This Month In History: Nelson Mandela is Inaugurated

Why do societies exist? To serve its citizens? To make the world a better place? All great questions, but it’s hard to reach a true consensus. Most can certainly agree, though, that a society should not exist to victimize its own people. Unfortunately for most of the 20th century, in South Africa, society did just that. For decades, Black South Africans, who made up nearly 90% of the population, were subjected to a vicious system of racial segregation referred to as Apartheid, enacted by the White Dutch Afrikaans minority. Due to this, the Afrikaners enjoyed standards of living similar to that of the Western World, while the Black South Africans suffered in squalor. 

An Afrikaner, or Boer, family in South Africa in the 1880s

Fortunately, this system was destined to be dismantled. The man who would enact this sweeping reordering of society was Nelson Mandela. Mandela was born in 1918 into a royal Thembu family. Mandela’s great-grandfather was the king of the Thembu people, so he was able to enjoy a relatively fortunate upbringing. In interviews, Mandela has stated that his early life was dominated by traditional Thembu customs and African Christianity.

The majority of Mandela’s youth was spent at various Methodist institutions of learning. Throughout his years of schooling, he’d develop a deep love for African history, especially native cultures, theology, politics, and become increasingly interested in anti-imperialist movements. 

In the years following Mandela’s time in college, he’d become significantly more involved with anti-imperialist and African Nationalist movements, as well as the writings of Karl Marx, Mao Zedong, and other Marxist minds. In 1948, when the National Party, the party that would enact apartheid, Mandela began to fully throw himself into activist action. He, along with his fellow African National Congress (ANC) party members, advocated for campaigns of boycotting or striking to attempt to take a stand against the National Party. 

ANC supporters protesting in the 1950s.

From 1948 until 1960, Mandela would climb through the ranks of the ANC, eventually landing on its National Executive, a board of top policy-makers. He and the ANC advocated for the same methods of economic disruption to enact change, but were growing increasingly frustrated with the rate of progress. In 1960, they formed “the Spear of the Nation”, the ANC’s military arm. Inspired by the recent success of Fidel Castro in Cuba, the ANC began conducting guerrilla attacks on Afrikaner interests throughout the nation. Interestingly enough, most of the Spear of the Nation’s early members were white communists who were able to use their

The party flag of the ANC.

complexion to conceal their intentions and ideas. 

In 1962, the CIA revealed Mandela’s location to the National Party leadership, and Mandela was subsequently arrested, along with many other revolutionary leaders. The trial was a farce, and all men were convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment on a remote island where they were treated like animals, refused visits, forced into solitary confinement, regularly physically and mentally abused, and suffered other unthinkable violence. Despite the court’s decision, the United Nations and many other international governmental organizations called for Mandela’s immediate release and condemned Apartheid. 

Mandela at his sentencing in 1962.

Outside of prison, South African Society was breaking down. The now-illegal ANC conducted hundreds of attacks a year on National Party interests. Banks and businesses were failing. Almost everything that could go wrong was going wrong. Many powerful South Africans, both white and black, began calling for Mandela’s release in an attempt to quell the unrest. In 1985, South Africa’s Afrikaner president Botha offered Mandela a release deal that stipulated he would never advocate for political violence again. Mandela refused, stating that “only free men may enter into contracts”. 

Soon after, Botha would suffer a stroke, and weeks later, F.W. De Klerk would take over the South African presidency. De Klerk felt that Apartheid was unsustainable and in 1989, invited Mandela to a meeting, one that both considered “friendly”. Following this meeting, and increased public outcry for his release, evidenced by enormous concerts in his honor at Wembley Stadium, among many other events, Mandela was released from prison in 1990. After 27 long, painful years, he, as well as his fellow ANC members were finally free. 

This would mark the beginning of a long battle to end Apartheid. From Mandela’s release until 1994, political violence would continue, with many examples of massacres marring South Africa’s history books. In 1994, though, with no end to the strife in sight, Mandela’s ANC and De Klerk agreed on a U.S. style constitution and free general elections, among many other things. In this election, the ANC won 63% of the vote, most of the other votes going to various other Black Nationalist parties. 

