In 1761 – (256 years ago) – in one of the most significant armed conflicts of the eighteenth century, forces of the Maratha empire met Afghan invaders in battle near Paripat, in what is now northern India. The Marathas were at the peak of their power, and they came to the fight with brand-new French-built artillery. But after heavy bloodshed they were pushed back by the more numerous and better trained Afghans in a battle that is viewed today as having marked the beginning of the Maratha empire’s decline. Between thirty and forty thousand Maratha warriors were killed, as were some twenty to forty thousand Afghans. And on the next day the Afghans overrran the city of Paripat, massacring some forty to seventy thousand noncombatants. But the Afghans would fail to follow up on their victory, and were soon pushed out of India by the Sikhs. One historian has written that the battle at Paripat “did not decide who was to rule India, but rather who was not. The way was, therefore, cleared for the rise of the British power in India.”
In 1907 – (110 years ago) – the city of Kingston, Jamaica, was struck by an estimated magnitude 6.5 earthquake. It was seen as one of the deadliest earthquakes recorded up to that time. All buildings in Kingston were damaged, with about 85 percent of them completely destroyed. The initial quake was followed by fires, a tsunami, and some eighty aftershocks over the next several weeks. All in all, about eight hundred to one thousand people were killed, and another ten thousand were left homeless.
In 1966 – (51 years ago) – Sergei Korolev, chief designer of the Soviet Union’s space program, died from a bungled surgical operation. Korolev, a rocket scientist whom Stalin had exiled to Siberia, had later been recalled to design and build military missiles. After Nikita Khrushschev came to power, Korolev shrewdly diverted resources toward space exploration, leading the projects to launch Sputnik into orbit in 1957, and Yuri Gagarin in 1961. Through the early Sixties he labored to satisfy Khrushchev’s constant demands for Cold War propaganda victories over the United States, by masterminding a series of politically driven space spectaculars, including the first spaceflight by a woman, and the first spacewalk. But in 1966 he underwent routine surgery for hemorrhoids, performed personally by the Soviet minister of health, Dr. Boris Petrovsky. According to one account, the operation unexpectedly revealed a malignant tumor. The health minister lacked the training or experience to remove it, but was too proud to call for help. So he began cutting, and accidentally ruptured a crucial blood vessel. Korolev died on the operating table, and without his leadership, the Soviet space program went into a tailspin. After the death of a cosmonaut during re-entry, and four giant rocket explosions in a row, the effort to beat the Americans to the moon was abandoned.
Rotten History is written by Renaldo Migaldi