November 26, 1853 – Birth of “Bat” Masterson, Famous Gunfighter and Sheriff in Dodge City, Kansas

Bartholomew “Bat” Masterson was born on November 26, 1853 in Quebec. As a young man he moved to the Western frontier and eventually earned fame as a gunfighter and sheriff in Dodge City, Kansas, during which time he was involved in several notable shootouts.

Masterson’s life has been portrayed in countless works of fiction and non-fiction in film, television, literature, and other popular media.

Front cover of Bat Masterson number 3 (Dell Comics, June, 1960), featuring a publicity still of Gene Barry.

A gold strike boom caused Masterson, and countless others, to head to the Black Hills. It was there he met Wyatt Earp, who convinced Masterson to move to Dodge City, where his brothers Jim and Ed were already serving in law enforcement.

Masterson started as a sheriff’s deputy with Earp, but quickly moved into the role of Sheriff of Ford County after winning an election by 3 votes.

Deputies Bat Masterson (standing) and Wyatt Earp in Dodge City, 1876.

Masterson famously captured some notorious train robbers, and became known for running the bad guys “outta Dodge.”

In the mid-1880s, Masterson moved to Denver, Colorado, and established himself as a “sporting man” or gambler. He became a leading authority on prizefighting, attending almost every important match and title fight in the United States from the 1880s until his death in 1921.

Bat Masterson circa 1911 in New York City

Masterson moved with his wife to “Longacre Square” (today “Times Square”) in New York City in 1902 and spent the rest of his life there as a reporter and columnist for the “The New York Morning Telegraph.” His column covered boxing and other sports, and he also frequently gave his opinions on crime, war, politics, and other topics as well.

In 1905 President Theodore Roosevelt appointed Masterson as Deputy U.S. Marshal for the Southern District of New York, one of the “White House Gunfighters” – as the press dubbed them – who received federal appointments from Roosevelt.

Masterson continued to write his columns throughout the rest of his life, three times per week. He died at his desk in1921.

About 500 people attended Masterson’s service at Frank E. Campbell’s Funeral Church at Broadway and 66th Street. Masterson’s honorary pallbearers included Damon Runyon, Tex Rickard, and William Lewis. Wikipedia reports that Runyon was a close friend of Masterson’s and offered this memorable eulogy:

He was a 100 percent, 22-karat real man. Bat was a good hater and a wonderful friend. He was always stretching out his hand to some down-and-outer. He had a great sense of humor and a marvelous fund of reminiscence, and was one of the most entertaining companions we have ever known. There are only too few men in the world like Bat Masterson and his death is a genuine loss.”

Sky Masterson, the main character of Runyon’s “Guys and Dolls,” was based on Bat Masterson.

Marlon Brandon as “Sky Masterson” in “Guys and Dolls”

November 24, 1784 – Birth of Zachary Taylor, 12th President of the United States

Zachary Taylor was born on this day in history in Virginia into a prosperous family, who moved to Kentucky near Louisville in his youth. He was commissioned as an officer in the U.S. Army in 1808. Tylor was a career officer in the Army, rising to the rank of major general.

Zachary Taylor

He fought in the War of 1812, the Black Hawk War, and the Second Seminole War, with his success in the Second Seminole War attracting national attention and earning him the nickname “Old Rough and Ready.” In 1845, during the annexation of Texas, President James K. Polk sent Taylor to the Rio Grande in anticipation of a battle with Mexico over the disputed Texas–Mexico border. After the Mexican–American War broke out in April 1846, Taylor drove Mexican troops out of Texas and led his soldiers into Mexico, where they defeated Mexican troops at the Battle of Monterrey. Defying orders, Taylor then led his troops further south and, despite being severely outnumbered, dealt a crushing blow to Mexican forces at the Battle of Buena Vista. Taylor’s troops were transferred to the command of Major General Winfield Scott, but Taylor remained a national hero for his military successes.

Political clubs sprung up to draw him into the upcoming 1848 presidential election. The Whig Party convinced the reluctant Taylor to lead their ticket in the 1848 presidential election, despite his unclear political positions. With Millard Fillmore as his vice presidential candidate, he won the general election, becoming the first president to be elected without having served in a prior political office.

While president, partisan tensions over slavery threatened to divide the Union. Despite being a Southerner and a slaveholder himself, Taylor did not push for the expansion of slavery, and sought sectional harmony above all other concerns.

Taylor died suddenly at age 65 of a stomach disease on July 9, 1850, with his administration having accomplished little. Fillmore served the remainder of his term. Historians and scholars have ranked Taylor in the bottom quartile of U.S. presidents, owing in part to his short term of office (16 months), and he has been described as “more a forgettable president than a failed one.”

