Andrew Jackson, the Populist Trump of Early America

Andrew_jackson_headAndrew Jackson certainly had a background tailor made to be president. But why is he on the twenty-dollar bill? Born in the Carolina wilderness, he was a true son of the American Revolution. His frontier life changed forever when the British Redcoats invaded in 1780.

At only 14, he volunteered in the local militia, serving as a rebel courier. Captured once by the British, the boy brazenly refused to shine a Redcoat officer’s boots. The red-faced officer drew his saber and struck him across the cheek, leaving a permanent scar. Such hot-headedness would get Jackson into many a fight. Tall and thin, with fiery red hair and ice blue eyes, he certainly looked the part.

After the war, Jackson decided to become a lawyer and moved to Nashville to practice law. There he met and married Rachel Robards, a woman leaving a very troubled marriage. To his shock, he later learned her divorce had not yet been finalized! It was a detail that would hound him the rest of his public life.

The press accused Rachel of bigamy and Jackson of adultery!

Jackson’s willingness to fight any of his wife’s accusers earned him a reputation as an angry man with a VERY short-temper. He even challenged one critic to a formal duel. Despite being wounded in the chest by the 1st shot, Jackson stood his ground and fired a round that killed his opponent. He’d carry that lead bullet in his chest the rest of his life.

In 1798, the Jacksons acquired The Hermitage plantation and became slave owners.  The gregarious Jackson was popular amongst menfolk, fond of both drinking, dancing and gambling. Though at first reluctant, Jackson was convinced to enter politics, becoming Tennessee’s first U.S. House Representative, followed by its U.S. Senator.

The Hero of New Orleans

When the War of 1812 erupted, Jackson was appointed Major General of the Tennessee militia, though lacking any military experience.  Nevertheless, he led 1500 troops on a 5 month campaign against the Creek Indians (who were British-allies). He forced the Creeks to sign a treaty ceding 20 million acres to the US, over half their territory in Georgia and Alabama.

Jackson was then ordered south to defend New Orleans from a British invasion. The two sides clashed in January 1815. Although outnumbered 2-to-1, Jackson led 5,000 soldiers to a surprise victory over the British in The Battle of New Orleans (Jackson Square ring a bell?). The British suffered 2,000 casualties while the Americans only 70.

Jackson received a Congressional medal and his status as a national war hero was forever solidified. He was so popular amongst his troops they gave him a nickname he carried the rest of his life.

They called him “Old Hickory” because he was “as tough as hickory wood” in battle.

andrew_jackson1Jackson’s exploits made him a political star, and Tennessee nominated him for President. In the election of 1824 against John Quincy Adam, Jackson won the popular vote, but neither won the electoral college. The Speaker of the House, Henry Clay, threw his support behind Adams, who later made Clay his Secretary of State, once Congress chose John Quincy as the winner.

Jackson raged against what he called a “corrupt bargain” and resigned from the Senate in protest. Undeterred, he spent the next 3 years campaigning for president as a representative of “the common man.”  

His campaign slogan was “Andrew Jackson, the Will of the People.”

In 1828, after a 2nd ugly campaign where bigamy and adultery charges rose up against him again, Jackson defeated the incumbent Adams by a landslide. His pious wife Rachel though had been deeply affected by the cruel campaign and died of a heart attack before entering the White House.  He loved her dearly and never remarried.

Jackson became America’s 1st frontier president, calling himself “the “The People’s President.” His opponents called him an unstable jackass, a name he took a liking to. So much so, the donkey became the emblem of the Democratic Party. Jackson was the 1st president to invite the public to attend the White House inaugural ball. A large and rowdy mob arrived, got promptly drunk, and began to break furniture and dishes!

Early in his first term, Jackson dismissed his entire cabinet as he watched them slowly distance themselves from him. So he relied on a group of close advisors instead— his opponents calling them the Kitchen Cabinet. He would eventually replace much of the executive branch, charging them with either incompetency or corruption.

“One man with courage makes a majority.” – Andrew Jackson

Despite his popularity, Jackson’s presidency had its share of controversies. Still angry that he lost the 1824 election, he believed in the popular vote and attempted to abolish the Electoral College. His opponents coalesced into a new political party, united in their aversion to Jackson. The Whigs were formed to defend liberty and protest the despotic policies of “King Andrew.”

While prior presidents vetoed bills they deemed unconstitutional, Jackson vetoed bills he simply did not like. He vetoed the bill to renew the Second Bank of the US, which he felt favored “the elites.”  His opponent for re-election in 1832, Henry Clay, believed the bank fostered a strong economy, making it his central campaign issue.  The public supported Jackson’s populism and he won re-election with 56% of the popular vote and five times as many electoral votes.

Jackson faced another opponent however in his own VP.  South Carolina believed new federal tariffs favored the North and vowed to secede. A furious Jackson threatened to use the military to enforce the law. John C. Calhoun supported his home state and became the first US VP to resign. A compromise was passed, the crisis averted, but it foreshadowed the coming of The Civil War 30 years later.

During Jackson’s 2nd term, he was the target of the 1st assassination attempt against a US President.

A deranged painter fire a pistol at the president. When the gun failed, he pulled out a second pistol, which also misfired. An irate Jackson charged the shooter, and hammered him with his cane until others subdued him. Of course, this only added to his legend.

Jackson is perhaps best known for his controversial policies toward Native Americans, who were being pushed slowly westward. Jackson believed the backbone of America was family farms—so to maintain growth – new farmland was needed.

He signed the Indian Removal Act of 1830.

It gave him power to force treaties on tribes, resulting in their forced displacement to the Oklahoma territory west of the Mississippi. Jackson let Georgia violate a treaty and seize 9 million acres of Cherokee land. Although the Supreme Court ruled Georgia had no authority to do so, Jackson refused to enforce the decision. The Trail of Tears forced the westward relocation of an estimated 15,000 Cherokees, claiming the lives of 4,000 who died along the way of starvation, exposure and illness.

