January 20, 2018 Rosie the Riveter

All told some six million women answered the call, expanding the female participation in the overall workforce from 27%, to 37%.


Following the German invasion of Poland in 1939 and the outbreak of general war in Europe, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt proclaimed a limited national emergency, authorizing an increase in Regular Army personnel to 227,000 and 235,000 for the National Guard. Strong isolationist sentiment kept the United States on the sidelines for the first two years, as victorious German armies swept across France.

That all changed on December 7, 1941, with the Japanese attack on the Pacific naval anchorage at Pearl Harbor. Seizing the opportunity, Nazi Germany declared war on the United States, four days later.

The Roosevelt administration had barely found the keys to the American war machine in February 1942, when disaster struck with the fall of Singapore, a calamity Prime Minister Winston Churchill called the “worst disaster” in British military history.

The mobilization of the American war machine was a prodigious undertaking. From that modest beginning in 1939, the Army alone had 5.4 million men under arms by the end of 1942. By the end of the war in 1945, American factories produced a staggering 296,000 warplanes, 86,000 tanks, 64,000 landing ships, 6,000 navy vessels, millions of guns, billions of bullets, and hundreds of thousands of trucks and jeeps. US war production exceeded that of the Axis powers of Germany, Italy, and Japan, combined.

As all that manpower mobilized to fight the war, women moved into the workforce in unprecedented numbers.  Nearly a third of a million women worked in the American aircraft industry alone in 1943:  65% of the industry’s workforce, up from just 1% in the interwar years.

All told some six million women answered the call, expanding the female participation in the overall workforce from 27%, to 37%.

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The mythical “Rosie the Riveter” first appeared in a song written by Redd Evans and John Jacob Loeb and made famous by swing bandleader James Kern “Kay” Kyser, in 1943.  The song told of a munitions worker who “keeps a sharp lookout for sabotage / Sitting up there on the fuselage…Rosie’s got a boyfriend, Charlie.  Charlie, he’s a Marine / Rosie is protecting Charlie Working overtime on the riveting machine”.

Norman Rockwell had almost certainly heard the song when he gave Rosie form for the cover of that year’s Memorial Day Saturday Evening Post.  Posed like the Prophet Isaiah from Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, Rockwell’s “Rosie” is on lunch break, riveting gun on her lap, a beat-up copy of Mein Kampf ground happily under foot.

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Vermont Dental Hygienist Mary Doyle Keefe was the model for Rockwell’s Rosie.  The propaganda value of such an iconic image was unmistakable, but copyright rules limited the use of Rockwell’s portrait.  The media wasted no time in casting a real-life Rosie the Riveter, one of whom was Rose Will Monroe, who worked as a riveter at the Willow Run aircraft factory, in Ypsilanti Michigan.  Rose Monroe would go on to appear in war-bond drives, but the “Real” Rosie the Riveter, was someone else.

The year before the Rosie song came out, Westinghouse commissioned graphic artist J. Howard Miller to produce a propaganda poster, to boost company morale.  The result was the now-familiar “We Can Do It” poster, depicting the iconic figure flexing her biceps, wearing the familiar red & white polka dot bandanna.

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Colorized image of railroad workers on break, 1943

Though she didn’t know it, Miller’s drawing was based on a photograph of California waitress Naomi Parker Fraley, who worked in a Navy machine shop in 1942.

While Norman Rockwell’s Rosie the Riveter was the first, it is Miller’s work we remember, today.  Rosie the Riveter was larger than any one woman.  She was symbolic of her age, one of the most memorable and long lasting images of the twentieth century.

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Naomi Parker Fraley, real-life model for Rosie the Riveter

For many years, it was believed that a Michigan woman, Geraldine Hoff Doyle, was the “real” Rosie the Riveter.  Hoff Doyle had seen the uncaptioned image, and believed it to be herself.  It was an innocent mistake. The woman bears a striking resemblance to the real subject of the photograph.

Thirty years came and went before Parker-Fraley even knew about it.  She saw herself in a newspaper clipping, and wrote to the paper around 1972, trying to set the record straight.  Too late. Hoff Doyle’s place had been cemented into popular culture, and into history.

Parker-Fraley was devastated. “I just wanted my own identity,” she says. “I didn’t want fame or fortune, but I did want my own identity.”

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Professor James Kimble, Ph. D.

Another thirty-eight years would come and go before Seton Hall Communications Professor James J. Kimble, Ph.D., took an interest in the identity of the famous female from the WW2 poster. Beginning in 2010 and lasting nearly six years, the search became an obsession. It was he who discovered the long lost original picture with photographer’s notes identifying Naomi Parker-Fraley. “She had been robbed of her part of history,” Kimble said. “It’s so hurtful to be misidentified like that. It’s like the train has left the station and you’re standing there and there’s nothing you can do because you’re 95 and no one listens to your story.

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Over the years there have been many Rosie the Riveters, the last of whom was Elinor Otto, who built aircraft for fifty years before being laid off at age ninety-five.  Naomi Parker-Fraley knew she was the “first”, but that battle was a long lost cause until Dr. Kimble showed up at her door, in 2015.  All those years, she had known.  Now the world knew.

Rosie the Riveter died on January 20, 2018.  She was ninety-six.

Hat tip “BoredPanda.com”, for a rare collection of colorized images from the WW2 era, of women at work.  It’s linked HERE.

January 19, 1945 Town of Bent Necks

For sixty years people either talked to each other or turned, and looked away. It all depended on which side you were on.

In the biblical story of Genesis, Cain was born to Adam and Eve, followed by his brother Abel. The first to be born slew his own brother, the first human to die, and Cain was cast out to wander in the land of nod, east of Eden.

According to legend, the evil King Amulius ordered the twin sons of Rhea Silvia and the war god Mars drowned in the Tyber River. Instead, the boys washed ashore to be suckled by a she-wolf. Romulus and Remus went on found a town on the site of their salvation, the traditional date being April 21, 753BC. Romulus later murdered his brother after some petty quarrel, making himself sole ruler of the settlement. He modestly called the place “Rome”, after himself.

