Monday, September 26, 2011

September 26, 1960 - Nixon-Kennedy Debate Faces Technical Difficulties

What would have been the first-ever televised debate among presidential candidates came under technical difficulties that cut out the visual transmission, leaving only the audio and a test pattern, leading many Americans to turn off their TVs.

Television was fast becoming the dominant medium for mass communication. By 1960, the inclusion of televisions in American households had increased some tenfold to 88%. There had been presidential debates broadcast by radio for some time, but this would be the first live coverage of presidential candidates in what would prove to be one of the closest races of the twentieth century. It was estimated that some 70 million people had tuned in for the debate, though they would be disappointed and would have to wait another week to see their candidates.

The Republicans had dominated the White House since former general Dwight Eisenhower had taken over for Truman in '53. Eisenhower's two-time vice-president Richard Nixon was now up to bat, having practically clawed his way up to the top of politics from a childhood of poverty. An economic recession had come into play, weakening the Republican grip and turning the attention to the Democratic Party's new poster boy, John Fitzgerald Kennedy. He was son of Joseph Kennedy, Ambassador to Britain before World War II and millionaire spirits-importer. Kennedy was Catholic, which proved to make many Protestants wary of a potential Vatican-dominated Washington but also bolstered the polls with many Catholics who had not participated in politics much before. Both men were young and had served in the Navy, but Kennedy had the advantage of being obviously more physically attractive.

Nixon, however, proved to carry the more powerful voice. At the time of what would have been the first televised debate, Nixon had just recovered from a hospital stay due to illness while campaigning and was pale, skinny, and still looked very exhausted. Attendees took great notice at the difference between the healthy, tanned playboy of Kennedy and the frail Nixon, but when the camera transmission failed, Nixon won handily. He would continue his luck when the second debate successfully went on the air (by this time he would be plumper from his famous "milkshake diet", well rested, and use professional stage makeup) as well as the third, though Kennedy would make up ground and cause the fourth to be pronounced a draw.

The election itself would be fraught with supposed corruption. Mob influence may have pushed Cook County in Chicago to be taken by Kennedy, which nearly tilted the whole of Illinois into his favor. Further questions were raised in Texas, the home of Kennedy's would-be vice-president, Senator Lyndon Johnson. Nixon reportedly refused to point fingers, which many believed would only lead to scandal on even his own end if investigations began about election fraud, such as the conspiracy that his aides had sabotaged the televised debate that September. Key Democratic votes were taken away from Kennedy by electors calling for conservative Democrat Senator Harry Byrd, and it would be enough for Nixon to take the White House the next year.

Nixon's term would be one of international turmoil. He would grant the order for air support at the Cuban exiles' victory at the Bay of Pigs, which would begin the Cuban War that lasted for almost two years before Castro's regime fell. Tensions with the Soviet Union would be constantly high, but the fighter in Nixon refused to ever back down. He poured resources into the American space program, paving the way for a Moon landing by the end of the decade. The Berlin Wall went up, strengthening the Iron Curtain, but Nixon would be instrumental in opening relations with the People's Republic of China, tilting the balance of world power into a wider mix than simply NATO against the Warsaw Pact.

While people debated his “soft on communism” approach, Nixon would continue to be popular and ever more so after his sudden assassination in Dallas while campaigning in November of 1963 with hopes of securing Texas for his next election. His vice-president Henry Cabot Lodge, Jr, would fill out his term and continue Nixon's international diplomacy with East Asia after his own election in 1964. Nixon is routinely ranked among the most loved of American presidents.


In reality, the debate was televised, and Kennedy took the lead in the polls for the first time in the election season. He would win that November in the closest election since 1916. Nixon would refuse to debate again on television during his presidential campaigns in 1968 and '72, both of which he would win.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

November 29, 1944 – Operation Elster Makes American Landfall

On a stormy day, German submarine U-1230 came up from an eight-day rest on the ocean floor off the coast of Maine and delivered its package of two spies to Hancock Point in Frenchman Bay. A freak wave caught the landing craft, however, tossing one of the spies, William Colepaugh, into the cold sea, where he drowned. The surviving spy, Erich Gimpel, determined to go on with Operation Elster (English, “Magpie”) in gathering intelligence on rocketry laboratories, sabotaging the Manhattan Project, and, perhaps most significantly, setting up the radio beacons that would enable the Germans to launch their V-1 attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C.

