Archive for the ‘History’ Category
“He shut down parliament, suffocated political life, banned trade unions, and made Chile his sultanate. His government disappeared 3,000 opponents, arrested 30,000 (torturing thousands of them) … Pinochet’s name will forever be linked to the Desaparecidos, the Caravan of Death, and the institutionalized torture that took place in the Villa Grimaldi complex.” – Thor Halvorssen, president of the Human Rights Foundation, National Review
Military leader General Pinochet seized power of Chile on Sept. 11, 1973, in a bloody military coup that toppled the Marxist government of President Salvador Allende. He then led his country into an era of robust economic growth. However, Pinochet soon made it clear that he had little use for political parties, banning all of them. He also dissolved Congress and scrapped the Constitution. He blamed the democratic political system for having allowed a coalition of Socialists and Communists to take control of the government. In a 1973 news conference, he asserted that Chile would require “an authoritarian government that has the capacity to act decisively” and would not return to the traditional political party system for a generation. It was a vow he kept.
Under Pinochet, the Chilean press was censored, and labor strikes and unions were banned. A fearsome security apparatus known as the National Intelligence Directorate, or DINA, persecuted, tortured and killed Pinochet opponents within Chile and sometimes beyond its borders. A government-commissioned report issued in 2004 concluded that almost 28,000 people had been tortured during the general’s rule and it is estimated that more than 3,200 people were executed or “disappeared” by Pinochet.
Pinochet managed to block virtually all attempts to prosecute members of his security forces for human rights abuses. Through intimidation and legal obstacles, he sought to ensure his own immunity from accountability and in fact was never brought to trial. But in an astonishing turn of events nearly a decade after he stepped down, he was detained in Britain and then, on his return to Chile, forced to spend his retirement years fighting a battery of legal charges relating to human rights violations and personal corruption.
During those last years he lived in near seclusion, mostly at his home in Bucalemu, about 80 miles southwest of Santiago, scorned even by many of his former military colleagues and conservative civilian ideologues. Many were disillusioned by revelations that he held, at the least, $28 million in secret bank accounts abroad. He died in 2006, at the ripe old age of 91.
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“Revenge is a dish best served cold.” –Ancient Pashtun saying.
Pashtunwali, “the way of the Pashtuns,” is a non-written pre-Islamic honor code that is followed by the indigenous Pashtun people that inhabit much of Afghanistan-Pakistan. Pashtunwali governs and regulates nearly all aspects of Pashtun life, ranging from tribal affairs to individual “honor” (nang) and behavior.
By adhering to Pashtunwali, a Pashtun possesses honor (izzat); without honor s/he is no longer considered a Pashtun, and is not given the rights, protection, and support of the Pashtun community. It is governed by the concepts of chivalry (or bravery, courage) (ghayrat or nang), hospitality (melmastia), gender boundaries (purdah or namus) and council (jirga).
With the rise of the Taliban in Afghanistan, some aspects of Pashtunwali have attracted criticism from the West, particularly with respect to its impact on women’s rights. Pashtun men are expected to protect Zan, Zar, Zameen (women, gold and land), and “losing face” is viewed as tantamount to tragedy.
A woman’s honor is closely tied to that of her husband and male family members in Pashtun society. If a woman earns a bad reputation, her whole family, which includes the men, is irreparably sullied. Thus, complete chastity among female relatives is essential to preserve the reputation of the family. Thus, women are restricted to private, family compounds in much of the province. Unfortunately, Pashtun injustice towards women doesn’t end there; women are frequently awarded as compensation in blood feuds, murdered in honor killings and are deprived of educational and health resources in the name of preserving female “honor.”
I don’t know about you, but an ethos that demands the subjugation of half of its population, by dint of one’s gender at birth, doesn’t seem very “honorable” to me….
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“I am responsible only to God and history.” – Francisco Franco.
By all historical indices, Spanish dictator Francisco Franco was stupider about economic policy than the idiots that dreamed up subprime mortgages (which is really saying something). Spain was already an economic train wreck when the weak-chinned Generalísimo was appointed head of state in 1939. Three years of civil war had ravaged the Spanish economy: infrastructure was damaged, workers killed, and daily business severely hampered. Moreover, persistent drought plagued the countryside, severely compromising the already beleaguered agricultural industry.
A diehard nationalist with a tapas-sized brain, Franco doggedly pursued a policy of autarky, effectively thwarting almost all of Spain’s international trade for nearly a decade. The word autarky, which comes from the Greek words meaning “self-sufficiency.” An autarky describes economic policies that strive to be free from the influence of foreign nations by eschewing all international commerce. Suffice to say, autarky always equals economic disaster, and Franco’s Spain proved to be no exception.
To make matters worse, Franco was remarkably gullible for someone so evil. He often placed his faith, and Spain’s fate, in quack schemes that he believed would rescue his ailing nation from the parade of terribles he had been responsible for unleashing in the first place.
