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9 Blades that Forged History

April 23, 2018 in History

By Evan Andrews

Khopesh. (Credit: Dbachmann/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0)

For millennia, edged weapons such as swords, knives and daggers were the arms of choice for warriors around the globe. These razor-sharp blades inspired fear and fascination and helped change the course of military campaigns. In some cases, individual weapons were even given names and became just as legendary as the people who wielded them.

Khopesh. (Credit: Dbachmann/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY-SA 3.0)

Khopesh

One of the most influential of the early swords that arose during the Bronze Age, the khopesh was an ancient Egyptian weapon that featured a hooked blade sharpened on its outside edge. Sickle-shaped swords were typically cast from bronze and were believed to have made their way to Egypt via the Middle East. During the New Kingdom period, they became a common military weapon and were prized for their gruesome slashing ability in close-quarters combat. The khopesh also came to have ceremonial value and was often depicted in art or included in the tombs of prominent Egyptians. The boy pharaoh Tutankhamun, for example, was entombed with two sickle swords of different sizes. The khopesh was eventually abandoned in favor of more traditional swords around the 12th century B.C., but not before it had become one of the most iconic weapons of ancient Egypt.


Gurkha troops with Khukuri knives, during a 1971 parade. (Credit: Chris Ware/Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Kukri

For centuries, this short, inwardly curved blade has been a traditional tool and weapon in Nepal. Europeans first became fascinated with the kukri in the early 1800s, when the forces of the British East India Company clashed with Nepalese Gurkha warriors in a bloody war. The locals’ prowess with the blades—including their ability to lop off limbs or disembowel a horse with a single blow—persuaded the British to enlist them as volunteer troops in their army. The Gurkhas went on to establish themselves as one of the world’s toughest military units, and their service knives became prized for their distinctive shape, balanced blades and superior chopping and slashing power. To this day, the kukri remains a standard issue Gurkha weapon and serves as the emblem of Britain’s Brigade of Gurkhas, which consists entirely of Nepalese recruits.

Iron Falcata. (Credit: Ángel M. Felicísimo/Flickr Creative Commons/CC BY 2.0)
Iron Falcata. (Credit: Ángel M. Felicísimo/Flickr Creative Commons/CC BY 2.0)

Falcata

The falcata was …read more

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How Anita Hill’s Confirmation Hearing Testimony Brought Workplace Sexual Harassment to Light

April 23, 2018 in History

By Erin Blakemore

Clarence Thomas awaits proceedings during his hearing regarding the alleged sexual harassment of Anita Hill. (Credit: Wally McNamee/Corbis/Getty Images)

Supreme Court Justice nomination hearings are never dull. But few observers expected the issue of whether Clarence Thomas should serve on the highest court of the land to become a firestorm—and a national referendum on sexual harassment.

That all changed on October 11, 1991, when a university professor named Anita Hill took the stand. Her testimony against Thomas is now seen as a watershed moment in the fight against sexual harassment in the workplace. But at the time, her explosive allegations were doubted, exposing her to public mockery and humiliation.

Who is Clarence Thomas? A justice in the making.
Born in segregated Georgia to a domestic worker and a farmer, Thomas lived in poverty throughout much of his childhood. When a house fire made him homeless, he moved in with his grandparents, who raised him in Savannah.

Thomas studied English literature in college, continuing on to law school at Yale. Throughout his young life, his success in school was often credited to affirmative action—a biased misconception that would come to play a role later in his career.

After practicing law in Missouri, Thomas was an Assistant Attorney General of Missouri, eventually moving into the private sector. During the 1980s, he served in the Reagan administration, becoming the eighth Chairman of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). In 1989, he was nominated by President George H.W. Bush to a federal judgeship on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. After Justice Thurgood Marshall announced he was retiring from the Supreme Court in 1991, Bush nominated Thomas to replace him—and the confirmation process that followed became an epic struggle with an unexpected twist.

