Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Top 10 Worst Days In American History


December 7, 1941, 75 years ago: The U.S. Navy base at Pearl Harbor, in Honolulu, Hawaii, is bombed by Japanese planes. The attack begins at 7:48 AM Hawaii time – 1:48 PM Eastern time. As President Franklin D. Roosevelt predicted the next day that it would, it is a date which lives in infamy.

Yes, that color photograph is real, not colorized. It is reminiscent of some of the more familiar black-and-white photos of the event, such as this one.
American casualties and losses: 2 battleships totally lost, 2 battleships sunk and recovered, 3 battleships damaged, 1 battleship grounded, 2 other ships sunk, 3 cruisers damaged, 3 destroyers damaged, 3 other ships damaged, 188 aircraft destroyed, 159 aircraft damaged, 2,403 people killed, 1,178 wounded.

To put that in perspective: In 1941, the U.S. had about 130 million people, and we lost 2,400 in Honolulu that day. In 2001, we had about 300 million, and lost 3,000 on 9/11. Proportionately, we lost about twice as many people at Pearl Harbor as we did at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon combined 60 years later.

About 18,000 people were stationed at Pearl Harbor at the time. In 2013, 2,000 to 2,500 survivors were thought to be still alive, according to Eileen Martinez, chief of interpretation for the USS Arizona Memorial. Of the 16,112,566 people who served in the armed forces of the United States of America from December 7, 1941 to August 14, 1945, about 620,000 are estimated to still be alive, 71 to 75 years later -- under 4 percent.

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Top 10 Worst Days In American History

These are listed in chronological order.

1. August 27, 1776: Evacuation of New York. Just 54 days after the announcement of the Declaration of Independence, the Battle of Long Island is fought, in what we now call Brooklyn Heights. In terms of number of men fighting -- 20,000 British, 10,000 American -- it is the largest battle of the War of the American Revolution. And John Bull kicked Uncle Sam's ass.

Somehow, using the cover of fog, General George Washington got his men across the East River to Manhattan, in a maneuver that historian David McCullough, in his book 1776, called "America's Dunkirk," referring to the British Army's naval evacuation from France in 1940.

But it's worse than that: The British chase the Continental Army all the way up Manhattan Island, until they cross yet another river, the Hudson, at a location that would come to be called Washington Heights -- and now you know why the bridge that was built there in 1931 is named for Washington.
But they had to escape to New Jersey, abandoning New York, which the British burn -- and now you know why there's almost nothing left in Manhattan from the pre-Independence era. General William Howe had conquered New York. A year later, after beating Washington in the Battle of Brandywine, he would conquer Philadelphia, Britain's momentum only being stopped shortly thereafter at Saratoga, in Upstate New York.

In between, Washington got his men across New Jersey, one step ahead of the Brits, and across more rivers: The Hackensack, the Passaic, the Elizabeth, the Rahway, the Raritan, and, finally, the Delaware, into Pennsylvania. And he knew that his men's enlistments ran out on December 31.

If he couldn't get them to re-enlist, the Army would be gone, and the war would be lost. He had hardly any food, hardly any supplies, and an army that was tired, hungry and cold. Indeed, McCullough argues that, while we celebrate the 4th of July as a great day, 1776 was actually the worst year in American history.

Washington needed a victory, desperately. America needed a victory, desperately.

On Christmas Day, December 25, 1776, he put all his river-crossing know-how to work, and got his men back across the icy Delaware in the dead of night. The next morning, he marched them down the river, 9 miles to what's now downtown Trenton, and found the Hessian troops the British had hired to guard the city, sleeping off their holiday hangovers and turkey comas, and beat them.

Big George had his victory, he got his re-enlistments, he got another victory at Princeton just after the New Year, and the U.S.A. lived to fight another day.

Oh yeah: Howe's second-in-command that day was Charles Cornwallis. In 1778, Howe would retire from the British Army. On October 19, 1781, Cornwallis surrendered to Washington at Yorktown, Virginia, and that was the decisive battle of the war -- if not the last one, as is commonly believed.

2. August 24, 1814: Burning of Washington. Just 29 years after the Treaty of Paris made Britain's recognition of America's independence official, the 2 countries butted heads again, in what came to be called the War of 1812. And it was totally pointless: Just 10 days after America declared war, Lord Liverpool, the British Prime Minister, made the concessions that would have satisfied our Congress and President James Madison. But, communications being what they were at the time, it took 3 weeks for information to get across the Atlantic Ocean.

