Moments In History: September 28th, 1928

penicilin

Matthew Beyer has begun a “Moments In History” series to raise awareness of important historical events. Each post will also have book recommendations about the moment in history, using our extensive history collection in the library.

 

September 28th, 1928

Discovery of Penicillin

On this fateful day, Scottish physician and microbiologist Alexander Fleming made a discovery that would go on to change medicine forever. While working on research and experiments with Staphylococcus bacteria in his lab, he woke the morning of the 28th of September to find one of his Petri dishes had its lid popped off and had been contaminated. While investigating the source of the contamination, he noticed a strange green ring that had appeared around the dish. This ring was a green fungus mold known as “Penicillium notatum.”

What he found so fascinating was that the bacteria surrounding the ring had not only not penetrated it but had been destroyed by the mold. Meanwhile, those farther away from it were unharmed and still growing. He would later remark:

“I certainly didn’t plan to revolutionize all medicine by discovering the world’s first antibiotic, or bacteria killer. But I suppose that was exactly what I did.”

It would still take many years of peer review, as well as isolating and growing the mold into a pure culture and tested on patients for its effects as a treatment of bacterial infections.

However, by 1942, penicillin was in mass production and might even have helped tip the scales in favor of the Allies during WWII, as it is thought to have saved as many as 12% to 15% of Allied soldiers’ lives from sepsis and other infections from recently amputated limbs. It would also be used to treat prominent illnesses and diseases such as pneumonia and gonorrhea.

On average, 33 million pounds of penicillin is produced around the world each year. All told, it is estimated that penicillin has saved around 200 million people worldwide and continues to do so today.  In 1999, Alexander Fleming was named among the top 100 most influential people of the 20th century in Time magazine.

If you enjoyed this article and would like to know more about Alexander Fleming and his work, I encourage you to follow the link down below for a fantastic book and on the subject.

 

Moments In History: September 12th, 1683

veinna

Matthew Beyer has begun a “Moments In History” series to raise awareness of important historical events. Each post will also have book recommendations about the moment in history, using our extensive history collection in the library.

 

September 12th, 1683

Battle of Vienna

Late in the afternoon of September 12th, 1683, the fate of Christendom and the future of Western civilization would be decided. To better understand the significance of this turning point in history, we must go back all the way to 1453 to the Fall of Constantinople. The Ottoman Turks had been fighting a series of wars for close to two hundred years after the conquest of Greece and the Balkans.  Large scale naval raids and piracy had long plagued the coast of the Mediterranean. The practice of slavery was so common that, through the 16th and 17th centuries, as many as 2.5 million slaves were taken from Eastern Europe and the Mediterranean respectfully.  The Ottomans had conquered most of the Balkans and Hungary by 1541.

Many assumed the Turks’ westward expansion seemed nearly unstoppable. In response to the Ottoman threat, various kingdoms of Christendom would unite to form holy leagues and Christian collations under the backing of the Pope that routinely managed to slow the advance or halt conquest over the decades. The Hapsburgs of Spain, funded by the conquered gold of the new world, funded the majority of campaigns from the Great Siege of Malta in 1565 to the enormous naval battle of Lepanto in 1571. These defeats shocked the world because beforehand the Ottomans were believed to be invincible.

With these events in mind, fast forward nearly one hundred years. In the 1600s, the Ottomans had recovered from their losses, and the Christian nations of Europe were in disarray following the Thirty Years’ War that claimed the lives of nearly 8 million people in the struggle between Protestants and Catholics.  The Ottomans had long sought to take the city of Vienna as it had been a strategic location of trade and offered numerous military potentials for future conquest into the heart of Europe. With the alarming news of the mobilization of the Ottoman army, the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I began to prepare for the titanic struggle that was to come. He sent envoys requesting reinforcements to the Pope and most importantly asked that the Polish King John III Sobieski lead a relief force to the city’s aid. By August 6th, 1682, the Ottomans marched out of Constantinople with a force of nearly 170,000 men, cavalry, artillery, and siege equipment and headed straight for Vienna.

