Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Mark Twain [pseudonym of Samuel Langhorne Clemens] (1835-1910)

Mark Twain [pseudonym of Samuel Langhorne Clemens] (1835-1910), quintessential American humorist, lecturer, essayist, and author wrote The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876);
“Tom did play hookey, and he had a very good time. He got back home barely in season to help Jim, the small colored boy, saw next-day's wood and split the kindlings before supper--at least he was there in time to tell his adventures to Jim while Jim did three-fourths of the work. Tom's younger brother (or rather half-brother) Sid was already through with his part of the work (picking up chips), for he was a quiet boy, and had no adventurous, trouble-some ways.” Ch. 1
Protagonist Tom Sawyer is introduced together with his friends Joe Harper and Huck Finn, young boys growing up in the antebellum South. While the novel was initially met with lukewarm enthusiasm, its characters would soon transcend the bounds of their pages and become internationally beloved characters, inspiring numerous other author’s works and characters and adaptations to the stage, television, and film. The second novel in his Tom Sawyer adventure series, Huckleberry Finn (1885), was met with outright controversy in Twain’s time but is now considered one of the first great American novels. A backdrop of colourful depictions of Southern society and places along the way, Huck Finn, the son of an abusive alcoholic father and Jim, Miss Watson’s slave, decide to flee on a raft down the Mississippi river to the free states. Their river raft journey has become an oft-used metaphor of idealistic freedom from oppression, broken family life, racial discrimination, and social injustice. Ernest Hemingway wrote “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn.”
“We catched fish and talked, and we took a swim now and then to keep off sleepiness. It was kind of solemn, drifting down the big, still river, laying on our backs looking up at the stars, and we didn't ever feel like talking loud, and it warn't often that we laughed—only a little kind of a low chuckle. We had mighty good weather as a general thing, and nothing ever happened to us at all—that night, nor the next, nor the next..” Ch. 12
Missouri was one of the fifteen slave states when the American Civil War broke out, so Twain grew up amongst the racism, lynch mobs, hangings, and general inhumane oppression of African Americans. He and some friends joined the Confederate side and formed a militia group, the ‘Marion Rangers’, though it disbanded after a few weeks, described in “The Private History of a Campaign That Failed” (1885). His article “The War Prayer” (1923) “in the churches the pastors preached devotion to flag and country, and invoked the God of Battles beseeching His aid in our good cause” is Twain’s condemnation of hypocritical patriotic and religious motivations for war. It was not published until after his death because of his family’s fear of public outrage, to which it is said Twain quipped “none but the dead are permitted to tell the truth.” Though he never renounced his Presbyterianism, he wrote other irreligious pieces, some included in his collection of short stories Letters From Earth (1909);
“Man is a marvelous curiosity. When he is at his very, very best he is a sort of low grade nickel-plated angel; at his worst he is unspeakable, unimaginable; and first and last and all the time he is a sarcasm.”
Mark Twain grew to despise the injustice of slavery and any form of senseless violence. He was opposed to vivisection and acted as Vice-President of the American Anti-Imperialist League for nine years. Through his works he illuminates the absurdity of humankind, ironically still at times labeled a racist. Though sometimes caustic “Of all the creatures that were made he [man] is the most detestable,” as a gifted public speaker he was a much sought after lecturer “information appears to stew out of me naturally, like the precious ottar of roses out of the otter.” —from his Preface to Roughing It (1872). He is the source of numerous and oft-quoted witticisms and quips including “Whenever I feel the urge to exercise I lie down until it goes away”; “If you don't like the weather in New England, just wait a few minutes”; “Familiarity breeds contempt — and children”; “The past does not repeat itself, but it rhymes” ; and “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” Twain is a master in crafting humorous verse with sardonic wit, and though with biting criticism at times he disarms with his renderings of colloquial speech and unpretentious language. Through the authentic depiction of his times he caused much controversy and many of his works have been suppressed, censored or banned, but even into the Twenty-First Century his works are read the world over by young and old alike. A prolific lecturer and writer even into his seventy-fourth year, he published more than thirty books, hundreds of essays, speeches, articles, reviews, and short stories, many still in print today.

