Saturday, September 25, 2010

July 20th in History

356 BCE  Birth of Alexander the Great (the III) of the Argead dynasty, Basileus (a kind of king) of Macedon, and conqueror of most of the then known world.  He was tutored by Aristotle, and spread Greek culture throughout his vast conquests adding them to Hellenistic civilization
.  He is one of the most famous figures of antiquity.  He began his conquest of Persian empire, which took him ten years to achieve.  After defeating Persia, (modern Iran), he moved on through Syria, Mesopotamia (modern Iraq), west to Egypt, east to Bactria (as in the two-humped camel) which encompassed parts of modern Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. While he did succeed in conquering Bactria, he did not ever succeed in successfully occupying and subduing it before he died.  He also invaded parts, but not all of India, before stopping.  It had been his desire to reach the 'ends of the world and the great Outer Sea' as their concept of the earth was imagined - with actual finite edges. This seems an almost poetic beginning point for a day in our historic calendar that also marks the first time man has landed on the moon, about which we have had in the history of man, similar notions which now seem quaint and amusing, in view of our actual exploration.  It is worth noting that without that deeply held desire to explore, by people who were able to make it happen in the face of all the obstacles that could have prevented it, neither the conquests by Alexander the Great, nor our exploration of the moon and the vastness of space would have taken place.  It seems that the events of history have combined to make that today's common thread.

1304  Birth of Francesco Petrarca, known in English as Petrarch, known as the 'Father of Humanism'. He was a key Italian Renaissance scholar and poet, and used the term for the earlier medieval period 'the Dark Ages'.  Although he was born in Italy, he spent part of his life in southern France during the Avignon Papacy. He is attributed to have said that he did not wish to practice law, the profession for which he had trained, because it was "making a merchandise of my mind".  Like Sir Edmund Hillary, he was also a mountain climber. (isn't it fun how these different events can tie together)  During one of his mountain climbing adventures he was reported to be inspired by these words from the writings of St. Augustine, "And men go about to wonder at the heights of the mountains, and the mighty waves of the sea, and the wide sweep of rivers, and the circuit of the ocean, and the revolution of the stars, but themselves they consider not."

1704  Death of Peregrine White, first American-born English child in The New World (b. 1620) He was born on the Mayflower, and when his father died soon afterwards, his mother remarried.  Peregrine means pilgrim or wanderer.  He and his brother 'Resolved' (they had interesting names back in the day) were adopted.  It is an interesting piece of trivia that he and his future wife were fined for fornication before they married. What an interesting source of revenue.....and an interesting documentation of the failure of abstinence only policy.  He had seven children in the United States.  He spent some years of his life in England but died here in the U.S.
1822  The birth of Johan Mendel, who later took the name Gregor Mendel upon entering the Augustinian Abbey of St. Thomas. A German scientist, he also studied physics in under Doppler (yes, as in the 'Doppler' effect) as well as becoming the father of modern genetics.  He died in 1884. In keeping with today's theme in history, he could be considered a different kind of explorer and pioneer.  While most students who advance K-12 know that Mendel experimented with pea plants, you may not know that he experimented with 29,000 of them, not unlike Orville Redenbacher and his experiments with popcorn varieties and hybrids.  Mendel then moved on to experimenting with bees, in an attempt to similarly document their genetic inheritance of traits. To put this study in context, Charles Darwin published his book, On the Origin of the Species in 1859, and died in 1881, making them contemporaries.
1861 The Congress of the Confederate States began holding sessions in Richmond, Va.

