January 22, 1959 The Real Che

While Che himself made no secret of his blood-lust, Western Liberals appear pathologically incapable of regarding the man’s history, as it really was. 

Valkyrie. Che. Two films, both produced by the Great Hollywood Myth Machine. Both released to US audiences in December, 2008. One tells the story of Claus von Stauffenberg, the disillusioned, war-crippled German patriot who led the plot to assassinate Adolf Hitler. The other is Ernesto Guevara de la Serna, a middle-class Argentinian intellectual and accomplished athlete, despite a life-long problem with Asthma. One, the towering Aristocrat. The bearer of hereditary titles of nobility.  The other the left-ish physician radicalized by the poverty of his day to become the Marxist Revolutionary.

Some 4,980 Germans were murdered for complicity real or imagined, in the Valkyrie plot.  Many slowly strangled with piano wire, their death agonies filmed for the delectation of a Dictator.  Von Stauffenberg himself met his end, before a firing squad.

Guevara breathed his last before a Bolivian firing squad.  The similarity ends there.

che_1215322cErnesto Guevara trained and motivated firing squads credited with the summary execution of 16,000 Cubans or more, since the Castro brothers swept out of the Sierra Maestro Mountains in 1959.  It was around this time he acquired the nickname “Che” from an odd fondness for the verbal filler che, not unlike the Canadian English “eh” or some Americans’ fondness for the punctuating syllable “Right?”

CheG1951Numbers are surprisingly inexact but Guevara is believed personally responsible for the murder of hundreds if not thousands, in the name of “Revolutionary Justice”.  Guevara himself described in his diary, the murder of peasant guide Eutimio Guerra:

“The situation was uncomfortable for the people and for Eutimio so I ended the problem giving him a shot with a .32 pistol in the right side of the brain, with exit orifice in the right temporal [lobe].”

Such a cold and clinical description for a murder which surely splattered the blood and brains of the victim over his executioner, bespeaks a man at best thoroughly hardened to casual bloodshed and at worst, a stone psychopath.

Guevara wrote home to his father: “My nostrils dilate while savoring the acrid odor of gunpowder and blood…I’d like to confess, Papa, at that moment I discovered that I really like killing.”

As the proverbial fish who knew not that he was wet, Che Guevara believed the natural social order, was Marxism.  “There are truths so evident” he would say, “so much a part of people’s knowledge, that it is now useless to discuss them. One ought to be Marxist with the same naturalness with which one is ‘Newtonian’ in physics, or ‘Pasteurian’ in biology.”

At one time signing letters home as “Stalin II”, Guevara became disillusioned with the Revolutionary zeal of even the Soviet Union, adopting instead the North Korea of Kim Il-sung as the ideal political order.  God help anyone friend or foe whose politics came to disagree even slightly, with those of this “Man of the people”.

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Photographer Alberto Díaz Gutiérrez, who later used the name “Korda” liked to describe the Che image as encabronado y doliente (pissed off and pained) – H/T Smithonian.com

After seven years of the military dictator Fulgencia Batista, the Cuban people were in a “lynching mood”.  On this day in 1959, the Universal Newsreel arrived in the United States,  narrated by Ed Herlihy.  In it, Fidel Castro can be seen asking an estimated one million Cubans if they approved of executions.  The question was met with a booming response “¡Si!”.

Che was bitterly disappointed in the wake of what he saw as capitulation, following the Cuban Missile Crisis.  To Che Guevara, millions of Cuban citizens added up to nothing more than “A people ready to sacrifice itself to nuclear arms, that its ashes might serve as a basis for new societies.”

YAFChePosterWhile Che himself made no secret of his blood-lust, Western Liberals appear pathologically incapable of regarding the man’s history, as it really was.

download - 2020-01-21T120856.886Crazy with fury I will stain my rifle red while slaughtering any enemy that falls in my hands! My nostrils dilate while savoring the acrid odor of gunpowder and blood. With the deaths of my enemies I prepare my being for the sacred fight and join the triumphant proletariat with a bestial howl!…Hatred as an element of struggle; unbending hatred for the enemy, which pushes a human being beyond his natural limitations, making him into an effective, violent, selective, and cold-blooded killing machine. This is what our soldiers must become” – Ernesto Ché Guevara

Then-candidate Barack Obama ignited social media indignation in 2008 when Houston campaign headquarters popped up, sporting a stylized image of Che Guevara.

