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It Happened in April

It Happened in April

by William H. Benson

April 20, 2017

     Tragic events happen in April. For example, Confederate cannons fired on Union soldiers at Fort Sumter in April 1861, and the American Civil war began. Four years later, also in April, an assassin’s bullet killed President Abraham Lincoln.

     In April 1906, an earthquake struck San Francisco and ignited a fire that burnt 28,000 buildings in a 520-block area, and nearly 3,000 residents lost their lives.

     In April 1912, the Titanic struck an iceberg and more than 1,500 passengers drowned.

     Seventy-five years ago, in April 1942, some 5,200 Americans and far more Filipinos lost their lives in the Japanese soldiers’ death march across Bataan.

     The Warsaw ghetto uprising began in April 1943, and when it ended weeks later, German Nazi forces had killed some 13,000 Jewish men, women, and children, who had resisted deportation.

    At Cuba’s Bay of Pigs, in April 1961, a fiasco unravelled, and another assassin’s bullet killed Martin Luther King, Jr. in April 1968.

     The North Vietnamese Communists ran over Saigon in April 1975, and forced the last Americans to flee the country, via a helicopter atop the American Embassy. That same month Pol Pot’s vicious Khmer Rouge party seized the reins of Cambodia’s government and instituted mass murder as a state policy. The Khmer Rouge killed somewhere between one and three million Cambodian people.

     The nuclear reactor at Chernobyl imploded in April 1986.

     Because the jury at a trial in April 1992 had failed to convict the four police officers who had beaten Rodney King, rioters ran wild on Los Angeles streets, where they looted and set ablaze countless numbers of businesses.          

     On April 19, 1993, Federal government authorities fired tear gas canisters into Mt. Carmel, the Branch Davidian’s compound near Waco, Texas. A fire broke out, and seventy-six men, women, and children died that day. “The nine people who survived the fire cannot say with any certainty how the fatal blaze started. None of them saw it begin.”

     Two years later to the day, Timothy McVeigh parked a Ryder rental truck filled with explosives next to the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building and detonated the truck. The blast blew away the face of the building, hundreds received injuries, and 168 people died.

     In April 1999, two Columbine High School students, Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold, unleashed a reign of terror, bloodshed, and murder inside their high school before they shot themselves.

     Then, four years ago, in April 2013, Dzhokhar and Tamerian Tsamaev set off two pressure cookers near Boston Marathon’s finish line on Boylston Street, and three people died.

     In all fairness, some wonderful events have also occurred in April. In 1789, George Washington was inaugurated as our country’s first president, a good thing. Congress established the Library of Congress in 1800. Thomas Jefferson bargained with the French and received the Louisiana Purchase in 1803.

     In addition, President Truman signed the Marshall Plan in April 1948, twelve nations ratified the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in April 1949, and American astronauts released the Hubble Space Telescope into its orbit in April 1990.

     That is the nature of human history: a long series of wars, deaths, miscalculations, massacres, and poor judgment, interspersed with a few wise decisions by a fewer number of grand thinkers.

     Walter Benjamin, a twentieth-century philosopher, said, “Cultural treasures have a ghastly origin; they only exist because of the ‘toil of the great geniuses, who created them, but also to the nameless drudgery of their contemporaries.’” The geniuses perceive of a better way than the mass of men.

     Benjamin tells of a painting, It is of “the angel of history, who faces backwards at the chain of historical events, which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage. The angel would like to awaken the dead and make whole all that has been smashed, but a storm is blowing from Paradise and the angel cannot close his wings. The storm is progress, and it propels the angel into the future, while the pile of debris behind him grows skyward.”

     An appropriate analogy for history: “the pile of debris.”

     We are almost through April. The battles in Syria continue, as they have for millennium. North Korea threatens war, as well as nuclear annihilation. Thousands of people are sitting in prisons all over the world, accused of crimes that they never committed. Injustice is rampant, but this is not new news.  

     Tragic events happen every month of the year, but April has more than its fair share.