Day By Day

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

This Day In History

Today is "National Bird Day". Here at Hawk Mountain that's a big thing. Unfortunately the weather is not so great for bird watching so rather than take some pictures I have dipped back into the archives to find a few photos of birds taken within the past year here in the glorious commonwealth. If you are a hardy soul, go outside with your camera, long lenses and binoculars and see what is there to be seen. You might be surprised what you might find. Me, I plan to stay indoors.

On this day in 1895 French Captain Alfred Dreyfus was convicted of treason, publicly stripped of his rank, and sentenced to life imprisonment on Devil's Island. What ensued was one of the most famous incidents in French, indeed European, history. Dreyfus' family protested the verdict and a subsequent investigation seemed to indicate that he was indeed innocent. Rather than alter the verdict, the French military covered up the results of the investigation, and that set off a huge wave of protest in the left-wing press when the information was leaked. The scandal raised a lot of important issues -- the relation of the military to the civil authority, the persistence of anti-semitism in French culture, the legitimacy of France's identity as a "Catholic nation", the guarantee of equal rights to all citizens, and a host of other sensitive controversies.

Many important figures in politics, arts, and science became involved in the protest of Capt. Dreyfus' treatment including novelist Emile Zola, who penned the famous "open letter" j'accuse!; writers Anatole France and Octave Mirbeau; scientific figures like Henri Poincare and Jacques Hadamard and many more. A lot of historians argue that the Dreyfus Affair marked the emergence of the European intelligentsia as a political force. Among those intellectuals was Theodor Hertzl, a journalist who saw in Dreyfus' treatment evidence that even in the heart of enlightenment Europe Jews would never be safe. Hertzl was an important figure in the development of the Zionist political movement which resulted in the eventual formation of the Jewish state of Israel. The Dreyfus affair was a very big deal, especially for the political Left, which saw it as a major victory.

Ultimately the protests were successful in forcing a second trial in which Capt. Dreyfus was found innocent and his rank restored. He was subsequently made a Knight [and later an Officer] of the French Legion of Honor and served honorably for several years, eventually being raised to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel.

And on this day ten years ago Janet Reno's "jack-booted thugs" ripped six-year-old Elian Gonzalez from the home of his relatives in Miami and sent him to live with his father in Cuba. Whatever your feelings on the matter, it was a vivid symbol of violent government intrusion into the lives of ordinary people that still troubles many people, especially in America's Cuban-American community.

And a very happy birthday to Chuck Noll, pride of the Steelers and coach without peer. He's 78 years old today. You did Pittsburgh proud, Chuck.