On his legacy, Michael Holt, Emeritus Professor of History, University of Virginia, wrote for the Miller Center (the nonpartisan affiliate of the U. Of Va. specializing in presidential history):

Taylor’s “outsider” philosophy kept him out of touch with Congress. He never addressed the legislature with a clear policy statement, nor did he use his influence to direct legislation—except on the matter of statehood for California and New Mexico. He thought that the President’s role should be limited to vetoing unconstitutional legislation and that otherwise he should give in to Congress on matters of domestic concern. . . . In foreign policy, his treaty with England on Central America, the Clayton-Bulwer Treaty [designed to harmonize contending British and U.S. interests in Central America, including the provision that the two countries should jointly control and protect the canal that they expected soon to be built across the Isthmus of Panama] is recognized as an important step in scaling down the nation’s commitment to Manifest Destiny as a policy. Yet many of his political contemporaries thought that it went too far in respecting England’s claim to power in the Americas.”

November 20, 1938 – Influential Catholic Priest, Father Charles Coughlin, Blames Jews for Nazi Violence Against Them

Charles Edward Coughlin (October 25, 1891 – October 27, 1979) was a Canadian-American Roman Catholic priest serving in the United States near Detroit, Michigan. One of the first political leaders to use radio to reach a mass audience, he was known throughout the country as Father Coughlin. During the 1930s, an estimated 30 million listeners tuned to his weekly broadcasts. The Holocaust Museum history of Coughlin reports that a new post office was constructed in his Michigan town just to process the letters that he received each week—80,000 on average. He also produced a journal, Social Justice, that eventually reached one million subscribers.

Coughlin was antisemitic, anti-Communist, pro-fascist, and isolationist.

A Photo of Charles Coughlin by Hamilton Spectator, circa 1938.

Coughlin attacked Jews explicitly in his broadcasts, in particular after Kristallnacht (or “Night of Broken Glass”) on November 10, 1938. This was the name for the coordinated terror against Jews all over Nazi-controlled areas. The brutal action was characterized by burning, looting, and murder.

Coughlin defended the state-sponsored violence of the Nazi regime, arguing that Kristallnacht was justified as retaliation for Jewish persecution of Christians. He explained to his listeners on this day in history, November 20, 1938, that the “communistic government of Russia,” “the Lenins and Trotskys,…atheistic Jews and Gentiles” had murdered more than 20 million Christians and had stolen “40 billion [dollars]…of Christian property.”

Coughlin also began to promote fascist dictatorship and authoritarian government as the only cure to the ills of democracy and capitalism. He increasingly attacked President Franklin Roosevelt’s policies, which probably was what ultimately led to his demise.

The Roosevelt administration decided that, because the radio spectrum was a “limited national resource” and regulated as a publicly owned commons, broadcasting was not afforded full protections under the First Amendment. In October 1939, the Code Committee of the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) enacted new limitations on the sale of radio time to ‘spokesmen of controversial public issues.’ Manuscripts now had to be submitted in advance, and radio stations were threatened with the loss of licenses if they failed to comply. As a result, on September 23, 1940, Coughlin announced in “Social Justice” that he had been forced from the air.

In addition, the U.S. Attorney General Francis Biddle met with banker Leo Crowley, a Roosevelt political appointee and friend of Bishop Edward Aloysius Mooney of Detroit. Crowley relayed Biddle’s message to Mooney that the government was willing to “deal with Coughlin in a restrained manner if he [Mooney] would order Coughlin to cease his public activities.” Bishop Mooney complied, ordering Coughlin to stop his political activities and to confine himself to his duties as a parish priest, warning of potentially removing his priestly faculties if he refused. Although forced to end his public career, Coughlin served as parish pastor until retiring in 1966.

Review of “The Rhine: Following Europe’s Greatest River from Amsterdam to the Alps” (A History) by Ben Coates

This delightful and entertaining book, part history and part travelogue, was written by a British transplant to the Netherlands who decided to follow the Rhine River along its 800 [ish] mile-route from its mouth on the North Sea coast at Hoeck van Holland to its source in the Alps. Along the way, Coates imparts interesting bits of history and local anecdotes, and shares his “contributions to the economies of cities along the route” by eating and savoring local delicacies. I laughed out loud throughout his guide to the Rhineland region.

As Coates points out, some 50 million people live in the Rhine watershed. It has served as a key artery of Europe’s trade system since the time of the Roman Empire.

The Rhine and the Danube formed most of the northern inland frontier of the Roman Empire. Coates tells us that the Limes Germanicus (Latin for Germanic frontier) was a line of frontier (limes) fortifications that bounded the ancient Roman provinces of Germania Inferior, Germania Superior and Raetia, dividing the Roman Empire and the unsubdued Germanic tribes from the years 83 to about 260 AD. At its zenith, the limes stretched from the North Sea outlet of the Rhine to near Regensburg (Castra Regina) on the Danube.

Roman forts along the limes

Much of Coates’ insights on Roman times comes from his use of Tacitus (c. 56 – c. 120 AD), the great Roman historian, as a source. The Germania, written around 98 AD was a historical and ethnographic work on the Germanic tribes outside the Roman Empire.