20080211ObamaCheHouston2For many of us, then-President Obama’s March 21, 2016 moment in Havana, Cuba defies understanding, unfolding as it did under a ten-story image of Che Guevara.

The BBC’s 2014 “History” is precious little more than a wet kiss.

Ernest Hemingway, who never saw a Leftist Revolution he didn’t like, was living in Cuba at the time of the revolution. Hemingway invited the young American journalist George Plimpton, to come for a visit.   One afternoon, “Papa” summoned the young writer.  “Come” he said, “there’s something you should see”.  Plimpton arrived with a few others.  After a short time mixing cocktails in flasks and collecting lawn chairs, the group was off.  An hour outside of town.  It was a grand adventure.

Setting up chairs as if they were there to watch the sunset, a truck appeared in the distance, a short time later.   The group watched as bound men were unloaded from the truck and shot, their still-twitching bodies thrown back in the truck and hauled away.  Over a long career in American journalism…Paris Review…PBS, George Plimpton never managed to write a word about the event though he did elevate himself to such a state of middling dudgeon, he declined to publish Guevara’s memoir, the Motorcycle Diaries.

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Street graffiti of Guevara wearing a Che t-shirt in Bergen, Norway.

The iconic photograph of the killer, taken by photographer Alberto Díaz Gutiérrez, is one of the most reproduced images of all time.  More than the “Mona Lisa”.  More than Marilyn Monroe standing over that grate, with skirts a-flying.  It was Che, just Che, risen to the level of secular God.  The Marxist High Priest of anti-capitalism, his image adorning the t-shirts and shot glasses of Social Justice Warriors and Hipsters from Berkeley to the Congo, from the East Village to Saigon.

Entire websites are devoted to peddling such garbage while not one of them, (NOT ONE!!!) gives a moment’s thought to the insensate character of glorifying such an image by such “capitalist” means.

Claus von Stauffenberg, the would-be assassin of one of the Great Tyrants of History, is all but lost to the popular imagination.

What a sick, sad, sorry commentary that is, on our popular culture.

President Obama Lays Wreath At Jose Marti Memorial

 

January 21, 1968 Blue House Raid

It’s hard to think of anything goofier and at the same time more hellishly  lethal, than the hare-brained political calculations of DPRK leadership. Somehow it made sense to these guys, that to assassinate the South Korean President and hurl his head from the official residence, would start a popular uprising leading to the re-unification of the Korean peninsula. Under DPRK government, no less.

By 1967, the Republic of Korea (ROK) had some 44,829 South Korean forces in Vietnam. An overwhelming force of NVA and Vietcong had the misfortune of surrounding a platoon of “Blue Dragon” Marines on February 15 of that year, a 10-to-1 numerical superiority near the village of Trà Bình. Poor visibility precluded air support and the fighting which followed was close, and personal. By the time it was over, 243 NVA lay dead. Korean Marines lost 15 men.

North Vietnam’s Commander-In-Chief put out an order to all his forces advising them: “Avoid ROK Marines at all costs.”

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ROK Marines of the 11th Company, 3rd Battalion, Blue Dragon Unit

Any combat veteran of the war in Southeast Asia will tell you.  In Vietnam they faced a tough and disciplined soldier. POW interrogations of captured NVA revealed one Lieutenant Trung to be particularly hard core, a tough guy in a world of tough guys. One US Marine Corps Lieutenant of Korean ancestry dressed in the uniform of the Blue Dragon Marines and paid a visit to Lt. Trung’s cell.

Not a word or gesture passed between the two.  The mere presence of a Blue Dragon was enough to get this guy talking.  Korean fighters are no joke.

For two years, an elite, all-officer force of 31 North Korean commandos were trained in infiltration and exfiltration techniques, weaponry, navigation, concealment and hand-to-hand combat, with particular emphasis on knife skills. These were “Unit 124” commandos, highly trained and fanatically loyal soldiers, tough as rawhide and each prepared to die for the supreme leader of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, (DPRK), “Dear Leader” Kim Il-sung.

North-Korean-TroopsOn January 17, 1968, Unit 124 infiltrated the 2½ mile demilitarized zone (DMZ), cutting the wire and entering South Korea. Their mission was to assassinate ROK President Park Chung-hee in his home, the Executive Mansion equivalent to the United States’ own White House, the “Pavilion of Blue Tiles” known as “Blue House”.