Following the election, Mandela would be inaugurated as President on May 10, 1994. Over a billion people worldwide tuned in to watch the ceremony. From his inauguration until his death, Mandela remained dedicated to “national reconciliation”, or trying to find a way for South Africans to forgive each other for the horrors of the last hundred years. This task was monumentally difficult, though, as evidenced by the extreme racial tensions that continue to exist in the nation today. 

Nelson Mandela occupies a unique role in history. Moreso than many revolutionaries, Mandela knew what it was to suffer. He was able to rise above his past, learn from it, and topple one of the most repressive regimes of the late 1900s. At the end of the day, Mandela’s impact on history, revolutionary ideologies, and African politics is second to none.

Mandela and his since-estranged wife Bonnie, at his release from prison.

This Year in History: The Spanish Flu

***NOTE: This article contains links to outside sources to provide both context and credibility.

Disease is an enemy almost as old as time itself. All around the world, archaeologists constantly discover the disease-riddled bones of our long-dead ancestors. Illnesses like Tuberculosis, Rabies, and Typhoid commonly afflicted our fore bearers as far back as 500,000 years ago, 300,000 years before anatomically modern humans even emerge in the archaeological record. Some pathogens are so ancient, in fact, that scientists have placed the emergence of bacteria and viruses at around 4 billion and 1.5 billion years ago, respectively. Suffice it to say, humanity has had no shortage of experience in the wanton world of disease.

The Plague of Athens, An Ancient Plague That Struck Athens in 430 B.C.

In modern history, few pandemics have had such a profound impact as the Spanish Flu. First identified in US soldiers returning from the Great War in 1918, the Spanish Flu ravaged the world, infecting an estimated 500 million and killing anywhere from 17 to 100 million. At the time, less than 1.5 billion people lived on Earth. The surplus of suffering and death–for something even more meaningless than the wars of men–helped to push forward the same concepts of modernism that WWI had brought to the public’s eye. The effects that this crisis had on society, culture, education, philosophy, literature, and every other aspect of human life were extreme and lasting.

US Soldiers Returning From WWI, Notice The Cramped Quarters.

Contrary to popular belief, the Spanish Flu was called the Spanish flu, not due to its place of origin, but rather due to WWI politics. In the Great War, Spain remained neutral. This meant that, unaffected by wartime politics, Spain was the only nation that accurately reported on how its citizens were being affected by the virus. The impact of accurate reporting in the management of this disease was essential, thus the illness was dubbed the Spanish Flu.

Interestingly enough, today, we face a similar issue. The political motivations behind the reporting of COVID-19 cases has become a very real and pressing matter. China’s initial lack of reporting and restriction contributed heavily to the virus’ ability to spread throughout the world. Even now, months into this pandemic, it seems likely that China continues to mislead the world about the severity of their outbreak to save face.

Map of WWI Era Europe. Spain Is Uncolored to Show Neutrality.

When writing an article about historical disease, it’d be impossible to not reflect on our lifetime’s disease de-jour. If you’ve been living under a rock or in the German ‘Big Brother’ house for the last few months, the entire world has been plunged into the midst of a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. The disease brought on by this strain of Coronavirus, or SARS-CoV-2 if you like sounding smart, is both similar and different than the disease brought on by the H1N1 virus that brought on the Spanish Flu. Both viruses are referred to as “novel”. This means that they are newly evolved and have existed for a small enough time period that humanity has had no chance to build a resistance to the viruses. Both of these diseases primarily affect the lungs and can wreak havoc on anybody with pre-existing conditions or with a weakened immune system. After this, though, the similarities end.

The Spanish Flu occurred at the tail-end of  the greatest international conflict the world had seen at that point. The war had brought about an increase in injury, shortages of medical supplies, overcrowded hospitals, and many other strains on an already weak medical system. Unlike today, antibiotics did not exist. This meant that all the secondary cases of Pneumonia, Bronchitis, and other lung infections to which Spanish Flu left a weakend immune system susceptible were untreatable, often fatal.

Chest X-Ray of a Patient With Pneumonia, Notice How Their Lungs Are Cloudy – Not Good For Breathing.