Gimpel would later say during his interrogation after being caught by coordinated FBI agents and Army MPs outside of Los Alamos, NM, that losing Colepaugh was the best thing to happen to his mission. Colepaugh was an American defector who had been expelled from the US Naval Reserve for, as the official report stated, the good of the service. He was a discontented and seemed unable to apply himself enough to complete tasks, yet when he defected to the German consulate in Portugal after leaving a Merchant Marine ship, Colepaugh was chosen for an espionage mission to the United States. He was paired with Gimpel, a radio-operator at mines in Peru before the war, and the two were trained to be spies at The Hague, still controlled by German forces. They were given orders, transported across the Atlantic via U-boat, and told that a pack of submarines bearing V-1 flying bombs would come behind them.

After managing to get to Boston by foot and hitchhiking, Gimpel took the train to New York City, where he acquired rooms and began construction of his radio transmitter. He was stunted in his chances for espionage without American Colepaugh, so instead he focused on establishing communications with Berlin. By Christmas, he was able to radio messages to Germany, and Hitler became ecstatic at the thought of a vicious strike to America, perhaps one enough to bloody her nose into retreat from Europe. The Fuhrer pressed resources into the Vulkan Docks in Stettin to assemble launch-canisters developed after the experiments with on-board launches in 1943 had been unsuccessful. Many in the German High Command thought the focus was waste and only annoy the American tiger as the end of the war was coming within view, but Hitler personally ensured that the project would go forward.

The United States Government had become aware of the threat the September before, when captured German spy Oscar Mantel had given up information during an FBI interrogation that the Nazis were planning a long-ranged missile attack. In the Department of War, which was largely under the weight of the Army, the recommendation to FDR was that no real threat existed. The Navy disagreed and, on its own, wrote up plans for an “Operation Bumblebee” that would become Operation Teardrop in which a sub-hunting fleet would track down and destroy submarines bearing rockets. Vice Admiral Jonas H. Ingram, commander of the Atlantic Fleet, prepared task forces within the bounds of allowed resource allocation.

Germany went forward with its attack plans. As 1945 began, Albert Speer, German Minister of Armaments and War Production, gave a broadcast stating that flying bombs "would fall on New York by February 1." The propaganda was largely dismissed, and February 1 passed without incident. German spy Gimpel finally established his radio beacons later that month and began his journey west toward Tennessee and New Mexico. In late March, a seven U-boat fleet set out with its hastily prepared launch canisters, and the US took notice of increased radio traffic as April began. Ingram’s ships began a patrol, but it would be too late as the V-1 attacks struck in the early morning of April 3.

Many of the launches would malfunction and at least one rocket would fall far off-target into New Jersey, but several flying-bombs struck home, spreading incendiaries over Manhattan and one landing in the National Mall between the US Capitol and the White House, damaging the Smithsonian Museums. American sentiment flew into angry panic, especially upon news of FDR’s death by stroke only days later. Ingram’s Operation Teardrop was pressed forward, managing to sink five submarines at the cost of one destroyer, the USS Frederick C. Davis. Hitler’s attempt at scaring the Americans into peace only exacerbated a public opinion of revenge akin to after Pearl Harbor, and newly promoted four-star general Patton was directed by now President Harry Truman to take Berlin rather than turning south to liberate Bohemia.

In a combined Soviet-American assault, Berlin fell, and Hitler would be found dead in his bunker from suicide. The war continued in the Pacific and in the minds of many Germans, such as Gimpel in New Mexico where he would be apprehended in late July, supposedly having witnessed the Trinity tests. After the war finally closed, Truman launched his doctrine of American invulnerability, never to allow another such attack on home soil to happen again. Typical post-war conservatism was scarce, and instead massive resources (including captured German scientists) were allocated to defense projects that would be able to take out any missile attack with strategies such as homing counter-measure rockets, supersonic jets, tracking satellites, and focused microwave-rays that could destroy incoming enemy (most likely Soviet) weapons with no fear of a “cold war” becoming hot with a surprise attack.


