moved the papacy to France, the Templars could protect him from Philip's military, and what the Order needed was a new goal. After much discussion, it was decided that the Order would purify itself and begin a quest to establish an alliance with the Mongols (believed to be descended from influence from the mythical eastern Christian king Prester John). Clement V, much to the chagrin of Philip, gave the papal bull entitled Nova Templarae on November 22. The renewed Templar Order would soon announce a new crusade.

In 1305, Oljeitu of the Ilkhanate in Persia had sent an embassy to Clement, Philip, and the English king Edward I to attempt a military alliance, but distractions in Europe had slowed plans. Now with the Templars freed by selling off their many monastic assets, including Philip's debt (which was purchased by Holy Roman Emperor Henry VII, giving a considerable boost to the political clout of the House of Luxembourg), the Templars began to piece together their Tenth Crusade. Consulting with the aged Crusader-historian Jean de Joinville as well as the famed merchant Marco Polo, whose book had described Prester John as the Mongol's foster father, the Templars set out exploring eastward on a northern route through the Black Sea and across Christian Armenia to begin contact.

By 1312, the Tenth Crusade had been launched. Simultaneous attacks from Ilkhanate Mongols in the northeast with Crusaders backed by mercenaries from the Caucasus in the northwest pushed Mamluks back into Egypt. Within a generation, the Holy Land was in the hands of the Crusaders once again, and the remainder of Egypt was now a vassal to the Mongols. In the 1340s, however, the Black Plague broke out through the Middle East and spilled into Europe. The plague was taken as a sign of punishment for drafting an alliance with unchristian fellows.

Breaking off relations with the east, Europe turned toward itself under the emboldened leadership of the Church, working to purge the ideas that past Crusaders had carried back with them and the dangerous readings of pagan science and literature from ancient Romans and Greeks. In the next century, a rebirth of allegiance to the Church would be conducted by Orders such as the Templars, still ruling out of Jerusalem until its fall to the Ottomans in 1467. Encouraged by trade and conquest, the Ottoman Empire launched its invasion of barbaric Italy in 1543 under Suleiman the Magnificent. Northern Europe would resist for centuries, holding back Muslim imperialism with renewed feudalism, despite the great militaristic might brought forward by Ottoman mastery of gunpowder and cannon.


In reality, Grand Master de Molay was arrested as well, and the papal bull that November called for similar arrest and seizure of Templar assets from every monarch in Christendom. Many of the Templars disappeared, often cited as fleeing to Scotland or Switzerland. Europe did receive an embassy from the Mongols for an alliance in 1305, but few considered them a reasonable match. Philip IV and Clement V spearheaded calls for a new crusade, though both would die in a matter of months after the betrayal of the Templars, said to be from the curse spoken by de Molay as he was burned at the stake, “Dieu sait qui a tort et a pëché. Il va bientot arriver malheur à ceux qui nous ont condamnés à mort” (“God knows who wronged and sinned. He soon will arrive with misfortune at those which condemned us to death”).

Friday, November 19, 2010

November 19, 1943 – Mass Escape at Janowska

In the outskirts of Lwów, in which had once been Poland but was then under the fascist rule of Nazi Germany, the Janowska concentration camp for labor and transit stood. In the early days of World War II, the corner of Poland had become Russian territory in Hitler’s deal with Stalin in the Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact. Knowing the coming persecution from the Nazis, Jews fled the western part of Poland and settled here as refugees, doubling the local Jewish population to 200,000. In 1941, Operation Barbarossa brought Germany east, and the Jews found themselves blamed under propaganda for massacres, then slaughtered and fenced like animals.

With some 13,000 already killed by 1942, the Germans restricted the northern part of Lwów into a ghetto and began deporting thousands more for extermination at Belzec. Others were taken to Nazi SS factories established on Janowska Street, forced to work for the German war machine and live in a nearby concentration camp. Janowska evolved further into a transit and processing camp, sorting victims into usable fodder and those who would simply be exterminated.

Toward the end of 1943, the war began to turn against Germany, and the Russians moved their front westward. As the Germans fell back, they worked to evacuate prisoners to cover their war crimes of mass murder. Under Sonderaktion 1005, systematic clearing of mass graves and execution of witnesses rushed to hide what had been done. In November, evacuation began at Janowska, with prisoners forced to exhume the dead and burn the bodies in hidden fires in the woods. Meanwhile, increased numbers were sent westward to extermination at unprecedented rates.

On November 19, an uprising began among the prisoners. Uprisings had been planned before, such as those by Pilecki at Auschwitz, but none seemed to meet with any hope of success. Janowska may very well have ended as a last desperate strike until a group of men who could have escaped decided to give up their freedom to fight back. Storming the arsenal at high casualties, the prisoners were able to arm themselves and establish a fortress. In the resulting firefight would ultimately result in Nazi crackdown of the camp, but by then some 6,000 well armed prisoners had escaped. While many of them would be recaptured, a majority would fall among the Polish Underground and survive the war.

The stories of the thousands of escaped Jews, Poles, and Russians reached public ears. Minor escapes had happened earlier in the Holocaust, such as Jacob Grojanowski in 1942, which created the Grojanowski Report on the war crimes by German command. While the BBC and New York Times reported on the gassing of Jews, Allied propaganda had downplayed the plight. Jan Karski, who had given testimony repeatedly on the murderous situation, even to Franklin Roosevelt himself in 1943, worked for years to call action against the Germans without much success.

Now with the thousands of freedmen spreading word across Europe, the Holocaust became impossible to ignore. Karski used his connections to give the story greater precedence, and finally the West listened. Candlelight vigils were held in London, New York, and Hollywood, and speeches were presented before Congress and Parliament. Nazi propaganda worked to contain rumors within German borders, though increased insurrection among prisoners dragged thousands of troops from the front.

In 1944, Pope Pius XII announced the condemnation of the Holocaust by the Catholic Church. The religious implications struck many of Germany’s loyal Catholics, causing a political uproar that spun Germany into civil war. With unclear battle-lines and the approach of Allied troops, many Germans simply retreated home and washed their hands of the Third Reich. The war in Europe would be proclaimed an Allied victory December 12, 1944.

In the chaos, many of the perpetrators of the Holocaust would escape abroad, most eventually dragged back as the World Court sought justice. Hitler himself committed suicide while attempting to evade capture by Russian troops. Having gained political voice, the Jewish people would soon establish a new homeland in Israel in 1947 as well as cultural recognition, such as the works of journalist and novelist Anne Frank, who survived the Holocaust as a young girl.