Thankfully, today we have antibiotics to treat the secondary infections brought on by COVID-19, which help to significantly reduce the severity of the disease. These secondary infections are not “brilliant” enough to “outsmart” the antibiotics today’s doctors administer.

The difference that truly separates these two pandemics is our newfound ability to mobilize the whole of the scientific establishment in the pursuit of a common goal. According to the NIH, there are 980 studies on the Coronavirus currently taking place. Medications like Hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malarial drug, Thorazine, an anti-psychotic drug, Remdesivir, an anti-viral for Ebola, and many more have already been investigated and tested against the virus.

Throughout the duration of the Spanish Flu, Bayer Pharmaceuticals heavily pushed their product, Aspirin, as a treatment for the disease. They recommended taking up to 30 grams of Aspirin a day, 26 grams above today’s highest safe dose. Aspirin overdose causes fluid buildup in the lungs and hyperventilation, worsening the symptoms of the Spanish Flu significantly and killing many patients outright. This serves as a strong reminder that no matter how bad this crisis gets, we are incredibly lucky to be facing this pandemic in a world where we have a sizable knowledge of pharmacology as well as the inner workings of viruses.

The Piazza Del Duomo in Milan, Italy, Before And After The Pandemic.

People all around the world are dying in pain. Health care workers soldier on despite widespread shortages of equipment. Non-essential businesses don’t know where they’ll be able to find money to pay their mortgage, many don’t even know how they’ll be able to put food on the table. Certainly this is a crisis. But, as so often happens, history repeats itself.

Although it may not seem so, this is temporary. One day, the last person with the Spanish Flu recovered. One day the last COVID-19 patient will recover.

Happy Birthday to The Father Of Modern Science

What is the cost of progress? What are the veracious willing to give up in order to speak the truth? For Galileo Galilei, the answer was his freedom – the very thing that enabled him to unlock secrets of our solar system. 

Galileo was born on a frosty February night in 1564 to an accomplished composer and music theorist. From an early age, Galileo had a keen interest in music and achieved significant renown as a musician before entering his 20’s. In addition to his musical gifts, Galileo inherited a deep distrust for authority and a desire to think for himself. This was due, in part, to the controversial experimentation that his father, Vincenzo Galilei, employed to aid in investigations of the properties of sound. 

After completing his education at the prestigious Vallombrosa Abbey, Galileo began studying medicine at the University of Pisa. One day, while in class, Galileo noticed a swinging chandelier. He paused and observed that the chandelier took the same amount of time to swing back and forth, no matter the distance it had to travel.

The Vallombrosa Abbey, Where Galileo Attended Secondary School

Following this observation, Galileo threw himself into the pursuit of scientific knowledge. He built a primitive thermometer, published many books, set the groundwork for later scientists to create clocks, and obtained many teaching posts at renowned institutions. 

Vincenzo Galilei, The Father of Galileo

In 1592, Vincenzo Galilei died, heavily impacting Galileo. His whole life, Galileo had admired his father and sought to impress him. Following Vincenzo’s death, Galileo would become even more dedicated to the natural sciences. Soon, Galileo would develop a theory on how ocean tides are created. This theory was wholly incorrect, but extremely important. The theory rested on the fact that the earth is in constant movement on both its axis and around the sun. Galileo surmised that as the earth rotated, water would “slosh” around and create the tides. 

Up to this point, and well after it, the idea of factual heliocentrism was considered heretical. Following the publishing of many discourses and books discussing the heliocentric model, the Catholic Church submitted many of his writings to the Roman Inquisition. The Roman Inquisition existed to evaluate and judge books, discourses, and individuals deemed to be heretical. In the Church’s eyes, heliocentrism violated certain scriptural passages, such as Chronicles 16:30 which states that “…the Earth can’t be moved”. It wouldn’t be until 1822 that the Church removed its ban on books teaching the heliocentric model as fact.

