10 Propaganda Tricks Nazis Used to Sway the German People


Outside of WWII Germany, people around the globe were aghast at the profound deceitfulness of Nazi propaganda, the ridiculous exaggerations, the astonishing acceptance of the German people. How on earth could rational people have been convinced by that shlock?

The deportation of Jews did not begin with actions, it began with words.  So let’s run through 10 of the most effective Fascist tricks that Adolf Hitler and his Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels employed in Germany long before World War II, each one increasing in its level of sinisterness.

1. Appeal to the pain, fears and anger of a constituency that feels they are being wronged or ignored by the powers that be. In Hitler’s case, he played upon the average Germans’ fear they were being marginalized by their own failing government.


2. Harken back to historical pride. In his speeches, Hitler shouted that Germany was a great and powerful nation.  And was in fact winning World War I, until weak politicians gave up and surrendered their country to the enemy.


3. Portray yourselves as an Outsider, as the only one who can unite the nation and fix the country’s problems. Play upon a divided government, which essentially is committing a slow suicide, leaving the door open for a tyrant like Hitler to step into the vacuum.


4. Use contemporary advertising techniques to convey your messages over and over. Hitler and Goebbels expertly used radio, movies, posters and pamphlets to flood Germany with their message. Repeated propaganda forms a kind of feedback loop, each cycle reinforcing the one before.


5. Repeat lies often enough and they become believed truths. Facts that do not support the message are deemed false and even dangerous. The Nazis used book burnings with great success to demonize any ideas counter to that of the party.


6. Intellectuals and journalists were suspected of Socialism or even worse, Communism!  So plant distrust with the people in their public institutions and the press … until such time that you control them behind the scenes, from within.


7. Extreme nationalism resonates with the disenfranchised, so the demagoguery and totalitarianism of Hitler was ultimately seen as acceptable. The goal is not to gain 100% of minds, but 100% of emotions, so convince the hearts of your fantasy.


8. Humanity, legitimacy and decency can be ‘back-burnered’ for the greater cause. So racism, bigotry, xenophobia and sexism are simply an ends to a means. We all think it, so why not shout it out loud – and act upon it? Right?


9. You need a scapegoat to rally against.  A particular race or religion, in Hitler’s case, the Jews, who are the root cause of all the issues facing hard-working Germans. Portray them as dangerous sub-humans. After all, who could trust such a person? Why risk it? They must be round up and deported.


10. Patriotism is the ultimate ace up the sleeve. Hitler spoke with fanatical pride and demanded deference to his leadership.  Paint the opposition an unpatriotic or better yet, Traitors! When blind nationalism rules, it’s then acceptable to employ the last step – violence.

So what lessons can we learn from all this? What does history teach us?  Perhaps that we should not waste our time trying to explain away Fascism, why seemingly good, rational people sometimes blindly support a cult-like following. There is no need to call them names, for they have already named themselves. It is far more important to see it for what it is, call it out, and stop it in its tracks, lest we let history repeat itself.

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Japan’s Minamata Disease was a Man-made Tragedy and Hard Lesson

minamata disease

Minamata Disease is a sobering reminder of the dangers of unregulated industries in modern times, a purely human-created disease. It was first seen in 1956 in the children living in Minamata City on the coast of Japan’s southern island of Kyūshū. Medically it’s a severe neurological syndrome with symptoms including loss of muscle control and weakness, loss of feeling in hands and feet, tunnel vision, loss of hearing, and speech abnormalities. Within a few weeks of onset, extreme cases tragically end with paralysis, insanity, coma and eventually death. In pregnant women, it can also lead to birth defects.

But what exactly did humans do to create such a terrible disease?

We must go back over century to 1908 when the Japanese Chisso Corporation opened a factory in Minamata. First manufacturing fertilizers, the company saw more profit in the chemical industry.  So in 1932, Chisso started producing acetaldehyde at its Minamata plant. By 1951, production was up to a whopping 6,000 tons a year. The process unfortunately lead to the production of highly toxic methyl mercury as a waste product.  As is the case in such large-scale plants, they produced large quantities of chemical wastewater. Chisso’s solution was to simply dump the wastes, untreated, directly into Minamata Bay. They did so until 1968!

The poisonous methyl mercury slowly bioaccumulated in the fish and shellfish living in Minamata Bay and the surrounding Shiranui Sea. Inevitably, Chisso’s pollutants had an environmental impact. Fisheries were damaged with reduced catches. In response to lawsuits, Chisso reached a compensation agreement with the fishery cooperative in 1943. While that was good, the population of Minamata still relied heavily on the bay for a substantial part of their diet. So when fished and eaten by the locals over the years, it resulted in mercury poisoning.

The first case of what would be called Minamata Disease was recorded in 1956.  A 5 year-old girl was brought to the Chisso factory hospital. The doctors there were puzzled by her odd symptoms which included convulsions, difficulty walking and slurred speech. Two days later, her younger sister also began exhibiting the same symptoms and was hospitalized as well. The girls’ mother then told the doctors that her neighbor’s daughter was also sick!

After the city conducted a house-to-house check, 8 more patients were found and hospitalized. By May, the hospital’s director officially reported an epidemic of an unknown illness of the central nervous system, calling it Minamata Disease.