1871 British Columbia joined the confederation as a Canadian province.

1917 The World War I draft lottery began. The draft, or conscription, dates back in the United States to the American Revolution.  President Madison tried unsuccessfully to initiate a nationwide draft for the War of 1812.  Resistance to the draft in the Civil War was the cause of the New York Draft Riots in 1863.  The Conscription Act of 1917 had a companion piece of legislation passed with it, the 1917 Espionage Act.  The 1917 draft conscripted every male of the right age, and then discharged the rest, the reverse of the more recent versions which evaluated and then selected.  The 1917 Act also far more greatly restricted those who could be conscientious objectors, resulting in a greater number of military conscripts subsequently being court-martialed. Under the companion Espionage Act provisions, activists who opposed the draft were imprisoned.  Sacco and Vanzetti mentioned in an earlier 'day in history' here, as anarchists, went over the border to Mexico to avoid the draft. On the opposite side of the issue, those who were pro-conscription advocates acted as vigilantes rounding up anyone who didn't have a draft card.  About 300,000 men for various reasons, from conscience to simply having moved and failed to have a correct change of address, avoided or boycotted the draft in 1917.  The figure for WW II, in comparison was about 350,000.  The modern selective service began in 2916, and expanded in 1934, expanding further with the Selective Training and Service Act of 1940, the first time there was a peacetime draft.  The United States ended an actual draft in 1973, but retained the Selective Service requirement as a contingency measure for men between the ages of 18 and 25.  Women in that age range are not at this time similarly required to register, which seems unfair and unequal.  In view of the wear and tear (an understatement) on our volunteer military, this event in history seemed a good occasion to review the possibility of the United States at some point in the current conflicts resuming some form of conscription.  At right, above, is a World War I draft card.

1920 Birth of American politician Elliot Richardson; attorney general during the Watergate scandal (1973) he defied Richard Nixon's orders regarding a special prosecutor; (died New Years Eve 1999).

1919  Birth of Sir Edmund Percival Hillary, New Zealand mountaineer and explorer (d. 2008), who with Sherpa Tenzing Norgay, were the first known climbers to have reached the summit of Mount Everest, in 1953.

1944 Adolf Hitler was only slightly wounded when a bomb planted by would-be assassins exploded at the German leader's Rastenburg headquarters.  Missed!
- President Franklin D. Roosevelt was nominated for an unprecedented fourth term at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago.

1945 Birth of Larry Craig, American politician who ended his career with an apparent exploration of his sexuality in a men's restroom in the Minneapolis International airport.

1957  Birth of Nancy Cruzan, prominent American figure in the right-to-die movement.  The U. S. Supreme court, in Cruzan v. Director, Missouri Department of Health, decided the case of a petition by her family to remove the feeding tube of Nancy Cruzan who had been in a vegetative state over a period of four years from a car accident in 1983 when she was found with no vital signs, but resuscitated by paramedics.   (d. 1990)  The SCOTUS initially decided against the family, but later reversed their decision, allowing the removal of the feeding tube when the family was able to provide proof that this was consistent with her wishes.  This preceded the famous case of Terri Schiavo that began in 1998, and culminated similarly in 2005.  The Cruzan case was the basis of the book "The Long Goodbye", and might also be viewed as a different kind of reaching the ends of the world.

1969 One of the most historically important events in history, the landing of the lunar module Eagle from Apollo 11 with the words "Houston, the Eagle has landed", fulfilling the promise of the late President John F. Kennedy to send a man to the moon. Buzz Aldrin, a Presbyterian, became the first man to take communion on the moon, which he did privately, and did not reveal until years later.  Neil Armstrong was the first man to set foot on the moon, with the legendary words " That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind" some six and a half hours after the lunar module landing.  The event was televised, with some technical difficulties, and the astronauts then spoke with President Nixon.  They described the moon as 'magnificent desolation'.  Some of the most famous images include the United States flag in the Sea of Tranquility.  It had taken a few more millenia than Alexander the Great had expected, but we had finally been able to find the ends of the world and the great outer sea, in this case the atmosphere and space surrounding the planet earth, that he had aspired to accomplish.  We should also be grateful he avoided what would have been cliched, "to boldly go where no man has gone before" thereby incidentally saving history from a split infinitive.

1976 America's Viking 1 robot spacecraft landed on Mars.

1990 A federal appeals court set aside Oliver North's Iran-Contra convictions.

1993 White House deputy counsel Vince Foster was found shot to death in a park near Washington, D.C., in an apparent suicide, and leading to the birth of numerous political conspiracies.

1999 After 38 years at the bottom of the Atlantic, astronaut Gus Grissom's Liberty Bell 7 Mercury capsule was recovered. The Liberty Bell capsule on the ocean floor, left, and as it sunk, in the photo above right.

2007 President George W. Bush signed an executive order prohibiting cruel and inhuman treatment, including humiliation or denigration of religious beliefs, in the detention and interrogation of terrorism suspects.
This however seems, from the perspective of cruel and inhuman treatment, humiliation and denigration of religious beliefs and religious intolerance, to be more of the same, and not new territory at all.

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