Two thousand years later, two brothers come into this story. The enmity between Adolf and Rudolf Dassler never rose to fratricide but it came close, a detestation for one another to endure, beyond the grave.  And you may be wearing one of their products right this moment, as you read this.

Oh.  Did I tell you, the brothers were both Nazis?

The Bavarian town of Herzogenaurach is located in the Middle Franconia region of West Germany, about 14 miles from Nuremberg. In the early 20th century, the local textile economy collapsed in the face of more industrialized competitors. Many turned to shoe-making. By 1922, the small town of 3,500 boasted some 122 cobblers. Christoph Dassler was one such, specializing in felt slippers.

Herzogenaurach

Adolf “Adi” Dassler was the third son and youngest of four children born to Christoph and Paulina Dassler.  An avid sportsman and athlete, Adi engaged in a variety of sporting events including track & field, futbol, skiing and ice hockey.  Usually with close friend Fritz Zehlein, the son of a local blacksmith.

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Adolf Dassler

The “Great War” descended over Germany in 1914, and the elder Dassler boys were conscripted into the army. Not yet thirteen, Adi was apprenticed to a baker, but turned to his father instead to learn the intricate stitching of the cobbler. Adi was particularly interested in sports, and how the proper shoe could improve athletic performance.

Adi himself was drafted into the army in 1918, five months before his 18th birthday.

Adi returned to what he knew after the war, repairing shoes while starting a business of his own. The German economy lay in ruins.  Dassler was forced to scavenge war materials, to form his designs. Leather from bread pouches. Canvas from uniforms. And always the need to improvise, jury rigging available machinery in the absence of electricity.

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Rudolf Dassler trained to become a police officer, but left to join his brother’s company, forming the Dassler Brothers Sports Shoe company, in 1924.  Dassler Brothers may have been the first to use metal spikes, fashioned by Adi’s old buddy, Fritz Zehlein.

The following year, the company was making leather Fußballschuhe with nailed studs and track shoes with hand-made spikes.

January 19, 1945 Sibling Rivalry

Former Olympian and coach of the German Olympic track & field team Josef Waitzer took an interest in the work, becoming a friend and consultant. Dassler brothers shoes were used in international competitions as early as the 1928 games in Amsterdam and the Los Angeles games, of 1932.

With the rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party in 1933, it was hard not to see the economic self-interest, in politics. The Dassler brothers – Adi, Rudi and Fritz all joined the party on May 1.

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Jesse Owens

For the family business, the big break came in 1936 when American Olympian Jesse Owens agreed to compete in Dassler Brothers shoes. This American athlete of African ancestry went on to win four gold medals, a humiliating defeat for Hitler’s Aryan “master race”, but the sporting world soon beat a path to Adi’s door.

Compared with his brothers, Rudi seems to have been the more ardent Nazi.  Adi confined himself to coaching Hitler Youth teams, while Rudi was off at rallies and political meetings.  Politics formed much of what led to their parting ways.

Germany once again found itself at war and Adi switched over to producing army boots.  Christoph and Paulina lived with their two grown sons and their wives, and five grandchildren.  Käthe (Martz) Dassler, Adi’s wife, had frequent run-ins with her mother and father-in-law, and seems to have had a relationship of mutual detestation with Rudi’s wife, Friedl.

Family fault lines were already irreparable in 1943 when Adi and Käthe climbed into a bomb shelter. Rudi and his family were already there when Adi quipped, “The dirty bastards are back again”. He was referring to the Allied war planes overhead. Rudi was convinced the comment was directed at himself and Friedl.

Rudolf blamed his brother and his “Nazi friends” when he was called up to fight the Russians, in the east.  Adi himself was drafted but dismissed when his civilian services, were deemed indispensable to the war effort.

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Rudolf Dassler

Stationed in Tuschin that April, Rudi wrote to his brother: “I will not hesitate to seek the closure of the factory so that you be forced to take up an occupation that will allow you to play the leader and, as a first-class sportsman, to carry a gun.”

The Soviet Red Army overran Tuschin on January 19, 1945, decimating Dassler’s unit.  Rudi fled to Herzogenaurach where a doctor certified him as militarily “incapable”, due to a frozen foot.

Allied “de-nazification” efforts after the war led to a blizzard of recriminations between the two brothers, and the end of the Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory. 

The two men now hated each other.

Adi Dassler formed a new company which would come to be known, as Adidas.  Rudi attempted to copy the idea but the name “Ruda”, just didn’t have the same ring.  He settled on “Puma”.

Evolution of the Adidas logo

Herzogenaurach became a two-factory town, the sight of a German Hatfield & McCoy, blood feud.  The rivalry extended to the two soccer clubs in town, ASV Herzogenaurach and 1FC Herzogenaurach.  There were Adidas stores, and Puma stores. Adidas restaurants, and Puma restaurants.  And don’t even think about being served if you had the wrong shoes on your feet.   

For sixty years people either talked to each other or turned, and looked away. It all depended on which side you were on. The town became so saturated with the hate these two brothers felt for each other, the place came to be known as “The Town of Bent Necks“. 

Puma logo, over the ages

The Dassler brothers never reconciled.  They are buried in the same cemetery, as far away from each other as it is possible to be.  The families are now out of the business, and so is the antagonism which held out for all those years.  So remember that familiar cat or those famous three stripes, next time you lace up.  You just might be wearing, a piece of history.

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January 18, 532 A Day at the Races

Modern sport has seen its share of fan passion rising to violence, but the worst “futbol hooligan” pales into docility, compared with the crowd come to watch the chariot races.

Chariots go back to the earliest days of the Roman Republic, coming down from the ancient Greeks by way of the Etruscan empire. The mythical abduction of the Sabine women was carried out, while the Sabine men watched a chariot race. While Romans never used them as weapons of war, chariots were used in triumphal processions, pulled by teams of horses, tigers or dogs, even ostriches.

