Musing: Why No Politics

I have been asked why I don’t delve into current politics. The world, and especially the U.S., seem to be filled with people taking very strong stances on literally everything. I can affirm this by looking at my Facebook feed.

My response is simple: history does it all for me.

Case in point, here’s the basic synopsis of Last Men Out by Bob Drury and Tom Clavin:

  • A group of U.S. Marines are the last U.S. service-members in a war-torn country where the U.S. is actively evacuating
  • Government personnel have a ridiculously rosy view of how the evacuation will happen
  • The occupying power is taking over the country with alarming speed and is surrounding the final U.S. troops
  • U.S. allies are part of a large contingent of people trying to get away from the occupying power that will definitely kill them
  • A large portion of these allies will be left behind
  • U.S. Marines are killed at the gate of an airport during the evacuation

You may ask, how did these authors write a book about Afghanistan so quickly? This all just happened.

Oh, that’s because this is a history book about the last days of the Vietnam War.

What is that saying about people who don’t know history? I forget.

Happy New Year (Almost!)

Well, how the hell do you sum up a year like this?

I got it! I’ll just plagiarize myself!

From last year: “All that being said, there was also amazing highs to balance the lows. My family and friends are more than I could ever ask for. A little website called History Nerds United started this year (and analytics say that more than just my mother actually comes here!). Now, I’ve interviewed honest to God authors who treated me with more kindness and patience than I could have expected and have others planned. Dealing with my PTSD is challenging at times but I’m fighting my PTSD and winning. And finally, I’m realizing I need to challenge myself more and I’m excited to find some new adventures.”

All of it is still true and I still mean it as much then as I do now. Probably even more so. This year was another exercise in perseverance for a lot of people. So be kind to yourself and others. Take care of your mental health. Wear a mask. Tell people how much they mean to you right after the ball (theoretically?) drops and continue to do it all year. Read my blog because, honestly what else do you have to do while sitting in your sweatpants?

Oh, and as for challenging myself? Well, I guess it’s time to get those podcasts out to you. Stop nagging. It’s unbecoming.

Happy New Year, Nerds!

Merry Christmas!

Hello, nerds and Merry Christmas (Eve)!

Here is my list of “must watch” Christmas movies:

  1. A Christmas Story. Duh.
  2. National Lampoon’s Christmas Vacation.
  3. Die Hard. Any suggestion it is not a Christmas movie is both wrong and unamerican.
  4. A Charlie Brown Christmas.
  5. Elf.
  6. Mickey’s Christmas Carol.

Or, you know, read something. I think I’ve given you enough options.

Merry Christmas and be safe!

Timely History: Smallpox

With Thanksgiving in the rear-view mirror, there was plenty of mentions about American Indians and how they were treated in the creation of this country. Then, we are also in the midst of a pandemic. I had the brilliant idea of writing about smallpox. (Actually, someone suggested it, but she’s an egomaniac and I refuse to give her credit. It’s for the best.)  

Here are some random facts about one of the deadliest killers in history. 

  • There is evidence of smallpox back as far as the 3rd century on Egyptian mummies. 
  • Smallpox didn’t get its name until the early 16th century. They needed a new term to distinguish it from the “great pox” which was syphilis.  
  • Smallpox had about a 30% death rate. It was no black plague, but those are still scary numbers. Also, if you had no real acquired immunity, it would be even deadlier (like the American Indians). 
  • Don’t google photos of smallpox. Seriously. 
  • A famous story is that Hernan Cortes used smallpox blankets to conquer Tenochtitlan. It is only half right. The Aztecs caught it from the dead body of an infected soldier and then devastated the population. 
  • George Washington had smallpox and survived, thus giving him lifelong immunity. 

Here’s the big one! 

  • Smallpox is the only disease to be globally eradicated. It was done so with vaccination. Imagine that. Vaccines eliminating a disease entirely. Almost like maybe people should get vaccinated and not make up stupid reasons not to. (Shrugs shoulders) 

For more reading: 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Smallpox#History

https://www.medicinenet.com/smallpox/article.htm

https://www.cnn.com/2013/09/02/health/smallpox-fast-facts/index.html

https://www.cnn.com/2016/12/08/health/smallpox-child-mummy-17th-century-lithuania/

https://www.cdc.gov/smallpox/history/history.html

https://www.livescience.com/65304-smallpox.html

https://www.history.com/news/smallpox-george-washington-revolutionary-war

Happy Thanksgiving!

