This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.
Find the past “On This Day in History” here.
January 13 is the 13th day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. There are 352 days remaining until the end of the year (353 in leap years).
It is still celebrated as New Year’s Eve (at least in the 20th & 21st centuries) by countries still using the thirteen day slower Julian calendar (Old New Year).
On this day in 1898, French writer Emile Zola’s inflammatory newspaper editorial, entitled “J’accuse,” is printed. The letter exposed a military cover-up regarding Captain Alfred Dreyfus. Dreyfus, a French army captain, had been accused of espionage in 1894 and sentenced in a secret military court-martial to imprisonment in a South American penal colony. Two years later, evidence of Dreyfus’ innocence surfaced, but the army suppressed the information. Zola’s letter excoriated the military for concealing its mistaken conviction.
Captain Alfred Dreyfus was a Jewish artillery officer in the French army. When the French intelligence found information about someone giving the German embassy military secrets, anti-semitism seems to have caused senior officers to suspect Dreyfus, though there was no direct evidence of any wrongdoing. Dreyfus was court-martialled, convicted of treason and sent to Devil’s Island in French Guiana.
LL Col. Georges Picquart, though, came across evidence that implicated another officer, Ferdinand Walsin Esterhazy, and informed his superiors. Rather than move to clear Dreyfus, the decision was made to protect Esterhazy and ensure the original verdict was not overturned. Major Hubert-Joseph Henry forged documents that made it seem that Dreyfus was guilty and then had Picquart assigned duty in Africa. Before leaving, Picquart told some of Dreyfus’s supporters what he knew. Soon Senator August Scheurer-Kestner took up the case and announced in the Senate that Dreyfus was innocent and accused Esterhazy. The right-wing government refused new evidence to be allowed and Esterhazy was tried and acquitted. Picquart was then sentenced to 60 days in prison.
Émile Zola risked his career and even his life on 13 January 1898, when his “J’accuse“, was published on the front page of the Paris daily, L’Aurore. The newspaper was run by Ernest Vaughan and Georges Clemenceau, who decided that the controversial story would be in the form of an open letter to the President, Felix Faure. Émile Zola’s “J’Accuse” accused the highest levels of the French Army of obstruction of justice and antisemitism by having wrongfully convicted Alfred Dreyfus to life imprisonment on Devil’s Island. Zola declared that Dreyfus’ conviction came after a false accusation of espionage and was a miscarriage of justice. The case, known as the Dreyfus affair, divided France deeply between the reactionary army and church, and the more liberal commercial society. The ramifications continued for many years; on the 100th anniversary of Zola’s article, France’s Roman Catholic daily paper, La Croix, apologized for its antisemitic editorials during the Dreyfus Affair. As Zola was a leading French thinker, his letter formed a major turning-point in the affair.
Zola was brought to trial for criminal libel on 7 February 1898, and was convicted on 23 February, sentenced, and removed from the Legion of Honor. Rather than go to jail, Zola fled to England. Without even having had the time to pack a few clothes, he arrived at Victoria Station on 19 July. After his brief and unhappy residence in London, from October 1898 to June 1899, he was allowed to return in time to see the government fall.
The government offered Dreyfus a pardon (rather than exoneration), which he could accept and go free and so effectively admit that he was guilty, or face a re-trial in which he was sure to be convicted again. Although he was clearly not guilty, he chose to accept the pardon. Émile Zola said, “The truth is on the march, and nothing shall stop it.” In 1906, Dreyfus was completely exonerated by the Supreme Court.
The 1898 article by Émile Zola is widely marked in France as the most prominent manifestation of the new power of the intellectuals (writers, artists, academicians) in shaping public opinion, the media and the state.
532 – Nika riots in Constantinople.
888 – Odo, Count of Paris becomes King of the Franks.
1328 – Edward III of England marries Philippa of Hainault, daughter of the Count of Hainault.
1435 – Sicut Dudum is promulgated by Pope Eugene IV about the enslaving of black natives in Canary Islands by Spanish Natives.
1547 – Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey is sentenced to death.
1605 – The controversial play Eastward Hoe by Ben Jonson, George Chapman, and John Marston is performed, landing two of the authors in prison.
1607 – The Bank of Genoa fails after announcement of national bankruptcy in Spain.
1733 – James Oglethorpe and 130 colonists arrive in Charleston, South Carolina.
1785 – John Walter publishes the first issue of the Daily Universal Register (later renamed The Times).