Clarence Thomas awaits proceedings during his hearing regarding the alleged sexual harassment of Anita Hill. (Credit: Wally McNamee/Corbis/Getty Images)

The controversial confirmation hearing of Clarence Thomas.
Thomas’ nomination was immediately tinged with controversy— because of his race. Had Bush nominated an African American just to preserve the racial makeup of the bench? Was Thomas, who had been a federal judge for just 16 months and had never argued a case before the Supreme Court, qualified to serve on the nation’s highest court? As those questions raged, concerns about Thomas’ political stances followed. Those who opposed the nomination accused Thomas of being anti-choice and anti-affirmative action.These issues dominated the early days of Thomas’ hearings.

Then, on October 11, …read more

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Life in the Trenches of World War I

April 23, 2018 in History

By Brian Dunleavy

The Battle of Somme as seen from the trenches. (Credit: Photo12/UIG via Getty Images)

When Union Army general William Tecumseh Sherman famously said “War is hell,” he was referring to war in general, but he could have been describing trench warfare, a military tactic that’s been traced to the Civil War. Trenches—long, deep ditches dug as protective defenses—are most often associated with World War I, and the results of trench warfare in that conflict were hellish indeed.

Trenches were common throughout the Western Front.
Trench warfare in World War I was employed primarily on the Western Front, an area of northern France and Belgium that saw combat between German troops and Allied forces from France, Great Britain and, later, the United States.

Although trenches were hardly new to combat: Prior to the advent of firearms and artillery, they were used as defenses against attack, such as moats surrounding castles. But they became a fundamental part of strategy with the influx of modern weapons of war.

Long, narrow trenches dug into the ground at the front, usually by the infantry soldiers who would occupy them for weeks at a time, were designed to protect World War I troops from machine-gun fire and artillery attack from the air.

As the “Great War” also saw the wide use of chemical warfare and poison gas, the trenches were thought to offer some degree of protection against exposure. (While significant exposure to militarized chemicals such as mustard gas would result in almost certain death, many of the gases used in World War I were still relatively weak.)

Thus, trenches may have afforded some protection by allowing soldiers more time to take other defensive steps, such as putting on gas masks.

The Battle of Somme as seen from the trenches. (Credit: Photo12/UIG via Getty Images)

Trench warfare caused enormous numbers of casualties.
At least initially in World War I, forces mounted attacks from the trenches, with bayonets fixed to their rifles, by climbing over the top edge into what was known as “no man’s land,” the area between opposing forces, usually in a single, straight line and under a barrage of gunfire.

Not surprisingly, this approach was rarely effective, and often led to mass casualties.

Later in the war, forces began mounting attacks from the trenches at night, usually with support of covering artillery fire. The Germans soon became known for effectively mounting nighttime incursions behind enemy lines, by sending highly trained soldiers to attack the trenches of opposing forces at what …read more

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The 19th Century’s Last Survivor Is Dead at 117

April 23, 2018 in History

By Erin Blakemore

Anyone who becomes the oldest person in the world has a tale to tell. But Nabi Tajima had an even more unique perspective on history: She was the last surviving person born during the 19th century.

Now, reports the Associated Press, Tajima has died at age 117.

Born on August 4, 1900, Tajima was the last person known to have been born during the 19th century, which lasted until January 1, 1901. She had been the oldest living person since 2017.

The Japan into which Tajima was born looked far different from the one in which she died. In 1904, Japan wasn’t a country—it was an empire in transition. Emperor Meiji was in the midst of overseeing Japan’s dramatic transformation from a feudal state with little contact with the outside world to an industrial superpower that wielded international influence.

At the time, women in Japan had no legal rights and could not vote. Male heads of household exercised complete authority, and the women in their charge could not study politics, attend political gatherings or control their own assets.

That changed during Tajima’s lifetime, during which she saw two world wars, the death of the Japanese empire, and the emergence of Japan as a democratic state. In 1946, under postwar Japan’s new constitution, women were declared equal to men under the law. Today, women in Japan are still legally equal, though Japan lags behind other nations in terms of political participation and other gender equality rankings.  

Over Tajima’s 117 years on earth, the world changed dramatically. When she was born, there was no such thing as an electric traffic light, a radio, a television, or a handheld calculator. Today, word of her death spreads via the internet, technology that would have bewildered her contemporaries.

Tajima had nine children and more than 160 descendants. According to the Gerontology Research Group, which tracks the world’s supercentenarians (people over 110 years of age), Tajima credited her long life up to “eating delicious things and sleeping well.” 