In reality, the uprising at Janowska did not succeed. Few prisoners managed to escape, and pursuit by SS and local forces killed and recaptured many of those. Liquidation at Janowska continued, purging the camp in time for withdrawal. News of the Holocaust did not spread until camps began to be liberated in mid-1944. Troops and embedded journalists reported having no idea what the Nazis had been doing until they saw it for themselves.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

November 18, 1307 – William Tell Misses

In a legendary act that seemed almost Biblical in magnitude, Albrecht Gessler, the Austrian bailiff of the Alpine town of Altdorf, set his hat atop a pole in the center of town. He ordered the townspeople to bow before it in recognition of the Austrian emperor (although, as it was his own hat and thus “crown”, they may have been bowing to him). The Alps had been under the influence of various foreign ruling houses such as Savoy and Kyburg who maintained key passes for military supremacy. In 1264, Kyburg toppled, and the Holy Roman Emperor Rudolph I claimed the Swiss territory as his own.

After decades of rule, local Swiss grumbled, and Gessler was dispatched to quell them. Many suspected that the emperor sent him there to provoke the Swiss so that an Austrian invasion would seem a peacekeeping force, but such secrets would remain behind closed doors. Gessler conducted government business with a heavy hand, staging rules to find naysayers and execute them before the rabble was roused.

While other townsfolk bowed to the hat, a hunter named William Tell walked through the square and refused to bow. Gessler had him arrested and gave him a choice: be executed outright or use his crossbow to knock an apple from his son Walter's head. Tell, an expert marksman, chose the apple. Surrounded by Austrian troops, Tell would trust his skills and play the overlord's game. If he missed, both he and his son would be executed. If he struck true, as he felt certain he would, they would be given freedom.

During the attempt, a man coughed behind Tell, breaking his concentration enough to have the arrow bury itself several inches below the apple. As Walter fell dead, Tell turned on Gessler and fired a second arrow, killing the Austrian instantly. Guards seized Tell and nearly beat him to death before their captain stopped them. Tell would be sent back to Austria and put on trial for murder.

The case at court would prove instrumental in establishing political jurisdiction over Switzerland for Austria. While the Swiss balked at their lack of freedom, the Austrian crown gradually began to assert control by giving sway in the competition for Holy Roman Emperor against the Luxembourgs. Rather than a crackdown militarily, the Austrians offered pacts to the various Alpine communities such as Uri and Berne, creating a confederation that would evolve into Austrian domination by the fifteenth century.

The uproar of the Reformation broke apart the Holy Roman Empire and spilled southward into the Alps, led before his death by Huldrych Zwingli. Seizing freedom of religion as an opportunity to seek political freedom as well, the confederation shattered and set about militarized valleys among the mountains. Guerrilla warfare pitted communities against one another and, especially, against Austrian influence. With such interruption in the south, the Swedish-backed northern Germans were able to free themselves from Roman authority early in the Twenty-five Years' War.

Switzerland would come under heavy sway in the Counter-Reformation following those violent years. Ideals of religious freedom were cast aside as heresy and disunity, and great significance was put into building up cathedrals and Catholic institutions, even to the cost of economic growth. Much of Europe would pass by Switzerland in this time, but the resilience would be recognized as the key to halting French invasion in 1798. Empowered by victories during the growth of Nationalism, Switzerland would seek independence in 1870 from the Austro-Hungarian Empire, gaining great military support from Giuseppe Garibaldi, whose unification of Italy also fought against Austrian imperialism. Finally standing as its own free republic, Switzerland would follow Italy and its neighbor Bavaria into Fascism in the early twentieth century. After the war defeated fascist thought, Switzerland would be occupied by French and American troops, eventually returned to its own elections. In 1997, Switzerland joined the European Union, hoping to gain much of the economic and technological improvement it had missed for so many years.

In reality, or so the legend goes, William Tell struck the apple cleanly from his son's head. Gessler had Tell arrested again, going against his word of freedom, and transported across Lake Lucerne, where a sudden storm allowed Tell to escape. Tell would later kill Gessler, giving the Swiss a step to begin its struggle toward the independent Swiss Confederation. Forged through the troubled days of the Thirty Years' War, Switzerland holds its neutrality and defense as important aspects to this day in its economically rigorous and developed land.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

November 14, 1776 – Benjamin Franklin Calls for Peace

In the St. James Chronicle, English citizen Benjamin Franklin, originally from Pennsylvania, published his “Letter to the English Speaking Peoples on Account of Unity.” Three years before, he had written a satirical essay entitled “Rules By Which A Great Empire May Be Reduced To A Small One,” ridiculing the heavy (and seemingly inept) hand of government between England and her colonies. While the Americans had been on a track toward revolution from unfair taxation without representation, Franklin had been in England, climbing social ladders, even to the point of securing his son the position as governor of the colony of New Jersey.

In 1773, a series of letters from Governor Thomas Hutchinson of Massachusetts were given to Franklin anonymously as he was representative from the colonies. The letters depicted a draconian call to order by stripping colonists of their rights “by degrees” and an “abridgement” of liberties. Franklin sent the letters to Boston to inform them of their governor’s thoughts, and they were published in the Boston Gazette. Uproar broke out in Boston, and Hutchison was sent back to England. The government began an investigation to find the source of the leak, eventually discovering Franklin as he stepped forward to protect innocents. In January 1774, he would be reprimanded and humiliated before the Privy Council, quashing many of Franklin’s ambitions.

By 1775, Franklin was prepared to leave London forever, returning to his beloved home and participating in the coming of a new age there. However, as spring came, he suffered a vicious attack of his gout, and Franklin was forced to spend the summer in the English countryside rather than risking a painful voyage. He rested with his aged friend Lord Chatham, William Pitt the Elder, and read the news from the colonies, where war broke out at Lexington and Concord, Massachusetts Colony. Franklin knew that there would be no return to America with war, and so he determined to help his people whatever way he found. Discussing the war with the Whigs, especially Pitt’s son, Franklin determined that the war must end and the British Empire be reunited as well as reformed.

Hope for peace grew dim as the Crown sent increasing numbers of troops and the Colonists returned with small victories, but the signing of the Declaration of Independence affirmed the Americans’ will to fight no matter concessions. Franklin imagined that, if he had been there, he might have signed it himself, but several key wordings would have been changed. Instead, in England, he encouraged William the Younger and routinely addressed the English to begin diplomacy, as he wrote in the St. James Chronicle.

Despite his cries, the war would drag on. While the Americans would find allies with the Dutch, finances could not take the place of warships, which they hoped to derive from a French Alliance. Unfortunately for the colonies, no American ambassador, even the acclaimed Thomas Jefferson, seemed able to intrigue the French Court into more than loans and guns. The British controlled the seas, but the American colonial forces gradually chased them off land. With the flexibility of the navy, however, the British army could be spirited away from one point and set upon a new invasion elsewhere, as seen at the disastrous Siege of Yorktown in 1781. By the mid-1780s, broke and facing counter-revolution, the Continental Congress began to give up.