What the Greeks regarded as an opportunity for talented amateurs to rise within their chosen sport, the Romans saw as entertainment. A class of professional drivers rose to meet the demand.

Look up the Highest Paid Athlete of All Time and you’ll be rewarded with the knowledge that Michael Jordan amassed career earnings of $1.85 Billion, according to Forbes Magazine. 

Mr. Forbes and Mr. Jordan alike may be surprised to know.  Spanish driver Gaius Appuleius Diocles once amassed an astonishing 35,863,120 sesterces, equivalent to FIFTEEN Billion dollars, today.  Not bad for a guy whose name suggests he probably started out, as a slave.

The Hippodrome of the Byzantine era (from the Greek Hippos: Horse and Dromos: Path, or Way) was already the center of sports and social activity in 324.  That was the year Emperor Constantine moved the seat of the Roman Empire east to Byzantium, calling the place, Nova Roma. New Rome.  The name failed to catch on and the city came to be known as, Constantinople.

f285a884c132221b7abbb5958de2452dThe age of Constantine saw enormous expansion of the city which bore his name, including enlargement of the Hippodrome to an impressive 1,476-feet long by 427-feet wide with a seating capacity of 100,000.  By way of comparison, the Empire State Building is 1,454-feet from sidewalk to the very tip of the spire.  Mercedes Benz Stadium in Atlanta, home of Super Bowl LIII, has a rated capacity of 71,000 spectators.

There were four chariot teams or “factions” (factiones), distinguished by the color of their uniform: Red, Blue, Green and White, and echoed by the colors worn by their fans.  Twelve chariots would enter each race, three from each faction. Golden-tipped dolphins were tipped over, to count the laps. Each race ran seven.f9fb0a187c6e429d1e9b2c84e723043bA raised median called a spina ran down the center, adorned with stone statuary and obelisks. Ganging up to drive opposing handlers into the stone median or the stands, whipping opponents and even hauling them out of their chariots was not only permitted, but encouraged.

It was the racetrack, or circus and the sport of chariot racing, that truly put the Fanatic in Fans. There are tales of poisoned horses and drivers. Lead tablets and amulets inscribed with curses, spiked through with nails and thrown from the stands. One such curse read:

I call upon you, oh demon, whoever you are, to ask that from this hour, from this day, from this moment, you torture and kill the horses of the green and white factions and that you kill and crush completely the drivers Calrice, Felix, Primulus, and Romanus, and that you leave not a breath in their bodies.

Racing chariots were as light as possible and extremely flimsy, to increase speed. With no suspension, even a bump could throw a driver into the path of oncoming teams. Clogs were built into lattice floors, to hold the driver’s feet. Teams of two (biga), three (triga) and four (quadriga) horses were common, but teams as large as six were not unheard of.

Though rare, ten-horse teams were known to take the field.

While Greek drivers held the reins in their hands, Roman charioteers wrapped them around the waist. Unsurprisingly, any driver thrown out would be dragged to death or trampled, unless able to cut himself free.

Crashes were frequent and spectacular, often killing or maiming driver and horse alike. Such wrecks were called naufragia, a Latin word translating as ”shipwreck”.  As many as forty chariots crashed in one catastrophic pile-up, near Delphi.ba90ba114005e082444846ca7ff751f7Modern sport has seen its share of fan passion rising to violence, but the worst “futbol hooligan” pales to docility, compared with the crowd come to watch the chariot races. Imagine the worst fan violence of the modern era combined with aspects of street gangs and political organizations, each faction holding forth on the issues of the day and attempting to sway public policy by shouting slogans, between races.

Distinctions between politics and sport, all but disappeared.  Emperor Vitellius, a fan of the Blue faction, had citizens put to death in the year 69 for talking trash about his team. Ten years later, one fan threw himself on the funeral pyre of his favorite driver.

Roman chariot race

In 531, riots broke out during a chariot race. Fans of the Blues and Greens were arrested for murder. The killers were sentenced to death and most were executed but two, escaped. On January 10, 532, the two men one Blue and one Green took refuge in a church, surrounded by an angry mob.

Emperor Justinian, a supporter of the Blues, was beset with problems. The war in the east was not going well with the Persians. At home, there was rampant corruption and public fury over confiscatory tax policy.  Now this.  Justinian resorted to that time honored technique to pacify the turbulent masses.  Bread and Circuses.  He announced a chariot race.

Bad idea.

It was a tense and angry crowd that arrived at the Hippodrome on January 13.  By race #22 chants of “Blue” and “Green” were changed to angry shouts, directed at the Emperor.  “Nίκα! Nίκα! Nίκα! (“Nika” translating as “Win!” “Victory!” or “Conquer!”).

Fury boiled over and anarchy turned to Riot.  The Royal Palace was laid siege over the next five days and the city, laid waste.  Even the magnificent Hagia Sofia, the foremost church in Constantinople, was destroyed.

Now a mosque in Istanbul, the beautiful Hagia Sofia was burned to the ground during the Nika riots of 532 and later rebuilt, by Emperor Justinian.

Rioters proclaimed the Senator Flavius Hypatios as their new Emperor and demanded the dismissal of key advisers.  Soon Justinian himself prepared to flee for his life.  He surely would have done so if not for his wife, the formidable Empress Theodora.

I do not care whether or not it is proper for a woman to give brave counsel to frightened men; but in moments of extreme danger”, she began, “conscience is the only guide. Every man who is born into the light of day must sooner or later die; and how can an Emperor ever allow himself to become a fugitive? If you, my Lord, wish to save your skin, you will have no difficulty in doing so. We are rich, there is the sea, there too are our ships. But consider first whether, when you reach safety, you will not regret that you did not choose death in preference. As for me, I stand by the ancient saying: royalty makes the best shroud”. 

The avenue of escape lay open to the Emperor but Theodora’s words, cut deep.  Not to be deterred, the Empress closed the door on escape.  “Royalty is a fine burial shroud” she said.  “The Royal color Purple makes a fine winding sheet.”