It was a disaster for both sides. Within a month, the Americans surrendered Detroit without firing a shot. A year later, American troops invaded Canada, and burned Fort York -- present-day Toronto. In an action that showed how well the British remembered -- like the Alamo, Fredericksburg, the Maine and Pearl Harbor -- they decided, If the Americans want to burn our capital on the continent, we will burn theirs. And they did: Washington, D.C. was put to the torch, including the Capitol Building and the White House. Madison and his wife Dolley had barely fled the capital in time.
Note: It has been suggested that what was officially known as the Executive Mansion from its 1800 completion until Theodore Roosevelt formalized the name in 1901 was nicknamed "The White House" because of the paint used to cover the burn marks on the building's outer shell, which was pretty much all that remained of the structure. But this isn't true: The nickname had already been in place, pretty much from the start.

It would be another 3 weeks before the republic was saved in the Battle of Baltimore, including "The Defense of Fort McHenry" -- which was the original title of the poem written by Francis Scott Key, who was there, and later became our National Anthem, "The Star-Spangled Banner."

Had Baltimore fallen as well, it would have been all over, and, if they had so chosen, the British could have taken us back into their Empire. But that wasn't the United Kingdom's goal. They didn't want to take us back. They just wanted us to beg them for peace, so that we would be able to leave each other alone.

By Christmas, the Treaty of Ghent ended the war in stalemate, giving both sides what they really wanted: Peace. Which was victory enough. But, again, it took weeks for the news to get across the ocean. By the time that it did, after January 8, 1815, Andrew Jackson had already stunned the British, despite a 10-to-1 manpower disadvantage, in the Battle of New Orleans.

3. March 6, 1857: Dred Scott Decision. Dred Scott and his wife were slaves, brought into what was then the Wisconsin Territory by their master. Slavery was illegal there, and Scott sued for their right to be declared free.
The only known photograph of Dred Scott

The case of Dred Scott vs. Sandford took 11 years to reach the Supreme Court, and Chief Justice Roger Taney wrote the majority opinion himself:

In the opinion of the court, the legislation and histories of the times, and the language used in the Declaration of Independence, show, that neither the class of persons who had been imported as slaves, nor their descendants, whether they had become free or not, were then acknowledged as a part of the people, nor intended to be included in the general words used in that memorable instrument.

In 1776, Thomas Jefferson -- admittedly, a slaveholder himself -- wrote, "We hold these truths to be self-evident: That all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed." In 1857, 81 years later, Roger Taney essentially said, "Fuck you, (N-word)s. Fuck you, too, Tommy Jeff."

Taney also said that the Northwest Ordinance, the Missouri Compromise, and every other measure enacted by Congress to restrict the spread of slavery was beyond Congress' powers, and therefore unconstitutional. If the American Civil War was still a question of "if," it had now become a question of "when."

Know their names. The 7 who voted to deny Scott his freedom and citizenship: Roger Taney, James M. Wayne, John Catron, Peter V. Daniel, Samuel Nelson, Robert C. Grier and John A. Campbell. The 2 who voted to grant Scott his freedom and citizenship: John McLean and Benjamin R. Curtis.

Disgusted, Curtis resigned from the Court, the only Justice ever to do so over a matter of principle. He lived on until 1874, outliving all but 1 of the 7. McLean died in office in 1861, just before the outbreak of the war.

Daniel died in 1860, Taney in 1864, Catron in 1865, Wayne in 1867. Campbell resigned from the Supreme Court in 1861, because his home State of Alabama had seceded from the Union, and served in the Confederate Cabinet, and lived until 1889, the last survivor of the 7. Grier retired due to ill health in 1870 and died soon thereafter. Nelson, already beset by the illness that would kill him, retired in 1872, the last remaining member on the Court, and died the next year. (He is buried in Cooperstown, New York, home of the Baseball Hall of Fame.)

On May 26, 1857, 81 days after the decision, the Scotts' current owners sold them, and their new owner, Henry Taylor Blow, freed them. Blow was later elected to Congress from Missouri, and served as an Ambassador. Dred Scott already had tuberculosis, and died on September 17, 1858 -- with some irony, on the anniversary of the day in 1787 that the Continental Congress approved the Constitution. He was probably (slave records were frequently unavailable) 63 years old, had been a free man for 478 days.