Jackson was a 2 term president. Democrat Martin Van Buren defeated the Whigs and won the 1836 election. Due to Jackson’s often erratic fiscal and banking policies, he left his successor with an economy on the brink, leading to The Panic of 1837 and the ensuing depression.

Andrew JacksonAfter leaving the White House, Jackson returned to his Hermitage, where he died in 1845, at the age of 78. The cause of death – lead poisoning from the bullet still in his chest after all these years.  Jackson continues to be regarded as one of the most influential, aggressive and controversial US president.  He is a personal favorite of the 45th president, Donald Trump, who hung a portrait of Old Hickory in the Oval Office.

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Irena Sendlar, Holocaust Heroine, Eclipsed Schindler’s List

irena sendlar youngMany acts of courage  and decency took place during the WWII Holocaust by brave and compassionate people. Irena Sendlar was one of its greatest heroes. Unknown by most, this courageous Polish woman defied the Nazis and managed to smuggle 2,500 Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto.

When German tanks rolled into Poland in 1939, Irena was only 29. A petite Social Worker for the Welfare Dept, Irena stood just 4′11″, with lively, intelligent eyes set in a pretty, smiling face. Her appearance more resembled a porcelain doll than a fearless resistance leader.

She was born in Otwock, a small town outside Warsaw. At the end of WWI, a typhus epidemic erupted, and Irena’s father the local doctor, devoted himself to caring for the Jews. “If you see someone drowning, jump in to save them,’ he told her, ‘their religion or nationality are irrelevant.’ He eventually contracted the disease and died when she was just 7.

When the Nazi invaded Poland, Irena was a Sr. Administrator in the Warsaw Social Welfare Dept. It operated canteens providing meals, money, and clothes for orphans, the elderly, and poor. Through Irena, the canteens also provided the same for Jewish families. They were registered under fictitious Christian names, and to discourage Nazi inspections, were reported as being afflicted with tuberculosis.

In 1940, the Nazis herded Warsaw’s 400,000 Jews into a 16 block Ghetto behind walls 10 ft. high, topped with barbed wire & surrounded by armed guards.

The Jews were provided daily rations of only 200 calories and no medicine. The deplorable conditions in the crowded Ghetto resulted in typhoid epidemics and high death rates. At least 280,000 of those who survived disease and starvation were shipped to the infamous Treblinka Concentration Camp.

By 1942, after over 280,000 Jews were deported to Treblinka, Zegota (the Council for Aid to Jews), a Polish underground group, was secretly formed. Sendler was so appalled by the conditions in the Ghetto that she immediately joined. She appealed to her 10 closest colleagues to come as well, mostly women, some as young as she.

To order to enter the Ghetto, Irena obtained a pass from the Epidemic Control Dept to inspect the Jews as the Nazis feared disease outbreaks beyond the walls. She visited the Ghetto daily, established contacts inside and brought food, medicines and clothing.

5,000 were dying a month from starvation and disease, so Zegota decided they must help the children escape.

In 1943, Zegota appointed Sendler their head of Jewish children. Irena exploited her contacts with orphanages, in order to make them accept Jewish children. Many were sent to the Family of Mary Orphanage in Warsaw, and to other Catholic institutions run by nuns, who then found non-Jewish families to foster them.

Wearing a yellow Star of Davidin the Ghetto to show her solidarity, Irena then began talking Jewish parents into giving up their children to her. The parents had a heartbreaking choice to make and Irena could afford them no assurances.

For Sendler, a young mother of two herself, persuading parents to part with their children was a horrendous task. “Can you guarantee they will live?” the distraught parents asked. “I can only guarantee they will die if they stay!” The children’s cries when they were separated from their parents was heartbreaking. Finding families willing to risk their lives and shelter the children, was also not easy.

Nothing was more dangerous than hiding a Jew. If they found out, they would kill your entire family.

Irena began smuggling children out of the Ghetto anyway she could: in an ambulance hidden under the litters, some in body bags, some buried under loads of goods, or in garbage wagons. One mechanic took a sedated infant out in his toolbox. Some were carried out in potato sacks, others in coffins. She smuggled older children out through the city’s sewers to ‘The Aryan Side.’ Irena trained a dog who, when the hidden children would start to whimper, would bark and distract the Nazis.

The city was crawling with traitors, and the Gestapo were constantly on the lookout for escaped Jews. “You are not Rachel but Roma,” she drilled the children. “You are not Isaac but Jacek. Repeat it a hundred times!” Irena knew that any child could be stopped and interrogated. If they were unable to recite a simple Catholic prayer, they could be shot on sight. She would wake them up during the night to practice the prayers.

Irena had Catholic identity papers forged and signed by priests so the children could be taken to orphanages and convents. She sent most of the children to Catholic organizations, knowing she could count on the Sisters. No one ever refused to take a child. She made sure that each family hiding a child knew they must be returned to Jewish relatives after the war.

Sendler kept meticulous notes in code of the children’s original names and their new identities.

She kept the precious records on a fragile scroll in a glass jar buried beneath an apple tree across the street from German barracks. She hoped to later locate the children and inform them of their past. In all, the jar would contain the names of 2,500 children.

But it was Irena herself who entered the Ghetto day after day for eighteen months—and walked out each time with hidden children. Her life was in constant danger and ultimately, the Nazis began to suspect. In 1943, the Gestapo raided her apartment one night. Informants had turned her in. She was arrested and immediately imprisoned.

Irena was the only one at Zegota who knew the names of the families sheltering the Jewish children. She was interrogated daily and tortured mercilessly by the Gestapo. During one brutal session, her captors broke both her feet and legs. But no one could break her spirit. She refused to betray either her associates or any of the Jewish children. Irena eventually received a sentence of Death by Nazi firing squad.

Irena welcomed death, which would spare her the constant fear of divulging her co-conspirators. At the last minute, Zegota bribed a German guard who helped Irena escape into the woods just as she was being led to her execution!

After her escape, Irena went into hiding for the rest of WWII.

