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the work of history

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    the von Braun team

    May 22, 1945: Operation Paperclip begins.

    On May 22, 1945, Major Robert B. Staver transmitted a telegram to the Pentagon stressing the need for the U.S. government to initiate an evacuation of select German scientists, at the time mostly men involved in the German rocket program. This took place approximately two weeks after Nazi Germany’s defeat in World War II, although the project and the basic idea of interviewing/interrogating German scientists was conceived during the war. The name Operation Overcast was designated in the summer of 1945 until it was replaced by the better-known name “Operation Paperclip”; the project formally began in August of 1945 with two objectives: to learn more about advances made by German scientists and researchers during the Nazi era, and to apply these advances and the minds of German scientists and researchers to achieve American goals. World War II begot significant advances in technology, as bloody and brutal wars are wont to do; on the German side, specifically, scientists created the first rocket-powered planes, the first modern assault rifle, an early cruise missile, and the world’s first ballistic missile. It was therefore in the country’s best interest to acquire and employ the minds behind these technologies, and to deny the Soviet Union these resources.

    Under Operation Paperclip, over 1,500 scientists and technicians working in a variety of fields were recruited from Germany to the United States. It was administered by the Joint Intelligence Objectives Agency, which also circumvented Harry Truman’s orders to disqualify any scientists with Nazi sympathies from the program by falsifying records and backgrounds. Wernher von Braun, who was instrumental in the development of the American space program, was also a self-proclaimed non-political member of the NSDAP during the war, and yet he was also complicit in the V-2 rocket program’s extensive use of slave labor, even admitting that he had personally picked out concentration camp prisoners to use as workers. Other prominent German scientists who found work in the United States under Operation Paperclip included Walter Dornberger, another V-2 scientist who in the postwar period worked on the development of guided missiles; Kurt Blome, who was saved from a war crimes conviction at the Nuremberg Doctors’ Trial in exchange for his expertise on biological warfare; and dozens of other German rocket scientists. 

    Wernher von Braun was indisputably the most famous of them all; for both his work in Germany and in the United States, he was known as the “Father of Rocket Science”. America’s first ballistic missile, the PGM-11 Redstone, was based on his V-2 rocket, as were the rockets used in the the launching of Explorer 1 and the Freedom 7 spaceflight. In July of 1969, a Saturn V rocket designed under the direction of Wernher von Braun and a group of German scientists launched three American men into space on the Apollo 11 spaceflight, the climax of the Space Race. 


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    May 4, 1970: The Kent State shootings take place.

    The shooting of unarmed students by members of the Ohio National Guard at Kent State University, was one of the most notorious domestic events of the Vietnam War Era. It took place in the midst of a protest which itself was a reaction against government policy; antiwar sentiment was widespread throughout the nation, particularly among young people, so when President Nixon announced in late April that the U.S. military was to conduct military operations in Cambodia in pursuit of the PAVN and Viet Cong forces (which seemed to contradict his policy of Vietnamization and détente), student-organized protests on university campuses across the country erupted. These student strikes eventually involved at least 400 campuses, although the National Guard was deployed to only twenty-one of them, one of which was Kent State University in Ohio.

    The Kent State demonstration began on May 1; the National Guard was called to the campus on May 2 by Governor James Rhodes, who denounced the student protesters and claimed that they were ”the worst type of people that we harbor in America”, comparing them to Nazi brownshirts and the Ku Klux Klan. Many in Kent and across the nation agreed with the governor’s condemnation of student protests, but just as many disagreed, to varying degrees. When the shooting and killing of Kent State students made national headlines, the issue remained just as divisive, with many believing that the students had brought the violence upon themselves. On May 4, the tensions between the guardsmen and students heightened. Tear gas was used in the guardsmens’ attempts to disperse the crowd, and at some point in the confusion, for some still unknown reason, a little under half of the 77 guardsmen present began to fire into the crowd of students. The guardsmen later claimed that they had been shot by a sniper and were firing in self-defense; this claim was denied vehemently by the students, who admitted to throwing rocks, and also by the New York Times reporter who had been on the scene. The reporter also wrote:

    As the guardsmen, moving up the hill in single file, reached the crest, they suddenly turned, forming a skirmish line and opening fire.

    The crackle of the rifle volley cut the suddenly still air. It appeared to go on, as a solid volley, for perhaps a full minute or a little longer.