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South Korean Executive Mansion and Office Complex – the Blue House

It’s hard to think of anything goofier and at the same time more hellishly  lethal, than the hare-brained political calculations of DPRK leadership. Somehow it made sense to these guys, that to assassinate the South Korean President and hurl his head from the official residence, would start a popular uprising leading to the re-unification of the Korean peninsula. Under DPRK government, no less.

780px-Korea-Seoul-Blue_House_(Cheongwadae)_garden_0681&2&3-07
Garden and Grounds of South Korean Executive Mansion

On the 19th, four brothers of the Woo family were out gathering firewood when they stumbled upon Unit 124. A fierce debate ensued among the commandos, as to what to do with these guys. Training dictated they be killed without hesitation, yet somehow that didn’t seem right. Wasn’t communist ideology supposed to be a “people’s movement”?  Besides, it would take too long to bury the bodies in the rock-hard, frozen ground.

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The crooked pine behind the presidential Blue House in Seoul is pock-marked with bullet holes, from the 1968 raid. Photo courtesy: AFP

The decision was made to convert the brothers, on the spot. Talk about goofy. After a suitably long harangue on the wonders of communist ideology, the Woo brothers wisely proclaimed themselves, converted.  Thus released, the brothers went directly to authorities.

Unit 124 broke camp, for the next two days averaging 10kph over mountainous terrain, despite an average 70-pounds apiece in equipment.

Commandos made it to within 100 meters of Blue House on January 21, only to be challenged at a road block.  The firefight broke out without warning, dissolving into a running gunfight and manhunt lasting for the next eight days.  When it was over, 26 South Korean military and police personnel were dead along with two dozen civilians and another 66, grievously wounded.

Four Americans were killed in efforts to prevent Unit 124 members from re-crossing the DMZ.

Korea_BlueHouseRaid29 commandos were killed or committed suicide. One escaped, back to North Korea. Only one, Kim Shin-jo, was captured alive.

History has a way of swallowing some events whole.  Over in Vietnam, the Battle of Khe Sanh began the same day as the raid.  Two days later, a US Navy technical research ship, the USS Pueblo, was captured by North Korean forces. The Tet Offensive broke out all across South Vietnam on January 30.  In no time at all, the Blue House raid was forgotten.

Kim Shin-Jo’s interrogation lasted nearly a year, to learn how the raid had been carried out. Meanwhile, ROK authorities “recruited” their own commando assassination squad, as a bit of payback. The 31 members of “Unit 684” were recruited from among South Korean petty criminals, the sort of guys who “got into street fights”.  A lot.

The three years’ “training” these recruits were subjected to on Silmido Island, off the coast of Inchon, was beyond brutal. Seven of didn’t live through it.

Silmido, a 2003 film produced by Kang Woo-suk

The raid was never carried out. North-South relations had thawed by August 1971, as the Silmido Island recruits staged an insurrection.   20 inmate/recruits were dead before it was over, shot to death by members of the ROK military or committed suicide, with hand grenades.  The last four Unit 684 survivors were tried by a military tribunal for their role in the uprising and executed, in 1972.

The government buried the story.  The tale of Unit 684 was all but unknown until the 2003 film Silmido, the first movie in South Korea to attract a box office of over 10 million viewers.  In May of 2010, Seoul courts ordered the government to pay $231 million to the families of 21 members of Unit 684.

Kim Shin-jo became a citizen of the Republic of Korea in 1970.  Kim’s parents were murdered by North Korean authorities and his relatives “purged”.  Kim renounced his communist ideology and became an ordained minister with the Seoul “Sungrak” (“Holy Joy”) Baptist Church in Gyeonggi-do. He has a wife and two children.

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Kim Shin-jo

I’m indebted for this story to a man who was a family friend, almost before my folks decided to start a family.  I have known this man longer than I can remember and flatter myself to regard him as a personal friend. He was one of the interrogators, during both the Trung and the Kim episodes related above. Thank you, Victor, for your story.  And for your service.

January 20, 1788 I have a Dream

“If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, sweep streets like Beethoven composed music, sweep streets like Leontyne Price sings before the Metropolitan Opera. Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say: Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well.

If you can’t be a pine at the top of the hill, be a shrub in the valley. Be the best little shrub on the side of the hill.
Be a bush if you can’t be a tree. If you can’t be a highway, just be a trail. If you can’t be a sun, be a star. For it isn’t by size that you win or fail. Be the best of whatever you are”.