In reality, Colepaugh survived the landing in Maine. Upon their arrival in New York, Colepaugh turned to womanizing and drink, then changed his mind about defecting and turned himself in to the FBI. His information aided in the capture of Gimpel, ending any hope of success of sabotage in Operation Elster. Rocket attacks proved infeasible; the Germans were never adapt their submarines to launch V-1 flying bombs, and scare tactics of a U-boat pack off the Atlantic seaboard were swiftly defeated by Operation Teardrop.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

December 19, 216 BC – Hannibal Captures Rome

The Second Puno-Roman War had raged for two years, and Rome became desperate after a string of catastrophic defeats at the hand of Hannibal, son of Hamilcar Barca. Hamilcar had served as the great Carthaginian commander in the First Punic War and went into exile in Iberia after angrily killing Hanno II, leader of the peace-mongers of Carthage, who had demobilized the Carthaginian navy and allowed the Romans to rebuild their own fleet. Hamilcar had passed on his distrust and hatred of the Romans to Hannibal, who set off across Gaul in a surprise attack across the Alps that caught the Romans with their sandals untied. The Gauls of northern Italy rose up around him, and Hannibal began a years-long campaign around the Italian peninsula that would end with the defeat of Rome.

Most of the Romans were sent to Iberia or Sicily to fight an imperial war, and the consul Publius Cornelius Scipio scrounged what 42,000 men he could to meet Hannibal in battle at Trebia. Hannibal's cavalry and expert flanking defeated the Romans, sweeping them from northern Italy. They vowed to drive Hannibal from Italy and formed up an army of more than 50,000, which Hannibal ambushed them on the cliff-ringed shores of Lake Trasimene in one of the most famous flanking battles in history. By 216 BC, many of the Roman “allies” erupted in revolt, and Hannibal captured the key supply depot at Cannae, where he and his army rested on the eastern end of Italy.
The Romans were determined to have another, final battle with the largest army anyone had attempted on the peninsula. Working under both consuls, they formed up a force of nearly 90,000 men, which included quaestors, tribunes, and even senators from the 300. The enormous army attacked Hannibal, who feinted a retreat, catching the much larger army in an enveloping maneuver that allowed the Carthaginians to surrounded and again slaughter Romans by the tens of thousands. After the battle, some 50,000 Romans lay dead, including much of the governors of Rome itself. According to legend, every single Roman was related directly to someone killed in battle. Hannibal's army, meanwhile, had only lost some 8,000.

At the victory, Hannibal's Nubian commander of cavalry, Mahrabal, approached him, saying that he would ride ahead of the main army and begin the attack on Rome. Hannibal, however, was slow to agree. His was a field army, and they did not have the siege weapons necessary to take Rome. Moreover, the Romans still had many allies as well as a seemingly unbreakable resolve, and moving on the city would potentially cut off his supply lines. Finally, Hannibal's men had fought long and hard, and he sought to reward them with three days of looting the corpses from the field. Mahrabal responded, “Truly the Gods have not bestowed all things upon the same person. Thou knowest indeed, Hannibal, how to conquer, but thou knowest not how to make use of your victory.”

Hannibal,suffering a migraine from his strained vision after having lost an eye before the Battle of Lake Trasimene, responded that Mahrabal could do as he saw fit, and the Nubian took an army of volunteers to begin the siege of Rome with Hannibal's forces to follow after their days of rest. He sent a case of some 200 rings cut from the fingers of dead Roman nobles to the Carthaginian senate, asking for reinforcements and equipment necessary to finish the war. After much debate, Carthage agreed, and they gained new allies as Grecian Sicily revolted against Rome and Macedon joined Hannibal's cause.

Even with an upgraded army that summer, the siege of Rome was not easy. Rather than a uniform siege line, Hannibal stretched his resources and emulated Mahrabal's tactics of constant patrols on horseback with skirmishers defeating any supply trains attempting to sneak into Rome. The Romans attempted several times to piece together a larger force to drive away the Carthaginian raiders, but Hannibal's superior tactics defeated them over and over. Finally, as winter approached, the Romans gave in. They had done everything they could to resist even moderate peace talks, mobilizing the entire male population including slaves, outlawing the word “peace”, and banning public crying while limited mourning periods to 30 days. Hannibal is noted by historians such as the Roman Livy as saying that want broke the Romans' back, but never military defeat.

The war ended very favorably to the Carthaginians, who raised up opposing cities such as Tarentum and Pisa to cow Roman influence on the peninsula. Carthage's empire would spread as the centuries progressed, south into Africa and eastward through the Mediterranean and Black Seas, using their famous navy to establish colonies and dominance in places such as Greece, Egypt, and Palestine. As a merchant people, their influence was largely cultural with an increase of child-sacrifice seen in archeology, and their empire did not go much beyond the navigable shores. After hundreds of years of dominance, the Carthaginians would eventually fall to invading Vandals, whose King Genseric would establish his capital and center of his state religion of Arian Christianity there in 439.

