Monday, December 31, 2012

Ringing in the New Year: Quick History of the Times Square Ball Drop

It is attended by nearly 1 million people ever year, and it is estimated that nearly 1 billion people watch it via television world-wide. The now iconic dropping of the Times Square Ball is the single most famous New Years Eve celebration in the world. So, when did this tradition beginning? Why IS there a Ball that is dropped in the first place?

The tradition of a celebration at Times Square dates back December 31, 1903. That year, the New York Times had opened it's new headquarters at the triangularly shaped One Times Square building at what was at the time known as Longacre Square (which was renamed as Times Square in April, 1904). To celebrate the opening of their new headquarters, the Times held a big New Years Eve party in the Square, culminating in a huge fireworks display at midnight. This first party was attended by more than 200,000 people. The owner of the Times wanted to create an even bigger spectacle, and so the idea was hatched in 1907 for a large time ball to be dropped from the flag pole atop One Times Square. 

A quick aside. What is a "time ball," exactly? Well, it was used as a way to help ships sailing along the coasts to verify their marine chronometers. It would be hoisted every day at the same time from a tower and then dropped (usually at 1p.m. in the British Isles, and at 12 p.m in the United States). 

So this first Times Square Time Ball was hoisted to the top of One Time Square on December 31, 1907, and dropped one second after midnight, the followed by the fireworks as in previous celebrations. This first Time Ball was built of iron and wood, weighed close to 700 pounds and five feet in diameter, and was lit with 100 incandescent light bulbs. This same ball would be used every year until 1920. That year, a new ball was created, with the same diameter but only weighing 400 pounds. This ball was scrapped in 1955, replaced with a new ball built of aluminum, weighing only 150 pounds. This ball would remain in service until 1999, when it was scrapped and replaced with a new time ball in honor of the Millennium. This Millennium Ball was 6 feet in diameter, created by the Waterford Crystal company, and weighed nearly 1,000 pounds. In 2006, new LED lights were installed in the Ball. However, this was the last year that the Millennium Ball was used. The following year, to celebrate the centennial of the ball drop tradition, a fifth ball was created, essentially a replica of the previous ball, but with a new computerized lighting system. This Fifth Ball was only used in 2007, replaced in 2008 with a Ball that was essentially the same overall design but on a much larger scale, being 12 feet in diameter. This new ball required the installation of a new and larger flag pole atop One Times Square. Starting with this new, Sixth Ball, the Time Square Ball is on display year-round. 

I hope you all have had a wonderful holiday season, and I want to wish all my readers a Happy New Year! May 2013 be better than 2012. 

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Silent Night, Part 3

Part 3: Setting the Stage for Peace
Christmas Army Occupies Strasbourg, January 1915

LONDON, JAN 11 - The Foreign Ministry is reporting that Tsar Nicholas II has issued a full ceasefire on all fronts. Just one day after Germany declared a ceasefire in the West, it seems that the Russians did not want to face the entire German army on one front, since the war in the West has collapsed due to the Christmas Truce. With this latest announcement, it seems that this Great War that had seemed poised to turn into a multi-year conflict is now all but over. With Germany’s announcement on January 9 for a ceasefire in the West, and Austro-Hungaria announcing the same thing the following day, the only major power that has yet to declare an end to hostilities is the Ottoman Empire. Sources in the government have stated that it seems likely that the Ottomans will declare a ceasefire within a few days as well. 
-”Russia Calls for Peace! Ottomans May Follow.” The Times (London). January 11, 1915.

PARIS, JAN 12 - The French and German governments have both confirmed that the bulk of the Christmas Army that did not go to occupy Paris has taken over the city of Strasbourg, relieving the local German authorities of command. It is reported that many German military units joined the ranks of the Christmas  Army as the troops approached the city. Consul Dumont, one of the three Consuls who are in charge of the so-called, “Christmas Republic,” has since left Paris to join up with his fellow leaders. Before he left he stated that the occupation of Alsace-Lorraine is “instrumental in the type of peace we hope to establish in Europe in the wake of this horrid war.”  It appears that, as part of the peace deal they wish to see implemented, the leaders of the Christmas fighters hope to create an independent nation out of Alsace-Lorraine, creating a buffer state between the rivals of France and Germany. It is unclear whether this plan has any support from the newly forming French government of Jean Juares and his fellow socialists, but it hasn’t been rejected either. 
  • “Christmas Fighters Occupy Alsace-Lorraine,” The New York Times, January 13, 1915. 

As the Great War of 1914 quickly wrapped up in the early days of January, 1915, a new conflict began to stir. Although the citizens of Paris, for the most part, welcomed the new government of Jean Juares and the French socialists, this was not a universal acceptance. Famous conservative statesman George Clemenceau, a former French Prime Minister, had fled Paris prior to the arrival of the Christmas Army, and upon the declaration of the People’s Socialist Republic of France on January 8, began to move quickly into action. On January 15, just days before the Three Consuls of the Christmas Republic would call for a formal Peace Congress to be moderated by the Pope and held in Strasbourg, Clemenceau and a cadre of men who opposed the socialists gathered in Lyons, France, and voted to declare Clemenceau as “Acting President of the Fourth French Republic.” The so-called “Republicans” announced that as soon as Paris was “liberated from the anarchist movement that has attempted to destroy France” a new constitution would be adopted and the nation would be reborn as a stronger Republic. Clemenceau called on all members of the military loyal to the “true France” to head to Lyons to help organize resistance to the socialist revolution. While the rest of Europe celebrated an end to war, France found itself falling into a new one. The French Civil War was here.
-Nelson, Dr. Henry. Vive la Revolution 1915! Birth of the French socialist state. New York: Colombia University Press, 1980. 

LONDON, JAN 17 - The leaders of the Christmas Republic, who’s army occupied the contested German territory of Alsace-Lorraine, has called for a Peace Congress to be held in Strasbourg, mediated by Pope Benedict XV, to start on January 25, marking the one month anniversary of the start of the truce that has brought the Great European War to a standstill. The Pope stated from Rome that he would gladly travel to Strasbourg to help oversee the peace process and plans to attend. Jean Juares, the leader of the new French socialist government, stated that his country would attend as well. Invites went out to England, Germany, Russia, and Austro-Hungaria as well, though no response from those countries has been forth-coming at the time this issue went to press. There is some worry in the Foreign Ministry and from the War Office about the legitimacy of Juares’ government in Paris, with the former French Prime Minister George Clemenceau organizing a formal resistance to the socialist revolution that was declared in Paris. There are some who fear that the Germans, seeing the French in disarray, may attempt to take advantage of the situation. Still others question whether this country should recognize Juares as the leader of France at all, fearing that it could embolden socialist revolutionaries at home to try and do the same thing. 
-”Call for Peace Congress Goes Out,” The Times (London), January 18, 1915. 

LONDON, JAN 19 - The British Government today announced that they were formally recognizing the leaders of the self-proclaimed People’s Socialist Republic of France (PSRF) as the “legitimate government of all of France, with the provisional mandate to rule,” and that they would not support George Clemenceau (a former French Prime Minister and ardent anti-socialist) and his “Fourth French Republic.” In addition, Prime Minister Asquith announced that Foreign Minister Edward Grey will attend the Peace Congress, and there is a rumor going around that King George V may also make an appearance in Strasbourg, but this has not been confirmed. This puts to rest the debate in Britain as to whether or not they should recognize the socialist government forming in Paris, or back Clemenceau’s conservatives currently operating out of Lyons. Britain is now the second nation promising to attend the Peace Congress that is set for the 25th of this month. It was announced yesterday as well that Pope Benedict XV will be in Strasbourg the day before the start of the Congress to hold a special service at the Strasbourg Cathedral to mark the one month anniversary of the beginning of the Truce. 
-”England Recognizes French Socialists, Will Attend Congress in Strasbourg,” The Washington Post, January 20, 1915. 