Happy Thanksgiving, nerds! 

400 years ago, the Pilgrims landed on our shores and proceeded to find opportunity and success. 

Just kidding, they found an absolute sh*tshow. Famine. Disease.  A native population that vacillated between wanting to kill them and wanting to help them. A little bit more precarious than the times we find ourselves in now. 

Wherever you are today, I hope it is with people you love. And if you aren’t with the people you love, I am sure they are out there wishing they could be with you today. Give them a call, shoot them a text, or set up a Zoom.

Bright side? Drinking, football, and naps. You don’t need to go anywhere to enjoy those! 

And if you don’t feel like those things? 

The ultimate rendition of the Thanksgiving story is the Saints & Strangers miniseries. If you haven’t watched it, I am ashamed of you. Do so now. 

In book form, read Mayflower by Nathaniel Philbrick.  

Stay safe, nerds.  

Musing: And Now for Something Completely Different – Art!

I had a flight of fancy and approached a co-worker who I knew had amazing art skills. Ethan is a jovial guy and seemed excited about the project. I came up with a scene: A knight standing in front of a medieval castle with a queen looking out over ramparts. Ethan had a lot more questions, but I do what I always do with talented people; I got out of his way.

And you can see the fruits of his labors. Pretty cool, right?

(Added it below in case it doesn’t show in the header. You’re welcome, technologically challenged.)

Timely History: The Halifax Explosion

On August 4th of this year, a gigantic explosion ripped through Beirut in Lebanon. Final numbers on the destruction are not fully understood, but it looks like at least 220 people were killed and 7,000 injured. The blast was approximately 2.75 kilotons of ammonium nitrate.

Nerd that I am, I immediately thought of the Halifax Explosion of 1917. During World War I, Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada was an active port. In order to ward off German U-Boats, an actual net was pulled across the Narrows at night to keep submarines from attacking the boats in the port.

All of this meant boats were eager to get out on their routes right away in the morning when the net opened. First, to be on schedule, but also because being out on the open ocean was better than being cooped up in a port like fish in a barrel. A ship named the Imo was one of them.

Also, since this was World War I, many boats were full of extremely dangerous cargo.

Like the Monte-Blanc. Which had 6 million pounds of high explosives. Oh, and airplane fuel stacked ON TOP of the high explosives.

There is a lot that goes into what happened, but the gist is this: the Imo wanted out, the Monte-Blanc wanted in, and they both wanted to do so at the same time. They collided.

A fire began on the Mont-Blanc. Everyone who knew what was going to happen tried to warn everyone they could while abandoning ship. 20 minutes after the collision, at 9:04 am, the Mont-Blanc exploded.

The results were immediate and horrendous. Everything, including buildings, within a half mile radius was obliterated. People just outside the blast radius were horrifically disfigured. One of the main issues was people’s eyes. If they were looking in the area of the blast, their eyes exploded from the concussion. This is to say nothing of the debris thrown by the blast.

Or the tsunami, yes tsunami, called by the blast which displaced the water in the harbor.

Or the fact that when people finally started comprehending and sending for help, a blizzard hit.

In the end, the Halifax Explosion killed 1,950 people. 9,000 people were injured. It was a 2.9 kiloton explosion compared to Beirut’s 2.75 kiloton explosion. Halifax is the largest human-caused explosion besides the atomic bomb.

For Further Reading:

Curse of the Narrows by Laura MacDonald

The Great Halifax Explosion by John Bacon

https://nationalpost.com/news/beirut-blast-measured-2-75-kilotons-how-does-that-compare-with-other-major-explosions-in-history

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halifax_Explosion

https://www.forbes.com/sites/kelseyatherton/2020/08/04/think-halifax-not-hiroshima-for-beirut-explosion/#66763bc11c66

My Favorite History: Saint Thomas More

Imagine being one of the great philosophers of your age. You serve a king, die a martyr’s death, and are revered by the Catholic Church.

However, your greatest contribution to the world is a book you wrote on a lark. And the title is used today to mean the exact opposite of the point you were trying to make.

Meet Saint Thomas More, the author of Utopia.