Dwzr7yJUUAEA9MYWith spine thus restored, Justinian formulated a plan.  The popular eunuch Narses was sent out with a bag of gold, into the lion’s den.  Small and slight of build, unarmed but for those coins, Narses entered the Hippodrome and went directly to the Blue section.  On this day in 532 Hypatios was in the very act of coronation when the eunuch spoke.  Narses reminded the Blues that Hypatios was a Green while Justinian himself, supported their team.

Gold was distributed among the Blues and the trap was sprung.  As Blue team supporters streamed out of the Hippodrome, Imperial troops led by the Generals Belisarius and Mundus fell upon the crowd, killing some 30,000 Blue and Green alike.jerusalem-distrThus ends one of the great “backfires” in political history.  Senator Hypatius was put to the sword and those who had supported the pretender, sent into exile.  Justinian I would rule another 33 years, rebuilding Constantinople, muzzling the Senatorial Class which had caused him such grief and reconquering lost territories, in Italy.

Wealthy estates were confiscated outright and races were suspended for a period of five years.  None were left to stand against this Emperor for a long and fruitful reign.

January 15, 1919 Molly Molasses

In 1954 Roger Bannister became the first human being to break the four-minute mile. Today, the Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt is the fastest man who ever lived. It would come as a rude shock to both of those guys, that they are literally slower than cold molasses.  In January.

The fastest man alive today is the Jamaican sprinter, Usain Bolt. He may be the fastest man who ever lived. The average male aged 20 to 40 in reasonably good shape is capable of speeds, between 10 and 15 miles per hour. At the 2009 World Track and Field Championships, Bolt ran 100 meters from a standing start at an average 23.35 mph and the 20 meters between the 60 & 80 marks, at an average 27.79 mph.


On May 6, 1954, Roger Bannister became the first human to run a sub-four minute mile with an official time of 3 minutes, 59.4 seconds.

It would come as a rude shock to both of those guys that they are literally slower than cold molasses. In January.

File photo of Bolt of Jamaica competing in the men's 100 metres semi-final heat event during the IAAF World Athletics Championships at the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow
Usain Bolt

In 1919, the Purity Distilling Company operated an enormous iron storage tank, in the North End of Boston. Six stories high and ninety feet wide, the tank held 2.32 million gallons of molasses, awaiting transformation to sweeteners, drinking liquor and alcohol based munitions.

It was cold that month but on January 15 the temperature reached a balmy 46°, up from the bitter low of 2° of the day before.

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If you were there that morning you would have heard sounds, not unlike the grumbling of some great, upset stomach. At 12:30 came a rumble, a sound like a distant train. Then came the staccato chatter of the machine gun, as iron rivets popped and the sides of the great tower split apart.

The collapse hurled a wall of molasses 40-feet high down the street at 35 miles per hour, smashing the elevated train tracks on Atlantic Ave and hurling entire buildings from foundations. Horses, wagons and dogs were caught up with broken buildings and scores of people struggling in the brown deluge, speeding across the North End. Twenty municipal workers eating lunch in a nearby city building were swept away, parts of the building hurled some fifty yards. Part of the tank wall fell on a nearby fire house, crushing the building and burying three firemen, alive.

The men playing cards at the firehouse looked out the windows and saw a dark wall that didn’t belong there. Whatever it was, the wall was coming right at them.

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The power of the deluge may be seen in the elevated rail, twisted and deformed as by the temper tantrum, of some titanic child.

In the 17th century, Sir Isaac Newton described the physical properties of fluids. Water, a “Newtonian” fluid, retains a constant viscosity (flow) between 32° and 212°, Fahrenheit. We all know what it is to swim in water. You can propel yourself through the stuff but a “non-Newtonian” fluid such as ketchup or molasses, behaves differently. Non Newtonian fluids change viscosity and “shear” in response to pressure. You can’t propel yourself through a non-Newtonian fluid. The stuff will swallow you, whole. Not even Michael Phelps would be able to swim out of a sea of that gunk.

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“Firefighters tried to wash the molasses away with freshwater, but would later find that briny seawater was the only way to “cut” the hardened substance”. H/T Historycollection.com

The Boston Post reported “Molasses, waist deep, covered the street and swirled and bubbled about the wreckage … Here and there struggled a form—whether it was animal or human being was impossible to tell. Only an upheaval, a thrashing about in the sticky mass, showed where any life was … Horses died like so many flies on sticky fly-paper. The more they struggled, the deeper in the mess they were ensnared. Human beings—men and women—suffered likewise”.

In 1983, a Smithsonian Magazine article described the experience of one child: “Anthony di Stasio, walking homeward with his sisters from the Michelangelo School, was picked up by the wave and carried, tumbling on its crest, almost as though he were surfing. Then he grounded and the molasses rolled him like a pebble as the wave diminished. He heard his mother call his name and couldn’t answer, his throat was so clogged with the smothering goo. He passed out, then opened his eyes to find three of his four sisters staring at him”.

All told, the molasses flood of 1919 killed 21 people and injured another 150. 116 cadets from the Massachusetts Nautical School, now Mass Maritime Academy, were the first to arrive on-scene. They were soon followed by Boston Police, Red Cross, Army and Navy personnel. Some Red Cross nurses literally dove into the mess to rescue victims while doctors and surgeons set up a makeshift hospital and worked around the clock.

Four days later the search was called off, for additional victims. The cleanup has been estimated at 87,000 man-hours.

The rupture resulted from a combination of factors. Construction was so poor, locals knew they could come down and collect household molasses from drippings down the outside of the thing which was leaking so badly the company painted it brown, to hide the leaks.