BERLIN, JAN 20 - The German Kaiser announced this morning that Germany will attend the Peace Congress in Strasbourg on January 25. It is expected that Germany is following the example made earlier this week by Great Britain, which announced it’s intent to attend on the 19th, and also extended diplomatic recognition to the true French government in Paris, stating that they would not assist the rebels and counterrevolutionaries in Lyons. Germany has not gone quite as far, stating that they would not, at the present time, extend formal diplomatic recognition to either faction in the power struggle occurring in France. Many in Paris are disappointed to hear this, though senior officials in the new Juares government have stated to the press that this is better than expected, with one official in the Foreign Office stating that “with Germany being known for being especially reactionary and anti-socialist, I will breath a sigh of relief just knowing that they chose not to back the counterrevolutionaries in Lyons. With Britain’s recognition of Comrade Juares’ legitimacy as leader of France, had Germany backed the Lyon Council it could have reignited the Great War that we have just brought to a close.”
In addition, although it has yet to be announced, it is expected that the Austro-Hungarian Empire will send representatives to Strasbourg as well. With such a showing, Comrade Juares has stated that he is hopeful that the peace process that is set to begin will be met with real success, and that we may have seen the last real war on this continent.
-”Germany Will Attend, Austrians Expected as Well!” Le Mond, January 21, 1915. 

(Click Here for Part 4)

Monday, December 24, 2012

Blog Update 12/24/2012

Hello to all my readers, and a Merry Christmas Eve to you as well. I hope you're enjoying your holiday season as much as I am. With all the holiday events, I've not been able to work on the next update for Silent Night, but I am hoping to have a new update out before New Years.

I've been really excited this week. There have been record views on the Weekly Chrononaut, and on saturday afternoon the view count exceeded 1,000 views, currently sitting at 1,056 as I type up this post. In addition, this week has seen daily views staying consecutively in between 20-40 views, with two record highs, hitting 131 views on December 18th, and 70 views on December 21st.

It's been very exciting to see readership go up, and I hope to continue to put out new and interesting content to see this trend continue. A special thanks to my fellow writer's who have been very encouraging when talking with me and also having been kind enough to help me get my work out to more and more people. I hope to feature some of their work on here soon as a way of saying thank you, and also to share their excellent work with those of my readers who haven't been introduced to them yet. More thanks are also in order for my family, who have been very supportive of this project and have been kind enough to read all my stories that I've posted so far.

Well, the sun is setting here in the MidWest, and I will have things to do with my family before too long. So to all my readers, whether you're family, friends, fellow writers, or fans of alternate history, I want to wish all of you a very Merry Christmas and happy holiday season, and I hope to have a new update for you soon.

O Tannenbaum! Quick History of the Christmas Tree

One of my favorite things this time of year is decorating the family Christmas Tree. I drive my family crazy because I like to have the tree up within a week of Thanksgiving, and like to leave it up at least until a few days after New Years Day.
You see them everywhere. In shopping malls, churches, schools. There are Christmas Tree's on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol Building and the White House. They have become one of the easiest to recognize symbols of the Christmas holiday. So where did the custom come from, since it's obviously not from the biblical story of Christ's birth?

The exact origin of the "modern" Christmas tree is disputed, but generally placed during the late 1400s or early 1500s in parts of Germany, usually around the Renaissance and the Reformation. The tradition of decorating an evergreen tree in winter is believed to actually predate these more modern beginnings, and in fact predate the Christianization of Europe. Pagan European tribes were known to have practices of tree worship, and the decoration of evergreens in the winter was quite common. The evergreen was revered for it's symbolism of eternal life. When the tribes converted to Christianity, this practice made the conversion with them, with the tree's seeming "eternal" qualities becoming linked to eternal life through salvation in Christ.

So that's a bit about the early origin. But how did the Christmas Tree go from small regional tradition to a global phenomenon? Short answer: thank Queen Victoria's husband, Prince Albert. Albert was from Germany, and when he married his wife and moved to Britain, he brought his traditions with him. In particular, he was fond of his childhood memories of the family Christmas Tree (in German, Weihnachtsbaum), and wanted to give his own children the same experiences. So the Christmas Tree became a common sight at the royal palace during the Christmas season, and, not surprisingly, was soon copied by other members of the British aristocracy, and eventually other members 
of the upper and middle classes.

Queen Victoria and Prince Albert around their Christmas Tree, 1848
And how did that tradition make it to America, you ask? Well, in part by German immigrants coming to the United States and bringing with them their Christmas traditions. However, it didn't stop there. A popular drawing of Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert with their children around the Christmas tree appeared in a London magazine in 1848, and was then copied two years later in an American publication in 1850, however it was altered to remove the crown from Victoria's head, making it seem like a typical American image. These influences helped spread the popularity of the Christmas tree tradition here in the United States.  

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Silent Night: Part 2

Part 2: From Mutiny to Revolution and Peace
Anti-War Riots Rock London!
LONDON, DECEMBER 31- In response to the attack on British Truce Fighters by loyalist troops, thousands upon thousands of angry Londoners took to the streets of the British capital today to protest the actions of the government. In most quarters of the city, the police simply stayed out of the way, concentrating their presence around Buckingham Palace and around the Houses of Parliament, which seemed to be the target of the marches. The crowds were calling for, among other things, the resignation of Prime Minister Asquith, for his part in the orders to fire on the Truce Fighters who refused to surrender on December 29th. Since that act, things have been unraveling on the Front, and it is now estimated that close to 180,000 British soldiers have taken up the so-called “Truce Banner,” a white flag that often has a Christmas tree in the center, and are refusing to reengage the enemy army. All told, between German and French and British troops, it is estimated somewhere between four and five hundred thousand men now are refusing to fight on the Western Front. This unprecedented event has left leaders in London and Paris stunned, unable to find a proper course of action. 
-”Anti-War Riots Rock London!” The New York Times, January 1, 1915. 

The New Years Peace Riots of 1915 are often considered the tipping point in the Christmas Truce Movement. Over the course of New Years Eve 1914 and New Years Day 1915, the cities of London, Paris, and Berlin were all paralyzed with angry mobs demanding an end to the war. In addition, there were organized protests in New York and Washington D.C., calling on the American government to try and help the peace process. Some of the strength and legitimacy for these riots can be attributed by the outspokenness of Pope Benedict XV, who cried out against the attacks the British made on their own troops on the 29th of December, and announced on the 30th that he would be more than willing to host a peace conference in Rome. 
The situation in Paris was especially volatile. The French government had managed to keep news of the Truce out of the press for days, but the story finally broke on December 31st, and the people were outraged that the government had kept them in the dark, and support for the Truce exploded across the city. The police refused to combat the riots in most parts of the city. Jean Juares and the French Socialists were the most vocal about their anger towards the government and their support of the Truce.  On New Years day, after they learned of the Truce, Juares and the French Socialists call for a nationwide general strike to show solidarity with the soldiers of the “Christmas Revolution.” Within days, much of France is paralyzed, especially in Paris. 
-Franklin, Dr. David. Peace on Earth: Christmas 1914. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975.