[To digress, I love the descriptions of the role of women in Tacitus’s Germania. Tacitus writes that they often accompany the men to battle and offer encouragement. He says that the men are highly motivated to fight for the women because of an extreme fear of losing them to captivity. Further, he observed (favorably) that the Germans are mainly content with one wife, except for a few political marriages. He also noted that adultery was very rare, and that an adulterous woman is shunned afterward by the community “regardless of her beauty.” You can read an English translation online, here.]

In more recent times, the Rhine became a symbol of German nationalism. The Rhine was adopted as the symbol of German purity, strength, and unity. In this way it inspired some of history’s most famous writers, poets, artists, diplomats and statesmen. In particular, Coates observes, “the movement known as Romanticism took the Rhine as one of its major recurring themes.”

Students of history may be familiar with “The Watch on the Rhine,” a German patriotic anthem which was one of the most popular songs in Germany from World War I through 1945. The song’s title was even used as the codename for the German offensive in 1944 known today as the Battle of the Bulge.

Thus does Coates expound on one of his themes, which is exposing how the Rhine had shaped – and continued to shape – the countries it flowed through, and the people who lived there.

Rhine Romanticism: Kaub and Gutenfels Castle (1824) by William Turner

To that end, he not only shares history, but scores of fascinating anecdotal stories related to the Rhine, from the development of Baedeker’s guide books for rich young travelers making “Grand Tours” down the Rhine, to the fact that Dutch women along the river were employed at one time by herring companies to lick the eyeballs of “any colleagues who were unfortunate enough to get fish scales lodged there.”

Some of the other things I learned about in this book include:

  • When Bonn served as the capital of Germany (1949 – 1990), the defense ministry built on the banks of the Rhine became known as the “Pentabonn.”
  • John le Carré worked and wrote in Bonn for a while. His description of of the city “helped establish many of the tropes of the modern espionage thriller: gloomy bridges and thick river mists, lamp-lit cobbled streets and morally dubious heroes.”
  • The national anthem of France, “La Marseillaise,” was written in 1792 by Claude Joseph Rouget de Lisle in Strasbourg after the declaration of war by France against Austria, and was originally titled “Chant de guerre pour l’Armée du Rhin” (“War Song for the Rhine Army”).
  • In the early 1800s, there was a shortage of horses (for reasons ranging from the Napoleanic wars, to lack of food because of disruption of global weather after the explosion of the Indonesian volcano Tambora). People still wanted to get around, however, and it was an inventor from Mannheim along the Rhine who, in the summer of 1817, came up with a new invention to replace the horse: a bicycle. Later in the same area, Karl Benz (with significant but rarely acknowledged assistance from his wife Bertha) came up with the world’s first car.
  • Rhinestones actually began from the use of sparkly stones near the Rhine in Alsace. While the riverside rock collection business died out, the production of fake crystals soared worldwide, and became “beloved of low-key dressers like Elvis and Dolly Parton.” Coates writes: “The Rhine link was lost, but the original name of the shiny river stones stuck: rhinestones.”

Airships were another Rhine invention. Count Zeppelin was born in Konstanz along the Rhine and spent a great deal of time “tinkering with flying technology on, next to and over the waters” of Lake Constance (a lake on the Rhine at the northern foot of the Alps). Of most interest, however, was the fact that each dirigible made by Zeppelin was constructed with the intestines of 250,000 cows. In fact, the U.K. Independent reports:

“Cow intestines used to make sausage skins were such a vital component in the construction of Zeppelin airships that the Kaiser’s military chiefs were prepared to sacrifice bratwurst and other types of sausage in the pursuit of victory.

Rather than permitting the intestines to be eaten, they were used to create special bags to hold the hydrogen gas used to keep Zeppelins aloft.”

Well, who knew?

And in fact, while reading, voicing that expression was my most common reaction besides laughing.

It is also worth noting that although the book is literally studded with metaphors, they are almost all well-done – both entertaining and evocative:

“The riverbanks were so thickly forested that they looked as if they could have been knitted from bright green wool.”

“. . . . a cluster of thick chimneys smoked like cigars thrust upright on the riverbank.”

“. . . walls of shipping containers tacked like cereal boxes in the supermarket.”

“High-rise towers stretched away from the water like a bar graph.”

“At sunset, the old quarter [in Strasbourg] was . . . spectacularly lit, the ancient townhouses reflected I the rivers like dolls’ houses on a mirror.”

And then there are his descriptions, also entertaining and evocative:

Gentrification in Rotterdam: “areas where it had once been impossible to buy a croissant were now seething with kale and quinoa.”

Rhine cruise ships are “essentially mobile retirement homes.”

Evaluation: The Rhine is a quirky book that could hardly be classified as serious history, although it contains a lot of factual information on an important topic, i.e., the culture of Germany. Perhaps “travelogue with historical and sociological background” might be a more apt description. The writing is sprightly and entertaining, and the book presents an often delightful and decidedly unique guide to the region.