Given how much history she was able to witness during her 117 years, she must have been on to something.  

…read more

Source: HISTORY

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Eisenhower Knew the Importance of D-Day for an Allied Victory

April 23, 2018 in History

By Roy Wenzl

D-Day Infographic on history.com

The D-Day military invasion that helped to end World War II was one the most ambitious and consequential military campaigns in human history. In its strategy and scope—and its enormous stakes for the future of the free world—historians regard it among the greatest military achievements ever.

D-Day, code-named Operation Overlord, launched on June 6, 1944, after the commanding Allied general, Dwight D. Eisenhower, ordered the largest invasion force in history—hundreds of thousands of American, British, Canadian and other troops—to ship across across the English Channel and come ashore on the beaches of Normandy, on France’s northern coast. After almost five years of war, nearly all of Western Europe was occupied by German troops or held by fascist governments, like those of Spain and Italy. The Western Allies’ goal: to put an end to the Germany army and, by extension, to topple Adolf Hitler’s barbarous Nazi regime.

Here’s why D-Day remains an event of great magnitude, and why we owe those fighters so much:

VIDEO: D-Day Invasion: On June 6, 1944, Allied troops landed on the beaches of Normandy and turned the tides of World War II.

The Nazis were a well-oiled genocidal machine.

German armies during World War II overran most of Europe and North Africa and much of the western Soviet Union. They set up murderous police states everywhere they went, then hunted down and imprisoned millions. With gas chambers and firing squads they killed 6 million Jewish people and millions more Poles, Russians, gays, disabled people and others undesirable to the Nazi regime, which sought to engineer a master Germanic race.

“It’s hard to imagine what the consequences would have been had the Allies lost,” says Timothy Rives, deputy director of the Eisenhower Presidential Library in Abilene, Kansas. “You could make the argument that they saved the world. A few months after D-Day, General Eisenhower visited a German death camp, and wrote: “We are told the American soldier does not know what he is fighting for. Now, at least, he will know what he is fighting against.”

The Normandy invasion went well beyond the beaches.

The “D” in D-Day means simply “Day,” as in “The day we invade.” (The military had to call it something.) But to those who survived June 6, and the subsequent summer-long incursion, D-Day meant sheer terror. Raymond Hoffman, from Lowell, …read more

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I Was There For Robert Kennedy’s Electrifying Speech about MLK’s Murder

April 20, 2018 in History

By Mary Evans

Mary Evans was in the Indianapolis crowd the night Robert F. Kennedy gave a speech just after Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in April 1968. Here she recounts the emotion of that night in a special story to go along with the latest installment of History Flashback, a series that looks at historical “found footage” of all kinds—newsreels, instructional films, even cartoons—to give us a glimpse into how much things have changed, and how much has remained the same.

I was 16 years old in April 1968, living in Indianapolis, and I was very interested in politics. When I was 12, I had read a book of essays called The Vietnam Reader and had become passionately opposed to the Vietnam War, which was a minority opinion in Indianapolis at the time.

I believed in social justice, and I wanted to stop the war. So, in 1968, I volunteered for the campaign of Eugene McCarthy, a poet/senator (there aren’t too many of those today) who was the first anti-war candidate to join the presidential race.

On April 4, I spontaneously traveled with a small group of my high school classmates to go down to what is now known as the Kennedy-King neighborhood to hear another candidate, Robert F. Kennedy, speak during a routine campaign stop.

Although I had lived in Indianapolis almost all my life, I had never been to that neighborhood, and I didn’t really know where it was. One of our parents dropped us off, and we joined the mostly African-American crowd. In my memory, I was one of only a few white people there that night.

At first, everything was normal. Kennedy was very late, which wasn’t unusual for political rallies, and people started to get restless. Then, a rumor began circulating that someone had tried to assassinate Martin Luther King, Jr., but that he had survived.

There was a growing feeling of agitation. In a neighborhood in which I knew no one, and clearly stood out, I felt nervous. I thought about leaving, but I didn’t know the neighborhood, and I realized I was stuck. There was real ambiguity as to what reality was at that moment, no one knew for sure what had happened.