PARIS, JAN 1 - The official word circulating the French capital is that the officers taking part in the Christmas Truce have organized into what is supposedly being called the “Army of the Christmas Republic.” Several riders entered the city and were escorted by the so-called “Red Guard of Freedom” (or GRL), a socialist paramilitary group that seems to have replaced the police in the French capital every since word of the Truce broke here on New Years Eve, and were taken to the French government to supposedly present terms from the leaders of this “Christmas Army.” From what we have been able to gather and confirm, it appears that the army officers from the French, British, and German armies met at Rheims over December 30 and 31 and have established preliminary organization to their forces that now number over 200,000. In addition, the leaders meeting at Rheims also have apparently established what they call the “Christmas Republic,” which is being led by 3 men, one from each nation, who style themselves as “Consuls of the Republic.”
Not much else is know about this so-called Christmas Army, and we are just now beginning to piece together their intentions. From sources inside the French government, it is believed that the Three Consuls have demanded that France, Germany, and Great Britain immediately declare a ceasefire, and then agree to meet to work out a formal peace agreement.We are not sure if that is all they are calling for, or what they plan to do if their demands are not met. 
- “Truce Fighters Organize,” The Times (London), January 2, 1915. 

“Under no circumstances will the government of France meet with these traitors, nor will we give into their demands. By order of the Government, all French soldiers participating in this mutiny are to surrender by noon on January 3, 1915. At 1:00 in the afternoon all French forces are to engage all mutinying troops as if they were the enemy.”
-Order Issued by President Raymond Poincare and the French Government, January 2, 1915. Musee de la Revolution, Paris, PRF. 

The January 2nd Order, as it is commonly known, spurred the Christmas Army into action. They knew that the British, despite earlier failures, were considering trying a more forceful action against the mutinying forces, as were the Germans. With the French giving a new ultimatum first, the Truce Fighters had to act, and quickly. The Consuls of the so-called Christmas Republic met and decided that an army of up to 90,000 men should be dispatched towards Paris to force the issue of a cease fire with the French. at the same time, action was needed against the Germans. The French member of the Consulate, Charles Dumont, would lead an army of 80,000 mostly French troops (augmented by British soldiers) to march on Paris. Then the rest of the Christmas Army, under the leadership of Consul Henry Martin of Great Britain and Consul Friedrich Bauer of Germany would march into Germany, initially with the aim of occupying Frankfurt am Main. 
The Paris Army marched out from Rheims at approximately 11:00 a.m. on January 3, 1915, first encountering loyal French troops just before noon. They mostly dispersed, being outnumbered, and some actually joined the ranks of the Christmas Army. The First and only real battle of the Christmas Truce Movement would occur on January 4, 1915 near the town of Barcy.
-Franklin, Dr. David. Peace on Earth: Christmas 1914. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975.

PARIS, JAN 4 - The French Army has put up a major defensive line at the town of Barcy, East of Paris, in an attempt to stop the advancing Christmas Army troops that are marching on the French capital. It is believed that this branch of the Christmas Army, being led by Frenchman Charles Dumont, has some 80,000 French and British troops that intend to force the French government to agree to a cease fire. This move has sent shockwaves through Paris, where the French Socialists, led by agitator Jean Jaures, has taken total control over parts of the city and are calling for the resignation of President Poincare and the entire government, and for the nation to embrace a ceasefire with Germany at once. So far, it appears that the French Army have stalled the advance of what they refer to simply as “the mutineers,” but have sustained heavy losses. In addition, there are reports that many men are running over and joining the forces of the Christmas Army. If the Truce Fighters break through and make it to Paris, which isn’t an impossibility by any stretch of the imagination, it is possible that the civilian rioters could overthrow the government, sending France to even more chaos. 
-”French Battle Christmas Army!” The New York Times, January 5, 1914. 

WASHINGTON, JAN 5 - After days of speculation in the capital, President Wilson has spoken out about the impromptu truce that has thrown the continent of Europe into disarray. Since Americans have learned of the “Christmas Truce,” there have been dozens of rallies across the country calling for support of the Truce Fighters and their cause. Ministers of every creed have said that it was a sign from God to end the fighting. This was of course bolstered by the Pope’s own declaration of support for the Truce on December 28. On New Years Eve, there was a massive rally in New York City calling for American support of the Truce. Many of those demonstrators were waving around the so-called “Christmas Flag,” a white banner with a green Christmas Tree in the center, a variation of what the Truce Fighters are now using. And in response to French action, there was another large march in the nation’s capital yesterday rallying for peace. 
In light of all of this, President Wilson came before members of the press and announced that, “This war has already seen nearly one million lives lost, and for what? For national pride? for a few hundred acres of land? I do not think the gains outweigh the cost in this war. And America can no longer remain silent. I call on the belligerent nations of Europe to put down the sword of war, and come to the peace table to negotiate and end hostilities. This war in Europe must end. As President of the United States, I offer these warring states our services as mediators to help end this conflict. In addition, I am now asking the members of Congress to act quickly to make American aide to the Christmas Fighters in any way possible. Along with all of this, I have directed Secretary of State Bryan to travel to Europe to meet with the leaders of this “Christmas Republic,” and to meet with European leaders to help speed up the peace process.”
-”President Wilson: War in Europe Must End.” The Washington Post, January 6, 1915. 

With America lending its support to the Christmas Army on January 5, and the planned economic sanctions that the leaders of Congress were preparing, the days of the War of 1914 were numbered. What became the death blow to any serious plans of continuing the war happened on January 7, 1915. That morning, the Christmas Army, fresh from victory over the French at Barcy, arrived in Paris. The pre-revolutionary mood that had gripped the city since the first of January exploded into outright Revolt. the Red Guard seized control of the government quarter and kept the government under guard as the Truce Fighters, led by Consul Dumont, was escorted into the city, greeted mostly as heros. In many places, Parisians waved the Christmas Banner and cheered the soldiers as the occupied key areas of the city. At noon, Consul Dumont and his staff met with President Poincare and head of the Socialists, Jean Juares. About an hour and a half later, church bells rang out across the city, as it was announced that Poincare and his ministers had signed official orders declaring a cease fire for the French Army. The following morning, Juares announced that President Poincare had dissolved the government, and then went on to declare the birth of the People’s Socialist Republic of France. Juares and his fellow socialists leaders who would, in the coming days, work to pacify Paris and try to stabilize the country in the face of radical nationalist opposition groups led by men like George Clemenceau, in addition to confirming their commitment to the Christmas Peace and the terms agreed to by President Poincare. 
-Franklin, Dr. David. Peace on Earth: Christmas 1914. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975.