By July of 1683, the city of Vienna was under siege and by late August its 15,000 defenders were on their last legs as starvation looked imminent. The Ottoman General had taken a rather passive approach to the siege, possibly wanting to capture the city intact in hopes of vast quantities of loot and plunder that would rival the splendor of Constantinople. Ottoman sappers (infantry soldiers) had dug elaborate tunnels with the intent to blow up the city walls and lead a final assault before the relief force could arrive.

But by the afternoon of the September 12th, the vanguard of John III Sobieski’s army began to arrive and were sent into the fray. The Christian Coalition numbered around some 70,000 soldiers, mostly Germans and Poles. As the battle began to turn in favor of the Coalition, Sobieski unleashed his full might of cavalry as some 18,000 horsemen began charging down the hills towards the wavering Ottomans.  Sobieski charged at the head of his 3000 elite heavy cavalry, known as the “Winged Hussars,” who were famous for their attire of large wooden frames shaped like wings strapped to their backs and glittering with hundreds of feathers from eagles, swans, or even ostriches in order to give them a terrifying appearance.

This was the largest single cavalry charge in human history; it broke the back of the Turkish army by the evening when as many as 15,000 Ottomans lay dead. With the rest of their army routed and their entire camp looted, the battle was over.  All of Europe celebrated Sobieski as the savior of Christendom. For many historians, this is the starting point for the long decline of the Ottoman Empire, who would lose control of Hungary in the coming decade and would never again go on such a grand offensive with hopes of deeper European conquest.

If you would like to learn more about the struggles between the Habsburgs and Ottomans, the Union University Library has some amazing books dealing with this subject:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Moments In History: September 5th-6th, 1972

German Olympics

Matthew Beyer has begun a “Moments In History” series to raise awareness of important historical events. Each post will also have book recommendations about the moment in history, using our extensive history collection in the library.

 

September 5th-6th, 1972

Black September & The Munich Massacre

 

In 1972, during the Summer Olympics Games in Munich Germany, an event would take place that would shock the world and create a flash bulb moment in history. These moments are a type of collective memory that large portions of the population share, as each individual can remember exactly where they were and what they were doing when they learned about the given event. Examples of this include The Moon Landing, JFK’s assassination, and (in my own life time) 9/11. These events are becoming much more common as information is being spread at a faster rate through the use of the Internet and 24/7 news coverage.

On September 5th, 1972, eight members of a terrorist group infiltrated the Olympic housing compounds of the Israeli Olympic Team.  They were members of Black September, a group affiliated and connected to the Palestinian Liberation Organization or PLO. The terrorists were armed with AK-47’s, pistols, and grenades, and in the ensuing chaos of entering the dormitories, several athletes were injured and two killed while they bravely attempted to fight off and barricade themselves from their attackers. Eventually, the remaining 9 athletes were subdued.

By morning, nearly a billion people around the world were watching the tense standoff unfold on television. The terrorists demanded the release of some 234 Palestinians prisoners as well as a few other secular non-Islamic groups. The official Israeli position at the time was no negotiation with terrorists at any cost, due to the fear that such concessions would only lead to more hostages and threats against Jews.

The German government dragged out negotiations as long as they could. They quickly devised a plan to raid the building and attempt to rescue the hostages. As they were moments away from making entry, the terrorists appeared on the patio, threatening to kill two Israeli hostages.  Their entire plan was ruined because there were dozens of news agencies on site reporting on what the police were doing, and the terrorists were inside watching it all unfold live on television.

The government finally agreed to charter a plan and have the entire group flown to Cairo, Egypt, where negotiations could continue. This was a ploy to plan an ambush at the airport. The terrorists were driven to waiting helicopters and then to an airport where a jet was waiting. The jet was supposed to have police on board dressed as flight crew, but through a series of poor communication and lack of centralized command, the German police abandoned this plan and all that were there to rescue the hostages were five police acting as snipers hundreds of meters away. They had no radios nor did they have night vision or scopes on their rifles.

What happened next was a disaster. The terrorists soon discovered that the jet was empty of pilots and crew, and the police sharpshooters soon began to open fire. In the resulting two-hour gun battle, 5 of the 8 hostage takers were killed along with 1 German police officer. However, the worst was still to come.