Her sacrifice prevented her from attending her own mother’s funeral. Nevertheless, with the help of the Polish Resistance and some 200 convents and orphanages, Irena and her helpers managed to save the lives of at least 2,500 Jewish children.

After Russia liberated Poland, she dug up the glass jar she had carefully buried and used the notes to track down the children she placed with orphanages and foster families, hoping to reunite them with relatives. But sadly, most lost their families in the Treblinka Death Camp, so they were formally adopted.

The Polish Communists branded Irena a subversive and she was largely unknown and unappreciated … except amongst the survivors. She lived out the next 50 years in anonymity, haunted by nightmares of the horrors she witnessed in the Ghetto.  Irena Sendler – white-haired, gentle and courageous, lived a modest existence with her children in a Warsaw apartment.

In the Ghetto, the children knew her only by her code name- Jolanta.

But decades later, after she was honored for her wartime heroism, her picture began appearing in newspapers and the phone began to ring. “I remember your face!” they said. “You were the angel who took me from the Ghetto.”  The children, now adults, kept in touch over her remaining years, many visiting her regularly.

Irena’s amazing achievement went largely unnoticed outside Warsaw. Until her story was uncovered in 1999 by 4 students at a rural Kansas high school, who began researching her for a national history competition. The 4 girls were intrigued by a single sentence their teacher showed them in an article: “Irena Sendler saved 2,500 children from the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942–1943.” They were convinced it was a typo. They soon realized there had been no mistake.

They wrote a short play, Life in a Jar, about Irena’s heroic actions.

After winning the competition, the media began to pick up on the story of this “Female Oskar Schindler” who eclipsed his famous list of 1,200 Jews saved.  Popularized by National Public Radio, C-SPAN and CBS, it brought Irena Sendler’s story to the world.

The students never expected to be able to ask Irena herself any questions. They assumed she must have passed away years ago. They were in fact thrilled to discover that she was still alive! The girls wrote to Irena, who still lived in a tiny Warsaw apartment with family. They told her about their play, which had won the history contest!

When they learned she was already 91, their town raised money for the 4 students and their teacher, Norman Conrad, to fly to Poland to meet Irena in person. They wanted to learn more details about her amazing life, and especially the biggest question of all: Where did she find the courage?

The US students visited Irena in Warsaw in 2001 and performed their play.

Irena Sendlar oldMedia covered their visit, breaking nearly 60 years of silence. Sendlar has since been honoured by numerous Jewish organizations and received The Order of the White Eagle,Poland’s highest honor in 2003. She has officially been designated a Polish National Hero and schools are now named in her honour. In 2007, she was even nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Yet it was not for her own sake that Irena was so pleased with the recognition. Rather, it was that the full work of Zegota was finally being recognized.  Irena Sendler did not think of herself as a hero. “I could have done more,” she said. “This regret will haunt me to my death.”

Her courage enabled not only the survival of 2,500 Jewish children but also generations of their descendants.   Irena Sendlar passed away in 2008 at 98. She was buried in Warsaw’s Powazki Cemetery—a place reserved for the elite among Poland’s scholars, writers, and war heroes.  But the grave graced with the most candles of remembrance is always Irena’s.

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The Great Halifax Explosion Eclipsed only by Hiroshima


At 9:05 am on December 6th,1917, the most devastating manmade explosion, short of the Hiroshima atomic bomb, occurred in the port of Halifax, Nova Scotia. A French ship, the Mont Blanc, its hold packed with tons of war-bound munitions, explodes after colliding with another vessel.

Why Halifax?  In 1917, World War I still raged on in Europe. The port of Halifax was the departure port for Canadian transatlantic convoys leaving for WWI overseas.  It was packed with ships carrying troops, supplies, and munitions across the Atlantic.  In a matter of 3 short years, the small harbor town had grown into a world class port and major naval base.

World War I had brought prosperity, and Halifax became a boom town.

That frigid December morning,  the port city was swollen with people and a bee hive of activity. Troops bound for battle in the trenches of France flooded the streets, hundreds of laborers trudged to work, and children of all ages wandered off to schools.

At 7:30 am on the morning of December 6th, the Mont Blanc left it anchorage and began cruising through the narrows. Its orders to join a military convoy that would escort it across the Atlantic. Unbeknownst to the average citizen, its cargo hold was packed with 2,300 tons of explosive picric acid, 200 tons of TNT, 35 tons of gasoline, and 10 tons of flammable gun cotton! At the exact same time, the Norwegian ship Imo left its pier bound for New York City to pick up its own load of relief supplies.

At 8:45 am, at the entrance to the Narrows, a series of misjudged maneuvers and whistle blasts took place. The Imo struck the Mont-Blanc near the bow. Although the collision was hardly severe, the shock waves set the picric acid drums ablaze and the fire quickly spread onboard the Mont-Blanc. The captain, harbor pilot and crew, knew they now stood on a ticking time bomb! They attempted to alert the harbor of the peril of their burning ship but were unsuccessful.

Expecting an explosion any second, they launched their lifeboats, hastily abandoned ship, and took refuge on the nearby shore.

The Mont Blanc was knocked off course by the collision and slowly coasted instead towards Halifax. The ship burned for twenty minutes, sending pillars of black smoke pluming into the winter sky. It drifted until it bounced against Pier 6, at the busy, industrial end of Halifax, setting the pier ablaze as well.

The spectacle was thrilling and drew crowds of innocent spectators, unaware of the immense danger burning before their eyes. Only a handful of naval officers knew of the Mont-Blanc’s explosive cargo but there would be no time for any warning. A tugboat and the Halifax Fire Department responded, positioning themselves near Pier 6.

That is when the Mont Blanc and its tons of munitions completely exploded in a flash of blinding white light.

Homes, schools, factories, and ships were completely destroyed in the pressure wave of the blast. White-hot fragments rained down on the city, crashing through buildings with enough force to embed themselves in cellars. Children who had stopped on their way to school, workmen lining factory windows, sailors in their ships, all died instantly.