Heartily recommended both for those planning to travel abroad, and those who just enjoy learning about food and customs around the world. (Most humorously, the author frequently reports buying gifts of food for his wife and friends, and then eating them practically before he leaves the stores, as he “rolls on” to the next place.)

Rating: 4/5

Published in the U.K. by Nicholas Brealey Publishing, 2018

November 9, 1733 – Birth of Philip Schuyler, American General in the Revolutionary War

Philip John Schuyler, born on this day in history (according to the old style calendar) into a prosperous family was an American general in the Revolutionary War and a US Senator from New York.

Schuyler fought in the French and Indian War. He won election to the New York General Assembly in 1768 and to the Continental Congress in 1775. He planned the Continental Army’s 1775 invasion of Quebec, but poor health forced him to delegate command of the invasion to Richard Montgomery. He prepared the Continental Army’s defense of the 1777 Saratoga campaign, but was replaced by General Horatio Gates as the commander of Continental forces in the theater. Schuyler resigned from the Continental Army in 1779.

Philip John Schuyler

After the war, Schuyler expanded his Saratoga estate (he also had a mansion in Albany) to tens of thousands of acres, adding slaves, tenant farmers, a store, mills for flour, flax, and lumber. According to the Schuyler Mansion Historic Society, there were around 40 slaves between the Albany and Saratoga estates. The Historic Society also notes:

A life-long slaveholder who had just left the NY senate to resume his seat in the US senate, Philip Schuyler had little interest in abolition outside of the political capital to be gained as more and more politicians embraced the idea (in theory if not in their daily lives). Schuyler’s concern was to ensure that the slaveholding families of the state be as little discomfited as possible by the process. Even at the time of his death in November of 1804, at least seven people, including three children, still labored in slavery at his estate in Albany. 

While these individuals were freed shortly after his death, this was entirely at the discretion of the executors of the estate, as no provision was made for their manumission in Philip’s will. As of December 18th, 1804, the last people to be enslaved at the Schuylers mansion in Albany were free or had been transferred to the estates of other family members, possibly including that of the youngest son of the Schuyler family, Rensselaer.”

Schuyler served in the New York State Senate for most of the 1780s and supported the ratification of the United States Constitution. He represented New York in the 1st United States Congress but lost his state’s 1791 Senate election to Aaron Burr. After a period in the state senate, he won election to the United States Senate again in 1797, affiliating with the Federalist Party. He resigned due to poor health the following year.

In recent times, he has gained renown as the father of Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton and the father-in-law of Secretary of the Treasury Alexander Hamilton.

November 4, 1942 – Birth of Patricia Bath, African American Medical Scientist and Inventor

Patricia Bath, born on November 4, 1942, in New York City’s Harlem neighborhood, was the first African American to complete a residency in ophthalmology in 1973. In 1976, she co-founded the American Institute for the Prevention of Blindness, which established that “eyesight is a basic human right.” In 1986, she invented the Laserphaco Probe, improving treatment for cataract patients. She patented the device in 1988, becoming the first African American female doctor to receive a medical patent.

While other little girls played nurse, even at age 6, Patricia wanted to be a doctor. She stitched and sewed her dolls, mending them and dreaming of helping people in the same way one day. The fact that she was an African American, a girl, and from a family without money didn’t phase her then, or at any time. Her parents stressed the importance of education and hard work, and encouraged her interest in science by buying her a chemistry set.

At the age of 16, Patricia became one of only a few students to attend a cancer research workshop sponsored by the National Science Foundation. The program head, Dr. Robert Bernard, was so impressed with her discoveries during the project that he incorporated her findings in a scientific paper he presented at a conference.

After graduating from high school in only two years, Patricia headed to Hunter College, where she earned a bachelor’s degree in 1964. She then attended Howard University to pursue a medical degree. She graduated with honors from Howard in 1968, and accepted an internship at Harlem Hospital shortly afterward. The following year, she also began pursuing a fellowship in ophthalmology at Columbia University. Through her studies there, she discovered that African Americans were twice as likely to suffer from blindness than other patients to which she attended, and eight times more likely to develop glaucoma. Her research led to her development of a community ophthalmology system, which increased the amount of eye care given to those who were unable to afford treatment; she convinced her former professors to operateg on patients for free.

In 1975, she moved to California to join the famed Jules Stein Eye Institute; she was the first woman hired there, although at first she was given an office in the basement, next to the lab animals. Patricia demanded an equal workspace upstairs, and got it. Then she continued her quest of trying to restore sight to the blind. She came up with the idea of using lasers in eye surgery, and traveled to Europe in 1986 to study the idea, eventually inventing a new tool called the “Laserphaco Probe.” The U.S. granted her a patent for the device in 1988.

During Patricia’s retirement years, she traveled to Tanzania, visiting a school for the blind, where the kids did not even have braille books. She sent them braille-computer keyboards, calling it “computer vision.”

