Tag Archives: History

April 17, 1975 (a Thursday)

Khmer Rouge fighters celebrate as they enter Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975.

On this date, Phnom Penh in Cambodia fell under the control of the Khmer Rouge, the guerrilla group led by Pol Pot that was funded and fueled by Chinese Communists.  Pol Pot immediately directed a ruthless program to “purify” Cambodian society of capitalism, Western culture, religion, and all foreign influences.  He wanted to turn Cambodia into an isolated and totally self-sufficient Maoist agrarian state.  Foreigners were expelled, embassies closed, and the currency abolished.  Markets, schools, newspapers, religious practices, and private property were forbidden.   Members of the Lon Nol government, public servants, police, military officers, teachers, ethnic Vietnamese, Christian clergy, Muslim leaders, members of the Cham Muslim minority, members of the middle-class, intellectuals, and the educated were identified and executed.  Anyone who opposed was killed.

An undated photograph shows forced laborers digging canals in Kampong Cham province, part of the massive agrarian infrastructure the Khmer Rouge planned for the country.

The Khmer Rouge forced all city residents into the countryside and to labor camps. During the three years, eight months, and 20 days of Pol Pot’s rule, Cambodia faced its darkest days; an estimated 2 million Cambodians or 30% of the country’s population died by starvation, torture, or execution. Almost every Cambodian family lost at least one relative during this most gruesome holocaust.

Skulls of victims of the Khmer Rouge at the Killing Fields.

Perhaps the most notorious of the atrocities that occurred under the rule of Pol Pot occurred at Security Prison 21 (S-21), formerly the Tuol Svay Prey High School (named after a royal ancestor of King Norodom Sihanouk of Cambodia) in Phnom Penh.  The five buildings of the complex were converted in August 1975 into a prison and interrogation center by the Khmer Rouge regime.  All the classrooms were converted into cells. The windows were enclosed in iron bars and covered in barbed wire. The classrooms on the ground floor were divided into tiny cells, 0.8 x 2 meters each, for one prisoner. Female prisoners were housed on the middle floors and the upper-story classrooms were converted into mass cells.

S-21 Tuol Sleng Prison was formerly a school.

One of the administration offices belonged to Comrade Duch, a former teacher and the infamous commandant of S-21 who recently stood trial and eventually apologized for his crimes. Alongside Duch was a workforce of 1,720 staff, comprising prison warders, office personnel, interrogators, and general workers. Many of the sub-units of the prison were staffed by children between the ages of 10 and 15 who were specially selected and trained for their role. They became increasingly dissocialized and evil, and were exceptionally cruel and disrespectful towards the adult prisoners and staff. Children also formed the majority of the medical staff and were untrained.

From 1975 to 1979, an estimated 17,000 people were imprisoned at S-21 (some estimates suggest a number as high as 20,000, though the real number is unknown); there were only twelve known survivors.  At any one time, the prison held between 1,000 to 1,500 inmates.  They were repeatedly tortured and coerced into naming family members and close associates, who were in turn arrested, tortured, and killed.

Thousands of children died in S-21 Tuol Sleng.

The Khmer Rouge required that the prison staff make a detailed dossier for each prisoner.  Included in the documentation was a photograph.  Since the original negatives and photographs were separated from the dossiers in the 1979-1980 period, most of the photographs remain anonymous today.  The photographs are currently exhibited at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, located at the former site of S-21 in Phnom Penh. (Tuol Sleng in Khmer [tuəl slaeŋ] means “Hill of the Poisonous Trees” or “Strychnine Hill”.)

Prisoner Pon Ny, in leg chain (undated).

Every morning, all prisoners were ordered to pull their shorts down to the ankles so they could be inspected. Despite remaining shackled, they were then ordered to exercise by moving their legs and arms up and down. Prisoners were inspected four times a day to check their shackles weren’t loose.

Toilets consisted of small iron and plastic buckets and prisoners had to ask permission of the guards before relieving themselves. If they didn’t, they were beaten or whipped with electrical wire as punishment. They had to stay silent at all times unless being interrogated and risked electrocution if they disobeyed any of the many regulations.

Bathing consisted of a tube of running water poked through a window to splash water on them for a short time. This happened only every two or three days at most, sometimes as rarely as fortnightly. Unhygienic living conditions caused many prisoners to become infected with skin rashes and other diseases and no medicine was given for treatment.

On January 7, 1979, Vietnam invaded and freed the Cambodian people from Khmer Rouge’s reign of terror. Six hundred thousand Cambodians fled to Thai border refugee camps. Fearful to return back to Cambodia, many Cambodians had no choice but to emigrate to the United States, France, or Australia.

Today, many people and organizations are educating the world about the Cambodian Killing Fields. Only through awareness will the world remember the lessons of the genocide, honor the memories of the 2 million killed, and promote peace and tolerance so as to not to relive the same dark days.

Suggested reading:

  • Haing Ngor and Roger Warner, Survival in the Killing Fields (New York, NY: Carroll & Graf Publishers, 2003). [First published in 1987 as A Cambodian Odyssey by Macmillan Publishing Company.]

April 16, 1953 (a Thursday)

On this date in Washington D.C., President of the United States (and former General of the Army) Dwight D. Eisenhower delivered his “The Chance for Peace” speech to the American Society of Newspaper Editors, which was also broadcast nationwide by radio. In his address, he contemplated a world permanently perched on the brink of war and he appealed to Americans to assess the consequences likely to ensue.

There were two themes to this speech. Delivered in the wake of Joseph Stalin’s death, the speech offered the new Soviet leadership a five-point plan for ending the Cold War.  As seen from the perspective of the U.S.S.R., Eisenhower was “demanding unconditional surrender.” The president’s peace plan quickly vanished without a trace.

However, a second theme was woven into his speech and it is this:  Spending on arms and armies is inherently undesirable. Even when seemingly necessary, it constitutes a misappropriation of scarce resources. By diverting social capital from productive to destructive purposes, war and the preparation for war deplete, rather than enhance, a nation’s strength. And while assertions of military necessity might camouflage the costs entailed, they can never negate them altogether.

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.

This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.

Eisenhower also spoke in specifics:

The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals.

It is some 50 miles of concrete highway. We pay for a single fighter with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.

Eisenhower gave a memorable metaphor and sounded a note of hope:

This, I repeat, is the best way of life to be found on the road the world has been taking.

This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron. These plain and cruel truths define the peril and point to the hope that comes with this spring of 1953 [emphasis added].

Unfortunately, despite Ike’s popularity and eloquence, Americans had no intention of choosing between guns and butter: they wanted both. The 1950s brought new bombers and new schools, fleets of warships and tracts of freshly built homes spilling into the suburbs. Pentagon budgets remained high throughout the Eisenhower era, averaging more than 50 percent of all federal spending and 10 percent of GDP, figures without precedent in the nation’s peacetime history. In 1952, when Ike was elected, the U.S. nuclear stockpile numbered some 1,000 warheads. By the time he passed the reins to John F. Kennedy in 1961, it consisted of more than 24,000 warheads, and it rapidly ascended later that decade to a peak of 31,000.

This arms buildup was driven by an unstated alliance of interested parties: generals, defense officials, military contractors, and members of Congress, all of whom shared a single perspective. In his 1956 book, The Power Elite, C. Wright Mills, a professor of sociology at Columbia, named this perspective “military metaphysics”. Those embracing this mind-set no longer considered genuine, lasting peace to be plausible. Rather, peace was at best a transitory condition, “a prelude to war or an interlude between wars.”
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The beneficiaries of military spending rationalized the arms buildup with — and  vigorously promoted a belief in — the existence of looming national peril.  Whether or not the threat was real, every ominous advance in Soviet capabilities was justification for opening the military-spending spigot wider.  The discovery during the 1950s of a “bomber gap” and later a “missile gap,” for example, provided political ammunition to air-power advocates quick to charge that the nation’s very survival was at risk.  That both “gaps” were fictitious was irrelevant.  Ultimately, appropriations poured forth.

[On 7 February 1961, The New York Times ran a two-column headline on its front page that read: KENNEDY DEFENSE STUDY FINDS NO EVIDENCE OF A ‘MISSILE GAP’. Ike had always insisted there was no such gap; now JFK’s own Secretary of Defense, the former Ford Motor Company president Robert S. McNamara, had no choice but to admit that Eisenhower had been right. Not only could the United States survive a full-scale Soviet ICBM attack, it could come out of it with enough weapons left to destroy every city in the U.S.S.R., kill 180 million Soviet citizens, and take out 80 percent of Soviet industrial capacity. Indeed, studies conducted in 1963 indicated that actual Soviet ICBM strength in 1961 amounted to only 3.5 percent of the official U.S. estimate.]