The “Anne” sailed from England in November 1732.  On board were 114 colonists including General James Oglethorpe, intending to found the Colony of Georgia. The group headed james-oglethorpe-with-yamacraw-chief-tomochichi-mary-appears-between-themsouth after a brief stay in Charleston, South Carolina.  Landing at Yamacraw bluff, Oglethorpe’s party was greeted by Chief Tomochichi of the Yamacraws, along with two Indian traders, John and Mary Musgrove.

The Province of Georgia and its Colonial Capital of Savannah were founded on that date, February 12, 1733.  The friendship which developed between Oglethorpe and Tomochichi kept the fledgling colony out of the Indian conflicts, marking the founding of most of the other colonies.

Oglethorpe was something of a Utopian, founding his capital around four wards, each containing eight blocks situated around its own central square.  This was a place of religious freedom.  40 Sephardic Jews from Spain and Portugal arrived in July, the largest such group to-date to enter any of the colonies.  It was a place of religious freedom for all but Catholics, that is.  It was feared that Catholics would be sympathetic with Spanish authorities in control of Florida at that time, so they were prohibited.

There were four such prohibitions, the others being that there would be no spirituous liquors (that wouldn’t last long), no lawyers (do I need to explain?), and no slaves.

The experiment came to an end in 1754, when Georgia became a Royal Colony.

The low marshes of Savannah’s coastline are ideally suited as wild rice fields.  Rice hadsunset-palms originally come from its native Southeast Asia to West Africa, where the same strains were grown by European colonists.  The rice industry failed in Africa, but the combination of English agricultural technology and African labor made the crop a mainstay of the early colonial economy.

In 1773, a slave named George Leile became the first black man to become a licensed Baptist preacher in Georgia.  Leile’s master, himself a Baptist deacon, freed him before the Revolution and Leile preached to slaves on plantations along the Savannah River, from Georgia north into South Carolina.

Hundreds of blacks fled to occupied Savannah after the Revolution broke out, seeking safety behind British lines.  Scores of them were transported to Nova Scotia or other colonies, and some to London.  Leile and his family sailed with the British for freedom in Jamaica.

Andrew Bryan was the only one of the first three black Baptist preachers to stay, making his home in Savannah along with his wife, Hannah.

first_african_baptist_church_savannahOn January 20, 1788, Bryan brought official recognition to the First African Baptist Church and its 67 members, five years before the first “white” Baptist Church in Savannah.  In 1802, Bryan founded the “Second Colored Baptist Church”, renamed the “Second African Baptist Church” in 1823.

General William Tecumseh Sherman read the Emancipation Proclamation to the citizens of Savannah from the steps of this church, promising “40 acres and a mule” to newly freed slaves.

The original church on Greene Square burned down in 1925.  The church was completely rebuilt, and still contains its original pulpit, prayer benches and choir chairs.

“If it falls your lot to be a street sweeper, sweep streets like Michelangelo painted pictures, sweep streets like Beethoven composed music, sweep streets like Leontyne Price sings before the Metropolitan Opera. Sweep streets like Shakespeare wrote poetry. Sweep streets so well that all the hosts of heaven and earth will have to pause and say: Here lived a great street sweeper who swept his job well. If you can’t be a pine at the top of the hill, be a shrub in the valley. Be the best little shrub on the side of the hill.

Be a bush if you can’t be a tree. If you can’t be a highway, just be a trail. If you can’t be a sun, be a star. For it isn’t by size that you win or fail. Be the best of whatever you are”. – Martin Luther King, Jr.

In 1961, a guest preacher delivered a sermon at the Second African Baptist Church whichmlkjr-i-have-a-dream-speech-jpg he called “I have a Dream”.  Two years later, the same speaker delivered his speech from the steps of the Lincoln memorial in Washington.

Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr’s 91st birthday came and went last week, a date now remembered with its own national holiday.  This August, the country will mark the 59th anniversary of his speech on the Mall.

While a sorry collection of racial arsonists attempt to divide Americans against one another for their own political advantage, permit me this reminder of other words, spoken by Reverend King at a time when it took real courage to be a “civil rights” leader.

In a real sense we must all live together as brothers, or we will all perish together as fools”.

 

Feature Image, top of page:  Wright Square Savannah, final resting place of Tomochichi, leader of the Yamacraw

January 19, 1977 Tokyo Rose

FBI.gov states on its “Famous Cases” website that, “As far as its propaganda value, Army analysis suggested that the program had no negative effect on troop morale and that it might even have raised it a bit. The Army’s sole concern about the broadcasts was that “Annie” appeared to have good intelligence on U.S. ship and troop movements”.

