Fist Of History

June, 2014Archive for

Tax on Tea and American Revolution – Opinion

Monday, June 30th, 2014


So I saw this gem circulating on Facebook today and although most of it delves into a review of the current state of the United States, the initial comment is about the so-called “three percent tax on tea leading to the American Revolution.”  This is, to put it mildly, a gross over-simplification of the many different events and threads that lead to the American Revolution that began in 1775.  However the cornerstone point I’d like to express is that the American Revolution owes its roots, broadly, to three core concepts of which the tax on tea was merely a representative example of the broader problems.

The first was the lack of representation for the American colonies within the British Parliament, the British Parliament was controlled solely by representatives elected by the British population located in Great Britain, leaving the American colonies with the power to petition the British Parliament through their colonial governments.  Although actual power was semi-shared in a more complex arrangement between the colonial government and the British government, after the French and Indian War the British Parliament enacted taxes upon the colonies and stood firmly on the fundamental principle that it had the sole and exclusive right to tax the American colonies, directly, and could do so without the consent of the colonial governments.  Furthermore, although elements with the British government were open to discussion on taxes on the colonies, and many of the taxes were rescinded due to popular actions like boycotts, the British Parliament remained firm on its core principle that they could tax the American colonies directly and that the colonies had no direct say on the issue.

Second was restrictions on trade, the American colonies for many decades were technically prohibited from trading with nations other than Great Britain but effectively such regulations were loosely enforced at best.  This allowed American merchants to participate in a more connected system of global trade and pursue the greatest value possible for their goods between several competing European markets, in particular French and Spanish traders were a ready source of competing bids to the prices offered by British buyers.  After the French and Indian War though you saw a vastly increased level of enforcement of these regulations by collections officers – officers paid directly by the British government (technically the British Crown) – who were disconnected from any pressures by the Colonial governments.  This caused vast anger among the rising American merchant class and American producers of goods and raw materials for export, as with a forced monopoly of trade with only British merchants under-valued prices were the only option for American goods.  These undervalued prices were only offset by more covert smuggling, which continued, but the volume of trade with non-British buyers declined and the risk of such trade increased.

Finally, third, the period from 1774 to 1776 was a period of increased British crackdowns on the American colonies, mainly in response to popular uprisings, of which the tea dumping incident was but one example.  The British Parliament passed four Intolerable Acts:

The Massachusetts Government Act which changed the government of the colony, making all judicial and executive office appointments solely the purview of the royally appointed Governor of the colony and making it so that any town meetings could only occur with the Governors permission.

The Administration of Justice Act which restricted the trial of British soldiers to only occur in British courts in Great Britain

The Boston Port Act which closed Boston harbor till the full value of the tea was repaid – an act which destroyed Boston’s local economy and further messed with American trade as Boston harbor was one of the key harbors for shipping from the American colonies.  (Boston was also at this time a hub for cultural development and education in the colonies.)

The Quartering Act which required American colonial families to provide food and shelter for British soldiers – an act that also shoved British troops throughout the colonies as a dispersed force to maintain law and order.

I leave it to the readers to consider if the above actions are on par with what is being described in the image quote at the top of this post, however I do feel safe in asserting that it was more than just a tax on tea that helped spark the American Revolution.

Reference Source:  Wikipedia on the American Revolution

Old Ad and Cartoon Friday

Friday, June 27th, 2014


Source:  Life Magazine, 1902


Source:  Life Magazine, 1902

Note – nothing like anti-capitalism and biblical references in one cartoon


Source:  Life Magazine, 1893


Source:  Life Magazine, 1901

Note – turnabout is fair play


Source:  Life Magazine, 1893

Note – really, why not drink it?


Source:  Life Magazine, 1896


Source:  Life Magazine, 1893

Note – I personally like this because it seems a warning of the future

U.S. Occupation of Japan and “Comfort Women”