Because the disease was confined to Minamata, they suspected it was contagious, quarantining all the patients.

Unfortunately, this only led to the fear and stigma towards the victim’s families from their own community. As the investigation continued, the doctors heard alarming stories of the strange behavior of animals as well. For several years, cats had been convulsing, going mad and dying. Locals called it the “dancing cat disease” due to their odd seizures. Crows often fell from the sky and died, seaweed no longer grew in the bay, and hundreds of fish routinely floated dead on the surface of the Shiranui sea.

Researchers from the Kumamoto School of Medicine flocked to Minamata to investigate. Slowly, a more complete picture of the disease was revealed. It began with severe headaches and a loss of sensation and numbness in patient’s hands and feet. They became unable to grasp cups or simply fasten buttons. Then they could not walk without stumbling, their voices changed to an odd pitch. Finally they had difficulties seeing, hearing, tasting and even swallowing. The symptoms quickly worsened and were ultimately followed by severe convulsions, coma and eventual death.

By the end of 1956, 40 people had been hospitalized, 14 of whom eventually died: a shocking mortality rate of 37%. Researchers then began to focus on what could be the cause of the strange disease. Epidemiologists realized that the victims were all clustered in fishing districts along the shores of Minamata Bay. The staple food of those families was mainly fish and shellfish caught from the sea. The local cats tended to eat scraps from family tables and died with symptoms similar to humans.

This led the researchers to deduce the outbreak was caused by heavy metal food poisoning.

The Chisso plant’s wastewater was immediately suspected as the source. The company’s own data showed that its wastewater contained heavy metals like lead, mercury, and arsenic in high enough concentrations to cause serious environmental damage. Throughout the next 2 years, many theories were proposed, until a British neurologist Douglas McAlpine realized that Minamata Disease closely resembled mercury poisoning.

In 1959, the mercury in Minamata Bay was finally measured. The results shocked the researchers. Large quantities of mercury were detected in fish, shellfish and the sediment from the bottom of the bay. The highest concentrations centered near the point where the Chisso wastewater canal entered the bay, clearly identifying the factory as the source.

Now, Chisso had been a boon to the local economy. Over half of Minamata’s tax revenue came from Chisso and its employees.  And the company was responsible for supplying over a quarter of all jobs in the city. This fact, combined with the lack of other industries, meant that Chisso had great power and influence in Minamata’s city government. One plant director had even been mayor.

Even after Chisso was identified as the culprit, it did not stop production or dumping until 1968.

Researchers collected hair samples from the victims and the general Minamata population. In patients, the average mercury level recorded was 705 ppm (parts per million), indicating heavy exposure.  In healthy residents, the level was 191 ppm, compared to an average “safe” level of 4 ppm for the rest of  Japan.

In 1959, the Ministry of Health and Welfare published its results: Minamata disease is a poisoning disease that affects the central nervous system, caused by the consumption of fish and shellfish living in Minamata Bay and its surrounding sea, the causative agent being organic mercury. The disease is not contagious or transmitted genetically. There is no cure.

The contaminated sludge in Minamata Bay was dealt with partly by land reclamation and partly by dredging at a cost of 49 billion yen over the next 14 years. Ironically, Chisso set up a subsidiary to reclaim the mercury recovered from the sludge and sell it on the open market.  2,265 victims have been officially recognized. In 1973, over 17,000 Minamata residents received financial compensation from Chisso amounting to 86 million (in US dollars).

The Governor of Kumamoto declared Minamata Bay safe in 1997 allowing fishing again. In 2004, 48 years later, Chisso was finally ordered to pay for the clean up of its contamination. As you can imagine, additional lawsuits and compensation claims continue to this day.

In 2016, Japan ratified the Minamata Convention on Mercury, a global treaty to reduce mercury emissions. Those children who survived the disease are now in their sixties, continuing to receive regular treatment to this day.  All along, their greatest wish was simply to not be ostracized by their own community. Even after it was determined that mercury was the cause, and the disease was not contagious, victims were still reviled as threats to Chisso and their economic way of life in Minamata.

So what were the hard lessons of Minamata and Chisso? Well for one, it teaches us that we human beings, in our endless quest for profit, can be both the victims and the perpetrators.

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Podcast #2: No Irish Need Apply – An Immigrant Refugee’s Welcome

Second in a series of Podcasts on Forgotten History



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The Lusitania Sank in Just 18 Minutes, Beating even Titanic!


The ocean liner Lusitania was struck by a German torpedo in 1915 and sunk within sight of the Irish coast in just 18 Minutes! Compare that to the rather luxurious sinking of the Titanic in 1912 that lasted 2 hours and 40 minutes. We’ve all seen the popular movie, so imagine Rose and Jack having just 18 minutes to escape the sinking ship.

In 1915, World War I was not even a year old. In response to Great Britain’s naval blockade, Germany announced that it would begin ‘UNRESTRICTED SUBMARINE WARFARE’ In other words, U-boats would torpedo ANY ship in the war zone. Brits and Americans boarding the Lusitania in New York City saw advertisements in newspapers, posted by the German embassy, warning them of the risk:

Vessels flying the flag of Great Britain, or any of her Allies, are liable to destruction in the war zone and travelers sailing on such ships DO SO AT THEIR OWN RISK! 