    Some of the students dived to the ground, crawling on the grass in terror. Others stood shocked or half crouched, apparently believing the troops were firing into the air. Some of the rifle barrels were pointed upward.

    Near the top of the hill at the corner of Taylor Hall, a student crumpled over, spun sideways and fell to the ground, shot in the head.

    When the firing stopped, a slim girl, wearing a cowboy shirt and faded jeans, was lying face down on the road at the edge of the parking lot, blood pouring out onto the macadam, about 10 feet from this reporter.

    Four students were killed, and nine were wounded (one was permanently paralyzed from chest down). Of the four killed by rifle fire, two had not been participants in the protest. According to eyewitness accounts, the students were shocked at the fact that the guardsmen had fired upon them and even more shocked that they had fired live ammunition instead of blanks. John Filo, the photographer who captured the Pulitzer Prize-winning image of Mary Ann Vecchio and Jeffrey Miller (pictured above), also believed at first that the guardsmen were firing blanks. President Nixon expressed regret for the killings, although he suggested that the students’ disruptive activities had “[invited] tragedy”, and, according to a Gallup poll, the public agreed - according to the survey, only 11 percent placed blame on the National Guard, while 58 percent blamed the students. Eleven days later, two black students were killed at Jackson State University during an antiwar protest, though these events failed to capture national attention as the Kent State shootings did.  


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    May 24, 1743: Jean-Paul Marat is born.

    Jean-Paul Marat was one of the infamous and radical figures of the French Revolution. Born in Switzerland, he moved to Paris in 1776, two years after Louis XVI ascended the throne of France; there, he served as a doctor, and his reputation in his practice made him a sought-after physician among the aristocracy. Comfortably wealthy and endlessly opinionated, he criticized Newton, conducted scientific research that won him admirers that included Benjamin Franklin, and published works on judicial reform and philosophy.

    As the French Revolution drew near, Marat directed his efforts toward another purpose: he started a newspaper several, in fact, but the principal was L’Ami du peupleor “The Friend of the People”, through which he remained a mostly non-aligned party dedicated to advocating the rights of the lower classes and exposing those he believed to be “the enemies of the people”. Those he attacked were often powerful, rich citizens and groups, and in 1790 Marat went into hiding in the sewers of Paris, where the conditions may have given him or aggravated the skin disease that would confine him to a bathtub for much of his later life. In 1792 he was elected (still party-less) to the National Convention; he harshly criticized and feuded bitterly with the less radical Girondist faction of the government, who attempted to bring him before the Revolutionary Tribunal. He was, and he was acquitted of all charges brought against him, to widespread celebration.

    Marat helped to bring down the Girondins in a political purge in the summer of 1793, but he was soon after stabbed to death in his own bathtub by Charlotte Corday, a Girondin sympathizer who confessed at her trial to killing “one man to save 100,000”; to her and the conservative Girondins, Marat symbolized the excesses and violent distortion of the Revolution, which would only worsen when the Reign of Terror began, with his calls for blood and for “the cutting off of heads”. To his supporters, Marat was a passionate and relentless champion of the rights of the lower classes. Marat’s assassination was immortalized in Jacques-Louis David’s painting The Death of Marat (pictured center).


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    Thank you guys! I may be one of the slowest message-answerers in the world, so my apologies if you’ve sent a message and I haven’t replied yet. 


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    May 25, 1977: Star Wars is released.

    Before the release of his first Star Wars film, George Lucas was convinced  that his genre-busting space opera epic would flop at the box office, so he made a bet with Steven Spielberg, whose science-fiction film Close Encounters of the Third Kind was also set to release that year. If Spielberg’s film made more money than his own, he would collect a percentage of whatever profit Close Encounters made, and vice versa. Spielberg’s sci-fi classic made an impressive $337 million by the end of its run, but Star Wars made nearly $800 million which, adjusted for inflation, makes it the third highest-grossing film of all time (it also spawned a franchise which, according to some estimates, has yielded a total revenue of $27 billion). Needless to say, Spielberg lost the battle of films but won the bet, and reportedly continues to benefit from that bet today. 


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    May 27, 1905: The Battle of Tsushima is fought.