BERLIN, JAN 9, 1915 - In light of the turn of events in France, which saw rebel fighters belonging to the Truce Army arrive in Paris and destabilize the government in that country and lead to a socialist revolution, the Kaiser has agreed to declare a general cease-fire on both the Western Front and the Eastern Front, effective at 10:00 a.m. on January 10th. Foreign Minister Gottlieb von Jagow has been in contact with London, and the British government has agreed to issue an official cease-fire at the same time, bringing the current war to a possibly permanent close. However, even though the war is ending, all is not stable or peaceful. Socialist agitation in the capital and in numerous other cities continues, and is believed to be why the Kaiser agreed to a cease-fire, to avoid a repeat of what occurred in France. In addition, there are over 150,000 German soldiers currently aligned with with the Christmas Truce Army, technically committing treason and desertion.  A good portion of that Army is also on the march within Imperial territory, believed to have been originally bound for Frankfurt, although now it appears to have shifted course to the south, possibly to Strasbourg, capital of Elsass-Lothringen, the territory that France has refused to recognize belongs to the German Empire since the Franco-Prussian War. There is some speculation that the Christmas Army and it’s so-called Republic wish to occupy this territory and call for it to be independent, neither part of Germany nor France. 
- “Peace! Kaiser Declares Cease-Fire!” Frankfurter Zeitung, January 10, 1915. 

(Click Here for Part 3)

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Silent Night: Part 1

Part 1: From Holiday Truce to Mutiny
LONDON, DEC 26- Although the British Government has yet to say anything officially, there are confirmed reports that the fighting on the Western Front of the current European War has stopped. There are not a lot of details as of yet, but it appears that an informal truce broke out in the trenches in western France on Christmas Day, and it now appears that some soldiers, not only from Britain but France and Germany as well, have refused to reengage in the fighting. There has not been any official statement about this latest war development, and it would appear that the government is attempting to keep word from leaking out. Not a single paper here in the British capital has reported any news of the truce. That fact that fighting halted in light of the Christmas holiday in and of itself seems to be a miracle. That soldiers are now possibly wanting peace to continue is hardly fathomable. There is something that warms the heart, however, at the idea that the “Spirit of Christmas” seems to have the power to stop the fighting, even if only for a moment. Maybe it is a sign of things to come.
EDITORS NOTE: this article was written originally with the intent to be run on the day after Christmas, but agents of the British government attempted to stop it from being sent by wire until our correspondents there complained to the American Embassy in London. 
-”War in Europe Halted By Christmas, Truce Lingering,” The New York Times, December 27, 1914.

When Prime Minister Asquith and his government met on December 27, 1914, they were not in a good mood. They’d hoped that over night the mutinying soldiers would come to their senses and return to their posts, and had given instructions to the BEF commanders to allow them to do so. Instead, the number of those refusing to take up arms had doubled to nearly 50,000, and it was rumored that the officers among that number were conspiring with their enemy counterparts that were also refusing to fight. Conspiring to do what, they didn’t yet know. But the idea frightened them. What frightened them worse was that they didn’t know what to do about it. They couldn’t very well just let the troops refuse to fight. But with that number, they could fight back. And what would the loyal troops do if ordered to fire on their comrades? Ultimately, Asquith decided he and his government could decide nothing without the King. In a meeting with King George V later that evening, a decision was made. If the mutineers did not return to their posts by sunrise on December 29, loyal troops would go in and arrest them, and be authorized to use lethal force if necessary. The decision would come back to haunt the men within days. 
-Franklin, Dr. David. Peace on Earth: Christmas 1914. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975. 

"On this day when we remember the slaughter of innocent young children whose only crime was to be present in Bethlehem when Herod's soldiers came, we remember with sadness that many innocent people both in uniform and out of it have been killed in this terrible war. Just as Herod's murder of these young innocents served no useful purpose other then to assauge the political desires of an evil king to remain in power, so this war has served no purpose other then to further the political and economic goals of a few people. It is time for peace. It is time for Christians who truly understand what it is to be peacemakers to speak. "Blessed are the peacemakers for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven." This was spoken by the One whose Nativity we just celebrated and on whose day this glorious movement of peace began. We call upon all the faithful throughout the world to offer their prayers and support to these brave men who are now seeking to be peacemakers and we call on the whole Church to stand with them in this hour."
-From Pope Benedict XV’s message on the Feast of Holy Innocents, December 28, 1914. Vatican Archives, Vatican City. 

LONDON, DEC 28 - We have now confirmed that upwards of 50,000 troops, possibly more, of His Majesty’s Armed Forces have refused to resume fighting on the Western Front in France after an impromptu truce broke out on the 25th in observance of the Christmas holiday. Reports state that soldiers from the British, German, and French armies hoisted white flags and met one another between the two opposing trench lines to trade food, burry the dead, hold Christmas services, and even to play football. It appears that the following day, many of the troops refused to go back to their posts, and that this number has been increasing in the few days since the truce started, and it appears that soldiers in the French and German armies are also refusing to return to their posts. As of yet, the government has made no official statement about the developing situation in France, and it would appear that there was a concerted effort on behalf of the Asquith government to prevent word of this “Christmas Truce” from making it to press. An unnamed official at the War Office stated that it was the hope of the government that the Truce would just go away on it’s own before it was reported in the press. 
-”War Halted By Common Soldiers! Gov’t Remains Silent,” The Times (London), December 29, 1914.

BERLIN, DEC 28- The Imperial government has confirmed that a Truce broke out on Christmas Day on the Western Front in France between the armed forces of the Reich and that of Great Britain and France. This truce was not sanctioned by the General Staff or the Kaiser. Instead it seems to have been started spontaneously by the foot-soldiers. There has been some rumor of socialists being involved, but this has yet to be substantiated. What is most disturbing is that there have been unconfirmed rumors circulating in some circles that this “Christmas Truce” has not ended yet, that there are some soldiers refusing to reengage the enemy now that Christmas has passed. We do not at this time know just how many are involved or if this is also occurring on the enemy side of the trenches, and all requests for more information from officials at the Palace have been ignored. 
-”Fight Halts on Front in the West,” Frankfurter Zeitung, December 29, 1914. 

When dawn broke on December 29, the number of British troops alone now refusing to fight numbers over 80,000. Field Marshal French ordered troops loyal to the army to head to mutinying areas and begin to arrest those refusing to return to their posts. When they arrived, the men they were supposed to arrest greeted them with guns raised, saying that they were not going to return to the fighting. Some called out for the loyal troops to join the “Christmas Army,” as the men had started to call themselves. After several tense moments, one of the loyal officers ordered his men to open fire. A few did, and some of the mutineers were injured, but what happened next was the worst fears of those sitting in London. The loyal troops turned on the officer who’d ordered them to fire. And some of the other officers joined their men. What was supposed to have been an arrest soon backfired. When word began to spread through the ranks that the higher-ups had ordered troops to fire on their fellow troops, things began to unravel. By the end of the 29th, mutinying troops numbered over 100,000, and  this number nearly doubles by the end of the next day, and by then the officers in the mutinying forces from all three armies were organizing what would become the official Christmas Army and later the Christmas Republic. And public response to the shootings would be just as violent. 
-Franklin, Dr. David. Peace on Earth: Christmas 1914. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975.

December 29- We’ve gone and blown it. We should never have ordered the troops to fire on the mutineers. From the reports that keep flooding in from the War Office, things are now unravelling pretty quickly. The loyal troops don’t like the idea that they might be ordered to shoot on the mutineers. This is the last thing we needed. And now there are confirmed reports that the mutinying officers are meeting with their counterparts from France and Germany to organize this little rebellion. And the public is likely to learn of this soon and I fear what their reaction will be. In the morning we intend to rescind the authorization to use lethal force, but I think it may be too late. 
-From the personal papers of Herbert Henry Asquith, former Prime Minister of Great Britain (1908-1915). British National Archives, London.

