Monday, September 27, 2010

August 26th in History

Chittorgarh fort, national symbol and tourist attraction

1303  Alauddin Khilji, Muslim Sultan of Delhi, captures Hindu Chittorgarh, the largest medieval era fort in India, ostensibly out of fascination for the beauty of the Queen/ Rani Padmini, wife of King Rawal Ratan Singh. Rani Padmini threw herself to a fiery death to escape Alauddin Khiliji.  That is the romanticized interpretation of  historic events; the more pragmatic is
 that the Sultan was conquering a rich territory with strategic location value in what is now the largest (by territory) state in India, Rajasthan (there's that suffix 'stan' again) bordered by modern day Pakistan to the west. It remains a largely Hindu region.  The real history is that the Mameluk Dynasty expanded south and east from the middle east, and the Delhi Sultanate expanded and contracted its territorial boundaries in conflict with Hindu political rule.  The Khiliji was the second of these Moslem dynasties from the west and north.  They have left their mark on the regions history in the form of the significant Moslem component of India's multi-ethnic, multi-religious population, which continues to have conflicts into the modern era.  Alauddin Khiliji in turn had to contend with the Mongol Expansion that was pushing into the Middle East, Central and Eastern Russia and Europe.  Alauddin Khiliji was a Pashto or Pashtun, to give it context with those who have followed the Afghan War and its overflow into Pakistan.  Alauddin Khiliji came to power by killing the first Khiliji king/khan/sultan, who was both his uncle and father-in-law, entering Delhi with the first Sultan's head on a pike.  To thin out the competition for power, he had his wife's brother, heir to the throne of his decapitated father, blinded; and he imprisoned his mother-in-law. The Hindu and Sikh practice of noble women (and children) throwing themselves on funeral pyres in mass suicide to avoid dishonor, called Jauhar, was supposed to encourage and enrage their husbands and fathers to a special kind of greater valor called saka. Jauhar differed from Sati, in that Sati applied only to widows, while Jauhar applied to wives, children, and sometimes related men of the living and only in times of war.  It puts into a larger geographic and multi-religious context both Moslem and Hindu honor killings of women.


1346   Hundred Years' War: the military supremacy of the English longbow over the French combination of crossbow and armoured knights is established at the Battle of Crécy.

La Pieta
1498  Michelangelo is commissioned to carve the Pietà.  It is currently housed in St. Peter's Basilica in Vatican City, but was originally commissioned as a funeral monument for French Cardinal Jean de Billheres.  It is the only statue Michelangelo ever signed.  As a work of art it is significant for the way in which it balances the proportions of Mary with the somewhat small body of Christ after crucifixion, and for portraying Mary as young rather than more mature. Michelangelo did other Pietas, but this was his first, and arguably his best known, compared to the Rodanini and Palestrina Pietas.

beginning of lighter than air flight
1740   Birth of Joseph Montgolfier, French inventor of the hot air balloon. (d. 1810)

1743   Birth of  Antoine Lavoisier, French chemist (d. 1794)

1748  The first Lutheran denomination in North America, the Pennsylvania Ministerium, is founded in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

Declaration of the
Rights of Man and the

1789  Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen approved by National Assembly at Palace of Versailles.  Later superseded by the 1793 version.  It was prepared by the Marquis de Lafayette, and expresses the similar political philosophy of the Enlightenment that were the basis for the American Revolution and subsequent Constitution., and shares some aspects of the American Declaration of Independence.  Thomas Jefferson, author of the American Declaration of Independence was at the time the U.S. Ambassador to France, and corresponded with the National Assembly members.  The Declaration of the Rights of Man is noted for combining the principles of social contract in the writings of John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the 'universal rights of man', sometimes called the 'natural rights of man' which do not derive from religious authority or doctrine in contrast to the divine right of kings, and the concept of separation of powers promoted by Charles-Louis de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu.  It is the foundation for modern human rights documents, but does not, like the U.S. Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, address either the equality of women, or slavery.  It is ironic that suffrage for women in the U.S. begins on this day in 1920, 131 years later than this document, 144 years after the Declaration of Independence, 58 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, and 52 years after the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Krakatoa, before completely blowing to oblivion

