Category Archives: tdih

August 31, 2009, 8:39 pm


On September 1, 1967, Siegfried Sassoon died, aged 80. He had a long and productive career as poet, novelist and memoirist, but he is remembered chiefly as one of the fine group of English poets of the First World War (along with Rupert Brooke, Israel Isaac Rosenberg, Wilfred Owen, and above all Edward Thomas). For a sample of his wartime work, take “Remorse”:

Lost in the swamp and welter of the pit,
He flounders off the duck-boards; only he knows
Each flash and spouting crash,–each instant lit
When gloom reveals the streaming rain. He goes
Heavily, blindly on. And, while he blunders,
‘Could anything be worse than this?’–he wonders,
Remembering how he saw those Germans run,
Screaming for mercy among the stumps of trees:
Green-faced, they dodged and darted: there was one
Livid with terror, clutching at his knees…
Our chaps were sticking ’em like pigs … ‘O hell!’

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August 25, 2009, 1:20 am

Still running

On this day in 1975, Bruce Springsteen released Born to Run. The greatest rock and roll album ever produced by an American artist? Maybe not. But it certainly makes my top ten (though I like Nebraska even more). Anyway, let’s not fight about such things. The rendition above is from 1975, when Bruce was still a kid.

You’ll find a couple of more recent performances below the fold.


August 24, 2009, 10:59 pm


On this day in 1857, the New York branch of the Ohio Life Insurance and Trust Company (OLITC) failed, an event often (dis)credited with starting the Panic of 1857. But of course the Panic didn’t really begin there; as with all major financial catastrophes the story is more complicated than it initially appears.


August 21, 2009, 11:17 am

Five-oh is five-oh.

I’m trying to think of an appropriate program, ceremony, or activity.

It is with great pride that our Nation commemorates the fiftieth anniversary of Statehood for Hawaii. On August 21, 1959, we welcomed Hawaii into the United States ohana, or family. Unified under the rule of King Kamehameha the Great, it was Queen Lili’uokalani who witnessed the transition to a Provisional Government controlled by the United States. As a Nation, we honor the extensive and rich contributions of Native Hawaiian culture to our national character.

Borne out of volcanic activity in the Pacific Ocean, a chain of islands emerged that would bear witness to some of the most extraordinary events in world history. From Pu’ukohola Heiau and the royal residence at the `Iolani Palace, to the USS ARIZONA Memorial and luaus that pay tribute to Hawaiian traditions, Americans honor the islands’ collective legacy and a…

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August 20, 2009, 10:48 am

This Day in Actual Communist and Real Nazi History

On this day in 1940, an actual Communist leader, Leon Trotsky, was stabbed in the head with an ice pick by Ramón Mercader, who was himself not only an actual Communist, but an agent of Stalin, who awarded Mercader’s mother an Order of Lenin for her part in the plot.  Upon his release from prison in 1960, Mercader moved to an actual Communist country, Cuba, and then to another, the Soviet Union, whereupon his arrival he was awarded a Hero of the Soviet medal from the head of the KGB, Alexander Shelepin.

On this day in 1944, an actual Communist country, the Soviet Union, launched an offensive against a real Nazi country, Hitler’s Germany, over the fate of Romania, which would end the day either a real Nazi or actual Communist coutry, but not both, because real Nazism and actual Communism are such different beasts that Hitler’s Germany went to war against Stalin’s Soviet Union over whose…

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August 19, 2009, 10:52 am

“It is not yet a matter for international concern…”

So said the New York Times about the big news on this day in 1934: that Adolph Hitler had consolidated his control over Germany.

August 18, 2009, 4:18 pm

War of the Roses

On this day in 1920, Tennessee ratified the 19th Amendment to the Constitution. Oddly, School House Rock’s story of women’s suffrage, which is perfectly accurate in every other detail, neglects to mention that the critical vote hinged on Harry Burn’s decision to listen to his mama.

By late summer 1920, thirty-five of the thirty-six states required for ratification had passed the Amendment. Pro- and anti-suffrage activists, wearing yellow and red roses respectively, descended upon Nashville, Tennessee, where the state legislature appeared to be deadlocked on the issue. On August 18, a preliminary roll call yielded a 48-48 tie. Then, after a second roll call also ended in a stalemate, the 24-year-old Burn, proudly wearing a red rose pinned to his lapel, changed his vote. An infuriated mob descended upon Burn, who reportedly …

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August 14, 2009, 11:27 am

“hardest working and perhaps the least appreciated”

On this day in history, the Japanese government surrendered to the Allies, ending World War II. And while there’s much to be said about the event, ideally by someone who has something of interest to say (Silbey? Are you out there somewhere?), I found this snippet from the Times‘s coverage interesting:

The President’s final announcement was to decree holidays tomorrow and Thursday for all Federal workers, who, he said, were the “hardest working and perhaps the least appreciated” by the public of all who had helped to wage the war.