Passengers ignored the warning as surely Germany would not target a civilian ocean liner. Also, they were told that, with a top speed of 21 knots, far faster than any submarine, the Lusitania could easily outrun any German U-boat. Dubbed the “Greyhound of the Seas” she had won the Blue Ribbon for the fastest Atlantic crossing.

With 1,257 passengers and 702 crew aboard, the Lusitania left NY on 1 May 1915 bound for Liverpool. Unknown to her passengers, she also carried a secret cargo of munitions and contraband destined for the British war effort.

Tensions finally grew onboard once Lusitania entered British waters. They had good reason to be worried. German submarines had had already sunk 2 steamers off the coast of Ireland. Nevertheless, the British Admiralty never sent a destroyer to escort Lusitania! Instead, they instructed Captain William Turner to avoid the Irish coast at top speed and in a zigzag pattern, making it difficult for a U-boat to score a hit.

But with foggy visibility and wanting to save coal, Captain Turner reduced speed to only 15 knots and sailed in a straight line, just 11 miles off the south Irish coast, within sight of a lighthouse. Turner was ignoring every one of the Admiralty’s directives. Whether or not the Captain’s decision was justified, it doomed his ship, passengers and crew.

Lurking beneath the Irish waters was U-20, led by Kapitänleutnant Walter Schwieger.

U-20 had already sank a few smaller vessels and now, at 2 o’clock in the early afternoon he spotted a four stack ocean liner through his periscope. What a prize for the Kaiser! At 2:09, Schwieger order a single torpedo fired.

At 2:10 p.m., Lusitania’s lookouts spotted a torpedo streaking rapidly towards them, a white, frothy line in its wake. By that time, it was too late to avoid. The captain barked out orders “Hard to Starboard!” The German torpedo struck the Lusitania on the starboard side between mid-ship and the bow.

The detonation sent a low rumble through the ship. Passengers reacted with mild concern. After all, it could just be engine trouble. 30 seconds later however, a 2nd, much large explosion erupted from deep within the vessel, sending out clouds of black smoke. The Lusitania immediately began a tilt wildly to starboard.

It was not a 2nd torpedo. Captain Schwieger always maintained that he fired only one. The source of the 2nd explosion is Lusitania’s greatest mystery. What had caused it? The Lusitania no longer responded to the ship’s wheel. The captain ordered an immediate SOS and to reverse all engines. When the engine room could not comply, he knew they were finished and ordered all passengers to life boats.

At 2:14 pm, electricity failed and the interior of the ship plunged into darkness.

With the decks tilting, a manic chaos set in, with passengers racing to find life jackets and life boats. One survivor described it as a swarm of bees without the queen. Parents were separated from children. The electric lifts stopped working, trapping people between decks! Water began flooding the lower decks faster the people could escape.

Within 5 minutes the Lusitania’s list was already 15 degrees to starboard, then 20, then 25! by 2:25 pm. Crewmembers attempted to launch the lifeboats, but the tilt of the sinking ship made this near impossible. On the port side, many boats swing back over the deck and when released, slide to the bow, crushing passengers. Those dropped over the railing splintered against the riveted hull or capsized, killing dozens.

Things were no better on the starboard side. Those that were dropped, swung away from the railing and fell into the ocean far from the ship. Those that reached the water overturned or went in nose first. Some flipped either in the air, or when they hit the sea, dumping screaming passengers into the frigid sea.

When it became apparent the lifeboats were failing, passengers jumped into the ocean.

On the starboard side, they began sliding down the decks into the water. Once in the sea  they fought to hold onto any piece of floating wreckage they could find. Most never had a chance.  The ship’s massive propellers rose out of the water as the pointed bow sank beneath the sea. Once the bow went under, the sinking accelerated. Further explosions blew as cold seawater hit the red hot boilers.

On U-20, Captain Schwieger watched through his periscope and noted the result in his log, “The ship stops immediately and heals over to starboard quickly, immersing at the bow. Great confusion is rife on board; the boats are made ready and some lowered into the water. In connection therewith great panic reigns; some boats, full to capacity are rushed from above, touch the water with either stem or stern first and founder immediately.”

Captain Turner ordered his men to abandon ship and remained on the bridge until it too was submerged. He was somehow washed clear of the bow as the ship sank. He survived after spending 3 hours in the cold water, clinging to a deck chair.

At 2:28 pm, within 18 minutes the giant ship slipped beneath the sea, leaving a bubbling, swirling, frothy whirlpool in its wake. 1,198 of the 1,924 aboard died, including 128 Americans. 59 children and 35 infants were among the deadLusitania sank in a mere 90 meters (300 feet) of water. 

Rescue ships were dispatched from the Irish port of Queenstown and arrived within 2 hours. They managed to pick up only 761 survivors. Some were in such a state of shock their hair began to grey and fall out. Local authorities set up makeshift morgues to handle the hundreds of floating corpses being collected.

The killing of US citizens enraged Americans. President Woodrow Wilson protested loudly, and public opinion in the US began to turn against Germany. It would still be another 2 years however, 1917, before the US joined the Allies in the trenches.

So what had caused the mysterious 2nd explosion?

