This Week in History

August 22, 1942 – Brazil declares war on Italy

Well, on Germany really; I’m guessing Italy was an afterthought. But I’ve got to think this was close to the last straw for even the most fervent supporters of Mussolini. Imagine with me, if you will, the following dialogue that fateful morning of August 22nd, 1942:

Fascist #1: Heard the news? Someone declared war on us.

Fascist #2: Again? Who now?

Fascist #1: Brazil.

Fascist #2: Brazil?

Fascist #1: Can you believe it? Even the countries with anti-Communist, pro-Fascist dictators hate us.

Fascist #2: I’m sure Il Duce has a plan… You know, we could use another colony. And I’ve always wanted to see Rio!

Fascist #1: Oh sure. I’ll bet another masterful invasion is already in the works.

Fascist #2: Excuse me? Did we or did we not conquer Albania? And Abyssinia?

Fascist #1: Historic triumphs, indeed.

Fascist #2: Not to mention a very small corner of France!

Fascist #1: Hey, how’s Greece going?

Fascist #2: You just won’t stop throwing that in my face, will you? I say again: this is why you have allies!

German Surrender to Brazilians
German and Italian units surrender to the Brazilian Expeditionary Force in Italy, 1944 - Wikimedia

Fascist #1: In case you invade a small kingdom, get crushed despite a 2:1 advantage in manpower, they actually start a successful counter-offensive, and you need Hitler to bail you out?

Fascist #2: Justamente! A brilliant diplomatic achievement by our glorious leader.

Fascist #1: Uh-huh. Now, back to Brazil, if you don’t mind… Rumor has it they’re going to send a 25,000 man expeditionary force to help the Americans invade us.

Fascist #2: Bo-ring. Wake me up when someone significant joins the war. Like… I don’t know… Iraq.

[January 16, 1943]

Fascist #2: Buongiorno! Did you hear the news?

Fascist #1: That Churchill and Roosevelt are meeting at Casablanca to plan our invasion and have decided to accept nothing less than unconditional surrender?

Fascist #2: No, the guy who wrote Lassie died!

Fascist #1: You don’t say. Hey, d’you see who declared war on us?

Fascist #2: You’re kidding… Iraq? Well, that’s it. I’m outta here!

And, scene.

August 23, 1926 – Clifford Geertz is born

I’ll be honest: I don’t know as much about one of the greatest cultural anthropologists of all time as I probably should. But I do know this: he might well be the most famous person in history with a last name that kind of looks like mine. In fact, my name (Gehrz) has been mispronounced “geertz” at least once. (Most common ways to mispronounce it: “gertz” and “gair-itz.” It’s “gairtz,” BTW.)

I think the only real contender for this highly desirable title is “The Pride of the Yankees” himself, Lou Gehrig. Honorable mention to Royals 2B Chris Getz, earning bonus points for having an excellent first name. With all due apologies to experimental filmmaker Ernie Gehr and All-American swimmer Mindy Gehrs.

August 24, 410 – Visigoths sack Rome

The Sack of Rome, 410
Medieval rendering of the Sack of Rome

The first time in 800 years that the Eternal City had been so defiled. (For the record: Roseville, Minnesota has never been sacked, by the Visigoths or anyone else.) I’ll probably blog more on this topic next month, when our Christianity and Western Culture class gets to the fall of the Empire in the west. What most strikes me about that event is not the collapse of Rome itself, but the reactions of two great Christian leaders. On the one hand, you’ve got the cantankerous monk Jerome, far away in Bethlehem. Writing in a letter to one of his many female correspondents two years later, he recalls, with surprising emotion, hearing the “dreadful rumour” of the sack of Rome: “My voice sticks in my throat; and, as I dictate, sobs choke my utterance. The City which had taken the whole world was itself taken….”

While Jerome lamented the fall of a civilization to which Christianity had become so wedded, his contemporary, Augustine, responded by starting his greatest work (City of God), meant both to rebut neo-pagan arguments that the sack had been divine retribution for the Romans embracing the false god of the Christians and to remind Christians that their highest citizenship was not in an earthly “city.”

August 25, 1967 – Jeff Tweedy is born

I’m taking a week off from the “Odd Couple” shared birthdate theme. Not because that bit isn’t working — it’s gold! But because there were two separate celebrity birthdays of major significance this week. The one above letting me note the similarity between Geertz and Gehrz; and this one giving me occasion to pat myself on the back for having avoided the temptation (for over two months now!) to use my new bully pulpit to add yet more praise for Jeff Tweedy and his bandmates to a worldwide web that’s already overflowing with such accolades.

So I’ll just wish a happy birthday to the ringleader of my favorite musical ensemble. Here they are playing a great song that, in titular subject matter and epic length, reminds me of my dissertation:

August 26, 1789 – The French assembly approves the Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen

At least once a year I try to convince my colleagues on the aforementioned Western Civ teaching team that we ought to devote at least one lecture to the French Revolution. It’s a battle I’ve yet to win, but we do now include this document in our reading list. It’s one of the most significant sources in the development of human rights (the topic of one of my spring classes), arguably (by me, for sure) more important than its American antecedent of 1776.

And if, like some women of the time, you’re upset that the authors of this document meant “The Rights of Man” in a gender-specific fashion (not just “man” as in “mankind” and so “all humanity”), then feel free to substitute the following event as an excuse for walking away from your desk right now and calling it a long weekend:

August 26, 1920 – the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is officially certified


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