And then Kennedy came out. The minute he started talking, it was like the laying on of hands. Every word out of his mouth was a balm. The whole crowd was …read more

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How Columbia’s Student Uprising of 1968 Was Sparked by a Segregated Gym

April 20, 2018 in History

By Erin Blakemore

Flyer passed out for protesting Columbia's plans to build a gymnasium in Morningside Park. (Credit: Columbia University Archives)

If you walked across the campus of Columbia University in April 1968, you may have been handed a typewritten flyer inviting you to a campus protest. “The big steal is on,” it declared. Columbia was in the process of stealing land and resources from nearby Harlem, the flyer claimed—and students could help stop it.

The students who passed out those flyers may not have realized it, but soon they’d be part of a controversial occupation of Columbia University that would spark one of the largest mass arrests in New York City history. By the end of the uprising, five university buildings would be taken over by nearly 1,000 protesters and the campus would be on lockdown after its dean was taken hostage.

And the gym that partially sparked the protest, which was mockingly called “Gym Crow” by its detractors, would become a symbol not only of the unrest, but of an epic struggle between a historic university and the broader community.

Columbia is located in Morningside Heights on the edge of West Harlem, and in 1968, a plan to include the community in a proposed gym building exploded in the university’s face. The monumental concrete gym was to be built in Morningside Park, which is owned by New York City, and though it was built on public land, only 12 percent of the gym would be open to the public. The other 88 percent would be set aside for Columbia’s use.

This plan wasn’t welcomed by the community, especially in light of Columbia’s years-long expansion into Morningside Heights at the expense of residents—most of them African-American—who were evicted and pushed out of their homes. Harlem residents resented Columbia taking over precious recreation space and making a half-hearted gesture to include the community even though the project was moving forward against their objections.

Flyer passed out for protesting Columbia’s plans to build a gymnasium in Morningside Park. (Credit: Columbia University Archives)

One facet of the gym in particular—a community entrance at the bottom of the building while Columbia students entered from the top—drew particular ire.

“It’s the symbol of coming in through the back door that bothers the black people,” a Columbia professor explained to LIFE Magazine<span style="font-weight: …read more

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The Complicated History of Cannabis in the US

April 20, 2018 in History

By Allison McNearney

History Flashback takes a look at historical “found footage” of all kinds—newsreels, instructional films, even cartoons—to give us a glimpse into how much things have changed, and how much has remained the same.

No matter the decade, one thing never changes: parents will always be worried about the effect peer pressure has on their children. In the 1950s, access to cars became much more common for American teenagers. This gave them a variety of freedoms unimaginable to previous generations. That newfound autonomy brought with it all-new temptations, and their parents freaked out. For a great deal of those petrified parents, Marijuana became public enemy number 1.

To combat this, Encyclopedia Britannica produced this mental hygiene film to warn kids about the dangers of smoking pot. After all, who would want to risk becoming like poor Marty? In just a few short weeks after taking one puff at a party, he devolved from an upstanding young boy to a full-fledged drug addict and petty criminal. Realistic? No. A hilarious time capsule of the 1950s? Absolutely.

The United States of Hemp

Hemp and marijuana are both produced from the cannabis plant, although hemp is derived from a strain that has a much lower quantity of THC, the compound that produces hallucinogenic effects. Hemp is made from the fibers of the plant and historically has been used to make a broad variety of products, from rope to cloth to paper. As you can imagine, it was an important product in the New World as the American colonies were being established. It was so important, in fact, that in 1619, Virginia passed a law requiring hemp to be grown on every farm in the colony. At the time, the crop was also considered a proper form of currency in Virginia, as well as Pennsylvania and Maryland.

As new products were imported or developed to replace hemp—cotton was surely a welcome change to the itchy fibers of hemp shirts—the plant fell out of popularity. By the end of the Civil War, the United States’ hemp production had passed its peak, but a different version of the plant was on the rise. Marijuana was becoming an increasingly popular ingredient in medicines and tinctures.