Lusitania had been carrying 173 tons of ammunition. The Germans maintained this made her a legitimate target and caused of the 2nd explosion. The British denied it. Robert Ballard, discoverer of the wreck of the Titanic, explored the Lusitania in 1993, hoping to solve the mystery. The sad wreck lies in just 295 feet of water on her starboard side, obscuring the area where the torpedo hit.

Conspiracy theorists claim the Brits deliberately sank the ship to hasten America’s entry into the war. Ballard found no evidence of this. Nor was there any evidence of an explosion in the hold where munitions were stowed. No boiler room explosions were reported by the surviving crew. Ballard concluded the torpedo ripped open a coal bunker, causing the huge 2nd explosion. The blast ripped open a much larger hole and doomed the ship to its rapid death.

So ended the life of the once proud Lusitania, rival of the Titanic in both size and tragedy.

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Peace in our Time: The Egypt-Israeli Camp David Accords


Peace in our time, seems like a utopian fantasy, doesn’t it? But there are true examples of lasting success. The best by far is the Camp David Accords signed at the White House in 1978 by Egyptian President Anwar el-Sadat, Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and US President Jimmy Carter. It laid the groundwork, after 3 decades of wars, for a permanent peace treaty between Egypt and Israel that lasts to this day, The famous, but now largely forgotten accords, were fleshed out during 13 days of intensive negotiations lead by President Carter at the Camp David Presidential Retreat. The final peace agreement – the first ever between Israel and an Arab neighbor – was signed 6 months later!

This seems unimaginable today given the powder keg that is the Middle East. A state of war had basically existed between Israel and Egypt since Israel’s formation in 1948. Jews had achieved an independent homeland, but the Arab world claimed that same land for a Palestinian state. In the 3 wars that followed – the 1948 Arab Israeli War, 1967 Six Day War, and the 1973 Yom Kippur War, Israel successfully defended itself and in fact expanded its territory by occupying the Sinai Peninsula.

By the late 1970’s Sadat had enough of wars and wanted to finally make peace AND recover the Sinai. But after Israel’s victories in the wars. they had little reason to include Sinai in any peace terms. Begin, the new conservative Israeli Prime Minister appeared immovable on the very idea of exchanging land for peace.

By 1977, Sadat, frustrated by the lack of movement made a dramatic announcement, saying that he would be willing to go to Jerusalem! Begin complied, inviting Sadat to visit Israel, where he historically spoke before the Israeli Knesset – the 1st time ever for an Arab leader! Sadat then invited Begin, who reciprocated with a trip to Cairo. These 2 visits led to direct talks, but unfortunately, not much came of them.

Then along came President Jimmy Carter.

From the start of his presidency, Carter pursued intensive negotiations with both Egypt and Israeli to achieve peace once and for all. During the summer of 1978, Carter attempted to find common ground. He realized that without direct U.S. mediation, the 2 sides would simply go on arguing, blaming each other for failure. Carter ignored advice to stay out of the Middle East mess and chose instead to commit the US to trilateral negotiations.

Jimmy Carter decided the solution was to call for a Summit, but not just any summit. He invited Begin and Sadat to the Presidential Retreat at Camp David. This meeting would bring Sadat, Begin, and Carter himself together at the secluded retreat in the Catoctin Mountains of Maryland. They both agreed.

It was a huge risk and daring act for Carter to stick himself into the hornet’s nest of the Middle East. He placed both his presidential capital and political future on the line for a summit that might very well fail. Carter decided it would be best, win or lose, to go all out, in an all-or-nothing gamble.

So in September 1978, Jimmy Carter welcomed Sadat and Begin to the forested retreat in the middle of nowhere. Here peace accords would be hammered out under the direction of President Carter himself. He preferred informal diplomacy and felt it best to shield them all from public and media scrutiny, to allow a more relaxed atmosphere for negotiations.

The Camp David Summit, lasted 13 days from September 5–17th.

Rarely had a U.S. President devoted as much attention to a single foreign policy issue as Carter did. The core issues centered around Egypt demanding the Sinai back and the creation of an independent Palestinian homeland on the West Bank. In turn, Israel insisted Egypt remove its troops from its border and allow for access to the Suez Canal.

As the first 3 days ran on, the talks melted down, especially when both leaders sat in the same room. The debates were often heated between Begin and Sadat, breaking down into shouting matches while Carter played the role of mediator. The two leaders did not like each other on a personal level let alone political.

So instead, Carter and his Secretary of State Cyrus Vance, decided to meet with each delegation separately over the course of the next 10 days, acting as go-betweens. This was exhausting, but Carter was tireless, and with his perpetual optimism, shuttled back and forth between the 2 delegations. He often rode a bicycle between the cabins of the 2 heads of state.

Each leader threatened to walk out on numerous occasions.

President Carter played the role of strategist, mediator, ally and even therapist. He effectively used the promise of American aid as leverage to induce flexibility and accept concessions. For 13 days, Carter did something unprecedented, he set aside his other presidential duties to work exclusively on the Arab-Israeli conflict. And it worked!

Carter wisely separated the Sinai issue from the Palestinian issue, resulting in 2 agreements. The first was ‘A Framework for Peace in the Middle East Agreed at Camp David.’ It stated that Israel would evacuate the Sinai in exchange for full access to the Suez Canal. In exchange, Egypt would greatly limit its military activities on the Israeli border.