This was only the 4th time the tank was filled to capacity and rising temperatures helped build up gas pressure, inside the structure. Subsequent analysis determined the thickness and quality of the iron itself was insufficient, to contain 14,000 tons of molasses.

molasses part of tank

With temperatures so cold, the rapid spread of all that molasses made no sense. Everyone knows what it is to turn over a jar of the stuff…and wait. Now, cold molasses had all but exploded. In January, no less. There must be something else. There HAD to be. Dark rumors spread outward like ripples, on a pond. Newspapers speculated. There must be some insidious cause, a bomb perhaps, planted by Italian anarchists. Or the work of German saboteurs.

The newspapermen of the age would have learned more if they’d cracked a physics textbook. In fluid dynamics, a “gravity current” describes the horizontal flow in a gravitational field, of a dense fluid into a fluid of lesser density. Like, say, a wall of molasses, into the surrounding air. The air around us is after all, a fluid. Think about the way cold air rushes through an open doorway into a warm room, even when there is no wind.

Harvard lecturer and aerospace engineer Nicole Sharp explains that, as a non-Newtonian fluid, the flood would have advanced with terrifying rapidity behaving much the same as a mudslide, avalanche or lava flow. Sharp’s calculations confirm the initial flow could have indeed traveled as fast, as 35 miles per hour.

molasses flood, headline

Today, the site of the Great Molasses Flood is occupied by a recreational complex called Langone Park featuring a Little League ball field, a playground, and bocce courts. Boston Duck Tours regularly visit the place in amphibious vehicles, designed for land and water. Especially the dark brown one. The one with the name “Molly Molasses”, painted on the side.

January 14, 1967 The Cloud

“The Army disclosed yesterday that it secretly conducted 239 germ warfare tests in open air between 1949 and 1969, some tests releasing live but supposedly harmless microscope [SIC] “bugs” at Washington’s Greyhound bus terminal and National Airport as part of the experiment.” Washington Post, March 9, 1977

Hat tip Wall Street Journal

On October 11, 1950, Mr. Edward J. Nevin checked into Stanford hospital in San Francisco with a fever, respiratory and other symptoms. Doctors diagnosed the retired pipefitter, with pneumonia.

Ten other women and men checked into the same hospital at this time, all suffering with the same symptoms. Respiratory difficulty combined with kidney and/or urinary tract infections so rare as to prompt their publication in a prestigious medical journal.

The cause was believed to be exposure to the bacterium, Serratia marcescens. Mr. Nevin, 75, underwent prostate surgery causing S. marcescens to travel through his blood from the urinary tract, to his heart. Three weeks later, he was dead. The other ten recovered.

In 1981 the Nevin grandchildren sued the federal government for the death of their grandfather and the economic destruction wrought on their grandmother, the direct result of ruinously high medical expenses. The alleged cause of death was the deliberate poisoning of the entire city of San Francisco, by the United States Navy.

On January 14, 1967, the New York Times reported the United States Army was conducting secret germ warfare experiments, on its own citizens.

Turns out the San Francisco episode was part of a biowarfare experiment, called “Operation Sea-Spray”. Beginning on September 20, 1950 and continuing for seven days the US Navy sprayed massive amounts of two bacteria into the air believed to be harmless at the time, along with an iridescent agent, to aid with tracking. With cover and assistance from the famous San Francisco fog enough of this stuff was released into the atmosphere, that 43 tracking stations set up across the city determined that every one of the city’s 800,000 residents inhaled no fewer than 5,000 such particles.

Ten years later the U.S. Senate Subcommittee on Health and Scientific Research held a series of hearings, on the matter. On March 9, 1977, the Washington Post reported: “The Army disclosed yesterday that it secretly conducted 239 germ warfare tests in open air between 1949 and 1969, some tests releasing live but supposedly harmless microscope [SIC] “bugs” at Washington’s Greyhound bus terminal and National Airport as part of the experiment…Washingtin [SIC] was one of five cities where the Army released simulated lethal germs i [SIC] public places. Other cities where the public served as unknowing guinea pigs were New York, San Francisco, Key West and panama City, Fla”.

The Wall Street Journal reported on October 22, 2001, “In New York, military researchers in 1966 spread Bacillus subtilis variant Niger, also believed to be harmless, in the subway system by dropping lightbulbs filled with the bacteria onto tracks in stations in midtown Manhattan. The bacteria were carried for miles throughout the subway system, leading Army officials to conclude in a January 1968 report: “Similar covert attacks with a pathogenic [disease-causing] agent during peak traffic periods could be expected to expose large numbers of people to infection and subsequent illness or death.””

The Post reported 27 instances of simulated germ warfare attacks on two tunnels of the Pennsylvania Turnpike and a number of military installations including Fort Detrick, Maryland, Fort Belvoir, Virginia and the Marine training school at Quantico, Virginia.

The Post goes on to report that “Another 504 workers connected with biological warfare activities at Ft. Detrick, Dugway proving Ground and the Deseret test Center in Utah and the Pine Bluff Arsenal in Arkansas suffered infections, according to the Army’s count”. The Army went on to report that “three laboratorers at Fort Detrick died from diseases contracted in the 1950s and 1960s”.

I wasn’t aware that “laboratorers” is a word but the Washington Post seems to think it is.

Utah’s Dugway Proving Ground alone conducted “hundreds, perhaps thousands of open-air tests using bacteria and viruses that cause disease in human, animals, and plants” according to a 1994 report, by the GAO (US General Accounting Office). One such experiment resulted in 3,843 dead animals in an episode known as, the “Skull Valley Sheep Kill“. In the end as many as 6,400 were killed or humanely euthanized as even the rumor of nerve agents renders both the wool and the meat of such an animal, less than worthless. A report which remained classified for thirty years blamed a faulty nozzle left open, as the test aircraft gained altitude.

Public backlash was vehement against the US Army Chemical Corps, and nearly lead to its disbanding.  President Richard Nixon ordered a halt to open air testing of “NBC” (Nuclear Biological and Chemical) agents, in 1969.

In the past, military spokesmen have argued that such tests are necessary. That NBC agents are readily available to state and non-state actors such as terrorist organizations and we must know how these agents behave, under real world conditions.