The resulting shock wave shattered windows 50 miles away, and the explosion could be heard as Maine. Hardly a pane of glass in Halifax survived. In seconds, the city was reduced to ruins and rubble.  Many thought the Germans were attacking.

Survivors’ injuries were frightful, including third degree burns and blindness from the flash or splintering glass. Rescue efforts began quickly, but hospitals and shelters were soon overwhelmed. All surviving buildings, including ships in the harbor, were commandeered.

The colossal explosion destroyed the entire north end of Halifax, including more than 1,630 homes, many by the hundreds of fires that quickly spread. The blast killed more than 2,000 people, injuring another 9,000. The flash of the explosion blinded 200 alone. 6,000 survivors were left without shelter. The captain, pilot and crew of the Imo were all killed. All from the Mont-Blanc survived.

Not one piece of the Mont Blanc remained.

In the months that followed, both ships were judged equally at fault. Captain Aime Le Medec and pilot Francis Mackey of the Mont-Blanc were charged with manslaughter. Later, the charges were dropped, because gross negligence causing death could not be proven. About 250 bodies were never identified; many victims were never found.

in 1920, a Memorial Tower containing a carillon of bells, was erected at Fort Needham, overlooking the explosion site. The dedication was made by a young girl who had lost her entire family in the blast. Every year since, at 9 am on December 6th, the sweet sound of the bells ring out over Halifax in memory of the victims of the Mont Blanc explosion.

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The Forgotten Hungarian Revolution of 1956

Revolution hongroise

On October 23rd 1956, thousands of Hungarian workers and students flooded the streets of Budapest. With fists raised in defiance, they shouted for Freedom from Soviet tyranny! The students issued a declaration in Parliament Square called the “Sixteen Points.” It included demands for personal freedom, economic reform, eliminating the hated secret police, withdrawing Soviet troops, and removing Communist leader Mátyás Rákosi.

Rákosi, appointed by Josef Stalin himself, had presided over a decade-long, oppressive regime that finally brought resentment to a boiling point. When crowds of unarmed civilians were gunned down by security forces 2 days later, the Rebellion became a Revolution between ragtag armed rebels and Soviet troops.

What began as peaceful demonstrations in Budapest quickly escalated into an armed resistance across all of Hungary.

Protestors tore down a statue of Stalin in Heroes’ Square, dragged its metal carcass through the city before decapitating it for all to see. Soviet red star flags were ripped down from government buildings. Russian stores were painted with slogans “Ruszkik Haza!” (Russians, Go Home!).

The Soviet emblem, cut from the center of the Hungarian tricolor flag, became the new revolutionary banner. Communists leaders were arrested and publicly beaten. Although many condemned the violence, reprisals continued. Communist henchmen suddenly reaped the wrath they had brutally sowed for over a decade.

Poorly armed but fearless fighters, carrying only rifles and Molotov cocktails, proved surprisingly effective at knocking out Soviet tanks. Young men and women with no military training managed to outmaneuver the Russian Red Army. Most of the Hungarian military, siding with the rebels, did nothing.

Radio Free Europe urged the rebels to continue the fight, raising Hungarian’s hopes that Western aid was imminent.

In response, the Communist Party sacked Rákosi. They appointed the more reform-minded Imre Nagy as the new leader, a politician who’d been dismissed for his open criticisms of Stalin. The Kremlin felt it was the simplest way to appease the Hungarian “hooligans.”

It was an offer Nagy reluctantly accepted, hoping at best to steer the uprising towards a peaceful end. He failed at first to connect with the shouting crowds – thousands massed in front of the Parliament.   But over the course of a week, Nagy underwent a remarkable transformation into a leader willing to sanction unprecedented and daring reforms.

Nagy restored peace by asking the Soviets to withdraw their troops from Hungary. Thousands of Russian troops had been stationed in Hungary since 1945. As another gesture of appeasement, the Kremlin agreed and Red Army pulled out. But Nagy pushed the revolt even further,

He abolished one-party Communist rule, allowing for a new multi-party state!

For a few weeks, it seemed like the rebels might actually pull this off. After a ceasefire was declared on October 28, the atmosphere in Budapest was euphoric as Soviet forces continued to withdraw. Images of triumphant rebels posing for pictures atop burnt tanks stunned the world.

On October 31, Pravda published a Kremlin declaration promising greater equality between the USSR and Hungary. The crisis seemed on the verge of being resolved in a way no-one in the world had dared to dream. On November 1st, Nagy took the dramatic step of declaring that Hungary would withdraw from the Soviet’s Warsaw Pact!

It would prove to be a fatal mistake.

Even as Soviet forces retreated, victory was to be short-lived. Regardless of the Pravda statement, Nikita Khrushchev had already decided to restore strict order in Hungary with brute military force. Hungary would NOT become the 1st Soviet satellite behind the Iron Curtain to reject the Kremlin’s iron fist.

On November 4, Soviet troops launched Operation Whirlwind. Hundreds of Soviet tanks rolled back into Budapest in an overwhelming force to crush the rebellion, restore Communist order and install a new puppet leader.  The Hungarians were stunned.

Vicious street fighting broke out, but the Soviets’ greater power was undeniable. The Soviets struck back with Stalin-like savagery. They poured reinforcements in, completely encircling Budapest. Prime Minister Nagy announced the invasion to the nation in a grim broadcast, declaring:

Our troops are fighting! The Government remains in place!”

The Red Army executed the leaders of the revolution and eliminated the last pockets of resistance within a single week. They acted with immense brutality, killing even the wounded. Tanks dragged bodies through the Budapest streets as a warning to the population. Resistance was futile.

At the end of the week, Budapest Radio burst out: “Russian MiG fighters are over Budapest! The Soviet infantry is advancing toward Parliament! We shall die for Hungary! Any news of help? Quickly, quickly please!”then Budapest fell.

By November 7, Soviet forces had Janos Kádár, a former colleague of Nagy, take the oath of office in Parliament as the new Communist leader. The USSR’s brutality stunned the West. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev had pledged a retreat from Stalinist repression, but the violent actions in Budapest proved otherwise.