NEW YORK, DEC 29 - In many Catholic neighborhoods in this city, the word’s of Pope Benedict XV’s message yesterday on the Feast of the Innocents, which commemorates the babies killed at King Harrod’s command in the biblical Christmas story, has caused quite a stir. There have been discussions to form a march in Manhattan to call attention to the Christmas Truce and Mutinies that have occurred on the Western Front in France, and to call for American support for the mutineers. And this idea isn’t just popular among Catholics. Minister’s everywhere have been heartened by the news that the Christmas holiday has caused the soldiers on the front lines to try and bring about peace. And it isn’t just the public at large that are starting to speak out. Some members of Congress have spoken out in favor of sending aid to the mutineers, and still others saying that the United States should offer to broker a peace deal between the warring states in Europe. 
-”Pope’s Call to Action Stirring Unrest,” The New York Times, December 30, 1914. 

LONDON, DEC 30 - It has been confirmed that troops that remained loyal to the Crown were ordered to fire upon those troops who’ve refused to return to their posts. The government apparently set a deadline for sunrise on the 29th for all troops to return without facing punishment. Shortly before noon on that day, loyal troops were sent out to arrest the Truce Fighters, which at the time was estimated to number around 75,000 of His Majesty’s troops. The Truce Fighters refused to surrender, and an unknown officer acted on orders coming ultimately from, shockingly, King George V, ordered the loyal troops to open fire. Most did not, but instead turned against their commander. As word of this travesty has spread through the troops in France, more and more have joined the Truce Fighters, and it is now estimated that over 150,000 British troops now count themselves among the Fighters. Things seem to be on the edge of unravelling. If the government does not act quickly to quell the crisis, there may be a vote of no confidence in Parliament. 
-”Shame! Troops Ordered to Fire on “Truce Fighters!,” The Times (London), December 31, 1914. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Silent Night: Prologue

Prologue: The Truce Begins

It was a cool December evening as Sergeant Thomas Coals climbed out of the main trench and onto the parapet to relieve the previous sentry. He’d have the latest shift, and be out until about 4 in the morning before his shift ended. He glanced out across the grim landscape that was no-man’s land, and across to the German lines beyond. He reached the pervious sentry, Sergeant Lewis McGregor, and relieved him of his post. “Have the Huns been silent?”
“Yes, for the most part, just a little movement, nothing out of the ordinary. Maybe tonight will be totally quiet.”
“Well, I hope so. I don’t like it when my sentry duty isn’t quiet.” Coals said with a grin.
“Ha, no I don’t like it either mate.” McGregor said as he walked down into the trench. “Oh, by the way, Merry Christmas if I don’t see you tomorrow.”
“Thanks Lewis. Merry Christmas to you too.”
It was sometimes hard to remember that the joyous holiday was now upon them, what with all the gloom of war totally surrounding the soldiers of the British Expeditionary Force. So much violence, so much death. Just a month before, the Battle of Ypres, which had raged for nearly 6 long weeks, had finally ended, with over 79,000 good men dead and another 16,000 wounded. This on top of the massive losses at the Marne. In all the BEF had lost over 100,000 men since the war broke out 4 months ago. All hope of a short and glorious war against the German Empire had long since been dashed. The war would now definitely continue into 1915, possibly 1916 if Fortune decided to be stingy. Coals himself just hoped he could make it through this bloody conflict and back to his young wife Sophie, who was expecting their first child. 
As Coals looked out across the wasteland that existed between the British and German lines, he began to imagine what his own family would be doing. They’d be all gathered at his childhood home north of London, father in the parlor with his brothers and sisters trimming the tree, his mother and his wife baking some snacks in the kitchen. In a few hours they’d get into the carriage and ride to the near by St. Gregory’s church for the midnight Christmas service. Tomorrow they’d awake to prepare for the big holiday feast with his aunts and uncles and grandparents, and exchange gifts afterwards. How he wished he could be with them tonight. But he was proud to serve his country. Or at least, he had been when he and so many other young men had volunteered to join the army at the outbreak of war. Now though, after living through the horror of Ypres, where the Germans had briefly taken the town before being driven out by the British, and having heard of the horrors of the Marne, he wasn’t so sure. Why were he and his fellow compatriots out here dying on the fields of France? 
While the sergeant began to drift in his thoughts, a light of in the distance caught his eye. He immediately glanced about, and notices several brightly lit candles dotting the German trenches. Where the Huns up to something? Fearing that the enemy might be preparing for some sort of sneak attack, Coals hollered out for his superior. “Lieutenant Scott! Lieutenant Scott!” Shouted Coals down into the trenches. Soon, Lieutenant Horatio Scott came up the ladder, calling out, “What is is Sergeant Coals? Are the Germans moving?”
“I don’t rightly know sir. They are lighting lanterns and moving about more than they have the past few nights.” Scott joined Coals on the parapet, and gazed over towards the German trenches. Sure enough, dozens of Candles were dotting this part of the line, in plain view of the British forces. This was most unusual. 
“Do you hear that?” asked Scott. Coals listened hard, and sure enough, he did hear something drifting over from the enemy.
“Sounds like they are shouting something in unison sir. But I can’t make out....” the noise was louder now, and Coals could make it out:
[i]”Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht; Alles schlaft, einsam wacht....”[/i]
Scott chuckled a bit. “Well, what do you know. The Huns are singing Christmas carols. Maybe the Christmas spirit will make it out to the trenches this year.” Lieutenant Scott smiled, then excused himself. Coals continued his watch, listening first to the Germans sing, and then to his own fellow soldiers in the British trenches. Lt. Scott appeared to be right. The Christmas spirit had made it out to the trenches. Little did Coals, Scott, or any of the British or German soldiers realize that night as the sang carols and shouted “merry Christmas” back and forth, that the next 48 to 72 hours would change the course of the War, and with it, the course of modern history.
-Springer, Thomas. All Silent on the Western Front. London: Macmillan Publishers, 1925. 

TO: Imperial Command, Berlin
FROM: Army HQ, Western Front

Commanders in Field are reporting a large scale truce developing spontaneously with enemy forces at multiple locations along the Western Front, believed to be due to the Christmas holiday. Troops are meeting the enemy in “no-mans land” to trade goods and to collect the dead. 
Requesting instructions.
-Communique from German Army HQ on the Western Front to the German General Staff in Berlin, 11:25 a.m. December 25, 1914. Deutsch Kaiserlichen Historisches Museum, Berlin. 

It feels so strange. We’ve been fighting since the summer ended, and have seen horrible carniage and unimaginable losses in life. And now, peace has overtaken the trenches. My comrades and I went out and traded food with German soldiers. I heard that some men in another unit actually started a football match with some Germans. If you’d told me last week that this would happen I’d have called you a liar. But here it is, solid reality, Brit and Hun being friendly. I’ve even heard that in some areas the French have laid down their arms. 
What’s even more remarkable is the talk I’m hearing more and more as the day goes on. Lots of the men, even some officers, are saying things like “if we can stop the fighting today, what’s to keep us from stopping it tomorrow?” I’m shocked. Can they be serious? How can we mere soldiers stop this bloody war. Sure we’ve paused today, but when dawn comes tomorrow, will it not start again?
-Diary entry of an unknown British Soldier, December 25, 1914. British National Archives, London. 