The second agreement was the ‘Framework for the Conclusion of a Peace Treaty between Egypt and Israel.’ This one was to discuss the future of the West Bank and Gaza, and the creation of a future Palestinian state. The CAMP DAVID ACCORDS were signed in the East Room of the White House on national TV on September 17, 1978.

camp davidThe Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty was formally signed 6 months later on March 1979 on the South Lawn of the White House . Sadat and Begin shared the Nobel Peace Prize that same year. The treaty ended the state of war between the two countries and established full diplomatic and commercial relations that lasts to this day!

Peace between Egypt and Israel was a truly historic accomplishment that wouldn’t have been achieved without the tireless efforts of President Carter. Jimmy Carter accomplished something that had eluded the Middle East for 3 decades. The sustainable Egyptian-Israeli Peace Treaty has remained unmatched by subsequent administrations in the US or elsewhere in the world.

Peace in our time.

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Podcast #1: An Immigrant’s Ellis Island Fate Depended on 29 Questions

First in a series of Podcasts on Forgotten History


Ellis Island Immigration Station, New York Harbor, circa 1900



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The Most Deadly Fire Disaster in all History is not Where you Think


The deadliest fire disaster ever recorded is not where you might think. Not London, not Chicago, not New York City.  It occurred at The Church of the Company of Jesus in Santiago, Chile on December 8th, 1863.  The horrible blaze consumed the church during Mass, killing almost three thousand people, mostly women and their families.

La Iglesia de la Compania de Jesús was a huge Jesuit church that stood in downtown Santiago.  The terrible fire occurred during the Catholic Feast of the Immaculate Conception no less.  The congregation celebrated this popular Holy Day by decorating the church’s interior with hundred of flowers, candles, oil lamps and ornate cloth wall coverings.  A statue of the Virgin Mary was moved to the main altar, surrounded by a half-moon shaped candelabra.

It was Santiago’s custom to celebrate this Holy Day with great pomp and passion.

The curate had begun a ladies religious society, known as Las Hijas de Maria (the Daughters of Mary) who organized the celebration. It always ended with a grand illumination of the Church’s interior for a mass on Tuesday evening, December 8th.

That fateful year, determined to outdo all prior celebrations, they adorned the interior with long garlands of flowers and an unprecedented number of candles and paraffin oil lamps. The ladies had spent the year weaving ornate cloth tapestries with images of the life of the Virgin. The Archbishop expressed concern over the extravagance but reluctantly gave his consent.

Towards dusk, a stream of mostly women, both old and young, garbed in their best dresses, poured into the church until every seat and aisle was packed.  The side doors were then closed, except for the main entrance, so the sound of the hymns and prayers could be heard outside. At a little before seven, the attendants began lighting up the church. It was truly an amazing site to see the church’s dark interior aglow with thousands of flames and hundreds of intricate tapestries.

The fire started in the middle of mass, a few minutes before 7:00 pm.

One of many oil lamps on the main altar ignited one of the cloth wall hangings.  An attendant jumped up and attempted to smother the flames with another wall cloth. He knocked over the lamp, spilling its flammable oil. This caused the fire to jump to the flanking hangings. From there, flames curled up the garlands of flowers to the church’s wooden roof. All this happened in a few shocking minutes.

The first few moments were filled with shock and shrieks at the destruction of their beloved altar. They quickly changed to thousands of screams as the flames shot up the walls to the wooden roof. It was time to run for your life! The crowds rushed to the closed side doors only to find they swung inward and were impossible open with the crush of bodies pressing forward. They had been closed in order to create more space for the worshippers to stand.  Loud screams of horror burst from the panicked masses.

The crowd of mostly women, rosary beads still clutched in their hands, rushed next for the main exit, a single set of doors.  Chilean women of 1863 wore large hoop skirts. These dresses contributed to the crush of people in the aisles, and the tripping and trampling that ensued as the throng rushed to escape.   Soon the main doors too became blocked by a growing mass of bodies, trapping the poor souls behind them.

The great wooden dome over the altar caught fire next.

Traveling along the dry ceiling, the flames ran like hissing serpents down the length of the church roof. The lamps suspended from the roof by ropes, snapped and dropped, exploding among the mass of women beneath. Burning embers and firebrands rained down on the compacted crowd.

Those in the plaza stood paralyzed by the horrible sight. The lurid glow inside illuminated the thousands of struggling women, some with faces elevated in prayer, others with hands stretched out towards the door. The scorched and injured sank to the floor, while the stronger battled over them in desperation. Mothers clasping their little children close, shielding them from the flames already blistering their own skin. Children clung back in a frenzy of fear.

Outside the church, men desperately tried to chop down the thick side doors. Rescuers at the main doors were seized by dozens of outstretched hands. Imagine seeing those fearful faces and hearing the screams of thousands behind them. They continued to drag out hundreds of the burnt living, until falling roof timbers halted any hope of saving more. The entire floor of the church was now a sea of fire. Thousands of women from the white-haired to infants, mothers, abuelas, sisters, and daughters began to die.

Gradually, the terrible screams from within grew fainter and fainter.

Soon an awful silence filled the plaza, with only the angry roar of the hellish furnace that just minutes before been their beloved iglesia. The two bell towers followed the roof within the hour. The belfry fell to earth with an awful crash, burying the scorched bodies and ending their suffering. Many in the plaza knelt silently to pray.