    The Battle of Tsushima was a decisive battle fought during the Russo-Japanese War between (naturally) the Russian and Japanese navies on the Tsushima Strait, which connects the Sea of Japan and the East China Sea. Contemporary historians called it “the most important naval event since Trafalgar”, and it ended in the total and crushing defeat of the Russian forces present, which had included 28 ships (of which 21 were sunk by the much larger Japanese fleet). The battle took place over a year into the war and four months from its end, and two months after the Battle of Mukden, another important battle in which Russia’s land forces were defeated and driven out of Manchuria (northeast China), which was a major region in which Russia and Japan fought for dominance during the war, along with the Korean Peninsula. The Russo-Japanese War was borne out of the competing imperialistic goals of these two nations. 

    Of particular importance to both sides was Port Arthur, a port city on the tip of the Liáodōng Peninsula of Manchuria; the initial Japanese attack on Port Arthur marked the beginning of the war, and throughout the conflict it was blockaded, besieged, and finally captured by the Japanese. The fateful Battle of Tsushima began when the Russian Baltic Fleet, which had sailed from the Baltic Sea around the southernmost tip of Africa and across the Indian Ocean toward Japan on an eight month journey, arrived to relieve Port Arthur. The Japanese fleet outnumbered the Russian and outmatched it in both speed and armament, which led to the Baltic Fleet’s near-total destruction in two days, and the establishment of the Imperial Japanese Navy as a formidable power on international seas.

    In Russia, the war and the nonsensical nature of the government’s attempts to preserve its military power in Asia while unrest and misery brewed at home contributed to the general atmosphere of turmoil that became the Revolution of 1905. And Russia’s international reputation as a military power, already on the decline, declined even further after this humiliating defeat. Japan’s growing strength was regarded with wary eyes by each of the Western powers as well its victory at Tsushima and its ultimate victory over Russia in the Russo-Japanese War shattered the notion that an Asian power could not possibly defeat a European one, as such a thing had never happened in modern times. Inspired by the conflict to enhance the United States’ own naval power, Theodore Roosevelt (who negotiated the war’s end) wrote in a 1906 letter:

    In a dozen years the English, American, and Germans, who now dread one another as rivals in the trade of the Pacific, will have to dread the Japanese more than they do any other nation…. I believe that Japan will take its place as a great civilized power of a formidable type…. If we… try to treat them as we have treated the Chinese; and if at the same time we fail to keep our navy at the highest point of efficiency and size - then we shall invite disaster.


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    May 29, 1453: Constantinople is captured by Ottoman forces.

    On this day in 1453, the great Byzantine capital, founded by its namesake Constantine the Great over a millennium earlier, fell to the Ottoman Empire, whose forces were led by a twenty-one year old sultan Mehmed II, later called Mehmed the Conqueror for his successful military campaigns (his successful siege of Constantinople was one of his earliest as sultan). 

    Constantinople had only completely fallen to enemy forces thrice in its over 1,000-year-long history, thanks in part to the complex system of fortifications and walls that had been primarily built in the fourth and fifth centuries but were continuously restored and added to throughout the city’s history. Two of these successful conquests took place in the 13th century, in 1204 and 1261; the former was a vicious sack by crusaders, and the latter a reclamation by Greek rulers, who attempted to restore this once powerful center of trade, culture, and religion to its former glory. By the time the Ottomans launched their final siege on Constantinople in early April of 1453, what was left of the Eastern Roman Empire amounted to Constantinople, a small portion of northwestern Turkey, and the Peloponnese;the Ottoman Empire now possessed most of Asia Minor and the Balkans, areas that surrounded Constantinople on both sides.

    In Constantinople, the defending army was hopelessly outnumbered. Around 7,000 were left to fight off between 50,000 and 80,000 Ottoman attackers and their guns, which blasted through the city’s famous walls. The final successful assault on May 29 ended in the death of Constantine XI, last Byzantine emperor, and in the death of the Byzantine Empire, which outlasted its Western counterpart by nearly 1,000 years; after three days of plunder, the Ottoman conqueror entered the city. The sultan converted Justinian’s Hagia Sophia into a mosque, though he also appointed for the Greek Orthodox Church a new Patriarch. Despite the importance of Constantinople to Christendom, no serious attempts were made (although they were suggested) in subsequent years to recapture the city, and its successful capture by the Ottomans is regarded by many historians as one of the key events marking the end of the Middle Ages. Scholars bearing classical texts fled to Italy, initiating a cultural exchange that helped launch the Renaissance; in addition, the rising power of the Ottoman Empire posed a significant threat to Europeans,  and its dominating presence in Asia Minor cut off Europe’s land link to Asia.