The War of 1914, also known as the Last Great European War, had the potential to become the bloodiest war in the history of mankind. By the end of 1914, there were upwards of a million dead on the Western Front alone, and that was just from the combined military deaths of the belligerent countries, not counting the civilian losses. Half of those deaths came from the Battle of the Marne alone, where a solid week of fighting chewed through the armies of Britain, France, and Germany right up to the outskirts of Paris. By the time the cold winter of 1914 set in along the trench lines, there was a great frustration with the war and it’s seeming pointlessness and destructiveness. It also seemed like it might never end, at least according to some soldiers who wrote about their experiences afterwards. 
Then, almost out of nowhere, the guns fell silent. It was after sunset on December 24. In several locations German troops began to light candles and sing Christmas carols. Their British and French counterparts soon took notice, and began to sing songs of their own. The soldiers could be heard calling out “Happy Christmas,” Frohe Weihnachten,” and “Joyeux Noel” across No-Mans Land to the enemy trenches. The officers on both sides were a little uncomfortable at first, but felt that the men needed the morale boost of the Christmas spirit, so did not reprimand their men. 
When dawn broke on Christmas Day 1914, the now apparent “Christmas Truce” was in full swing. German and British officers met under flags of truce to agree to burial details. Then the men began to wander into the desolate landscape that lay between the opposing trenches and began to talk with one another, trading food, souvenirs, even addresses to get in touch after the war ended. As the day wore on, several Christmas services were held, some of them joint services with British and German soldiers in attendance. In some places, friendly games of football broke out, with the opposing armies facing each other in peaceful competition. One observer reportedly said, “Too bad we couldn’t just decide the war with a football match.” 
What few could have predicted as this impromptu peace broke out was what kind of affect it would have on the men. And not just the foot soldiers, but the officers as well. They began to ask one another, “why must this war continue?” “why are we fighting in the first place?” and “how many more of my comrades must die before the people in high places are satisfied?” In addition, they fraternization with the enemy essentially shattered the myth that government propaganda had been feeding the soldiers for months, that the men on the other side of the trenches were not really the boogymen that they’d been led to believe they were. In several different places on the line, these questions and new discoveries began to take root, and many began to contemplate more than just idle thoughts but tangible actions. And it is because of these men that the Christmas Truce of 1914 forever altered human events.
-Franklin, Dr. David. Peace on Earth: Christmas 1914. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1975. 

TO: British High Command, London
FROM: BEF Command Post, France

We are getting scattered reports from several key positions on the front line that our soldiers, many of whom participated in yesterday’s spontaneous and unsanctioned cease fire with the enemy in marking the Christmas holiday, are refusing to fight. Offices are involved. Need direction as to how to proceed. Afraid that ordering loyal troops to fire on those refusing to fight might cause more men to mutiny. No violence has been reported. We believe that this may be occurring in some places amongst the enemy troops as well. 
-Communique from British Expeditionary Force HQ on the Western Front to the British General Staff in London, 9:30 a.m. December 26, 1914. British National Archives, London. 

December 26, 1914- I’m still in shock at the news coming in from Field Marshal French and the BEF. It seems as though more than 20,000 of His Majesty’s troops have refused to pick up their weapons and fight in light of yesterday’s reported truce. TWENTY THOUSAND! And from the reports it seems as though this is occurring with the French and maybe even the German troops up and down the line. The cabinet isn’t sure what to do, and neither is the King. Protocol dictates action against these mutineers, possibly even firing on them. But there are so many. And I fear that ordering our loyal troops to fire on those refusing to fight could backfire greatly. We are going to meet again tomorrow. I pray God grant myself and my fellow leaders some way to resolve the crisis. 
- From the personal papers of Herbert Henry Asquith, former Prime Minister of Great Britain (1908-1915). British National Archives, London

Santa Claus: The Real Deal and the Legend

With the Christmas season now upon us, I'm hoping to have several "Did You Know?" posts relating to what is definitely my favorite holiday. After seeing the following Christmas decoration in a local hobby store and then posting a picture of it on Facebook and the subsequent debate, I knew that my first Christmas post just had to discuss the fact and legend around Santa Claus

There were a lot of comments about this picture, some complaining of the commercialization of Christmas, others about how confusing such a mix of what is often described as the religious and secular faces of the holiday together could confuse children, and the annoyance by some that such a fictional character could become such a focal part of the Christmas holiday. All this discussion got me thinking. Just where do we get the legend of Santa Claus? And how did the legend evolve into the modern day jolly incarnation we all are familiar with?

The primary real-life source for the man of legend is one Saint Nicholas of Myra. Nicholas was born in 270 AD in what was then called Asia Minor (modern day Turkey). He was a Greek Christian, and by all accounts very devout from an early age. His parents died during an epidemic when he was young, and so he was raised by his uncle, who was a Bishop. Young Nicholas would be raised in the church, and eventually become a priest, and later a Bishop. An interesting side note for those of you who know your Church history, Nicholas was one of the Bishops who signed the Nicene Creed at the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD.

St. Nicholas was known as a generous man and a gift giver. The most famous story attributed to him was when he secretly gave money to a pious but poor Christian man who had three daughters. The man could not afford dowry's for his daughters and feared that if they could not be married off they may have to resort to prostitution to support themselves. St. Nicholas is said to have secretly tossed bags of gold into the man's house, one for each daughter, so he could marry them off. In some versions, he places the gold in stockings that have been hung out to dry, while in others, he tosses them down the chimney of the poor man's home.

The other early source for the legend that is Santa Claus comes from ancient pagan traditions held by the tribal peoples of Germany and Scandinavia, where legends of a gift-giver existed in local lore that would show up around the pagan holiday of Yule, which is around the same time that Christians now celebrate Christmas. The tradition holds that the gift-giver (usually identified as the Norse god Odin) would be flying through the air on a magical horse, and that children would leave their boots by the fireplace filled with treats for the gift-giver's horse to eat, and the gift-giver would replace the food with gifts for the children.

As is likely true for many pagan traditions, the idea of the gift-giver became Christianized when the tribes in Germany and Scandinavia themselves converted to Christianity. St. Nicholas's feast day is December 6, and in medieval Europe, the lore around "Sinterklaas" (which is commonly used in the Netherlands by the Dutch), began to take root, having characteristics from the historical St. Nicholas and the pre-Christian legends. The children in this region would celebrate St. Nicholas' Day on December 6, believing that the Saint would arrive and give out gifts to the boys and girls that had been good during the year. After the reformation, protestant Christians replaced the idea of Sinterklaas with the Christ Child, and moved the celebration to Christmas Eve.

In Colonial America, the ideas of the Dutch Sinterklaas would merge with the English "Father Christmas" to create the basis for our modern concept of "Santa Claus." Much of our modern traditions around this man of myth go back to the 1823 publication of "A Visit from St. Nicholas" (known today as "T'was the Night Before Christmas"). In this poem that many of you are probably familiar with, we get the traditions of Santa Claus flying through the air on a magic sleigh pulled by reindeer, coming down the chimney, described as being "chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf" with a belly that jiggled when he laughed. The names of the original eight reindeer come from this poem as well. The first "modern" image of Santa Claus comes in 1863, published in Harper's Weekly Magazine by famous political cartoonist Thomas Nast (who is remembered for having popularized the figure Uncle Sam, as well as using the donkey to symbolize the Democratic Party in the US). 

