Saturday, April 13, 2019

Today -100: April 13, 1919: There could be no question of undue severity

Pilot Harry Hawker and his navigator, Lt. Commander Mackenzie Grieve (Hawker & Grieve, couldn’t make it up), start their trans-Atlantic plane crossing. Or they would do if their Sopwith would start, which it doesn’t. They were trying to start earlier than planned, since another team (with a Martinsyde biplane) arrived in Newfoundland to make its own attempt at the £10,000 prize. They’re getting a little desperate and are planning to ditch the Sopwith’s undercarriage, including the landing gear, 100 miles into the voyage in order to reduce weight, which means they won’t so much arrive at their destination as crash.

The Iowa Legislature is considering impeaching Gov. William Harding for soliciting a $5,000 bribe in return for pardoning a convicted rapist. Harding is otherwise most famous for having banned, during the war, the public speaking of any language other than English, including in sermons and on the telephone.

Japan, currently violently putting down pro-independence protests in Korea, fails again to get racial equality included in the League of Nations covenant. Chief opposition came from Britain, which is violently putting down protests in Egypt, and...

In Amritsar in the Punjab on this day (it will take a while for the NYT to hear about it), Gen. Reginald Dyer orders soldiers (Indian, Ghurka soldiers, it should be noted) to fire on a crowd protesting the deportation of a couple of local activists. They fire continuously for 10 minutes, killing somewhere between 379 (the official figure) and 1,000 Indians. The crowd struggled to escape through a narrow passageway, so many of those shot were shot in the back, and others were trampled to death. It would have been worse if Dyer could have gotten his armored vehicles with mounted machine guns through those narrow  streets. Martial law will be proclaimed and 18 Punjabis publicly hanged. Others will be publicly flogged – on a country club tennis court, no less – and others made to crawl through a major street – “fancy punishments,” as the British called it.

Dyer will explain to an investigation next year that he was punishing the crowd for gathering in defiance of his proclamation against public meetings: “It was no longer a question of merely dispersing the crowd; but one of producing a sufficient moral effect, from a military point of view, not only on those who were present but more specially throughout the Punjab. There could be no question of undue severity.” He will further explain, “I think it quite possible that I could have dispersed the crowd without firing but they would have come back again and laughed, and I would have made, what I consider, a fool of myself”. He will be allowed to resign, and on his return to England will be presented a £26,317 fund raised by the Daily Mail. In 1940 Sir Michael O’Dwyer, the lieutenant-governor of the Punjub during the massacre, will be assassinated by one its survivors. Kim Wagner’s book Amritsar 1919: An Empire of Fear and the Making of a Massacre is out now (April 13) but not as I am writing this post.  Judging by his 2016 article in Past and Present on the massacre, which I read for this post, I suspect the book is pretty good. There’s a tv documentary on Britain’s Channel 4 tonight, called The Massacre That Shook the Empire, and there was a radio documentary earlier this week on BBC Radio 4, which can be listened to anywhere in the world for about 25 days.

Belgium grants women’s suffrage for local elections, and for national elections for widows and mothers of soldiers killed during the war or executed by the Germans, or who were themselves political prisoners under the occupation.  Women will get full suffrage in 1948.

As expected, the crackdown in New York on doctor & pharmacist drug-pushers has resulted in hundreds of junkies flooding the clinics, which are asking for 500 women volunteers (why women?) to help out. Health Commissioner Royal Copeland suggests that there should be some means of identifying addicts to prevent them double-dipping on prescriptions – branding them, for example, with nitrate of silver.

Communists overthrow the Bavarian Soviet Republic, setting up a Council and storming the Munich police stations. There are now three competing governments in Bavaria, and it’s all a bit confusing.

Italian armistice officials steal a bunch of art from Austria, mostly paintings taken from Venice to Vienna in 1816 and 1838. Viennese newspapers are complaining about this “Bilderkrieg” (picture war).

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