Bath died on May 30, 2019, at a University of California, San Francisco medical center from cancer-related complications, aged 76. She was granted many honors and awards during her lifetime, including the 1995 NAACP Legal Defense Fund Black Woman Achievement Award, and induction into the American Medical Women’s Association Hall of Fame in 2001.

November 2, 1865 – Birth of Warren G. Harding, 29th President of the U.S.

Warren G. Harding, born on this day in history, spent most of his life in rural Ohio. Harding’s father acquired a newspaper when Harding was 11, and thus he learned the basics of the business. He attended his father’s alma mater, Ohio Central College, and with a friend put out a small newspaper for the college and town. After graduation, Harding joined his family in Marion, Ohio, and eventually bought his own newspaper, “The Marion Star.” His temperate editorial positions made him popular.

Harding married Florence King in 1891, and she became deeply involved in her husband’s career. Biographers credit her with helping Harding achieve more than he might have alone; some have suggested that she pushed him all the way to the White House.

Harding was a delegate to the Republican state convention in 1888, at the age of 22, representing Marion County, and would be elected a delegate in most years until becoming president.

Warren G. Harding

In 1896, Harding was one of many orators who spoke across Ohio as part of the campaign of the Republican presidential candidate, that state’s former governor, William McKinley. In this way he began making a name for himself throughout Ohio.

Harding was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1914. He ran for the Republican nomination for president in 1920, and he was considered a long shot until after the convention began. The leading candidates could not gain the needed majority, and the convention deadlocked. Harding’s support gradually grew until he was nominated on the tenth ballot.

He ran on a theme of a return to normalcy of the pre-World War I period and won in a landslide over Democrat James M. Cox and the then-imprisoned Socialist Party candidate Eugene Debs. He became the first sitting senator to be elected president.

According to Eugene P. Trani, Professor of History at Virginia Commonwealth University, Harding, once in office, admitted to his close friends that the job was beyond him. He appointed a few capable men to his cabinet, such as Charles Evans Hughes as secretary of state, Andrew Mellon as secretary of the treasury, and Herbert Hoover as secretary of commerce. But he also surrounded himself with dishonest cheats, who came to be known as “the Ohio gang.” While he knew their limitations, Trani writes, “he liked to play poker with them, drink whiskey, smoke, tell jokes, play golf, and keep late hours.”

Harding was never linked to crooked deals himself but the public was aware of his affairs with at least two women. Carrie Phillips, who had been a German sympathizer during the war, tried to blackmail Harding and was paid hush money by the Republican Party. Nan Britton, a pretty blond thirty years younger than the President, was given a job in Washington, D.C., so that she could be near Harding. The two often met in the Oval Office, and their affair continued until Harding’s death.

On a tour of the western states, Harding became ill with what was at the time attributed to food poisoning, and had a heart attack, dying in his sleep. He was succeeded by his vice president, Calvin Coolidge.

Historians rank Harding poorly as a president, but his low status has been boosted by other inferior presidents such as Andrew Johnson and Donald Trump.

October 31, 1922 – Benito Mussolini Assumes Power in Italy

Benito Mussolini was born on July 29, 1883. He became a journalist at the Avanti! newspaper and professed ties to socialism. In 1912, he was expelled from the Italian Socialist Party (PSI) for advocating military intervention in World War I, in opposition to the party’s stance on neutrality. In 1914, Mussolini founded a new journal, Il Popolo d’Italia, and served in the Royal Italian Army during the war until he was wounded and discharged in 1917. Mussolini denounced the PSI, his views now favoring Italian nationalism instead of socialism.

Mussolini formed the Fascist Party in March of 1919 with the support of many unemployed veterans of WWI. He organized them into armed squads known as Black Shirts, who terrorized their political opponents. In 1921, the Fascist Party was invited to join the coalition government.

In October 1922, the Black Shirts marched on Rome, and on this day in history, King Victor Emmanuel III appointed Mussolini Prime Minister of Italy. After removing all political opposition through his secret police and outlawing labor strikes, Mussolini and his followers consolidated power through a series of laws that transformed the nation by 1925 into a one-party dictatorship. Mussolini took the title “Il Duce” and encouraged a cult of personality.

March on Rome
(Benito Mussolini, center) , October 1922.
BPIS/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Mussolini aimed to expand his sphere of influence beyond the borders of Italy. In 1923, he began the “Pacification of Libya” and ordered the bombing of Corfu in retaliation for the murder of an Italian general. In 1936, Mussolini formed Italian East Africa (AOI) by merging Eritrea, Somalia and Ethiopia following the Abyssinian crisis and the Second Italo–Ethiopian War. In 1939, Italian forces occupied Albania.

Benito Mussolini and Adolf Hitler in Munich, Germany September 1937.
Fox Photos/Getty Images

On June 10, 1940, with the Fall of France imminent, Italy officially entered World War II on the side of the Axis and eventually occupied parts of south-east France, Corsica, and Tunisia. The Italians invaded Egypt, bombed Mandatory Palestine, and occupied British Somaliland with initial success. In October 1940, Mussolini sent Italian forces into Greece, starting the Greco-Italian War. The British Royal Air Force prevented the Italian invasion and allowed the Greeks to push the Italians back to Albania. Despite this, the Greek counter-offensive in Italian Albania ended in a stalemate that allowed the Germans to invade the country. Italy subsequently took part in the Axis occupation of Greece and Yugoslavia.

