Day By Day

Monday, February 08, 2010

This Day In History

I'm back. I was up against a deadline and couldn't blog for a while. So much for my resolution to write something each day.

One hundred years ago today the Boy Scouts of America were officially incorporated, so let's wish a very "Happy Birthday" to the Scouts on this, their centennial. The BSA have scheduled a fourteen month long centennial celebration marking a number of milestones in their history, but today is the official beginning of the organization.

The first scout organization had been founded three years earlier in the UK by Lord Robert Baden-Powell. The American version was founded by Chicago publisher William Dickson Boyce. The organization has experienced some troubles in recent years and has been the target of criticism from left-wing activists, but it has survived and even thrived amidst all the controversy. Today there are more than four million scouts in America, and over the course of the century more than 110 million boys and young men have been scouts. The avowed purpose of the scouts is to train youth in responsible citizenship, character development, and self-reliance through participation in a wide range of outdoor activities and educational programs. My brothers and I were all scouts and have fond memories of our scouting days.

On this day in 1587 Mary, Queen of Scots, was beheaded on the order of her cousin, Queen Elizabeth. Almost invariably Mary is portrayed sympathetically in popular fiction and film, but both her actions and those of her supporters made her too dangerous to be allowed to live. Mary had challenged Elizabeth's claim to the English throne and stubbornly insisted on displaying arms that identified her as not only Queen of Scots and Queen of France [titles to which she had just claim] but also as Queen of England. Her reign in Scotland was so tumultuous, involving murders and assassinations and pronounced anti-Protestantism, that eventually her brother raised a revolt against her, forcing her from the throne [in favor of her infant son]. She then fled the country, seeking refuge with her cousin Elizabeth.

The problem there was that not only had Mary challenged Elizabeth's right to the throne, but her followers had also been implicated in a Catholic revolt against Elizabeth. Rather than let this dangerous woman roam free, Elizabeth quite understandably imprisoned her. While in prison Mary was implicated in not one, not two, but three separate plots to assassinate Elizabeth. Finally Elizabeth's patience was at an end and she ordered the decapitation of Mary. I don't really see what else she could have done. So long as she lived Mary was going to be a threat both to Elizabeth and to the nation she ruled.

And on this day in 19904 the Japanese imperial navy launched a surprise attack on Russian forces at Port Arthur. The attack occurred three hours before war was declared. Sound familiar? The ensuing conflict, called the Russo-Japanese War, is one of the great turning points in modern history.

The war did not go well for Russia. Militarily Russia suffered defeat after defeat at the hands of the Japanese and lost two of its three naval fleets. In the treaty of Portsmouth that ended the war Russia was forced to relinquish all claims on Korea and to withdraw from Manchuria. A few years later Japan annexed Korea. The balance of power in East Asia had shifted dramatically.

Domestically, discontent at the progress of the war helped to fuel a popular revolt against the Czarist regime. However the revolt was suppressed and the government embarked on a program of industrial and military reform that greatly strengthened its military capabilities. Both the discontent and the military modernization would have consequences when World War I broke out a decade later.

The Russo-Japanese war marked the first time that one of the European Great Powers had been defeated by a non-western state -- a fact that made an impression on rulers throughout Asia and in subsequent decades contributed to the development anti-colonial sentiment.

Finally, the end of the war was negotiated in the United States under the auspices of the American president, Theodore Roosevelt, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts. Many consider this to mark America's emergence on the world stage as a Great Power, equal in influence to the European powers.