Knowing at the time that the United States enjoyed an edge in bomber and missile capabilities, Eisenhower understood precisely who benefited from fear-mongering.  Yet to sustain the illusion he was fully in command, Ike remained publicly silent about what went on behind the scenes. Only on the eve of his departure from office did he inform the nation as to what the federal government’s new obsession with national security had wrought.

A half century after Eisenhower summoned us to shoulder the responsibilities of citizenship, we still refuse to do so.  In Washington, an aura of never-ending crisis still prevails — and with it, military metaphysics.  Ike is someone we should have listened to then and — with the U.S. today mired in perpetual war and flirting with insolvency and long term economic stagnation — we should listen to even more intently now.

Suggested reading:

April 15, 1857 (a Wednesday)

On this date, a 3-kg carbonaceous chondrite fell at Kaba, near Debrecen, Hungary. The arrival of this meteorite was described as follows in the book The Geologist (1859) by Samuel Joseph Mackie (pp. 285-6):

About 10 pm an inhabitant of Kaba, sleeping in the open air, was awakened by a noise, different from that of thunder, as he described it, and perceived in the serene sky a luminous globe, of dazzling brightness, following a parabolic course during four seconds. This phenomenon was observed by several inhabitants of the same place. As one of them was riding out the next morning, his horse was frightened by the sight of a black stone, deeply bedded in the soil of the road, the ground around it being depressed and creviced. When dug out the meteorite weighed about 7 pounds. The finder broke off some fragments, and the remainder, weighing 5-1/4 lbs., was deposited in the Museum of the Reformed College at Debreczin.

Samples of the Kaba meteorite and the Cold Bokkeveld meteorite were examined and found to contain organic substances by Friedrich Wöhler, who inferred a biological origin. Ironically, it was Wöhler who had shown that it was possible to make organic chemicals by inorganic means. However, it was only later appreciated that complex carbon molecules can be manufactured in space by purely chemical processes.

April 15, 1452

Leonardo's self portrait

On this date, Leonardo da Vinci was born at Anchiano near Vinci in the Florence area of Italy. It is well known that in one of his unpublished notebooks, Leonardo concluded that some fossil sea shells were the remains of shellfish.

Although “fossil” is now a common and widely used word, whose meaning is known to practically everyone, the general acceptance of the idea that fossils are the remains of ancient organisms required millennia to achieve. One reason for this is that the great age of Earth also was not widely appreciated until relatively recently. Without an Earth eons old the idea of ancient life and the idea of fossils are meaningless.

The use of fossils in understanding the distant past can be traced back to at least the sixth century B.C.E., when Xenophanes of Colophon lived. Xenophanes described the occurrence of clam shells in rocks outcropping in mountainous parts of Attica. He recognized that these lithified clam shells were closely similar to clams that were then living along the coastline of the Aegean Sea. To account for the occurrence of these lithified clam shells far from the present sea, he argued that they were the preserved remains of clams that had lived at an earlier time when Attica was covered by an ocean. Hippolytus of Rome (c. 170 – c. 236) in his Refutation of all Heresies (1.14.5-6) records that Xenophanes studied the fossils to be found in quarries:

Xenophanes declared that the sea is salty because many mixtures flow together in it… He believes that earth is being mixed into the sea and over time it is being dissolved by the moisture, saying that he has the following kind of proofs, that sea shells are found in the middle of the earth and in mountains, and the impressions of a fish and seals have been found at Syracuse in the quarries, and the impression of a laurel leaf in the depth of the stone in Paros, and on Malta flat shapes of all marine life. He says that these things occurred when all things were covered with mud long ago and the impressions were dried in the mud.

However, in 750 BCE there were no quantitative methods for verifying this hypothesis, and so Xenophanes’ rather modern-sounding explanation for these clams could not be tested, and disappeared from view. This interpretation of fossils did not reappear in history until Leonardo da Vinci, although he did not contribute to the understanding of fossils since his views were never published.

April 15, 1989 (a Saturday)

Hu Yaobang (r.) and Deng Xiaoping – Sept 1981

On this date, former Chinese Communist Party General Secretary Hu Yaobang, deposed in 1987, died of a massive heart attack. People began to gather in Tiananmen Square to commemorate Hu and voice their discontents. This was the beginning of events that would lead to the Tiananmen Square massacrein June.

Hu Yaobang was a reformist, who served as General Secretary from 1980 to 1987. He advocated rehabilitation of people persecuted during the Cultural Revolution, greater autonomy for Tibet, rapprochement with Japan, and social and economic reform. As a result, he was forced out of office by the hardliners in January of 1987, and made to offer humiliating public “self-criticisms” for his allegedly bourgeois ideas.

Chinese Students Demonstrate After Hu Yaobang’s Death, photo dated 21-22 April 1989.

One of the charges leveled against Hu was that he had encouraged (or at least allowed) wide-spread student protests in late 1986. As General Secretary, he refused to crack down on such protests, believing that dissent by the intelligentsia should be tolerated by the Communist government.

Official media made just brief mention of Hu’s death, and the government at first did not plan to give him a state funeral. In reaction, university students from across Beijing marched on Tiananmen Square, shouting acceptable, government-approved slogans, and calling for the rehabilitation of Hu’s reputation. Bowing to this pressure, the government decided to accord Hu a state funeral after all.

Subverting the Truth: April 13, 1917 (a Friday)

On this date, Woodrow Wilson, the 28th U.S. president, created the Committee on Public Information (CPI) as an independent agency by Executive Order 2594. The CPI blended advertising techniques with a sophisticated understanding of human psychology, and its efforts represent the first time that a modern government disseminated propaganda on such a large scale. It is fascinating that this phenomenon, often linked with totalitarian regimes, emerged in a democratic state.

'Enlist U.S. Army' is the caption of this World War I propaganda poster for enlistment in the US Army.

‘Enlist U.S. Army’ is the caption of this World War I propaganda poster for enlistment in the US Army.

George Creel, director of the CPI, recruited publicity agent Edward L. Bernays, journalist Walter Lippmann, and others to carry out its mission of reversing negative public sentiment about the Great War, now known as World War I. Bernays was influential in promoting the idea that America’s war efforts were primarily aimed at “bringing democracy to all of Europe”.

The CPI used a number of techniques to dehumanize the enemy and to promote anti-German sentiment in the United States with the goal of encouraging people to support the war “over there”. Atrocities committed by the other side were reported in detail and sometimes with unreliable facts, while questions about the activity of American forces and their allies were suppressed.

The committee’s propaganda and censorship worked beyond all expectations. Mobs lynched German Americans. Nearly 5,000 were jailed for being of German descent. Businesses barred people with German names from working for them. People were coerced into buying war bonds to prove their loyalty. Many people changed their names. For example, Mueller became Miller.

After WW I, Bernays took the techniques he learned in the CPI directly to Madison Avenue and became an outspoken proponent of propaganda as a tool for democratic government. “It was, of course, the astounding success of propaganda during the war that opened the eyes of the intelligent few in all departments of life to the possibilities of regimenting the public mind,” wrote Bernays in Propaganda, published in 1928. “It was only natural, after the war ended, that intelligent persons should ask themselves whether it was not possible to apply a similar technique to the problems of peace.” He also wrote:

The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.… We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. This is a logical result of the way in which our democratic society is organized. Vast numbers of human beings must cooperate in this manner if they are to live together as a smoothly functioning society.… In almost every act of our daily lives, whether in the sphere of politics or business, in our social conduct or our ethical thinking, we are dominated by the relatively small number of persons…who understand the mental processes and social patterns of the masses. It is they who pull the wires which control the public mind. (Propaganda, 1928)

Bernays was the nephew of Sigmund Freud. Freud divided the mind into the conscious mind, which consists of all the mental processes of which we are aware, and the unconscious mind, which contains irrational, biologically-based instincts for the primitive urges for sex and aggression. Combining the ideas of Gustave Le Bon (The Crowd: A Study of the Popular Mind, 1895) and Wilfred Trotter (Instincts of the Herd in Peace and War, 1916) on crowd psychology with the ideas of his uncle, Bernays was one of the first to attempt to manipulate public opinion by appealing to, and attempting to influence, the unconscious. He felt this manipulation was necessary in society, which he regarded as irrational and dangerous as a result of the “herd instinct”.

Bernays’ basic idea was that human behavior is driven more by emotion than by logic and that by harnessing that emotion at a group level you could get people to do what you wanted them to do. In Propaganda, he wrote, “If we understand the mechanism and motives of the group mind, is it not possible to control and regiment the masses according to our will without their knowing about it?”