Perhaps they have a point. As does the ancient proverb of the Kikuyu people of Kenya, which tells us, “when elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers”.

January 12, 1913 Man of Steel

Historians differ as to the deaths brought about by this one man. Numbers range from several million to well over twenty million.

A story comes to us of one Josef Jughashvili, the only child of a laundress and an alcoholic shoemaker, to survive to adulthood. Walking along a rain swollen river a group of boys chanced upon a bleating calf, cut off by the torrent on a small and crumbling island. Taking off his shirt Jughashvili dived into the roiling waters and swam to the terrified animal. Turning first to be sure his buddies were watching Josef proceeded to break the defenseless animal’s legs, one at a time.

The tale may be apocryphal or it may be true but the narrative captures perfectly, the man he would become. One of the great beasts of a century which gave us, no small number of monsters.

In 1884 a bout with smallpox left him disfigured. The other kids called him “pocky”. Though smaller than his classmates he joined a gang and got into many fights from which he never, backed down. He was smart and excelled in academics. He also displayed talent in art, drama and choir. A childhood friend recalled he “was the best but also the naughtiest pupil”.

Police phot at age 23, 1902

He enrolled in the seminary in Tiflis but a life in the priesthood, was never meant to be. A voracious reader, the “Forbidden Book Club” filled young Jughashvili’s head with ideas forbidden, in Czarist Russia. Plato. Checkov. Tolstoy. Zola. So taken was he with the writings of Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx he attempted to learn German, to better appreciate the original text.

Jugashvili proclaimed himself an atheist and thus ended any future, in the Orthodox priesthood. Expelled from seminary before the turn of the century he was now a Marxist agitator, teaching classes in leftist theory from a small flat on Sololaki Street and entering a life of crime, in order to finance the Bolshevik party.

In 1912, Vladimir Ilyich Lenin appointed Josef to the first Central Committee of the Bolshevik Party, while still in exile in Switzerland. On this day in 1913, Josef Dzhugashvili signed a letter to the Social Democrat newspaper, “Stalin”. The Man of Steel.

By 1917, three years of total war had brought the Russian economy, to its knees. Kaiser Wilhelm calculated that all he had to do was “kick the door in” to destroy his adversary to the east. Thus did the famous “sealed train” depart Zurich bound for Petrograd in April, 1917 carrying Lenin, and 31 Marxist revolutionaries.

Kaiser Wilhelm was right. As WW1 continued elsewhere Czarist Russia descended into not one but two civil wars resulting in the triumph of the radical Bolsheviks over the more moderate Mensheviks and the murder of Czar Nicholas, his wife the Czarina and the couple’s children, servants and dogs.

The Union of Soviet Socialist republics (USSR) was officially founded in 1922. Lenin died in 1924. Throughout this period Stalin steadily grew his own base of support, outmaneuvering rivals for the top spot. By the late 1920s he was head of the communist state.

The “Glavnoe Upravlenie Lagerei” or Main Camp Administration system, began in 1919. By 1921 there were 84 such “Gulags”, but this hideous system really came of age, under Josef Stalin.

The Soviet Union was mostly agrarian when Stalin came to power, launching a series of five year plans to bring the USSR into the industrial age. Significant opposition came first from the Kulaks, the more prosperous of the peasant farming class who viewed Stalin’s “collectivization” efforts as a return to the serfdom, of earlier ages.

The ranks of the Gulags swelled to include the educated and ordinary citizens alike. Doctors, intellectuals, students, artists and scientists all disappeared into the Gulags, crude slave labor camps from which many, never returned.

Anyone so much as suspected of holding views contrary to the regime, anyone suspected of association with such persons were “disappeared”. Swept up in the night by Stalin’s terrifying NKVD security police and placed in conditions of such brutality prisoners were known to hack at their hands with axes or thrust their arms into wood stoves to avoid yet another man-killing hour, of slave labor.

“I trust no one, not even myself.

Josef Stalin

The early 1930s was a time of famine for the Kulaks of Ukraine, the former breadbasket of the Soviet Union. Continuing to resist Stalin’s collectivization, these “enemies of the state” were deliberately starved to death by their own government, their numbers running into the several millions in a period known, as “Holodomor“.

During the late ’30s, nearly 800,000 were summarily executed during the Great Purge, another two million shipped off to the gulags. Official paranoia rose to levels almost comical, but for their deadly consequence. Photo retouching became a cottage industry as former associates were simply…disappeared.

Much may be said of a man, by the company he keeps. Genrikh Yagoda, Nikolai Yezhov, Lavrentiy Beria, they’re not common names for those of us educated in American public schools but these are the men who carried out the Stalinist terror, as heads of the dread NKVD. Though we may not know their names these are beasts as loathsome as Nazi Police Official Reinhard Heydrich, SS Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler or Gestapo Chief Heinrich Müller.

By 1938, Stalin’s purges had crippled the Soviet Union. Entire swathes of the Soviet military, government and popu,ation, had ceased to exist. Head of the security state Nikolai Yezhov was himself outmaneuvered from his position, denounced and murdered by his successor, Lavrentiy Beria. Even Leon Trotsky, founding father that he was of the Bolshevik party was tracked down to his place of exile in Mexico on Stalin’s orders and murdered with an ice axe, in the top of his head.

Investigators display the ice axe used to assassinate Leon Trotsky

Major General Vasili Blokhin was handpicked by Stalin in 1926 as chief executioner, for the NKVD. To this day the man stands as the world’s most prolific executioner with tens of thousands dead, by his blood soaked hands. During the Spring of 1940 Blokhin personally murdered 7,000 Polish prisoners of war over 28 consecutive nights, each with a bullet to the back of the head.

The man literally kept a briefcase full of German made Walther PPK pistols, lest one of them overheat.

Major General Vasili Blokhin

Today, the 1940 episode is remembered as the Katyn Massacre, the murder of 22,000 defenseless prisoners of war primarily, Polish Army officers. For fifty years the atrocity was believed to have been carried out, by the Nazis.