1797 – French Revolutionary Wars: A naval battle between a French ship of the line and two British frigates off the coast of Brittanyends with the French vessel running ashore, resulting in the death of over 900.
1815 – War of 1812: British troops capture Fort Peter in St. Marys, Georgia, the only battle of the war to take place in the state.
1822 – The design of the Greek flag is adopted by the First National Assembly at Epidaurus.
1830 – The Great fire of New Orleans, Louisiana begins.
1832 – President Andrew Jackson writes to Vice President Martin Van Buren expressing his opposition to South Carolina’s defiance of federal authority in the Nullification Crisis.
1840 – The steamship Lexington burns and sinks four miles off the coast of Long Island with the loss of 139 lives.
1842 – Dr. William Brydon, an assistant surgeon in the British East India Company Army during the First Anglo-Afghan War, becomes famous for being the sole survivor of an army of 4,500 men and 12,000 camp followers when he reaches the safety of a garrison in Jalalabad.
1847 – The Treaty of Cahuenga ends the Mexican-American War in California.
1869 – National convention of black leaders meets in Washington D.C.
1893 – The Independent Labour Party of the UK has its first meeting.
1893 – U.S. Marines land in Honolulu from the U.S.S. Boston to prevent the queen from abrogating the Bayonet Constitution.
1898 – Emile Zola’s J’accuse exposes the Dreyfus affair.
1910 – The first public radio broadcast takes place; a live performance of the opera Cavalleria rusticana is sent out over the airwaves from the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City.
1913 – Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Incorporated is founded on the campus of Howard University as the second Black Greek Letter Organization for Women. The mission is to make a move towards social activism.
1915 – An earthquake in Avezzano, Italy kills 29,800.
1934 – The Candidate of Science degree is established in the USSR.
1935 – A plebiscite in Saarland shows that 90.3% of those voting wish to join Nazi Germany.
1939 – The Black Friday bush fires burn 20,000 square kilometres of land in Australia, claiming the lives of 71 people.
1942 – Henry Ford patents a plastic automobile, which is 30% lighter than a regular car.
1942 – World War II: First use of aircraft ejection seat by a German test pilot in a Heinkel He 280 jet fighter.
1951 – First Indochina War: The Battle of Vinh Yen begins, which will end in a major victory for France.
1953 – Marshal Josip Broz Tito is chosen as President of Yugoslavia.
1953 – An article appears in Pravda accusing some of the most prestigious and prominent doctors, mostly Jews, in the Soviet Union of taking part in a vast plot to poison members of the top Soviet political and military leadership.
1958 – Moroccan Liberation Army ambushes Spanish patrol in the Battle of Edchera.
1964 – Anti-Muslim riots break out in Calcutta – resulting in 100 deaths.
1964 – Karol Wojtyla, the future Pope John Paul II, is appointed archbishop of Krakow, Poland.
1966 – Robert C. Weaver becomes the first African American Cabinet member by being appointed United States Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
1968 – Johnny Cash performs live at Folsom Prison.
1982 – Shortly after takeoff, Air Florida Flight 90, a Boeing 737 jet crashes into Washington, DC’s 14th Street Bridge and falls into the Potomac River, killing 78 including four motorists. Coincidentally, 30 minutes later, a Washington Metrorail train derails at the Federal Triangle station, on the orange and blue lines, killing three and injuring many more. Flight 90 also destroyed part of a Blue line track that ran next to the 14th street bridge. This gridlocked the city.
1985 – A passenger train plunged into a ravine at Ethiopia, killing 428 in the worst railroad disaster in Africa.
1986 – A month-long violent struggle begins in Aden, South Yemen between supporters of Ali Nasir Muhammad and Abdul Fattah Ismail, resulting in thousands of casualties.
1990 – L. Douglas Wilder becomes the first elected African American governor as he takes office in Richmond, Virginia.
1991 – Soviet Union military troops attack Lithuanian independence supporters in Vilnius. Killed 14 people and wounding 1000. January Events (Lithuania).
1993 – Space Shuttle program: Endeavour heads for space for the third time as STS-54 launches from the Kennedy Space Center.
2001 – An earthquake hits El Salvador, killing more than 800.
Christian Feast Day:
Knut (Sweden and Finland)
Liberation Day (Togo)
Old New Year, celebrated on the night of January 13 or 14. (Russia, Georgia, Belarus, Ukraine, Serbia, Montenegro, Republic of Srpska, Republic of Macedonia)
(Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh)
St. Knut’s Day or Tjugondag Knut, the last day of Christmas. (Sweden and Finland)