There’s an old cliché that, if you speak with someone convicted of a crime, they will always say they are innocent.  It’s an untrue statement on the face of it, but only two possible conclusions are possible.  Either all convicts are guilty as charged, or someone, at some time, has been wrongly convicted.

To agree with the former is to accept the premise that government is 100% correct, 100% of the time.

Tokyo-Rose-310x165Iva Ikuko Toguri was born in Los Angeles on July 4, 1916, the daughter of Japanese immigrants.  She attended schools in Calexico and San Diego, returning to Los Angeles where she enrolled at UCLA, graduating in January, 1940 with a degree in zoology.

In July of the following year, Iva sailed to Japan without an American passport.  She variously described the purpose of the trip as the study of medicine, and going to see a sick aunt.

In September, Toguri appeared before the US Vice Consul in Japan to obtain a passport, explaining that she wished to return to permanent residence in the United States.  Because she had left without a passport, her application was forwarded to the State Department for consideration.  Imperial Japan attacked the American anchorage at Pearl Harbor fewer than three months later.  Toguri’s paperwork was still on someone’s desk.

Iva later withdrew the application, saying she’d voluntarily remain in Japan, for the duration of the war.  She enrolled in a Japanese language and culture school to improve her language skills, taking a typist job for the Domei News Agency.  In August 1943, she began a second job as a typist for Radio Tokyo.tokyorose092045 (1)That November, Toguri was asked to become a broadcaster for Radio Tokyo on the “Zero Hour” program, part of a Japanese psychological warfare campaign designed to lower the morale of US Armed Forces.  The name “Tokyo Rose” was in common use by this time, applied to as many as 12 different women broadcasting Japanese propaganda in English.

Toguri DJ’d a program with American music punctuated by Japanese slanted news articles for 1¼ hours, six days a week, starting at 6:00pm Tokyo time.  Altogether, her on-air speaking time averaged 15-20 minutes for most broadcasts.

tokyo-roseShe called herself “Orphan Annie,” earning 150 yen per month (about $7.00 US).  She wasn’t a professional radio personality, but many of those who recalled hearing her enjoyed the program, especially the music.

Shortly before the end of the war, Toguri married Felipe d’Aquino, a Portuguese citizen of Japanese-Portuguese ancestry. The marriage was registered with the Portuguese Consulate though she didn’t renounce her US citizenship.   Toguri’s Zero Hour broadcast continued until the end of the war.

After the war, a number of reporters were looking for the mythical “Tokyo Rose”.  Two of them found Iva d’Aquino.

Henry Brundidge, reporting for Cosmopolitan magazine and Clark Lee, reporter for the International News Service,  must have thought they found themselves a real “dragon lady”.  The pair hid d’Aquino and her husband away in the Imperial Hotel, offering $2,000 for exclusive rights to her story.

$2,000 was not an insignificant sum in 1945, equivalent to $23,000 today.  Toguri lied, “confessing” that she was the “one and only” Tokyo Rose.  The money never materialized, but she had signed a contract giving the two rights to her story, and identifying herself as Tokyo Rose.

FBI.gov states on its “Famous Cases” website that, “As far as its propaganda value, Army analysis suggested that the program had no negative effect on troop morale and that it might even have raised it a bit. The Army’s sole concern about the broadcasts was that “Annie” appeared to have good intelligence on U.S. ship and troop movements”.

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Henry Brundidge, Clark Lee

US Army authorities arrested her in September, while the FBI and Army Counterintelligence investigated her case.  By the following October, authorities decided the evidence did not merit prosecution, and she was released.

Department of Justice likewise determined that prosecution was not warranted and matters may have ended there, except for the public outcry which accompanied d’Aquino’s return to the US.  Several groups, along with the noted broadcaster Walter Winchell, were outraged that the woman they knew as “Tokyo Rose” wanted to return to this country, and demanded her arrest on treason charges.

The US Attorney in San Francisco convened a grand jury and d’Aquino was indicted in September, 1948.  Once again quoting fbi.gov, “Problematically, Brundidge enticed a former contact of his to perjure himself in the matter”.

Tokyo Rose Conviction

The trial began on July 5, 1949, lasting just short of three months.  The jury found d’Aquino guilty on one of fifteen treason charges, ruling that “[O]n a day during October, 1944, the exact date being to the Grand Jurors unknown, said defendant, at Tokyo, Japan, in a broadcasting studio of the Broadcasting Corporation of Japan, did speak into a microphone concerning the loss of ships.”