Wednesday, June 25th, 2014


During World War II the Japanese military maintained a system of “comfort stations” throughout the front lines of their empire, specifically brothels that used women taken from throughout Asia for the purpose of providing sexual services to Japanese enlisted men and officers.  The extent of this sex trade is, unfortunately, not well documented due to the Japanese government at the time keeping poor records and other nations that were occupied also being unable, or unwilling, to document what was happening in great detail.  To the present day members of the Japanese government deny that coercion was used to supply these soldier’s brothels during the war, instead arguing that only “volunteers” were taken into service and that they were well compensated for their work and that conditions in military brothels were healthier than commercial brothels due to the mandatory use of condoms by soldiers.  When these stations were in operation from 1931 to 1945, and afterwards, the Japanese government and its military argued that they represented a “necessity” to help deter soldiers from wanton rape in the occupied territories.  However the historic record shows that in attempting to prevent rape by its military the “comfort stations” program was a dismal failure.  Furthermore there is solid historic evidence from:  verbal testimony of surviving comfort women, documents submitted by the Korean, Chinese, and Dutch governments, and testimony from surviving members of the Japanese military leadership and the secret police of Japan that widespread coercion was used to fill these brothels, in particular both Japanese women and women from other Asian territories either being kidnapped, tricked, or threatened into serving as sex slaves for the Japanese military.


With the end of the war in 1945 you might think this practice came to an end however with the United States landing occupation forces in newly surrendered Japan a series of new “comfort stations” was established by the Japanese government with an eye to providing sexual services to landing United States soldiers.  Right after the surrender the Japanese government set aside a special fund of 100 million Japanese Yen specifically to establish a new Recreation and Amusement Association (RAA) whose charted goal was to establish brothels to appease the landing U.S. military forces.  The Japanese government was blunt, by setting up these brothels they hoped to prevent the rape of “good” Japanese women – advertisements were placed in major newspapers calling for the “Women of New Japan” to serve their country in these houses and make more income than they might by other employment means.  Women did sign up to work in these new military brothels out of economic desperation, others were abducted by the Japanese secret police and forced into service to meet the needs of the new RAA.  United States soldiers used the new brothels, to such an extent that the RAA had to rapidly expand the number of brothels it had available due to excessive U.S. servicemen demands for sexual services.

Leaving aside the horror of the forced sex trade for a moment, and the double horror that the U.S. occupational government accepted this practice initially, these military brothels didn’t even achieve their goal, with the Japanese government receiving reports of widespread rape in 1945 of Japanese women by U.S. soldiers and the occupational government doing nothing to seriously prevent the crimes.


The RAA was disbanded in 1946 after a year of operation providing sexual services to U.S. military men, due to the direct order of General Douglas MacArthur, as Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces and overall ruler of Japan through the U.S. (technically Allied) Occupational government.  MacArthur did not order the brothels closed out of any moral convictions or dislike for the trade, he did so because of the high, and increasing, number of cases of venereal disease being contracted by U.S. servicemen in Japan.

Sources:  Wikipedia entry on Comfort Women, Washington Post article on the use of comfort women by U.S. soldiers, Women News Network web article on comfort women, The Pacific War 1931-1945 by Saburo Ienaga, pages 236-238.

Bank Robbery, Bioweapons, and Post-War Challenges

Monday, June 23rd, 2014


In 1948 a branch of the Imperial Bank, specifically the Teikoku Bank, was robbed by an individual posing as a member of the Ministry of Health dispatched to inoculate the employees against typhoid fever.  According to the testimony of surviving witnesses the individual had the bank manager gather everyone in the bank together and dosed each individual with a fluid drawn from a vial.  This was followed up with a second dose of “medicine” precisely one minute later, which the thief reportedly timed exactly on his watch.  The fluid everyone was given as “medicine” though was poison, of the sixteen total individuals poisoned ten died immediately, two died later in the hospital, and four remained alive to provide witness testimony to what occurred.  The thief took a minor sum of money and fled the bank after the poison began to take effect.  Tokyo police investigated and by tracing individuals who were suspicious through exchanged business cards, focused their investigation upon one individual, Sadamichi Hirasawa.


Hirasawa confessed to being involved in the murders after police interrogation/torture, other evidence submitted by the state of his guilt included his having in his possession a sum of money close to that taken from the bank.  Hirasawa was convicted, despite later recanting his confession, and was sentenced to death.  However Hirasawa’s execution was never approved by the Ministry of Justice and, due to that, he remained in prison till his death from natural causes thirty-two years later.  However his case becomes odd due to its possible links to a shadowy Japanese military unit in World War II, Unit 731.


Unit 731 was a biological/chemical weapons research facility maintained by the Japanese Army in Manchuria and used to conduct human experimentation trials on various biological, chemical, and later technical weapons.  Consent from the test subjects was never obtained and those so tested were murdered if the experiments did not kill them off.  At the end of the war in 1945 the facility was destroyed, along with its records, and its members were spirited away to Japan where they re-entered civilian life, often in positions of prominence.  The U.S. occupational government did not pursue any of the researchers or support staff associated with Unit 731 as part of a deal to obtain access to its biological weapons research, materials later described as “worthless” by the U.S. government.  How it links to this case though is interesting, because there is a remote possibility Hirasawa was innocent of the robbery/murders and an individual formerly associated with Unit 731 carried out the murders instead.