In reality, Hamilcar never killed Hanno II. In the Second Punic War, Hanno would sway the Carthaginians away from sending reinforcements, and Hannibal would never take Rome itself. He marched on Rome in 211 BC, but the attack was temporary and largely propagandist. For the next thirteen years after Cannae, Hannibal would fight a losing war in Italy before being recalled to defend Carthage from a Roman invasion force under Scipio Africanus, who would defeat him at the Battle of Zama.

Monday, September 12, 2011

278 BC - Pyrrhus Obliviates the Romans

The short-lived days of the Roman Empire came to an end as Greek conqueror Pyrrhus of Epirus determined to finish off the growing city. What had once been a pack of exiles and bandits who could only gain wives by stealing them during a false olympics became Rome, a masterful city-state that had taken in numerous forced allies after years of expansionistic war in Italy.

Originally of the Molossians, Pyrrhus's father had been dethroned, and he grew up in exile, learning the importance of military strength and political prowess. His father-in-law, Ptolemy of Egypt, restored him as king of Epirus in 297 BC, and Pyrrhus determined to expand his power. He attempted to conquer Macedon, but was defeated. In 281 BC, a new chance arose to build a league of allies when Tarentum on the southern end of Italy determined to revolt against the growing influence of Rome. The Oracle at Delphi told him “Aio te, AEacide, Romanos vincere posse”, meaning, "I say, Pyrrhus, that you the Romans can conquer." Armed with 3,000 cavalry, 2,000 archers, 500 slingers, 20,000 infantry and 20 war elephants (much of his forces on lone from Egypt), Pyrrhus set off for his Italian campaign.

In 280 BC, he met the Romans in the Battle of Heraclea, defeating their larger army but taking tremendous losses not easily replaced as he was away from Epirus and his allies were wary of utterly declaring war on Rome. The Romans considered a treaty, but eventually declined and rebuilt a fresh army. The next year, he Pyrrhus again defeated the Romans at Asculum, and again his losses were so large that he commented, "One more such victory, and we shall be undone."

In 278 BC, Pyrrhus came upon two new opportunities. The Greek cities in Sicily approached him to drive out Carthage as he was driving the Romans out of southern Italy, and the Macedonians invited him to take the throne there as their king Ceraunus had been killed by barbarians. Both were glorious, but Pyrrhus determined his most important goal should be utter defeat of his present enemy, lest they counterattack and he lose his position as his father had. Taking up what was left in his coffers and forces, Pyrrhus stormed Rome with a grand army and left the city with no stone on top of another.

With Rome destroyed, Pyrrhus's influence in Italy was secure. He next took up the position as King of Sicily, driving out the Carthaginians and pacifying the Greeks in Sicily to be loyal under his command. Pyrrhus then returned to Macedon, and he was able to build up a system of diplomacy that make the Pyrrhic Empire the great power of the middle Mediterranean. He was invited by Cleonymus of Sparta to overthrow the city there, and Pyrrhus began his last campaign in 272 BC. He would be caught in the street fighting after successfully sneaking his army into the city and killed by a roofing tile thrown by an old woman. It seemed an unfitting end who Hannibal, the great statesman of the Carthaginians and conqueror of Gaul, called the greatest military commander in the world. His strategy of utterly destroying and absorbing his enemies gave birth to the phrase "Pyrrhic victory" in which a conquest is total.


In reality, Pyrrhus left the Romans to rebuild, and they would harass Italy to the point he abandoned Sicily to fight back, but was ultimately defeated after a string of "Pyrrhic victories" in which he won battles only at terrible cost. The unclear message of the Oracle stated that the Romans would conquer him, and they would in later campaigns into Illycrium. Appian noted that Hannibal called Pyrrhus the second greatest commander after Alexander.

* Idea offered by Steve Payne

Saturday, September 10, 2011

November 28, 1943 – Roosevelts Arrive at Tehran Conference

As the Second World War raged, the leaders of the “Big Four” Allied nations sought to meet, even though they would risk life and limb to do so. The Japanese Empire separated America from China, while Nazi Germany divided the USSR from America and Britain. They found a neutral point in Tehran, Persia, where Russian Premier Stalin could come from the north, Chinese Chairman Chang Kai-shek could approach from the east, and American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill could arrive from the west after a meeting shortly before in Cairo. They would discuss strategy for defeating the Axis powers as well as outlining post-war plans.