The plaza was filled with the rescued. Hundreds of husbands and fathers rushed about, calling the names of loved ones. All the physicians of the city rushed to the plaza, ministering to the survivors. Hundreds were taken to the Santiago hospitals. Many of those only lived a few hours due to their severe burns.

In hindsight, even the most common-sense precautions had not been taken. The absence of any fire brigade at that time contributed to the devastation. Santiago, a city of a hundred thousand possessed only 3 three steamer engines, all out of order. Of the 3,000 persons within the church, all but five hundred escaped, and most of them wounded or burnt.

By midnight, 5 hours later, the flames finally began to subside.

By morning, the church had been reduced to a smoldering heap of black rubble, surrounded by 4 stone walls. By the light of day, the spectacle was indescribably horrible. 2,500 corpses, in every stage of combustion, lay in mounds around the exit doors. The layers of the bodies were disfigured beyond recognition.

All the officiating priests escaped through the vestry door with the holy relics. The vestry door was then closed to keep the fire from spreading to the rectory mansion. No doubt hundreds of victims could have found safety through that door. Vocal outrage broiled in the press and public at the near criminal indifference of the priests to the safety of their own congregation.

Around 2,500 perished in La Iglesia de la Compania de Jesús fire, about 2 to 3 percent of Santiago’s entire population of 100,000 at the time.  Entire families were killed.  Santiago was a city of mourning with the entire Chilean Republic joining in their grief. Clean up of all the victims took 10 gruesome days.  Most bodies were so badly burned they could not be identified. Those pour souls were buried in a mass grave at the Cemetario General de Santiago.

The remains of The Church of the Company of Jesus were eventually destroyed.  A garden was planted in its place, and a statue, a woman with arms stretched to heaven, erected where the main altar had once stood.  The garden and statue still exist should you visit Santiago today. Pause a moment, ponder the tragic loss, and say a short prayer for the fallen.

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Who Drained Russia’s Vast Aral Sea?

DQmYLBsXj8NvVy3Y58kRooFz9npsrT1wXTXtzNxpUA4CE4eThe Soviet Union, that’s who.  The Aral Sea is actually situated in Central Asia, between Northern Uzbekistan and Southern Kazakhstan.  Once the fourth largest freshwater lake in the world, the vanishing Aral Sea is nearly empty now, thanks to a decades-old Soviet-begun desert irrigation program.

The Aral Sea once had a surface area of over 26,000 square miles (67,300 square km). It was circled with booming Kazak and Uzbek towns living off a thriving fishing industry of carp, flounder and catfish.  It provided over 40,000 jobs and supplied the Soviet Union with a sixth of its fish.

The Aral Sea is fed by two of Central Asia’s mightiest rivers, the Amu Darya and the Syr Darya, both originating in the snowy Himalayas, before crossing a desert to the Aral Sea. In the 1960s, the Soviet government, led by Nikita Khrushchev, decided to turn that vast desert steppe into farmland!  So over the next decade, they built an enormous irrigation network, including 45 dams, 80 reservoirs and 20,000 miles of canals.  All to irrigate sprawling fields of cotton and wheat in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan.

But the Soviet system was very poorly engineered from the start. 

Much of the water meant for the Aral Sea leaked out of the canals and never made it in. So not only was water being diverted to farmland at the expense of the Sea, the majority was soaked up by the desert and wasted.  Under normal conditions, the Aral Sea gets about 1/5 of its water from rainfall, with the rest from the 2 big rivers. Evaporation caused the water level to decrease faster than the amount that trickled in, causing the sea to slowly dry up.

In the decades that followed, the Aral Sea was slowly starved of its water source and reduced to a handful of smaller lakes, with a volume 1/10 the original size. As a consequence, the salinity of the remaining lakes increased due to evaporation, causing most all fish that either survived or that had been reintroduced in the 1990’s to die.

As a result, millions of fish perished over the decades.  Coastlines receded miles from the fishing towns, leaving boats to rust on the now dry lake bed.  Those few Kazak’s who remained were plagued by dust storms that contained the toxic fertilizers and pesticides used by the Soviets.  Herds of antelope vanished. Children moved away in search of jobs.

Where once you sailed from town to town, now you could drive!

Fisheries and the villages that depended on them collapsed like Gold Rush towns. The increasingly salty water became polluted with the dust blown fertilizer and pesticides. The salty dust also blew off the dry lake bed and settled onto fields, degrading the soil. Farmlands had to be flushed with greater volumes of river water to compensate.  It was a viscous cycle the Soviet government was unwilling to stop and Uzbekistan has since continued.

Other dramatic consequences include the response by mother nature to man’s intervention.  The loss of such a large body of water made winters colder and summers drier.  The blowing contaminated dust from the exposed lake bed, became a public health hazard for the millions of people still in the region.  These include a rise in infant mortality rates, a decrease in life expectancy, and an increase in kidney and liver disease, respiratory infections, and birth defects.

By the year 2000, the lake had separated into the smaller North Aral Sea in Kazakhstan and the larger South Aral Sea in Uzbekistan. The southern Sea had further split into western and eastern lung-shaped lobes as it continued to dry up.