Early Years and Life on the River 1830-1860
Mark Twain was born in Florida, Missouri on 30 November 1835, the sixth child born to Jane Lampton (1803-1890) and John Marshall Clemens (1798-1847). In 1839 the Twain family moved to their Hill Street home, now the Mark Twain Boyhood Home and Museum with its famous whitewashed fence, in the bustling port city of Hannibal, Missouri. Situated on the banks of the Mississippi river it would later provide a model for the fictitious town of St. Petersburg in Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer.

When Twain’s father died in 1847 the family was left in financial straits, so eleven year old Samuel left school (he was in grade 5) and obtained his first of many jobs working with various newspapers and magazines including the Hannibal Courier as journeyman printer. “So I became a newspaperman. I hated to do it, but I couldn't find honest employment.” He also started writing, among his first stories “A Gallant Fireman” (1851) and “The Dandy Frightening the Squatter” (1852). After traveling to and working in New York and Philadelphia for a few years he moved back to St. Louis in 1857. It was here that the lure of the elegant steamboats and festive crowds drew his attention and he became an apprentice ‘cub’ river pilot under Horace Bixby, earning his license in 1858. As a successful pilot plying his trade between St. Louis and New Orleans, Twain also grew to love the second longest river in the world which he describes affectionately in his memoir Life on the Mississippi (1883).
“The face of the water, in time, became a wonderful book — a book that was a dead language to the uneducated passenger, but which told its mind to me without reserve, delivering its most cherished secrets as clearly as if it uttered them with a voice. And it was not a book to be read once and thrown aside, for it had a new story to tell every day.”
An important part of a river pilot’s craft is knowing the waters and depths, which, for the mighty Mississippi and her reefs, snags, and mud are ever changing. To ‘mark twain’ is to sound the depths and deem them safe for passage, the term adopted by Clemens as his pen name in 1863. In 1858 his brother Henry died in an explosion on the steamboat Pennsylvania. Life on the river would provide much fodder for Twain’s future works that are at times mystical, often sardonic and witty, always invaluable as insight into the human condition.

Beyond the Banks in the 1860’s
With the outbreak of Civil War in 1861 passage on the Mississippi was limited, so at the age of twenty-six Twain moved on from river life to the high desert valley in the silver mining town of Carson City, Nevada with his brother Orion, who had just been appointed Secretary of the Nevada Territory. He had never traveled out of the state but was excited to venture forth on the stagecoach in the days before railways, described in his semi-autobiographical novel Roughing It (1872). Twain tried his hand at mining on Jackass Hill in California in 1864, and also began a prolific period of reporting for numerous publications including the Territorial Enterprise, The Alta Californian, San Francisco Morning Call, Sacramento Union and The Galaxy. He traveled to various cities in America, met Frederick Douglass, Harriet Beecher Stowe and Charles Dickens in New York, and visited various countries in Europe, Hawaii, and the Holy Land which he based Innocents Abroad (1869) on. Short stories from this period include “Advice For Little Girls” (1867) and “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calavaras County” (1867).

Marriage, Tramping Abroad, and Success
In 1870 Twain married Olivia ‘Livy’ Langdon (1845-1904) with whom he would have four children. Three died before they reached their twenties but Clara (1870-1962) lived to the age of eighty-eight. The Twain’s home base was now Hartford, Connecticut, where in 1874 Twain built a home, though they traveled often. Apart from numerous short stories he wrote during this time and Tom Sawyer, Twain also collaborated on The Gilded Age (1873) with Charles Dudley Warner.

A Tramp Abroad (1880), Twain’s non-fiction satirical look at his trip through Germany, Italy, and the Alps and somewhat of a sequel to Innocents Abroad was followed by The Prince and the Pauper (1882). Hank Morgan, time traveler in A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889) reflects Twain’s friendship with pioneering inventor and electrical engineer Nikola Tesla and interest in scientific inventions. Twain also continued to uphold a busy lecture series throughout the United States. In 1888 he was awarded an honorary Master of Art degree from Yale University.