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    The Entry of Mahomet II into Constantinople (1876) - Benjamin Constant


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    penguinworksart:

    unhistorical:

    The Entry of Mahomet II into Constantinople (1876) - Benjamin Constant

    The guy on the horse looks like King Arthur from Monty Python and the Holy Grail


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    Kriegsmarine aircraft carrier Graf Zeppelin


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    Ed White becomes the first American to perform a “spacewalk”, June 1965.


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    June 5, 1968: Robert F. Kennedy is assassinated.

    Five years after the assassination of his older brother in 1963, Robert Kennedy was himself gunned down in the kitchen of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles shortly after winning California’s Democratic presidential primary. Kennedy’s assassin was one Sirhan Sirhan, a Palestinian Christian who, according to his personal journals, held every American politician who expressed support for Israel in contempt but reserved a particular hatred for Senator Kennedy.

    Because of what Sirhan perceived as Kennedy’s betrayal of the “underdog”, he obsessively planned to murder him on or before the eve of the first anniversary of the Six Day War, June 5, 1968. That evening, Sirhan smuggled a revolver into the hotel, followed Kennedy and his three security guards into the hotel’s kitchen and pantry area, and shot the senator several times (and injured five other people) as he shook hands with Juan Romero, a busboy who appears alongside Kennedy in the iconic photograph of the assassination (pictured above). Romero reportedly handed Kennedy a crucifix and told him “everything is going to be okay”. Unlike his brother, who had been shot in such a way that he had no chance of survival upon his arrival at the hospital, Robert Kennedy underwent extensive surgery for his wounds, remained in critical condition for the remainder of his hospital stay, and died over a day after the shooting. He was forty-two, and one of only two sitting senators to be assassinated in U.S. history. 


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    Peace - Burial at Sea (1842) - J.M.W. Turner


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    “The Red Wedding is based on a couple real events from Scottish history. One was a case called The Black Dinner. The king of Scotland was fighting the Black Douglas clan. He reached out to make peace. He offered the young Earl of Douglas safe passage. He came to Edinburgh Castle and had a great feast. Then at the end of the feast, [the king’s men] started pounding on a single drum. They brought out a covered plate and put it in front of the Earl and revealed it was the head of a black boar — the symbol of death. And as soon as he saw it, he knew what it meant. They dragged them out and put them to death in the courtyard. The larger instance was the Glencoe Massacre. Clan MacDonald stayed with the Campbell clan overnight and the laws of hospitality supposedly applied. But the Campbells arose and started butchering every MacDonald they could get their hands on. No matter how much I make up, there’s stuff in history that’s just as bad, or worse.”

    - George R.R. Martin on the Red Wedding (via existentialcrisisfactory)

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    June 6, 1944: The Allied invasion of Normandy begins.

    In June of 1940, Nazi Germany successfully completed its invasion of France with the signing of an armistice at Compiègne, which divided France into two zones - one which was to be henceforth occupied by German troops, and a “free zone”, to be administered by a French government at Vichy. In late 1942 German-Italian forces carried out a complete military occupation of the free zone. By 1944 much of Europe was either occupied by Axis forces or controlled by direct allies; between the neutral Iberian Peninsula to the Eastern Front, France, Greece, the Baltics, the Netherlands, and  Denmark were among the states occupied by German or Axis forces. Along the western coast of Europe, Germany established a system of fortifications collectively known as the “Atlantic Wall”, whose construction began in 1942 to thwart any Allied invasion launched across the English Channel from Great Britain. 

    The landing of Allied forces at Normandy on June 6, 1944 (commonly known as D-Day) marked the beginning of Operation Overlord and the beginning of the liberation of mainland Europe from its occupation by Nazi Germany. As Supreme Allied Commander in Europe, Dwight D. Eisenhower  was charged with planning and carrying out the beach landing assault, an enormous and momentous task - in the end, approximately 160,000 troops participated in the assault on an 80 km long stretch of Normandy coast, which was divided into five sectors: Gold, Utah, Sword, Juno, and Omaha, the link between the U.S. and British sectors, the most easily defensible beach, and the area where fighting was bloodiest. The troops were supported by a fleet of nearly 7,000 vessels, directed mostly by the Royal Navy; airborne operations were also a key element of the landings, with at least 13,000 paratroopers taking part. To mislead and confound Axis military leaders regarding the true date and location of the impending assault, the Allies implemented Operation Bodyguard.