After a good deal of argument that the meetings would be strictly business between the immediate leaders and that women would not be allowed, First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt convinced her husband that she and their daughter Anna would be necessary as future leaders in their own rights (and supposedly asking whether he had anything to hide, which would become more obvious after FDR’s stroke in 1945 where mistress Lucy Rutherfurd was by his side). Roosevelt’s arguments proved hollow as they arrived in Cairo and were surprised to be met by Mrs. Churchill. When they continued on to Tehran, they would be joined by Madame Chiang Kai-shek, Soong May-ling. Joseph Stalin also attended the meeting, though his wife Nadezhda Alliluyeva had died in 1932 from apparent suicide (that was rumored to be actual murder at Stalin’s hand) after the two had a public argument. Stalin, Churchill, and Roosevelt formed a “Big Three” of the conference, edging out the war with the Japanese on the important matter of finishing off Germany with a European campaign.

While the men conferred, Eleanor gathered Mrs. Churchill and Chiang to tea on a number of occasions, which quickly turned into their own summit. Eleanor had long been a supporter of the Red Cross, while Mrs. Clementine Churchill was currently the Chairman of the Red Cross Aid to Russia Fund as well as a number of home front charitable efforts and Madame Kai-shek had worked to build and fund orphanages and schools for Nationalist "warphans," whose parents had been killed in the dark times of the past decade in China. They agreed on a number of matters that would eventually become important parts of shared efforts worldwide in 1945 when Mrs. Roosevelt became a representative and charter member of the United Nations Organization.

At one point in the conference, Mrs. Churchill noted Mr. Churchill’s worries about how eager FDR seemed to please the stony Stalin. Eleanor related the importance of the Soviet declaration of war against Japan once the Europe question was over, but Soong May-ling voiced concern they all shared that Stalin was working to ensure a powerful Soviet Bloc of buffer territory in Eastern Europe and would most likely soon be funding the communists in China to overthrow the republican government that would serve as the Japanese were driven out. The ladies’ concerns grew, and Eleanor and Clementine voiced their opinions to their husbands. FDR began to rethink his position, and Churchill redoubled his conviction that the world would not be safe from “the scourge and terror of war” as long as oppression in the Soviet Union remained.

Even with the distrust of Stalin growing uniformly, Churchill and FDR put into effect Operation Overlord headed by General Eisenhower that would begin a new front in France. Stalin, in return, promised to declare war on Japan, though the action would not follow until Germany was fully defeated. Meanwhile, the western Allies grew closer to Chiang Kai-shek, whose anti-communist sentiment spread. By the time of the conference in Yalta in February of 1945, feelings had shifted away from giving the Soviets direct control over much of anything outside of their prewar borders. The Morgenthau Plan to de-industrialize Germany was written off to keep down potential resistance, which infuriated Stalin, who began to demand why he bothered to fight a war if the rest of the Allies were simply going to let Germany rest to fight again. Unsatisfactory plans were agreed upon, though it was understood that, after the war, they would quickly be shelved.

After the taking of Berlin, threats of use of the A-bomb caused Stalin to retreat across Europe and acknowledge the International Zones. In China, support from America bolstered the Nationalist armies, which snuffed out the communist forces in China in 1947 after taking their capital at Yan'an. Stalin found himself surrounded with few allies, and he turned inward to develop his own atomic weapons. The “Cold War” standoff would continue for nearly a decade until 1956 brought attempted incursions into Hungary, threats over the Suez Canal, and the internal disputes over leadership after the death of Stalin. The weakness urged NATO to push for the dissolution of the Soviet government, resulting in a swift war that brought on a new Russian constitutional convention. UN aid bolstered the Russian people and eased tensions to ensure the new government would not fall to another predatory dictator.


In reality, FDR objected to the Roosevelt ladies attending the conference in Tehran. He held that no women would be allowed to attend, even though Mrs. Churchill and Madame Chiang Kai-shek both attended, which left Eleanor and Anna most displeased.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

November 26, 1864 – "Alice's Adventures Under Ground" Manuscript Burned

In one of the more dramatic moments of logician Charles Dodgson's fairly private life, he attempted to deliver a handwritten manuscript to his young neighbor Alice Liddell as an early Christmas present. He was caught in a sudden rain shower and approached the Liddell family's home drenched but received graciously. As he was changing into dry clothes offered by Henry Liddell, an argument began. The source of the argument is unknown, though the two had disagreed on a number of occasions on college politics, and Dodgson left the Liddells' in his own clothes. Mr. Liddell proceeded to throw Dodgson's manuscript into the fire and comment, "Children need lessons from moral men."