By 2001, the southern lobes’ water connection had been severed, and the shallower eastern part retreated rapidly when drought cut off the flow of the Amu Darya river completely.  In 2014, the eastern lobe of the South Aral Sea completely disappeared.  The remaining western lobe is a salty turquoise instead of deep blue.  90% of the once massive lake is now gone!

article-2150764-1356104f000005dc-711_634x536_2Satellite images shows that the southern basin of the once huge lake is now almost dry.

In a last-ditch effort to save the smaller north lake, Kazakhstan and the World Bank built a dam between the northern and southern parts of the Aral Sea. The Kok-Aral dam, finished in 2005, prevents flow out of the North Aral into the lower South Aral. The dam has led fisheries in the North Aral to rebound as war levels rose again, though to the detriment of the South Aral.

So what lessons does our manipulation of the Aral Sea teach us?  For the future, the difficulty lies in we humans being capable of predicting the consequences of such massive actions before we undertake them. Our ecosystem is more fragile than we think and must be the forefront of any decision we make BEFORE we commit to such large scale actions which too often result in even larger consequences for our beloved planet.

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Similar themed posts:  Life before Earth Day and Climate Change

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The Watergate Scandal’s Saturday Night Massacre

Richard NixonOne of the most shocking episodes of the Watergate Scandal occurred on the evening of October 20th, 1973, what the press would dub The Saturday Night Massacre.  Right or wrong, many compare it to the modern Trump administration. President Richard Nixon, under investigation for his part in the Watergate cover-up, ordered the firing of the Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox.  The Attorney General, Elliot Richardson, and Deputy AG William Ruckelshaus both refused to comply with the president’s orders and resigned instead. That left it to the Solicitor General to ultimately fire Cox.

By 1973, Richard Nixon’s presidency was a slowly sinking ship. His Republican base, however, still stood by him. Democrats controlled Congress and they saw the Senate Watergate Hearings as a partisan ‘Witch Hunt’ out to get the president.

For those of you too young to know much about Watergate …

It began in June 1972 when 5 burglars broke into the Democratic Headquarters at the Watergate Hotel in Washington DC, trying to bug it for the Nixon re-election campaign. They were caught and arrested. As part of the cover-up, hush money was paid out for them to lie under oath. Nixon conspired with his top White House aides to have the CIA impede the FBI to safeguard a victory in his 1972 re-election bid.

Nixon won again that November, but not without dark storm clouds looming on the horizon.  Woodward and Bernstein, 2 Washington Post reporters, began to investigate and had a secret White House informant, memorably code-named ‘Deep Throat.’  The burglars were convicted and, facing stiff prison sentences, began to sing. A Special Prosecutor, Archibald Cox, was appointed to investigate.  4 top White house aides would resign and be prosecuted that spring, including Nixon’s Chief of Staff HR Haldemen. At Senate Watergate hearings, White House counsel John Dean testified against the president on national TV, saying Nixon was involved from the get-go.

It was Dean’s word against the president, but the Senate committee learned that Nixon had tape recorded all his meetings in the Oval Office! Nixon was guilty of obstruction of justice and Cox knew those White House tapes were the evidence he needed to prove the president of the United States was a bold face liar.

Nixon cited executive privilege and refused to hand over the tapes.

On October 12th, a federal appeals court ruled the White House must surrender 10 hours of Oval Office tapes. Nixon was cornered. He knew he was guilty as sin and the tapes would prove it.  The president panicked and 8 days later, when the Special Prosecutor refused to drop the investigation, Nixon ordered his Attorney General to fire Cox.

Thus began the Saturday Night Massacre of Oct. 20th, 1973. Nixon ordered his AG, Elliot Richardson, to fire Cox. Richardson refused and resigned on the spot. When the deputy AG, William Ruckelshaus, also refused, Nixon fired him that same night. So the authority now went to the Solicitor General, Robert Bork, who reluctantly complied with the President’s orders.

The White Houser Press Secretary issued a statement at 8:25 pm saying the President had ordered the Office of the Special Prosecutor abolished and its investigation turned over to the Justice Dept. The President discharged Cox because “he refused to comply with instructions the President gave him.”

FBI agents were ordered to seal off the Special Prosecutor’s office.

News bulletins interrupted primetime TV. NBC’s John Chancellor told viewers, “The country tonight is in the midst of a constitutional crisis.” There were comparisons made to Third World banana republics and coups d’état.

In a statement the next day, Archibald Cox said: “Whether ours shall continue to be a government of laws and not of men, is now for Congress and the American people to decide.” Acting AG Robert Bork’s statement was far simpler: “All I will say is that I carried out the President’s directive.”

From that point on, President Nixon was basically a dead man walking. The new White House chief of staff, Alexander Haig rightly predicted an impeachment stampede could begin. He was right. Newspaper editors across the country called for Nixon to resign. 50,000 citizens sent angry messages to Washington. 21 members of Congress introduced resolutions for Nixon’s impeachment.

President Nixon had seriously miscalculated the American public’s outrage.

They looked at the Saturday Night Massacre and saw the actions of a guilty man trying to fire the town sheriff. The president’s motives were obvious. He was out to save his own skin.

