Manufacturing Dissent Since 1996
New interviews throughout the week

ROTTEN HISTORY

Posted by Alexander Jerri

On This Day in Rotten History...

In 1381 – (636 years ago) — John Ball, an itinerant English priest, was executed for helping provoke a peasant’s revolt against high taxes levied by the state to finance its endless warfare. As England struggled to recover from the plague years of the Black Death, Ball had traveled from town to town, using Bible passages to preach radical ideas of social equality. He achieved great popularity by voicing the grievances of the impoverished peasants in vernacular terms they could understand. After the Catholic Church, which owned a third of the land in England, excommunicated Ball, he took his preaching outdoors, where he drew large crowds. By the time of his final arrest he had already been in and out of prison several times for giving sermons in which he urged his listeners to seize and kill members of the nobility and their lawyers as well as high-ranking members of the clergy, including the archbishop of Canterbury. On the day of Ball’s execution, the fifteen-year-old King Richard II was on hand to watch him first hanged, and then drawn and quartered. The four bloodsoaked quarters of Ball’s body were then sent to four different villages to be displayed in public as a warning to those who might consider heeding his call or following in his footsteps.

In 1927 – (90 years ago) — in Vienna, demonstrators taking part in a general strike against Austria’s right-wing government stormed the National Palace of Justice and set it on fire. The blaze followed several months of earlier protests led by opposition Social Democrats against the regime, which was backed by rich businessmen and Catholic clergy. Those demonstrations had sometimes flared into violence — including one incident in which three right-wing paramilitaries had killed a World War I veteran and an eight-year-old boy and were later acquitted after pleading self-defense. At the Palace of Justice, after demonstrators attacked firefighters and cut their hoses, and after Vienna’s mayor appealed for calm and was ignored, police chief Johann Schober issued army rifles to his officers and ordered them to open fire on the crowd. Eighty-nine labor protesters were killed, along with five police; and some six hundred protesters were seriously injured. Two years later, Schober would go on to become Austria’s chancellor.

Rotten History is written by Renaldo Migaldi


Posted by Alexander Jerri

On This Day in Rotten History...

In 1523 – (494 years ago) — Johann Esch and Heinrich Voes, two monks from a monastery in Antwerp, were burned at the stake by the Roman Catholic Church for the crime of adopting religious positions of the German theologian Martin Luther, who had kickstarted the Protestant Reformation six years earlier. Luther had denounced the Catholic authorities for the practice of selling indulgences — basically, taking people’s money for the promise of getting them into heaven after their death. He maintained that the authority of the Bible took precedence over that of the Catholic pope, cardinals, and bishops. Those were dangerous beliefs in medieval Europe, and the Roman Church was so intent on stopping their spread that, contrary to usual practice, the charges against Esch and Voes were not read aloud before their public execution in the main marketplace of Brussels. As the flames rose around them, the two unfortunate monks sang Latin hymns until they fell unconscious. Their monastery was declared to have been defiled, and was demolished.

In 1766 – (251 years ago) — a twenty-year-old French nobleman named François-Jean de la Barre was awakened early in the morning and physically tortured by having his hands cut off and his tongue torn from his mouth. Later that day he was beheaded for crimes against Roman Catholicism, the state religion of France. La Barre been found guilty of failing to remove his hat when a religious procession passed, and also for mocking Catholic hymns by changing the words to include obscenities. Police had searched his bedroom and found prohibited books, including the works of the atheistic philosopher Voltaire. After le Barre was beheaded, his body was burned; his copy of Voltaire’s Philosphical Dictionary was also tossed into the flames. After the fire died, the ashes were swept up and unceremoniously dumped into the nearby Somme River.