Bernays believed that to maintain order the populace must be kept docile, and in order to be kept docile, people must be kept content, happy. Or at least, be told that they’re happy. The real irony is that in order to convince them of their contentment, Bernays’ method manipulated their mindsets in such a way as to ensure that they could never be contented. He ensured that people would instead be in endless pursuit of happiness. From that point on, no matter how competent a product might be, it could never satisfy people indefinitely. Only their endless search for the elusive one that might satisfy them indefinitely could possibly keep them placid.

The creation of consumerism didn’t mean people were satisfied; instead they were offered satisfaction as a goal to aim for. A goal where the posts can be continually and cunningly moved just beyond reach. In 1929 Charles F. Kettering, director of General Motors, wrote in an article entitled “Keep the Consumer Dissatisfied” that the “key to economic prosperity is the organized creation of dissatisfaction…If everyone were satisfied no one would want to buy the new thing.”
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Edward Bernays: “Torches of Freedom”
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Bernays’ method served a greater purpose than domestic tranquility. The Great War spurred the development of mass production techniques to supply huge quantities of war material. After the war, industry could produce consumer goods in much greater quantities and for less. For example, Henry Ford pioneered the mass production of automobiles — in the 1920s, his assembly lines dramatically lowered the cost of an automobile so that millions could afford them. However, those running the corporations were worried about overproduction — that people might actually stop buying things once they had what they needed. “We must shift America from a needs, to a desires culture,” wrote Wall Street banker Paul Mazur (Harvard Business Review, 1927). “People must be trained to desire, to want new things even before the old had been entirely consumed. We must shape a new mentality in America. Man’s desires must overshadow his needs.” Bernays claimed he was the first to tell car companies they could sell cars as a symbol of male sexuality.

In his work for major corporations, one of Bernays’ most spectacular successes was to help break the taboo against women smoking. George Hill, the President of the American Tobacco corporation, asked Bernays to find a way to break it. A.A. Brille was one of the first psychoanalysts in America. And for a large fee he told Bernays that cigarettes were a symbol of the penis and of male sexual power. Women smoking challenged male sexual identity so much that men were sub-consciously keeping women from smoking. He told Bernays that if he could find a way to connect cigarettes with the idea of challenging male power, then women would smoke because then they would have their own penises.

That gave Bernays the idea to hire beautiful young girls to burst out of several different churches along the route of the 1929 Easter Day Parade in New York City and light up. He carefully instructed them to walk arm in arm at the front of the parade, puffing away. Bernays saw that it was news, not advertising, that would get the message to the people and told the press that there was going to be a protest that day on “lighting the torch of freedom”. Half the city’s reporters and photographers were there when they rounded the corner on main street. It was his phrase that hit the headlines – squarely positioning smoking with female independence and liberty.

From that moment on, smoking was seen as a sign of freedom for women. This was a classic appeal to the emotional rather than the rational. It is quite clear that smoking does not make you free (probably a more appropriate slogan for the washing machine or the pill), but the association made women feel powerful, and it stuck. The numbers of women taking up the habit shot through the roof.

Who knew socks could seem so sexy? Interwoven advertisement, circa 1927, by Joseph Christian Leyendecker.

Who knew socks could seem so sexy? Interwoven advertisement, circa 1927, by Joseph Christian Leyendecker.

After this success, Lehman Brothers and other big New York banks financed the development of department stores, confident that they could use the techniques pioneered by Bernays to persuade people to purchase a range of products that left to themselves they may very well not have bothered with. This period also saw the introduction of the techniques of product placement and psuedo-scientific product endorsement so familiar to us today. Buying things because they say something about us, or make us feel a certain way, was a complete transformation in the 1920s when most selling was done on the basis of information and function. Bernays spent a lifetime helping companies connect with the “irrational emotion” of their customer.

But the peacetime application by the government of what was, after all, a tool of war, began to trouble Americans who suspected that they had been misled. In The New Republic, John Dewey questioned the paternalistic assumptions of those who disguised propaganda as news. “There is uneasiness and solicitude about what men hear and learn,” wrote Dewey, and the “paternalistic care for the source of men’s beliefs, once generated by war, carries over to the troubles of peace.” Dewey argued that the manipulation of information was particularly evident in coverage of post-Revolutionary Russia.

The objective for Bernays was to provide government and media outlets with powerful tools for social persuasion and control. In an article entitled “The Engineering of Consent” (1947) he argued, “The engineering of consent is the very essence of the democratic process, the freedom to persuade and suggest.” But all of this had little, if anything, to do with real democracy. Adolf Hitler learned from the CPI; he wrote in Mein Kampf (1925) admiringly that “the war propaganda of the English and Americans was psychologically correct…There, propaganda was regarded as a weapon of the first order, while in our country it was the last resort of unemployed politicians and a comfortable haven for slackers. And, as was to be expected, its results all in all were zero.” In fact, so impressed was Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels with Bernays’ early works Crystallizing Public Opinion (1923) and Propaganda that he relied heavily upon them for his own dubious inspiration in the 1930s. Apparently, that Bernays was a Jew mattered little to Goebbels.

Ironically, Bernays’ propaganda campaign for the United Fruit Company (today’s United Brands) in the 1950s had consequences just as evil and terrifying as if he’d worked directly for the Nazis — it led directly to the CIA’s overthrow of the elected government of Guatemala.

The term “banana republic” actually originated in reference to United Fruit’s domination of corrupt governments in Guatemala and other Central American countries. The company brutally exploited virtual slave labor in order to produce cheap bananas for the lucrative U.S. market. When a mildly reformist Guatemala government attempted to reign in the company’s power, Bernays whipped up media and political sentiment against it in the early years of the Cold War.

“Articles began appearing in the New York Times, the New York Herald Tribune, the Atlantic Monthly, Time, Newsweek, the New Leader, and other publications all discussing the growing influence of Guatemala’s Communists,” wrote Larry Tye in The Father of Spin: Edward L. Bernays and the Birth of PR (1998). “The fact that liberal journals like the Nation were also coming around was especially satisfying to Bernays, who believed that winning the liberals over was essential. . . . At the same time, plans were under way to mail to American Legion posts and auxiliaries 300,000 copies of a brochure entitled ‘Communism in Guatemala — 22 Facts.’” ____________________________________________________

Edward Bernays: How to Sell a War
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Bernays’ efforts led directly to a brutal military coup. Tye wrote that Bernays “remained a key source of information for the press, especially the liberal press, right through the takeover. In fact, as the invasion was commencing on June 18 [1954], his personal papers indicate he was giving the ‘first news anyone received on the situation’ to the Associated Press, United Press, the International News Service, and the New York Times, with contacts intensifying over the next several days.”

The result, tragically, was decades of tyranny under a Guatemalan government whose brutality rivaled the Nazis as it condemned hundreds of thousands of people (mostly members of the country’s impoverished Maya Indian majority) to dislocation, torture and death. “The propaganda war Bernays waged in Guatemala set the pattern for future U.S.-led campaigns in Cuba and, much later, Vietnam,” according to Tye. Bernays apparently never regretted his work for United Fruit.

Democratic theory, as interpreted by Jefferson and Paine, was rooted in the Enlightenment belief that free citizens could form respectable opinions about issues of the day and use these opinions to guide their own destiny. In 1820, Jefferson wrote in a letter to William C. Jarvis:

I know of no safe depository of the ultimate power of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise that control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education.

Communication between citizens was assumed to be a necessary element of the democratic process. But during World War I, America’s leaders felt that citizens were not making the correct decisions quickly enough, so they flooded the channels of communication with dishonest messages that were designed to stir up emotions and provoke hatred of Germany. The war came to an end, but propaganda did not.

It was the idea of Bernays to sell warfare as the spreading of democracy, an idea that rules the American thought process to this very day. The amazing power of this campaign can be seen a full hundred years later, as the most common reason given by heads of state for military intervention abroad is to “bring democracy”, whether it is Europe, Asia, or the Middle East. The region is irrelevant, the only goal is to bend the will and thoughts of society about the necessity of a particular event. Democracy works so well as a rallying cry because it boosts the mental image of the recipient of the propaganda, giving the illusion that the collective group is already extremely lucky to “have democracy”, and also that those who want to bring democracy elsewhere are performing a noble and needed thing, for the benefit of humanity. Thus, once the propaganda has taken hold in the collective mind, anyone putting forth a different viewpoint, is seen as “against democracy”, or against the essential tenets of the society in which they reside.