The Rise of Reefer Madness

The popular image of the 1950s may be all Leave It to Beaver, but underneath the pearls and penny loafers, there was a countercultural movement bubbling to the surface. The Beat Generation emerged early …read more

Source: HISTORY

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The Sex Scandal That Ruined Alexander Hamilton’s Chances of Becoming President

April 20, 2018 in History

By Sarah Pruitt

Alexander Hamilton's wife, Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton. (Credit: ART Collection/Alamy)

As the first secretary of the U.S. Treasury, Alexander Hamilton built the foundations of the national banking system and wielded more power in the earliest years of American democracy than any other man beside George Washington. Yet unlike Washington, and unlike his longtime nemesis Thomas Jefferson, Hamilton would never serve as U.S. president—not only because he died in a duel by the hands of Aaron Burr.

In fact, as any fan of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s blockbuster hip-hop musical Hamilton knows, Hamilton torpedoed his own presidential ambitions for good in 1797, when he published a tell-all pamphlet about the sordid details of his earlier affair with a married woman, Maria Reynolds, and the blackmail payments he made to her husband to cover up the affair.

Complete with illicit meetings, payments of “hush money” and allegations of corruption, the Reynolds Affair had all the trappings of a modern-day political sex scandal, and was all the more shocking for being the first such drama in U.S. history. It also bears certain similarities to the current scandal surrounding the payments made to prevent the adult film star Stormy Daniels from speaking out about an alleged affair with President Trump.

Maria Reynolds approaches Alexander Hamilton.
According to Hamilton’s version of events, which he shared with the world in 1797, Maria (probably pronounced “Mah-rye-ah”) Reynolds came to his family home in Philadelphia in the summer of 1791, and asked to speak to him in private. The 23-year-old blonde presented herself as a damsel in distress, telling the treasury secretary that her abusive husband, James Reynolds, had left her and their young daughter to run off with another woman. Maria said she was destitute, and asked for money to help her get to friends in New York.

At the time, Hamilton was at the height of his influence as treasury secretary, and could be considered the second most powerful man in the United States. Yet his outspoken style earned him many enemies, which as biographer Ron Chernow has written “should have made him especially watchful of his reputation.” And yet—that night, Hamilton took a 30-note bill to the rooming house where Maria Reynolds was staying. She led him upstairs, where, in his words, “it was quickly apparent that other than pecuniary consolation would be acceptable.” They began a sexual relationship, meeting often at Hamilton’s own home after his devoted wife, Eliza, took their children to visit her father in Albany.

<figure id="attachment_205165" class="wp-caption …read more

Source: HISTORY

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See America’s First Memorial to its 4,400 Lynching Victims

April 20, 2018 in History

By Becky Little

Attempts to reckon with America’s history of racism have been difficult in the South, particularly the deep South states of Alabama and Mississippi. They are the only two states that celebrate Martin Luther King and Robert E. Lee’s birth on the same day. But on April 26, 2018, a new memorial and museum will challenge Montgomery, Alabama, to confront its own history of slavery, lynching, and Jim Crow laws, as well as the past’s relationship to mass incarceration.

The National Memorial for Peace and Justice is an outdoor structure that includes 800 monuments, each representing a U.S. county where lynchings occurred and listing the names of people killed in that county. Most radically, the memorial is surrounded by replica memorials for each of the 800 U.S. counties to come claim.

“Each county represented here will have the opportunity to take one of the figures back to their communities as a way to remember and to begin a conversation,” observed Nia-Malika Henderson, a senior political reporter for CNN, when she visited the memorial. “It will also be obvious which counties do not claim their monuments.”

There are more than 4,400 victims commemorated on the memorial’s rust-colored steel columns—800 more lynchings than had previously been recognized, according to the memorial’s website.

After the Civil War, lynching became a terrorist tactic that white people used to exert power over newly-freed black men and women. Although many Americans think of it as a Southern phenomenon, lynchings took place in the North, too. Lynching was not de jure legal in that it was carried out by a mob rather than a formal judge and jury. However, because lynchings went unchallenged in courts, they became a de facto form of legalized mob violence.

No rationale was needed for lynching, but the people who carried them out often accused black men of some perceived slight against white women. These slights could be non-criminal offenses like knocking on a woman’s door, or criminal accusations like rape. However, because white people used lynching as a tool to intimidate black people and discourage them from exercising rights like voting, historians view these accusations with <a target=_blank …read more

Source: HISTORY