Sunday, August 9, 2009

Today in History - 08/09/09

August 9th is kind of a momentous date, historically speaking. A lot of memorable (for all the wrong reasons) things happened today in history.

On this date in 1945 the United States dropped the second nuclear device used in an armed conflict, on the city of Nagasaki, Japan. Days earlier, it had dropped a nuke on Hiroshima. We hear mostly about the Hiroshima event nowadays, with the Nagasaki drop almost an afterthought. But it's hard not to forget the fact that over 74,000 people died in Nagasaki that day. It's almost impossible to comprehend that number of people dying in a single event. We continue to mourn the 2,000 people lost in the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, and rightfully so. But somehow losing 2,000 people almost seems like a bigger tragedy than what happened at Nagasaki. Sure, the WTC event is much more recent; the intervening 64 years has dulled the memory of Nagasaki, but in some perverse way the deaths of 2,000 people are easier to understand and wrap our brains around than the loss of 74,000.

On August 9, 1969, members of the Charles Manson cult murdered actress Sharon Tate and four others in her Benedict Canyon, California, home. This brought to the forefront the seamy underside of the counterculture movement. What had been all idyllic peace-and-love starting in 1967 (the Summer of Love) turned into a toxic goulash (ghoulash?) of drugs, insanity, and murder. The Manson murders, along with the disastrous concert at the Altamont Speedway in December of the same year in which a black man was stabbed to death by a Hell's Angels member (all captured in the fascinating 1970 documentary Gimme Shelter), really put the final nail in the coffin of the Utopia that the counterculture movement was supposed to bring us - the "Age of Aquarius" and all that wonderfulness. A couple of important lessons here, kids: 1) human beings are far too flawed and imperfect to ever create a perfect society; and 2) no matter how hard we try to do something good, someone is going to come around and screw it up, just because they can. You can bet the mortgage on that.

And also on this date in 1974, President Richard Nixon resigned his office in disgrace, in the aftermath of the Watergate Hotel break-in. Starting with some dimwitted would-be "burglars" clumsily trying to get their hands on some information which would prove detrimental to the Nixon administration's enemies, either real or imagined, the whole situation spiraled into a political conflagration which brought Nixon down. Nixon was probably the most paranoid person ever to sit in the Oval Office. He was regarded as the Antichrist by the burgeoning hippie movement, and he saw enemies everywhere. His immensely creepy, loathsome staff, which involved luminaries such as H. R. Haldeman, Charles Colson, John Mitchell, Melvin Laird, Spiro Agnew (who was a real piece of work, I must say) and many, many others, did an excellent job in feeding and cultivating Nixon's monumental paranoia. The end result was a distasteful psychodrama which nearly brought this country to its knees, and still reverberates to this day. After Nixon resigned, no President has been fully and completely trusted by the American people, and that's a tragedy.

Oh, I nearly forgot: on August 9, 1930, cartoon diva Betty Boop made her debut. That was the last time anything good happened on August 9th.

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