In 1916 – (101 years ago) — eighteen British and French divisions attacked the German Second Army in positions along the Somme River, kicking off a major battle of World War I. In some areas, according to some accounts, the British and French soldiers simply marched shoulder-to-shoulder into a barrage of German machine gunfire that mowed them down, filling the battlefield with bloody corpses. In other areas, it was the British and French who had the upper hand, and the Germans who suffered the worst. The gruesome trench warfare continued all day, with occasional brief truces to allow troops on either side to retrieve and carry off their dead. As night fell, some twenty thousand men were dead and another thirty-eight thousand were wounded. It was just the opening day of the Battle of the Somme, which over the next few months would claim more than a million casualties, making it one of the bloodiest battles in recorded history.

Rotten History is written by Renaldo Migaldi


Posted by Alexander Jerri

On This Day in Rotten History...

In 1843 – (174 years ago) — a land dispute led to a violent clash between British settlers and indigenous Maori people on the South Island of New Zealand. Officials of the British New Zealand Company, claiming to have made a land purchase deal with the Maori, had sent surveyors into the Wairau Valley to mark out parcels. But the Maori, angry at not having been paid for the land, had chased the surveyors away and destroyed their equipment. When a party of armed British men returned to the valley, they were met by some ninety Maori warriors accompanied by women and children. Twenty-two British were killed, along with four Maori, including the wives of two chiefs. White settlers elsewhere in New Zealand were outraged. But an inquiry led by governor Robert FitzRoy later ruled that the settlers had been at fault for trying to settle on land they had no legal right to possess. 

In 1953 – (64 years ago) — Soviet tanks rolled into East Berlin to crush a day-old uprising and general strike against the Soviet-backed East German goverment, which had raised work quotas and threatened wage cuts. Sensing the government’s insecurity in the wake of Joseph Stalin’s recent death, workers had taken to the streets, calling for democracy and German reunification, and bringing the country to a standstill. The Soviet Union responded by sending in sixteen army divisions to assist eight thousand East German military police in quashing the revolt. Hundreds of East Germans either died in the ensuing violence or were executed afterward. Several thousand more were injured or arrested, and a dozen or more Soviet soldiers were executed for refusing to shoot protesters. The violence across East Germany continued for more than a week — a dark precursor to the Soviet suppression of the Hungarian revolt of 1956 and the crushing of the Prague Spring in 1968.

In 1987 – (30 years ago) — an elderly sparrow was found dead in his food dish, inside a protected enclosure at Walt Disney World near Orlando, Florida. He was the last dusky seaside sparrow, and the last survivor of a failed attempt at breeding enough of the sparrows to repopulate their original habitat along Florida’s Atlantic Coast, in the swamps around Merritt Island just south of Cape Canaveral, and along the upper St. John’s River. In the early 1960s, when Merritt Island was chosen as the site for launching Apollo flights to the moon, the swamps had been flooded to lower the area’s mosquito population, thus devastating the birds’ food source and nesting grounds. Highway construction and pesticides finished the job, and the establishment of a nearby wildlife refuge came too late. In 1990 the dusky seaside sparrow was officially declared extinct.

Rotten History is written by Renaldo Migaldi


Posted by Alexander Jerri

On This Day in Rotten History...

In 1962 – (55 years ago) – in Centralia, Pennsylvania, a fire set deliberately to clear trash out of an underground landfill ignited an ancient coal seam in a nearby abandoned mine. The coal fire gradually spread underneath the town and became a threat to public health and safety. It created dangerous sinkholes, spewed sulfur smoke and carbon monoxide from openings in the ground, and defied all attempts to put it out. By 1984 a mass exodus from the town began, and in 1992, all real estate properties were officially condemned. Centralia, Pennsylvania, once home to a thousand people, is now a ghost town. Nothing remains there but a few derelict buildings and a crumbling network of empty streets covered with graffiti by curious visitors. In some places the ground is still hot to the touch, and cracks in the earth belch poisonous smoke from an underground fire that, experts say, could continue burning for another two hundred years.