The situation was so chaotic that a German government spokesman issued a statement that the operation had been a success and all hostages were saved. Only a few hours later did the truth come out when Jim McKay, a sports journalist covering the Olympic events, received the fateful news:

We just got the final word . . . you know, when I was a kid, my father used to say “Our greatest hopes and our worst fears are seldom realized.” Our worst fears have been realized tonight. They’ve now said that there were 11 hostages. 2 were killed in their rooms yesterday morning, 9 were killed at the airport tonight. They’re all gone.

It turned out that, during the ensuing gun battle, the Israeli athletes were killed. The aftermath of this horrific event caused ripples across the world for the German government; it showed they were woefully unprepared for violent hostage style crises that were becoming increasingly prevalent all over the world. Each major nation took note of this event and began to develop units of highly trained police and counter-terrorist specialist to deal with such events.

Back in Israel, the nation was in mourning and many of its people furious as the Olympics continued after only of 34 hours of postponement. Israel would go on to bomb numerous training camps belonging to the PLO in Lebanon and Syria. What they are most famous for was Operation Wrath of God, in which they would send out covert agents of Mossad and attempt to assassinate the masterminds and financiers of Black September and high ranking members of the PLO. For over a decade, they would track down targets all over the world and assassinate them.

This moment in history is often considered the starting point of when the world was first introduced to terror threats, hostage taking, and mass killing that has now become all too familiar.

Here are some great resources at the library if you wish to learn more about this topic:

 

 

Moments In History: August 23rd, 1305

william-wallace-statue

 

Matthew Beyer has begun a “Moments In History” series to raise awareness of important historical events. Each post will also have book recommendations about the moment in history, using our extensive history collection in the library.

 

 August 23rd, 1305

Execution of William Wallace

 

Many historical figures become enshrined in the annals of history as larger than life folk-heroes. This is certainly the case when it comes to William Wallace. He is not only celebrated as a national hero of Scotland, but has become a symbol of resistance against oppression worldwide.

William Wallace was born in the year 1270 A.D. at a time when Scotland’s squabbling nobility was threatening civil war due to a session crisis which started with the death of their king (who left no heir). The English King Edward I offered to mediate the crisis but in reality invaded Scotland and turned the country into a vassal state of England through oppressive taxation and forced conscription into the English army. The Scottish peasantry were rife with grievances, and a revolt seemed imminent. What they needed was a leader who could unite the clans under a common cause: namely, driving the English out of Scotland for good.

William Wallace was just that man; he had to have been a charismatic figure and was likely born into nobility. A common misconception, thanks to Hollywood and popular fiction, was that he wore a kilt and was a Highlander. In fact, he was born in the Lowlands and wore dress that would have been nearly indistinguishable from an average English Knight. Wallace would go on to lead a revolt that would become known as the First War for Scottish independence.

Wallace had early successes and inspired his countrymen by defeating a large English army at the Battle of Stamford Bridge in 1297.  This came as a shock to the English and Scots alike as his army did not rely on heavy cavalry. This was traditionally the deciding factor in warfare at the time as the knight on horseback was thought to be invincible by infantry of the era. Wallace was successful though his use of Scottish Schiltron’s, which basically turned an army of peasants into a hedgehog of spears to ward off horses.

Unfortunately for Wallace, his successes would not last forever. He was defeated in 1298 at the Battle of Fallkirk two years later and would go into hiding. Wallace would continue to be something of a bogeyman and a thorn in the side of the English until his betrayal and capture in 1305. He was brought to London and put on trial on the charge of treason. William Wallace boldly defended himself against this charge by saying that he had never sworn allegiance to King Richard in the first place. It was, however, a forgone conclusion that he was going to be found guilty.

Upon the guilty verdict, Wallace was executed by the gruesome method of hanging, drawing, and quartering on August 23rd, 1305. His head was set on a pike on London Bridge and his limbs sent to be displayed across parts of northeast England and Scotland as a warning, but ultimately they had the opposite effect. Eventually, Scotland was united under a contemporary of Wallace, Robert Bruce, who would go on to be crowned King of Scotland and rule it as an independent power.