Adolf Hitler and Benito Mussolini in Munich, Germany, June 1941 (U.S. National Archives)

The German invasion of the Soviet Union led Mussolini to send an Italian army to Russia, and the Japanese Attack on Pearl Harbor impelled Italy to declare war on the United States. In 1943, Italy suffered major military disasters and on July 9 the Allies invaded Sicily.

As a consequence, early on July 25, 1943, the Grand Council of Fascism passed a motion of no confidence in Mussolini; later that day the King dismissed him as head of government and had him arrested.

On September 12, 1943 Mussolini was rescued from captivity by the Nazis. Hitler, after meeting with the rescued former dictator, put Mussolini in charge of a puppet regime in northern Italy, the Italian Social Republic. In late April 1945, in the wake of near total defeat, Mussolini and his mistress Clara Petacci attempted to flee to Switzerland, but both were captured by Italian communist partisans and summarily executed by firing squad on April 28, 1945 near Lake Como. The bodies of Mussolini and his mistress were then taken to Milan, where they were hung upside down at a service station to publicly confirm their demise.

October 29, 1923 – Republic of Turkey Proclaimed & Review of “The Fall of the Ottomans: The Great War in the Middle East” by Eugene Rogan

The Great War, or World War I, took place not only in the two well-known main theaters of France (the Western Front) and in Russia (the Eastern Front), but also in several lesser known theaters such as Northern Italy, Serbia, Greece, and sub-Saharan Africa. Among the outer theaters, the war in the Middle East, directed against the Ottoman Empire, was the most significant in terms of strategy and in its lingering effects even today. Eugene Rogan, a professor of history at Oxford, has written a thorough overview of that conflict in The Fall of the Ottomans.


The war by the Entente Powers (England, France, and Russia) against the Ottoman Empire took place primarily on four fronts: (1) in eastern Anatolia, against the Russians; (2) on the Gallipoli peninsula, against the British Empire and, to a lesser degree, France; (3) in Mesopotamia [modern Iraq] against the British; and (4) in the Arabian Desert and Palestine, against the British and their quirky and only occasionally dependable allies, the Arabs.

The Ottomans were soundly beaten by the Russians in eastern Anatolia, and lost substantial territory to them. However, when the Bolsheviks overthrew the Tsarist government in 1917, they voluntarily returned all the conquered land to the Ottomans!


The Ottomans handed the British a crushing defeat on the Gallipoli Peninsula after an enormous loss of life under execrable conditions for both sides. The battle was over control of the Dardanelles, the narrow strait in northwestern Turkey connecting the Aegean Sea to the Sea of Marmara. The hero of the monumental battle was the Turk, Mustafa Kemal, who later became “Ataturk,” the father of modern Turkey. Interestingly, Rogan attributes the British decision to attempt to “force the straits” more to Lord Kitchener than to Churchill, who took most of the blame.

Lord Kitchener

Lord Kitchener

The Ottomans also trounced the British invasion of Mesopotamia at first, surrounding and capturing the entire British force at Kut al-Amara. However, the British launched a second invasion up the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers which succeeded in capturing Bagdad, although efforts to rescue the first invasion force were unavailing.

The final defeat of the Ottomans was effected by the British invasion from Egypt, through the Sinai, and then up through Palestine and Syria. The British were aided by the Hashemite tribe of Arabs from Mecca, who conquered most of the Arabian Peninsula (but not Medina). The British conducted a war of movement, and the Ottomans were never able to establish a defensive line. The destruction of the Ottoman army in Syria forced them out of the war. The fall of Aleppo, the final battle of the war, took place on 26 October 1918, just a few days before Germany signed the Armistice on the Western Front.

Rogan is excellent at relating this complicated story, working in the political considerations that affected the battleground decisions. For instance, the stalemate on the Western Front was what induced Kitchener and Churchill to sponsor the ill-fated Gallipoli campaign, and the disaster at Gallipoli caused the British to stray too far from their base of supply in Mesopotamia, resulting in the loss of several divisions at Kut.

Australian troops charging Turkish trenches at Gallipoli

Australian troops charging Turkish trenches at Gallipoli

Rogan also emphasizes the role religion played in many aspects of the war. Because the Ottoman Sultan was also the caliph – not only the head of government of the Empire, but also the spiritual head of all Muslims, his German allies urged him to call for jihad, for all Muslims to go to war in support of the caliph against the infidel British, French, and Russians. The British were terrified that their Muslim subjects in India would answer the call. The French also were concerned because of their colonies in North Africa. In the event, there were relatively few desertions to the Ottoman side. Fortunately for the British, the Hashemite rulers of central Arabia (the Hijaz) feared the Turks and were inveigled into an alliance with the British. As rulers of the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, the Hashemites seemed to count as much or more to Muslim Arabs than the Turkish Sultan, and the jihad never materialized.