Only two witnesses of the nearly forty total who had seen the man in question – he had been identified as being present at several other failed robbery attempts/information gathering visits – identified Hirasawa as the culprit.  More critically was the poison used in the robbery, Tokyo University in autopsying a random sample of the dead found the poison to be potassium cyanide, a common poison easily obtained by many civilian channels.  However an earlier autopsy conducted by Keio University found the poison might have been a different substance, acetone cyanohydrin, a slower acting poison than potassium cyanide that had specifically been developed by Unit 731 and was considered unobtainable by civilians.  Doubly critical was the accusation made by some that Tokyo University had employed several former members of Unit 731 and therefore had a reason to suppress evidence of an unusual poison being used.  The existence of Unit 731 was a secret and was concealed by the Japanese government until well into the 1950s.


The core problem with finding any links between these events is a lack of evidence, this rests in part on the through actions of Unit 731’s commander, General Shiro Ishii, in destroying records of what occurred and who was involved in Unit 731’s activities.  To the present day it is highly unlikely that any definite answers will be found easily about what happened there or if there is any link to the Teikoku Bank robbery of 1948.

Sources:  Wikipedia entries on Sadamichi Hirasawa and Unit 731, the book Unit 731 by Hal Gold, and the book The Pacific War by Saburo Ienaga


Friday Cartoons and Ads

Friday, June 20th, 2014


Source:  Life Magazine, 1902


Source:  Life Magazine, 1900

Note – I still have no idea how this actually tasted nor have I found a recipe – but how do you “deliciously season” a cold beef drink?


Source:  Life Magazine, 1901


Source:  Life Magazine, 1892

Note – Gentleman, have you thought enough about your “manly purity” today?


Source:  Life Magazine, 1892


Source:  Life Magazine, 1900

Unfortunately I am not enough of an expert on 1900s America to speak to each individual in the image above, however I can speak to some of the reasons for the particular bill headings.  William Jennings Bryan, the Democratic Presidential candidate in 1900, ran on a platform very similar to his more successful 1896 bid for the Presidency, specifically on the idea of a bi-metal economy – the free coining of silver dollars and expanding the money supply, and a new attack on McKinley over his “imperialism” in the war on Spain and the on-going difficulties the United States was facing with the Philippine-American War.  Bryan did not carry the election but, as you can see from the above cartoon, some felt that had he gotten into office insanity in his policies would have followed.  (I find the “90% Tariff on Bachelors” and the “Unlimited Zinc Dollars” ideas particularly adorable.)

In case you were wondering the reason Bryan is depicted with his hand in the air is probably because he is being drawn mid-declarative oration – Bryan was famous for his skills as a passionate orator.


Of course it did help that he also wasn’t a particularly bad looking individual as well as a fascinating orator by all accounts.

Kurdistan – 1920 Edition

Wednesday, June 18th, 2014


With the ending of World War I in 1918 one of the key issues facing the Allied powers (originally the Triple Entente) was how to construct the new post-war world, and to do so in a way that achieved several goals:  disarming Germany as a threat to the balance of power/European peace, passing the cost of the war off the backs of the victorious powers, providing territorial gains to those victorious powers to justify the vast scope of the war, and also attempting to settle some pesky pre-war ethnicity and cultural division issues.  The last goal was specifically attempted by the Allied powers to address the rising power of modern nationalist movements among various unique cultural and ethnic groups that had for previous centuries been part of larger heterogeneous empires and now were seeking the power to control their own fate in territories they had either traditionally occupied or had come into control over during the war.  The Austro-Hungarian Empire was one such entity but another one that was carved up was the Ottoman Empire, which the Allied powers planned to slice and dice into a series of semi-independent kingdoms and zones of influence to both enrich themselves and provide outlets for rising local nationalist movements.  (The United States, represented at these conferences by President Woodrow Wilson, was generally focused on other areas and mainly sought to ensure that nationalities he felt deserving of independence were granted sovereignty or at least semi-sovereignty.)  One of the ethnic/cultural groups so considered for elevation to new nationhood was the Kurdish populations in what is today modern northern Iraq and modern southern Turkey.