He was survived by his wife, Harriet, who lived on until 1876; and 2 daughters. They, at least, lived to see the abolition of slavery, and the departure from the Supreme Court of all 7 people who had affirmed their slave status.

4. April 12, 1861: Attack on Fort Sumter. South Carolina was the 1st State to secede, but the U.S. Army refused the State's demand to give up Fort Sumter, in Charleston Harbor. So the Confederate Navy attacked.
What it meant was this: There was a group of men who thought it was better to commit treason than to accept that slavery was wrong.

The American Civil War lasted 4 years, and killed 365,000 heroic liberators, and 290,000 traitors. The Union, the North, the good guys, won it. The Confederacy, the South, the bad guys, lost it.

The bigots lost the war. But they won the peace.

5. April 14, 1865: Assassination of Lincoln. Actor and Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth wasn't man enough to actually fight for his cause. But he was petty enough and cowardly enough to sneak up behind a man and shoot him in the back of the head.

This he did, to President Abraham Lincoln, at Ford's Theatre in Washington, during a production of the comedy play Our American Cousin. Lincoln never regained consciousness, and died the next morning. He was 56 years old.
Booth made his escape, but was hunted down by the U.S. Army in Port Royal, Virginia and killed on April 26. He was just short of turning 27.

6. October 24, 1929: Stock Market Crash. Stock prices had been artificially increased by rampant, unregulated speculation. The drop in prices that began on "Black Thursday" continued until October 29, "Black Tuesday," and the Great Depression was underway.
The Depression spread around the world. The rise of fascism in Europe, and the war that resulted, would not have happened without it. There might still have been a conflict large enough to have been called World War II, but it would not have happened so soon, and the alliances may have been very different. After all, Japan was on the same side of World War I as America, Britain, France and Russia. That was not to be the case in World War II. Which brings us back to...

7. December 7, 1941: Attack on Pearl Harbor. The impact of World War II on sports (just to bring this blog back to its usual topic) was far-reaching, as many of the world's greatest athletes went off to military service, including baseball superstars Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, Hank Greenberg and Bob Feller (and, for 1 year, Stan Musial); and Heavyweight Champion Joe Louis.
Some actually saw combat: Feller was a Navy gunner, Yogi Berra was part of the D-Day invasion, and Warren Spahn was decorated for his role in the Battle of the Bulge. Two MLB players, both briefly in the majors in 1939, were killed in action: Elmer Gedeon of the Washington Senators in France, and Harry O'Neill of the Philadelphia Athletics at Iwo Jima.

In addition, some of the world's premier sporting competitions were canceled. There was no Olympics, Summer or Winter, in 1940 and 1944. The World Cup was canceled for 1942, and, because qualifying matches couldn't be played in war-torn Europe, the 1946 World Cup was canceled as well. England canceled Football League play, the FA Cup, Wimbledon and the British Open. The French and Australian Opens were also canceled.

American sports persevered, but, in fear of a Japanese attack getting all the way to the Pacific Coast, the Rose Bowl, scheduled for January 1, 1942 at Pasadena, California, between Oregon State University and Duke University, was canceled. Duke officials offered the use of their stadium in Durham, North Carolina, and the game was rescheduled. Despite Duke being the Number 2-ranked team in the country and playing at home, Oregon State won.

And, despite being set for after V-E Day, baseball canceled the 1945 All-Star Game, as wartime travel restrictions became too severe. It remains the only time the All-Star Game has been canceled, although it was postponed in 1981 due to a strike.

Less well-known is the story of a football game played the day of the attack. At the time, there were NFL teams called the New York Giants and the Brooklyn Dodgers. The Giants went into the game 8-2, the Dodgers 6-4. The Giants had clinched the NFL Eastern Division, and a place in the NFL Championship Game against the defending Champion Chicago Bears. Their 2 losses were to the Dodgers and the Chicago Cardinals, by a combined 6 points, so they may have been the best team in the League. But Dodger fans, as their baseball brethren would have been under similar circumstances, were excited over the possibility of beating the Giants twice.

The game was played on December 7, 1941, kicking off at 12:00 noon, as if nothing out of the ordinary was happening. Actually, something out of the ordinary was happening: It was Tuffy Leemans Day, honoring two-way back Alphonse Emil Leemans, having his 2nd All-Pro season, following 1938, when he helped the Giants win the NFL Championship. He was presented with a silver tray, a watch, and -- the cloud of war was already over America, even if we weren't yet in it -- $1,500 in defense bonds. (They were not yet called "war bonds." He would later be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame and the New York Giants Ring of Honor, and his Number 4 was retired by the team.)