We’ve been involved in either one or two wars for what, six years now? And it’s hard to imagine President Obama singling out federal employees, other than those in the armed forces, for their efforts during this time of crisis. And yes, I know, WWII made very different demands on the country. But still, things have changed, right? Although, perhaps …

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August 11, 2009, 11:35 am

“This is no place for white men.”

On this day in 1965, violence raged in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles (contemporary coverage here and a more detailed tdih here). A few points about the newsreel above: First, the voiceover uses both “riot” and “insurrection” to describe the mayhem. The difference in moral valence between the two is pretty clear, so I was somewhat surprised to hear the word “insurrection” used at all.

Second, in other spots the narration remains more complicated than I would have expected: for instance, when, around the 40 second mark, we hear that “the looters…stole everything from liquor to playpens.” Maybe I’m off base, but I think looters who steal playpens sound reasonably sympathetic — as looters go, I mean. Of course they become a lot less sympathetic, it seems, in the next paragraph of the script, when it turns out that…

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August 6, 2009, 10:39 am

War and memory


When I teach my seminar on monuments, museums, and memorials, I typically cover the Enola Gay controversy. But one of the challenges I face is getting my students to look “beneath the mushroom cloud” (borrowing a phrase from John Dower). So, given that it’s the anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima (see here for contemporary coverage), I thought I’d mention that I once juxtaposed Barefoot Gen with the bombing scene from Above and Beyond as a way of accomplishing this goal. This approach has its share of problems, unfortunately, and since I’ll be teaching the course again in the fall, I’d be eager to hear other ideas.

By the way, Barefoot Gen is fascinating for a variety of …

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July 16, 2009, 12:01 am


June 25, 2009, 6:37 pm

“The rush of the flames…”

[Editor's Note: When Jacob Remes isn't using his superpowers to fight crime, he toils as a PhD candidate in history at Duke University, where he's writing a dissertation about the Salem Fire and the Halifax explosion. You can find more information here. And if you'd like to write a TDIH, please let me know.]

The workers at Korn Leather Company in Salem, Mass., made embossed patent leather by coating leather with a solution made of scrap celluloid film, alcohol, and amyl-acetate, and then applying steam heat. On this day in 1914, at about 1:30 in the afternoon, something went terribly wrong, and—perhaps not surprisingly given the flammable nature of the work—the whole rickety structure caught fire. Half an hour later, the fire had spread to fifteen more buildings, forcing 300 workers to flee. By 7:00 that evening, the fire crossed into the Point, a tightly packed neighborhood…

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June 4, 2009, 6:42 pm


Churchill in 1940

On this day in 1940, Winston Churchill stepped to the Speaker’s Box in the House of Commons and–his premiership still only weeks old–began telling the House of Commons of the defeat and deliverance of Dunkirk. It was 3:40 pm in the afternoon.

In both 1914 and 1940, Germany’s assault into France and Belgium had met with enormous initial success, penetrating deep into France and sending the defenders back in disarray. In 1940, unlike 1914, there was no saving battle, no resilient resistance at the Marne to save the French capital and throw back the oncoming Germans. Instead, in 1940, the German scythe struck all the way to the English Channel, cutting the defensive lines in half. The commander of the British Expeditionary Force in 1940, Lord Gort, did what British army commanders had done since time immemorial when threatened with military disaster: he headed for…

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May 27, 2009, 11:42 am


g21931.jpgOn this day in 1942, the USS Yorktown limped back into Pearl Harbor after the Battle of the Coral Sea. The aircraft carrier had been heavily damaged in the encounter, still a better result than that of her fellow carrier, the USS Lexington, which had been sent to the bottom. Coral Sea had been a tactical defeat for the United States–the sunken Japanese light carrier Shoho hardly an even trade for the massive Lexington–but a strategic defeat for the Japanese. The planned Japanese invasion of Port Moresby, on the southern coast of Papua New Guinea, had been called off, and the two fleet carriers, Shokaku and Zuikaku had been damaged enough that they would not be available for the next month’s planned attack on Midway.

The question was whether the Yorktown would be. Things did not look good on the day she slowly eased into Pearl Harbor, an oil slick trailing behind her. She moved…

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May 24, 2009, 1:11 pm

War and remembrance.

On this day sixty-five years ago, American forces broke out of the Anzio beachhead and began the long process of pushing the Germans out of Italy.  In American military history, the invasion is known as a poorly executed near disaster.  In my family’s history, it is remembered as the moment when my father came to terms with the role of  chance in an individual’s life.