Embodied in the Treaty of Sevres of 10 August 1920 a chunk of territory was designated by the treaty to be directly under the control of a new nation-state, Kurdistan being the “working title” kicked around by the Allied powers for the new state.  The core of the plan was for a region of Kurds to hold a referendum vote to determine their future position or status, a vote expected to embrace a new statehood, and a truncated area of territory in modern Turkey was to be set aside for the new Kurdish state.  The Ottoman Empire agreed to the new terms and the Kurdish state was to be part of the area in the region under the “influence” of Great Britain.  (Based on the actual example of Iraq in the 1920s and 1930s this would have probably meant that Kurdistan would have been allowed a form of “independence” after granting Great Britain considerable economic and military concessions.)

However this plan fell apart, despite the Treaty of Sevres being signed by all the parties involved, due to the minor problem of revolution…


Specifically Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, a successful Turkish military leader and statesman who was able to successfully lead a nationalist revolution to remove the last remnants of the Ottoman state in Turkey and establish Turkey’s mainland borders at their pre-war limits.  By doing so he also negated any idea of a new Kurdistan and was able to force the Allied powers to sign a new treaty in 1922, the Treaty of Lausanne, which ended the Turkish internal war he was leading and set the stage for Turkey’s modern, repressive, policies towards Kurdish populations within their borders.  (Similar policies have also been used by Syria and Iraq in past decades.)

Sources:  Wikipedia entries on the Treaty of Sevres, the Treaty of Lausanne, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Kurdistan, an article on the Kurdish people by the Washington Post, and an article by World News on Gertrude of Arabia

Book Review – “Sin in the Second City”

Monday, June 16th, 2014


Sin in the Second City: Madams, Ministers, Playboys, and the Battle for America’s Soul by Karen Abbott

First allow me to begin by saying this book is overall a fun, light, enjoyable history of a particularly challenging topic in American history, as it touches upon political graft, prostitution, the policy of “containment of vice”, Chicago politics, and sexual exhibitionism and fetishes, all from the early 20th century.   This book focuses upon a high-points approach to the Everleigh sisters, two women with semi-mysterious pasts who ended up in Chicago and started one of the most prestigious houses of prostitution in the country.  Using their story as a narrative structure the book then examines, in sew-saw fashion, the efforts of reformers to undermine prostitution, and the Everleigh sisters in particular, in contrast to the overall success of the Everleigh sisters for most of their eleven year run in business.

The book dots its story with thrilling tales of the sexual hijinks of some of the Everleighs most notable clients, which adds amusing color to the story and further humanizes it.  However one disturbing aspect of the book is its approach to “white slavery” – the illicit trade in young women for houses of prostitution, including the actual kidnapping and placement of women into houses of prostitution through force and trickery.  Ms. Abbott touches upon this theme as it was one of the major drives by reformers to shut down prostitution, however she only touches at brief points upon the trade to basically confirm it was real and also express how horrifying it was.  Yet Ms. Abbott also seems to turn a fairly neutral eye upon the fact that the reality of this trade makes the efforts of the reformers, even if conducted in humorous manners, at its heart highly valuable.

Finally the book is very light in its in-text footnotes and documenting of sourcing, however such is to be expected of a book dealing with a topic that, by definition, usually relies upon verbal evidence.

Old Cartoons and Old Ads Friday

Friday, June 13th, 2014


Source:  Life Magazine, 1900

I find it interesting that this seems like the “Friend Zone” – circa 1900


Source:  Life Magazine, 1896


Source:  Life Magazine, 1901


Source:  Life Magazine, 1890

Note, apparently Dr. Pierce had quite an array of quack medicines, including vaginal pills


Source:  Life Magazine, 1893

Note, in case you thought trolling headlines to get readership was a new Internet concept


Source: Life Magazine, 1896

See this is one of those fascinating ads for me because it hints at a story.  How did a company that produces bicycles (and later cars) end up handing out free card score tracking systems as a promotional item?

Operation Himmler and the Gleiwtiz Incident

Wednesday, June 11th, 2014


In 1939 Adolf Hitler was planning the impending invasion of Poland and working out key final diplomatic details, including an agreement with the Soviet Union to prevent their intervention on behalf of Poland.  (The result of this agreement was the Soviet Union invading the eastern half of Poland for its own gain, a topic for another entry.)  Hitler, although in public speeches often speaking strongly of Germany as an aggrieved power being set-upon by the world, in private was fairly cautious and wanted to take steps to ensure that some efforts were undertaken to at least ensure that world opinion might swing somewhat in favor of Germany’s pending invasion of Poland.  To achieve this end Hitler assigned to Heinrich Himmler the task of planning a series of “false flag” operations designed to create the illusion that Germany was invading Poland in the face of Polish “provocations” prior to the start of the war.