In 1971 – (46 years ago) – in the district of Pabna in East Pakistan, units of Pakistan army troops and paramilitaries massacred more than two hundred unarmed members of the local Hindu minority. The killings were a part of Operation Searchlight, a military campaign meant to suppress a Bengali nationalist movement in what was then East Pakistan. Ever since the partition of India after independence in 1947, the new and predominantly Muslim nation of Pakistan had consisted of two sections or “wings” more than a thousand miles apart, with the massive territory of India in between. The two parts of the country had their religious, cultural, and political differences, and as an independence movement grew in East Pakistan, the national government in the West launched a systematic campaign of genocide that led to all-out war, in which India joined on the side of the separatist East. After nine months of air strikes, mass murder, rape, and other atrocities, the war ended with East Pakistan proclaiming itself the newly independent nation of Bangladesh. Body counts vary, but most researchers believe that the war killed about half a million people, and created some thirty million refugees.

Rotten History is written by Renaldo Migaldi


Posted by Alexander Jerri

On This Day in Rotten History...

In 1972 – (45 years ago) – in Osaka, Japan, a fire at the Sennichi Department Store killed 118 people. The fire started in the dress department and quickly spread to other areas in the building that were being remodeled, where burning construction materials filled the stairwells with poisonous fumes. The building had no fire sprinklers. In a nightclub on the seventh floor, patrons found the fire exits locked, and in desperation they began jumping from the windows. It took firefighters three days to put out the blaze. Ninety-six people were found dead inside the nightclub, twenty-two died from jumping, and another seventy-eight were injured, including twenty-seven firefighters. Three managers of the building later went to prison for criminal negligence and accidental homicide.    

In 1985 – (32 years ago) – Philadelphia police bombed the headquarters of MOVE, a radical commune that advocated black liberation and shunned modern technology. The group was well stocked with guns and ammo, and nine members had already gone to prison for third-degree murder in the death of a cop. The group occupied a row house in West Philadelphia, where neighbors complained to the police about their rooftop bullhorn political speeches. When police arrived and were denied entry, they resorted to fire hoses and tear gas, and were answered with bullets. The resulting shootout led to a two-day armed standoff, which ended when a state police helicopter dropped two one-pound bombs on the house, sparking a fire that quickly spread across the neighborhood. With orders to hold off, firefighters stood by and watched the police gun down commune members who came running out of the burning house. Eleven people, including five children, were killed; some sixty-five houses were destroyed; and more than 250 people were left homeless. Eleven years later, a federal jury found that the city had used excessive force and violated the Fourth Amendment. It ordered payment of $1.5 million to three commune survivors, and Philadelphia briefly became known as “The City That Bombed Itself.” Mayor Wilson Goode issued a formal apology, but nobody in the city government was ever criminally charged.

Rotten History is written by Renaldo Migaldi


Posted by Alexander Jerri

On This Day in Rotten History...

In 1527 – (490 years ago) –  mutinous troops of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V invaded and sacked the city of Rome, which at the time was part of the Papal States. Pope Clement VII had allied with the Kingdom of France to resist growing pressure from the northern empire and the Habsburg dynasty, so he was seen as an enemy by Charles’s troops, who numbered some twenty to thirty thousand and — to make matters worse — were angry because they weren’t getting paid on time. The unruly soldiers poured into Rome, killing everyone they encountered, and forcing almost two hundred of the Vatican’s Swiss Guards into desperate hand-to-hand combat on the very steps of Saint Peter’s Basilica. Before being massacred, the Swiss Guards managed to hold off the intruders long enough for the pope to escape to his bunker. But Rome was devastated, and some forty-five thousand people were killed, wounded, or exiled. The invaders remained for months as corpses lay rotting in the streets, until the city was finally overcome by the plague.

In 1757 – (260 years ago) – the English poet Christopher Smart, having been deemed insane, was committed to Saint Luke’s Hospital for Lunatics, in London, one of two asylums where he would be confined for the next six years. It was a time of great debate about the nature of mental illness, but methods of treatment were still primitive, and some doctors even advocated physical beating. For his part, Smart never considered himself insane, and some acquaintances felt he’d been sent to the asylum without due cause. During his years there he was given to intense religious fervor, and he wrote obsessively, producing what are seen today as his greatest works — including the long poem “Jubilate Agno,” which was not published until 1939.

