Just in case you think that the problems and challenges we face today can’t be any worse, this article offers a quick spin back through time to consider a few events that happened today, 9 August, in years past. They’ll help keep things in perspective, I think, but, be warned, it’s depressing reading too, because as much as we try to lift ourselves up, people can be terrible, just terrible, to each other.
August 9, 1974, U. S. Vice-President Gerald Ford was promoted to President of the United States of America when Richard Nixon admitted culpability in the Watergate scandal by resigning his presidency.
August 9, 1969, Charles Manson and his weird followers gain national headlines with the terrifying, ritualistic killing of pregnant actress Sharon Tate and five of her friends in a mansion above Los Angeles.
August 9, 1945, American forces drop an atomic bomb on Nagasaki, Japan only three days after shocking the world – and forever changing warfare – by dropping the first A-bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, to terrible effect.
Read on for more details on these events…
Nixon, Ford and Watergate
The entire Watergate scandal, where Nixon’s cronies broke into the offices of the Democratic National Committee to plant phone taps and photograph documents, marked the beginning of the era of skepticism towards government that continues to this day. When you’re listening to talk radio personalities or reading “citizen bloggers” criticizing President Bush and our government, in some very direct ways you have wanton criminal and amoral former president Richard Nixon, and two enterprising Washington Post reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, to thank.
What’s most appalling about Watergate and Nixon’s involvement isn’t that the Republicans tried to use dirty tricks to learn what the Democrats were up to regarding the upcoming election, but that so few people involved ever seemed to feel there was anything wrong in what they did. Even to Nixon destroying passages of audio tape recordings made in the Oval Office (the famous ’18 1/2 minutes’). The view of being exempted from regular moral and ethical values, at least, doesn’t seem to have changed at all in politics.
Newly appointed President Ford accepted the responsibility of his new role by saying “Truth is the glue that holds our Government together. Not only our government but civilisation itself. That is unbroken at home and abroad. I expect to follow my instincts of openess and candour with full confidence that honesty is always the best policy in the end.”
[Watergate background reading] Charles Manson’s Helter Skelter
Five years earlier the world was horrified at the news out of Bel Air, California, that six members of high society had been brutally murdered. Popular actress Sharon Tate, eight months pregnant with husband Roman Polanski’s baby, had been bound to another man (her former fiancé Jay Sebring) and both stabbed to death, while others in her party were found shot to death on the front lawn or, in one case, slumped over the steering wheel of their car.
The murders weren’t the most disturbing, however, it was the mutilation, with blood smeared everywhere and “PIG” scrawled on the front door – in blood. The phone lines and electricity had both been cut, ensuring that the victims couldn’t call for help.
These weren’t the only murders by the so-called Mason family: another wealthy couple were found less than two days later, also brutally murdered, and then in October, another similar murder finally gave police the break they needed to identify and ultimately convict Charles Manson and three of his followers, Susan Atkins, Patricia Krenwinkel and Leslie Van Houten of the murders in what proved to be the longest murder trial in US history.
[Tate murder background reading] Fat Man follows Little Boy Into History
Finally, if that’s not enough dismal news to give you pause about the state of the world and of our so-called civilization…
Both of those events pale into insignificance when thinking about the complete devastation seen at Nagasaki after an atomic bomb nicknamed “Fat Man” was dropped just before lunch time on August 9, 1945. Over 73,000 people were killed in a massive explosion that completely destroyed the busy port city of Nagasaki.
Only the previous day, on August 8, 1945, that the USSR officially declared war on Japan, two days after the first atomic bomb, “Little Boy”, ripped Hiroshima apart and killed over 140,000 people. Complete toll for three days of bombing: over 200,000 people killed, most of which were civilians.
While it has been argued that the Japanese were already well aware that they had lost the War by that point, the use of overwhelming force with the A-bombs unquestionably helped hasten the end of World War II, and only five days later the Japanese surrendered to the Allies and the second “war to end all wars” was over.
I’ll wrap this up with a quote from Winston Churchill, from the day that the Hiroshima bomb was dropped: “We must indeed pray that these awful agencies will be made to conduce peace among the nations and that instead of wreaking measureless havoc upon the entire globe they become a perennial fountain of world prosperity.”
[Atomic bomb background reading]