Modern History Monday: The Appomattox Courthouse (1865)

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April 9th, 1865 marks the end of the worst conflict ever seen on American soil. 147 years ago Robert E. Lee surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant at the Appomattox Courthouse. Lee surrendered his Army of North Virginia after the final battle of the war, where Lee came up predictably short. The battle, which took place on Palm Sunday 1865, was a last-ditch effort to save Richmond, Virginia (The Confederate Capital) from Union occupation.

After a fruitless attempt by the Confederate Army, outnumbered by almost 75,000 men, Robert E. Lee sent a note to General Grant that required more humility than most could fathom. Lee was quoted as saying, “Then there is nothing left for me to do but to go and see General Grant and I would rather die a thousand deaths”. Yet this surrender would be one of the noblest surrenders in the history of war, on the part of both the victor and Lee. Continue reading

Modern History Monday: Robert Frost

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March 26th marks a great anniversary in American prose that holds significant weight; the birth of Robert Frost in 1874. This poet stands at the center of the American literary canon. Toying with the political, the aesthetic, the secular and the spiritual in a way that only the influence of the American past could bring together.

Robert Frost was a remarkable man. Reaching levels of success in his lifetime that many great poets have been eluded by. With four Pulitzers, receiving 44 (yes, forty-freaking-four…) honorary degrees and gaining almost ubiquitous critical praise, Frost’s influence during his lifetime cannot be understated, even being asked to read one of his poems at JFK’s inaugural address.

Frost, despite his success, lived a life filled with loss, death and suffering. Of his six children, only two outlived him and he lost his beloved wife Elinor in 1938. Yet his 1942 poem, “A Question”, looks that suffering right in the eye and rejoices straight through it,

A voice said, Look me in the stars
And tell me truly, men of earth,
If all the soul-and-body scars
Were not too much to pay for birth.

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Modern History Monday: Jim Bakker Resigns in Shame (1987)

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I’ll just come right out and say it: preachers shouldn’t have television shows! You know, maybe some could handle it but since the advent of television, televangelists made fools out of themselves and the Christian religion time and time again. And the most famous of those was Jim Bakker.

On this day 25 years ago, Jim Bakker was forced to resign in shame over a bevy of immoral activity that one would typically only expect of NFL Players and CEO’s. And, I guess, televangelists…

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Modern History Monday : Jack Kerouac’s Birthday

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Alright, so you might be wondering why I am writing Modern History Monday on a Tuesday. Well, in all honesty, yesterday was much too busy to crank out even a brief historical synopsis, but ‘Modern History Tuesday’ just doesn’t have the same ring to it. Anyhow, this last Monday (March 12th) marks the 90th birthday of the late Jack Kerouac.

Kerouac was (and his influence makes him still) a great foe to the conservative movement in American, simply by going his own way. He (although, like any good rebellious hipster, hated this label) was undoubtedly the father of the ‘beat’ movement, making him a patron saint of the later hippie movement. But Kerouac cannot be so neatly defined, as his strangely moldable-yet-devout spirituality danced ever-strangely with the generation he was writing to, as has been the case with writers before him (Samuel Johnson) and after him (David Foster Wallace). His writing set the stage for much of modern American literature in the 20th century and beyond. If there was an American literary cannon, he would a chief contributor. Continue reading

Modern History Monday: Korda Shoots Che Guevara

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By March 5th, 1960, the Cuban Revolution was well underway when a Belgian military transport exploded in the Harbor of Havana, Cuba. A host died and the great Marxist revolutionary Fidel Castro spoke later that day at an impromptu memorial service for departed, when, as the story goes, Che Guevara poked his head out for just a quick second. This is when Korda Gutierrez, Fidel Castro’s personal photographer took what would later be called the most famous picture in the world.

Che Guevara was certainly an ideological force of nature. A brilliant man with a taste for social reform, Che was a trained physician,  revolutionary activist and somewhat of a philosophizer. After a famed motorcycle trip across Latin America during his college days and seeing the widespread poverty and disenfranchisement of the poor and marginalized, Che was hankering for a revolution. As were others at the time, and with that Che joined forces with Fidel Castro to overthrow Fulgencio Batista, the American-fed Cuban tyrant. Quickly rising to the top of the pecking order, Che became the face (and spine) of the revolution. Sort of the Hienrich Himmler of Marxism, if you will. Not to say that he was pure evil, like Himmler, but his Nietzchean leanings really came to show throughout his revolutionary career, making him no friend of the church (as seen today in most post-Marxist government). Yet Che’s revolutionary itch didn’t go away with Cuba, so he traveled all around Latin America, creating an air of change and social justice. It wouldn’t be long until the Bolivian government eventually captured and executed him, but the damage had already been done to the landscape. Dictatorships with being overthrown (ironically, by revolutionaries that wold eventually turn into other dictatorships). Continue reading

Modern History Monday: The Reichstag Fire (1933)

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On today’s date, 79 years ago in Berlin one of Hitler’s first and most wickedly cunning ploys to gain complete control of Germany took place. The Reichstag fire was the first of many sly Nazi trickeries that led to the most evil dictatorship in, arguably, the history of the world. So while it was not the singular event that propelled Hitler into complete control, the Reichstag Fire was the pulling of the pin on the National Socialist grenade that would explode over Europe in the coming decades.

This was the Reichstag before the fire in 1919

IN 1933, the Reichstag was essentially the German Parliament. With seats occupied by everyone from the Communists to monarchists to members of the freshly elected Adolf Hitler’s political party; National Socialism. The Reichstag operated much like the British Parliament with elections, discourse, legislating and the like. Until on the night of February 27th, 1933 the Reichstag was burnt to the ground. The exact goings-on of that night are not completely known. A lowly Dutch communist party member named Marinus van der Lubbe was arrested and eventually beheaded for the crime, but his involvement in a great Communist plot like the Nazis claimed is highly doubtful.  Some say that it was the Nazi SS themselves who started the fire.

But whoever it was, the Commies got the blame. And they had to pay. Hitler and the Nazi’s affectively rallied the country and the established Reichstag itself to allow for extreme measures to ride Germany of the Communist pest. The next day, Hitler’s famous emergency policy, known as The Reichstag Fire Decree was ratified by the Reichstag. This ended democracy and civil liberty in Germany until 1945. The Nazis could now tap phones, arrest unwarranted, search houses whenever they wanted, control the press and even restrict the Reichstag itself. And all of this would be done in the name of “defeating the tyranny of Communism”.  In a strange, amazingly fast turn of events, the Reichstag was politically and physically reduced to rubble by the Nazis.

Newspaper from the next day. The sensationalism of it all played right into the hands of the ever-dastardly Nazis

A month later, to make matters even worse, under a mixture of fear, political savvy and outright manipulation the Nazis pressured the Reichstag to pass a law abolishing its own existence. This gave Hitler and the Nazis complete control of all legislative affairs. Coupling that with the Fire Decree, Germany was now a complete police state, dedicated to riding itself of the Communist threat. The Nazis went to work lining up every piece of German society with the Nazi agenda. The Reichstag was replaced by the Third Reich.

Hitler (right) would soon be in charge of every aspect of German life, while Himmler (left) would be in charge of exterminating anyone that didn't submit

So today, as we celebrate the birthday of Ralph Nader and go about our daily routine, let us consider the truth that great evil can start with just a bit of sensationalism. It is important to know the great mistakes of the past so that we can prevent them in our future. And really, for the history nerds like myself, this just makes for some cool reading!