    The enormously successful operation was a decisive victory for the Allied powers and a major blow to Germany’s psyche and morale. Operation Overlord came to an end with the destruction of German forces at the Falaise Pocket in August of 1944 and the liberation of Paris days later.


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    Gustave Doré  the Crusades

    DescriptionSultan Muhammad II lunges into the sea on horseback after the Ottomans are weakened.


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    June 7, 1099: The Siege of Jerusalem begins.

    The weeklong siege of Jerusalem by crusaders of the First Crusade ended in the city’s capture and the slaughtering of many of its inhabitants. The main aim of the First Crusade, which was officially launched in 1096 by Pope Urban II, was to send volunteers to aid the Byzantine Empire and help   relieve the empire from the threat posed by the Muslim Seljuqs of Anatolia. Central to this goal of countering Muslim power in the region was the recapturing of Jerusalem, the holy city which had not been under the control of Christian rulers since the successful Muslim conquest of the Levant in the 7th century. 

    At the time of the First Crusade the Seljuq Turks had captured Jerusalem, only to lose it once more to forces of the Fatimid Caliphate shortly before the crusaders launched their siege. Their principal commanders were Raymond IV of Toulouse, Tancred, Robert Curthose, Duke of Normandy, Robert II, Count of Flanders, and Godfrey of Bouillon, who would, after the Christians took control of Jerusalem, become the first ruler (not king) of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. The siege ended when Godfrey and his brother’s men assembled siege towers by the city walls and entered Jerusalem over its defenses on June 14-15.

    At the time, Jerusalem was populated by 70,000 civilians practicing a variety of faiths; when the crusaders entered the city in 1099, they unleashed a bloody massacre upon these tens of thousands. Jews sought refuge within a synagogue, which was burnt down, and Muslims were slaughtered by the thousands as well. According to the Gesta Francorum, the crusaders brought the “killing and slaying even to the Temple of Solomon, where the slaughter was so great that our men waded in blood up to their ankles….” Many of those who were not killed were either ordered to leave the city or were sold into slavery. Amidst the bloodshed, the crusaders - laymen and clergymen alike - made their way to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre to give thanks and murmur prayers. 


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    1. I would love to say “yes, of course!” but I can’t promise anything, because most of what I post is related to subjects I’ve studied in class or read about, and unfortunately, most of what I’ve studied in class or read about is U.S./Western European history. I will definitely try, though!

    2. Yes, I give it to most people who ask off anonymous (it’s not really much of a “personal” blog).

    3. You’re welcome, and thank you! I learn a lot running this blog, so I’m glad when I hear that other people learn reading it.


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    June 8, 1972: Nick Ut photographs Phan Thị Kim Phúc in his Pulitzer Prize-winning image. 

    Associated Press photographer Nick Ut, born Huỳnh Công Út in Long Ang, Vietnam, was twenty-one when he captured one of the most iconic war photographs in history: “The Terror of War”, which depicts Vietnamese children, ARVN soldiers, and press photographers fleeing a misdirected South Vietnamese napalm bombing of the South Vietnamese village of Trảng Bàng, which had been attacked and occupied by North Vietnamese forces. The focal point of this famous image is Kim Phuc Phan Thi, at the time a child of nine, whose clothes had caught fire during the attack, forcing her to strip them off; the burns inflicted upon her body were nevertheless severe - Kim Phuc spent fourteen months in a hospital in Saigon and underwent seventeen surgical procedures for her injuries. 

    The bombing was carried out by a South Vietnamese pilot who conducted the attack on what he mistakenly believed was a group of occupying enemy forces. This accidental attack killed four residents of Trảng Bàng, including two cousins of Kim Phuc. The horrifying result of the bombing shocked Ut, who afterward transported the injured civilians to a hospital in Saigon and kept in contact with Kim Phuc until his departure from Vietnam during the fall of Saigon in 1975. When Ut’s photograph appeared in the New York Times, President Nixon remarked to his chief of staff that the photo might have been “fixed”, to which Ut replied (when audiotapes of Nixon’s office conversations were released): “The photo was as authentic as the Vietnam War itself. The horror of the Vietnam War recorded by me did not have to be fixed.

    Kim Phuc later attended the University of Havana, became a Canadian citizen, and established the Kim Foundation International, an organization dedicated to aiding child victims of war. 


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    Gustave Doré → the Crusades

    DescriptionThe sight of Antioch, so celebrated in the annals of Christianity, revives the enthusiasm of the Crusaders.


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