I hope you've enjoyed reading about this well-known Christmas tradition, and I look forward to providing some more interesting information about other holiday traditions throughout December. 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

The Airship Legacy - Part 18 (Final)

Click here for Part 17

Part XVIII: The Second Great War, 2005

            As the year 2005 began, the news from the frontlines of the Second Great War was not good if you were living and working in the Allied capitals of Berlin, London, Washington, Vladivostok, or Tokyo. China had defeated Japan in Korea. The Russians had pushed the Europeans into Poland. Moral among the troops and civilians was starting to drop. It was in this climate that German Chancellor Lehmann agreed to meet with President Doughty in Washington in February of that year.
            The Washington Conference, which was also atteneded by the Foreign Ministers of the United Kingdom, East Russia, and Japan, would ultimately change the outcome of the war. At this meeting, those present were told about Germany and America’s “secret weapon,” the atomic super-bombs. Both countries now proposed to use these weapons to force Russia and China to end the war. The debates were heated. There was serious concearn of contamination if too many of the bombs were used. In the end, the Conference decided that there would be three bombs used. One on the Chinese city of Harbin, one on Volvograd, and one on Archangel. Some had pushed for using the bombs on larger cities or national capitals, but this idea was dropped. Chancellor Lehmann successfully argued that such an action would likely cause major problems after the war as these countries attempted to rebuild.
- Franks, Dr. Hugo, The Atomic War, Berlin: Humboldt University Press, 2019.

            2004 had been a year of setbacks for the American forces in Siberia. Initially, the Americans had been able to push the Imperials back to Lake Baikal, and were bombing Irkutsk in anticipation for a planned invasion later that year.  However, with the Chinese occupation of Khabarovsk, all plans for Irkutsk were scrapped. Khabarovsk was placed under siege, which would last into 2005. The city would finally fall back into Allied hands on January 29, 2005. The cost was heavy. An estimated 150,000 American lives were lost in the Siege of Khavarovsk.
            With the supply line resecured, attention once again fell on the city of Irkutsk. Planning was slow and cautious. The Chinese were still harassing the Trans-Siberian Railway, and bombing Vladivostok. The War Department decided that the invasion of Irkutsk would begin on July 1. The commanders on the ground were worried about pulling so many troops from the boarder with China, fearing that the Chinese might be able to come in and cut the supply lines again. However, the War Department mysteriously assured them that that would not be a problem, with no further explanation.
            All was revealed, however, on the morning of June 26th. An American rocket was launched from a submarine in the Pacific, and at 4:22 a.m. local time, the first atomic super-bomb ever to be used slammed into downtown Harbin, in the square infront of the main trainstation. The central part of the city was utterly obliterated. Of the urban population of approximately 4 million, it is believed that nearly 1 million died within the first hour after the attack.
-Newton, Dr. Kyle. Drive to the West: The Western Front of the 2nd Great War. Los Angeles: UCLA Press, 2021.

China Issues Cease Fire!
Tokyo, June 27- In the wake of the atomic attack on the city of Harbin, the Chinese government has announced a cease fire with the Allied Forces. Chinese authorities are reporting that nearly 2 million people have been killed in the Harbin area, and some think that this count could continue to climb. The Chinese Army has been pulled back from the front lines since the cease fire was issued in order to assist the survivors in Harbin. There are calls for the Chinese President to resign.
            In Korea, the Chinese are on the retreat, announcing they were pulling out of the peninsula. About two hours after the Chinese left Busan, Japanese forces landed and occupied the city. The Japanese Royal Armed Forces announced that they hope to liberate the whole of Korea within a mater of weeks.
-“China Issues Cease Fire!” The New York Times, June 27th.

            At the beginning of 2005, with added troops from Italy and France, the Russians were finaly pushed out of Polish territory. British and Polish troops liberated Vilinus on January 27th, and the Germans began to heavily bomb Minsk on February 7th. Slowly but surely, the Russians were giving up ground to the Allies. Minsk would finally fall on May 17th, at the cost of nearly 300,000 German lives. By the beginning of June, the British front was in Estonia, and the War Ministry was hopeful that that country would be liberated by the end of July, and that, with any luck, the war could be over by early 2006.
            Then the big game changer came. The Night of the Atoms. At about the same time that the American rocket launched from the Pacific, two German rockets flew across the skies of Eastern Europe. At 10:29 p.m. local time, the first German atomic super bomb hit the city of Volvograd. The second bomb hit Archangel minutes later, at 10:33. Between the two bombs there was nearly 5 million people dead within the first day.
            The Russians were shocked. In the chaos following the bombs, the Allied forces surged forward. The German/Polish force was now surrounding Smolensk, and the British/Polish force had crossed out of Estonia and were headed towards Petrograd. Russian Prime Minister Yalinkov vowed to avenge the destruction of Volvograd and Archangel. Despite this, the Russians continued to loose ground. In the Pacific, theater, the Americans took Irkutsk on July 7th. Smolensk fell on July 23rd. Moscow and Petrograd were being bombed daily.
            Yulinkov’s vow would prove to be shortlived. A British bomb slammed into the Russian Executive Offices in Petrograd on August 6th, 2005. The Russian Prime Minister and two senior cabinet members were killed, including the head of the Prime Minister’s secret police. Czar Vladimir II called for a cease fire with the Allies on August 8th, which was accepted on August 9th.
-Rutherford, Dr. Thomas. Our War in Russia. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2022.

The War is Over!
Washington, August 11- The Second Great War has finally come to an end. With the death of the Russian Prime Minister 5 days ago, the Imperial Government’s resolve to continue the war quickly unravled. The War came to an end in Europe on the 9th, and the Imperial Government asked for a cease fire with the United States, Eastern Russia, and Japan yesterday, which was approved over night by the governments of those countries.
            With the guns falling silent, the spotlight will now shift towards the diplomats. Already, people are discussing what the new boarders of Russia will be, how much reparations they will be forced to pay, and if some of Russia’s leaders would be forced to stand trial for their part in the war. Some want the Russians to stand trial for the estimated half a million American troops that are dead, along with nearly one million European troops.
            But all that will come later. For now, people across the country are jubilant, glad that what many are calling the worst war in history is now over. Families are now waiting eagerly for their loved ones in uniform to return home.
-“The War is Over,” The Washington Post, August 11, 2005.

Back to Index

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Airship Legacy - Part 17

Click here for Part 16

Part XVII: The Second Great War, 2003-2004

“We Have Taken Minsk!”
Minsk, January 9- The War Ministry has announced that Allied Forces have finally taken the Imperial Russian city of Minsk. This is the first real movement of the war since November, when the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius was liberated by British and Polish forces. The War Ministry states that it is the goal of the armed forces to push the Imperial Russians out of the Baltic States before the onset of summer, and begin to threaten the Imperial capital of Petrograd. Germany plans on pushing for Moscow by the end of the year, in hopes that the war can be ended before the end of 2003.
            This appears to be the only front that has seen any action so far this year. In the East, winter is still in full swing and American and Vladivostokian commanders do not believe they will be able to push west against the Russian Empire until March.
-“We Have Taken Minsk!”, The Times (London), January 10, 2003.