US President Eisenhower was deeply upset by the crushing of the revolt. He spoke out “I feel with the Hungarian people. To all those suffering under communist slavery, let us say you can count on us.” But in the end, America did nothing. Both sides in the Cold War were nuclear powers and the risk of all out global war was far too great.

By November 14th, Soviet control had been restored across all of Hungary.

3,000 men, women and children were killed and 200,000 more fled to the west as refugees. Nagy was arrested, executed and buried in an unmarked grave. For the next three decades, to even mention the name of Imre Nagy was to risk incarceration.

Today, 1956 serves as a haunting symbol of martyrdom for all Hungarians. Though their revolution failed, they were the first to stand up against Soviet tyranny. Every year on October 23rd, the iconic Hungarian flag with hollow circles adorns streets across the country.

In 1989, 33 years to the day, Hungary was officially declared a Republic. A month later, thousands of German citizens attacked another hated symbol of the Cold War – the Berlin Wall – which had not even been built when Budapest citizens first rose up against their Soviet oppressors. The Cold War was finally over (for now).

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The Donora Death Fog of 1948

Donora smogIn 1948, a little-remembered environmental disaster shocked the world.  No, this isn’t a Steven King story, but the real thing.

It began innocently enough. On Tuesday, October 26th, the people of Donora, Pennsylvania woke to a blanket of smoke and fog filling their streets. Fog was common in town when cold mountain air hit the warm river.  Plus the town’s steel mill and zinc works ran three shifts. They belched out endless pillars of smoke, 24 hours a day.

But the smog of Oct. 26th was different. As the day wore on, the fog didn’t lift, as it usually did.  Streetlights were still blazing at Noon.  Plus the smog became slowly thicker as the day progressed, until townsfolk began to taste the pollution in their mouths.

‘The smog burned your throat, eyes and nose, but we thought it was just another day in Donora.’

Donora‘s a small US town, about 27 miles south of Pittsburgh. It sits on a tight, horseshoe bend in the Monongahela River, in a deep valley surrounded by steep hillsides. It was also the home of a US Steel Zinc Works and American Steel & Wire Mill, with a combined 30 smoke stacks lining the river. The 2 factories employed most of the men in town.

Folks in steel towns were used to smog. This was 3 years after WWII and the GIs were home. But memories of the Great Depression still lingered and smog meant prosperity. Smog meant men were working, bills were being paid, and families were fed. Sure it was a nuisance. It stunted the growth of valley trees, mothers washed curtains as frequently as towels, and it caused hacking coughs amongst the workers … but that was the price you paid for the American dream.

The Donora Smog continued to worsen, getting thicker and thicker for 5 straight days, darkening the valley like an eclipse. That didn’t stop the Halloween parade Friday, when kids in costumes walked the streets like real specters, coughing in the gloom. Or the high school football game Saturday, when no passes were thrown because receivers couldn’t see the ball.

The smog was so thick you could barely see the football players on the field!

What the town didn’t know was that a layer of cold autumn air had trapped the 2 mills’ toxic soup of carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide and zinc/lead dust in their valley. It was a rare atmospheric inversion that stopped the air from circulating out of the town. The combination of toxic smoke and weather would yield deadly effects. The thickening, poisonous air began causing hacking coughs and  asthma-like symptoms.

The town’s 8 doctors rushed from case to case. They ordered those having trouble breathing to abandon the town.  This became harder and harder as driving visibility was reduced to a few feet. Firefighters carried O2 tanks through the dark streets to help children and elderly citizens. They were deluged with desperate requests for oxygen.

The ambulances could only creep through the smog, with one paramedic walking in front to check the road was clear. Driving soon became out of the question. Firefighters were forced to abandon attempts to help their suffering citizens when they were unable to navigate their own town IN MIDDAY!

‘The smog was so bad, I couldn’t see my feet!’

Town leaders begged the mills’ owners to shut down … but they refused. The first deaths began to occur Friday. The small Donora Hotel had become an emergency clinic because the local hospitals couldn’t handle all the sick, coughing and gasping for breath.

By Saturday, the 3 funeral homes quickly had more corpses than they could handle. The Community Center basement became a morgue when the undertakers were overwhelmed. Towns people listening to the radio were shocked to learn the toxic smog had turned lethal!  20 of their fellow Donorans had died!  And half the town was getting sick.

On Sunday morning Oct 30th, the mills’ owners finally ceased operation, arguably because most of their workers were sick. The next day on Halloween, wind and rain came and the smog finally began to dissipate, but not before leaving many with permanent lung damage.

Twenty-six townspeople would die in all.

The dead had all been 50 or over, some with heart or lung problems. 7,000 people had become violently ill, half the town’s population. While expressing sympathy for the victims, the owners disclaimed responsibility.

Over the next months, state and federal investigators descended on Donora. They set up air monitoring sites and medical clinics. US Steel and American Wire insisted the weather was to blame, certainly not the mills that had been operating for decades. The 2 powerful companies made sure the official report exonerated the plants. Most residents were outraged and investigators blamed the mills. Lawsuits were filed and later settled, but without naming blame.

‘It was murder! The owners of US Steel should have gone to jail.’

Humans were not the only victims – all of the crops in the valley perished as well as many family pets and backyard gardens.  It became the worst air pollution disaster in US history and let the public know that pollution was more than just a nuisance, it could kill!

The 2 mills reopened the next week. But the “Donora Death Fog,” made air pollution a national concern. The next year, President Harry Truman called for the 1st national air pollution conference, citing Donora. The zinc works closed in 1957, the steel mill a few years later.

Richard Nixon created the US Environmental Protection Agency in 1970, leading to The Clean Air Act.  Nonetheless, air pollution in Pennsylvania remained a problem for decades.  It precipitated down upon the state as Acid Rain, killing lake and river fish populations.

