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Declarations of War and Labor Day 2018

So, summer’s gone now (unofficially: the eggheads wait until 22 September to declare it officially over), the kids are back in school–or soon will be, and the air conditioners in the Great Lakes can start to slow down…any day now…OK…steady now…

3 September finds a lot happening. On 3 September 1189 Richard I was crowned King of England at Westminster Abbey–probably one of the only times he was in England. Known as Richard the Lion-Hearted by the poets and other things by his contemporaries; his reign was principally marked by his absence on the Second Crusade and by the ransom demanded by the Germans for his safe return, which bankrupted England for five hundred years. And on 3 September 1868, the little Japanese village of Edo–“estuary” in Japanese– on the edge of the Kanto plain on the island of Honshu became the capital city of Tokyo–“east capital”–with the arrival of the Meiji Emperor. The imperial capital had been Kyoto since time immemorial, but the new “direct” rule system (which was about as direct as it is now) required a civil government that was fully defined with the Meiji Constitution that would follow in 1889. And on this day in 1935, Malcomb Campbell became the first person to drive an automobile at over 300 miles an hour at the Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, averaging 301.33 mph in two runs. Campbell set three land speed records in his lifetime, and four water speed records, and was one of the few speed demons in his era to die of natural causes. Today is also National Welch Rarebit Day for unknown reasons, and US Bowling League Day also because someone said so. But today we talk briefly about the beginning of the second round of the German Wars and holidays with lots of origins.

Europe had been going at this since the fall of Rome, and this latest round of bloodletting was going to go global. 

On 3 September 1939 Great Britain, France, Australia and New Zealand declared war on Germany. This much is entirely sure but, like many such momentous events, the reasons why can be somewhat confused. The proximate cause–the one closest to the fact–was because Germany had invaded Poland and wouldn’t leave. But before that, as we talked about last week, the Danzig corridor and the East Prussian rump were thorns in the German side. But since they were imposed on a prostrate Germany in 1919, Britain and France felt compelled to enforce the territorial integrity of this incarnation of Poland. And so they declared war. This has always been the conventional explanation, and it fits all the evidence. But, it’s way too simple. Europe had been going at this since the fall of Rome, and this latest round of bloodletting was going to go global.

This time, when the war spread across the oceans and the Japanese decided to take advantage of Europe’s distraction, the Americans undertook to make sure that it never happened again…not like this.

The origins of the periodic madness in Europe go back even further than the British and French desire to curb German ambitions in 1939, but this result was much different. For ages, the term “peace” for most European conflicts meant some negotiated settlement, the exchange of a few acres here and there, and a return to the status quo after some reparations were made. But Versailles was different: it was much more onerous on Germany than any other imposed peace. And, for the first time, this European peace included input from those upstart Americans, who insisted on a lot of things, then refused to participate in the administration or enforcement of the peace. This time, when the war spread across the oceans and the Japanese decided to take advantage of Europe’s distraction, the Americans undertook to make sure that it never happened again…not like this.

The depths of their miscalculations were only obvious in early 1943, after the collapse of the Stalingrad defense, the end of the Guadalcanal campaign, and the final campaigns in North Africa began showed that there would be no negotiated European peace this time. 

This time there were demands for unconditional surrender of all belligerents, and this time something called the United Nations signed off on it. The members of this new outfit included the most powerful and productive industrial states in human history which had the capability to literally drown their enemies in oil, then bury them in the dunnage used to pack their war material. None of the Axis powers had the capacity to fight a prolonged global war, yet all gambled that their enemies lacked the guts for one. The depths of their miscalculations were only obvious in early 1943, after the collapse of the Stalingrad defense, the end of the Guadalcanal campaign, and the final campaigns in North Africa began showed that there would be no negotiated European peace this time.

And all of this because a Bohemian corporal gambled with someone else’s money…and blood.

Italy would be the first to give up in 1943. Germany would hold out until annihilation in the spring of 1945; Japan in late summer of the same year. This time, the Americans and Soviets imposed not just a harsh peace on Germany, but its dismemberment. Prussia would become extinct; Germany itself divided for half a century and occupied for a decade and more. And all of this because a Bohemian corporal gambled with someone else’s money…and blood.


Labor Day in the US has somewhat confused origins. International Workers’ Day has been observed in Europe on 1 May since the 19th century. Since the 1950s May Day has been thought of as celebrating the “worker’s paradise” found in Cuba and the former Soviet Union. But May Day is indeed as American as baseball and apple pie, originating with the pre-Christian holiday of Beltane, a celebration of rebirth and fertility.

The September Labor Day started in the 1880s when the clandestine General Assembly of the Knights of Labor organized a parade in New York on 5 September 1882 under the auspices of the Central Labor Union. Now is where the story gets confusing. The CLU’s secretary was Matthew Mcguire. An alternative theory for Labor Day’s origins holds that the American Federation of Labor’s vice president PJ McGuire first suggested the first Monday in September as a holiday for working people. To make it worse, the CLU eventually joined the AFL-CIO, meaning that the same organization has two Mcguire’s with different spellings claiming that they both originated Labor Day. No wonder they strike so much.