For some years Twain had lost money in various money making schemes like mining, printing machines, the Charles L. Webster Publishing Co., and The Mark Twain Self-Pasting Scrap Book though he never lost his sense of humour. In 1892, friend and fellow humorist and author Robert Barr, writing as ‘Luke Sharp’ interviewed Twain for The Idler magazine that he owned with Jerome K. Jerome. Twain’s novel The American Claimant (1892) was followed by The Tragedy of Pudd'Nhead Wilson (1894), first serialized in Century Magazine. Tom Sawyer Abroad (1894) was followed by Tom Sawyer, Detective in 1896. His favourite fiction novel, Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc (1896) was first serialised in Harper’s Magazine. By 1895, unable to control his debts, he set off on a world lecture tour to Australia, Canada, Ceylon, India, New Zealand, and South Africa to pay them off. Following the Equator (1897) is his travelogue based on his tour, during which he met Mahatma Gandhi, Sigmund Freud, and Booker T. Washington.

With another successful lecture tour under his belt and now much admired and celebrated for his literary efforts, Mark, Livy and their daughter Jane settled in New York City. Yale University bestowed upon him an honorary Doctor of Letters degree in 1901 and in 1907 he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Letters by Oxford University. The same year A Horse's Tale and Christian Science (1907) were published. While traveling in Italy in 1904, Livy died in Florence. For Twain’s 70th birthday on 30 November 1905 he was fêted at Delmonico’s restaurant in New York, where he delivered his famous birthday speech, wearing his trademark all-year round white suit. That year he was also a guest of American President Theodore ‘Teddy’ Roosevelt at the White House and addressed the congressional committee on copyright issues. He was also working on his biography with Albert Bigelow Paine. His daughter Jane became very sick and was committed to an institution, but died in 1909 of an epileptic seizure. In 1908 Twain had moved to his home ‘Stormfield’ in Redding, Connecticut, though he still actively traveled, especially to Bermuda.

Mark Twain died on 21 April 1910 in Redding, Connecticut and now rests in the Woodlawn Cemetery in Livy’s hometown of Elmira, New York State, buried beside her and the children. A memorial statue and cenotaph in the Eternal Valley Memorial Park of Los Angeles, California states: “Beloved Author, Humorist, and Western Pioneer, This Original Marble Statue Is The Creation Of The Renowned Italian Sculptor Spartaco Palla Of Pietrasanta.” Twain suffered many losses in his life including the deaths of three of his children, and accumulated large debts which plagued him for many years, but at the time of his death he had grown to mythic proportions as the voice of a spirited and diverse nation, keen observer and dutiful reporter, born and died when Halley’s Comet was visible in the skies.
“Death, the only immortal who treats us all alike, whose pity and whose peace and whose refuge are for all—the soiled and the pure, the rich and the poor, the loved and the unloved.” —Twain’s last written statement

Biography written by C.D. Merriman for Jalic Inc. Copyright Jalic Inc. 2006. All Rights Reserved.

This Day in History: Nov 30, 1886: Folies Bergere stage first revue

Once a hall for operettas, pantomime, political meetings, and vaudeville, the Folies Bergère in Paris introduces an elaborate revue featuring women in sensational costumes. The highly popular "Place aux Jeunes" established the Folies as the premier nightspot in Paris. In the 1890s, the Folies followed the Parisian taste for striptease and quickly gained a reputation for its spectacular nude shows. The theater spared no expense, staging revues that featured as many as 40 sets, 1,000 costumes, and an off-stage crew of some 200 people.