The population of Donora has dwindled to less than 6,000, over one-third retirees. Some residents blame the government regulators for destroying jobs in their town, though arguably saving their family’s lives. The Donora Death Fog is arguably the pivotal moment leading to the adoption of air quality regulations in the US.   If you have never heard of Donora, you owe it a debt of gratitude.  The Donora dead gave their lives so others would later live.

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In World War I, BOTH Germany and the Allies used Poison Gas


The horrors that man is capable of unleashing upon his enemy during warfare reached its pinnacle during World War I, when BOTH slides liberally used Poison Gas against each other.

WWI was the first conflict to devolve into trench warfare, when equally matched armies had literally dug into the French countryside with an obliterated “No Man’s Land” between them. After numerous bloody battles that did nothing to move the front, both sides looked for any way to win campaigns.

New poison gas technology appeared to be the answer to their prayers!

Chlorine gas was first deployed by the German military at the Second Battle of Ypres on 22 April 1915. French, British and Canadian troops lined a 10 mile long front against the German army.  At 17.00 hours, when the day’s shelling ceased, and with the winds favorably blowing to the west, German troops opened pressurized tanks of chlorine gas hidden at the front line trenches.

French sentries noticed a strange, greenish-yellow cloud moving towards them. Thinking it was a smoke screen to cover a German advance, all troops were ordered to the ladders of their trenches. The gas’s impact was immediate and horrifying, destroying a man’s ability to breath in a matter of seconds. The surviving French troops fled in terror. Even the Germans were so shocked by the deadly effect of their gas, they never followed through with a full assault.

Germany’s use of poison gas provoked immediate and widespread condemnation around the globe. Nevertheless, the gas cat was out of the bag, so to speak, and its use escalated for the remainder of the Great War by Both Sides.

The first Allies to respond was Britain in 25 September 1915. Newly formed Special Gas Divisions attacked German lines at Loos around 5 am with their new “Accessory.” They were forbidden, you see, to use the word ‘Poison Gas.’ Unfortunately, along parts of the British front lines, the wind changed direction unexpectedly! The chlorine gas was blown back onto the British troops, causing over 2,000 casualties, more than the Germans.

A better means of delivery was needed, so both sides began firing poison gas in artillery shells instead.

After chlorine came phosgene, a gas that induced less coughing so more would be inhaled by the unfortunate victims, increasing the kill rate. But what was the average soldier to do? At first, they were instructed to hold a urine soaked kerchief over their face to protect against the effects! Needless to say, this failed miserably. Gas mask production lagged behind and it took several ineffective versions before the troops were finally provided with a reliable model. Uncomfortable masks with round goggles and a single filter cartridge were effective if applied fast enough.

German chemists were a step ahead of the Allies and switched to Mustard Gas in 1917.

Made of sulphur dichloride, the oily, brown liquid gave off what survivors described as a garlicy, horseradish or mustard stench. Mustard gas was nearly invisible, and rather that immediately choking the victim, it caused large, severe and painful blisters both in the mouth and on the skin. Mustard gas also remained potent in soil for weeks, making infected trenches impossible to live in.

To the thousands of souls fighting in Flanders, it was hard to imagine how the hell of trench warfare could get any worse. On 12 July 1917, German gunners fired more than 50,000 artillery shells of mustard gas into the British and Canadian lines. Hospital tents up and down the front were soon bursting with more than 2,000 victims, suffering from excruciating blisters across their bodies. Most were blinded, others slowly suffocating, leaving the rest disfigured and writhing in agony.

Despite the outrage that followed Germany’s usage, the Allies immediately engineered their own stockpiles of poison gas.

By autumn, mustard gas was in use up and down the Western Front once again by both sides. By year’s end, the British were dropping mustard gas onto German trenches as well.  America’s Dow Chemical manufactured the poison for the US troops.

It so terrified soldiers because unlike chlorine, victims were unaware they were being gassed. Gas masks only protected the lungs; everything else burned, even skin beneath clothing. Since it was heavier than air, clouds would settle into bomb craters and trenches and remain there for hours.

Germany continued to develop a deadly array of delivery methods including artillery shells, mortar rounds, free falling bombs and even land mines. The British army alone suffered 20,000 mustard gas casualties in just the last year of the war.

The use of Mustard Gas would continue right up until the Paris Armistice at 11 pm on 11 November 1918.

Although the use of poison gas was banned by the 1925 Geneva Convention, armies around the world continued to use it up through the 1930s when the Japanese gassed both Chinese armies and civilians in its invasion of Manchuria.

During World War II, the Allies stockpiled millions of tons of mustard gas behind frontlines just in case the Nazis decided to use it. Mustard gas was used most recently in the 1980s by Saddam Hussein against the Iranian army and Iraq’s own Kurdish population, where more than 5,000 civilians died.

While today we have more modern Nerve Agent Gases and of course nuclear weapons, they remain largely unused, stockpiles kept as a deterrent only … or, until the enemy decides to use them first. Then the deadly cycle seen during WWI might just begin again.

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Top 10 US Mass Shootings all Occurred since Ronald Reagan’s Assassination Attempt

candles and flowersThis is a sad list indeed. In Remembrance, never forget the victims and their families of America’s top mass shootings – ironically, all since the attempted assassination of President Ronald Reagan in 1981 by John Hinckley.  US gun restrictions have relaxed, not increased in the years since, in large part due to the lobbying efforts of the National Rifle Association.

#1 – October 1, 2017, Las Vegas, NV

59 KILLED, 500 INJURED at a country music festival near the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino

Killer: Stephen Paddock, 64, retiree and gambler of Mesquite, NV using multiple semi-automatic assault rifles with high capacity magazines and bump stocks

#2 – June 12, 2016, Orlando, FL

49 KILLED, 58 INJURED at the Orlando Pulse Nightclub

Killer: Omar Mateen, 29, security guard from Port St. Lucie, using a semi-automatic assault rifle with high capacity magazines and a 9mm pistol

#3 – April 16, 2007, Blacksburg, VA

32 KILLED, 17 INJURED during classes at Virginia Tech University

Killer: Seung Hui Cho, 23, South Korean VT senior, using a semi-automatic handgun and 9mm pistol

#4 – Dec. 14, 2012, Newtown, Conn.