In the weeks to come, the White House admitted that some of the tapes Cox sought were missing and that one in particular had a suspicious 18 minute gap.  Nixon was forced to retreat from his attacks and, under pressure from all sides, agreed to appoint a 2nd Special Prosecutor, Leon Jaworski.

In July on 1974, the Supreme Court unanimously ordered the president to turn over the tapes. One in particular shows the president had colluded in the cover-up since the burglary. The House voted to impeach Nixon for obstruction of justice, abuse of power, and criminal cover-up.

With the Smoking Gun in the hands of an impeachment-hungry Congress, Nixon resigned as president on August 8, 1974. He flew to California the next day to retire in disgrace. America was stunned because, well … these things happened when fascist dictators are overthrown, not in America!

In the end, the American people put their faith in the US justice system, not the president. They had faith that in the end, the truth would come out and prevail.

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Similar themed posts: Andrew Jackson, Early America’s Populist Trump


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1920 Wall Street Bombing – the 1st US Terrorist Attack

wall street

As clocks struck Noon and the bells of Trinity Church rang out on September 16th, 1920, a massive bomb exploded, tearing through New York City’s Financial District. The blast killed 38 people and injured hundreds more.

The corner of Wall & Broad Streets was the epicenter of Manhattan’s Financial District, dominated by the headquarters of J.P. Morgan and Co., the most influential bank on the planet and the very symbol of American capitalism. The New York Stock Exchange was just a few steps down Wall Street.

Just like today, Wall St. at lunchtime was a busy hive of activity. Bank clerks and stockbrokers swarmed the sidewalks, and the street was clogged with Studebakers and delivery trucks. A red, battered horse-drawn wagon sat across from the bank at 23 Wall Street. At Noon, the capped driver dropped the reigns and ran off down the lane.

Inside the wagon were 500 pounds of cast iron bolts tightly packed around 100 pounds of TNT.

At 12:01, the dynamite detonated with an ear-splitting roar. A wall of flames enveloped the entire width of Wall Street. The explosion derailed a streetcar 2 blocks away and sent shrapnel flying as high as the 34th floor of surrounding skyscrapers. Bloodied chunks of the wagon’s horse landed a hundred yards away. Young stockbroker Joe Kennedy, father of future President Kennedy, was lifted off his feet by the shock wave.

Those unlucky to be near the wagon were consumed in flames or cut to pieces by iron shrapnel. A rain of shattered glass windows, cut into survivors running on the streets below. Once the smoke lifted, dozens had been killed instantly, others ran with their clothes afire. The Morgan Bank was raked by debris, blasting through the windows and injuring clerks at their desks.

Thirty people died instantly from the blast. Another 8 died later from sustained injuries.

Hundreds more were wounded. Much like the battlefields of WWI, Wall St. had become a warzone of charred bodies and severed limbs. Witnesses said the dead lay “flattened like tenpins” in the gutter. Those still breathing did not live for long. Trading at the Stock Exchange stopped as NYC policemen and nurses swarmed to Wall Street.

In the aftermath, no-one person or group claimed responsibility for the attack. There seemed to be no objective except to generate public terror. This lead many to think the villains were Communist infiltrators from Russia’s Bolshevik Revolution. Investigators had no clue as to who had carried it out or why. The obvious target was the Morgan bank, but J.P. Morgan himself had been in Europe, thousands of miles away.

Suspicions grew the next day when a postal worker found 5 copies of a flyer in a Financial District mailbox. Printed by hand and riddled with spelling errors, the note read, “Rimember, We will not tolerate any longer. Free the political prisoners or it will be sure death is all of you,” signed “American Anarchist fighters.”

Rumors swirled, with fingers pointing at anarchists, unionists, or socialists – anyone who might not want to see America’s capitalist empire succeed. Some even blamed Vladimir Lenin. The Bureau of Investigation, precursor to the FBI, were quick to find scapegoats in stereotypical, bearded foreigners.  This included a young division head by the name of J. Edgar Hoover.

At least 25 suspects were arrested, but all were released and none ever charged.

The mysterious fliers were the closest it came to anyone claiming responsibility for the attack. Investigators pointed at an Italian anarchist Mario Buda as the most likely culprit, seeking revenge for his compatriots in prison. Buda fled to Italy, but he too was never charged.

Police and the BOI spent 3 years trying to identify the wagon’s driver, but the trail went cold.  What started as an investigation transformed into a cover-up of sorts after the lack of arrests became a public embarrassment. The newspapers were encouraged not to “egg on the radicals” by publicizing their cause.

The New York Stock Exchange reopened the day after the bombing.  J.P. Morgan was determined to show the world that business would proceed as usual. All signs of the blast were hastily collected and debris swept away—including crucial evidence that might have helped in the investigation.

That afternoon, thousands of New Yorkers descended on Wall Street and sang the National Anthem and America the Beautiful. Looming behind them was the Morgan bank’s soot covered walls, pock-marked by fist-deep holes from the shrapnel blast. Those scars are still visible today, by the way, if you look close – the lone reminder of the bombing attack.  Unlike the 9/11 Memorial down the street, no plaque or historical marker exists.

The Wall St. Bombing remained the deadliest US terror attack until the Oklahoma City bombing 75 years later in 1995. While the incident may seem antiquated today, it foretold a future of terror attacks that would be committed upon the US, and that sadly continue to this day.

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