Himmler came up with a series of operations to stage these attacks, including attacks on a critical German rail junction, a customs house, a forest outpost, and the radio station located at Gleiwitz.  The last incident is perhaps the most famous, in which a small band of German commandos, dressed in Polish uniforms, attacked the radio station while firing off random shots, taking control of the station, and broadcasting a brief anti-German message in Polish.  (The specific text of that message is lost to history unfortunately.)  The German commandos where then “driven off” by arriving local military forces and left behind a “dead Polish soldier” – specifically a German who was thought to look Polish, who was dressed in a Polish uniform, killed by lethal injection and then his corpse shot a few times for authenticity.  This incident took place on 31 August 1939, the next day Hitler ordered the massive invasion of Poland, claiming that Poland’s violations of Germany’s national territory could no longer be tolerated.

The general reaction by the rest of the world was…cynical to say the least.  Both France and Great Britain rejected Germany’s claims entirely and pointed out that Germany’s invasion seemed awfully well organized for a spontaneous assault in response to Polish provocation.  The Soviet Union made no really committal noises on the subject and although American news correspondents were invited to inspect the situation no neutral countries seemed particularly supportive of Germany’s version of events.


An interesting facet of this incident is the key source of testimony about it – it rests upon the verbal testimony given by one former SD (Germain Intelligence) officer, Alfred Naujocks.  He testified that he had led the attack on the Gleiwitz radio station, left the body behind, and on details about the broader Himmler plan to stage this event as a false flag for Germany.  The challenge is that other documentation for this particular incident being a planned German operation is thin beyond Naujocks testimony.  Although this does not discredit his statements it is another example of the challenge of documentation to back conspiracy or espionage operations even in a documentation obsessed cultural like the Nazi state.

Sources:  Wikipedia entries on the Gleiwtiz incident, Operation Himmler, and Alfred NaujocksPoland 1939:  Blitzkrieg Unleashed by Bob Carruthers.

Tupolev ANT-25 – record setting flight of 1937

Monday, June 9th, 2014


Meet the Tupolev ANT-25, an experimental aircraft developed by the U.S.S.R. in the early 1930s as part of a broader Soviet effort to fund, and expand, the position of the Soviet Union as an aircraft development powerhouse.  The Tupolev ANT-25 was developed on a recommendation by Soviet planners that a long distance aircraft be created to close the distances within the U.S.S.R.  The ANT-25 was able to successfully fly initially between Moscow and Kharkov, a total distance of 7,500 miles, which for technical reasons was not considered a record setting flight at the time.  As a combination publicity stunt and proof-of-concept the Soviet Union’s leadership decided to send the ANT-25 on an over-the-pole flight from Moscow to San Francisco.


Between 18 to 20 June 1937 the ANT-25 successfully made the flight from Moscow, over the North Pole, over Canada, and then entered into U.S. territory passing over Seattle.  Due to weather and the demands of the flight though the crew was not able to make it to San Francisco and instead had to land in Vancouver at an airbase.  They were welcomed as heroes by the local population and vetted as heroes throughout the U.S. as a result of the flight, including a heroes welcome in New York and guests at a major speech by Franklin Roosevelt to commemorate the event.  However in private within the U.S. the reaction was not as pleasant, the U.S.S.R. had just exhibited an incredible level of aircraft design and skill and FDR wanted to find out why the U.S. aircraft development was not as sophisticated.  The U.S. military leadership did not have a response at the time, however other forces would work to end the U.S.S.R.’s advantage in aircraft research and design.

The popular reaction included optimism that this flight represented but the first step in both nations crossing the pole regularly in airplanes and Popular Mechanics speculated that soon air mail service between both countries would be established.


Those forces were mainly Joseph Stalin, who decided in part of his normal fits of paranoia that the aircraft designers who were responsible for creating wonders like the Tupolev ANT-25 were actually working to undermine his rule and the Soviet Union.  The aircraft development program was shuttered for several critical years and the designers shipped out to the Russian Far East to spend time in prison camps.  It wasn’t until the outbreak of World War II and the German air force’s initial crushing victory over the Soviet air force that the imprisoned designers were taken out of prison and pushed into a crash development effort to improve Soviet aircraft.

Sources:  Wikipedia entry on Tupolev ANT-25, Popular Mechanics article on the Tupolev ANT-25, Russian President’s Archive article on the Tupolev ANT-25