Injustice Follows Anarchism

Anarchism grew throughout the 20th century, and its extremist notions sent ripples of fear across America and Europe. The Accidental Death of An Anarchist by Dario Fo satirically captures this widespread fear by addressing a true event. Giuseppe Pinelli was an anarchist arrested in 1969 for allegedly bombing the Piazza Fontana in Italy. After being interrogated, one day he was reported, “flying” out of the window of Milan’s police headquarters. This term especially bothered Fo, because it was indicative of the media’s attempt to influence public opinion, by mocking Pinelli, who seemingly thought he could fly.While officially Pinelli’s death was declared a suicide, the policemen’s stories held blatant contradictions. So Fo satirizes the police by having his main character – the Maniac – consistently discredit their recollection of events, thus ridiculing them. Fo maintained that Pinelli’s arbitrary arrest was a grave miscarriage of justice, intimately connected to the latter’s anarchist beliefs.

theoSimilarly, anarchist prejudice in America influenced the court’s decision to execute two Italian anarchists: Sacco and Vanzetti. They were arrested in 1921 for a burglary and the death of a security guard. But since the prosecution lacked material evidence to prove their guilt, it relied on witness testimonies, which though held many contradictions.Historians, in hindsight, underline the biases operating within American culture at the time of the trial, with fear of anarchism being a central one. This explains why the two men were found guilty without sufficient physical evidence. Apparently, the cultural bias towards anarchists, Fo spoke of, was not limited to Italy.

Ultimately, Fo’s play highlights the underlying societal prejudice existing in the West in the 20th century, which led to instances of injustice. Although he focuses only on Pinelli’s death similar themes permeate American culture of that time, as illustrated by Sacco and Vanzetti’s treatment. Quite notably, Fo also emphasized the media’s tendency to manipulate information, thus shaping public opinion. Essentially he criticized society’s generalization of anarchists as an ideological and political threat, which had created a bias so strong, that for some it proved fatal.

The play’s script can be found here .  posted by Eleni Theodoropoulos


Taxes to Sink the Axis

Thought you might like this… Donald Duck to encourage Americans to pay their (new) income taxes.  Lots of patriotic imagery and a talking fountain pen.  1943

Strangely, this youtube link is down…. so you can go directly to to watch the cartoon.


Read more about the history of income taxes on Planet Money

Bomb experts work to defuse 450kg second world war explosive in London

Interesting article just posted in the Guardian.  

Creation of the Negro National League Puts Race Relations on the Mend

On May 29, 1920, The Kansas City Sun ran an article about a baseball game in which the Kansas City Monarchs would face the Indianapolis A.B.C.’s. This game was the grand opening of the Negro National League in Kansas. Most remarkably, the city and fans gave “the team a rousing reception upon its first appearance on the home grounds. A big parade [took] place at 1:00 o’clock over the principal streets in which all the fans [were] invited to decorate their cars and take part.”

ConineThe league had 24 teams and was the first black baseball league to last more than one season. In fact, the league ran for eleven years before it disbanded due to disagreements between the founders and then reorganized with the same name. At a time when racial tensions were still high and the civil rights movement was still beyond the horizon, Kansas’ celebration of the league seems almost out of place, particularly for a traditionally southern state. However, the Twenties were a time of progressive thought and forward action. The celebration suggest that, though the racial divide was deep, there was a willingness to accept the “separate but equal” ideal presented in Plessey v. Ferguson in 1896. The Kansas City Monarchs would later offer Jackie Robinson, famous for breaking baseball’s color barrier, his first professional baseball job playing for the all-black team in 1945 that led to his breakthrough with the Dodgers in 1947. Posted by Shelby Conine

The Great Sickness

By the year 1918, America was ready for peace. The Great War in Europe was finally coming to a close, and more than a hundred thousand American lives had already been claimed in trench warfare there. However, something much deadlier than war was about to afflict the American people – epidemic. In the winter of 1918, an unusually large number of people began dying from influenza. It started in a small town in Kansas, where over five hundred people had suddenly fallen ill. The disease then spread rapidly all over the world, from North America to Europe and even to Far East Asia. It had a large mortality rate, killing about 15% of its victims and over 50 million worldwide.Unlike previous diseases, the flu affected the young and healthy just as much as it did the weak and elderly. manciniAt the peak of the influenza pandemic, about a quarter of Americans were diagnosed with the sickness. The American Red Cross issued face masks for people to wear in an attempt to prevent infection. Ordinances were put in place to prohibit the gathering of many people in one place. In an effort to raise morale during the final months of war, the government limited public press concerning the spread of the flu, as did the leaders of many other countries involved in the war. Since Spain was a neutral nation and had no such censorships, the disease became known as the Spanish influenza. By the pandemic’s end in 1920, almost 675,000 Americans had died from influenza – almost six times as many killed during combat in the war.2 Though the United States succeeded in ending a war that was killing its people, the main source of death during the Great War era ended up being a factor beyond its control. Posted by Laura Mancini

From Japan to Three Mile Island

Image of Three Mile Island in 1988 by whiskeygonebad on Flickr; used under Creative Commons license.

Much of the coverage of the compromised Fukushima nuclear power plant in Japan has compared the ongoing crisis to the incident at Three Mile Island, in Pennsylvania, in 1979. (This piece, in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, has a detailed rundown of the difference between the two incidents.) How much do you know about Three Mile Island (abbreviated, somewhat unfortunately, as “TMI”)? This incident, which began in the early morning hours of March 28, 1979, was essentially a cascading series of engineering errors, compounded by human inability to correctly read the situation; the crisis lasted for five days, and eventually resulted in the release of a moderate amount of radioactive gasses. Although the incident was later understood to be not nearly so severe as people had originally feared, the panic that the public felt during the five days of uncertainty resulted in much tighter regulation of nuclear power plants, and (some say) crippled the nuclear power industry, which had been gaining traction during the 1970s. This cultural reaction, argue historians such as J. Samuel Walker, may have been heightened by the fact that the movie “The China Syndrome,” starring Jane Fonda and Michael Douglas as reporters who discover hazards at a nuclear plant, came out less than two weeks before the TMI crisis. (See Walker’s 2004 book, Three Mile Island: A Nuclear Crisis in Historical Perspective, for more.) The Fukushima crisis has already outdone TMI, in terms of potential damage; here’s (fervently) hoping that Japan can minimize the severity of the meltdown.