Just as troubling, Bernays realized that the same technique could be used for selling products, by appealing to the emotions rather than to the intellect. He helped to shift America from a needs-based economy to a culture of desire. (No, you do not logically need a new car — but just think of how much better you are going to feel when you have one!) In the November 1924 issue of The Atlantic Monthly, journalist Samuel Strauss lamented, “Something new has come to confront American democracy… [T]he American citizen’s first importance to his country is no longer that of citizen but that of consumer.” Rail and airline passengers become “consumers” of the service called “transport”; one attends university classes as a consumer (of the degree, not the knowledge); and a visit to a doctor is for the purpose of consuming medical care.

More recently, soon after the September 11 attacks, members of the Bush administration exhorted Americans to demonstrate their patriotism by maintaining high levels of consumer spending. House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt proclaimed that Americans were “not giving up on America, they’re not giving up on our markets.” Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill said, “We’re going to show we have backbone.” President Bush declared that the American economy was “open for business,” and Vice President Cheney urged Americans to “stick their thumb in the eye of the terrorists and…not let what’s happened here in any way throw off their normal level of economic activity.” Interestingly, in his memoir Decision Points (pp 443-4), which was published in 2010, Bush commented, “Later, I would be mocked and criticized for telling Americans to ‘go shopping’ after 9/11. I never actually used that phrase, but that’s beside the point. In the threat-filled months after 9/11, traveling on airplanes, visiting tourist destinations, and, yes, going shopping, were acts of defiance and patriotism.”

Newsweek cover, 23 March 2009.

Newsweek cover, 23 March 2009.

Treating people as consumers and convincing them that this is their existential role has profound political implications. First, it objectifies one’s fellow citizens. He/she is not a person but a provider of a commercial service on demand, such as transportation, a college degree, or medical care. Second, and implied by the first, no social interaction is expected between the “provider” and the “consumer”. Third, since people are buyers, it is in their interest that they buy at the lowest possible price. The consequence of the three is that the transaction, be it for transport, schooling, or medical aid, is an exchange in which the buyer views the seller as a thing that conveys a commodity. Finally, for a consumer, paying taxes to the government is an involuntary reduction in the income available to spend on commodities. The government denies them part of what brings them fulfillment, income to spend on commodities, which is why so many people today view the government not as “us” but as “them”. In a nutshell, the governing impulse of the consumer is “I want.”

The word “citizen” has its roots in the word “city” – an inhabitant of a city, a member of a community. As a member of a community, being a citizen means being part of something bigger than oneself by participating in it. Whether we want to acknowledge it or not, everything and everyone is interconnected, interdependent. To a citizen, the provider of a commercial service is a fellow worker and participant in civil society. The transaction between the two is an exchange in which the buyer views the seller as a fellow citizen, an equal with basic human rights, among which is being paid decently. It takes no great insight to realize that obtaining commodities as cheaply as possible implies driving down one’s own income. And a citizen is not “buying healthcare”, but is making sure everyone in his/her community is healthy, because if there is sickness, it is bad for everyone, including oneself. It is equally obvious that minimizing taxes implies minimizing those activities and functions, such as public education, that create a society from a collection of isolated individuals. The governing impulse of the citizen is “we need.”

So, the next time you hear a news reporter on television or radio inform you that the cost of healthcare reform is “borne by the taxpayer”, or improved wages for teachers “will increase our taxes”, realize that you are being fed a not-very-subtle political message: you live alone; you need feel no responsibility for other members of society; and collective action for social improvement reduces your happiness. In other words, you are a consumer, not a citizen.

References:

  • Alan Axelrod, Profiles of Folly: History’s Worst Decisions and Why They Went Wrong (New York: Sterling Publishing, 2008).
  • Edward L. Bernays, Crystallizing Public Opinion (New York: Boni and Liveright, 1923).
  • —————–, Propaganda (New York: Liveright Publishing Corporation, 1928).
  • —————–, The engineering of consent. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science No. 250, p. 113 (March 1947).
  • The Century of the Self, 2002. Film. Directed by Adam Curtis. England: BBC Four. Transcript here.
  • Sigmund Freud. (1912) A note on the unconscious in psychoanalysis, in The Standard Edition [SE] of the Complete Psychological Works of Sigmund Freud (Vintage, 1999) vol. 12: 260-6.
  • —————–. (1915) The unconscious, in SE (Vintage, 1999) vol. 14: 159-204.
  • —————–. (1916-1917) Introductory lectures on psychoanalysis, in SE (Vintage, 1999) vol. 22: 1-182.
  • Thomas Jefferson, letter to William Charles Jarvis, September 28, 1820. Quoted in “A Short Exercise for the Fourth of July”, Putnam’s Monthly Magazine of American Literature, Science and Art, vol. 10, no. 55, p. 103-4 (July 1857).
  • Stewart Justman. Freud and his nephew. Social Research 61: 457–476 (1994).
  • Charles F. Kettering. Keep the Consumer Dissatisfied. Nation’s Business 17, no. 1: 30–31, 79 (January 1929).
  • Paul Mazur, American Prosperity: Its Causes and Consequences (New York, NY: Viking Press, 1928), pp. 24, 44, 47, 50.
  • John Stauber and Sheldon Rampton, Toxic Sludge is Good For You: Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry (Common Courage Press, 2002). [But remember: there are some very important people counting on you, and they really would prefer that you didn't ever hear about this book, much less buy it.]
  • Samuel Strauss. Things Are in the Saddle. The Atlantic Monthly 134: 577-88 (November 1924).
  • Larry Tye, The Father of Spin: Edward L. Bernays and the Birth of PR (Crown, 1998).
  • Woodrow Wilson: “Executive Order 2594 – Creating Committee on Public Information,” April 13, 1917. Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project. Retrieved from http://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/ws/?pid=75409.

April 12, 1748 (a Friday)

Antoine Laurent de Jussieu (1748-1836)

On this date, the French botanist Antoine Laurent de Jussieu was born in Lyon. He proposed the first natural system of classifiying flowering plants (angiosperms), much of which remains in use today.

In his study of flowering plants, Genera plantarum (1789), Jussieu adopted a methodology based on the use of multiple characters to define groups, an idea derived from Scottish-French naturalist Michel Adanson. This was a significant improvement over the original system of Linnaeus, who classified plants into families based on the number of stamens and pistils. Jussieu did keep Linnaeus’ binomial nomenclature, resulting in a work that was far-reaching in its impact; many of the present-day plant families are still attributed to Jussieu. For example, Morton’s 1981 History of botanical science counts 76 of Jussieu’s families conserved in the ICBN, versus just 11 for Linnaeus.

April 10, 1901 (a Wednesday)

On this date, Duncan MacDougall, MD, performed his first experiment to test a hypothesis, to wit, “If personal continuity after the event of death is a fact, if the psychic functions continue to exist as a separate individuality after the death of brain and body, then it must exist as a substantial material entity.” This implies that this entity should have mass, so MacDougall asked himself, “Why not weigh on accurate scales a man at the very moment of death?”

The following is an extract of a letter written by Dr. MacDougall to a Richard Hodgson, MD and dated 10 November 1901, describing MacDougall’s first experiment. The letter was published in May 1907, along with a report of his subsequent experiments, in the Journal of the American Society for Psychical Research:

duncan_macdougall_1907_-_21pp_page_13-14

Interestingly, in a commentary published with the report, the editor of the Journal wrote that he “does not share the hopes which many entertain regarding the possibility of ‘weighing a soul,’ but this does not preclude his [MacDougall's] recognition of the value of experiment, whatever its outcome. The main point is to have a definite conclusion established, whether it be negative or affirmative.”

According to The New York Times, MacDougall was a “reputable physician” and “at the head of a Research Society which for six years has been experimenting in this field.”

References:

April 8, 563 B.C.E. (?)

Colored lanterns in S. Korea at the Lotus Lantern Festival celebrating Buddha’s birthday.

Shakyamuni Buddha, the historical founder of Buddhism, was born Prince Siddhartha Gotama in the foothills of the Himalayas over 2,500 years ago. His birthday is traditionally celebrated on the first full moon day of the sixth month (Vesakha) of the Indian lunar calendar (which would be the fourth month of the Chinese lunar calendar) except in years in which there’s an extra full moon, and then Buddha’s birthday falls in the seventh month. Well, except where it starts a week earlier. And in Tibet it’s usually a month later…….

Oh, and in Japan, Buddha’s Birthday is always celebrated on April 8.

Confused?