The Molotov Ribbentrop pact of 1939 meant, at east for a time, an alliance between the two great monsters of mid-20th century Europe. That all changed on June 22, 1941. Operation Barbarossa. Adolf Hitler’s surprise attack, on the Soviet Union.

Some 30 million among an estimated 70 to 85 million killed during World War 2 died, on the Eastern Front. The number includes nine million children, killed in an out-and-out race war, Slav against Teuton, that is dreadful even by the horrendous standards of WW2. Order No. 27 became standard operating procedure, for the rest of the war. Between 1942 and 1945 some 422,700 Red Army personnel were executed by their own officers, as the result of Stalin’s order. “Ni shagu nazad”. “Not one step back”.

Josef Stalin went to bed sometime after 4:00am on February 28, 1953, with orders that he not be disturbed. 10am came and went, the usual time when the dictator would call for his tea. Morning turned to afternoon and into evening and yet, his terrified guards not wanting themselves to be purged, waited on. It was 10pm when a guard entered the room using as his excuse, the afternoon mail. The Soviet dictator was alive but helpless and unable to speak, laying in a pool of his own urine. His broken watch was stopped at 6:30pm.

The Man of Steel lingered in agony until March 5 as his own doctors languished in the Gulag and none assumed the authority, to make a decision about his care. Whether Stalin was murdered or simply left to die by those too terrified to do anything about it, is a matter for speculation.

Historians differ as to the deaths brought about by this one man. Numbers range from several million to well over twenty million.

Today, public imagination barely registers how fortunate we are that Adolf Hitler chose to turn from a defeated adversary on the beaches of Dunkirk to attack his erstwhile ally, in the east. Where we would be today had Little Boy and Fat Man had a swastika or a hammer and sickle painted on the side is a nightmare, too dismal to contemplate.

January 9, 1493 Mermaids

Mr. Columbus seems not to have been impressed with his mermaids, describing these particular creatures as “not half as beautiful as they are painted.”

Pax Romana”. The “Roman Peace”. A period between the 1st and 2nd century AD when the force of Roman arms subdued nearly all, who would stand against them.

Unsurprisingly, the conquered peoples described the period, somewhat differently. Sometime around 84AD Calgacus of the Caledonian Confederacy in Northern Scotland said, “They make a desert and call it peace”.

The conquests of Genghis Khan and his successors accomplished much the same during the 13th and 14th century. The “Pax Mongolica” effectively connected Europe with Asia, a time when one could travel the “Silk Road” from Britain in the west to China in the east. Great caravans carrying Chinese silks and spices came to the west via transcontinental trade routes. It was said of the era that “a maiden bearing a nugget of gold on her head could wander safely throughout the realm.”

Never mind the pyramids of skulls, over there.

Over time the “Black Death” and Mongol fracturing along political lines brought the Pax Mongolica to an end. Muslim domination of Middle Eastern trade routes made overland travel to China and India increasingly difficult in the 15th century. After Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453, such travel became next to impossible. Europe began to look for a water route to the East.

It’s popular to believe that 15th century Europeans thought the world was flat, but that’s a myth. Otherwise, cats would have pushed everything over the edge by now.

The fact that the world is round was understood for over a thousand years, though 15th century mapmakers often got places and distances wrong. In 1474, Paolo dal Pozzo Toscanelli detailed a scheme for sailing westward to China, India and the Spice Islands. He believed that Japan, which he called “Cipangu”, was larger than it is, and farther to the east of “Cathay” (China). Toscanelli vastly overestimated the size of the Eurasian landmass while the Americas were left out, altogether.

This is the map that Christopher Columbus took with him, in 1492.

Columbus had taken his idea of a westward trade route to the Portuguese King, to Genoa and to Venice, before he came to Ferdinand and Isabella in 1486. At that time the Spanish monarchs had a Reconquista to tend to, but by 1492, they were ready. The Nina, Pinta and the Santa Maria sailed that August.

By the new year the expedition had been at sea for six months. Sailing off the coast of Hispaniola on January 9, what we now call the Dominican Republic, Columbus spotted three “mermaids”.

They were almost certainly Manatee, part of the order “Sirenia”. “Sirens” are the beautiful sisters, half birdlike creatures who live by the sea, according to ancient Greek mythology. These girls, according to myth, sang a song so beautiful that sailors fell into hypnosis, dashing ships on the rocks in vain efforts to reach them.

Columbus seems not to have been impressed, describing these particular mermaids as “not half as beautiful as they are painted.”

Small wonder. These marine herbivores measure 10 to 13-feet from nose to tail and weigh in at 800 to 1,200 lbs.

Not everyone was quite so dismissive. A hundred years later, the English explorer John Smith reported seeing a mermaid, probably a Manatee. The creature was “by no means unattractive” Smith wrote, but I’m not so sure. Maybe Mr. Smith just needed to get out a little more.

January 5, 1976 Killing Fields

Imagine feeling so desperate, so fearful of this alien ideology invading your country, that you convert all your worldly possessions and those of your family to a single diamond, bite down on it so hard it embeds in your shattered teeth and fled with your family to open ocean in a small boat.  All in the faint and desperate hope, of getting out of that place.  That’s but one story, among millions.  And those were the lucky ones.

For 700 years the Khmer Empire occupied much of modern-day Cambodia, Thailand, Laos, and southern Vietnam.  Now extinct, this powerful civilization was once home to the largest city in the world.  Until recently overrun by Jungle, the capital city of Angkor, whose original name was Yashodharapura (“Glory-bearing city”), was nearly the size of modern day Los Angeles, and home to roughly a million people.

Even today, the Hindu temple complex of Angkor Wat, built circa 1122, remains one of the largest religious monuments in the world.

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Temple Complex at Angkor Wat

During the 1950s, a group of some 200 middle-class Cambodian kids were educated at French Universities.  The greater part of that group formed a student organization of Marxist-Leninist intellectuals, dreaming of an agrarian utopia on the Indo-Chinese peninsula.

