BITE-SIZED HISTORY

Published in Issue 2 (March/April 2021), Volume 29

 

BY TONY CANAVAN

 

HISTORICAL PRECEDENT FOR THE ATTACK ON THE CAPITOL

The attack on the Capitol Building on 6 January 2021 brought to mind that the last attack on the US Capitol prior to the storm-Trumpers was led by British Army Major-Gen. Robert Ross from Rostrevor, Co. Down. His troops not only attacked the Capitol Building but also burned the White House and the Washington Navy Yard. All this took place in 1814 as part of the War of 1812 between Britain and the United States. It was the only time that a foreign power captured and occupied Washington. Eyewitnesses testified that Ross was personally involved in the piling up of furniture and sticks in preparation for setting fire to the White House. He was killed in the Battle of Baltimore a month later. In 1826 a monument in his memory was erected in his native Rostrevor:

‘MAJOR-GENERAL ROBERT ROSS.

Served with distinction in Holland, Egypt, Italy, Spain and France.

Conquered in America, and fell victorious at Baltimore.’

Above: The attack on the Capitol Building, Washington DC, on 6 January 2021—the last attack, in 1814, was led by Major-Gen. Robert Ross from Rostrevor, Co. Down.

 

MICHAEL COLLINS’S DOUBLE ARRESTED

One of the more unusual items discovered while trawling through the centenary archives was a story about the arrest of Michael Collins. On 11 January 1921 a group of Auxiliaries, supported by Black and Tans, entered Jammet’s restaurant in Dublin. Their leader approached one of the diners, saying, ‘Ha, ha! You have been bluffing us for a long time. We have you at last, Michael Collins.’ The unfortunate man was hauled off in triumph to Dublin Castle, where Dublin police officers recognised him as John Foley, a former city councillor. His dining companions had been John MacAvin, an ex-high sheriff, and Michael Cuddy, a cattle dealer. Mr Foley was released from the Castle, leaving his captors with red faces.

 

GERMANY WRESTLES WITH NAZI LEGACY

An example of a country trying to cope with an unhappy history is provided by the German government’s endeavours to remove remaining traces of the Nazi era from its statute books. After examining post-war Germany’s civil code, the Federal Anti-Semitism Commissioner, Felix Klein, uncovered 29 cases of laws from the Third Reich that had yet to be entirely deleted. The 1938 Nuremberg Laws codified grounds for discriminating against the Jewish population. One law that survived required Jewish men and women whose names were not easily identified as ‘typically Jewish’ to add an additional forename in all official documents: Israel for men and Sara for women. Mr Klein noted that anyone seeking to officially change their name today runs up against the current version of the law, from 2008, which contains references to the ‘German Reich’ and the ‘Reich minister of the interior’.

Other legal provisions from the Nazi régime concern natural healers, casino gambling and a civil law on Greek–German mutual assistance. The commissioner has sent to the German Bundestag a complete list of anti-Semitic provisions still on the statute books, requesting reformulation or deletion. As well as removing the anti-Semitic references, Mr Klein has requested that all references be removed that describe the federal interior minister in the German Federal Republic as the legal ‘successor’ to the Reich interior minister, Wilhelm Frick. In the Nazi era, Frick pushed the Israel/Sara law, but his main claim to fame is that he enabled the Austrian-born Adolf Hitler to acquire German citizenship. Frick was convicted at the Nuremberg Trials and executed in 1946.

 

A TERRORIST TO SOME—A HERO TO OTHERS?

India, too, is a country that still has problems reconciling its history. Mahatma Gandhi is widely revered and credited with gaining Indian independence. Consequently, his assassin, Nathuram Godse, has been vilified, but not everyone shares this view. Recently a memorial library and ‘knowledge centre’ dedicated to Nathuram Godse was opened. Godse assassinated Gandhi on 30 January 1948 because he thought that Gandhi had betrayed India’s Hindus by agreeing to partition, leading to the creation of Pakistan, and by championing the rights of Muslims. In 1949 Godse was hanged for Gandhi’s murder. Since then, he has been widely condemned as a terrorist and traitor, the murderer of the ‘Father of India’. In recent years, however, Hindu nationalists have promoted Godse as a misunderstood Indian patriot. At the same time, since the BJP came to power in 2014 Gandhi’s vision of a secular India with equal rights for all religions has been eroded. The library is just one of many recent efforts to memorialise and revere Godse. Hindu Mahasabha, to which Godse belonged and which now has about 750,000 members across India, has erected several Godse statues and has attempted to set up temples in his name. Although the BJP is the government party, there has been opposition, in the name of protecting Gandhi’s legacy, to its policies and to the attempts by groups like Hindu Mahasabha to rehabilitate Godse.

 

 

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