Since the occurrence of the full moon varies from year to year, naturally the actual date varies from year to year (except in Japan).  In Southeast Asia, the day is called Vesak Puja or Visakha or Wesak.   “Puja” means “religious service,” so “Vesak Puja” can be translated “the religious service for the month of Visakha.”  This full moon day is the most commonly observed date for Buddha’s birthday.  Upcoming dates for Vesak Puja include:

  • 2010: May 21
  • 2011: May 10
  • 2012: May 28
  • 2013: May 17
  • 2014: May 6
  • 2015: May 25

In South Korea, Buddha’s birthday is a gala week-long celebration that ends on the first full moon day of the lunar month Vesakha.  Throughout Korea, city streets and temples are decorated with lanterns. At Jogyesa Temple in Seoul, the first day begins with religious ceremonies, followed by a street fair near the temple. In the evening a gala lantern parade stretches for miles through the heart of Seoul.  Here are upcoming dates for the celebration in South Korea:

  • 2010: May 15-May 21
  • 2011: May 4-May 10

Buddha’s birthday in Japan.

In Japan, Buddha’s birthday is always celebrated on April 8, although it is not a national holiday.  This day is called Hana Matsuri or “Flower Festival.” In China, the first celebration of the Buddha’s birth is said to have taken place on April 8 in the latter Chao dynasty (C.E. 319–355) and in Japan it was first held in 660 at the Ganko-ji temple near Nara by order of Empress Suiko. On this day, the statue of the infant Buddha is placed in a flower-decorated shrine symbolizing the beautiful Lumbini garden where the Buddha was born. Sometimes it is carried on a white elephant in a parade, recalling the legendary elephant that brought the Buddha from heaven to the womb of his mother, Queen Maya. People gather around the shrine and pour sweet tea on the statue of the infant Buddha as a substitute for the nectar which is said to have been sprinkled by celestial beings at the time of his birth. The service is therefore called the Kambutsu (Anointing the Buddha) Service.

Celebrating in Tibet.

The entire fourth month of the Tibetan calendar, which usually begins in May and ends in June, is called Saga Dawa (meaning “fourth month”). The seventh day of Saga Dawa is the date of the historical Buddha’s birth for Tibetans. However, the Buddha’s birth, enlightenment and entry into Nirvana at his death are observed together on the 15th day of Saga Dawa, called Saga Dawa Duchen. This is the single most important holiday for Tibetan Buddhism, usually observed with pilgrimages and other visits to temples and shrines. The highlight of Saga Dawa Duchen is the raising of a huge pole which is festooned with prayer flags galore, as pilgrims circumambulate the central ring area with prayer wheels in motion.

April 8, 1805 (a Monday)

Hugo von Mohl

On this date, the German botanist Hugo von Mohl was born in Stuttgart. In 1823, he entered the University of Tübingen. After graduating with distinction in medicine he went to Munich, where he met a distinguished circle of botanists and found ample material for research. Unmarried, Mohl’s pleasures were in his laboratory and library, and in perfecting optical apparatus and microscopic preparations, for which he showed extraordinary manual skill. He suggested using the term protoplasm for the ground substance of cells – the nucleus had already been recognized by Robert  Brown and others, but Mohl showed in 1844 that the protoplasm is the source of those movements which at that time excited so much attention.

The origin of the cell was unknown in Mohl’s time. Schwann had regarded cell growth as a kind of crystallization, beginning with the deposit of a nucleus about a granule in the intercellular substance – the “cytoblastema”, as Schleiden called it. But Mohl, as early as 1835, had called attention to the formation of new vegetable cells through the division of a pre-existing cell. Ehrenberg, another high authority of the time, contended that no such division occurs, and the matter was still in dispute when Schleiden came forward with his discovery of “free cell-formation” within the parent cell, and this for a long time diverted attention from the process of division which Mohl had described. All manner of schemes of cell-formation were put forward during the ensuing years by a multitude of observers, and gained currency notwithstanding Mohl’s reiterated contention that there are really but two ways in which the formation of new cells takes place – namely, “first, through division of older cells; secondly, through the formation of secondary cells lying free in the cavity of a cell.”

But gradually the researches of such accurate observers as Unger, Nageli, Kolliker, Reichart, and Remak tended to confirm Mohl’s opinion that cells spring only from cells, and finally Rudolf Virchow brought the matter to demonstration about 1860. His Omnis cellula e cellula became from that time one of the accepted facts of biology.

Mohl’s early investigations on the structure of palms, cycads, and tree ferns permanently laid the foundation of all later knowledge of this subject.  His later anatomical work was chiefly on the stems of dicotyledons and gymnosperms. He first explained the formation and origin of different types of bark, and corrected errors relating to lenticels. Following his early demonstration of the origin of stomata (1838), Mohl wrote a classical paper on their opening and closing (1850). He received many honors during his lifetime, and was elected foreign fellow of the Royal Society of London in 1868.

April 7, 1864 (a Thursday)

On this date, Louis Pasteur uttered his famous statement, “The doctrine of spontaneous generation will never recover from the mortal blow inflicted by this experiment,” during an address he delivered at the Sorbonne in Paris, France. The experiment he was referring to involved swan-necked flasks.

Pasteur filled a flask with medium, heated it to kill all life, and then drew out the neck of the flask into a long S. This prevented microorganisms in the air from entering the flask, yet allowed air to flow freely. If the swan neck was broken, microbes could enter the flask and grow.

Pasteur had placed beef broth in flasks that had open-ended, long necks. After bending the necks of the flasks into S-shaped curves that dipped downward, then swept sharply upward, he boiled the contents. The contents of these uncapped flasks remained uncontaminated even months later.

Pasteur explained that the S-shaped curve allowed air to pass into the flask; however, the curved neck trapped airborne microorganisms at the bottom of the curve, preventing them from traveling into the broth.  If the swan neck was broken, microbes readily entered the flask and grew. Thus, Pasteur demonstrated that (1) microorganisms are present in the air and can contaminate solutions; and (2) the air itself does not create microbes.

Interestingly, despite Pasteur’s successful demonstrations against spontaneous generation, attempts to repeat his experiments occasionally failed because, after some time, microbial growth occurred in some broths of swan-necked flasks. This created doubt in the minds of many. But, this problem was solved by John Tyndall, an English physicist, in the year 1877. He explained that bacteria exist in two forms: Heat-labile forms which could be killed by exposure to high temperatures, and heat-resistant forms (known as spores) which could not be killed by continuous boiling of the broth.  After the broth has cooled, the latter resulted in microbial growth in such broths.

Tyndall further stated that if such broths are subjected to intermittent boiling (that is, discontinuous boiling) on successive occasions, a process now popular as tyndallization, the heat-resistant forms of bacteria will be killed and the broths become completely free of them, and do not show any microbial growth. It so happens because the first boiling kills vegetative cells of bacteria but spores remain as such. The spores now germinate in cooled broth and produce new bacteria cells which are killed during further boiling and so on. In this way, Tyndall validated Pasteur’s results and helped end the debate on spontaneous generation.

Many creationists maintain that, as a result of the above experiment, “Louis Pasteur disproved Darwin’s theory.” In fact, Pasteur did no such thing. What he and the others who denied spontaneous generation demonstrated is that life does not currently spontaneously arise in complex form from non-life in nature; he did not demonstrate the impossibility of life arising in simple form from non-life by way of a long and propitious series of chemical steps/selections. Pasteur’s experiments were limited to a smaller system, and for a shorter time, than the open surface of the planet over millions or billions of years. In particular, they did not show that life cannot arise once, and then evolve. Neither Pasteur, nor any other post-Darwin researcher in this field, denied the age of the earth or the fact of evolution.

April 7, 1727 (a Monday)

Michel Adanson

On this date, the French botanist Michel Adanson was born. Following study at the Plessis Sorbon, the Collège Royal, and the Jardin du Roi, Adanson traveled to Senegal where he spent four years collecting natural history specimens. The report of this expedition appeared in 1757 as Histoire naturelle du Sénégal, and it contained a novel systematic arrangement of mollusks that won Adanson some notoriety in zoological circles. He is best remembered, however, for his comprehensive Familles des plantes (Paris, 1763–1764), in which he rejected systems (such as those of Linnaeus) that were based on only a few selected characters (artificial systems), in favor of an arrangement that takes all features of the plant into account (a natural system). As an associate of Buffon, Adanson was a significant contributor to the Historie naturelle, and his own herbarium, numbering about 30,000 specimens, came to rest in Paris at the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle.

April 6, 2006 (a Thursday)

*Tiktaalik roseae* fills in the evolutionary gap between fish and land animals.

On this date, two articles were published in the science journal Nature reporting the discovery of a fossil that might in time become as much of an evolutionary icon as the proto-bird Archaeopteryx. Several specimens of this transitional form, named Tiktaalik roseae, were found in late Devonian river sediments on Ellesmere Island in Nunavut, Arctic Canada.

References:

Lead, Violence, and Society

Big Business conducted a Big Experiment with America's youth you never knew about.

Big Business conducted a Big Experiment with America’s youth you never knew about.