27 KILLED (including 20 Children), 1 INJURED at Sandy Hook Elementary School

Killer: Adam Lanza, 20, World of Warcraft enthusiast, using semi-automatic assault rifle and 9mm pistol

#5 – October, 16, 1991, Killeen, Texas

22 KILLED, 20 INJURED at Luby’s Cafeteria during the lunch hour

Killer: George Jo Hennard, 35, unemployed merchant marine, using semi-­auto­mat­ic pistols

#6 – July 18, 1984 San Ysidro, Calif.

21 KILLED, 19 INJURED at a local McDonald’s restaurant

Killer: James Oliver Huberty, 41-year-old unemployed security guard using Uzi submachine, shotgun, and pistol

#7 – Aug. 20, 1986, Edmond, Okla.

14 KILLED, 6 INJURED at a local US Post Office branch

Killer: Patrick Sherrill, 44, a local mail carrier armed with 3 semi-automatic handguns

#8 – April 20, 1999, Columbine, Colo.

13 KILLED (12 students), 24 INJURED at Columbine High School

Killers: Eric Harris, 18, and Dylan Klebold, 17, both students, armed with carbine assault rifles, pump action sawed off shotguns, and semi-automatic pistols

#9 – Nov. 5, 2009, Killean, Texas

13 KILLED, 32 INJURED at Fort Hood Army Base

Killer: Major Nidal Hasan, an Army psychiatrist, using 2 semi-automatic pistols

#10 July 20, 2012, Aurora, Colo.

12 KILLED, 58 INJURED at Century 16 Movie Theater during screening of ‘The Dark Knight Rises’

James Holmes, 24, former UC grad student, using a semi-automatic assault rifle, pump action shotgun and 9mm pistol

#11 – June 18, 2015, Charleston, SC

9 KILLED, 3 INJURED at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church prayer meeting

Killer: Dylann Roof, 21, self-proclaimed white supremacist using two 9mm pistols

#12 – Jan. 8, 2011, Tucson, AZ

6 KILLED, 11 INJURED at a Safeway Supermarket, including Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords

Killer: Jared Lee Loughner, 22, unemployed former college student with semi-automatic pistols

For your consideration and contemplation, two final pieces of information to reach your own conclusions:

The full text of the 1789 Second Amendment to the US Constitution:

“A well-regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

One of the Bible’s New Testament passage on bearing arms:

Then Jesus said to his apostle, “Put your sword back into its place. For all those who take up the sword, shall perish by the sword.” Matthew 26: 52-53

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Statue of Liberty’s Powerful Poem Rings True Today

liberty trioWe are a nation of immigrants, and children of immigrants.  Emma Lazarus’ 1883 poem, immortalized on a bronze plaque at the Statue of Liberty, rings true today more than ever.  My own grandparents travelled to the US from eastern Europe as mere teenagers before World War I, dreaming of and finding a better life in America. We all have heard the ‘Give us your tire, your poor …” line.  But read the entire poem slowly and carefully.  Ponder the meaning of each line, and then pray for our nation.


Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
with conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch!
whose flame is the imprisoned lightning,
and her name, Mother of Exiles.
From her beacon-hand glows world-wide welcome;
her mild eyes command the air-bridged harbor.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
with silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”


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Does HAARP Study the Atmosphere or Control the Weather?


The HAARP military research program in Alaska has been a darling of conspiracy theorists for over a decade, claiming it does everything from control the weather to controlling minds. Former Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chavez even claimed the US military used HAARP to cause the 2010 Haiti earthquake!

HAARP stands for High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program.

It was designed to study the Earth’s ionosphere, the upper-most portion of our atmosphere that stretches from about 53 miles (85 km) above the earth to around 370 miles (600 km). It’s a high-energy layer at the very edge of outer space, filled with charged particles. These particles respond to radio waves, so HAARP beams high-power radio frequencies straight up into the Alaska sky.

HAARP was built in 1993 at a cost of more than $290 million, earmarked by the late Ted Stevens, a powerful Republican senator from Alaska. The program has been run over the years by the US Air Force Research Lab, Office of Naval Research, and the secretive Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA).

The program’ public mission is to study the ionosphere’s physics, which is bombarded by our sun on a daily basis. Solar flares send charged particles racing toward Earth, disrupting communication and often our electric grid. By studying the ionosphere, scientists might be able to mitigate these problems in the future.

Science aside, HAARP certainly looks futuristic, peppered with 180 weird-looking, cross-shaped antennas poking into the sky. And like the infamous Area 51 in Nevada, it’s located in a remote military compound in the south Alaskan wilderness.

For those of you might want to check it out, HAARP is located near Gakona, Alaska at GPS coordinates 62.39 N, 145.15 W off the Tok Cutoff Highway.  Its crown jewel is the massive high-power, high-frequency array known as the Ionospheric Research Instrument (IRI). The IRI went on line in 2007 and can actually agitate a chunk of our ionosphere.

HAARP is so powerful, it can create an artificial aurora borealis in the Alaskan night sky.

The IRI consists of 180 dipole antennas in a 15 x 12 grid covering multiple acres. Together they can transmit 3600 kW of radio waves at frequencies up to 10 mHz. This energy is absorbed by the ionosphere and produces atmospheric fluctuations that can be detected by HAARPs instruments below.

The U.S. military is interested because our ionosphere plays a key role in transmitting radio signals, so can be used to improve satellite communications. And, yes, the DOD has used it to study things they still will not fully disclose. For example, HAARP can turn the ionosphere into a giant antenna used to transmit signals strong enough to reach nuclear submarines underwater.

Not surprisingly, HAARP’s remote location and ability to manipulate the upper atmosphere has made it a favorite of conspiracy theorists. The fringe nature of HAARP’s research doesn’t help.   When scientists do talk about the experiments, nobody but a physicist can fully understand the complexity.