In 1894, the first Monday in September (unless it falls on 1 September) was declared a Federal holiday in the US, and all the states now recognize it. We now celebrate labor by not working. It’s the American way.

 

 

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Declarations of War and National Noodle Ring Day

11 December…there will be snow here in the Great Lakes soon, if it hasn’t come to your neighborhood already (or mine: this is drafted in September). But on this day, a whole lot happened that, quite frankly, we just need to mention right now. Llewellyn the Last, the last native Prince of Wales, was killed on this day at Cilmeri in 1282. James II, the last Stuart king of England and the last Roman Catholic monarch in England, was captured in Kent on this day in 1688. Louis XVI went on trial in Paris on this day in 1792, but there was very little doubt asw to what the verdict would be.  In Hartford, Connecticut on this day in 1844, nitrous oxide was used for the first time as a dental anesthetic. In 1916, while the British Army struggled to pull themselves together after the Somme offensive, David Lloyd George formed another government in London. At Windsor, Edward VIII abdicated the throne of Great Britain in favor of his brother in 1936. And, in 1946, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) was founded to provide relief for the millions of children caught up in WWII.  But today, we talk about the legal niceties of declaring war, and about noodle rings, in that order.

On 11 December 1941:

  • Germany declared war on the United States
  • The United States declared war on Germany and Italy
  • The Dutch Government in exile in London declared war on Italy

Now, these events were, by their nature, belligerent. The Kellogg-Briand pact of of 1928 pledged the signatories (all of these states) to denounce war as an instrument of national policy.  With me so far? Good.

Now, here’s the rub: all of these states were more or less at war with the declared enemies for at least a year before war was officially declared…or, at least, were in a war-like status.  See, just issuing a declaration of war does two things:

  1. Announces that a state of war exists between sovereign states;
  2. Provides a bully pulpit for the various blowhards to harangue their respective populations.

Simply declaring war doesn’t really do anything other than let everyone know what’s going on. 

Note that declaring war has no real effect on the conflict itself, other than to galvanize a population.  But it does have an effect on neutrals (which by 1941 mostly meant Latin America).  They become constrained in supporting one belligerent or another; witness the naval action outside Montevideo in 1939 that led to the scuttling of Graf Spee. Simply declaring war doesn’t really do anything other than let everyone know what’s going on.

Arguably the US and Germany were already at war.

In the case of Germany declaring war on the United States, there has been some confusion about it, and many scholars have questioned whether it was either required by the Tripartite agreement (it really wasn’t) or if it was a good idea. Even if it wasn’t required, the US Navy had been escorting British convoys as far as mid-ocean since early 1941–how would that not be a war-like act?  The Americans and British had met to confer on war planning and measures for nearly two years–again, America already looked like a belligerent anyway. Finally, the Lend-Lease Agreement traded use of British bases in the Caribbean for warships–thin even to American observers. Arguably the US and Germany were already at war. The mutual declarations were merely icing on the cake, as it were.

Unlike in Germany where one person could do it, it was the US Congress who made these declarations in America…

The Americans declaring war on Germany and Italy didn’t provide for 2. above because Roosevelt had already made his war speech three days earlier, calling on Congress to declare a that a state of war existed between the US and Japan on 8 December. Unlike in Germany where one person could do it, it was the US Congress who made these declarations in America, and when Congress voted on 11 December 1941, it was by direct vote in response to the German declaration just hours before, without a presidential call being necessary. Now, the Dutch declaring war on the Italians may not have done much on the outside of it, but it allowed the United States to harbor refugee Dutch warships (both of them) in the West Indies and use them and their bases against the much-feared Italian submarines roaming the Atlantic.  Okay, there were only two of them, but it was two more that had to be dealt with, and they had the range to reach Brazil.

The last declaration of war was in 2005 in Chad’s civil war.

All of that aside, there have been far more “undeclared” wars between states than there have been “declared” conflicts.  Declaring war was something that certain treaties and agreements of the 19th century required to clarify the status of neutrals, belligerents, noncombatants and other legal niceties that were important when there were neutrals and noncombatants.  The last declaration of war was in 2005 in Chad’s civil war. It is important to note, however, that Rome and Carthage were technically at war from 264 BC to 1985, called an “administrative error” in WIkipedia.  By such errors whole empires can be lost.


Now, this is serious…just look at my face.  Today, 11 December, is National Noodle Ring Day.  But I know what you’re thinking: who would want to observe a day for Spaghettios…

Uh-Oh, Spaghettios
Remember these? Sure you do. But Ring Noodles in Tomato Soup are not Noodle Rings.

No, Noodle Rings are something completely different.  Noodle Rings are pasta dishes baked in a ring mold or bundt pan. The ingredients include noodles, flour, breadcrumbs, cheese, eggs and a host of other add-ins, from tuna and broccoli to ham, beef, sausage and even spam. They were more popular in the 1950s than they are today, apparently, but some recipes may go back as far as 4th millennium BC China.

If I didn’t like doing this blog I wouldn’t do it, but the research on this one was interesting.  I’m no epicure, but one of the scores of recipes I ran into digging into this  may just get made in my kitchen.