Dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial

On this day in 1982, the long-awaited Vietnam Veterans Memorial was dedicated in Washington DC after a weeklong national salute to all who served in the Vietnam War. Thousands of veterans from the conflict marched to the V-shaped black granite wall inscribed with the names of the 57,939 Americans who perished during the conflict. Unlike other memorials, the names are arranged in order of death, not rank.

The Vietnam Memorial was designed by Yale University architecture student, Maya Lin, who entered a competition to create a design for the monument. Although many were at first opposed to the winning design due to a lack of the standard heroic statue and stirring words, it soon became one of the most visited memorials in the nation’s capital.

The remarkable shift in public opinion occurred within the months after the dedication as veterans and families of those lost were able to walk the … Read more »

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Cargo Cults

During WWII, the Melanesian islanders observed, often directly in front of their dwellings, the largest war ever fought by technologically advanced nations. This small population of indigenous people thought the misplaced cargo parachute-drops were being delivered to them were from their dead ancestors. The Japanese arrived first with a great deal of supplies. Later the Allied forces followed.

The large amounts of military equipment and supplies that both sides airdropped (or airlifted to airstrips) to troops on these islands brought drastic changes to the lifestyle of the islanders, many of whom had never seen outsiders before. Manufactured clothing, medicine, canned food, tents, weapons and other goods arrived in vast quantities for the soldiers, were often shared with the islanders who were their guides and hosts.

As the war concluded, the military abandoned the airbases and stopped dropping cargo. In response, charismatic individuals developed cults among remote Melanesian populations that promised Read more »

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Oakland, CA Leads Country in Laws Against Drugs

On this day in 1890, Oakland, CA, enacted a law against opium, morphine, and cocaine. The new regulations allowed only doctors to prescribe these drugs. Until this point, they had been legal for cures or pain relief. With the new laws, Oakland was an example of a general trend at the time, passing criminal laws against the use of mind-altering substances. 

Kansas banned the sale and manufacture of liquors in 1880, amending its constitution. Many other states left the question open to county governments, which resulted in different alcohol laws in every town. Soon after, sellers were required to obtain a license in most states. Interestingly, both Texas and Massachusetts passed laws requiring that bars and saloons have open windows, presumably so that the community could keep an eye on what was happening inside.

In the latter part of the 19th century, opium dens began to spring up. Generally, there Read more »

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Stalin and Churchill

On this day in 1944, Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill met in Moscow and began a nine-day conference, where the war with Germany and the future of Europe was discussed.

Feeling confident that WWII was about to wrap up and Germany’s defeat was inevitable, a significant portion of the talks centered around the two superpowers influence in a postwar Europe.  As the conference was taking place, Stalin’s army was liberating Romania from German control.  Churchill ceded Romania, but was keen on keeping Greece away from the Red Army.  Thus, they made a deal: Romania for Greece.  Elsewhere, the two leaders agreed to divvy up the spoils of war with Yugoslavia being split in half, east for Russia and west for the West.  They also worked out that the German populations in East Prussia and Silesia would be moved to the interior of Germany.  East Prussia Read more »

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Development of the Machine Gun

It was during the mid-19th century that a successful machine-gun design was first introduced.  The modern machine guns were based on the Model 1862 Gatling gun, with the key characteristics being their relatively high rate of fire and mechanical loading. The Gatling gun, patented by Richard Jordan Gatling in 1861, was the first firearm to offer controlled, sequential firing with mechanical loading. The United States Navy first adopted this machine gun, and were later sold to various armies in the late 19th century. They saw limited action in the American Civil War and subsequent, improved designs of this early machine gun were later used in the Franco-Prussian war and the North West-Rebellion.  However, these weapons were powered by hand and were gradually replaced after Hiram Maxim introduced the idea of harnessing recoil energy to power reloading, used in the Maxim machine gun.

The Maxim gun, invented by Sir … Read more »

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