He was born in London in 1478. He came from a well to do family and received an excellent education. By all accounts, however, Thomas More was naturally one of the smartest people of his age. He was friends and acquaintances with many famous people including this guy named Henry. We will come back to him.

More was very religious. He almost became a monk and while he ultimately did not become one, he practiced what they preached. He was secretive about it, but he wore a hair shirt most of his life. Yes, a hair shirt is exactly what you think it is. More felt that suffering brought you closer to God. I need to shower right after a haircut because the little hairs annoy me. I was never meant to be a monk.

More was a lawyer by trade but just about everything else for fun. That guy, Henry, that I mentioned? He was Henry VIII, the one with all the wives. As you can imagine, a very Catholic More and a very stubborn, divorce-seeking Henry had their relationship fall apart in spectacular fashion.

Before all that went down, though, More did something most people recognize even if they know nothing about history. More was toying around with ideas with his buddy Erasmus (real name) and the idea for Utopia was born.

I tried to read it. I had no idea what was going on. The basic premise is a made up nation-state named Utopia. I’d try to explain more (pun intended!) but people much smarter than me still argue about what things mean in the book. Just know that when you say, “Utopia,” you have More to thank for it.

Oh, and what happened to More? Henry VIII had him executed. It wasn’t that simple, though. More was too smart for his captors and kept avoiding saying anything incriminating. He was a lawyer after all. Ultimately, perjured testimony was needed to convict him.

I’d also like to point out that he was amazingly funny. Here are quotes FROM HIS EXECUTION:

After moving his beard so it didn’t sit on the chopping block: “This hath not offended the king.” His meaning? He means his beard didn’t do anything wrong since he grew it after his conviction. Leave the beard alone!

On trying to climb the execution platform: “See me safe up: for in my coming down, I can shift for myself.” His meaning? Help me up the platform. My head will come down the platform by itself after.

As part of his most famous last words: “I die the king’s faithful servant, and God‘s first.” His meaning? F— you, Henry. According to me, anyway. He was much classier than I am.

For more:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_More

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Erasmus

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Utopia_(book)

https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Thomas_More

https://ivypanda.com/essays/thomas-more-and-king-henry-viii-their-relationship/

History Nerd United’s First Birthday!

Happy 4th of July, nerds!

Also, it’s been one year since I launched the site. It would be a massive understatement to say it’s been an interesting 365 days. I’ve been able to meet and talk with awesome people. I’ve also been able to bore tons of people with pleas to visit the damn thing. I had fun in both types of instances.

Thank you for anyone who ever visited, sent suggestions, edits, or had an interminable conversation with me about why Lafayette is amazing and Jefferson sucks.

Two major programming notes for my many (haha, not really) followers.

We added a donate button to the site. You can see it in the bottom right corner. If you have a few dollars to spare, anything would be appreciated. It’s actually not free to bring you all this history goodness. Stupid technology and it’s upkeep.

Finally, I have started recording podcasts. I’ve already interviewed a bunch of history authors and plan on putting them up in the next couple months. If you don’t like reading but like your dose of history, then you will soon have a whole new avenue to explore! I’ll keep updating the site on when to expect the first installment.

Thank you all for reading. Happy 4th (and 1st)!

Timely History: The Plague of Justinian

Everyone knows about the Black Death. One of the worst pandemics in history and caused by fleas on rats. People merely refer to it as the plague and associate it with the Black Death, which is true.

But it’s not the first time the plague is seen in history and it’s definitely not the first time it killed off massive amounts of the human population.

The Plague of Justinian is the first pandemic in recorded history. It is also the first time the plague burst onto the scene. It first appeared in 541 and then continued to appear sporadically…. for 200 years. When it was done, it killed upwards of 100 million people which was the equivalent of about half the population of Europe at the time. The plague then disappeared for the most part. That is, until it roared back in 1347 in the form of the Black Death.

Where did the name come from? Well, poor Emperor Justinian got screwed twice by the plague. First, he was emperor when it first occurred, so he has his name attached to it. Second, he actually GOT the plague. Don’t worry, he got better. He lived to be 83 and became known as St. Justinian the Great. He did all right.

Oh, and the plague wasn’t done after the Black Death. There are three plague pandemics in history… so far.

For Further Reading:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plague_of_Justinian

https://www.ancient.eu/article/782/justinians-plague-541-542-ce/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Justinian_I