When Rudy Giuliani ran for mayor of New York City in 1993, he campaigned on a platform of bringing down crime and making the city safe again. It was a comfortable position for a former federal prosecutor with a tough-guy image, but it was more than mere posturing. Since 1960, rape rates had nearly quadrupled, murder had quintupled, and robbery had grown fourteenfold. New Yorkers felt like they lived in a city under siege.

Giuliani won the election and selected Boston police chief Bill Bratton as the NYPD’s new commissioner. Bratton aggressively cracked down on small crimes, believing bigger crimes would drop as well. And they did.

But in fact, violent crime had actually peaked in New York City in 1990, four years before the Giuliani-Bratton era. By the time they took office, it had already dropped 12 percent. And it continued to drop. And drop. And drop. By 2010, violent crime rates in New York City had plunged 75 percent from their peak in the early ’90s.

It’s not just New York that saw a big drop in crime. In city after city, violent crime peaked in the early ’90s and then began a steady and spectacular decline. Washington, DC, didn’t have either Giuliani or Bratton, but its violent crime rate dropped 58 percent since its peak. Dallas’ fell 70 percent. Newark: 74 percent. Los Angeles: 78 percent.

The disappearance of lead from gas and paint is one of the most compelling hypotheses to explain the decline of violent crime in America, especially in cities — big cities, with their density and traffic, were particularly vulnerable to airborne lead.

It’s the only hypothesis that persuasively explains both the rise of crime in the ’60s and ’70s and its fall beginning in the ’90s. Two other hypotheses — the baby boom demographic bulge and the drug explosion of the ’60s — at least have the potential to explain both, but neither one fully fits the known data. Only gasoline lead, with its dramatic rise and fall following World War II, can explain the equally dramatic rise and fall in violent crime. In fact, gasoline lead may explain as much as 90 percent of the rise and fall of violent crime over the past half century.

Having said that, it’s important to note that the evidence so far is not conclusive in favor of any of the hypotheses.

References:

April 6, 1895 (a Saturday)

On this date, Oscar Wilde was arrested after losing a libel case against the Marquess of Queensberry.

Wilde had been engaged in an affair with the marquess’s son since 1891, but when the outraged marquess denounced him as a homosexual, Wilde sued the man for libel. However, he lost his case when evidence strongly supported the marquess’s observations. Homosexuality was classified as a crime in England at the time, and Wilde was arrested, found guilty, and sentenced to two years of hard labor

April 6, 2012: A Tribute to Fang Lizhi!

Fang Lizhi, shown in this June 4, 1999 photo at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

Fang Lizhi, shown in this June 4, 1999 photo at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

On this date, Fang Lizhi, the Chinese astrophysicist whom many regarded as “China’s Sakharov,” died at age 76 in Arizona.

Fang Lizhi — who worked on his nation’s elite nuclear program in the 1950s — was one of the most brilliant Chinese scientists of his era. He was also the most courageous.

In the 1980s, when he broke with communist orthodoxy and spoke out on human rights and democracy, he was the highest-ranking person in the People’s Republic ever to do so. In the years and months leading up to the Tiananmen demonstrations in 1989, he dared to tell the historical facts – about Mao, the Party, the Great Leap Forward, and the Cultural Revolution – to a new generation. His trenchant words inspired a generation of Chinese youth but led to his firing, expulsion from the Communist Party and forced exile, which lasted until his death.

He once explained that it was the principles of science — which values doubt, independent judgment and egalitarianism — that led him to embrace human rights. Fang warned in 2010: “Regardless of how widely China’s leaders have opened its market to the outside world, they have not retreated even half a step from their repressive political creed.” How much did China lose by forcing a citizen with his gifts to live the last 22 years of his life in exile?

April 6, 1928 (a Friday)

James Watson

On this date, the American molecular biologist James D. Watson was born in Chicago. Best known as one of the co-discoverers of the structure of DNA, Watson along with Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins were awarded the 1962 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine “for their discoveries concerning the molecular structure of nucleic acids and its significance for information transfer in living material”.

During his undergraduate years at the University of Chicago, Watson’s boyhood interest in bird-watching matured into a serious desire to learn genetics. This became possible when he received a Fellowship for graduate study in Zoology at Indiana University in Bloomington, where he received his Ph.D. degree in Zoology in 1950. He began working at the Cavendish Laboratory in England in early October 1951. Watson soon met Crick and discovered their common interest in solving the structure of DNA. They thought it should be possible to correctly guess its structure, given both the experimental evidence at King’s College plus careful examination of the possible stereochemical configurations of polynucleotide chains.

April 5, 1859 (a Tuesday)

Charles Darwin, aged 51

On this date, Charles Darwin sent his publishers the first three chapters of The Origin of Species, which became one of the most influential books ever published.

April 5, 1802 (a Monday)

Illustration by Felix Dujardin

On this date, the French physiologist, morphologist, and taxonomist Félix Dujardin was born. Dujardin is primarily known for his work with microscopic animal life, and in 1834 proposed that a new group of one-celled organisms be called Rhizopoda (meaning “root-foot”). This name was later changed to protozoa. In 1835, he disproved Ehrenberg’s hypothesis that microorganisms have the same organs as the more complex animals.

Also in 1835, he was the first to describe protoplasm, the jellylike material in animal cells which he called sarcode (from the Greek word σάρξ, meaning “flesh”). [Hugo von Mohl is credited with introducing the name protoplasm for it in 1846.] This substance, now called cytoplasm, was later found in living plant cells. Although the term protoplasm is rarely used any more in a strictly scientific sense, many of the notions associated with the term have survived. Thus it is still accepted that all living organisms are made largely of the same classes of substances such as salts and organic molecules, that some of these are organized into structures large enough to be seen in the microscope, and that water almost always is by far the most abundant material.

Dujardin’s written works include Histoire naturelle des infusoires (1840), Manuel de l’observateur au microscope (1842), and Histoire naturelle des helminthes (1844).

April 3, 1948 (a Saturday)

Child survivors made homeless by the 4/3 Jeju Island massacre, May 1948.

Child survivors made homeless by the 4/3 Jeju Island massacre, May 1948.

April 3, 1948, is the day attributed to the start of a prolonged massacre on the island of Jeju committed by South Korean government forces. From 1947 to 1948, an estimated 30,000 people were killed.

The conflict began after World War II with Korea regaining its independence after Japan’s 35 years of colonial rule over the peninsula. On November 14, 1947, the United Nations passed UN Resolution 112, calling for a general election over the whole Korean peninsula under the supervision of a UN commission. However, the Soviet Union, occupying the northern part of the peninsula, refused to comply with the UN resolution and denied the UN Commission access. The UN General Assembly adopted a new resolution calling for elections in areas accessible to the UN Commission, which at that time included only members of the United States Army Military Government in Korea, also known as USMAGIK.

On Jeju, this was met with both happiness and concern. With Japan being kicked out of the country, Korea had no government and many Jeju citizens objected that the election for the country’s first president, scheduled for May 10, 1948, was only occurring in Korea’s southern half. By voting in the election, they would have been supporting the divide of the country. In response, the people of Jeju went on a general strike, deteriorating the island’s relationship with its country’s fragile government.

Official apology of South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun.

Official apology of South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun.

On March 1, 1947, Jeju islanders gathered in Gwandeokjeong, Jeju City, to commemorate its Independence Movement Day and to simultaneously protest the upcoming presidential election. Through much confusion and to the quell the protest, police open fired on the crowd killing six people.

In response to the government’s continual suppression of the people of Jeju, on the early morning of April 3, 1948, a small group of islanders attacked police stations and political figures. In turn, the government labeled the citizens of Jeju as Communists and the newly formed US-backed South Korean government set out to cleanse the island of opponents to democracy.

This was the beginning of the Jeju Massacre (commonly referred to as 4.3, or “sa sam” in Korean).

Oh Seung Kook, 55, deputy secretary general at the Jeju April 3 Peace Foundation, who started to study the events surrounding this tragic aspect in Jeju’s history in order to provide a Jeju perspective, said that concerning the massacre, “The government needs to think about the Jeju people’s perspective. [At that time] the people of Jeju just really wanted a unified Korea,” meaning that the people opposed the election not because they were Communists, but because they wanted to prevent the bisection of their country.

Jeju declared an island of world peace.

Jeju declared an island of world peace.

Kim Seok Bo is a survivor of the Jeju Massacre. He escaped from the throes of death while army soldiers were shooting the villagers of Bukchon on January 17, 1949. At midnight he went to the nearby village of Neobeunsungi with his mother after the army had begun the massacre.

“My mother was trying to find my brother and sister relying on the moonlight. When I was there with my mother, I saw lots and lots of corpses. I saw a man who lost half of his face. I was so scared,” he said.

