30 January 2008

A Day that changed the World

Some days have changed the course of history, and January 30th is such a significant day. Unfortunately the events it is noted for have done much harm to the world and did cost the lives of millions of people.
There were - to the astonishment of most people - many negative events that all happened on this day, including the public beheading of both King Charles I of England (in 1649) and Oliver Cromwell (in 1661). It was also on January 30th, 1835 that the first attempt to assassinate a US President was made, when a mentally ill man tried - but failed - to kill President Andrew Jackson in the Capitol in Washington.

On this day in 1889 Archduke Rudolf of Austria, the only son of Emperor Franz Joseph and heir to the throne of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was found dead at Mayerling, a Royal manor house, together with his young mistress, Baroness Mary Vetsera. Both had been shot and the official version suggested a suicide pact. However, as the documents of the official investigations of the case have never been made public and remain a state secret even today, suggestions have surfaced that it was in fact an assassination, ordered by conservative court officials who strongly disliked the Archduke's liberal and modern ideas, including a major reform plan for the empire.

And, more close to home, the House of Lords in London rejected the Irish Home Rule Bill on January 30th, 1913. This was a major setback for the Liberal government's plan to give the Irish people a fairer role inside the British Empire. This rejection, predominantly with the votes of conservative peers, was a contributing factor to further unrest in Ireland, which culminated in the Easter Rising of 1916.

On this day, 75 years ago, Adolf Hitler was appointed by President Paul von Hindenburg as Reichskanzler (Prime Minister) of Germany.

Ever since the day has been marked as Tag der Machtergreifung (Day of Seizing Power), although this name is actually not quite correct.

Hitler did not seize power, and even if he had wanted to, he did at that time neither have a force strong enough to do it with, nor the opportunity.

What really happened was that Hitler was chosen to be the leader of a new coalition government, formed by various right-of-centre parties, including his own, the NSDAP (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei - National Socialist German Workers Party). All this was completely legal and under the proper rules of the democratic system of the Weimar Republic. (Which only proves that a democracy is no guarantee against the forces of totalitarianism, if they are determined to succeed...)
In fact only three of the eleven members of Hitler's cabinet were from the NSDAP: Wilhelm Frick (Minister of the Interior), Hermann Göring (who had several portfolios for the Reich and the State of Prussia) and Hitler himself. So at the begin of his reign the Führer had not even a majority in his own government.

The main reason for Hitler's appointment was the total collapse of the previous arrangements that had kept the Weimar Republic intact for fifteen turbulent years. Changes of government, of chancellors and ministers, and fluctuating majorities in the Reichstag (national parliament) were the main reasons for the instability of the young German republic. After fundamental disagreements between Hitler and the conservative Franz von Papen which of them should be Reichskanzler, the year 1932 saw two general elections in quick succession: the first on July 31st, and the second on November 6th.

In the first election the NSDAP polled 37.2% of the votes and became the largest party in parliament. On the grounds of this result Hitler demanded to form a government, but was not invited to do so by the President. He was offered to become Deputy Prime Minister in a coalition government, but being determined to make his dream - to rule Germany and make it a great country - come true, he rejected that offer outright. Either he would be leader, or he would stay out of the government. With no one able to form a stable government, another general election was called for November. To everyone's surprise Hitler's party lost about 2 million votes and ended on only 33.1%. However, that was only a mathematical correction and changed nothing in the positions of the parties and their leaders.

The main problem was that Hitler demanded to be Reichskanzler and refused anything less, but the other party leaders and President von Hindenburg tried to prevent exactly that. The result was a constitutional crisis, which led eventually to the appointment of former Defence Minister General Kurt von Schleicher as Reichskanzler. He was the first general in the post since 1890. But he turned out to be a complete disaster, and by the end of January Hitler remained literally the only real alternative, short of a third general election within twelve months.

When he was - reluctantly - appointed to the post, it was actually quite a surprise for him, and even more for his party, as they had mentally already accepted that Hindenburg would never budge. But the old President, already marked by signs of sickness from which he would die 19 months later, was tired of crisis and insecurity. The conservative parties had assured him that they could handle Hitler and would keep the NSDAP in check. Well, the rest - as they say - is history.

60 years ago, in 1948, January 30th was again a sad and tragic day. In the Indian capital Delhi Mohandas K. Gandhi, India's spiritual leader who had gained the rare honorific "Mahatma" (great soul) and led his nation in the long and hard struggle for freedom, independence and true democracy, was assassinated by a Hindu extremist, who disagreed with Gandhi's peaceful attitude towards everyone, including Muslims.
The murder of the world's most peaceful man, whose simple life and philosophy inspired hundreds of millions in India and beyond, shocked the whole world.

It really seems as if January 30th is somehow under a strong negative influence by cosmic forces, as the day has seen even more tragic events in later years. In 1956 the house of the black American civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. was bombed (but luckily King survived hat attack). And in 1962 two of the seven Flying Wallendas, the famous high-wire acrobats, were killed in a tragic accident while performing in Detroit, Michigan.

Here in Ireland the 30th of January will always be remember as "Bloody Sunday". On this day in 1972 British paratroopers shot and killed 14 innocent people during a peaceful civil rights march in the city of Derry and wounded many more. Despite several public inquiries since, neither the culprits nor their military leaders and political masters have ever been held responsible for this criminal act which will forever cast a dark shadow over Britain. And certainly no one in Ireland will ever forget it.

In the light of recent events in the USA one should also mention that George H. W. Bush, later to be Vice President under Ronald Reagan and then himself the 41st President of the USA, was appointed the 11th Director of the CIA on January 30th, 1976.
And on this day in the year 2000 a Kenyan airliner crashed into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Ivory Coast, killing all 169 people on board.

Fortunately this year the dark day has not caused any further tragedy, and the only bad thing right now is the cold and very stormy weather. But we should take a moment to think, to reflect and to remember all the sad and terrible events that happened over centuries on this day.

The Emerald Islander

1 comment:

Alexander "Sunny" Bergen said...

Another great piece of historical information. It is a pleasure to read your blog, and one is always better educated and enlightened from doing so.

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