Religion also played a major part in the Ottoman treatment of the Armenians, a group of Christian subjects who had little loyalty to their Turkish overlords. Much has been written about the “Armenian Genocide,” and Rogan comes down squarely on the side of those who say the Turks systematically attempted to exterminate that ethnicity by executing the young men and rounding up the women, children, and elderly and marching them to the Syrian desert with scanty supplies and little or no protection from Arab and Kurdish marauders. Even deniers of the genocide acknowledge that between 600,000 and 850,000 Armenians perished because of war time activities. Armenian historians put the number closer to between 1 million and 1.5 million. In addition, the Ottoman regime accused Assyrian Christians of collaboration with the Entente Powers, and 250,000 out of a total population 620,000 were killed during the war.

Armenians are marched to a nearby prison in Mezireh by armed Turkish soldiers. Kharpert, Armenia, Ottoman Empire, April, 1915

Armenians are marched to a nearby prison in Mezireh by armed Turkish soldiers. Kharpert, Armenia, Ottoman Empire, April, 1915

Arab and Kurdish marauders were a significant force in the rural areas of the Ottoman Empire. They preyed not only on the Armenians, but on stragglers from all the armies, whether Ottoman, Indian, or European. They were so dangerous and unruly that when an Ottoman garrison in Palestine surrendered to the British, the British allowed the garrison to keep their arms during their march to internment for protection against the local tribesmen.

During the course of the war, the British entered into several agreements with various parties (e.g., the Sykes-Picot agreement and the Balfour Declaration) concerning the disposition of Ottoman lands at the conclusion of hostilities. The Russians were promised eastern Anatolia and Constantinople; the French were promised what is now Syria, Jordan, and Lebanon; the Hashemites were promised “all the Arab lands”; and the world’s Jews were promised “a homeland…in Palestine.” Obviously, not all these promises could be kept. The results of these overlapping promises and betrayals are still being felt today.


The Ottomans fared very badly at the Paris Peace Conference. Rogan asserts that “the Ottomans ultimately fell more as a result of the terms of the peace than of the magnitude of their defeat.” Virtually the entire empire was divided up and distributed to the victorious Entente Powers and even a few scraps were given to the Italians and Greeks, who “piled on” at the end once it was clear who would win.

In May 1919, Mustafa Kemal, the hero of Gallipoli, was ordered to supervise the demobilization of the Ottoman troops in central Anatolia. He chose to disobey those orders, and mounted a resistance movement, the Turkish National Movement, centered on the city of Ankara. Rogan writes:

By 1922, after an intense war on three fronts—against the Armenians in the Caucasus, the French in Cilicia, and the Greeks in western Anatolia—the Kemalists achieved total victory over the foreign armies in Turkey.”

The boundaries of the modern Turkish state (basically, Anatolia plus a littoral in Europe near Istanbul) were now set. The Turkish Grand National Assembly then voted to abolish the Ottoman Sultanate and establish a (sort of) democracy. On October 29, 1923, the Republic of Turkey was proclaimed. Kemal became known as “Ataturk,” which translates as “father of the Turks.”

Mustafa Kemal

Mustafa Kemal

The Turks were not able to reclaim the European or Arab portions of the Ottoman Empire. The boundaries of the modern states of Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, and Arabia were set at the Paris Peace Conference. The disasters attendant to that process are nicely set forth in David Fromkin’s A Peace to End All Peace. The Hashemites were granted control of most of the Arabian Peninsula, but they lost it in a war with Ibn-Saud, who founded modern Saudi Arabia.

Many Americans have a modest understanding of the war against the Ottomans, arising from such excellent motion pictures as “Lawrence of Arabia,” “Gallipoli,” and “The Light Horsemen,” which are fairly accurate although superficial. I would thoroughly recommend reading Rogan’s book before seeing or re-seeing any of those films in order to put the events portrayed into a broader context.

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

Published by Basic Books, 2015

October 27, History of Beer on National American Beer Day

National American Beer Day honors all American beers produced by more than 8,800 breweries. The 2020 beer market, according to the U.S. Brewers Association, was worth $94.1 billion.

Wine Enthusiast explains that all beers fall into two categories: ales and lagers. What differentiates them is how yeast is added, brewing temperature, and aging process.

Ale styles include India pale ale (IPA) – the most popular craft beer style today; other pale ales; stouts; sours; and wheat beers. Common lagers are Pilsners, Helles, Mexican lagers, and Vienna lagers. You can find out what is distinctive about each of them as well as other beer styles, here.

Archeologists have found evidence from 13,000 years ago that people brewed wheat and barley. One of the reasons for the popularity of alcoholic drinks was the uncertain quality of the water supply. Since water was where waste (including sewage) was dumped, people reasoned it might not be so healthy or tasty to quench thirst with it as well.

