On October 29, 1929, the world turned upside down. For more than a month, stock prices, which had risen to giddy new levels throughout the decade now known as “the Roaring Twenties,” had been faltering. Since early September, when stock prices peaked, the market had lost about 17 percent of its value, and the previous Thursday, October 24, the decline turned into a free fall, prompting leading U.S. financiers like Thomas Lamont to place bids substantially higher than market prices on large blocks of blue-chip stocks in a last-ditch effort to restore confidence and stave off a market meltdown.
Long ago, during the darkest chapter of the 20th century, a movie was released entitled Hitler’s Children. While the film is virtually forgotten, I cannot forget a certain scene involving some words a Nazi official uttered to a dissident, a heroic Catholic bishop. Dripping with contempt, the officer said (I’m paraphrasing), “In a few years, the churches will be empty.” It was a thought he obviously relished. Ah, Hollywood and its fiction … or, is this a snapshot of history, a rare case in which Tinseltown’s art imitated life?
The United States has embroiled much of the world in its War on Terror, occupied Iraq since 2003, and bombed Afghanistan — all to “spread liberty.” Karl Rove alleged in 2006 that George W. Bush “is committed to something no past president has ever attempted: spreading liberty to the broader Middle East.” Bush himself insisted last January that “our strategy is to spread liberty.” Apparently, freedom spreads around as easily as peanut butter.
Several years ago, my youngest son and I were watching a program on the History Channel when the program’s narrator mentioned the capture of a Naval vessel by Communist North Korea back in 1968.
“That didn’t really happen, did it, Dad?” my son asked me. When I replied that it had, he was stunned. “Do you mean to tell me that North Korea seized one of our ships, beat and tortured the crew for most of a year, and we didn’t do anything about it?”
Georg Steller thought he was seeing a mirage. After weeks at sea on the frigid, storm-tossed waters of the north Pacific, Steller, along with his 70-odd shipmates on the Russian exploratory vessel the St. Peter, was beginning to despair of finding land. Weeks earlier, after years of arduous preparation that included the transport of men and equipment across the Siberian wilderness, the St. Peter, along with her sister ship, the St. Paul, had at last set off, under the direction of Danish captain Vitus Bering, from the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia’s almost-unexplored Far East in search of the northwestern coast of the American continent. Days earlier the two ships had become separated in bad weather and the St. Peter, low on water, food, and morale, had continued northeast into the unknown ocean.