Tokyo Rose Pardond’Aquino was sentenced to ten years and fined $10,000 for the crime of treason, only the seventh person in US history so convicted.  She was released from the Federal Reformatory for Women at Alderson, West Virginia in 1956, having served six years and two months of her sentence.

President Gerald Ford pardoned her on January 19, 1977, 21 years almost to the day after her release from prison. Iva Toguri d’Aquino passed away in 2006, at the age of 90.  Neither perjury nor suborning charges were ever brought against Henry Brundidge, or his witness.

January 18, 532 Nika Riot

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. Imagine the worst fan violence of the modern era combined with aspects of street gangs and political organizations, each faction holding positions on the issues of the day and attempting to sway public policy by shouting slogans, between 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.

roman-chariot-raceLook 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.  Steve Forbes and Michael Jordan alike may be surprised to know.  Spanish driver Gaius Appuleius Diocles amassed an astonishing 35,863,120 sesterces, equivalent to $15 Billion, today.  Not bad for a man whose name suggests he probably began as a slave, freed by a guy named Gaius Appuleius.

The Hippodrome of the Byzantine era (from the Greek Hippos: Horse and Dromos: Path, or Way) was already the center of sport 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 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 into 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 positions 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.

In 531, fans of the Blues and Greens were arrested for murder, following riots which broke out during a chariot race. 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 had taken 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 and at home, 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.

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

Rioters proclaimed the Senator Flavius Hypatius 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.

“Those who have worn the crown should never survive its loss”, she declared. “Never will I see the day when I am not saluted as empress.  Who is born into the light of day must sooner or later die; and how could an Emperor ever allow himself to be a fugitive.”

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 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 562 Hypatius was in the very act of coronation when the eunuch spoke.  Narses reminded the Blues that Hypatius 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 17, 1994 Ghost of the American Star

Naval interiors of the age tended to be stodgy and overwrought.  America has the almost unique distinction of having its interiors designed entirely by women, as naval architect William Francis Gibbs turned to the all-female team of Miriam Smyth, Ann Urquhart & Dorothy Marckwald.  

The Federal Government passed the Merchant Marine Act of 1936, “to further the development and maintenance of an adequate and well-balanced American merchant marine”.

The act served multiple purposes, among them modernizing what was at that time a largely WWI vintage merchant marine fleet, and serving as the basis for a naval auxiliary that could be activated in time of war or national emergency.

Ss_america_under_constructionTwo years later, the first keel laid under the Merchant Marine act was the SS America, built by the United States Line and operated as a passenger liner until the United States entered WWII in 1941.

Naval interiors of the age tended to be stodgy and overwrought.  America has the almost unique distinction of having its interiors designed entirely by women, as naval architect William Francis Gibbs turned to the all-female team of Miriam Smyth, Ann Urquhart & Dorothy Marckwald.

“It is not without reason”, according to team leader “Dot” Marckwald, “the majority of the passengers are women, and no man could ever know as much about their comfort problems and taste reactions as another woman.”

SS America was christened by Eleanor Roosevelt and launched on August 31, 1939. One day later, Adolf Hitler invaded Poland.

America would serve as a passenger liner for the two years remaining for American neutrality. American flags were painted on both sides of her hull, and at night she sailed while fully illuminated.

Where there are government subsidies, there are strings.  For SS America, those strings were pulled on May 28, 1941, while the ship was at Saint Thomas in the US Virgin Islands.  The ship had been called into service by the United States Navy, and ordered to return to Newport News.

Re-christened the USS West Point, she served as a transport for the remainder of the war, carrying in excess of 350,000 troops and other passengers by 1946.  It was the largest total of any Navy troop ship in service during WWII, and included USO entertainers, Red Cross workers, and prisoners of war.  As America, she had even carried two Nazi spies as part of her crew, until their discharge on America’s return to Virginia.  The two spies, Franz Joseph Stigler and Erwin Wilheim Siegler, were members of the Duquesne spy ring, reporting allied movements in the Panama Canal Zone until they and 31 of their cohorts were found out late in 1941.

WestPointBalloon1During her service to the United States Navy, West Point was awarded the American Defense Service Medal, American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, and World War II Victory Medal.

