By Alvin Townley
During the Vietnam War, more than six hundred American pilots were held in prison camps in and around Hanoi, North Vietnam. These POWs endured torture, beatings, and isolation, desperately clinging to the Code of Conduct as their captors attempted to extract intelligence, confessions, and propaganda. From those six hundred brave POWs, the North Vietnamese identified eleven men as the most uncooperative and subversive captives—the worst troublemakers and the leaders of the American resistance. The Camp Authority kicked them out of the Hanoi Hilton and sentenced them to a terrible prison called Alcatraz, where they become known as “The Alcatraz Gang.” At home, three of their wives started a nationwide movement to bring attention to the plight of the POWs. These courageous women battled unhelpful governments in Hanoi and Washington alike and were ultimately responsible for the men’s safe return in 1973. Their historic movement was marked by millions of POW/MIA bracelets and the still-ubiquitous black-and-white POW/MIA flag. During their eight-year ordeal, the men and women of the “Alcatraz Gang” endured more intense hardship for more years than any other group of men and women in American military history. We should not forget.
Bob Shumaker becomes the second POW in North Vietnam (February 1965). More than 500 pilots would meet his fate during the coming eight years. North Vietnam would not honor the Geneva Convention and the POWs suffered.
Read more ›
We sat down with veteran journalist and Middle East expert Ashraf Khalil to discuss the history of the Egyptian Revolution, where it is now, and what the future holds for the most populous Arab nation in the world.
History Reader: It has been three years since protesters first gathered in Tahrir Square and the Egyptian Revolution began. Since then, Hosni Mubarak has been driven from power, the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, Mohamed Morsi, has come and gone. What’s next for Egypt?
Ashraf Khalil: What’s next is most likely an extended period of confusion and national anxiety paired with an overt retrenching of the old security state whose abuses and misbehavior were one of the primary reasons for the original 2011 revolution. The Old Guard is back and they are openly suppressing any sort of inconvenient or off-message political activity or criticism. Egypt is actively rolling back many of the gains of the original revolution—and most remarkably it is doing so with the support of wide swaths of the population.
Tahrir Square on July 29, 2011, as protesters gather during the Egyptian Revolution. Courtesy of Ahmed Abd El-Fatah via Wikimedia Commons.
Read more ›
By David Beasley
Arthur Perry and Arthur Mack, two young black men in Columbus, Georgia, were still riddled with bullet wounds when they stood trial five days after allegedly murdering a white security guard named Charlie R. Helton. An all-white jury deliberated only sixteen minutes before convicting Perry and sentencing him to death in Georgia’s electric chair. Jurors took only five minutes to convict Mack. Both men were scheduled to die September 3, 1937, slightly more than a month after Helton was stabbed to death at the Columbus fairgrounds after an argument with Mack and Perry about beer left over from a company picnic.
The NAACP quickly came to the aid of Mack and Perry, rushing to save their lives. A young NAACP attorney named Thurgood Marshall fired off a telegram to Georgia Governor E. D. Rivers, a Democrat and avid New Dealer.
“Informed that two young Negroes charged with killing white man at Columbus, Georgia July 31st were tried August 5th and sentenced to die September 3rd,” Marshall wrote Rivers. “Both young negroes suffering from gunshot wounds five days after crime and sentencing these men to die less than 33 days after crime obviously not due process of law. Strongly urge you as governor of state of Georgia grant reprieve of sufficient time to permit motion for new trial and investigation.”
Read more ›
By Doug Most
Think about the last time you rode on a subway. You were in a large city, maybe New York or Boston, Paris or London, Budapest or Tokyo. You found a station and casually walked down a set of stairs, or maybe you rode an elevator down under the streets. You slipped a few bucks into a machine, or a credit card, and it spit a ticket out for you to grab. You slid the ticket into metal barrier and, whoosh, a gate opened and you walked through. Then you sat on a bench and stared at your newspaper, or book or smart phone while waiting for the train to arrive. Once it pulled in, the doors whisked open, a crowd hustled off and you breezed on, taking a seat once again or maybe holding on to a metal pole or overhead strap until it was your turn to get off. You weren’t nervous. You weren’t scared. Even if you had never ridden a subway before, you figured out exactly what to do.
Now imagine the world before subways. There were no stairs to go underground. The streets were overcrowded with horse-pulled carriages, electric trolleys and cable-pulled streetcars. The next time you ride on a subway, rather than take the trip for granted, think about what life must have been like for city dwellers before underground travel and how much sweat and blood must have gone into building the world’s first subway in London, and America’s first subways, in Boston and New York. It was an amazing journey.
So how did we get here?
Read more ›
By James MacGregor Burns
Enlightenment as Revolution
For hundreds of years European minds were locked in orthodoxy. Save for scattered rebellions against the Catholic Church and the emperors and kings it anointed, most Europeans had no prospects other than the “life after life” in heaven promised to true believers. With church and state united in their determination to uphold their centuries-old authority, the laboring people were exploited by nobility and clergy, as a Czech layman wrote, “stripped of everything, downtrodden, oppressed, beaten, robbed,” and forced by hunger and misery from their land.
At the close of this era, historian Johan Huizinga wrote, “a sombre melancholy weighs on people’s souls.” Their unhappiness sounded in chronicles or poems. Huizinga recalled a French court ballad:
Time of mourning and of temptation,
Age of tears, of envy and of torment,
Time of languor and of damnation,
Age of decline nigh to the end…
Read more ›