Conspiracy theorists think HAARP’s purpose is far more sinister than what the military stated.

Former Minnesota Governor and ex-pro wrestler Jess Venture believes the government uses the IRI site to both manipulate the weather and control minds. Others have blamed it for everything from global warming to the mysterious humming associated with alien encounters. They say HAARP was to blame for the downing of TWA Flight 800 in 1996 and Japan’s 2011 tsunami. The Russian military believed it has the power to jam global communications and even reverse the polarity of the earth’s poles!

HAARP, it’s many conspiracies, and its military research, almost came to an end. In 2013, the site shut down and temporarily locked its gates.  The Air Force said it no longer wanted to pay the millions of dollars needed to keep HAARP alive and was prepared to dismantle it.

But fear not, HAARP lives on! Operation of the research facility was transferred from the US Air Force to the University of Alaska Fairbanks in 2015, allowing HAARP to continue its exploration of ionospheric phenomenon via a cooperative R&D agreement.

This August, HAARP actually held an open house, free to the general public. The facility offered bus rides from Fairbanks, was open for tours, and had research displays. Just to show how far it’s come, souvenir HAARP T-shirts and shot glasses were on sale, as well as hamburgers and hot dogs to help fund continued research.

But I’m quite sure conspiracy theorists, somewhere in their darkened basements, think this is nothing but ruse, and HAARP’s more nefarious purposes continue in the remote Alaskan wilderness.

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Kent State University Mass Shootings Still Shock to this Day

Kent State

As believable or unbelievable as it may seem, on May 4, 1970 the Ohio National Guard fired into a crowd of Kent State Univ. students, killing four and wounding nine. They’d been protesting the US invasion of Cambodia during the Vietnam War.

Most anti-war protests had been peaceful, with students burning draft cards at protest rallies and marches.  The long Vietnam War had divided US public opinion much like the Iraq War did decades later.  Anti-war protesters were no longer just hippies, drug users, or free love promoter. They now included educated, middle-class college students.

On Friday May 1, Kent State students held their own peaceful anti-war protest on their grassy central Commons. Later that evening though, bonfires were lit in the streets downtown.  Beer bottles were thrown at the police. Common thugs began to break windows and loot stores. The police resorted to tear gas to clear the streets.

On Saturday May 2, a nervous Kent mayor closed the bars and declared a state of emergency. He called Governor James Rhodes and requested he send the Ohio National Guard ASAP to help maintain order. Guardsman were stationed nearby and began to arrive that evening.

As they came on campus, the soldiers were greeted with the Kent State ROTC building in flames.

It’s unknown if student or non-student protesters started the fire. Kent State had already abandoned the old ROTC building and was planning to raze it. 100 student protesters circled the building shouting and celebrating the blaze. They sliced the fire fighters’ hoses brought to extinguish the flames. National Guard members had to resort to tear gas to disperse the crowd. The ROTC building burnt to the ground by morning.

By Sunday May 3, 1,000 National Guard troops were patrolling the campus and tensions on both sides were extremely high. Governor Rhodes arrived and at a national press conference accused the student protesters of being unpatriotic:

“They’re the worst type of people that we harbor in America. Every force of law will be used to deal with them.”

Many Kent State students assisted local businesses in cleaning up the previous night’s damage, but others continued to hold protests. That evening, the National Guard continued to break up demonstrations, threatening crowds with tear gas and bayonets.

Finally on Monday May 4, classes resumed and protesters scheduled another rally at noon on the Commons. University officials attempted to ban the gathering but failed. Student demonstrators began shouting at the Guardsman to get off their campus.  The Commons now contained about 3000 people, half of which were spectators. At the burned-out ROTC building stood 100 guardsmen carrying military rifles with bayonets.

Shortly before noon, a National Guard General ordered the demonstrators to “Disperse at once!” via bullhorn. When that was ignored, he ordered his men to load their weapons. Tear gas canisters were fired into the crowds, but due to stiff winds that day, they were ineffective. Some students threw the canisters and rocks, back at the soldiers. The Guard was then ordered to march across the Commons to disperse the protestors.

Yelling and rock throwing reached its peak as the Guardsmen marched in for about ten minutes. The soldiers quickly became surrounded and, realizing their situation, began to retreat. At the top of Blanket Hill, 29 of the 77 Guardsmen turned suddenly and fired their rifles either at the air, the ground, or directly into the crowd.

The gun shots lasted just 13 seconds but the guardsmen managed to fire off 67 shots. When the bullets stopped firing, first there was silence, then the screams began, 4 students were dead and 9 others lay wounded on the grass.

Jeffrey Miller, Allison Krause, William Schroeder, and Sandra Scheuer.

Wounded Kent State student John Cleary is attended to by other s

The shootings shocked the nation and escalated protests across the country. Kent State immediately closed. Many colleges and universities cancelled classes for the remainder of the academic year.  Neil Young’s even wrote a song, “Ohio,” commemorated the mass shootings.

Why did members of the Guard shoot into a crowd of unarmed students?

The Guardsmen later testified they fired because they were in fear of their lives. They felt the demonstrators were advancing on them and fired in self-defense. The multiple federal criminal and civil trials that followed agreed with the position of the Guardsmen.

Many experts however found the Guard responsible and agreed with the conclusion of the 1970 Scranton Commission Report. “The indiscriminate firing of rifles into a crowd of unarmed students and the deaths that followed were unnecessary, unwarranted, and inexcusable.”

Anti-war protests finally drew to an end when President Nixon, withdrew U.S. soldiers from Vietnam in 1973.  Seven years later an out-of-court settlement provided $675,000 to the wounded students and the parents of the dead, paid for by the State of Ohio. The statement signed by members of the Ohio National Guard was a declaration of sincere regret, not an apology, or an admission of wrongdoing.

Almost 50 years later, our nation remains of the razors edge of peaceful demonstrations that to often lead to senseless violence.

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