In 1937 – (80 years ago) – the German airship Hindenburg was about to land at Lakehurst, New Jersey, when it mysteriously caught fire and went down in a hellish inferno, killing thirty-six of its ninety-seven passengers and crew. The Hindenburg used explosive hydrogen as its lifting gas, instead of the much safer helium, because the United States had a worldwide monopoly on helium and would not export it to Nazi Germany. Even so, the builders of the Hindenburg were so confident in its safety that the high-end amenities included not only a restaurant kitchen with an electric stove, but a pressurized smoking lounge where the wealthy passengers could purchase and enjoy Cuban cigars. Exactly what ignited the Hindenburg’s giant hydrogen envelope remains unknown to this day, but static electricity has long been suspected. Two earlier airship disasters — one British and one American, both military — had actually killed more people. But it was the sensational film and radio reports of the Hindenburg explosion that destroyed public trust in airships and brought the era of luxury zeppelin travel to an abrupt end.

Rotten History is written by Renaldo Migaldi


Posted by Alexander Jerri

On This Day in Rotten History...

In 1903 – (104 years ago) – an enormous limestone shelf more than half a mile wide, and weighing some ninety million tons, broke away from the side of Turtle Mountain and came crashing down on the outskirts of a coal-mining town called Frank, in Canada’s Northwest Territories. Turtle Mountain was known not only for its rich coal veins, but for its periodic shakes and tremors. The local Blackfoot Indians called it “the mountain that moves,” and had long avoided camping anywhere near it. The landside destroyed houses, businesses, mine buildings, and more than a mile of railroad track. The noise was heard more than a hundred miles away. At least seventy to ninety people were killed, but that number may have been higher, because it’s believed that an unknown number of itinerant hobos looking for work had pitched camp in the area. Experts said the landslide was triggered by mining activity inside the unstable mountain, but the mine owners denied any responsibility. They quickly rebuilt the damaged railway, and the coal mine stayed in operation for another fourteen years.

In 1991 – (26 years ago) – Bangladesh was hit by one of the most deadly tropical cyclones on record. A twenty-foot storm surge flooded the highly populated coast, which was also whipped by winds above 120 miles an hour for more than twelve hours. The storm killed an estimated 138 thousand people, destroyed about a million homes, and left more than ten million people homeless. 

In 1992 – (25 years ago) – a jury acquitted four Los Angeles police officers of using excessive force in their arrest of Rodney King, who had led them on a high-speed freeway pursuit after failing to pull over for a traffic stop. King’s arrest had been captured on video, and the footage had received widespread play on cable TV for more than a year. In it, one could see the police repeatedly kicking King and pounding on him with clubs as he lay immobilized on the roadway. Even LA police chief Daryl Gates had expressed shock at what he saw on the tape, as had police and community leaders nationwide. In the face of such blindingly obvious evidence of police brutality, the jury’s acquittal of the four cops sparked immediate outrage across the country — and especially in South Central LA, where riots broke out and continued over the next several days. Troops from the Marines, Army, and National Guard were called in to help restore order. Fifty-five people died, more than two thousand were injured, some eleven thousand were arrested, and more than a thousand buildings were torched.

Rotten History is written by Renaldo Migaldi


Posted by Alexander Jerri

On This Day in Rotten History...