The Folies Bergère dates back to 1869, when it opened as one of the first major music halls in Paris. It produced light opera and pantomimes with unknown singers and proved a resounding failure. Greater success came in the 1870s, when the Folies Bergère staged vaudeville. Among other performers, the early vaudeville shows featured acrobats, a snake charmer, a boxing kangaroo, trained elephants, the world's tallest man, and a Greek prince who was covered in tattoos allegedly as punishment for trying to seduce the Shah of Persia's daughter. The public was allowed to drink and socialize in the theater's indoor garden and promenade area, and the Folies Bergère became synonymous with the carnal temptations of the French capital. Famous paintings by Édouard Manet and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec were set in the Folies.

In 1886, the Folies Bergère went under new management, which, on November 30, staged the first revue-style music hall show. The "Place aux Jeunes," featuring scantily clad chorus girls, was a tremendous success. The Folies women gradually wore less and less as the 20th century approached, and the show's costumes and sets became more and more outrageous. Among the performers who got their start at the Folies Bergère were Yvette Guilbert, Maurice Chevalier, and Mistinguett. The African American dancer and singer Josephine Baker made her Folies debut in 1926, lowered from the ceiling in a flower-covered sphere that opened onstage to reveal her wearing a G-string ornamented with bananas.

The Folies Bergère remained a success throughout the 20th century and still can be seen in Paris today, although the theater now features many mainstream concerts and performances. Among other traditions that date back more than a century, the show's title always contains 13 letters and includes the word "Folie."

 Also on This Day

American Revolution
Howe brothers offer amnesty, 1776
Unsafe at Any Speed hits bookstores, 1965
Civil War
Rebels are defeated at the Battle of Franklin, 1864
Cold War
The United States and U.S.S.R. open talks to reduce intermediate-range nuclear forces, 1981
"America's First Female Serial Killer" strikes, 1989
Richard Mallory, a storeowner in Palm Harbor, Florida, is last seen taking a ride with Aileen Wuornos. The following day, his car—containing his wallet, some condoms, and an empty vodka bottle—was found abandoned in a remote area of Ormond Beach. Nearly two weeks later, his body turned up in a Daytona Beach junkyard with three bullets in his chest. Mallory's murder was the first of seven committed by Aileen Wuornos over the next year. Perhaps because she was one of the few women killers to gain widespread fame and notoriety, she was inaccurately dubbed "America's first female serial killer." Her case was heavily publicized through television talk show appearances and a documentary, The Selling of a Serial Killer. Wuornos had been the victim of abuse and neglect herself. Her parents split before she was born and her father, who had been arrested for child molesting, killed himself while awaiting trial in a mental institution. When her mother abandoned her at a young age, Aileen was sent to live with her grandparents. But she was kicked out of their home when she got pregnant at age 14. From 1974 to 1976, Wuornos operated under several aliases and amassed an arrest record for offenses including drunk driving, assault, and armed robbery. In 1986, she became romantically and criminally involved with a woman named Tyria Moore. In late 1989, Wuornos began her infamous killing spree. Five months after Richard Mallory was killed, David Spears was found dead, shot six times with a .22 caliber gun in the woods near Tampa. At around the same time, another male body turned up nearby that appeared to have been killed with the same type of gun. Three additional men met the same demise during the summer of 1990.
When the seventh victim was found in November, the media was alerted to the possibility of a serial killer. After receiving several tips, detectives caught Wuornos in a seedy biker bar in January 1991. With Moore assisting police, Wuornos decided to confess to the killings but claimed that they had all been done in self-defense. When a jury found Wuornos guilty on January 27, 1992, she screamed out, "I'm innocent! I was raped! I hope you get raped! Scumbags of America!" Her outburst was probably ill considered, given the fact that the same jury came back to decide her penalty the next day. Wuornos was sentenced to death.
Achille Lauro sinks near Somalia, 1994
General Interest
Winston Churchill born, 1874
Meteorite strikes Alabama woman, 1954
Brady Bill signed into law, 1993
Jeopardy! contestant's record winning streak ends, 2004
Mark Twain is born, 1835
Elton John's Greatest Hits hits #1, 1974
Old West
Harvey "Kid Curry" Logan sentenced, 1902
Truman refuses to rule out atomic weapons, 1950
Football coach Bill Walsh is born, 1931
Vietnam War
McNamara warns Johnson that communists are gaining strength in South Vietnam, 1965
South Vietnamese draft articles for new constitution, 1966
McCarthy to enter Democratic presidential primary, 1967
White House announces no full withdrawal until final truce agreement signed, 1972
World War I
German foreign minister celebrates revolution in Russia, 1917
World War II
USSR attacks Finland, 1939

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

This Day in History: Nov 29, 1947: U.N. votes for partition of Palestine

Despite strong Arab opposition, the United Nations votes for the partition of Palestine and the creation of an independent Jewish state.

