Tuesday, April 12, 2011

April 12th Is A Date To Remember For A Lot of Reasons

Not many days have packed in so many exciting firsts over the years.  April 12, 1861 was the day  the first shots of the American Civil War were fired at Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor.  The shelling of Ft. Sumter marked the start of a bloody four year conflict which pitted brother against brother and put an end to " the south's peculiar institution" (i.e. slavery).

  Record keeping during the war was not good, but between 620,000-700,000 soldiers died-- a larger number percentage-wise than in all other wars ever fought by The United States. Ken Burns estimates that 2% of the American population died in the Civil War.  I have heard it said that close to a quarter of the young men of the nation died on both sides, but could not document that figure.

That Civil War, remembered by Americans and forgotten by most of the rest of the world, changed the nature and character of America in profound ways.  It is a conflict whose echos can still be discerned today in the discussions in Congress about " states rights" and " government interference"  where both sides argue passionately.  The themes of the war replay in the rhetoric of the birthers, those benighted souls who choose to call our African American President a foreigner because  these days they can't get away with calling him that word that begins with "N".  It is a silent undercurrent, spoken in code that Americans recognize but foreigners just do not get. A century and a half after the war began, it still casts a long shadow-- one that continues to hurt us as a people and may yet destroy us as a nation..

April 12th 1945, Death of President Roosevelt

On April 12th, 1945, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 32nd President of the United States, suffered a cerebral hemorage and died. He had led America for more than a decade, through economic hard times and a World War.  Roosevelt was a towering figure on the world stage who left an impressive legacy which included regulations for banks and Wall Street designed to prevent another depression and a social safety net for working men and women. His banking regulations were largely dismantled starting in the Reagan years and his "New Deal" is in shreds, but working people then and now adored him. By the time of his death he was beloved by the world and may arguably have been the greatest American President of the 20th century

April 12, 1961, Yuri Gagarin Becomes the First Man in Space

And to end on a happy note we have April 12, 1961, when Russian Cosmonaut, Yuri Gagarin   became the first man in space. Today, 50 years later the whole world is joining in the celebrations to honor him and his space flight that changed everything.

I remember Yuri Gagarin's space flight ( though I hasten to add I was very young at the time)  In America, 1961 was the height of the Cold War and the government was not happy at the prospect of  " losing the space race" to the Russians.

We kids were told to put our noses to the grindstone and learn science and math and become engineers and put an American in space ASAP. Oops make that, boys were encouraged to become engineers. Girls were encouraged to marry engineers.

We were all very busy  " ducking and covering" under our school desks because our teachers said the Russians might drop an Atomic bomb on us any minute.  I'm told that half a world away, in Russia, children were cowering under their desks in fear of American Atomic bombs.

 I think it is wonderful that all around the world on this April 12th, we can all rejoice at Yuri Gagarin's achievement. On the International Space Station at this very moment, Russians and Americans are celebrating together.  Maybe that means that there is hope for the future after all.