Korea in Revolt
Tokyo, February 26- Japanese officials have confirmed that communist rebels in Korea have risen up in the southern city of Seoul, proclaiming the so-called “People’s Republic of Korea.” The Dominion of Korea, which has essentially been independent of Japan since reforms passed in the late 1970s, has called upon Japan for assistance. This will likely draw Japanese troops away from the war in Russia. The Korean government in Pyongyang, which has so far been officially neutral in the conflict to the north, has officially closed the border with China, causing many observers to conclude that the Koreans that China may be nominally behind the uprising in southern Korea.
-“Korea in Revolt,” The Washington Post, February 27, 2003

            The Korean Civil War, which is generally considered a minor theater of the wider Second Great War, is considered a major reason why the wider war lasted nearly into 2006, instead of ending in 2004 like many at the time thought it would. When the revolt began in Seoul on February 26th, the American, East Russian, and Japanese forces had been preparing for a surge towards the city of Chita, which they planned on staring in mid-March. The Korean conflict derailed these plans. Japan pulled most of their resources in Russia to the south, requiring the Americans to send additional troops to sure up the Aldan Line. The Japanese Air Force began bombing rebel positions in Seoul on March 3rd. This action was decried by China, and on March 10th the Chinese government recognized the legitimacy of the People’s Republic of Korea, and declared war on the Dominion of Korea on the same day.
            Chinese forces crossed the Korean border on March 17th, and bombed Pyongyang the following day for hours. The Japanese Navy battled their Chinese counterpart for the first time on March 29th, as the bulk of the Japanese Navy entered in force to the Yellow Sea. The Battle for the Yellow Sea lasted nearly a month, ending in a Japanese victory on April 25th. By mid-May, the Japanese Navy had established a successful blockade of Bo Hai Bay, regularly bombarding the city of Dalian. In addition, the Japanese launched a successful raid of Shanghai on May 19th, destroying much of the harbor. By June, the Japanese had also blockaded the Yangtze River, crippling commerce in Northern China.
            While the naval war was going well, on the Korean Peninsula, however, China had the upper hand. On April 18th, Pyongyang fell to Chinese forces, sending the Dominion of Korea into a panic. Although the government of the People’s Republic of Korea had been forced out of Seoul by the Japanese by the end of March, the rebel army was now pushing to get back into the city.
-Kim, Dr. Jong Il. The Korean Civil War. Pyongyang: Peninsular Press: 2019.

            With the fighting in Korea, the Spring Offensive of 2003 was delayed by several months. American and East Russian forces finally began to push forward towards Chita on May 20th, instead of the originally planned date of March 10th. The Imperial Army put up a strong defense of the city, and the Allied forces would be fighting for the city for most of the summer. Farther north, the American and Republican forces crossed the Aldan River in a drive for the city of Yakutsk. Defenses were much weaker here, and the city was under Allied bombardment by mid-July. On August 1st, Vladivostokian forces liberated the city.
            Fighting was still fierce in Chita, however, but with Yakutsk in Allied hands, more troops were available for the fight. The city first fell on September 9th, but would briefly be retaken on September 18th. Ultimately, the city would be retaken on September 28th. By the time winter set in, the Western Front had stabilized about 20 miles west of Chita, to the disappointment of American war-planners, who had hoped to be on the shores of Lake Baikal by winter.
-Newton, Dr. Kyle. Drive to the West: The Western Front of the 2nd Great War. Los Angeles: UCLA Press, 2021.

Russians Retake Minsk
Warsaw, July 3- After weeks of fierce fighting, the Imperial Russian Army has retaken the city of Minsk. In addition, the Russians have been able to make serious gains towards the Polish border, nearly obliterating the Polish forces. The German Army is the main reason that the Russians haven’t crossed back into Poland. In Latvia, there has been little success. The Allied forces have yet to take the Latvian capital, and in some places have lost ground
-“Russians Retake Minsk,” Frankfurter Zeitung, July 4, 2003. 

            One of the best kept secrets of the late 1980s and early 1990s had been the research and development of atomic super-bombs by the United States and Germany. America began first, under orders from the Bush administration, which wanted to develop the bombs in order to use them in the Iran War. Germany secretly learned of this development and started research of their own. The first detonation of an atomic weapon occurred on November 3, 1990 on a small American-controlled atoll in the South Pacific. Germany would detonate their own in August of 1991.
            For the Americans, however, this development would come too late for use in the Iran War, since President Bush was forced to end American involvement in the war in March of 1991. After that time, atomic-weapons research was slowed down considerably for most of the decade. In the later years of the Clinton administration, as conflict in Russia seemed more and more likely, the U.S. government began secretly building more atomic super-bombs to have in case war came. Germany began to do so as well once the Lehmann government came to power in 2001.
            When war in Russia came in 2002, some in the American government (those generals and few politicians with the highest of security clearances to know about the existence of America’s secret weapon) immediately pushed for their use to prevent a long, drawn out war, but President Doughty refused. He told the Joint Chiefs of Staff that the atomic super-bombs were to be a last-resort weapon. The Germans made the same decision.
- Franks, Dr. Hugo, The Atomic War, Berlin: Humboldt University Press, 2019.

            By the end of 2003, over half of the Korean Peninsula was under Chinese control, with the government of the rebel Korean forces having temporarily relocated to Pyongyang, though they vowed to return to the “people’s city” of Seoul. The government of the Korean Dominion had fled south to Busan, which was more easily defended by the Japanese. Despite many losses at sea, the Japanese Navy ruled the Yellow Sea, and Northern China chaffed under the blockade.
            In February of 2004, China began a strong push to the south, taking Seoul on February 20th, which was loudly celebrated by the communists, who returned to Seoul on the one year anniversary of the start of the revolution on February 26th. By April, most of the Peninsula under Chinese control, with the Japanese controlling only Busan and about 75 square miles surrounding the city. On April 19th, the Dominion government began to evacuate to Japan, and on May 9th, Busan fell to Chinese forces, and the People’s Republic declared victory over the “capitalist lackies of the Japanese.”
-Kim, Dr. Jong Il. The Korean Civil War. Pyongyang: Peninsular Press: 2019.

Khabarovsk Retaken by Chinese
Vladivostok, June 2- The American War Department has announced that the key railroad city of Khabarovsk has fallen once again to Chinese forces. Now that China has forced Japan out of Korea, the Chinese Army has once again turned it’s attention back towards East Russia. In addition to retaking Khabarovsk, the Chinese Air Force has drastically increased its bombing efforts on Vladivostok, leading to many dramatic air battles between the Chinese and American air forces.
-“Khabarovsk Retaken by Chinese,” Frankfurter Zeitung, June 3, 2004.

            During the first half of the Second Great War, there was little good news coming from the Eastern Front, especially in 2003 and 2004. Minsk, after initially falling to allied hands in early 2003, was back in Russian hands by that summer. Although Lithuania was liberated before the end of 2002, the allied commanders had failed to liberate Latvia by the end of 2003, and in February 2004, the Russians pushed the Allies back into Lithuania. On March 17th, the Imperial Army launched a massive push to the west that would set the Allied war effort back for months. On April 1, Vilnius fell back into Russian hands, and On April 14th, the Russian army crossed the Polish/Belorussian border into Poland. There was palpable panic in Warsaw that the Russians might be able to take the city before the summer was over.
            It was at this point that France, Italy, and Turkey declared war on the Russian Empire, and waves of fresh troops arrived on the Eastern Front, halting the Imperial advance by the beginning of July. However, Allied Forces were unable to push the Russians back very far, and by the time the winter set in, the front line was still inside Poland.
-Rutherford, Dr. Thomas. Our War in Russia. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 2022.

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