The modern conflict between Jews and Arabs in Palestine dates back to the 1910s, when both groups laid claim to the British-controlled territory. The Jews were Zionists, recent emigrants from Europe and Russia who came to the ancient homeland of the Jews to establish a Jewish national state. The native Palestinian Arabs sought to stem Jewish immigration and set up a secular Palestinian state.
Beginning in 1929, Arabs and Jews openly fought in Palestine, and Britain attempted to limit Jewish immigration as a means of appeasing the Arabs. As a result of the Holocaust in Europe, many Jews illegally entered Palestine during World War II. Radical Jewish groups employed terrorism against British forces in Palestine, which they thought had betrayed the Zionist cause. At the end of World War II, in 1945, the United States took up the Zionist cause. Britain, unable to find a practical solution, referred the problem to the United Nations, which on November 29, 1947, voted to partition Palestine.
The Jews were to possess more than half of Palestine, though they made up less than half of Palestine's population. The Palestinian Arabs, aided by volunteers from other countries, fought the Zionist forces, but the Jews secured full control of their U.N.-allocated share of Palestine and also some Arab territory. On May 14, 1948, Britain withdrew with the expiration of its mandate, and the State of Israel was proclaimed by Jewish Agency Chairman David Ben-Gurion. The next day, forces from Egypt, Transjordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq invaded.

The Israelis, though less well equipped, managed to fight off the Arabs and then seize key territories, such as Galilee, the Palestinian coast, and a strip of territory connecting the coastal region to the western section of Jerusalem. In 1949, U.N.-brokered cease-fires left the State of Israel in permanent control of those conquered areas. The departure of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs from Israel during the war left the country with a substantial Jewish majority.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Jimi Hendrix 1942 - 1970

 "Blues is easy to play, but hard to feel."

– Jimi Hendrix


Guitarist, singer, and songwriter Jimi Hendrix was born on November 27, 1942, in Seattle, Washington. Learning to play guitar as a teenager, Hendrix grew up to become a rock guitar legend who excited audience in the 1960s with his innovative electric guitar playing. Hendrix died in 1970 from drug-related complications, leaving his mark on the world of rock music and remaining popular to this day. 

Early Life

Guitarist, singer, and songwriter. Born Johnny Allen Hendrix (later changed to James Marshall) on November 27, 1942, in Seattle, Washington. Learning to play guitar as a teenager, Hendrix grew up to become a rock guitar legend. He had a difficult childhood, sometimes living in the care of relatives and even acquaintances at times.

His mother, Lucille, was only 17 years old when Hendrix was born. She had a stormy relationship with his father, Al, and eventually left the family after the couple had two more children together, sons Leon and Joseph. Hendrix would only see his mother sporadically before her death in 1958.

Musical Aspirations

In many ways, music became a sanctuary for Hendrix. He was a fan of blues music and taught himself to play guitar. At the age of 14, Hendrix saw Elvis Presley perform. He got his first electric guitar the following year and eventually played with two bands - the Rocking Kings and the Tomcats. In 1959, Hendrix dropped out of high school. He worked odd jobs while continuing to follow his musical aspirations.

Hendrix enlisted in the United States Army in 1961 and trained at Fort Ord in California to become a paratrooper. Even as a soldier, he found time for music, creating a band named The King Casuals. Hendrix served in the army until 1962 when he was discharged due to an injury.

