This morning I was confronted with a Twitter poll about which date was the worst in American history. The choices were: the Kennedy assassination, September 11th 2001, Pearl Harbor, and January 6th of this year.
Now, I won’t say any of these days was a particularly good one. Pearl Harbor and 9/11 were especially bad. But let’s keep some perspective here; on August 24, 1814, an invading army actually burned down both the White House and the Capitol after inflicting a pitiful defeat on American defenders at the Battle of Bladensburg — and even that, while a bad day for America, wasn’t our worst.
Here’s a few days that I’d add to the list. Consider them in context, then come up with your own answer. I’m interested to hear it.
December 29, 1890 — Wounded Knee
After two years of famine and widespread starvation among natives on reservations, the Ghost Dance religion began. In an effort to suppress a movement thought of as threatening, Army officials began to detain chiefs. The attempted arrest of Chief Sitting Bull resulted in his murder, and a large number of his Hunkpapa fled to a neighboring band. Two weeks later, the 7th Cavalry caught up with them; the plan was to disarm them and put them on waiting trains to remove them from the area. Instead, hostilities erupted (predictably) and three hundred Lakota were slaughtered — mainly women and children, some of whom were killed more than two miles from the initial site, being ridden down after fleeing.
May 31, 1921 — Greenwood massacre
It began with an hysterical girl in an elevator and a black man running for his life. Two mobs converged at a jail, one (white) bent on lynching, the other (black) to preserve the rule of law. As they were dispersing, conflict erupted as one in the white mob attempted to disarm another in the black, and then, as the sheriff put it, “All hell broke loose”. A night of rolling firefights, sniper attacks, and firebombings followed as the black neighborhoods near Archer Street in the Greenwood district of Tulsa were systematically destroyed. Dozens were killed, hundreds injured, thousands left homeless.
August 6 and 9, 1945 — detonation of two atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki
On the one hand, it ended the war, and likely saved the lives of millions of soldiers and civilians alike by forcing the surrender of Japan. On the other hand, it started the Cold War and killed tens of thousands of Japanese, mainly civilians, directly and over time. By any measure, these are among the most terrible dates in all of history.
October 30, 1950 — suppression of the Jayuya Uprising
Following long dispute, Puerto Rico was eventually granted commonwealth status rather than that of a mere territory. Those in the independence movement — no small minority — elected to revolt rather than submit to what they considered foreign rule. The territorial governor responded by sending in military force, including artillery bombardment and strafing and bombing from aircraft, against some of the centers of the uprising; much of Jayuya was destroyed, and thousands were arrested. News of the event was suppressed outside Puerto Rico, and to this day the number killed is uncertain — the official count is a mere nine.
November 2, 1963 — Diem assassination
Following anti-Buddhist actions by his brother and advisor, Diem’s leadership in South Vietnam was considered by many to be untenable. Recently arrived American ambassador Lodge entered into discussions with a group of dissatisfied generals, and tacitly encouraged a coup d’etat. This took place on the 1st of November; the following day, both Diem brothers were killed by the new military leaders. The resulting regime was so unstable and unpopular, it doomed American anti-Communist efforts in Vietnam over the next decade; any chance of American extrication died with Kennedy three weeks later.
For Comparison: January 6, 2021
During, and following, an address by President Trump, several protesters broke away and stormed the steps of the Capitol during the counting of the Electoral College votes. The building itself was breached by a few dozen of the most insane. While Congress was never in any serious danger from the largely unarmed mob, one Capitol Police officer was killed and one protester was shot to death. Four other deaths occurred tangentially. The vote count was completed late that night without further incident.
America has had her share of bad days. Bladensburg, Pearl Harbor, 9/11 — these were all horrific. Those I’ve listed were arguably worse, as they were actions by Americans that harmed our country beyond measure. In comparison, the events of the 6th of January, though hardly pleasant, scarcely compare.
Personally, I don’t care one way or the other whether Trump is impeached; it’s a matter of almost complete indifference to me. Either way, his political career is over; the man’s a known loser now, and by his own doctrine of “too much winning” he’s never going to be president again. I wouldn’t care to minimize the impact of his at-best ill-considered actions and words on the 6th; by any measure, he incited violence in a mob that resulted directly in at least two deaths.
Nevertheless, it’s over now. Our election was completed and Trump is gone, and we’ve got enough problems to deal with going forward that I’ll be fairly pleased whenever this particular political circus is brought to an end. Let the government govern and give Biden a chance to… well, let’s be realistic here: Like most presidents, he’ll most likely screw things up in his own unique way. Time will tell.
But let’s stop mischaracterizing our own history in ignorance, hyperbole, and propaganda, shall we?
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