On one occasion, a Czech engineer and con-man managed to convince the general that he had invented synthetic gasoline by mixing the waters of the River Jarama, special herbs and secret powders. On another, he doggedly pursued a plan to solve the country’s terrible hunger of the 1940s by feeding everyone dolphin sandwiches. Of course he never did get around to asking where Spain would get enough dolphin meat to feed 30 million people. I guess the devil is not in the details…
Franco’s credulity was mirrored by his growing belief, reinforced by withdrawal into an ever more rarefied court of sycophantic followers, that he stood comparison with such Spanish heroes as El Cid, Charles V, and Philip II. Thanks to this egomaniacal mental midget and his cadre of self-serving minions, some 200,000 people died of starvation during the early years of Francoism, a period now known as Los Años de Hambre (The Years of Hunger, or the Hungry Years).
On the brink of bankruptcy after a decade of Franconomics, a combination of pressure from the USA, the IMF and technocrats from Opus Dei managed to “convince” the regime to adopt a free market economy in 1959. This essentially amounted to a mini coup d’état, which removed the old guard in charge of the economy, despite the opposition of Franco. This economic liberalization was not, however, accompanied by political reforms and repression continued unabated, though these very reforms would lead to socio-economic changes in Spanish society which would make the regime’s continuation 16 years later untenable.
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No One Lives Here
The difference between North and South Korea is genuinely jarring: while mass starvation and a dying economy continue to plague North Korea, one only has to look south of the border to see a cosmopolitan nation thoroughly enjoying the fruits of its prosperity and success. In particular, the “sister” villages of Daeseong-dong and Kijong-dong- divided by the three-mile-wide, 151-mile-long demilitarized zone (DMZ) that separates the democratic Republic of Korea in the south and communist North Korea- dramatically illustrates the shocking disparity in the quality of life enjoyed in both countries.
By way of background, as part of the armistice agreement that “ended” the Korean War, each side was allowed to keep one village within the demilitarized zone. The only civilians on the southern half of the DMZ live in Daeseong-dong – nicknamed “freedom village” – who are protected by the UN command and receive above average, tax-free incomes. In return for this potentially Faustian bargain, the approximately 210 villagers must spend at least 240 nights a year at home in order to retain residency. Sure, Kim Jong Ill’s trigger-happy minions are only a few miles away, but you really can’t beat these benefits.
Alas, conditions aren’t quite so luxe in the Northern village of Kijong-dong, though it is home to the world’s highest flagpole (525 ft) and heaviest flag (600 lb). The North Korean government swears up and down that the village is home to a 200-family collective farm, serviced by a childcare center, kindergarten, primary and secondary schools, and a hospital.
The picturesque village features a number of brightly painted, poured-concrete multi-story buildings and apartments, many apparently wired for electricity – these amenities represent an unheard-of level of luxury for any rural Korean in the 1950s, north or south. The town was oriented so that the bright blue roofs and white sides of the buildings next to the massive DPRK flag would be the most distinguishing features when viewed from across the border.
However, scrutinizing Kijong-dong through a half decent telescopic lens suggests otherwise. The town is actually uninhabited, and the Easter egg colored apartment buildings are mere concrete shells that lack window glass or even interior rooms, with building lights turned on and off at set times and empty sidewalks swept by a skeleton crew of caretakers in an effort to preserve the illusion of activity. North Korean farmers till nearby fields during the day and are removed from the area at night.
In an effort to make this little northern gem even more enticing to potential southern defectors, blaring loudspeakers blast condemnatory anti-Western propaganda speeches, Communist agitprop operas, and patriotic marching music at high volume for up to 20 hours a day.
The North Korean government needs to inject some new blood into their marketing department, because this ad campaign is not selling anyone….
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Adolf Hitler’s distinctive Toothbrush mustache is one of the most recognizable symbols of the 20th century- an inch of hair that has come to embody all that is evil in human nature. This moustache is most famous for having been worn by German dictator Adolf Hitler, although it was already well recognized as part of the movie star Charlie Chaplin’s iconic Little Tramp costume (Chaplin did not wear the moustache in daily life). Many people even today find the moustache too reminiscent of Hitler to ever consider wearing it in public.
But why did Hitler choose this particular style of moustache? Theories abound. The moustache became popular during the 1920s as a response by working-class men to the flamboyant, flowing Kaiser-style moustaches of the upper classes. Yet, according to new research into Adolf Hitler’s early life, the distinctive, toothbrush shape that adorned his scowling face was not his first choice.
A recently unearthed essay, written by another WWI soldier who served alongside Hitler in the First World War trenches, asserted that Hitler trimmed his Prussian-style moustache because he was ordered to do so: the wide, somewhat bushy Prussian-style moustache that Hitler had been wearing simply didn’t fit under a gas mask.
Had that order never been issued, the tyrant who brought most of Europe to its knees would be remembered as a man with a…. handlebar moustache?!?