Beer making began in earnest in the 10th Century when the Catholic Church sanctioned the use of abbeys to brew and distribute beer to generate funds for their upkeep.

It took until the 1930’s however for mankind to come up with a can to put the beer in.

According to an online history of beer cans, in 1933, the American Can Company installed a temporary canning line at New Jersey’s Gottfried Krueger Brewing Company. Krueger’s filled 2,000 cans with 3.2% Krueger beer – the highest alcohol content allowed at the time. The cans of beer were given to faithful Krueger drinkers; 91% gave it thumbs up, and 85% said it tasted more like draft than bottled beer. Reassured by this successful test, Krueger gave canning beer the green light.

The first beer cans were flat top cans.

There are now several different types of cans used for beer, including the flat top, cone top, pull tab, and stay tab. (Stay tabs were developed because pull tabs turned out to be a health hazard when accidentally ingested, not to mention an environmental disaster.) Stay tabs, as the name implies, stay connected to the can.

USA Today informs us, in case we didn’t already notice, that “Beer is big business in America,” with an impact on the U.S. economy in 2016 of more than $350 billion. Still, beer consumption is actually down, as millennials are apparently migrating to wine and mixed drinks.

The Congressional Research Service reports, however, that American production of craft alcoholic beverages—whether beer, wine, liqueurs, distilled spirits, cider/Perry, mead, or fermented drinks — has increased in recent years in response to rising demand. In 2020, there were an estimated 21,745 businesses producing craft beverages in the United States, with sales of roughly $32 billion annually. (Of those craft alcohols, as of 2020, a total number of 8,764 in the United States focused on beer.). But sales from craft alcoholic beverages account for only some 8% of total annual alcohol sales.

As of 2017 Bud Light, a decidedly non-craft product, still had the leading market share of beers with 15.4%. (As the Congressional Research Service allows, the concept of what is considered craft is often controversial.) In general, however, the craft beverage industry is characterized by small-scale production — usually by independent or startup companies — and by localized production and distribution. Often the term artisan is used to indicate small-batch production or the use of non-traditional ingredients (e.g., alternate grains, herbs, and botanicals) in production. Some definitions also focus on the degree of innovation, on-site venues, and community involvement.

But the U.S. isn’t even in the list of top ten countries for beer consumption per capita. Number one on the list is the Czech Republic, which has topped the list for per capita consumption for 23 consecutive years!

Belgium is not even the top ten, in spite of having more individual styles of beer per capita than any other country in the world; in 2011, the country produced 1,132 distinct types of beer. The Flanders Tourist Office claims there are now over 2,000 unique beers. The Flemish province of Brabant alone makes over 400 of those beers. (Its capital is Leuven, also home to AB InBev, the world’s largest brewing company.)

Source: 2017 AB InBev Annual Report

When bars in Belgium serve a beer, they put it in a matching glass, because differing glass shapes are thought to be essential in bringing out the specific characteristics and aromas of each beer. (According to travel maven Rick Steves, if a Belgian bar runs out of a specific glass, the bartender asks if you’ll accept a similar glass. Many Belgians will switch beers rather than drink one from the wrong glass.) This means that bars not only need to stock many, many beers, but many, many glasses in which to serve them!

There are only 10 authentic Trappist breweries left in the world, and six of those are in Belgium. Westvleteren XII, a Trappist beer brewed not far from the city of Ypres, is often called the best beer in the world. It has a perfect 100 rating on both and and has been voted as the #1 beer by several beer and consumer polls.

Westvleteren 12

Belgium is also known for “lambic” beer, which is a spontaneously fermented beer. In spontaneous fermentation, the malt and hops are left to cool in the open air. This introduces wild yeast into the mixture, giving the brew a quality that is unique to the region where it was brewed, since it depends on the natural yeasts in the air to start the fermentation. Lambic is made exclusively in Belgium’s Zenne valley, where the wild yeasts Brettanomyces bruxellensis and Brettanomyces lambicus thrive. The result is a unique beer type known as Geuze (pronounced like “goose”).

In Bruges, the De Halve Maan brewery is separated from its bottling plant, opened in 2010 in the outskirts of Bruges. So many trucks were used to transport the beer from one place to the other that the brewery’s truck fleet at one time accounted for 85 percent of Bruges’s commercial traffic. This changed, however, with the construction of an underground beer pipeline completed in September, 2016 that runs some 1.8 miles under the city and in a single hour pumps out roughly 4,000 liters of beer, enough to fill 12,000 bottles. Interestingly, the pipeline was partly financed by a crowdfunding campaign, which raised more than 300,000 euros ($335,000) of the four million ($4.5 million) needed.

The current holder of the Guinness World Record for most available beers on the menu is Delirium Cafe, located in Belgium’s capital city of Brussels. They have some 4,000 beers available on their shelves. You’d have to drink 8.5 beers every day for a year just to taste them all.

Need a guide to beer halls in Belgium? The Flanders Tourist website has an excellent one!