After leaving the military, Hendrix pursued his music, working as a session musician and playing backup for such performers as Little Richard,
Sam Cooke, and the Isley Brothers. He also formed a group of his own called Jimmy James and the Blue Flames, which played gigs around New York City's Greenwich Village neighborhood.

Career Breakthrough


In mid-1966, Hendrix met Chas Chandler, a former member of the Animals, a successful rock group, who became his manager. Chandler convinced Hendrix to go to London where he joined forces with musicians Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell to create The Jimi Hendrix Experience. While there, Hendrix built up quite a following among England's rock royalty. Members of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Who, and Eric Clapton were all great admirers of Hendrix's work. One critic for the British music magazine Melody Maker said that he "had great stage presence" and looked at times as if he was playing "with no hands at all."

Released in 1967, the band's first single, "Hey Joe" was an instant smash in Britain, and was soon followed by other hits such as "Purple Haze" and "The Wind Cried Mary." On tour to support his first album,
Are You Experienced? (1967), Hendrix delighted audiences with his outrageous guitar-playing skills and his innovative, experimental sound. He won over American music fans with his stunning performance at the Monterey Pop Festival in June 1967, which ended with Hendrix lighting his guitar on fire.

Rock Superstar

Quickly becoming a rock music superstar, Hendrix scored again with his second album, Axis: Bold as Love (1968). His final album as part of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, Electric Ladyland (1968), was released and featured the hit "All Along the Watchtower," which was written by Bob Dylan. The band continued to tour until it split up in 1969.

That same year, Hendrix performed at another legendary musical event: the Woodstock Festival. His rock rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" amazed the crowds and demonstrated his considerable talents as a musician. He was also an accomplished songwriter and musical experimenter. Hendrix even had his own recording studio in which he could work with different performers and try out new songs and sounds.

Hendrix tried his luck with another group, forming Band of Gypsys in late 1969 with his army buddy Billy Cox and drummer Buddy Miles. The band never really took off, and Hendrix began working on a new album tentatively named
First Rays of the New Rising Sun, with Cox and Mitch Mitchell from the Jimi Hendrix Experience. Unfortunately Hendrix did not live to complete the project.

Tragic Death

 Hendrix died on September 18th, 1970, from drug-related complications. While this talented recording artist was only 27 years old at the time of his passing, Hendrix left his mark on the world of rock music and remains popular to this day. As one journalist wrote in the Berkeley Tribe, "Jimi Hendrix could get more out of an electric guitar than anyone else. He was the ultimate guitar player." 

© 2011 A&E Television Networks. All rights reserved.

This day in History: Nov 27, 1914: Hindenburg celebrates Warsaw campaign

On November 27, 1914, German commander Paul von Hindenburg issues a triumphant proclamation from the battlefields of the Eastern Front, celebrating his army's campaign against Russian forces in the Polish city of Warsaw.

On November 1, Hindenburg had been appointed commander in chief of all German troops on the Eastern Front; his chief of staff was Erich Ludendorff, who had aided him in commanding several earlier victories against Russian forces in East Prussia. The new command, dubbed OberOst, had two objectives: First, they were to mount a counterattack in Poland while their colleague, Erich von Falkenhayn, managed German forces fighting in the Ypres region on the Western Front. Second, they were to balance the faltering Austrian command headed by Conrad von Hotzendorff. Earlier, Conrad had audaciously blamed his army's failure against Russia on a lack of sufficient German support and demanded that 30 new German divisions be sent east, a notion that Falkenhayn steadfastly opposed.
The German campaign against Warsaw, launched in early November 1914, aimed to draw Russian manpower and other resources away from their ferocious assault on the struggling army of Germany's ally, Austria-Hungary. In this it proved successful. The Germans scored several significant victories, most notably at the neighboring city of Lodz. Though the broader German assault ultimately failed, leaving Warsaw still in Russian hands, the kaiser rewarded Hindenburg by promoting him to field marshal, the highest rank in the German army.