1883  The 1883 eruption of Krakatoa, an island that used to be in the Strait of Sundra between Java and Sumatra,  begins its final, paroxysmal, stage completely destroying the island. Explosions could be heard 100 miles away, with some heard as far as 2,200 miles away; plumes of ash from multiple vents and volcanic cones reached 17 miles high. There were accompanying earthquakes, pyroclastic lava flows, and tsunamis.  The largest explosions sent ash 50 miles high into the atmosphere.  Approximately 1,000 people were killed in Sumatra from the ash fall, similar to the ash fall from Mount St. Helen's eruption in 1980, from the lateral blast.  Estimates of total dead from the volcano eruption range from 36,417 to 120,000.  Dead bodies from the volcano and resulting tsunamis were washed up in Africa and India up to a year later, along with volcanic pumice from the volcano.  In the year after the volcano, global temperatures dropped 2.2F, and did not return to more normal patterns for five years. Sulfur dioxide was present in unusual quantities, as acid rain, from the chemicals in the plume reaching the upper atmospheric Jet Stream world wide.  The sky turned 'blood red', and was recorded in paintings by various artists, including in Edvard Munch's 'The Scream', and produced a phenomena known as 'the Bishop's Ring', a hazy halo around the sun first recorded after this eruption, named for observer Rev. Serano Bishop of Honolulu, Hawaii.

1906  Birth of Polish-American scientist Dr. Albert Sabin, developer of the Polio vaccine.

Suffragettes picket the White House
before passage of the Amendment

1920   The 19th amendment to United States Constitution takes effect, giving women the right to vote. The ratification of the Amendment was certified on this date by Secretary of State, Bainbridge Colby.  The state of Tennessee provided the last state ratification necessary for the Amendment to the Constitution on August 18, 1920.  Connecticut didn't ratify it until September 1920; and Vermont in February 1921; Delaware didn't ratify it until 1923.  Maryland didn't ratify it until 1941, and it wasn't certified until 1958. Virginia didn't ratify it until 1952, and Alabama didn't ratify it until 1953.  Florida  and South Carolina ratified in in 1969; although South Carolina wasn't certified until 1973.  Georgia and Louisiana finally ratified it in 1970, and North Carolina in 1971. Mississippi, sadly last in so many things, ratified the 19th Amendment in 1984.                                  

anti-suffragette political cartoon

Leser v. Garnett, 258 U.S. 130, in 1922 challenged the Amendment on the grounds that it violated states rights in modifying state electorates, that it violated several state constitutions so those states could not ratify it, and they wanted to throw out the ratifications of Tennessee and West Virginia on procedural technicalities. SCOTUS upheld the constitutionality of the Amendment.  So while in current times, women having the vote seems an obvious matter, it was far more controversial, and less obvious, at the time of the Amendment.  See the Declaration of the Rights of Man (but not, apparently, of Women) above.  The 19th Amendment provides an interesting historical context to why we have a black U.S. President before we have a woman U.S. President.

"The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation."

1940   Chad is the first French colony to join the Allies under the administration of Félix Éboué, France's first black colonial governor.

1942   Holocaust in Chortkiv, western Ukraine: At 2.30 am the German Schutzpolizei started driving Jews out of their houses, divided them into groups of 120, packed them in freight cars and deported 2000 to Belzec death camp. 500 of the sick and children were murdered on the spot.

1957  The USSR announces the successful test of an ICBM – a "super long distance intercontinental multistage ballistic rocket ... a few days ago," according to the Soviet news agency, ITAR-TASS.

1970   The then new feminist movement, led by Betty Friedan, leads a nation-wide Women's Strike for Equality.

1971   The United States Congress declares August 26th as an annual Women's Equality Day (even in North Carolina and Mississippi - see above).

1978   Sigmund Jähn becomes first German cosmonaut on board the Soyuz 31 spacecraft.

Harvey's Resort Hotel and
Casino, before Birges' bomb

1980   Millionaire John Waldo Birges, Sr. planted  a 1,000 lb. bomb at Harvey's Resort Hotel in Stateline, Nevada, in the Lake Tahoe area, successfully blowing it up despite attempts by the FBI to disarm the bomb. Birges was an interesting character, a Hungarian immigrant who had flown for the Luftwaffe in WW II, then been captured by the Soviet forces who sentenced him to 25 years of hard labor in a soviet Gulag.  He blew his way out of the Gulag, emigrating to California.  Birges tried to use the bomb to extort $3,000,000 from Harvey's resort and casino, which he claimed was the amount he had lost there gambling.  Other estimates put the figure closer to half that.  The explosion also damaged parts of Harrah's Casino. Birges was tried and convicted; he died in a Nevada prison sixteen years and 1 day later.

1987   President Ronald Reagan proclaims September 11, 1987 as 9-1-1 Emergency Number Day.

1997   Beni-Ali massacre in Algeria; 60-100 people killed, as part of a series of massacres during the Civil War in Algeria after independence from France, between the outlawed Islamic Salvation Front, attempting to establish an Islamic state governed by Sharia law and the military-supported secular government.

2003   The Columbia Accident Investigation Board releases its final reports on Space Shuttle Columbia disaster.  Investigators concluded that NASA's overconfidence and lack of safety as a priority contributed to the space shuttle Columbia loss as much as the actual flight damage.

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