Feeling victory, George III and like-minded Parliamentarians pressed for a scourging of the colonies in retribution, but Franklin called for a peaceful reuniting. Appealing to the tale of the Prodigal Son, Franklin showed that the colonies needed to be met with love. Reform would change the hearts of the colonists, though there were several bad apples to be taken from the barrel, such as Samuel Adams and John Hancock, who would live out their days imprisoned in England. George Washington would remain in house arrest at his much-reduced plantation, while Thomas Jefferson led expatriates to France, finding sanctuary there.

In the 1790s, a wave of revolution would wash across Europe; many would blame it on Jeffersonian influence. While France turned to a republic, most nations underwent softer reforms, especially Britain under the leadership of William Pitt the Younger. During the Napoleonic Wars, England and her colonies would be reaffirmed as a new generation of colonists fought against French troops along the Mississippi frontier.

Franklin himself would remain in Britain the rest of his life, though his preserved body would be sent back to Philadelphia in 1790. There was some discussion of burying him in Westminster for his work preserving the Empire, but his will stated that he was to return home “now that the house is in order.”

In reality, the fallout from the Hutchison Letters drove Franklin back to America. On November 14, 1776, the St. James Chronicle wrote, “The very identical Dr. Franklyn, whom Lord Chatham so much caressed, and used to say he was proud in calling his friend, is now at the head of the rebellion in North America,” confirming Franklin’s position as a leader among the Americans. Franklin would be instrumental in discerning and navigating the French Court to establish relations ultimately giving the United States its most important alliance.

Friday, November 12, 2010

November 12, 1916 – Lowell Regains Reason to Live

Percival Lowell had lived a life that few could not envy. A Harvard graduate, he left the world of business for travel and spent much of the 1880s in the Far East. He served as a diplomat's aide and made a study of Korean and, more specifically, Japanese culture. From his trips to the region, he wrote three books: The Soul of the Far East (1888), Noto (1891), and Occult Japan (1894). In 1893, he decided to dedicate himself to astronomy, picking up where the Italian astronomer Giovanni Schiaparelli had left off with a study of canals on the surface of Mars. The next year, Lowell used his fortune to establish the observatory in Arizona that bears his name.

Through his study, Lowell determined sketches of the canals on Mars and wrote three more books: Mars (1895), Mars and Its Canals (1906), and Mars As the Abode of Life (1908). As the twentieth century began, Lowell's ideas of the canals as symbols of an intelligent Martian race led to less and less credit among the astronomical community. The dispassion weighed on him, and he turned toward further research to reestablish his name. Taking discrepancies in the orbit of Uranus, Lowell calculated that some other body must exist beyond the orbit of Neptune, an unfound planet he dubbed "Planet X." Despite laborious searches, nothing from the photographs of the heavens could be determined to be such a planet.

In 1916, Lowell's life seemed to have run out. The World War weighed as heavily on him as the sneers from fellow astronomers. He had believed so much in humanity and the drive of human progress; reports of hundreds of thousands of young men slain on battlefields seemed to disprove that. Stresses had built up into his system, perhaps directing him to an early end of life. But, in the early hours of November 12, an aide hurriedly approached Lowell with prints from the photographic plates taken that March and April with a distant dot that may have been his Planet X.

Reinvigorated, Lowell threw himself into research. The planet looked too small to genuinely affect the mass of Uranus and Neptune, which caused him to recalculate the planetary masses. When this new mathematical arrangement seemed to fit better than the standard model, Lowell published his results in 1917. While some of the astronomical community became persuaded, the overall opinion was against him. Rather than falling under pressure as he had before, Lowell broke with standards and decided that humanity as a whole was becoming corrupt. If progress were to be made, it would be by smaller groups of like-minded, imaginative mini-cultures. He decided that hope for the future lay not in the overpopulated nations of the world but in individual creativity.

Lowell began bringing influential scientists and writers (including his sister, Amy) to his observatory, creating a new community. Some whispered that he was building a scientific cult, but Lowell had given up on impressing his fellows. Instead, he gathered funding and built up the observatory into not only an astronomical facility, but a place for research in numerous fields.

In 1920, Lowell came across a front page article in The New York Times about a lecturer at Clark University believing he could reach the Moon by means of rocketry. Dr. Robert Goddard proposed sending meteorological instruments into the upper atmosphere and even flash powder to the dark side of the Moon, illuminating it for astronomical study. The day after the article, an editorial in The Times trounced Goddard's ideas and concluded that he was a fool who had forgotten "the relation of action and reaction, and of the need to have something better than a vacuum against which to react—to say that would be absurd." Lowell contacted Goddard through his connections at Clark University (where he had received an honorary degree in 1909), the two bonded over Goddard's explanation of the fallacy believed to be from Newton's laws of motion. When Lowell secured funding for Goddard's experiments, the latter joined him at the Observatory.

In 1923, Lowell was informed of another controversial thesis, this by a young German student, Hermann Oberth, entitled Die Rakete zu den Planetenräumen ("By Rocket into Planetary Space"). Lowell became enamored with traveling not only to the Moon, but Mars itself, and invited him to join Goddard’s research. Oberth, who also had been frowned upon by the academic communities as “utopian”, accepted Lowell's invitation. Lowell would later invite Konstantin Tsiolkovsky after widespread publications of the genius's earlier work, but the Russian would decline to move to Arizona, instead maintaining a rigorous correspondence until Lowell's death in 1930.

Lowell died from a stroke February 18, 1930, many said caused by overwork. Since the Crash of the stock market, funding had begun to dry up, and Lowell worked continuously to keep his society running. While the '30s would be lean times at the Observatory, the explosion of need for technological development as the United States entered World War Two gave them something of a blank check. It is believed that Lowell's efforts, combined with yet another war, enabled mankind to achieve space flight in 1948, establish the Lowell Lunar Colony in 1961, and launch the Lowell Ares Program, establishing a Martian outpost in 1983. By that time, however, it had become obvious that Lowell’s canals were only an optical illusion.

In reality, Percival Lowell died of a stroke on November 12. His research on Planet X would lead to the discovery of Pluto in 1930, its name being given partially because of Lowell's initials PL forming the first two letters. Lowell's observations of canals would be disproved in 1965 with the Mariner 4 probe's images, and Pluto would be demoted from planetary status in 2006.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

November 11, 1880 – Ned Kelly Granted Life, on a Condition

Throughout his early life, the Australian state of Victoria was plagued by bushranger Edward “Ned” Kelly. He was the son of an Irish ex-convict who had been sent to Van Diemen's Land on charges of thievery, though many argued he was a patriot who had stood a little too tall. The senior Kelly's vigor-beyond-legality passed on to his son, and Ned was notorious for cunning, while questionable, activities. At age 14, he was arrested for assault (claiming he was defending his sister's honor); at 15, he was again arrested for assault (on a man who had borrowed a horse without permission) and harassing his wife. Kelly himself would be accused of horse-thievery, and, in the resulting altercation with one Constable Hall, he beat Hall and reportedly rode him like a horse. Kelly grew and eventually assumed a career in cattle-rustling.

In what may or may not have been police harassment, Kelly was accused of shooting an officer in the wrist, and so a warrant was put out for his arrest. The Kellies' version of the story was that the constable, Alexander Fitzpatrick, had come asking about Dan Kelly while Ned was gone to New South Wales, made an inappropriate advance on Kate Kelly, and was hit with a coal shovel by the mother, Ellen. Fitzpatrick's doctor noted the smell of alcohol, but Judge Redmond Barry found Ned guilty on scant evidence, prompting a 15-year sentence if he were to be found. Instead, Ned and his brother Dan fled into the bush, later joined by Steve Hart and Joe Byrne.

The Kelly gang was pursued, and a shootout at Stringybark Creek left two officers dead, meaning that Kelly would now be wanted for more than assault. Knowing his life hung on a thread no matter what he did, Kelly turned to daring bank robberies. In Euroa, the gang stole some £2000 while entertaining hostages with horsemanship theatrics. The police scurried to arrest known Kelly sympathizers, but his legend only grew as the government pressed harder. In Jerilderie, they impersonated police officers with uniforms stolen from the local police station, bought hostages drinks, stole another £2000, and burned the mortgage papers of everyone in the town.

On June 27, 1880, the gang, dressed in long, gray cotton coats and large hats, raided Glenrowan. Beneath their clothes, unbeknownst to the police, was armor constructed out of plowshares that weighed nearly 100 pounds and was thick enough to deflect bullets. When police arrived and the shootout began, bullets bounced off Kelly and terrified police. They cried that he was the Devil or a bunyip. Constable Gascoigne hit Kelly point blank, but the man did not fall, and Gascoigne called out that he could not be hurt. Eventually, the volleys caught Kelly in the foot and hand, and he was brought down and arrested.

The rest of his gang had died, Byrne dying from blood loss while Dan Kelly and Steve Hart reportedly committed suicide. Kelly stood before Judge Redmond Barry, the same who had promised to give him 15 years in the original harassment that had sent Kelly into the bush two years before. Barry sentenced Kelly to hang, but at the last moment 30,000 signatures for a stay of sentence were met with an enterprising lieutenant with an idea. In exchange for life imprisonment, Kelly would join in the designs of mass producing his armor for infantry.

Given into permanent custody of Her Majesty's Army, Kelly was taken to London where he and several military engineers reproduced his armor. The original suits had been made on a bush forge, but were of incredible quality, accidentally using the lower temperature and spotty nature of the rough forge to create uneven, more bullet-resistant metal. The armor designs would be put to use in the Boer War, where they would prove useful only in aggressive forward raids. Primarily, the armor was declared useless, though Kelly was maintained in military prison. He spent his time dictating and writing letters from his prison, denouncing the Australian government and arguing for the rights of Irish Catholics throughout the empire.

When the First World War began, trench warfare turned advances into slaughter until Kelly's armor was reintroduced in 1916. At the Battle of the Somme, armor-clad British soldiers stormed across No Man's Land. While many were cut down in the legs by machine gun fire and others simply fell over and were unable to get up, the pushing force overwhelmed German troops and started the general retreat from France that would end the war in 1917.

As Europe breathed between the wars, the Kaiser began a new arms race, developing motorized Panzer that would be emulated by other nations. In 1936, the Second World War would begin due to Germany's move into Austria during socialist riots. The new war would be nothing like the stalemate of the first and spread the deadness of No Man's Land across much of the continent. Kelly would not live to see the massive destruction his idea had caused, having died in prison in 1928, still writing in criticism of abusive tyranny.

In reality, Ned Kelly was hanged for murder despite the petition. His mother reminded him to “die like a Kelly,” and Kelly replied to Judge Barry's remark “May God have mercy on your soul”, with “I will go a little further than that, and say I will see you there when I go.” Poetically, Kelly's last words were reported to be, “Such is life.” To this day, Kelly's legendary invulnerability adds another level to his places as a folk hero or a vicious killer.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

November 10, 4004 B.C. – Humanity Resists Temptation

On this day, as calculated by our brother James Ussher and remembered by Mother Eve, she was walking in The Garden when approached by a serpent, that crafty foe. The world was still young, having only been finished that October, and there were but two humans in all of Creation, Eve and our slightly older Father, Adam, from whose rib Eve, and thereby all of us, came. She meandered by the feared Tree of Knowledge that has long been buried under concrete and steel.

Before its protection, however, the tree was open to be seen and its fruit could be picked with mere fingertips. The serpent asked, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?”

Eve replied, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.’”

The serpent scoffed and said, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

After a moment of temptation, Eve resisted and ran screaming through the Garden, crying out for God. Upon hearing His voice asking after the matter, Eve explained she had been tempted. God found the spirit of Lucifer, that most rebellious angel cast out of Heaven, in the beast, and both were cast into the Pit. Since that day, we humans have always fought the temptation of the Tree, leading to its burial in the ongoing Babel project, putting it under a foundation someday as high as Heaven. Until the end of time, we will drive it deeper and deeper, away from our hand so that we will never know what it is to “die.”

In the six thousand years since, humanity has grown and achieved feats applauded by the angels such as building cities and exploring to every corner of the Earth. As far as we have gone, all of us consider The Garden our home, and many continue to sleep under its boughs. We have even “created” on our own, making art and music and telling tales of fanciful things, such as if the morning dew were so heavy it fell from the sky in waves of drops or if we could fly like angels.

Meanwhile, Heaven has been quiet other than a second rebellion by angels suffering something known as “boredom,” perhaps a thing akin to the arrogance of the first rebellion. The Word, which was in the beginning being with God and being God, also seemed at a loss, as if He were meant for more. Still, He was known to approach Earth and share fellowship with us. Most dramatically, some 2000 years ago, the Word became man by virgin birth and ruled as king. While a significant entry, most agree we would have accepted Him in any case, but who are we to question God's Plan?


In reality, Eve and Adam ate the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Sin came into the world, as did death and the punishments of toil, birth pains, and serpents crawling on their bellies. The Word, Jesus, also came into the world and served as the sacrifice for redemption, allowing us to return to Paradise if only we accept such grace. But, humans have Free Will, and we may choose as we feel best.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

November 6, 1861 – Howell Cobb Elected CSA President

A misspoken word about the wisdom of secession in a speech by former US Secretary of War Jefferson Davis turned sentiment against him and caused former US Secretary of the Treasury Howell Cobb to be elected to the presidency of the newly formed Confederate States of America. The past years had been full of strife for the nation: economic turmoil, cultural diversion, and, especially, the growing political sentiment among Northern states that slavery was an all-out evil. Fearing suppression by the election of the Republican Abraham Lincoln, the South moved to secede.

Native Georgian Howell Cobb had been a leader throughout his life. After a career as a lawyer, he moved onto politics, serving as Congressman from Georgia from 1843 to 1851, as well as a stint as Speaker of the House from ’49 to ’51. He moved into the executive branch, serving as governor of Georgia, before returning to Washington as Secretary of the Treasury. Cobb had long been a supporter of the right of slavery, campaigning for its allowance into any territory before becoming a strong adherent to the Compromise of 1850. In 1860, it became obvious that states’ rights would lose against federal tyranny, and so Cobb gave up Unionism and campaigned for secession.

Davis, meanwhile, had been a soldier working his way through the ranks until being appointed as senator from Mississippi. A capable administrator, he moved forward as Secretary of War under President Franklin Pierce. When the notion of secession arose, Davis fought against it, though he finally gave way when the majority ruled. Cobb, one of the greatest leaders of the movement, had served as president of the provisional Confederacy government, and Davis was given the official head of state soon after. With reiterated words from his warnings about secession, however, public opinion turned against Davis, and Cobb would be inaugurated February 22, 1862.

Cobb reportedly admired Davis’s skills and affirmed his loyalty to the South, making him general-in-chief of the Southern armies. While Davis worked to defend the homeland, Cobb rallied his people and relied on his talents in diplomacy. Campaigns of “Let Us Go” circulated throughout the South and into the North (where they were attempted to be contained). Davis and Lee argued to be allowed to march north to scare the Yankees into peace, but Cobb refused, saying it would undermine their position as innocents. Instead, he reinforced defenses particularly in the west, giving way to the bloody victory at Vicksburg in 1863, taking some 50,000 Union troops captive and securing the Mississippi.

Cobb also worked to win international recognition, which he was able to gain from Napoleon III in France, exchanging support for Maximilian I in Mexico. In 1864, Lincoln would lose the election to General George B. McClellan, and the Democrat’s peace platform would put into works the Treaty of Washington in 1866 that would end the War of Secession. While provisions would invite the Confederacy to rejoin the Union, or vice-versa, the two became politically disunited. Having successfully ended the war within his six-year term, Cobb retired, endorsing Lee in the election of 1867.

The two Americas would go separate ways with the North focusing on industrial growth while the South hoped for imperialism. Over the latter part of the nineteenth century, slavery would give way to fiscal sense of large-scale machine farming in an industrial economy. When France collapsed in 1870, the CSA pushed southward for new colonial influence, but the resulting wars would prove to dishearten and weaken the South. In the push for New Nationalism in the 1890s, fueled by newspapermen such as Hearst, a revolution rose up to rejoin the USA. In the Organic Act of 1899, the Confederacy (with the exception of the Republic of Texas) voted to return to citizenship under the US Constitution and officially ending slavery.

In reality, Jefferson Davis won the election. Cobb went on to become a brigadier general in Northern Virginia, working his diplomacy to exchange prisoners. He later served as major general in Georgia and Florida, where he fought a desperate defense against Sherman until surrendering at Macon on April 16, 1865. After the war, Cobb worked until his death in 1868 to oppose Reconstruction.

Friday, November 5, 2010

November 5, 1605 – Fawkes Ignites Gunpowder Demonstration

With the end of Elizabeth's reign as the Virgin Queen without an heir, James VI of Scotland was given the throne of England. Along with the change of ruler, the policies of the nation would change, specifically Elizabeth's noted religious toleration. James I, as he would be known in England, was staunchly Protestant and planned to establish renewed restrictions on Catholics. Sir Robert Catesby, a prominent recusant Catholic who had taken part in the botched Essex Rebellion of 1601, decided on violent revolt once more to overthrow James.

Among Catesby's cohorts was a soldier named Guy Fawkes who had served nearly a decade fighting in Europe. “Guido,” as was the Italian version of his name that he sometimes took, was a staunch Catholic after converting to follow his step-father. He fought in the Eighty Years' War as a mercenary for Spain against the Dutch and French. In 1603, after several honors for bravery and fighting skill, Fawkes was recommended as a captain. With his new rank, he headed to Spain to call for support from Philip III for a Catholic rebellion in England to overthrow the new Scot king. Philip refused, and Fawkes went to England unsupported for his own revolution.

In England, Fawkes fell in with Catesby's crew. As early as May of 1604, they planned to blow up Parliament with gunpowder, cutting the head from the snake and allowing the Catholic leaders of the nation, such as Catesby, to assume command. Fawkes, being the most knowledgeable in the ways of war, was to man the explosives. The conspirators made an attempt at digging a tunnel, but serendipity ended the action when they learned an undercroft beneath the House of Lords was being cleared out. Securing the lease, the men stored the gunpowder and waited for the opening of Parliament, delayed by plague until November 5.

During July, Fawkes chanced to meet an old school friend that had now become a Jesuit priest, Oswald Tesimond. The priest noted that Fawkes had maintained his cheerful manner, but that he now seemed too eager to turn to quarrels and strife. The wars in Europe had changed him, though not his loyalties. Fawkes took Tesimond into his confidence and confessed his plot to kill so many. Normally Tesimond would have followed typical recognition of man's will, but he became agitated and disgusted with Fawkes' new being. He asked Fawkes what good such wars had done in the Netherlands, where the soldier had seen so much innocent blood shed without abolition of the revolt. The brutal days of trading between Henry VIII's Anglican church and Mary's Catholicism were still fresh. Tesimond asked him to imagine Fawkes' native Yorkshire under the same brutality that had reigned on the Continent.

The image frightened Fawkes, and the confession changed him. Tesimond pronounced forgiveness even to the point he would not mention the affair to his superior, Father Henry Garnet, until that autumn. When Fawkes returned to Catesby, he began to demand a new strategy for the conspiracy. Instead of killing, he said that the power of the Catholics simply needed to be recognized. After accusations of cowardice and resulting fist-thrown duels to prove he was not, Fawkes took charge with a new scheme.

On November 5, 1605, a barge in the Thames erupted with a massive explosion of gunpowder. Following the blast, fireworks sprung out of the smoke into the sky over London. Parliament was interrupted while going through its ceremony of opening by James, and attention turned toward a solemn, peaceful, though armed, parade of Catholics approached led by Tesimond and Garnet. They waited outside of Parliament until invited to speak, and Catesby read a speech from a written letter signed, “Catholics of Englande.”

Impressed by the bravado of the demonstration as well as the obvious power the demonstrators held, James recognized the significance of Catholics to his new kingdom. He would broker a political balance, focusing on unifying forces rather than rooting out potential dissidents. In his 1611 translation of the Bible to clarify troubling translations by Puritans, James would include several Catholic priests.

Since the enforced religious harmony of the early 1600s, uprisings would be primarily political, as in the Roundhead Revolution to establish a constitution for both monarch and Parliament to follow, penned in part by reformist Sir Oliver Cromwell.

In reality, Fawkes was a champion for the military overthrow of the Protestant King James. The Gunpowder Treason Plot would be discovered on October 26 in an anonymous letter and a search conducted. In the wee hours of November 5, just before Parliament was to be opened, Guy Fawkes would be discovered with 36 barrels of gunpowder, more than enough explosives to destroy the whole area. Fawkes was caught and interrogated through torture, and he endured much before breaking. The rest of the plotters, including the arguably inactive members of Fathers Garnet and Tesimond, were captured, tried, and executed for treason. In the wake of relief and renewed loyalty for the King and Parliament, harsh new restrictions were placed upon English Catholics.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

November 4, 1956 – Hungarians Fight Back with American Arms

In the postlude to World War II, Soviet occupation forces came to dominate Eastern Europe. Churchill described the separation from the West as an Iron Curtain in 1946, and, in the decade following, Hungary had suffered under Stalinistic rule. In 1956, what began as a demonstration by students became a nation-wide rebellion against Soviet authority. The students rallied around the statue of Hungarian hero Jozef Bem, cut the Soviet emblem from the Hungarian flag, read manifestos, sang, and began to march on Budapest's radio center. As they approached, the students were fired upon by the State Security Police with tear gas and live ammunition. The protestors retaliated, overwhelmed the police, and the Soviet-inspired government collapsed almost overnight.

Working to maintain what order they could, Soviet tanks surrounded the Parliament, and reformist Imre Nagy was given the place of the ousted prime minister, András Hegedűs. Nagy called for an end to violence, but Molotov cocktails and what few weapons the people had were used on the police. Soviet forces stayed disengaged, seeking only to protect what little of the government was still in place. Throughout the country, rebels took over local government and began hurried elimination of Soviet emblems. On October 28, an uneasy armistice was declared, though often interrupted, and Khrushchev announced that the Soviet Union would remain only to defend Russian interests before withdrawal.

While the new Hungarian government seemed hopeful, the Soviets began plans to intervene. Khrushchev met with leaders of other communist nations in Eastern Europe, and it was said that Mao Zedong had given the recommendation to crush the rebellion. The United States was frozen in a neutral position due to the ongoing affair at the Suez Canal where they had allowed British and French intervention. The Eisenhower Administration knew it could not very well support international military efforts in Egypt then condemn it in Hungary, but raucous opinion from the press drowned out VP Nixon's more diplomatic approach. It was finally decided that, although not full military support, covert delivery of tank-busting rockets and small artillery mortars would be made. Though there was little time for training, the weapons were delivered by train and spread through the newly founded militias.

On November 1, Soviet tanks began to penetrate Hungary and move toward Budapest. Nagy and his cabinet responded by announcing Hungary's withdrawal from the Warsaw Pact, calling for the removal of Soviet troops, and appealing for United Nations support in maintaining neutrality. The political actions proved ineffective, and, in the early hours of November 4, the Soviets launched Operation Whirlwind with 17 divisions storming eastern Hungary. The militias gave a sudden and impressive counterattack, but the armored Soviets pushed through into Pest. Without orders from higher authority, Hungarian freedom fighters demolished the bridges by explosives and small-scale artillery, halting the Soviet advance at the Danube River.

Nagy praised his fellow countrymen via radio and called for resistance on the eastern side of Hungary. Soviet supply lines became cut repeatedly, and the need for defense hindered any attempt to make headway into territory. As November dragged on, the invasion stalemated, and international cries of foul play began to rise against Russia. Spain led the way in boycotting the 1956 Olympics in Melbourne, along with the Netherlands, Switzerland, Norway, and more. Combined with the boycott by the Arab states because of military action at the Suez Canal and the Chinese boycott due to Formosa (Taiwan), it would be the least-attended Olympics in years with only 2,459 athletes, one-half of the originally planned participants.

As the Suez Crisis came to an end with Egyptian control of the Canal, the signal seemed to spread that small nations would not ascribe to imperialism any longer. Hungary became revitalized with international support, and the Soviets began discussions of drawing demilitarized zones, but Nagy refused. In 1958, the spirit of rebellion broke throughout the Warsaw Pact, and Russia suddenly saw itself losing the influence gained after the Second World War. Khruschev manipulated political damage control, breaking satellite nations away from Russia while keeping the Soviet Union itself intact, though severely weakened.

In his inaugural address, John F. Kennedy admitted that the Cold War had not ended, but said that the world had reached a new balance beyond a fallen Iron Curtain. America was not the unquestionable leader of the post-colonial world, although it now stood ahead of the rest, and he invited them to work together with, “My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.” Freedom, specifically capitalistic freedom, would win the day as the strength of Communism continued to wane.

In reality, the United States acted on the behalf of Hungary only with a failed recommendation to discuss the issue at the United Nations Security Council. A later resolution would be produced by the General Assembly, but by then the affirmed Kádár government refused UN interference. Soviet purges would roll through Hungary, adding thousands more to the death toll already created during the fighting in the revolution as well as arrests and the flight of some 200,000 refugees. Though there was international denouncement, Hungary would remain under Soviet influence until its collapse in 1989.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

November 3, 644 (65 AH) – Caliph Omar Stabbed Five Times

The Muslim Caliphate had grown by leaps since its creation twelve years before at the Prophet’s death. Omar, a Muhajir (Emigrant), had helped create the political structure after the funeral of Muhammad. The Ansar (native helpers) planned to control the Muslim world themselves rather than letting foreigners rule, but Omar’s politicking brought about disputes between the tribes, sparking scapegoatism and civil war that led to strong unification under the Caliph Abu Bakr. His reign would be two short years, during which Omar would serve as an adviser, recommending the writing of the Quran to ensure battled did not kill all memorizers of the word.

In 634, Omar, soon to become known as Farooq the Great, was selected as the caliph to succeed Abu Bakr. He was a capable but very strict ruler, using harsh punishment for those refusing to support him. While many of political importance did not agree with him, they at least acknowledged with his skills as a legislator and reformer. Omar directed the growing nation through the famines and plagues of 638-9, expelled the Christians and Jews, and systematically conquered the Sassanid Empire. His brutality during the conquest and treatment of slaves afterward resulted in a new resurgence of distaste for the caliph.

Using propaganda for legitimacy, the Persians planned assassination as retaliation. In 644, Omar went for his Hajj to Mecca upon prophecies of never again seeing Mount Arafat and being hit with a rock during the ritual of Stoning the Devil. On November 3, Abu Lulu, who had faced the caliph due to tax issues, attacked with a knife, stabbing five times. He made for a sixth stab, but Omar’s hand caught the blade and wrung it out of Abu Lulu’s grip with much damage to his fingers. The assassin made to escape, but he was reportedly ripped apart by the hands of the crowd.

Over the next week, Omar would regain his strength. Seeing the damage done by his political enemies, he went on a new program of propaganda, investigation, exile, and execution to secure his place. Many of his allies disapproved of his position in what many considered a coup d’état against the Prophet’s daughter Fatima. Through spies and torture, Omar determined who was truly loyal, and those that disagreed with his position were eliminated. Civil war broke out as a coup was attempted against him, but Omar was able to secure overwhelming support from the Bedouin tribes.

Omar the One-handed would spend the last of his reign planning further expansion. While he did not live to see his plans come to fruition, he did lay the groundwork for the conquest of the Byzantine Romans in 678 under the fourth caliph. Islam came to rule the center of the world, controlling vast trade routes and influencing cultures in every direction. While Viking pirates gave the Caliphate great trouble through the next centuries, the eventual religious conquest of Scandinavia would give great seafaring and exploration to the Muslim world. Additional military skills would be brought in upon the proselytization of much of the Mongol Horde.

Upon the discovery of the New World across the western Ocean, the Caliphate would come into a new golden age funded by gold secured in conquest from the natives. Muslim firearms and armor proved overwhelming to sun-worshiping, human sacrificing Inca and Mayans who wielded obsidian blades. The infidels faced plagues that served as a proving force that God was on the side of conquest. Using the wealth to invest in art and science, the Caliphate would spend the second millennium conquering eastward, unifying the world under Allah at Mecca. While pockets of dissidence are known to spring forth against the Caliph, they have always been dealt with in the manner that Omar would find most expedient.

In reality, Omar was stabbed six times, the last being in the navel and would prove the lethal blow. He would die of his wounds on November 7, leaving behind a six-man committee to determine the third caliph. Separation between the Muslims would grow over the course of time between Shi’ite and Sunni upon the question of the proper succession to Muhammad, a distinction that continues to this day.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

November 2, 1967 – Wise Men Recommend Focusing on the Tunnel, Not the Light

War in French Indochina, later Vietnam, had been raging for almost twenty years. It had begun as campaigns against colonial domination and developed into a movement supporting the growth of Communism. Determined to check the Domino Theory, the US first began to send military advisers in 1950 and surged US troops into involvement under the Kennedy Administration. With war still sitting at a stalemate in Korea, Washington approved only of the idea of a “limited war” rather than a bloody northward invasion like the one pushed by MacArthur ten years before.

As the years dragged on, more and more American soldiers came home under their flag, and the public began to question why troops were there in the first place, President Lyndon Johnson sought help in solving the war weariness. He called a meeting of “The Wise Men”, a group of political and business leaders who had formed under Truman’s administration to dictate American foreign policy. Theirs had been the plan of containment and anti-communism that had guided the early days of the Cold War. Originally powerful bankers, lawyers, and diplomats, the men considered themselves statesmen needed to advise elected officials.

LBJ called a conference on the first of November in which the Wise Men were briefed about the situation at hand. The notables included General Omar Bradley, General Maxwell Taylor, Justice Abe Fortas, and Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr., among many others. There was progress being made in Vietnam, but the battlefield casualties wore away at American public support. The Wise Men agreed that simple departure from Vietnam was unacceptable and the influence of communism needed to be held back. While some suggested a positive PR campaign, after much discussion and a brandy or two, they decided that a more aggressive method than simple reassurance was necessary.

The men dusted off old recommendations from the days of Wilson’s war effort. While propaganda machines had changed over the last fifty years, many of the ideas still stood. LBJ and the War Department began to lead calls of an end to the attacks from North Vietnam, echoing speeches of the Minute Men of the 1910s denouncing the Kaiser. Rather than focusing on numbers, stories of war heroes were brought to the forefront of war news. The public reacted in a dower opinion, still skeptical of the war but not that American troops should be there.

When the Tet Offensive began January 31, 1968, LBJ became vindicated. The press carried stories of the overwhelming atrocities in the sudden Viet Cong attacks. Battles raged for two months, and the American public threw their support behind the troops with marches and calls for reinforcements. The second and third waves of attack began that summer, and the Americans regrouped, taking back much of the gained territory. While a tactical success initially, the Tet Offensive would prove a strategic loss, and the VC found themselves nearly devoid of supplies.

At the time of election, the American public seemed torn whether to turn toward the Republicans calling for an end to the war or the Democrats with their strategy of counterstrike to defend foreign allies. The polls came in very close with Hubert Humphrey narrowly defeating former Vice-President Richard Nixon. Within months of Humphrey taking office, the proposal for ceasefire would be announced, and a demilitarized zone along the 14th Parallel would be drawn separating the two countries akin to that in Korea.

South Vietnam would match its predecessor South Korea as a bastion of capitalism and industry. Under the Humphrey administration, a great deal of economic influence would flow to Vietnam, and its cheap factories would prove to outpace Japanese production of inexpensive goods in the 1990s. The tag “Made in Vietnam” is seemingly ubiquitous among high tech electronics today.

In reality, the Wise Men recommended a PR campaign focusing on the light at the end of the tunnel of the Vietnam War. Announcements were focused on positive figures and optimism, showing that the war would soon be over. When the Tet Offensive showed a renewed push of Viet Cong aggression, the American public turned on LBJ, and all hope for the war seemed lost. As Nixon came to the White House, American troop withdrawal began, and Vietnam would fall to communism in 1975.

Monday, November 1, 2010

November 1, 1784 – Benjamin Franklin Named President of Congress Assembled

After great success winning favor in the French Court for the young United States of America and determining a treaty with Sweden without ever having visited the country, Franklin misspoke and ended his ambassadorial career. He had been invited, along with astronomer Bailly, physician Guillotine, and chemist Lavoisier, to participate in a royal commission to investigate the “animal magnetism” of Charles d'Eslon based upon the work of Franz Mesmer. Franklin let slip one of his famous lewd comments, this one directed about the possibility of His Majesty Louis XVI attempting to abscond the science for his romantic pursuits, and his royal favor disappeared. Louis said, “Monsieur, vous êtes de finition,” and Franklin was sent back to America. His work had been finished, however, and Congress welcomed him despite the office of Ambassador to France being eliminated.

Franklin soon found himself in politics at home, hoping to be elected to the Executive Council of Pennsylvania, but instead named as a representative to the Continental Congress since John Dickinson seemed firmly rooted in the position. Soon after arriving in Congress, fellow Pennsylvanian Thomas Mifflin announced his resignation as President effective October 31. Early polls looked to have Virginian Richard Henry Lee elected to fill the role, but he made known that matters at home would not allow him to sit and would only act as signatory on papers forwarded from his secretary. Franklin wrote of being upset by the disinterest in national union and volunteered himself, almost immediately being sworn in as delegates were pleased to have someone take responsibility.

His initial steps were to give the Continental Congress a clout of more than a place for states to bicker. Finding a great ally in young James Madison of Virginia, Franklin was able to navigate the differing delegates’ opinions by working upon bridges Madison had already built while creating the Northwest Territory in 1783, which required ceding lands to Congress from overlapping claims by Virginia, Pennsylvania, and Connecticut. Franklin wanted to do more, but Congress lacked the ability to tax and was already in horrid debt from the war with requests for money from the states met with polite refusal. Though unable to tax, Franklin decided he would find a way for the government to make its money, or as he wrote, “earn our keep.”

After the move to Federal Hall in New York City, Franklin’s first project was the expansion of the United States Postal Service. Working with Postmaster General and fellow Philadelphian Ebenezer Hazard, Franklin devised an elegant system of couriers to transport mail over roads and waterways. He was able to secure legislation ratified by the states that allowed for free travel to any American citizen across state lines, thus stimulating commerce. Impeccable service and payment on stamps kept the Congress afloat, but its debts were still paralyzing. Franklin’s voiced frustration over the lack of money, brought him to the attention of Alexander Hamilton, who had resigned from Congress in 1782 after his own pursuits of a bill to allow Congress to set 5% duties was refused by the states.

Hamilton had recently founded the bank of New York, and he met with Franklin proposing a central bank for the whole of the United States. Franklin confirmed the idea, but others, especially Thomas Jefferson, who had taken up Madison’s position in the Continental Congress, spoke out against the notion of such a move as illegal. Further issues such as the deplorable treaty created by John Jay with the Spanish and reports from George Washington’s tour of the Northwest finding a grave need for American surveying and forts against British, Spanish, and Indian encroachment led Franklin to call for a convention in early 1786 to sort out the many issues of the Articles of Confederation.

While some whispered that Franklin was attempting to create a wholly new constitution, the convention only reinvigorated the Articles and established a new system of strong confederation for the United States. George Washington was convinced to participate to provide commentary on the need for an American army beyond the single regiment that guarded the Northwest Territory. His clout enabled many of the delegates to agree, and Madison worked as a bridge between the vain opinions of Thomas Jefferson (who demanded guarantee of personal rights) and Alexander Hamilton (who demanded a central government who could tax to protect and improve itself).

After months of arguing, the convention assembled a variety of new bills from the Articles revolutionizing the position of federal government. Congress was to have delegates each with the power to propose laws based upon representation of population, but each state was given two final votes to allow for the splitting of opinion while still giving small states a staunch voice. A small, permanent executive office would keep the business of government running while Congress was out of session: maintaining an army in the territories (American defense would still be largely militias) as well as a navy to defend American interests, a national bank (which would settle the debt issues that were causing riots in Massachusetts as well as promote funding for Congress through allocating dues to be paid by states based upon population and defense requirements), and the Postal Service, which would spur heavy investment in canals and roadways into the new territories, to be repaid as turnpikes. A Supreme Court would decide final disagreements between the states, whose laws would be left largely to themselves, Jeffersonian ideals were guaranteed under a Bill of Rights. Further Jefferson/Hamilton compromise came with the moving of the capital to a new location in the South, where Washington suggested along the Potomac, though Franklin convinced him to found Federal City as westward as possible to spur expansion, finally deciding on a point beside Fort Cumberland, MD, where Washington had served in the French and Indian War.

The rewritten Articles proved a solidifying effect on the United States. After smoothing the transition to his successor Washington, Franklin retired from his presidential office and returned to Philadelphia, dying soon after as a national hero. Washington affirmed the military power of the United States and dispatched a successful naval campaign defeating the Barbary pirates. Franklin’s expansionism was well met as the construction of Washington, D.C., prompted canal-building around the Great Falls on the Potomac and opened the Washington Road into Ohio.

After twenty years of growth and varying peace in attempts to sort out the overlapping territorial claims with Spain and Britain, the Napoleonic Wars seemed to threaten spilling over into the United States. Presidents Jefferson and Madison attempted to stave off war with Embargo Acts, but the limitations of federal power over trade stymied their abilities to control American shipping beyond suggestions and curtailing of the navy. British preying on American ships eventually started war in 1811, but after the impressive defeat of British raiders at the Battle of Washington, the stalemate turned to a favorable treaty removing British forces from illegal forts and helping America expand.

Expansionism, however, brought up the question of slavery in the territories. Congress would eventually end the slave trade and ban slavery in northern, then all, territories, but the South was legally protected from “Northern aggression” until unpopularity and economic forces gradually wiped out slavery over the course of the 1870s. Expansionism would run rampant as Manifest Destiny was completed with the end of the frontier in the 1890s, though further colonial expansion into the Philippines, Hawaii, and Caribbean would fall short of expectations. A new boom would come with the economy after the Great War, but the resulting crash from unfounded investments would wipe out the antiquated American banking system and shatter the United States as the underfunded federal government collapsed with the strain. States would fall into groups, “Balkanizing” the nation into seventeen parts following their own social ideals.

In reality, Franklin stayed in Paris until 1785, when his position as ambassador was taken over by Thomas Jefferson. Madison and others would guide the Constitutional Convention of 1787 spurred by Shay’s Rebellion over the debt crisis to create a new government for the United States, establishing a strong sense of federalism that would be affirmed in the bloody Civil War and maintain cohesion during the troubling Great Depression.

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