Galileo Before The Roman Inquisition by Cristiano Banti

Galileo’s writings were evaluated by the Inquisition in 1619 and wholeheartedly condemned. In February, their verdict was final. Galileo was called for and brought in front of the Inquisition. He was ordered to immediately halt all research, writing, discussion, and thought pertaining to the veracity of heliocentrism. He was still allowed to discuss heliocentrism, as long as he discussed it in terms of its faults and then advocated for the geocentric model. 

Galileo obeyed, for the next decade at least. In 1632, he would publish Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, a dialogue between an aristotelian geocentrist named Simplicio, a colloquial Italian term for an idiot. This piece would have angered the Inquisition if this was where Galileo stopped. Defiantly, Galileo had Simplicio restate many of Pope Urban VIII’s criticisms of heliocentrism. This absolutely enraged the Church who demanded Galileo appear before the Inquisition.

The Inquisition’s official sentence was tripartite. They ruled that Galileo was “vehemently suspect of heresy”. They ruled that he’d be sentenced to formal imprisonment for life, though this was later commuted to house imprisonment. Their final ruling was that Galileo may never publish another book, on any subject. In a final moment of rebellion, after being forced to recant his views on the Earth’s movement, he uttered the phrase “E pur si muove”, Italian for “And yet it moves”. 

A Portrait Of Galileo Staring At The Words “And Yet It Moves” by Bartolome Murillo

Galileo Galilei would spend the rest of his life under house arrest, working diligently on what Albert Einstein called his crowning achievement, a book called Two New Sciences in which he essentially created the scientific fields of Kinematics and Material Mechanics.

By all standards, Galileo was a polymath. His contributions to the science of his day and that of ours are almost unparalleled. He invented a telescope capable of conducting astronomical observations, discovered some of Jupiter’s moons, noted the phases of Venus, discovered Neptune, and that’s just a shortlist of his Astronomical contributions. Besides this he contributed greatly to the fields of Physics, Classical Mechanics, and Mathematics. 

Peace in Paris

Archduke Franz Ferdinand

World War I, The Great War, one unlike any armed engagement the world had ever seen. Leaving in its wake an estimated 20 million fatalities, the first world war was an earth-shattering conflict that changed how nations and people interact with each other. WWI and its post-war treaties such as the Paris Peace Treaty set the stage for the Second World War and fundamentally altered the nature of international relations. 

The Seminal Catastrophe, as it would come to be known, was kicked off by the assassination of Archduke of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Franz Ferdinand, along with his wife. He was shot to death in the street by a Serbian Nationalist named Gavrilo Princip. This assassination would be the spark that set off the powder keg that was early 20th Century Europe.

Europe, at the time, was a hodge-podge of alliance systems, complex treaties, overly confusing land disputes, and erratic and overzealous leaders. The assassination flung Europe into a bloody, devastating, unprecedented, four-year

A map of Continental Europe before the war.

conflict, before. Cavalry soldiers, unprepared for modern warfare were mowed down by machine guns, men wielding sabers faced men firing artillery, a groundbreaking engagement that exposed the militaristic might of select nations.

The victorious Allied Powers felt they needed to enact harsh punishments on the Central Powers in order to ensure that a conflict of this magnitude would never occur again. Unfortunately, their attempts to build a safer and more united world would lead to an more brutal future war.

The Paris Peace Conference officially began on January 18, 1919, a day specifically picked to embarrass Germans. In 1871, this was the day that William I was crowned as German Emperor, and in 1701, the date of the formation of the Kingdom of Prussia. 

The “Big Four” leaders; the leaders of the US, England, France, and Italy.

The “Big Four” – consisting of the United States, Britain, France, and Italy – dominated the conference, all of their resolutions and decrees were immediately accepted and ratified by the other 27 nations in attendance. The main goals of the Allies were: to ensure that Germany (who they viewed as the main aggressor in the war) would never attempt to engage in continental warfare again, establish an organization for the sake of world unity (to be known as the League of Nations), and to punish all Axis Powers for their role in the war.

The Germans were hit hard with reparations and forced to admit full responsibility for the Great War. This fact is often cited as a reason for the Nazi Party’s vast support among the disenfranchised German people. Germany was forced to pay exorbitant reparations, so much so that their new nation, referred to as the Weimar Republic experienced inflation at an extraordinary rate. People literally brought wheelbarrows of banknotes to buy a single loaf of bread; their currency became more worthless than the paper it was printed on. 