Dodgson had met the Liddell family when Henry came as dean to Christ Church, Oxford, where Dodgson studied and would serve as a lecturer in mathematics. He suffered a stammer, which is believed to have been what kept him from entering the priesthood. Dodgson and the Liddell family became close, with Dodgson befriending the Liddells' boy Henry and their daughters Lorina, Edith, and Alice. As a family friend, Dodgson would become close to the children in the family, whom he would tell stories, have picnics, and use as models in his photography hobby. The friendship came to Dodgson's advantage in 1862 when he attempted an appeal to halt his taking of priestly orders, interrupting a lifelong plan of his mother's that he would enter the priesthood. As dean, Liddell noted that he should take the appeal to the college ruling body, which might only grant the appeal on grounds of expelling Dodgson. Instead, however, Liddell made the decision himself, allowing Dodgson to end his path to priesthood and remain at Christ Church as a mathematician.

On July 4, 1862, while boating with Mr. Liddell and the girls, Dodgson would tell a series of stories about a girl named "Alice" (in honor of, but not based upon, ten-year-old Alice Liddell) who fell down a rabbit hole and experienced many strange adventures. The Liddells encouraged Dodgson to write out his story, and he obliged, working on it for two years before delivering the manuscript to Alice. In the meantime, Dodgson and Liddells had a falling out. His diary through this time had numerous pages torn out, but it is known that, on June 27, 1863, Mrs. Liddell approached Dodgson on a topic that had been the source of much gossip. Notes suggest it was a questionable relationship, either with the governess or “Ina”, referring to either the oldest girl Lorina or her mother, also Lorina. Whatever the subject, the problem was enough to spur a falling out between Dodgson and the family, which lasted perhaps a year. The problem seemed to have faded enough for Dodgson to present his manuscript to Alice for the upcoming Christmas.

However, a renewed argument with the head of the house (and dean of his college) would cause Dodgson to storm out of the Liddells’ forever. While sometimes threatening to quit his position, Dodgson remained at Christ Church, lecturing and writing in the fields of mathematics and logic. He wrote stories, but none were published more widely than a few relations and acquaintances. Dodgson was encouraged to publish his Alice tales by friend and fantasy novelist George MacDonald, who had read a partial manuscript to his children, but Dodgson was through with it. Instead, he focused on his logic puzzles and completed several important theses on argument up to his death in 1898.

Meanwhile, Victorian children’s literature would remain “moral”, as Mr. Liddell had mentioned. Some scandalous material was produced, but censors were quick to keep publishers respectable. The moral constraints even continued across the Atlantic as L. Frank Baum rewrote his American fairytales to include necessary words of wisdom for children not appreciating home, such as his hero Dylan Gale. J. M. Barrie would be refused on his first draft of Peter and Wendy from his play Peter Pan, the editor saying that children needed deeper moral lessons and explanations that the ambivalence of the ethics of Wonderland would only lead to loneliness and destruction. Even into the 1960s, animated cartoons for children would carry lessons such as the moral responsibility of standing up to predators in Tom and Jerry, although cartoonist Walt Disney defied any sort of logic in his early “Silly Symphonies” of the 1930s, art simply for the sake of enjoyment.


In reality, the manuscript was embraced, and in 1865 Charles Dodgson (as “Lewis Carroll”) published Alice in Wonderland to wide enjoyment, though it was critically snubbed. The silliness of his stories would inspire writers such as L. Frank Baum (whose Dorothy came as a recognition of Dodgson’s female protagonist), J. M. Barrie, and many more with the notion that stories can be simply fun.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

November 21, 1910 - Revolt of the Lash Spurs Race War in Brazil

Brazil, though a large, advancing nation in the early twentieth century and a leader among Latin American countries as part of the ABC Powers (Argentina, Brazil, & Chile), still stood as a culture suffering from racial division. While many French colonies had ended slavery with the Revolution in 1789, England had abolished it by act of Parliament in 1833, and the United States fought its civil war in 1861 partially over the matter, Brazil did not begin gradually ending slavery until 1871 with the passage of the Rio Branco Law (or "The Law of Free Birth") providing freedom for children newborn to slaves, the Saraiva-Cotegipe Law in 1885 freeing slaves over 60 years old, and finally total abolition in 1888 with the Lei Áurea shortly before the emperor was overthrown. While Brazil avoided much of the US's infamous institutionalization of race superiority with Jim Crow, there was still a significant social division of race among the wealthy whites and the blacks, paros (mixed race), and caboclos (mixed Euro-Indians), fed by intellectual “science” of the time.