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The first draft of the Declaration of Independence contained a condemnation of slavery that was struck out in order to conciliate representatives from the South. The original wording of the Constitution contained a famous “compromise” that allowed for slaves to be counted as “three-fifths” of a person when determining the number of seats that states would have in Congress, giving each plantation owner the equivalent of hundreds of votes with which to oppress his human chattel. These were horrible stains on the founding documents of the United States, and one man who had no use for the conciliation and compromise that applied them was John Brown.
Brown responded to these imperfections not by dismissing the Declaration and the Constitution, but by rewriting them. He saw that the principles they embodied were noble, despite their stance on the institution of slavery. His revisions lived up to the noble principles and categorically rejected the legality of human property. Brown’s “Declaration of Liberty by the Representatives of the Slave Population of the United States of America” makes this point explicit, when it states that acts which condone slavery “are false, to the words, Spirit, and intention of the Constitution of the United States, and the Declaration of Independence.” His Declaration is a declaration of freedom for men and women held in bondage, and his “Provisional Constitution” began by recognizing slavery as an “unjustifiable war of one portion of its citizens upon another portion,” and setting forth the principles for a new Union that would be, in the words of Brown’s great successor in the battle against slavery, “conceived in liberty.”
In his time, Brown was dismissed as an insane traitor. But the war came, and the new Union that Lincoln created began the process of making Brown’s “Provisional Constitution” permanent.
Read John Brown’s Declaration here. And read his Provisional Constitution here.
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In 1914, Spanish historian Julián Juderías coined the term “Black Legend” in his book La Leyenda Negra to describe the unfavorable image of Spain and Spaniards as cruel and intolerant that was promulgated by many non-Spanish and especially Protestant historians during the 16th century. Juderías defined this phenomenon and its repercussions thusly:
“[The “Black Legend”] is the environment created by the fantastic stories about our homeland that have seen the light of publicity in all countries, the grotesque descriptions that have always been made of the character of Spaniards as individuals and collectively, the denial or at least the systematic ignorance of all that is favorable and beautiful in the various manifestations of culture and art, the accusations that in every era have been flung against Spain.”
Ironically, the origins of the “Black Legend” drew upon criticisms first voiced by the Spanish themselves. Bartolomé de Las Casas, the former Bishop of Chiapas, sowed the first seeds of the “Black Legend” when in 1552 he published a scathing and enduring indictment of Spanish behavior toward Indian populations in the New World. As admirable as his concern for the beleaguered Indian population was, his proposed solution was significantly worse than the problem he was trying to solve: use slaves from Africa instead!
Casas reasoned that, given the drastic decline of the Indian population and the reluctance of Europeans to perform heavy agricultural labor, that African slaves would be the ideal alternative labor force. Thus, the Spanish could have their cake and eat it too: African slaves would maintain Spanish prosperity, free of charge, thus giving the depleted Indian populations the chance to replenish their strength and numbers. Suffice it to say, his astonishingly tin-eared suggestion helped to kick-start the horrors of the slave trade. To his credit, Las Casas came to regret his role in encouraging the slave trade. Although he rejected the idea that slavery itself was a crime or sin, he did begin to see African slavery as practiced as a source of great evil. Unfortunately, Las Casas’ apology was not published for more than 300 years.
During the sixteenth century, when the House of Habsburg presided over an empire that included Spain, Austria, Italy, Holland, and much of the New World, Spain’s enemies created an enduring set of ideas known as the “Black Legend,” which drew heavily from Las Casas seminal work. What gave the “Black Legend” its strength and resiliency was not Las Casas himself, but the printing press. By the third quarter of the 16th century, Las Casas’ writings had been translated into French, Dutch, and English. Propagandists from England, France, Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands jumped on this opportunity to churn out works which portrayed the Spanish as a corrupt and cruel people who subjugated and exploited the New World Indians, stole their gold and silver, infected them with disease, and killed them in numbers without precedent.
In 1580, William I, Prince of Orange (1533-1584), who led Dutch Protestants in rebellion against Spanish rule, declared that Spain “committed such horrible excesses that all the barbarities, cruelties and tyrannies ever perpetrated before are only games in comparison to what happened to the poor Indians.” Thus, the “Black Legend” provided a powerful ideological justification for English involvement in the New World. By seizing treasure from Spanish ships, staging raids on Spanish ports and cities in the Americas, and enlisting runaway slaves known as Cimarons to prey on the Spanish, Protestant England would strike a blow against Spain’s aggressive Catholicism and rescue the Indians from Spanish slavery. But it is a pointed historical irony that the very English seamen, like Drake and Hawkins, who promised to rescue the Indians from Spanish bondage, also bought and enslaved Africans along the West African coast and transported them to Spanish America, where they sold them to Spanish colonists.
To be clear, the “Black Legend” was not an inaccurate portrayal of Spanish rule in the New World. Rather, it was used as a self-serving cudgel but those who really just wanted to benefit from the spoils of exploiting native populations the exact same way that Spain had. Thus, the “Black Legend” is more notable for the blatant hypocrisy of its proponents than it is for unfairly slandering Spain.
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