In his statement of November 27, Hindenburg expressed his satisfaction with the results of the campaign and, of course, with his promotion. "I am proud at having reached the highest military rank at the head of such troops. Your fighting spirit and perseverance have in a marvelous manner inflicted the greatest losses on the enemy. Over 60,000 prisoners, 150 guns and about 200 machine guns have fallen into our hands, but the enemy is not yet annihilated. Therefore, forward with God, for King and Fatherland, till the last Russian lies beaten at our feet.  Hurrah!"

 Also on This Day

This Day in History: Nov 28, 1520: Magellan reaches the Pacific

After sailing through the dangerous straits below South America that now bear his name, Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan enters the Pacific Ocean with three ships, becoming the first European explorer to reach the Pacific from the Atlantic.

On September 20, 1519, Magellan set sail from Spain in an effort to find a western sea route to the rich Spice Islands of Indonesia. In command of five ships and 270 men, Magellan sailed to West Africa and then to Brazil, where he searched the South American coast for a strait that would take him to the Pacific. He searched the Rio de la Plata, a large estuary south of Brazil, for a way through; failing, he continued south along the coast of Patagonia. At the end of March 1520, the expedition set up winter quarters at Port St. Julian. On Easter day at midnight, the Spanish captains mutinied against their Portuguese captain, but Magellan crushed the revolt, executing one of the captains and leaving another ashore when his ship left St. Julian in August.

On October 21, he finally discovered the strait he had been seeking. The Strait of Magellan, as it became known, is located near the tip of South America, separating Tierra del Fuego and the continental mainland. Only three ships entered the passage; one had been wrecked and another deserted. It took 38 days to navigate the treacherous strait, and when ocean was sighted at the other end Magellan wept with joy. His fleet accomplished the westward crossing of the ocean in 99 days, crossing waters so strangely calm that the ocean was named "Pacific," from the Latin word pacificus, meaning "tranquil." By the end, the men were out of food and chewed the leather parts of their gear to keep themselves alive. On March 6, 1521, the expedition landed at the island of Guam.

Ten days later, they dropped anchor at the Philippine island of Cebu—they were only about 400 miles from the Spice Islands. Magellan met with the chief of Cebu, who after converting to Christianity persuaded the Europeans to assist him in conquering a rival tribe on the neighboring island of Mactan. In fighting on April 27, Magellan was hit by a poisoned arrow and left to die by his retreating comrades.

After Magellan's death, the survivors, in two ships, sailed on to the Moluccas and loaded the hulls with spice. One ship attempted, unsuccessfully, to return across the Pacific. The other ship, the Vittoria, continued west under the command of Basque navigator Juan Sebastian de Elcano. The vessel sailed across the Indian Ocean, rounded the Cape of Good Hope, and arrived at the Spanish port of Sanlucar de Barrameda on September 6, 1522, becoming the first ship to circumnavigate the globe.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

This day in History: Nov 26, 1916: T.E. Lawrence reports on Arab affairs

On November 26, 1916, Thomas Edward Lawrence, a junior member of the British government's Arab Bureau during World War I, publishes a detailed report analyzing the revolt led by the Arab leader Sherif Hussein against the Ottoman Empire in the late spring of 1916.
As a scholar and archaeologist, the future "Lawrence of Arabia" traveled extensively in Syria, Palestine, Egypt and parts of Turkey before beginning working formally with the British government's bureau on Arab affairs in 1916. At the time, the Arab Bureau was working to encourage a revolt by the Muslim and Arabic-speaking population of the Ottoman Empire in order to aid the Allied war effort. The leader of the planned revolt would be Sherif Hussein ibn Ali, ruler of the Hejaz, the region in modern-day Saudi Arabia containing the Muslim holy cities of Mecca and Medina.