In 1915 – (102 years ago) – as World War I combatants faced off in the late afternoon near the hamlet of Gravenstafel in western Belgium, the German troops released more than 170 tons of chlorine gas that swept in a thick yellow cloud over the opposing front line of French and colonial Moroccan and Algerian soldiers. Being heavier than air, the gas quickly settled into the trenches, killing hundreds of French troops within minutes, and forcing thousands more to come staggering out into the open, gasping and choking in agony, as they were mowed down in a barrage of German gunfire. The Germans relied on prevailing winds to carry the gas away from themselves and toward their enemies, but many of them were also killed and injured by their own weapon. As fighting continued over the following weeks, the French troops tried to protect themselves by urinating into handkerchiefs which they tied over their faces, so that the ammonia in their urine could neutralize the chlorine poison. Months would go by before they were issued proper gas masks. More than 120,000 troops were killed or wounded or went missing in this bloodbath, known as the Second Battle of Ypres. The British, French, and Americans all expressed outrage at what they called the Germans’ cowardly form of warfare — but by the end of the war, they too had built up stockpiles of chemical weapons, and had used them.

In 1992 – (25 years ago) – residents in a central section of Guadalajara, Mexico, awoke to a heavy, nauseating stink that had risen from manholes in their streets for several days. The people also noticed that the water from their faucets smelled like gasoline, and caused stinging in the eyes and throat. Shortly after 10 a.m. that day came the first of a series of sewer explosions that continued for hours — blowing up streets, destroying buildings, throwing cars into the air, and starting fires that burned all day. Amid the panic and chaos of the emergency evacuation, firefighters warned people across the city not to strike matches or light their stoves. Residents in unaffected neighborhoods hurried to remove manhole covers, hoping that any gas in their sewers would escape without igniting. By the time the crisis was over, up to a thousand people were dead, hundreds more were injured or missing, and some fifteen thousand people were left homeless. Authorities later blamed the state-owned petroleum company Pemex for allowing gasoline to flow into the sewer system. Pemex executives, meanwhile, blamed a local manufacturer of cooking oil for dumping flammable hexane into the sewers.

Rotten History is written by Renaldo Migaldi


Posted by Alexander Jerri

On This Day in Rotten History...

In 1865 – (152 years ago) – President Abraham Lincoln died in a first-floor bedroom at a boarding house across the street from Ford’s Theatre in Washington, DC, where he had been shot in the head by the actor John Wilkes Booth the previous evening. Even before moving Lincoln out of the theater, doctors on the scene had already reached the conclusion that the bullet wound in his skull was mortal, and that he would surely die. The bed in the boarding house was too short to accommodate Lincoln’s tall frame, so they had to lay him on it diagonally. Lincoln died in a room full of people; he was surrounded by doctors and government officials. His twenty-six-year-old assassin, a Confederate sympathizer who had called slavery an important institution that should be preserved, had escaped the scene and was still at large.

In 1912 – (105 years ago) – more than 1,500 people died when the RMS Titanic, a great passenger liner making its maiden voyage, sank in the North Atlantic about two hours after hitting an iceberg. The Titanic had been hyped as the largest and most luxurious ship in the world, and though it boasted some of the most advanced safety features of its time, it only carried enough lifeboats for half the number of people on board. About 700 passengers survived, but experts agree that many more could have been saved if some of the lifeboats had not been launched half empty, and if the ship’s crew had been properly trained in their use. Of the rich people traveling in first class, near the top of the ship, 62 percent survived. Of the less affluent passengers down in third-class steerage, only 37 percent made it out alive.

In 1989 – (28 years ago) – a total of 96 people were killed and 776 injured in a human crush at the Hillsborough soccer stadium in Sheffield, England. It was the FA Cup semifinal between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest, and as fans of the Liverpool side herded into a large standing-room-only pen to watch the action, they were unaware that the crowd inside had already reached the pen’s capacity. As fans inside the pen were crushed and became piled on top of each other, some tried desperately to crawl out of the pen, over the fence, and onto the soccer field. As the situation grew more dangerous, referees stopped the game after just five minutes of playing time. In the aftermath of the disaster, several traumatized survivors committed suicide. An initial coroner’s inquest later ruled that the deaths at the scene had been accidental, but in 2016 a second inquest concluded that the soccer fans had died due to unlawful gross negligence by crowd-control personnel, police, and ambulance services.

Rotten History is written by Renaldo Migaldi