What began as a small leftist insurgency grew in power, thanks to support from Communist China and North Vietnam.  From only a few hundred individuals in 1960, these “Red Khmers” (Khmer Rouge) grew into an effective insurgency against the Khmer Republic’s government of King Norodom Sihanouk and Prime Minister Lon Nol.  By early 1975, the Khmer Rouge had overwhelmed Khmer National Armed Forces.

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Even as the last, humiliating scenes of America’s war in neighboring Vietnam played themselves out in the capital of Saigon, Khmer Rouge forces captured the Cambodian capital at Phnom Penh, overthrowing the Khmer Republic and executing its officers.

This was to be “Democratic Kampuchea”, the name representing a local pronunciation of the word as it comes into English, as Cambodia.

The Kampuchean constitution, formally approved on January 5, 1976, theoretically vested power in a 250-member, directly elected “Kampuchean People’s Representative Assembly”.  In reality, the body met once in April, and never again.  Unlike the cult of personality grown up around the Kim family of North Korea or that of the Stalinist USSR or Maoist China, all power in the CPK (Communist Party of Kampuchea) belonged to “The Center”, a shadowy, nine-member standing committee of those same leftist intellectuals from the Paris student days, led by Prime Minister and Communist General Secretary Saloth Sar, better known as ‘Pol Pot’.

This nine-member “Angkar”, (pronounced ahng-kah), meaning ‘The Organization’, ushered in one of the great horrors of the twentieth century, a four-year genocide remembered as the “Killing Fields”, of Cambodia.

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Khmer Rouge Uniforms

The “Khmer Rouge”, self-described as “The one authentic people capable of building true communism”, murdered or caused the deaths of an estimated 1.4 to 2.2 million of their own people out of a population, of some 7 million. All to build the perfect, agrarian “Worker’s Paradise”.

Imagine feeling so desperate, so fearful of this alien ideology invading your country, that you convert all your worldly possessions and those of your family to a single diamond, bite down on it so hard it embeds in your shattered teeth and fled with your family to open ocean in a small boat.  All in the faint and desperate hope, of getting out of that place.  That’s but one story, among millions.  And those were the lucky ones.

The very embodiment of the ivory tower leftist intellectual, the Angkar was detached and incapable of connection with the masses.  Theirs was a radicalized ideology, heavily influenced by French communists and the writings of Lenin and Mao and heavily tinged with ideas of racial superiority.  Paradoxically, this was a creed altogether averse to an educated or merchant class and determined to use violence in pursuit of “class struggle”.

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The Khmer rouge set out to create a peasant’s utopia.  An agrarian, atheist state.  Among the first to go were the Buddhist monks, nearly 25,000 murdered most often with a rock, or club.  All religion was banned, repression of Christians and Muslims, extensive.

For generations, European colonists had exploited the mineral resources of “French Indochina”.  Now, abandoned mine shafts filled with the bones of the slain.

Whole cities were liquidated as “parasitic” and “corrupt”.  Shop owners, business people and educators.  Police officers, government employees and ethnic minorities such as Chinese, Vietnamese and Cham.  All were driven from their homes and murdered as “class enemies”.  Anyone who so much as wore eyeglasses or owned a wristwatch, was as good as dead.

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Today, the Tuol Sleng (“Hill of Poisonous Trees”) Genocide Museum occupies the former  Chao Ponhea Yat High School, operated during the Cambodian Genocide as Security Prison 21.  In its day, “S-21” held an estimated 20,000 people at one time or another – no one knows for sure.   Between 1976 and ’79, only seven adults survived this place.

The Khmer Rouge operated at least 150 such torture and execution facilities.

There, Khmer interrogators extracted “confessions” by torture.  After two to three months, victims would eagerly agree to anything, thousand-word “confessions” weaving true stories into outlandish tales of conspiracy with Vietnamese, KGB and CIA operatives.  Friends, families and acquaintances would be identified in such narratives as they in turn, were brought in for interrogation.

All were turned over to extermination centers, where squads of blank-eyed teenagers awaited with machetes, pick axes and iron bars.  Ammunition was too expensive.

The vast majority of victims were Cambodian, but not all.  488 Vietnamese passed through S-21, as did 31 Thai, one Laotian, an Arab, one Brit, four French, two Americans, a Canadian, a New Zealander, two Australians and an Indonesian. An unknown number of Indians and Pakistanis also passed through the facility.  Not a single foreigner lived, to tell the tale.

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One among some 20,000 mass grave sites, in Cambodia

The Khmer Rouge is estimated to have executed over 1.38 million people in this way, with death by starvation, torture, overwork and disease accounting for some 2½ million more.  Twenty-five per cent, of the entire nation.

The last straw came on April 18, 1978, four miles over the border into Vietnamese territory.  Khmer Rouge troops took a page out of their own playbook, murdering 3,000 Vietnamese civilians in what came to be known as the Ba Chuc Massacre.

The New York Times reported:

“The Khmer Rouge then used the same formula for execution as in Cambodia. ‘They pointed their weapons and ordered us to come to a meeting with their superiors,’ said Nga, a dignified, soft-spoken woman.

She was forced toward the border with parents, siblings, husband and six children. Suddenly, their escorts began clubbing the children. Her youngest daughter was struck violently on the head three times and cried ‘Mother, Mother.’”

Four years earlier, North Vietnam had helped the Khmer Rouge take power.  Now the Vietnamese government staged a massive invasion of its erstwhile ally.  By January 7, 1979 it was over, the Khmer regime toppled and a new government installed in Phnom Penh.

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Cambodian journalist Dith Pran managed to escape the regime, one among millions swept up in the humanitarian disaster following the war in Vietnam and the genocide, in Cambodia.   It was he who coined the term, Killing Fields.

Justice was slow in coming.  Most senior Khmer officials would not be tried, until well into the twenty-first century.  Pol Pot died quietly in his bed, in 1998.

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