A plaque now stands near his execution site and the last portion of it is inscribed in Latin and reads: “Dico tibi verum libertas optima rerum nunqual servili sub nexu vivito fili.”  (I tell you the truth. Freedom is what is best. Sons, never live life like slaves). There is also the Gaelic “Bas Agus Buaidh” (Death or Victory).

If you would like to know more about William Wallace and the War for Scottish Independence, check out the links below:

 

 

 

 

Moments In History: August 13th, 1961

berlin wall

 

Matthew Beyer has begun a “Moments In History” series to raise awareness of important historical events. Each post will also have book recommendations about the moment in history, using our extensive history collection in the library.

 

 August 13th, 1961

Construction of the Berlin Wall

In the early morning hours of August 13th, 1961, East and West Berliners were awoken to the sounds of shovels digging into the streets, as well as the unwrapping of barbed wire strands and the pouring of concrete. All along the demarcation line running through the middle of Berlin, work was being undertaken in an attempt to permanently seal off the communist east from the capitalistic west.

Eastern Germany had been experiencing a “Brain Drain” since the 50’s. This was due to the flight of disillusioned young and intelligent East Germans who were emigrating to the West in hopes of political asylum, better jobs, and freedom from the communist regime.  The communist government, fearing a total collapse of their economic output, finally received the go-ahead from their Soviet counterparts. Construction began at once around the demarcation line, a fortified area running through the middle of Berlin, in order to stop the flow of people trying to escape from the communist regime.

The Eastern German government dubbed the project the Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart, whereas the West Germans referred to it as The Wall of Shame.  The Berlin Wall would come to represent the starkest difference between a free and open society vs. a society bent not on keeping others out but keeping its own people locked in. The Berlin Wall would remain a barrier that hundreds of thousands of people would attempt to cross, with only a few thousand being successful enough to make it to the other side and as many as two hundred deaths in the process. It would remain until November 9th, 1989, when after twenty-eight years of separation between East and West Berlin, the Wall’s gates were flung opened. Many people became so emboldened by this that they finally began to mount the wall, and a short time later the crowds began to tear it down.

The Berlin Wall’s destruction was in part to the Soviet Union quickly losing control over the countries of Poland, Czechoslovakia, Austria, and Hungary, who each began the deconstruction of their separating border fences. Today marks the 58th anniversary of the Berlin Wall’s construction, and later this year will mark the 30th anniversary of its fall.

If you found this post interesting and would like to learn more on this topic, the Union University Library offers numerous books and films related to this subject:

 

 

Moments In History: July 30th, 1945

The World War II cruiser USS Indianapolis at Pearl Harbor Hawaii

Matthew Beyer has begun a “Moments In History” series to raise awareness of important historical events. Each post will also have book recommendations about the moment in history, using our extensive history collection in the library.

 

July 30th, 1945

 Sinking of the USS Indianapolis

Today marks the 74th anniversary of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis in 1945. The ship was on a top secret mission to deliver parts that would be used to construct an armed and operational atomic bomb codenamed “Little Boy,” which was scheduled to be used on the city of Hiroshima and intended to force the Empire of Japan to surrender.  The Indianapolis completed its mission to deliver the bomb’s components; however, on her return voyage, disaster struck as she was hit by two torpedoes from a Japanese submarine. The vessel sank in a mere 12 minutes, with their frantic distress calls going unanswered.

Out of a crew of 1195 men, 300 went down immediately with the ship. The surviving crew were left stranded in the middle of the South Pacific for the next three and a half days. With many wounded, few life jackets, and fewer life boats, the surviving seamen endured unimaginable suffering. There was stifling heat during the day and hypothermic conditions at night. The crew also experienced unquenchable thirst that could lead to the congestion of delirium-inducing saltwater. The worst and most feared fate still awaited these desperate sailors: hundreds of sharks! After the third day the survivors were spotted by a friendly aircraft on patrol, and a rescue craft was sent to aid them, but the total number of those that survived out of the 900 men that went into the water was only 317.

This event would mark the single greatest loss of life by any U.S ship in the navy’s entire history. As of July 2019, there are only 12 remaining living survivors to this tragedy. So if this article finds you today, take a moment and say a prayer for those still living and for those who were lost in the horrors of World War II.

The Union University Library offers several books on this subject for those who would like to learn more: