Monday, May 30, 2011

May 30, 1431 – Jeanne d’Arc Takes Vows

Against the backdrop of the bitter Hundred Years War, Saint Joan of Arc completed her novitiate and took her first vows to become a nun. Daughter of moderately wealthy farmer and local magistrate Jacques d’Arc, Joan had been a pious and upstanding girl. Around the age of 12 in 1424, she began claiming visions from God. In a field, she saw Saint Catherine (patron of girls), Saint Margaret (patron of peasantry and suffering), and Saint Michael (patron of war) stand before her and tell her to end the English domination of France, particularly by orchestrating the crowning of the Dauphin and reviving French nationalism. Four years later, she asked to go to the remnants of the French court, but her every request was denied, particularly by Count Robert de Baudricourt, leader of the local garrison who literally laughed at her. Discouraged, Joan returned home and decided to forget warfare.

The rest of France was similarly discouraged. For nine decades, the French had suffered defeat after defeat with the English gaining ground. The Hundred Years War had begun in 1337 when a birthright to the throne of France was claimed by Edward III (1312-1377), who was the only surviving male heir to Philip IV and closest relative to Charles IV of France. The French nobility refused to have a foreign king and instead chose Philip of Valois, to be crowned as Philip VI, grandson of Philip III. When the Second War of Scottish Independence broke out and Edward moved to put down the rebellion, the French held up their side of the Auld Alliance, attacking English shipping and seizing Gascony. England attempted to counterattack, but the lack of support from the Lowlands and cost of German mercenaries dragged the war into a stalemate until the Battle of Crécy, where the English longbow devastated the French knight and ended the Age of Chivalry in many respects.

Through temporary peaces, ongoing warfare, and even the Black Death, the Hundred Years War continued to roll onward. England made its greatest success at the Battle of Poitiers in 1356, where Edward’s army, outnumbered nearly three-to-one, defeated the French and even captured King John II. Mercenaries on either side ravaged the countryside already bled out by heavy taxation, leading to peasant uprisings such as the Jacquerie, which had to be suppressed violently. Afterward, the French began to reassemble, gradually taking back lands taken by the English. Irish rebellion, the Peasants’ Revolt against poll tax, and courtly intrigue with the death of Richard II slowed the English war effort, and the French faced their own problems as a civil war broke out between the House of Burgundy and the House of Armagnac, led by the French king, Charles VI who supported the antipope of the Western Schism.

The entire region of France was thusly split and split again by varying loyalties. There seemed no rational way of sorting out the political difficulties except through killing the opposition. The English took up an alliance with Burgundy, whose head John the Fearless had been assassinated while under King Charles’ protection, deepening the rift between the French. Burgundy insisted that Charles was illegitimate, and England hoped to use the division to firmly conquer France.

Joan wished to aid the French war effort, but her exclusion seemed final, and instead she turned toward aiding the national spirit through the Church. The French, meanwhile, pieced together an expedition in 1429 to lift the siege of Orleans and capitalize on the death of English King Henry V in 1422. Though it is questionable what impact an untrained girl could have had to change it, the expedition was a catastrophe. While the French initially made great impact on the English forces, the English stand at the fort of St. Loup turned back the tide. French troops, disheartened by the seemingly unbreakable English hold on France, retreated and suffered great causalities. The new English king, Henry VI, did not seem to have the heart to continue the bitter wars as his forefathers had, giving over rule increasingly to regents and his Burgundian allies.

Finally, in 1453, the war came to an end with a divided France. England faced bankruptcy and an empire that it could not afford to control. Instead, it sold much of its southerly holdings to Burgundy, who established their own kingdom in the north, creating a buffer between England and France proper, which stretched from Chinon southward. The two French kingdoms would routinely fight wars, finding themselves on either side of international conflicts in the coming centuries: the English Wars of the Roses, colonial wars among the Spanish, Dutch, and English, and the Republican War of 1789-95.

Through all of them, nuns of the famous Order of Joan would aid both sides with food and care, encouraging French cooperation and brotherhood. Visions of reunification, however, would not become realized, even after the toppling of communist south France in 1990.


In reality, Joan persevered her way though to the Dauphin and even passed a theological inquiry, gaining the support of French looking for a prophet of deliverance. She was instrumental in victory at Orleans, which gave Charles VII a militaristic upper hand and encouraged his coronation in 1429. Joan became captured at Margny in 1430 by Burgundians while leading the rear guard and covering retreat. She was sold to England, who put her on trial for witchcraft and burned her May 31, 1431. In 1456, she would be given a posthumous retrial and found innocent, then beatified in 1909 and finally canonized in 1920 as a patron of France.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

May 29, 1453 – Constantinople Siege Raised

On this date, according to the Julian Calendar, the Tenth Crusade, led by united Christian forces directly under Pope Nicholas V gathered from a wide alliance of Venetian, German, and Genoese troops, broke the Ottoman siege at Constantinople. It would serve as the crowning moment of Nicholas’ impressive eight-year term as pope and herald a new age of military security in Christendom from outside threats. Dubbed the time of the “Third Rome”, the triumph would mean the end of the Byzantine period and domination over the European Muslims.

Constantinople grew up from the humble Greek town of Byzantium when Emperor Constantine decided to shift his capital in 330 to escape Roman factions and intrigue as well as establishing quick connection to frontiers where barbarian threats could arise. The Byzantine Empire continued even after the fall of Rome to German invasion and grew wealthy by controlling the key point of trade between the West and East as well as the Bosporus, the only shipping route from the Mediterranean to the Black Sea. Despite centuries of decline since the golden age of Justinian where the Byzantines dominated an empire almost as large as Rome’s had been, Constantinople continued to hang on as a crucial lynchpin of world trade and civilization.

Meanwhile, the world changed around stagnant Constantinople. The Orthodox Church broke with the western Rome due to differences such as the veneration of icons and, especially, attacks such as the sacking of the Church of Holy Wisdom in 1204 during the Fourth Crusade. The Byzantines lost control of Anatolia, which broke into various principalities, one of which was ruled by Osman I in 1299, who held a vision of an empire as a tree with roots spreading through three continents and leaves blotting out the sky. He defeated the Byzantines at Bapheus in 1302, which was the first display of the quick expansion of the Ottomans through Anatolia and then, under Mehmed I, into the Balkans (1413-1421). Though the growing Ottoman Empire was just a few miles from Constantinople, it would be more than a century before they could muster enough force to conquer the city, merely demand tribute. Upon taking the Ottoman throne in 1451 at age nineteen, Mehmed II immediately set upon building up his navy and preparing to take Constantinople. He finally arranged a force estimated at around 100,000 soldiers with some 320 ships and established a blockade and siege in April of 1453.

Appeals from Constantinople did not go unheard, however. Pope Nicholas V began to call for a crusade for the liberation of the Bosporus from the Ottomans. No king seemed willing to head the expedition, and so Nicholas volunteered himself, using unprecedented powers hinted at in the declarations of Papal supremacy in the Council of Constance in 1418. He still needed armies, which he could gather freely as the Western Schism finally ended with the resignation of Antipope Felix V in 1449. While he would gather great support from Spain, France, and the Italian States, his greatest ally came as Frederick III, King of Germany, whom he crowned emperor of the Holy Roman Empire in 1450, on the condition that he aid in the pope’s new crusade.

Just as the citizens of Constantinople were beginning to give up hope while seeing visions mysterious fogs darkened the city, a total lunar eclipse passed, and St. Elmo’s fire was seen above the Church of Holy Wisdom, the Papal forces arrived. Winning the battle at sea, the crusaders cut off the Ottoman forces, who were in the midst of a final assault on Constantinople. The defenders held part of the city, and the Ottomans attempted to use defenses they had seized against the papal army. Eventually the Ottomans would be overwhelmed, and young Mehmed II would be killed in the fighting, which would rage for months to come as the crusaders stormed the rest of the Ottoman territories.

Rather than set the Byzantines up again, the territories were divided among the conquerors. Venice and Genoa received their outlying islands and sections of Greece while Frederick’s empire expanded over much of the Balkans. Pope Nicholas would die in 1455, but he began the healing of the rift between Rome and Eastern Orthodoxy, which would be completed in a series of councils loosening strict dogma on political grounds. Nicholas’s interest in humanism and the arts would be embraced, widening the Renaissance and establishing a new era of hierarchical unity through the Church, accepting reforms proposed out of Germany through men such as Luther and Calvin.

However, Nicholas’s humanism would be notably prejudice in the religious superiority of Christendom. His expansion of slavery against “Saracens, Pagans and other enemies of Christ wherever they may be found” in the 1452 papal bull was meant originally to encourage conquest by Portuguese in Africa, but the rest of Christendom would seize the opportunity. A new world superpower increasingly centralized through the Holy Roman Empire and Holy League would sweep through the Middle East and North Africa in further crusades, wantonly conquering and eliminating other cultures for centuries until Enlightenment ideals of separating church and state sparked mass revolt.


In reality, Nicholas V did not work to form his crusade until after the fall of Constantinople. He would never gather the necessary forces before his death, and Mehmed II would establish Constantinople as the new capital of the Ottoman Empire, which would last another four and a half centuries while dominating the eastern Mediterranean.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

May 28, 1644 – Parliamentarian Army Captured at Bolton

At the height of the English Civil War, the Royalist army led by Prince Rupert of the Rhine came across a disordered Parliamentarian army in retreat from the Siege of Lathom House and conquered it at Bolton in Lancashire. The battle had been almost accidental. When the Parliamentarians received news about the fall of Stockport, they left their siege and fell back to the strong Calvinist town of Bolton, nicknamed the “Geneva of the North.” A small force from Rupert’s army arrived at Bolton to secure it, and there they found the Parliamentarians still arriving. Taking advantage of the confusion and the darkness in the heavy rain, Rupert created a ring around the town and demanded surrender. With some of their troops still on the outside and communication broken, Colonel Alexander Rigby acknowledged defeat, giving up his army of approximately 4,000 as prisoners.

While historically criticized for not taking the town outright, Rupert would be lauded for his finesse at taking advantage of a military situation. Twenty-two years old at the time, Rupert had faced a problematic young life. Born in Prague in 1619 in the midst of the Thirty Years’ War, he was a younger son of Frederick V (ruler of the Palatinate and a leading Protestant in the Holy Roman Empire) and Elizabeth Stuart, sister of King Charles I of England. The war turned against Frederick, and he was exiled from his kingdom, taking his family to The Hague for safety. Rupert grew from a precocious boy (nicknamed “The Devil”) to a brilliant and dashing 6 foot, four inch prince. Upon the death of his father while attempting to establish an alliance to reclaim his lost lands, Rupert was taken under the care of his uncle in England and soon became a cavalry leader. When captured while fighting in Westphalia, Jesuit priests were dispatched to convert him to Catholicism, but Rupert remained stoutly Calvinist.

Upon his release, Rupert was offered a command by Emperor Ferdinand III, but he declined and returned to England, where he would soon be taken up as a fighter in his uncle’s war against the Parliament. He was exceptionally skilled in command, particularly in quick troop movements but was notorious for arguing diplomatically with other commanders, especially when right. At the beginning of the war, Rupert had advised a fast march on London, but other Royalist suggested a slower, stronger move, which would ultimately give Parliament ample time to make the defenses of London impregnable. Instead, Charles worked to secure the rest of his kingdom, and Rupert was dispatched to Lancashire, which had become solidly Parliamentarian due to the Earl of Derby’s attention being set on the Isle of Man and Baron Byron’s defeat at Nantwich.

Gathering up the Royalist armies of Derby and Byron, Rupert’s first major altercation was at Bolton, where he very may have well acted rashly with a charge but determined to work diplomatically with his enemies, if not his allies. The Capture of Bolton gave him great fame, and even the Parliamentarians begrudgingly respected him. Soon after, Rupert was able to lead a successful siege against Liverpool, securing the port to allow English troops to return from the Irish Rebellion after King Charles had made an armistice with the Confederation of Ireland. He was then charged to lift the siege at York, where he met with the Marquess of Newcastle and managed, struggling to remain diplomatic, to persuade him to attack the Parliamentarian forces quickly. On July 1, Rupert swept the numerically superior Parliamentarians from Marston Moor and inflicted great casualties, such as Lieutenant General Oliver Cromwell, who was decapitated by a pistol shot.

Having secured the west and North of England, Charles gradually began to push south, but his troops were expensive and the war could not be won quickly despite Rupert’s encouragement. He ultimately learned his own lessons in diplomacy, making a treaty with the Scots with promises of church reform and gradually reabsorbing the Confederation of Ireland, politically maneuvering factions against one another. Meanwhile, Parliament’s troops began to desert or even switch sides due to lack of payment, and on January 30, 1649, Charles declared the Civil War ended from his throne in London.

Rupert had no claim to his father’s lands even after his brother Charles Louis eventually won them back, and so he continued to serve his uncle. Charles dispatched Rupert to the New World, where he would learn skills in the Navy to complement his mastery of cavalry. During the Anglo-Dutch Wars, Rupert worked to secure every Dutch colony he could for England, and Charles rewarded him with a governorship of Surinam (formerly Dutch Suriname). Rupert proved an able statesman and polymath as well as warrior, using his connections to build industry and science in the colony. Even to this day, the northern coast of South America is noted as one of the most economically powerful and culturally advanced places in the world, despite routine French attacks during the Absolutist Period of the 1700s.


In reality, Bolton turned into a massacre. Rupert charged his army into the largely unassembled Parliamentarian force, being initially repelled but keeping up the attack until he overwhelmed them. Because the battle inside the town was not formally declared a siege, rules of war defending civilians and property were not in place, and, despite the victory with 1,600 enemies slain, Bolton would be a key example of the Parliamentarian stand against Royalist cruelty. Ultimately, the Parliamentarian cause would win against the autocracy of Charles I, who would be executed for treason in 1649. Rupert, though a genius in combat, administration, and invention, would change careers often as he faced many setbacks through life.

Friday, May 27, 2011

May 27, 1941 – Bismarck Dominates Sea Lanes

The Battle of the Atlantic took a sharp turn toward Axis power when Operation Rheinubung became one of the German navy's most glorious successes. At the head the squadron was the seemingly invincible Bismarck, the largest battleship in history up to that time. Like its namesake, Otto von Bismarck (1815-1898), the “blood and iron” of the German people would overwhelm Britannia's rule of the waves and establish a period of German domination, cutting off supplies desperately needed by the British war effort.

The Bismarck was born as part of Hitler's Plan Z, the bureaucratic allocation of resources to rebuild the Kriegsmarine. Hitler had already gained new political standing for the improved navy with the Anglo-German Naval Agreement in 1935. Four years later, Plan Z initiated enormous building projects, hoping to rival the Royal Navy by 1944 with four aircraft carriers, 68 destroyers, 249 U-boats, 55 cruisers of various classes, and ten battleships, the first of which would be the Bismarck. She was the largest warship the world had seen with a length of 251 meters, a speed of 31 knots, 13-inch-thick armor, and a vast array of armaments. Launched February 14, 1939, she would wait two years for her breakout action as World War II ground on.

The British, meanwhile, worked to limit the growth of German naval power. In addition to forcing them to divert resources to the land army, they destroyed the remnants of the French navy held by Vichy France in Operation Catapult on July 3, 1940. The British approached the French fleet at Mers-el-Kébir in Algeria and opened fire after an ultimatum asking for any ships to join the Free French Navy rather than falling into the hands of the Germans. While many French ships throughout the Mediterranean and world did just that, the British felt themselves forced to destroy the fleet to keep it out of Hitler's hands. In a surprise attack, the British sank the battleship Bretagne, damaged six other ships, and killed nearly 1,300 French sailors.

Attack at Mers-el-Kébir drove a rift between Churchill and the French Resistance under General Charles de Gaulle, but the British considered the risk of angering an ally reasonable compared to an Atlantic full of German ships. Hitler recognized the British fear of losing the naval superiority they had held for nearly two centuries and decided to redouble his efforts on Plan Z. Initially, he had only planned to neutralize the French fleet; now he decided to rebuild it into a Mediterranean battlegroup to aid his Italian allies. While resources were strapped as the war began with Russia, he decided Germany would make the best use of what it had. Ships would act in orchestrated battle groups where heavy escort would overwhelm any British resistance.

On May 18, 1941, Operation Rheinubung (“Rhine Exercise”) began, forming up the impressive German fleet in the Baltic and storming the Denmark Strait on May 24 to break the British blockade. While only the Bismarck and heavy cruiser Prinz Eugen might have been ready for the battle, Hitler pressed his navy to finish repairs on the Gneisenau and Scharnhorst battleships and even rush to complete the sea trials for the Tirpitz, Bismarck's sister ship. Aided by U-boats as skirmishers and (whose arm had been wrenched by Hitler into cooperation), the sortie into the Atlantic began with the devastating battle off Norway where the Bismarck sank the HMS Hood, the pride of the Royal Navy. Britain reeled, and Churchill famously demanded, “Sink the Bismarck!” The Navy swarmed to attack the battle group, focusing specifically on the flagship, but the German iron seemed unbreakable. After several more devastating assaults, the German ships finally turned back to France, where they would refuel and turn out into the Atlantic again to prey on Allied commercial shipping.

Also on May 24, FDR gave his speech announcing “unlimited national emergency” as Germans had seemingly come to gain the advantage in the Battle of Atlantic. Rather than repeating his 1933 idea of “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”, he addressed America with a dire warning of what Nazi takeover of the West would mean: restrictions on worship, workers enslaved to a foreign military machine, and children stolen into the ranks of the Hitler Youth. He emphasized his Pan-American Security Zone (which reached nearly to Iceland) and stated that German naval attack within the zone would be paramount to a declaration of war. Hitler, on May 27, announced German control of the seas.

When Germany began raids on the Canadian coast in September of 1941, Congress voted for a declaration of war, and the United States formally joined the Allies. The action quickly brought the East Coast Battles, where German battleships and newly refitted French aircraft carriers launched bombing raids on Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C. Britain nearly folded as civilians suffered starvation and almost free attack from German planes, but finally the tide of the war turned against Germany in 1943 when the Bismarck was damaged beyond repair and scuttled in the Battle of Nassau. Taking up courage to counterattack, the Allies coordinated invasions, finally breaking the German resistance with the atomic bombs of 1946.

In reality, the Royal Navy sank the Bismarck. Hitler took little notice of the French fleet, considering it out of the way and focusing on his land and air forces. After sinking the Hood, the Bismarck was ruthlessly pursued by the Royal Navy until two carriers, three battleships, four cruisers, and seven destroyers converged to destroy the Bismarck utterly, with 2,200 sailors drowning along with her.

Monday, May 23, 2011

May 23, 1934 – Bonnie & Clyde Join Battle of Toledo

In a move that in some ways continued their murderous lives of crime and in others returned the air of Robin Hood with which they had surrounded themselves, notorious gangsters Clyde Barrow and Bonnie Parker joined the strike at the Auto-Lite factory in Toledo, Ohio. Their encouragement of heavy weaponry and fearlessness turned what was largely a riot into an unstoppable force that would firmly establish a federation of unions as the major political force in the United States.

Bonnie and Clyde reportedly first met at a mutual friend’s house in the slum of West Dallas in 1930. Bonnie, nineteen at the time, was staying with her friend who had broken an arm, making hot chocolate when twenty-year-old Clyde dropped by. He was the fifth child in a family of nine that had come to Dallas after their farm failed. Clyde routinely had minor altercations with the law, first being questioned over failing to return a rental car and stealing turkeys, but he seemed to pursue a life of crime only for fun, stealing and robbing even while holding legitimate jobs. The two instantly fell in love, despite Bonnie having an estranged husband, Roy Thornton, who himself was often arrested.

Four months after their meeting, Clyde was sentenced to a stint at Eastham Prison Farm. There, he was sexually assaulted and emotionally hardened by the prison system, returning home as a bitter criminal with a lethal chip on his shoulder. His sisters noticed the dark change in him, and fellow gang member Ralph Fults called him “a rattlesnake.” Historians would argue that Clyde’s resulting crime spree would be an act of vengeance on a system that had abused him so deeply.

Upon his release in February 1932, Clyde formed a loose gang that would add and dismiss members in an increasingly frantic trend of robberies, innumerable small jobs such as gas stations and grocery stores and around a dozen bank robberies, which would make him famous. While comrades such as Ralph Fults, Henry Methvin, and Clyde’s brother Buck were among the most popular joiners, the core of the gang would always be Clyde and his “gun moll” Bonnie. Rumors of her participating in the murders were later disproven, and Bonnie’s role was shown as following Clyde out of her love for him.

As their rampage across the central states continued over two years, their luck gradually began to run out. Buck was killed in a shootout, and Clyde’s strategies of using state lines as legal barriers were trumped by improved police communication and pursuit by Texas Rangers. In 1934, Clyde pulled his boldest move: a breakout from Eastham where Fults and Methvin were being held. Texas was booed in the press for its lackluster prisons, and Clyde finally felt some revenge against the system, but he could not be satiated. On Easter Sunday, Clyde and Methvin gunned down two highway patrolmen in Grapevine, TX, and public sentiment turned against the gang. In Commerce, OK, the gang struck again with the murder of a police constable and kidnapping of Police Chief Percy Boyd, whom they dropped off in Kansas with gifts of a clean shirt and money. Bonnie requested that Boyd tell the papers that she didn’t actually smoke cigars, referring to an old picture found in their Joplin hideout where Bonnie had taken a humorous pose.

When Boyd issued warrants for Clyde as well as Bonnie, the reality of their negative press struck her. She begged Clyde to reconsider his increasing madness and instead use his rage against the corrupt system for good. Finally, instead of visiting Methvin’s parents outside of Shreveport, LA, Bonnie and Clyde broke with the rest of their gang and headed toward another item in the papers: the ongoing strike at the Auto-Lite plant in Ohio, where they hoped to do some good or at least hide out among the crowds.

The Great Depression had gutted Toledo with massive layoffs and increasing frustration by workers as banks collapsed and factories closed. When the Auto-Lite management refused to sign the contract they had promised recognizing Federal Labor Union 18384 and a 5% wage increase after a five-day strike in February, a much larger strike began in April. Picketers from the American Workers Party joined in, and the strikers effectively laid siege to the factory. Auto-Lite began bringing in strikebreakers, which only prompted the union to fight harder.

On May 23, police arrested five strike-leaders, and a deputy strike an elderly man, which set off the temper of the 10,000-strong crowd to full riot. Rocks were thrown and fire hoses attempting to cool the riot were captured and turned on police. Gunfire soon began as police tried to take out the legs of the rioters, and Clyde Darrow’s ears perked at the familiar sound. Arriving on the scene in a stolen Ford V8, he collected his favored Browning Automatic Rifle and joined the fight. Handing out extra weapons from his arsenal to men he had never met, Clyde led the charge that allowed the rioters to break into the factory and seize control. Young National Guardsmen arrived early the next morning, and the use of tear gas quickly escalated to bayonets and then raw gunfire, but the strike could not be broken.

Much of the crowd fled the battlefield, spreading the word of Clyde’s unexpected and heroic appearance. Bonnie, who had excelled in writing in school, wrote her famed poem “Take a Stand” and soon fell in with union leadership. The two had swung public opinion from being cold-blooded killers back to roguish thieves standing against corruption. After the successful Battle of Toledo, union power surged in the United States, dismissing FDR’s plan of labor boards and instead creating the non-socialist American Labor Party that would sweep elections in 1936 and become the dominant of the three political parties in America for the next twenty-five years.


In reality, the gang did not turn north. Outlaws Bonnie and Clyde were ambushed near Methvin’s parents’ home by former Texas Ranger Frank Hamer and a posse that unloaded 130 rounds from BARs, shotguns, pistols, and assorted other rifles into them. Meanwhile, the five-day “Battle of Toledo” raged with the rioters unable to take the factory until finally 1,350 National Guard with additional police and private security managed to calm the city by mass arrest and large-scale gassing. Agreements finally came underway as FDR intervened and Toledo settled its general strike, today still standing one of the strongest unionized cities in the country.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

May 22, 1939 – Mussolini Rejects “Pact of Rust”

After a meeting that had begun cordially but ended in mysterious anger, the Italian delegation to Berlin stormed out, refusing to sign what was to be called the “Pact of Friendship and Alliance between Germany and Italy.” In later speeches, energetic Mussolini would call it a “Pact of Rust”, declaring that promises offered by Hitler looked as shiny as a new Volkswagen, but they would soon lead to the danger and potential destruction of his Italy. Hitler, meanwhile, considered the political slight to be personal and cut off relations with Italy.

It would be some time before international intelligence agencies and investigative journalists determined what exactly caused the issues between the two nations that had nearly become blood-brothers. Both Hitler and Mussolini were charismatic, powerful leaders who were born out of the economic turmoil of post-WWI Europe. Hitler had been a failed artist who fell into politics after feeling the betrayal of the Treaty of Versailles with its crippling rules and reparations demanded on a Germany that he felt militarily won the war. Joining and soon leading the National Socialist German Workers' Party, Hitler would rise to power through propaganda and discipline, elected legally despite his monstrous promises for a Final Solution to what he considered “racial inferiors.”

Benito Mussolini, meanwhile, had grown from being the son of a provincial blacksmith father outspoken about socialism and a devout Catholic mother who worked as a schoolteacher. After being dismissed from Catholic boarding school for violent behavior, Mussolini did well in public school and later emigrated to Switzerland, partly to avoid his requirement of military service. In Switzerland, the bedrock of Italian socialist ideals of Mussolini’s father that had formed in Mussolini’s mind expanded with philosophy from Nietzsche, Marxists, and, especially, Georges Sorel. Using Marx’s ideals of destruction of decadence through strikes as well as his father’s praise of anarchist violence, Mussolini collected an array of skills in social manipulation, most importantly his ability to tap into the deep emotions of an audience.

Mussolini returned to his home town to be editor of The Class Struggle (Lotta di Classe), a weekly radical newspaper. His publishing spread quickly, and he came to great fame as a Socialist speaker and writer. When World War I broke out, he came into difficulties with the Italian Socialist Party and eventually was dismissed when he determined that his best interest would be to support the war and work toward nationalism. His political beliefs swung to the right, and Mussolini soon signed up for military service and argued for the strength of unity and the state. He created the National Fascist Party in 1921 and skyrocketed to power, performing the March on Rome with his Blackshirts in October, 1922, effectively seizing control of Italy.

Over the next decades, Mussolini would continue to gather power and promote the Italian state. Dodging assassinations and cracking down on dissent, he built a government unquestionable by the silent majority and admired by those seeking social positions. Parades, uniforms, and increasingly ornate titles (Mussolini’s being "His Excellency Benito Mussolini, Head of Government, Duce of Fascism, and Founder of the Empire" by 1936), the Italian Fascism would become a renewed powerhouse with ideas such as youth involvement, land reclamation, price control, and gold donation to keep taxes low while social programs continued to operate through the Great Depression. To further political dedication, he launched military campaigns such as his “Conquest of Ethiopia” in 1935-6 and aided the Nationalists in the Spanish Civil War, citing atrocities against Catholics by the Republicans.

Hitler and Mussolini were soon at each other’s attention. Hitler emulated many of Mussolini’s successful techniques in his own rise to power, but Mussolini was skeptical of Hitler’s claims of racial superiority, saying in 1934, “Race! It is a feeling, not a reality: ninety-five percent, at least, is a feeling. Nothing will ever make me believe that biologically pure races can be shown to exist today.” Cultural superiority, however, was easily found as Mussolini referred to the Germans as “the descendants of those who were illiterate when Rome had Caesar, Virgil and Augustus.” Despite their political differences, however, both dictators knew they could use the other to their advantages: Hitler wanted to establish a political alliance with himself at the head (the term “Axis” believed to have been Mussolini’s), while Mussolini had ambitions of rebuilding a Roman Empire, having conquered Albania in under a month and looking toward Tunisia but needing Germany’s superior military technique and technology to maximize the war effort.

The two parties outlined agreements in a pact with public declarations of communication, mutual defense, and cooperation with economic and military support. The pact also carried Secret Supplementary Protocols about the use of propaganda, and it is believed that here an insult against Mussolini’s writing style as opposed to the film making of Nazi Germany prompted a break between the two countries. The cleft broke wide, and soon the two countries were preparing for war over old territorial arguments between Austria and northeast Italy.

German foreign minister Ribbentrop asked his Soviet counterpart Molotov for support, but the USSR declined in August of 1939, as did the rest of the world, largely sitting back to see what would happen. Mussolini’s armies moved to take hold of supposedly Italian land, and Hitler quickly struck back. Italy held the upper hand for the first year of the Fascist War with its veterans, but German troops and superior materiel eventually overwhelmed Italian defenses and marched into the peninsula. Mussolini fled the country, and a desperate war of resistance eventually died out as German authority became solid.

Holding Italy, Hitler continued southward, building up a German empire in Africa before turning against Communist Russia his nemesis Stalin with Operation Barbarossa in 1945, which would ultimately lead to his own downfall.


In reality, Mussolini and Hitler formed a Pact of Steel between their fascist nations. It lasted until 1943, when Italy ousted Mussolini and attempted to make peace with the Allies while being surreptitiously invaded by Germany in Operation Achse. Hitler ordered Mussolini’s rescue before he was turned over to the Allies and protected him until 1945, when Mussolini was spotted trying to escape to Spain and shot, then hanged.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

May 21, 1927 – Lindbergh Plane Found off Coast of Ireland

One of the first and most glamorous attempts at crossing the Atlantic in a nonstop solo flight ended in tragedy when the plane of Charles “Slim” Lindbergh never arrived at Le Bourget Aerodrome near Paris. In the midmorning of May 21, the plane, crashed but half-buoyant on empty fuel tanks, was discovered by Irish fishermen. They brought it ashore and pulled the body of Lindbergh from it, soon dispatching sorrowful telegrams to Paris and New York. The pioneering aviator had missed his bid to be the first to cross the Atlantic Ocean by airplane, though he would forever live on in mystery.

Son of Congressman and Swedish immigrant Charles Lindbergh of Minnesota, young Charles spent much of his childhood on the move after his parents separated. He attended more than a dozen schools and gained a sense of travel, most significantly tied to the newest form of transportation: the airplane. He dropped out of the University of Wisconsin to enroll in Nebraska Aircraft Corporation’s flying school and first flew as a passenger aboard a Lincoln-Standard biplane. Lindbergh could not afford the deposit required for a solo flight while at school, and he spent months as a barnstormer performing wing-walking and parachuting, but it would not be until 1923 that he flew alone, aboard a Curtiss JN-4 “Jenny” WWI surplus plane he scrounged enough money to purchase.

Lindbergh continued his barnstorming career, performing as “Daredevil Lindbergh” and eventually joined the Air Service Reserve Corps, graduating top of his class from flight training. In 1925, he made his career more formal, taking a position with the Robertson Aircraft Corporation to plot and fly an airmail route. While in the service on two occasions, Lindbergh lost control of his plane, parachuting out to safety and hurrying to retrieve the mail from the wreck for delivery. Both incidents took place at night, which would seem to be his curse on the next stage of his life’s pursuit of the skies.

In May of 1919, a US Navy hydroplane commanded by Albert Read flew across the Atlantic over the course of twenty-three days from Rockaway, NY, to Lisbon with multiple stops for rest, repair, and refueling. Once the feat seemed doable (an attempt by a pair of Australian aviators ended in a crash at sea and rescue), pilots raced to set records crossing the Atlantic nonstop. That June, British pilots John Alcock and Arthur Whitten Brown became the first to make a nonstop flight, going from St. John’s, Newfoundland, to Clifden, Ireland. The fame and press spurred Parisian hotelier Raymond Orteig to name a prize of $25,000 for anyone who could fly from New York to Paris or vice-versa, a route twice as long as Alcock and Brown’s that would tie together two of the world’s centers with a single historical flight.

The prize went unclaimed for his five-year offer as aviation technology simply did not yet seem up to the task. Orteig offered it for another five years in 1924, and, in 1927, Lindbergh would make his attempt. Funded with $15,000 by the St. Louis, Missouri, Chamber of Commerce, Lindbergh would do the flight solo, halving the weight needed for two pilots to switch off. With a customized plane from the Ryan Airlines Corporation dubbed “The Spirit of St. Louis”, Lindbergh set out of New York on Friday, May 20, 1927, in good weather on a task that had already claimed six lives. Veteran aviators Charles Nungesser and François Coli had disappeared over the Atlantic in their attempt from Paris only two weeks before. Lindbergh would be its seventh.

What happened to Lindbergh is for the most part unknown. Many say he simply fell into a deep sleep (possibly because of a rowdy poker game in his hotel held by a journalist, who would later be brought up on dismissed charges of manslaughter). Others say sudden weather must have caught him. Still others offer ideas of mechanical failure, fuel decompression, or even UFO interference. The well publicized death would send a bad image into the public mind, prompting Orteig to revoke his prize offer as a death-wish (though he would later grant it to the successful attempt a month later when Clarence D. Chamberlin and Charles A. Levine arrived safely in Paris.)

Lindbergh’s fame would live on with the posthumous publication of his memoirs, WE, and political bolstering of his son’s belief in air mail from Congressman Lindbergh. Meanwhile, attempts at solo flights across the Atlantic at night carried much superstition. Five years later, and eerily to the day, female aviator Amelia Earhart would also disappear over the Atlantic when she flew secretly without her co-pilot in a bid to set records.

When the Second World War began, flying overnight across the Atlantic became commonplace, and soon it would lose its stigma. However, thanks to the nervousness of the public after Lindbergh and reinforced by Earhart, Canadian engineer Edward Robert Armstrong successfully proposed the construction of a refueling seadrome, the Atlantica, which floats anchored midway between Europe and North America. While only marginally economical in the 1930s, the artificial island became crucial to the war effort and had a golden age of tourism in the 1950s as a quiet resort. Long-range aircraft eventually surpassed Atlantica, but it remains a fascinating relic routinely topping the list of World Heritage Sites.


In reality, Lucky Lindy came safely to Paris, having not slept for 55 hours straight. He gained international fame, which would move toward infamy during the sad affair of his child’s kidnapping and his stand for isolationism during World War II. Aviatress Amelia Earhart successfully flew solo across the Atlantic five years later, proving the capabilities of women as pilots. Edward Armstrong would never see his proposed seadromes, but his ideas would become the foundation of modern semi-submersible oil rigs.

Friday, May 20, 2011

May 20, 212 BC – Archimedes Taken Captive by the Romans

The Siege of Syracuse had dragged on for two years as the Romans worked to dislodge a key ally of their nemesis, the Carthaginians. While the Romans held advantages at land and sea, Syracuse was defended by the genius of Archimedes, credited as the greatest mathematician and inventor of the Classical Age. His siege engines had kept the powerful Roman navy from successful attacks despite their sambuca, floating siege towers with hooks that would allow troops to easily scale any seawall. The genius of Archimedes, however, allowed the Syracusans to fight back with the famed Claw of Archimedes, a large crane using a hook to lift, capsize, or break up enemy ships. Psychologically devastating was the legendary heat ray powered by carefully arranged mirrors and good weather, allowing the Syracusans to scorch any Roman ship in line of sight.

Unable to take the city by direct assault or even establish a tight enough blockade to keep supplies from coming in, the Roman siege became a humbling stalemate. The populace waited for reinforcements from Carthage, who were already stressed with a shortage of troops for the fighting in Spain. There seemed no great hurry as the Romans were held at sea and the land stiffly defended, so the Syracusans simply went about their business. As the second year dragged on, the city carried out its annual Mounikhia festival of the goddess Artemis. After stuffing themselves on moon-round, open-faced tortillas and spring wine, the city settled to slumber, and the Romans made a cunning attack. A small band managed to scale the wall at night, kill the remaining guards, and open the gates for a full Roman invasion. The outer city quickly fell, and the rest of the Syracusans escaped to the center citadel, where they prepared to hold out again.

Marcus Claudius Marcellus, commander of the Roman forces, ordered that Archimedes be found and brought to him unhurt. While the Romans rampaged the city, Archimedes is said to have scarcely noticed, instead focusing on his mathematical work. A soldier found an old man and demanded he come with him to Marcellus, but Archimedes replied, “Do not disturb my circles!” Just before the enraged soldier struck down the old man, his centurion stopped him and told Archimedes they would wait. They sat for hours while the septuagenarian worked until he finally exclaimed another famous “Eureka!” and went with the soldiers to Marcellus, one of the few willing to listen to the prattling geometry of a mathematician.

Archimedes’ work at the end of his life is credited with the creation of calculus. The famous story of his discovery of buoyancy by placing a phony golden crown into water while comparing its mass to a solid block of gold created a roundabout solution to the matter of density calculation for complex solids, but Archimedes wanted to do it purely through numbers. Using the Method of Exhaustion as he had while calculating pi, he found it applicable to any physical system, a mathematical groundwork that would make possible the coming age of technology. It would be his last great contribution to mankind as the inventor would die two years later under house arrest in Rome, designing weapons to counter the Carthaginian invasion of Italy. In fact, the defeat and capture of Hannibal at Herdonia in 210 BC would be credited to Archimedes’ harpoon-ballistae disrupting Hannibal’s tactically advantaged position.

Calculus would be the greatest in a list of incredible inventions from Archimedes. Born in Syracuse, young Archimedes traveled to Alexandria, the center of knowledge of the Classical world. There, he studied with the greatest mathematicians of the day and even went a step further to applying the mathematics toward engineering. He invented the Archimedes Screw, a tilted, rotating plane that could easily raise liquids or grains. His work with the lever caused him to point out the effectiveness of a fulcrum with, "Give me a place to stand on, and I will move the Earth." Other works included block-and-tackle, differential gears, and an odometer.

Though Archimedes had passed, the Romans knew how to adapt captured culture. The Scipio family, famous and wealthy with Scipio Africanus’ victory at Zama, funded the Archimedium, believed to be the first engineering school in the Western world. There, applications for Archimedes’ math would be studied, advancing sciences such as optics, metallurgy, physics, chemistry, navigation, and astrology. Over the course of the next two centuries, Rome would grow in leaps through devices such as the compass, telescope, and water pump, which revolutionized the mining industry and enabled the development of the steam engine. As with all science, the Romans sought out its military applications, and soon Roman steam-powered armored carts would be seen on patrol from the coal fields of Britain to the forests of the Rus to the hills of Persia and across the sands of the Sahara.


In reality, Archimedes was slain at the end of the siege of Syracuse by the soldier outraged at his impertinence toward a commanding officer. He would be largely forgotten, with even his tomb bearing the famous sphere-inscribed-cylinder emblem being overgrown and ignored until Cicero rediscovered it in 75 BC. Some 1500 years later, however, the surviving works of Archimedes would be crucial to the Renaissance, influencing thinkers such as Galileo Galilei and Isaac Newton.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

May 19, 1935 – Lawrence of Arabia Begins Tour of Independent Middle East

On the nineteenth anniversary of the conclusion of the infamous Sykes-Picot Agreement talks, famed arabophile Theodore Edward Lawrence began his tour of the independent states of the Middle East.

The fate of the Middle East had always seemed to be wrapped in incursion from outside powers. As it acted as the central point between Asia, Africa, and Europe, the region had constantly been crucial to human development, trade, and warfare. Waves of conquests by Egyptians, Hittites, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Crusaders, and Turks flowed over the region as millennia passed. As the Great War pitted the Allies against the “Dying Man” of the Ottoman Empire, the question came to France, Britain, and Russia as to what would come of the region when the Ottomans had collapsed.

In the first of a series of secret agreements, Russia and Britain agreed that Russia was to gain Constantinople and the Dardanelles while Britain gained southerly lands. Russia began to fade from the war as revolution broke out, and François Georges-Picot met with Sir Mark Sykes of Britain to guarantee a French mandate in Syria. The British agreed, though only secretly as the war effort had been working to invoke the Arab populace under the Ottoman Empire to revolt. Spoils might be divided only if the war was won, and using Arabs to fight the Ottomans for the Allies would aid in the victory.

Crucial to the war effort in the Middle East was a young archaeologist named T.E. Lawrence. He had been born illegitimately to Sir Thomas Chapman, who left his wife to live with Theodore’s mother, Sarah Junner. The family moved to Oxford, where Lawrence attended Jesus College, graduating with firsts and moving to Egypt to work on excavations with the likes of Hogarth, Woolley, and Petrie. By the outbreak of the World War I, Lawrence had traveled extensively in the Middle East and established a name for himself, prompting a position in the Intelligence Staff in Cairo. Meanwhile, the Arab Bureau of the Foreign Office had concocted a scheme of draining Ottoman resources by supporting an Arab revolt in their territories. Lawrence was sent as advisor, but he soon joined the Arab cause himself.

Told through sensationalistic journalism by American war correspondent Lowell Thomas, Lawrence fought alongside Arab irregulars under Emir Faisal, son of Sherif Hussein of Mecca. They made a surprise overland attack on Aqaba, the success of which caused Lawrence to be promoted to major and given a “free hand” by Sir Edmund Allenby, commander of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force. During the ending days of the war, Lawrence aided in the fall of Damascus, which would soon be capital of Syria, but not the independent state that Lawrence and his Arabic allies were promised. After the war, the Bolsheviks of Russia leaked the secret of the Sykes-Picot Agreement, which outraged the Arabs and embarrassed the British.

In a bold push, Lawrence and others demanded the promised liberation of the Middle East from British administration. Finally in 1922, using the resources of Winston Churchill and threatening a war, the Middle East was divided diplomatically into states with self-rule. France refused to give up its hold on Syria, and Lawrence made good on his promise to fight. Guerilla warfare through the 1920s and early ‘30s finally destroyed French interest in the region, and Syria was freed, taking its place as an independent state alongside those of Kurdistan, Sunnistan, Shia-Iraq, Jordan, and Palestine.

Lawrence, wealthy through the publications of his memoirs in Seven Pillars of Faith, Revolt in the Desert, and Rains Fell, became a hobbyist pilot and continued his lifelong enjoyment of motorcycles. He returned to Britain, hated by some and applauded by many, and he planned to retire in Dorset. However, just before a daily motorcycle ride, he received a telegram from Ghazi I, son of his old friend Faisal who had become King of Iraq, asking him to join the work continuing his father’s dream of a pan-Arabic confederation. Lawrence agreed and arrived in Bagdad shortly thereafter, flying between Arabic centers until an untimely sand storm swallowed his plane, leaving him as a martyr for the cause.

While certain aspects of confederation have formed over the decades, the Middle East was once again torn between the influences of world powers as the Cold War pitted the Soviet Union against the United States. Discovery of significant oil deposits there have prompted further interest from the outside world, as has a minor but mentionable Zionist movement from Jews, particularly from their home state of Malta, given to refugees of the Holocaust.


In reality, the Sykes-Picot Agreement, though embarrassing, was largely upheld as the groundwork for the Middle East. Lawrence of Arabia bounced between positions in the RAF, RTC, and India. He regrettably ended his enlistment in the RAF in March of 1935, just two months before a road accident where he dodged two young cyclists at the cost of losing control of his motorcycle. Lawrence died six days later from his injuries.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

May 18, 1498 – Da Gama Expedition Ambushed

The Portuguese attempt at securing a trade route to the wealth of India failed as the expeditionary fleet under Vasco da Gama was caught in an Arab ambush. It had been the climax of a plan concocted two generations before when Prince Henry the Navigator established his navigation school. Henry, the third son of King John I, became fascinated with the luxuries of the east as well as the legend of Prester John, a powerful Christian king believed to be somewhere in India. He urged his father to conquer the port of Ceuta, where Saharan trade culminated at the Straits of Gibraltar. Garnering a key foothold into Africa, Henry built his school to train navigators and extend Portuguese control across the sea, ultimately to India itself.

The establishment of trade towns and domination of existing ports allowed Portugal to move southward along the Gold Coast of Africa. While the wealth from trade accumulated, it became the target of piracy, particularly French privateers breaking treaties of non-depredation between the two countries. A young captain, Vasco da Gama, was charged in 1492 with seizing French ships in retaliation. When he proved himself able and speedy about the captures, the task of sailing to India that had been to assigned to his father Estêvão da Gama in 1488 was given to him.

Encouragement for the expedition had come in 1487, when explorer Bartolomeu Dias crossed the Cape of Good Hope and named the Natal region, assuring that the African coast turned northward and would allow for a sea route to India. Estêvão da Gama had worked toward building up the fleet and supplies necessary for the travel, but he was too old to see it completed, dying in 1497. Vasco took up where his father left off immediately after mourning and sailed in July of 1497, just two months after the English explorer John Cabot had sailed for a Northwest Passage in the opposite direction.

With four ships and some 170 men, da Gama followed the West African coast until it turned eastward and then sailed directly south in the open sea. Using Dias’s discovery of the South Atlantic westerlies, the fleet traveled more than 6,000 miles out of sight of land, setting a record for human achievement, though a mutiny had to be put down due to scurvy. He rounded the Cape, and then his seemingly lucky expedition began to sour. In Mozambique, he pretended to be a Muslim in order to secure an audience with the sultan, but his gifts proved unimpressive, and he was chased from the city by a mob. The fleet escaped, firing cannons in retaliation as he went.

In Malindi, da Gama came into contact with Indian traders, proving the route-by-sea theory correct. He took up a pilot to make use of the monsoon winds, but the move would be his undoing. Texts are not clear on the person of the pilot, naming him Christian, Muslim, or Gujarti depending upon the source, which might be indicative of his shady background. He directed the fleet to the southwestern coast of India, still two days short of the Kappad, the beach outside of the wealthy city of Calicut. There, a fleet of Arab pirates sprang upon them, capturing two of da Gama’s ships (another had sunk that November). The surviving ship, The São Gabriel, retreated with what survivors it could pull from the water. Da Gama was listed in the log as killed in the battle, but the entry had been edited, and rumors abounded that he felt such shame at failing in his mission that he either drowned himself or went into exile in Italy.

The ragged ship returned to Portuguese lands commanded by Gonçalo Nunes, and it was proclaimed that Henry the Navigator’s dream of reaching India had ended. The Muslim stronghold on trade would be too difficult to break, and Portugal would instead focus on building up colonial empires in its holdings in Africa and Brazil. Not bothering to fight England and the Dutch over later successful colonies in India, Portugal instead built up huge claims in Morocco and South Africa as well as along major rivers, such as the Congo, Amazon, Niger, and Senegal. They exploited natural resources such as ivory, gold, diamonds, and, most significantly, slaves. Portugal held its golden age for more than a century, defeating French incursions on their colonies and defending against Spanish encroachment upon Iberian Union, all the while maintaining a healthy alliance with Britain. The golden age ended on November 1, 1755, when an earthquake with a magnitude of 9 on the Richter scale struck its capital of Lisbon. Decades later, it would fall to its old enemy of France after the Republican Wars turned to European empire-building.

The many colonies of Portugal would take the opportunity to rebel, creating a slew of new republics and kingdoms around the world. Although politically independent, they have established a socio-economic commonwealth of Portuguese-speakers that forms one of the strongest cores of world trade to this day.


In reality, da Gama’s expedition successfully reached Calicut. His gifts of clothes, coral, and trinkets hardly wowed the ruling Zamorin and caused the Muslim traders of the city to label the Portuguese as nothing of an economic threat, hardly more than pirates. While da Gama’s request to leave a trading station with unsold goods was denied, he did return with cargo that sold at sixty times what the expedition had cost. They embarked on trade with India, but gradually they would come under the shadow of Spain as its empires in America grew.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

May 17, 1965 – FBI Investigation Leads to Lyric Censorship

In 1955, doo-wop musician Richard Berry wrote a calypso-style song incorporating many of his newfound inspirations from R&B, particularly Rick Rillera and The Rhythm Rockers, with whom he worked while getting his band The Pharaohs together. “Louie, Louie” was written as a first-person lamenting of a lost love to a bartender in the Caribbean, musically referencing Latin influences as well as Chuck Berry’s “Havana Moon.” Almost a decade later, the Rock and Roll group The Kingsmen would record their own cover of the song, an almost unintelligible indecency that would cause panic and government crackdown.

A rumor started somewhere in America that the popular song (holding #2 on the Billboard’s chart for six weeks) secretly held shocking and obscene lyrics portrayed in what seemed simply creative and energetic enunciation. As the uproar grew, the governor of Indiana banned the song, and parents demanded more. One concerned parent wrote to Attorney General Robert Kennedy, dated January 30, 1964, “Who do you turn to when your ‘teen age daughter buys and brings home pornographic or obscene materials being sold along with objects directed and aimed at the ‘teen age market in every City, Village, and Record shop in this Nation?” The letter further explained, “My daughter brought home a record of “LOUIE LOUIE” and I, after reading that the record had been banned from being played on the air because it was obscene, proceeded to try to decipher the jumble of words. The lyrics are so filthy that I can-not enclose them in this letter.”

Such sentiments were echoed by others, and an investigation by the FBI was ordered. Obtaining a legitimate copy of the original 1963 recording by The Kingsmen took weeks, and it was clear how poor studio conditions had been, exacerbating the murkiness of the lyrics. Meanwhile, Kingsmen themselves were questioned, claiming according to FBI records that they were “clean, not obscene” and did not admit that “the words exist even accidentally”, merely that “those who want to hear such things have apparently interpreted an unintelligible sounding of words which were honestly inserted for harmony.”

Although later-declassified documents suggested “the FBI Laboratory advised that because the lyrics of the recording, “Louie Louie” could not be definitely determined in the Laboratory examination, it is not possible to determine whether this recording is obscene,” the ultimate decision of recommendation to prosecute was handed to Director J. Edgar Hoover, who had served in his position for twenty-eight years with another decade of experience heading the BOI. While this particular case might not go anywhere, Hoover decided that it was indicative of the increasing danger of popular rock music. He met with Attorney General Kennedy as well as Hollywood lobbyist Jack Valenti, a confidant of President LBJ whom the FBI had recently investigated and cleared of a suspected homosexual relationship. Similar accusations had plagued Hollywood since before the days of the Hays Code, and Valenti had been working to perfect a rating system, which would be implemented in 1968. Two years after the investigation began, Kennedy wrote to the Recording Industry Association of America, recommending government supervision of a creation a rating system for publically produced music.

The new rating system came into effect shortly afterward, immediately causing a stir as it considered how to approach the growing number of songs protesting the Vietnam War. In 1966 and ’67, Pete Seeger’s “Bring ‘Em Home” and Phil Ochs’ “I Ain’t Marching Anymore” came under fire as unpatriotic and excessively critical of military command. Initially, the matter of rating and censorship was largely a legal balance, but it became increasingly important during the trial of the Chicago Seven, whose activities during the Democratic National Convention caused them to be accused of conspiracy and inciting a riot. Public view came to support the song-ratings, but the death knell of musical freedom would come with the Tate-LaBianca murders by the Manson Family being linked to The Beatles’ evocative Helter Skelter. Their confusing lyrics in it, as well as the earlier “I am the Walrus”, had come under great concern of the RIAA’s rating board, but Beatles fame had allowed them to pass, though with an Adult rating. When the murders came to public view, the songs were banned outright.

The rating system for music continues to be a political and social point in America. For decades, many argued that the ratings merely encouraged younger children to investigate advanced lyrics unnaturally soon as forbidden fruit. Others argued for further restrictions to stop even that, causing the creation of the Parents Music Resource Center in 1985, what many call a blacklist as disapproved songs are rarely carried in stores. With the creation of file-sharing across the Internet, however, a new black library of unregistered music has spread from the underground, causing renewed political concern over what children are listening to these days.


In reality, the FBI found nothing pornographic in “Louie, Louie.” After researching numerous copies and potential lyrics in search of violations of federal Interstate Transportation of Obscene Material law, the song was deemed “unintelligible” and therefore innocent, and it would go on to be one of the most covered songs of all time. Music ratings would not be implemented until “Parental Advisory” stickers from the PMRC appeared in 1985.

Monday, May 16, 2011

May 16, 1966 – May 16 Notification Ousts Mao

Since the domination of China by Chinese Communist Party over the Kuomintang (KMT, Chinese Nationalist Party), Mao Zedong and his comrades had worked to turn the backward, post-imperial China into a modern industrial titan. After China’s recovery from the Civil War, Mao’s first action had been the first Five-Year Plan (1953-57), emulating the programs of Josef Stalin to improve the USSR. Through socializing private firms and encouraging industrial and agricultural growth, as well as taking advantage of Soviet technological aid, China increased its economic output by an average of 19% per year.

While the industry of China flourished, agriculture seemed to lag behind the lofty goals set by Communist leaders. With the close of the first Five-Year Plan, Mao called for a second, which would be dubbed the “Great Leap Forward.” While continuing ideals of widening industry and improving living standards, one of the main focal points of the plan was a spread of socialism, shifting private land to public domain, especially among the common farmers. Income and industry surged forward as in the first plan, but the mismanagement of social agriculture proved devastating.

With common land farmed in a cooperative manner, planners hoped for an increase of food production by 270%. However, local managers struggled to keep up with such demand and saw overstating production on paper as the only way keep up. Based on fraudulent numbers as well as excessive hopes, millions of agricultural workers were shifted to the growing industry, causing the production to fall further behind. Overall through the plan, production would increase by 35%, still an impressive amount, but not enough to keep twenty million people from starving to death while government documents said they were well fed.

Unexpectedly, one of the worst agricultural devastations came from an unlikely source: Mao’s hygiene program known as the “Four Pests.” He used his impressive propaganda to model a campaign at eliminating rats, flies, mosquitoes, and sparrows, the last of which was noted as a grain-stealer. The Eurasian Tree Sparrow became the focus of the assault with people tearing down nests, shooting them from the sky, and scaring them to exhaustion by banging pots or drums. Contests led to competition among schools and agencies as to who could kill the most sparrows. Such mass attack nearly wiped out the bird from China. By 1960, however, people realized that the sparrows ate more insects than grain as bug populations had soared. Mao put an end to the campaign against the sparrow, but the damage had been done: massive locust swarms devoured crops across the country. Misuse of pesticides and deforestation compounded the problems, and even more people died from ecological fallout.

The Great Leap Forward ended in 1962, the last part being referred to as the "Three Bitter Years" by many Chinese. While domestic problems abounded, Mao’s government also fell out with the Soviet leadership that before had been a source of inspiration. Mao called Khruschev’s policies “revisionist”, stepping away from the pure ideals of Marxism-Leninism, eventually condemning them publically after promises of endorsing China in the United Nations and delivering nuclear weapons fell through. Without foreign allies, Mao worked increasingly to purge any dissidence within China.

The first moves in 1965 involved criticism of the play Hai Rui Dismissed from Office by Wu Han, Deputy Mayor of Beijing. It had at first been praised, but now Mao took the “corrupt emperor” in the play as an attack on himself. Wu Han was defended by Mayor Peng Zhen, and a propaganda battle erupted between him and Mao’s aide Yao Wenyuan. With the mayor under fire, Mao moved against Yang Shangkun, director of the Party's General Office with accusations of conspiracy.

Rather than take his firing or even attempting to question it, Yang Shangkun decided to rally the anti-Mao members of the Party. It was a political gamble, but the revolutionary movement had always been just that. Allied with Peng Zhen as well as fellow economic moderates Head of State Liu Shaoqi and Deng Xiaoping as well as Premier Zhou Enlai, they built up their own propaganda machine capable of defeating Mao’s. Articles and photos showed Mao’s eccentric and especially decadent lifestyle. The people of China became outraged, and Mao attempted to strike back with false criminal charges, but even the People’s Liberation Army had lost support for him.

Finally, in May of 1966, the Politburo of the Communist Party of China released the May 16 Notification, a public announcement condemning Mao’s “imperialism.” Mao fled China, escaping secretly into exile in communist Albania. China, meanwhile, followed the increasingly capitalist economic ideals of Peng and Zhou, what many hard communists deplored as “reactionary” and “bourgeois.” Arguments for the programs of limited free market and open trade showed that China had built an impressive economic base and now needed innovation to flourish.

By the time American President Richard Nixon visited China in 1972, it had lost much of its red tone, even extending invitations for inclusion to Hong Kong and Taiwan as Special Market Areas, creating a balance with capitalism as had been seen in the ceasefire between North and South Vietnam that led to peace agreements in 1973, for which Nixon would win his Peace Prize.


In reality, Mao’s purges went smoothly after the firing of Yang Shangkun. His allies made their own attacks on enemies from other factions, ousting generals and directors of press. With a fully dominated government, Mao began his Cultural Revolution, fed by rallies from the youth deeming themselves as Red Guard and idealism in pure communism through art, rhetoric, and purges of population. Some violence erupted against him, but Mao firmly established himself in the collective Chinese mind.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

May 10, 1924 – William J. Burns Retains Position in BOI

The career of famed private investigator William J. Burns, “America's Sherlock Holmes,” dodged a bullet when his forced resignation from the Bureau of Investigation was revoked quietly by Attorney General Harlan Fiske Stone. Burns had served as director for less than three years, and his time had been fraught with questionable activity. After a great deal of discussion with Stone and Calvin Coolidge and seeing the death of President Harding over the stress of the matter, Burns agreed that government needed to take a backseat to the Roaring Twenties.

Burns had lived a life of impressive detection. He started his career as an outstanding agent with the Secret Service, the federal organization that had been started by Abraham Lincoln to investigate counterfeiting after the Civil War and revolutionized into personal bodyguard for the president after the assassination of William McKinley. After building a successful reputation, Burns left to found the William J. Burns International Detective Agency. His exploits became sensational, earning him the nickname of being a real counterpart of the British fictional character Sherlock Holmes. He used newspapers and publishing effectively, building his reputation further and putting himself into a glowing light while his agency searched out criminals such as the supposed Industrial Workers of the World organizers of the bloody Wheatland Hop Riot in California in 1913.

When the head of the Bureau of Investigation retired for personal matters, longtime friend Attorney General Harry Daugherty recommended Burns to be appointed by President Harding. Burns took his fame to the BOI while also running his agency. Through efficiency and potentially questionable outsourcing, the BOI's personnel shrank from 1,127 to 600 during his tenure. The actions of his agents often worked as scare-tactics and invasive, and “G-men” continued to be increasingly distrusted and feared more than respected.

As 1923 turned to '24, government corruption became huge news with the Teapot Dome Scandal in which Naval oil reserve lands were illegally leased, along with a good deal of bribery. Harding, who had come out of publishing, fought the bad press with every ounce of his energy. In his well publicized "Voyage of Understanding", he attempted to reconnect with the common American and explain his growing political ideals amid turmoil until his death from pneumonia exacerbated by overwork. Daugherty came under fire for knowledge of kickbacks from Prohibition bootleggers, and finally Burns took heat after ordering his men to strong-arm newspapers away from any bad press of the BOI and retaliation against Representative Thomas Walsh, who had begun the opposition to the illegal leases.

Daugherty, who would eventually be proven innocent in senate hearings, resigned. The press was too much to fight, and he advised Burns to do the same. Burns, however, decided to go a different route and save his career in government. All his life, he had played to the papers, but that seemed impossible as they performed acts that were best kept quiet. He kept his position and took up a style after the new President Calvin Coolidge, or “Silent Cal.” Deputy Head J. Edgar Hoover balked at the
missed opportunities of public relations and eventually resigned himself, soon turning to his hometown Washington, D.C., police force.

Burns' career continued quietly, and he became mixed up in what would be known as the Gangster Wars. While Treasury Department enforcers battled speakeasies and bootleggers, Burns gradually came into an understanding with organized crime. He saw America as the frontier it had always been, and gangsters were the new gunslingers. Money was shuffled and protection given to the “good” gangsters, who dominated major cities. After several more years of activity that would be investigated for years to come, Burns retired to Florida and died fabulously wealthy with money supposedly from his detective stories and mysteries based on his life.

Hoover, meanwhile, worked to cleanse Washington's streets and made it a model for other cities. He established a confederation of local police forces, which would eventually circumvent the impotent BOI, which would be disbanded during World War II and replaced with the Central Security Agency, a home branch of the OSS akin to Britain's MI5. The CSA continued Burns' strategy of working in the dark and remains mysterious to many Americans today. Most believe them to be cruel shadow agents even more unquestionable than the KGB with an extremely broad understanding of the crime “treason.”

The majority of law enforcement, meanwhile, is held in the hands of local police. Interstate crime continues to be a legal headache as cases of known criminals are routinely thrown out of court due to jurisdiction issues. Simply crossing state lines allows many criminals to escape as chases must be handed over to other police. Improved communication has helped, but gangs well funded by drugs and other illegal activities usually carry superior equipment. In many cities, police are knowingly under bribes of organized crime, and citizens have no choice but to live on, many even applauding famous criminals.

In reality, Attorney General Stone insisted on the Burns' resignation. Burns returned to his agency and again came under scrutiny for “investigating” jurors during trials in the Teapot Dome Scandal in 1927. J. Edgar Hoover took his place at the BOI and transformed it through successful PR into the FBI in 1935, gaining fame for fighting Midwest bank robbers. Hoover continued to serve as director until his
death in 1972.

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