Children playing with bricks of worthless, hyperinflated currency during the Weimar Republic, 1922.

France and England were the greatest supporters of severe penalties for the German nation. The two countries divided up the German colonial possessions, another blow to their economy, as their Asian and African colonies were their largest exporters of minerals, precious metals, and many other valuable items. 

At the end of it all, Germany and its allies would be severely weakened – economically, industrially, and mentally. The harsh reparations placed on the Axis powers, particularly Germany, severely limited the nations’ ability to recover and adequately reform their systems of government. The social changes Europe faced during and after the war would influence the way that all nations on Earth interact with each other. 


Marconi’s Message

Wireless communication. It’s a mainstay of our modern world. Without it, you wouldn’t be reading this right now, in fact, the vast majority of things we do on a daily basis rely on the innovations of Guglielmo Marconi and his forward thinking concepts of instantaneous communication. 

Born in Bologna, Italy in 1874 to a family of nobility. As a child, he did not attend formal school, rather, his parents hired a great many private tutors to educate him at home. From an early age, Marconi had a major interest in science, specifically electricity. Marconi would later note that one of his tutors in particular, a man named Vincenzo Rosa, truly fostered his love of electricity by exposing him to new “radical” ideas about electricity and magnetism that were beginning to be explored at this time.

By 1894, Guglielmo Marconi, now a fully grown adult, was fully enthralled with Rudolf Hertz’s discovery of “invisible waves” emanating from certain electromagnetic interactions. Soon, Marconi would construct his very own equipment to generate these “invisible waves”. 

Working out of his father’s country estate, Marconi threw himself into his work, spending many years tinkering with transmitters and other radio devices. His most ambitious contraption was a radio transmitter that would send a signal to a bell which would then ring upon the pushing of a “telegraphic button”.

Marconi with an early version of his radio. Taken sometime in the late 1890s.

After his success with short range transmissions, Marconi sought to expand the scope of his experiments. In 1895, he would have his first breakthrough. As he experimented with different types of antennas, he found that increasing their height allowed for signals to be sent over much greater distances. 

Following his success in the laboratory, Marconi desired to further his research. He began soliciting funds from the Italian government, unfortunately, they were unable to fund his discoveries.

Unfazed, Marconi would take his experiments to the United Kingdom, hoping to find more support for his ideas in a more industrialized nation. Almost immediately, Marconi would find multiple sponsors for his experiments, even including the British Post Office. 

Postal workers investigating Marconi’s radio device before a mass demonstration. C.A. 1898.

Beginning shortly after his arrival in England he held mass demonstrations of his new technology. He’d begin his new wave of experimentation by sending a signal a distance of 6 kilometers and soon after was able to increase the range to 16 kilometers. 

All of this success was not enough for Marconi, though. Before long, he began investigating the plausibility of sending a radio signal across the Atlantic Ocean. Marconi set up a transmission station at the aptly named Marconi House in Rosslare Strand, County Wexford, Ireland. The signal was to be received at another aptly named location, Signal Hill in St. Johns, Newfoundland. 

Marconi House, County Rosslare, Ireland. The originating point of the first Trans-Atlantic radio transmission.

Marconi’s message was heralded as a massive feat of humanity during his time. He opened the door for radically fast communication, helping to link nations together in a new, globalized era. Marconi still had much more he wanted to accomplish in the field of communication. He’d go on to refine his radio transmission equipment greatly, giving him the ability to send messages between places as far apart as England and Australia. 

In 1909, Marconi was awarded the Nobel prize in Physics. Additionally, he was made a senator in Italy and a Knight in the United Kingdom. Following his honors, Marconi would go on to found a radio operating company, one which would lend its resources to the rescue of those few survivors on board the Titanic. 

Guglielmo Marconi was truly an innovator. His invaluable contributions to wireless communication helped usher in the fast-paced world we live in today. Such rudimentary beginnings of bells and waves may be far from the minds of modern texters and tweeters, but messages that only take an an instant are, in a way, nearly two centuries in the making.