Returned to civilian service in 1946 and re-christened America, the ship remained a favorite for cruise ship vacationers through most of the fifties.  By 1964, the competition from larger, faster ships and the airlines had put the best years behind the aging liner.  Sold and then sold again, she had come full circle by 1978, when new owners tried to capitalize on the old ship’s mystique.

ss-america-gettyimages-940194090She was in terrible condition and her refit nowhere near complete when America set sail on her first cruise on June 30, 1978.  There was rusted metal, oil soaked rags and backed up sewage.  There were filthy mattresses and soiled linens.  One woman later said, she was a “floating garbage can.”  The angriest of customers actually got into fist fights with members of the crew.  There were so many complaints the ship finally turned back, still within sight of the Statue of Liberty.

Impounded for non-payment of debts and receiving an inspection score of 6 out of a possible 100 points by the Public Health Service, the US District Court ordered America to be sold at auction.

One new owner after another bought the hulk during the eighties, only to default.  First it was going to be a prison ship, and then sold and renamed Alferdoss translating as “paradise” in Arabic.  She was anything but at this point.  The next buyer intended to scrap her, only to become the latest in a long line of financial defaults.

SS America, InteriorsSold yet again in 1993 and renamed the American Star, the new owners planned to convert her to a five-star hotel ship off Phuket, Thailand.  A planned 100 day tow began on New Year’s Eve of 1993, but the lines broke.  On January 17, 1994, the former SS America was adrift in foul seas, running aground in the Canary Islands the following day.   Discussions of salvage operations were soon squashed, as the ship broke in two in the pounding surf.

maxresdefault-2The National WWII Museum in New Orleans reports on its website that the men and women who fought and won the great conflict are now passing at a rate of 550 per day.  How many, I wonder, might think back and remember passage on the most successful troop transport of their day.

By the spring of 2013, the only time you could tell there’s a wreck on the beach, was at low tide.

January 14, 1741 Turncoat

As a British officer, Arnold himself once asked an American prisoner “What will the Americans do with me if they catch me?” The reply though mostly forgotten, is one for the ages. “They will cut off the leg which was wounded when you were fighting so gloriously for the cause of liberty, and bury it with the honors of war, and hang the rest of your body on a gibbet.”

Three hours from the upstate New York village of Sleepy Hollow, in the woods of Schuylerville, there stands the statue of a leg.  A boot, actually, a man’s riding boot, along with an epaulet and a cannon barrel pointing downward, denoting the death of a General.  It seems the loneliest place on earth out there in the woods, with nothing but a footpath worn into the forest floor to lead you there.

The back of the stone bears these words.  “In memory of the most brilliant soldier of the Continental Army“.  A most brilliant soldier who, according to his own memorial, has no name.

Breymann-Redoubt-at-Saratoga
Breymann’s RedoubtSaratoga Battlefield. H/T American Battlefield trust

In 1632, Reverend John Lothropp was an ordained minister of the Church of England. That was the year he renounced his orders, and joined the cause of religious independence. Lothropp was arrested and jailed for his apostasy, pardoned only on condition that he leave and never come back. He accepted the terms of his exile, arriving in Plymouth Massachusetts a short fourteen years after the original pilgrims.

John Lothropp is mostly forgotten today but his old house on Cape Cod, now houses the oldest public library in America.  That, and a host of famous relatives, direct descendants including George Bush the elder and the younger, Franklin Roosevelt, Ulysses Grant, James Garfield and Millard Fillmore. Oh, and the guy who once wore that riding boot, up in Schuylerville. Benedict Arnold, born this day in 1741.

The year was 1777, October 7, the last day of the Battle of Saratoga.  General Horatio Gates was in overall command of American forces, a position greatly exceeding his capabilities.  Gates was cautious to the point of timidity, generally believing his men better off behind prepared fortifications, than taking the offensive.

Benedict Arnold
General Benedict Arnold

Gates’ subordinate, General Benedict Arnold, could not have been more different.  Arnold was imaginative and daring, a risk taker possessed of physical courage bordering on thereckless.  The pair had been personal friends once but that was time, long past.  By this time the two men were constantly at odds.

British General John “Gentleman Johnny” Burgoyne led a joint land and water invasion of 7,000 British and Hessian troops south along the New York side of Lake Champlain, down the Hudson River valley.

The invasion started out well for Burgoyne with the bloodless capture of Fort Ticonderoga, but Gentleman Johnny ran into a buzz saw outside of Bennington, Vermont, losing almost 1,000 men to General John Stark’s New Hampshire rebels and a militia unit headed by Ethan Allen, calling itself the “Green Mountain Boys”.

Burgoyne intended to continue south to Albany, linking up with forces under Sir William Howe and cutting the colonies in half.  The 10,000 or so Colonial troops situated on the high ground near Saratoga, were all that stood in his way.