The attack began at 1:48 PM, New York time. During the 2nd half, the public address announcer paged Colonel William Donovan to come to the stadium office, to take a phone call from Washington. This was a bit unusual: Ordinarily, a person would only be paged over the PA system if he was a doctor, and there was a medical emergency. As the game went on, other officers were paged. Eventually, an announcement went out that all servicemen at the game had to leave and return to their units, and reporters -- not just sportswriters -- had to call their offices.
The Brooklyn Eagle, December 8, 1941

Similar announcements were made at the other 2 NFL games played that day. At Comiskey Park in Chicago, the Bears beat the host Cardinals 34-24. And at Griffith Stadium in Washington, in the capital so the number of government officials and military officers present was considerably larger than in New York and Chicago, the host Redskins beat the Philadelphia Eagles 20-14.

When the game in New York ended, in a 21-7 Dodger victory, Dodger fans could not celebrate, and Giant fans didn't care, either, because the announcement was made that Pearl Harbor had been attacked. The NFL Championship Game was played as scheduled, at Wrigley Field in Chicago on December 21, and, despite a 9-9 deadlock in the 3rd quarter, the Bears went on to beat the Giants 37-9.

Not until April 16, 1946 would a Major League Baseball game by played with all wartime conditions removed. For the NFL, not until September 29, 1946.

8A. November 22, 1963: Assassination of President Kennedy. "In the final analysis," President John F. Kennedy had said earlier in the year, "our most basic common link is that we all inhabit this small planet. We all breathe the same air. We all cherish our children's futures. And we are all mortal."
Lee Harvey Oswald -- or somebody else, and/or a group of somebody elses -- proved him right in downtown Dallas.
It wasn't immediately clear that things would go downhill. But, eventually, his successor, Lyndon B. Johnson, would turn away from his Great Society dream (and JFK's New Frontier dream) and pay more and more attention to fighting in Vietnam. And there would be race riots. And there would be rising crime.

I'm not saying a still-living JFK, presuming he was re-elected in 1964, would have prevented all of it. But I would have liked to have seen him try. Especially since it wouldn't have meant...

8B. November 5, 1968: Election of Nixon. Just a few hundred thousand votes in a few key States would have meant no Tricky Dick in the White House, an earlier end to the Vietnam War, no Kent State, no Killing Fields, no Watergate.
But American liberals abandoned Hubert Humphrey, and stayed home on Election Day. Just as they did to Jimmy Carter in 1980. And Al Gore in 2000. And Hillary Clinton in 2016. When will we ever learn? And where have all the flowers gone?

9. December 12, 2000: Bush v. Gore. Four Justices of the Supreme Court -- John Paul Stevens, David Souter, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Stephen Breyer -- said that the Florida recount should continue. They weren't trying to insure any particular result, only that we get the correct one, whatever that was.

But five Justices -- William Rehnquist, Sandra Day O'Connor, Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas -- decided to ensure that the only votes in the Presidential election that counted were theirs, and George W. Bush became President instead of Al Gore.
Note the differences in the headlines: The conservative Post 
wanted everyone to believe Bush had won, while the liberal Daily News 
decided responsible journalism was more important.

Essentially, those 5 Justices were telling over 100 million people -- the 50,999,897 people who voted for Gore, and the 50,456,002 people who voted for Bush -- that their vote didn't matter. When the Supreme Court is supposed to be the last line of defense for fairness, justice, and the rule of law in America. They spat in the face of human rights and in the face of States' rights (which, you'd think, the conservative Justices would've wanted to uphold, by letting the State of Florida handle its own election).

Rehnquist died in 2005, shortly after O'Connor retired. Scalia died earlier this year. Kennedy and Thomas are still on the Court.

10. September 11, 2001: The 9/11 Attacks. I'm not saying Gore would have prevented them. Maybe he would have. Even if he hadn't, you can be sure he would have made getting Osama bin Laden, and not Saddam Hussein, who had nothing to do with them, his priority.
Many people wish we had the unity we had on September 12, 2001. These same people would have wanted Gore impeached if it had happened on his watch. They can go to Hell.

It remains to be seen whether November 8, 2016, the "election" of Donald Trump, will join these.

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