Five hundred people, half of all those who were living in Bukchon village at that time, were killed. They were killed in many places around Bukchon village like Dang Pat, Neo Beun Soong Ee, and the Bukchon Elementary School field.

“The armies were taking people to Dang Pat by car. At that time, people didn’t see cars very often, so people tried to get into them. They didn’t know it was a road to death. When my family arrived at Dang Pat, my brothers and sister had already been killed and my mother and I were the only survivors from our family.”

Those from the village were separated into two camps; those who were related to police officers and those who were not, with the former being saved and the latter executed.

“Soon, the commander came and ordered them to stop shooting people. We wriggled out of the crowd and hid among the police officers’ families since they were the only people who were allowed to live.”

He said that it has only been recently that he has been able to discuss the massacre, and even still it is very difficult to go into great detail. The reason for this, he continued, is that some of the other survivors in the village don’t like for him to share his experiences.

“I think survivors don’t want to think about the massacre. Neither do I. It’s painful to think about that time and talk about it to people. However, I want many people to know about this horrible historical event called 4.3.”

So do I.

Although Jeju Island is known for its beautiful scenery, world peace is not about beautiful scenery. In Jeju, it comes from extending the lessons learned from the 4.3 Massacre. Lessons like, “true peace is not fighting one another for ideological differences” and, “basic human rights are the greatest value we must pursue at all times.” These morals aren’t just lessons that should have been learned at the time of the incident, they are still valid today and should be universally applied.

References:

April 1, 1578

William Harvey

On this date, the English physician and scientist William Harvey was born. He is credited with being the first in the Western world to describe correctly and in exact detail the systemic circulation and properties of blood being pumped around the body by the heart. Harvey published his discovery in a treatise entitled Exercitatio Anatomica de Motu Cordis et Sanguinis in Animalibus (On the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals) in 1628. Brief, well argued, and clearly written, De Motu Cordis is very probably the one and only great classic of Western science written before 1800 that is still widely read today. His discovery was dramatically confirmed later in the seventeenth century by microscopist Marcello Malpighi’s discovery of capillaries.

Functional knowledge of the heart and the circulation had remained almost at a standstill ever since the time of the Greco-Roman physician Galen – 1,400 years earlier. With Harvey, life began to receive mechanistic explanation. The essential idea of mechanistic explanation is that “natural” events have “natural” causes and can be explained by cause-and-effect relationships that do not involve special action of supernatural agency. This is fundamental to modern science.

Title page of *De Motu Cordis*

Just as important was Harvey’s methodology. De Motu Cordis quickly became understood as a rejection of traditional methods. It was viewed as challenging the traditional system of deductive reasoning via syllogisms, instead advocating experimentation and sensory experience. The empirical methodology observable in Harvey’s work is now the acknowledged scientific method and has been universally adopted across all science and medicine.

Harvey clearly understood the implications of his work, for he wrote at the opening of Chapter VIII (“Of the abundance of blood passing through the heart out of the veins into the arteries, and of the circular motion of the blood”), in which he demolishes the core of the Galenic model:

Thus far I have spoken of the passage of the blood from the veins into the arteries….But what remains to be said upon the quantity and source of the blood which thus passes, is of a character so novel and unheard-of that I not only fear injury to myself from the envy of a few, but I tremble lest I have mankind at large for my enemies, so much has wont and custom become second nature. Doctrine once sown strikes deep its root, and respect for antiquity influences all men. Still, the die is cast, and my trust is in my love of truth and the candor of cultivated minds.

He also left a message in De Motu Cordis that is as true today as it was 500 years ago:

True philosophers, who are only eager for truth and knowledge, never regard themselves as already so thoroughly informed, [so that they do not] welcome information from whomsoever and from wheresoever it may come; nor are they so narrow-minded as to imagine any of the arts or sciences transmitted to us by the ancients, in such a state of forwardness or completeness that nothing is left for the ingenuity or industry of others. On the contrary, very many maintain that all we know is still infinitely less than all that remains unknown. [Nor] do philosophers pin their faith to others’ precepts in such [ways] as they lose their liberty, and cease to give credence to the conclusions of their proper senses. Neither do they swear such fealty to their mistress Antiquity, that they openly, and in sight of all, deny and desert their friend, Truth. [emphasis added]

In Exercitationes de Generatione Animalium (On the Generation of Animals) in 1651, Harvey was extremely skeptical of spontaneous generation and proposed that every living animal originally comes from an egg, introducing the oft-quoted phrase “ex ova omnia” (all [life] from eggs). [However, Harvey did not completely reject spontaneous generation.] His experiments with chick embryos supported the theory of epigenesis, which states that organisms develop from substances in the egg that differentiate during embryonic development.  This was in conflict with the now-descredited preformationist view that perfect miniature versions of offspring exist in the gametes and grow during development.  [Please note that the term 'epigenesis' carries different meanings. Here, it used used in the older sense, as a theory of animal and plant development. In more modern times, it refers to mechanisms by which gene regulation over generations is controlled by elements other than DNA.]

References:

  • Schultz, S.G., “William Harvey and the circulation of the blood: The birth of a scientific revolution and modern physiology,” News in Physiological Sciences 17: 175-180 (Oct 2002).

March 31, 1596 (a Sunday)

René Descartes

On this date, the French mathematician, anatomist, physiologist, and philosopher René Descartes was born in La Haye in the region of Touraine, France. He is often regarded as the first modern thinker to provide a philosophical framework for the natural sciences as these began to develop. In his Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting One’s Reason and Of Seeking Truth in the Sciences (1637) he attempts to arrive at a fundamental set of principles that one can know as true without any doubt.

Descartes is also known for the mind/body dualism he first articulated in his De homine (Treatise on Man), which he completed in Holland about 1633, on the eve of the condemnation of Galileo. When his friend and frequent correspondent, Marin Mersenne, wrote to him of Galileo’s fate at the hands of the Inquisition, Descartes became concerned for his own safety and refused to have De homine printed. Consequently, the first edition of this work was not published until 12 years after the author’s death.

Figure 1 from Descartes’ De homine (1664), depicting the human heart.

According to Descartes’ principle of dualism, the body works like a machine, has the material properties of extension and motion, and follows the laws of physics. The mind (or soul), on the other hand, is described as a nonmaterial thinking entity that lacks extension and motion, and does not follow the laws of physics. Descartes argued that only humans have minds, and that the mind interacts with the body at the pineal gland. [He chose the pineal gland because it appeared to him to be the only organ in the brain that was not bilaterally duplicated and because he believed, erroneously, that it was uniquely human.] In De homine, he wrote:

I suppose the body to be nothing but a statue or machine made of earth, which God forms with the explicit intention of making it as much as possible like us…

William Harvey’s recent discovery that the heart acts as a pump to circulate the blood had supplied additional arguments in favor of Descartes’ mechanical theory – in fact, Descartes probably did much to popularize the discovery. The Cartesian dualism set the agenda for philosophical discussion of the mind/body problem for many years after Descartes’ death.

March 30, 1759 (a Friday)

A series of rock formations that Arduino categorized as "primary" and "secondary".

A series of rock formations that Arduino categorized as “primary” and “secondary”.

On this date, the Italian geologist Giovanni Arduino (1714-1795) wrote a letter to Professor A.Vallisneri the younger, in which Arduino proposed a classification of Earth’s surface rocks according to four brackets of successively younger orders: Primary, Secondary, Tertiary and Quaternary. Today, his Primary corresponds to the Precambrian and Paleozoic Era combined, his Secondary is the Mesozoic Era, and his Tertiary and Quaternary combine to form the Cenozoic Era.

March 29, 1979 (a Thursday)

Ban the Chinese Government

On 29 March 1979, Wei Jingsheng, an electrician at the Beijing Zoo, was arrested by Chinese Communist bosses for writing the article “Do We Want Democracy or a New Dictatorship?” It had appeared in the March 1979 issue of Exploration, in which he warned the Chinese people that Deng Xiaoping could turn into a new dictator if the present political system continued. Wei’s boldness infuriated Deng, who ordered Wei’s arrest. Six months later at a show trial from which his family and friends were excluded, he was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment and placed in solitary confinement as an example to others. A transcript of the trial, in which Wei rejected the charges against him, came into hands of editors of April 5th Forum, who printed it in their magazine. They too were arrested.