Burgoyne's Route to SaratogaPatriot forces selected a site called Bemis Heights about 10 miles south of Saratoga, spending a week constructing defensive works with the help of Polish engineer Thaddeus Kosciusko.  Theirs was a formidable position with mutually supporting cannon on overlapping ridges, with interlocking fields of fire.

Burgoyne had no choice but to stop and give battle at the American position, or be chopped to pieces trying to pass it by.

The Battle of Freeman’s Farm, the first of two battles for Saratoga, occurred on September 19.  Technically a Patriot defeat in that the British held the ground at the end of the day, it was a costly victory.  English casualties were almost two to one.  Worse, the British column was out at the end of a long and tenuous supply line, while fresh men and supplies all but poured into the American position.

Freeman’s Farm could have been worse for the Patriot cause, but for Benedict Arnold’s anticipating British moves, and taking steps to block them in advance.

The personal animosity between Gates and Arnold boiled over in the days that followed.  Gates’ report to Congress made no mention of Arnold’s contributions at Freeman’s Farm, though field commanders and the men involved with the day’s fighting, unanimously credited Arnold for the day’s successes.  A shouting match between Gates and Arnold resulted in the latter being relieved of command, and replaced by General Benjamin Lincoln.

Saratoga ReenactmentThe second and decisive battle for Saratoga, the Battle of Bemis Heights, occurred on October 7, 1777.

Lieutenant Colonel Heinrich Christoph Breymann’s Hessian grenadier regiment formed the right anchor of Burgoyne’s line, manning a wooden fortification near the length of a football field and some 7-feet high.  It was a strategically important position, with nothing between itself and the regiment’s main camp to the rear.

Though relieved of command Arnold was on the field, directing the battle on the American right.  As the Hessian position began to collapse, General Arnold left his troops facing Balcarre’s Redoubt on the right, riding between the fire of both armies and joining the final attack on the rear of the German post.  Arnold was shot through the left leg during the final moments of the action, shattering the same leg which had barely healed after the same injury at the Battle of Quebec City, only two years earlier.  The same leg wounded in the defense of Ridgefield, only six months earlier.

saratogabig.jpgIt would have been better in the chest, he said, than to have received such a wound in that leg.

Burgoyne had no choice but to capitulate, surrendering his entire force on October 17.  It was a devastating defeat for the British cause, and finally brought France in on the American side.  A colonial Army had gone toe to toe with the most powerful military on the planet, and still stood.

One British officer described the battle:  “The courage and obstinacy with which the Americans fought were the astonishment of everyone, and we now became fully convinced that they are not that contemptible enemy we had hitherto imagined them, incapable of standing a regular engagement, and that they would only fight behind strong and powerful works.”

One year earlier almost to the day, Benedict Arnold led a stick-built “Navy” literally constructed on the shores of lake Champlain, in a suicidal action by the shores of Valcour Island. Three years later, a man who would otherwise be remembered among the top tier of our founding fathers, betrayed the American fortifications at West Point to the British spy, John André.

The name of one of our top Revolution-era warriors, a General whom one of his own soldiers later described as “the very genius of war,” became that of Traitor.  As a British officer, Arnold himself once asked an American prisoner “What will the Americans do with me if they catch me?” The reply though mostly forgotten, is one for the ages. “They will cut off the leg which was wounded when you were fighting so gloriously for the cause of liberty, and bury it with the honors of war, and hang the rest of your body on a gibbet.”

home-design
The forest has grown around it now.  The only memorial on the Saratoga Battlefield, to an American Hero with no name.

So it is that there is the statue of a leg in the forest south of Saratoga, dedicated to a nameless Hero of the Revolution.  On the back of the monument are inscribed these words:

Saratoga Obelisk“In memory of
the most brilliant soldier of the
Continental Army
who was desperately wounded
on this spot the sally port of
BURGOYNES GREAT WESTERN REDOUBT
7th October, 1777
winning for his countrymen
the decisive battle of the
American Revolution
and for himself the rank of
Major General.”

Today, the Saratoga battlefield and the site of Burgoyne’s surrender are preserved as the Saratoga National Historical Park.  On the grounds of the park stands an obelisk, containing four niches.

Three of them hold statues of American heroes of the Battle.  General Horatio Gates. General Philip John Schuyler.  Colonel Daniel Morgan.

The fourth niche, where Benedict Arnold’s statue was intended to go, remains empty.