Hoping to remain neutral and collect bribes from both sides, Hussein remained undecided in the war until April 1916, when he learned Ottoman leaders were sending a German-Turkish force to depose him. Wanting to strike first, Hussein declared a revolt in the Hejaz sometime between June 5 and 10, seeking the protection of the British Royal Navy along the coast of the Hejaz.
Around that same time, at Lawrence's suggestion, the Arab Bureau published its first informational bulletin, featuring the observations and insights of the hopeful British organizers and backers of Hussein's revolt. It soon became clear, as documented by the Arab Bulletin, that the British considered Hussein's revolt to be a dismal failure. In his report of November 26, 1916, Lawrence gave his analysis of the situation: "I think one company of Turks, properly entrenched in open country, would defeat the Sherif's armies. The value of the tribes is defensive only, and their real sphere is guerrilla warfare...[they are] too individualistic to endure commands, or fight in line, or help each other. It would, I think, be impossible to make an organized force out of them."

Despite his derisive view of Hussein's troops, Lawrence made clear his admiration for the sherif himself, as well as for his three elder sons, Ali, Feisal and Abdullah, praising them as "heroes." He became close to Feisal in particular, and by early December 1916 he had joined Arab troops in the field, where he spent the rest of the war attempting, with varying degrees of success, to organize the disparate tribesmen into fighting units that would pose a real threat to the Ottoman enemy.
At the post-war peace conference in Paris in 1919, the victorious Allies failed to grant full independence to the various Arab peoples, instead placing them under British and French control according to the mandate system imposed by the Treaty of Versailles. While his son, Feisal, was crowned king of the new state of Iraq, Hussein himself ended up losing control of Mecca and the Hejaz to the rival Saudi clan in the 1920s. Meanwhile, T.E. Lawrence--who had accompanied Feisal Hussein's Arab delegation to Versailles--resigned from his post in Britain's colonial office in the Middle East, disgusted by the Allies' failure to fulfill their promise of Arab independence. He lived much of the rest of his life in obscurity, dying in a motorcycle accident in 1935.

Friday, November 25, 2011

This day in History: Nov 25, 1918: German commander in East Africa surrenders

On this day in 1918, a full two weeks after an armistice ended World War I in Europe, Colonel Paul von Lettow-Vorbeck of Germany finally surrenders his forces in German East Africa.
A master of guerrilla warfare known for his brave and honorable conduct, Lettow-Vorbeck emerged from the First World War as the only undefeated military commander on either side of the conflict. From the beginning, the colonel knew the British navy's dominance of the seas meant that few reinforcements would be sent from his homeland and, as a result, that the German war effort in its African colonies would have to be carried out on his own initiative.

In classic Prussian fashion, Lettow-Vorbeck organized his African soldiers—called askaris—into independent field companies and trained them in the skills of bush fighting. With successful raids against the British colonies of Kenya and Rhodesia, the confidence of Lettow-Vorbeck's troops only continued to rise. Meanwhile, on the British side, consistently confused command and lack of cooperation between army and navy forces—as well as a decision not to divert any resources from the Western Front for the campaign in Africa—contributed to a string of failed amphibious expeditions along the coast of East Africa, from Uganda to the Zambezi River.

With a force that never exceeded 14,000--including 3,000 German and 11,000 askari troops--Lettow-Vorbeck managed to consistently defeat Allied forces (mostly British and South African) of 10 times that number. In November 1918, when World War I ended, Lettow-Vorbeck was alive and well, with 3,000 soldiers at his command. He chose to surrender at Mbaala, Zambia, on November 25, 1918, returning to Germany, where he was greeted as a national hero.

Immediately following the war, Lettow-Vorbeck joined the Freikorps, the military police force, helping to squelch the radical socialist Spartacist uprising in early 1919. The following year, however, he was forced to resign from the army after supporting the failed right-wing Kapp Putsch against the Weimar government. After publishing his memoirs, called My Reminiscences of East Africa, he returned to public life, serving as a deputy in the German Reichstag from May 1929 until July 1930. During the subsequent years, Lettow-Vorbeck unsuccessfully attempted to establish a conservative opposition to Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist Party. By the end of World War II, the former hero was living in poverty. In a testament to his greatness, a group of former South African and British officers led by his former nemesis, the South African leader Jan Smuts, arranged for a small pension to be paid him until his death, on March 9, 1964.