March 28, 2009 (a Saturday)

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On this date, the Chinese Communist Party bosses marked 50 years of direct control over Tibet by raising their national flag in the regional capital and commemorating a new political holiday honoring what they call the “liberation of slaves from brutal feudal rule”. Testimonials about the “misery of life” in old Tibet kicked off the short ceremony – televised live from in front of the Potala Palace in Lhasa – to mark the end of the Dalai Lama’s rule in Tibet. March 28 marks the date when Beijing ended the 1959 Tibetan uprising, sending the Dalai Lama over the Himalayas into exile and placing Tibet under its direct rule for the first time.

In contrast, the Tibetan government-in-exile said on its Web site that the new holiday, crowned “Serfs Liberation Day”, would be a day of mourning for Tibetans around the world. “Tibetans consider this observance offensive and provocative,” it said.

Press Statement: China’s Serf Emancipation Day Hides Repression in Tibet
The Kashag
27 March 2009

China’s decision to observe tomorrow as the so-called Serf Emancipation Day is aggravating problems in Tibet. Tibetans consider this observance offensive and provocative. We believe the observance of the “Serf Emancipation Day” on 28 March is aimed at destabilizing and creating chaos in Tibet by a few individuals with overriding self-interest. If the Tibetans, losing their patience, took to the streets in protest, the Chinese leaders will have the excuse to use even more brutal force to crackdown.

Already the whole of Tibet is under heavy security clampdown, with additional troops deployed. Despite these measures, Tibetans, considering conditions in Tibet unbearable, collectively and individually, are taking to the streets, distributing pamphlets calling for freedom, bringing down the Chinese flag and replacing it with the Tibetan flag. This year, Tibetans did not celebrate the Tibetan New Year to mourn those killed in last year’s crackdown on the widespread protests that erupted throughout Tibet. In a development unprecedented in the history of Tibet, Tibetans in Kanze in eastern Tibet have decided not to farm their fields in a unique form of civil disobedience to protest China’s heavy-handed rule. One monk, Tashi Sangpo of Ragya monastery in Golok in north-eastern Tibet was arrested on 10 March 2009, for allegedly hoisting a Tibetan flag. He escaped his captors and drowned himself in the nearby Yellow River. These acts and many more are the true Tibetan attitude to “emancipation” by China.

This day will be observed by Tibetans throughout the world and especially those in Tibet as a day of mourning. No less a figure than Hu Yaobang, the general secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, who visited Lhasa in 1980, apologized to the Tibetan people and said the conditions in Tibet were worse than pre-1959 Tibet.

The late Panchen Lama said in 1989, a few days before his untimely death, that on the whole China’s rule in Tibet brought greater suffering than benefit for the Tibetan people.

Since 1949/50 when China invaded Tibet, over 1.2 million Tibetans died as a direct result of Chinese communist rule and more than 6,000 monasteries were razed to the ground. Today, it is hard to come across a Tibetan family that has not had at least one member imprisoned or killed by the Chinese regime. This day will be observed as the day when the Tibetans as a people lost all vestiges of their basic individual and collective freedoms.

One justification for China’s “liberation” of Tibet is that old Tibet was feudal and repressive. This is a blatant distortion of the nature of Tibet’s old society. In the early mid-20th century, there was no big gap between the peasants in Tibet and China. Moreover, the Tibetan peasants enjoyed more freedom and better living conditions.

To prove that the old Tibetan society was repressive, the Chinese authorities are currently organising an exhibition of Tibetan prisons and the punishments meted out. However, the reality is that the size of Nangze Shar Prison in Lhasa, heavily used in Chinese propaganda, could accommodate not more than a score of prisoners. In fact, the total number of prisoners in the whole of Tibet before 1959 hardly crossed hundred. After the so-called liberation and emancipation of the Tibetan “serfs”, prisons have come up in every part of Tibet. In Lhasa alone, there are 5 major prisons with a total prison population between 3,500 – 4,000.

The best judge of whether they have been “liberated” is the Tibetan people. They vote with their feet and lives by crossing the Himalayas to seek freedom and happiness outside of their “liberated” Tibet. They also sacrifice their lives to inform the world of the terrible conditions prevailing in Tibet. This was massively demonstrated last year when a series of sustained and widespread protests erupted throughout Tibet. If the “serfs” are happy with their “emancipation”, why are they risking lives and limbs to protest Chinese rule in Tibet.

“Just as Europe can’t return to the medieval era and the United States can’t go back to the times before the Civil War, Tibet can never restore the old serf society era,” Zhang Qingli, the Communist Party boss of the region, told the crowd of more than 13,000. But his statement reflects how the Chinese government continues its deceit and propaganda: the people of Tibet, including the Dalai Lama, do NOT seek to institute a “serf” society. In 1963 the Dalai Lama promulgated a constitution for a democratic Tibet. It has been successfully implemented, to the extent possible, by the Government-in-exile.

Furthermore, at the risk of stating the obvious, the fact that a country is backward cannot justify invading it. Backwardness was often advanced as a justification for 19th century colonialism, what Rudyard Kipling called “The White Man’s burden” when he encouraged the United States to colonize the Philippines. The fact that China relies on the “backwardness” argument to support its occupation of Tibet is a further indication of a classic colonial occupation.

Thus, the Chinese invaded and annexed Tibet to exploit its untapped natural resources, pure and simple. “Tibet belongs to China, not a few separatists or the international forces against China. Any conspiracy attempting to separate the region from China is doomed to fail,” Zhang said.

Also, how could China have “liberated” Tibet in 1949 if it claims prior sovereignty? It is odd that China, on the one hand, claims that Tibet has been part of China since the 13th century, and then, on the other, claims that it “liberated” Tibet in 1949 from an unfortunate past. But, liberated it from what? You can only liberate a country from a situation that your country does not control. Therefore, the Chinese government’s use of the term “liberate” seems to be an admission that China has not governed Tibet contiguously since the Mongol invasions. Either this, or it would have to argue that it was liberating Tibet from circumstances that China created while Tibet was under its control.

It should be noted that numerous countries made statements in the course of UN General Assembly debates following the invasion of Tibet that reflected their recognition of Tibet’s independent status. Thus, for example, the delegate from the Philippines declared: “It is clear that on the eve of the Chinese invasion in 1950, Tibet was not under the rule of any foreign country”. He described China’s occupation as “the worst type of imperialism and colonialism past or present”. The delegate from Thailand reminded the assembly that the majority of states “refute the contention that Tibet is a part of China.” The US joined most other UN members in condemning the Chinese “aggression” and “invasion” of Tibet.

In the course of Tibet’s 2,000-year history, the country came under a degree of foreign influence only for short periods of time in the 13th and 18th centuries. Few independent countries today can claim as impressive a record. As the ambassador to Ireland at the UN remarked during the General Assembly debates on the question of Tibet, “[f]or thousands of years, or for a couple of thousand of years at any rate, [Tibet] was as free and as fully in control of its own affairs as any nation in this Assembly, and a thousand times more free to look after its own affairs than many of the nations here.”

In May 1991, the Senate of the United States of America passed a resolution declaring Tibet an occupied country whose true representatives are the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government-in-Exile. Over the years many more resolutions have been passed by various international bodies.

And what has “liberation” meant to the Tibetan people? The International Commission of Jurists (1959 and 1960) judged the Chinese guilty of genocide in Tibet, “the gravest crime of which any person or nation can be accused … the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group” and detailed atrocities to which Tibetans were subjected. These included public execution by shooting, crucifixion, burning alive, drowning, vivisection, starvation, strangulation, hanging, scalding, being buried alive, disemboweling and beheading; imprisonment without trial; torture; forced labour; and forcible sterilization. Many people, including children under 15 years, disappeared without trace.

The United Nations passed a resolution in 1959 calling for respect for the fundamental human rights of the Tibetan people and for their distinctive cultural and religious life based on the principles of fundamental human rights in the Charter of the United Nations and on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Communist China ignored this resolution and 1961 saw another resolution stating that the principles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights be followed and Tibetans be granted their rights, including the right to self determination. The same was repeated in 1965 by the United Nations General Assembly.

In the 2000s, many view the Chinese genocide in Tibet as the result of the territorial ambitions of the Chinese Communist Party bosses. It is seen as stemming from their systematic attempt to expand the traditional territory of China by annexing permanently the vast, approximately 900,000-square-mile territory of traditional Tibet. Tibet represents about 30 percent of China’s land surface, while the Tibetans represent .004 percent of China’s population. Tibetans were not a minority but an absolute majority in their own historical environment. Chinese government efforts can be seen as aiming at securing permanent control of the Tibetans’ land. For this reason, some observers see genocide in Tibet as not merely referring to the matter of religion, that is, of destroying Tibetan Buddhism. Chinese policies have involved the extermination of more than 1 million Tibetans, the forced relocation of millions of Tibetan villagers and nomads, the population transfer of millions of Chinese settlers, and systematic assimilation.

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