While minorities were kept at a lower caste in general culture, the most obvious racism was felt in the military. In particular, the Brazilian navy was notorious for white commanders with minority crews held at their whim. Living conditions were poor aboard ship, but the navy was making leaps beyond other navies in comparable nations. In the early days of the Republic, the government focused on the army to quell internal problems, leaving only a handful of naval soldiers and less than 2,000 marines. As tiny as it was, the navy proved instrumental in the Revoltas da Armada of 1891 when President Marshal Deodoro da Fonseca attempted to dissolve Congress and continued to battle against President Marshal Floriano Peixoto who held onto office despite legal need of elections in the next few years. After the turn of the century, calls began for building up the navy and establishing Brazil as a significant power at sea. Other nations such as Britain, Germany, and the United States rushed into the naval arms race, and Brazil was quick to catch up with many new ships and two dreadnoughts, the Minas Gerais and São Paulo, both commissioned in 1910.

Economic downturn struck Brazil just after the completion of their dreadnoughts, causing the third proposed, Rio de Janeiro, to be shelved. The troubled times also turned into harder conditions aboard ship as well as on land with food and supplies cut back to save on expenses. General morale fell, which caused discipline to be sharpened, including the use of racial slurs and corporal punishment, specifically the lash. This aggravated two years of organization and protest against flogging, which involved "leather whips tipped with metal balls", and pushed the sailors into planned mutiny. The men aboard the Minas Gerais chose João Cândido Felisberto (“The Black Admiral”) as leader and watched furiously as a sailor was sentenced to 250 lashes, continuing even after he slipped into unconsciousness.

In the late hours of November 21, the men began their mutiny, killing officers and capturing British engineers as hostages. The revolt spread to the São Paulo as well as the Deodoro and the Bahia. Their demands began simply, but as Cândido saw that the Army was moving to protect the capital Rio de Janeiro and outnumber the coastal defenders who were sympathetic, he decided that the only way to survive was to make wider demands. The issue that tied the bulk of the oppressed together was the problem of race. Most of the sailors (as well as army and manual laborers) were black, many of them former slaves or their sons, forced into place by lack of other options. Cândido and his advisers (including several of the British) wrote up a new list of demands for rights despite race as well as taxes on the rich to support charities for the poor.

The “Letter to Brazil” (Letra a Brasil) was sent by written message, word of mouth, and even wireless, spreading through the country and spawning an upheaval in major cities and areas where minority populations outnumbered the whites. The army quickly came onto the side of the navy, which made the white elites unable to put down the revolt as they had many in the past. Britain began to step in, but when their hostages were cheerfully released home, Brazil was left to itself. Much of the government and the elites fled the country. The remainder invited Cândido ashore, and a new government was built following his manifesto.

Public education became mandatory as a subpoint on the Letter, and the new Brazilian Democratic Republic survived its depression to thrive as it contributed to the rebuilding of Europe after its neutrality in World War I. The Great Depression struck harder, and Getúlio Vargas swept elections with his nationalist rhetoric. He was invited by Adolph Hitler to join the new Axis, but Vargas decided to continue Brazilian elections and relations with the United States, leading to Brazil's participation in World War II. While economic issues arose after the war and rumors circulated about militaristic or even communist uprising in the 1960s, Brazil would ultimately continue to be a social model to the rest of the world.

In reality, the demands of the rebelling sailors were limited to more focused items such as the end of lashing, increased standards on ship, and amnesty for the mutiny, which they saw as a necessary action. The government quickly gave into Cândido's demands on fear of naval bombardment of the city, but they reneged on amnesty with a decree expelling government workers who were "undermining discipline.” Two thousand men were discharged afterward, and hundreds were killed or imprisoned, maintaining the power of the elite. However, the lash was never used again in the Brazilian Navy.

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