09 November 2014

What A Day (Date)!

Today's post won't be about cycling.

That's because I was struck by how many historical events happened on this date, and I just had to talk about them.

You probably know about two of them.  If you think one of them was great, you think the other was terrible.

I am referring, of course, to the fall of the Berlin Wall (Was it really 25 years ago?) and Kristallnacht.

For all that I denounce the ways in which my native country abuses its power in the world, I still that the US and its allies can be made to offer a better life for their citizens in ways that totalitarian and collectivist states can't.  That is why I, like most people who have no connection to the Soviet system, think that puncturing that partition in the old German capital allowed a light to stream in.  Whether that light is used to make our lives brighter or turned into a kleig that breaks us down is still, I believe, a question that has not been decided, though it we are being nudged toward the answer most of us wouldn't want.

Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet premier at the time, is widely hailed as a hero in the West even if his policy of "glasnost" and "peristroika" inadvertently led to the collapse of the empire he headed.  Not surprisingly, leaders of the old Soviet heirarchy as well as anti-nationalists of the states formerly included in the Soviet Union despise him as much of the world reviles Hitler.

Speaking of the latter:  One of the most perversely brilliant things the Fuhrer (or, more precisely, his propoganda minister, Joseph Goebbels) did was to foster the perception that the burning of homes and looting of buinesses belonging to Jews in Germany, Austria and the annexed areas of adjacent countries--and the killing of some of those Jews--was a spontaneous popular uprising in response to a young Polish Jew's assassination of a German embassy official stationed in Paris.  

It is often argued that this deception is what rallied young Germans to "defend" their country. What it did, of course, was plunge the world into darkness. Hmm...Where else have we seen anything like that?

As for being plunged in darkness:  On this same date in 1965, nine northeastern US states and parts of Canada experienced the largest blackout when a switch in a power station in Niagara Falls failed.  I remember that one well:  I was seven years old and, being accustomed to seeing my Brooklyn neighborhood illuminated by tall streetlamps and light from neighbors' windows, simply could not comprehend what had just happened.  Nor, for that matter, could most of the adults in my neighborhood.  

What I recall most clearly, though, is my father not coming home from work that night.  I think it was the first time I experienced that.  He, like many others, took the subway to and from his job in Manhattan.  Thankfully, he hadn't yet boarded a train before the lights went out and was thus spared being marooned in a pitch-black tunnel as so many other commuters were that evening!

What I wouldn't know, until much later, was that on that same day in 1965, a former seminarian named Roger LaPorte immolated himself in front of the United Nations in protest of the Vietnam War.

Believe it or not, the events I've mentioned aren't the only  ones of note to have happened on this date:   Napoleon Bonaparte declared himself the dictator of France.  Teddy Roosevelt left the White House for what would be the first official visit outside the US by an American President.  The Kaiser abidicated and fled to the Netherlands as Germany declared itself a republic.  And the great Russian writer Ivan Turgenev was born.  As if he needed more material to work with!

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