The Great Jamaican Slave Revolt


An artistic impression of Samuel Sharpe. Courtesy of the Jamaican Information Service

On this day in 1831, an enslaved Baptist preacher named Samuel Sharpe led the largest slave rebellion in Jamaica, and one of the largest in history.

Known variously as the Baptist War, the Christmas Uprising and the Great Jamaican Slave Revolt, it mobilized as many as 60,000 of Jamaica’s 300,000 slaves. It was initially begun as a peaceful protest, with slaves refusing to work during the crucial and often brutal surar harvest until they were treated better and paid at least half the average wage. Sharpe and his followers believed that a general strike alone would achieve their goals, envisioning violence only as a last, defensive resort.

Unfortunately, like slave owners across time, Jamaican landowners were not forgiving of this challenge, and immediately used violence to end the strike. The subsequent eleven-day conflict resulted in the deaths of fourteen whites and over 200 black slaves. Hundreds more were killed after the rebellion ended in “various extrajudicial killings”, often over minor or trumped up offenses.

Just before Sharpe was hanged for his role, he said in his last words: “I would rather die among yonder gallows, than live in slavery.” Though he and many of his followers did not live to see their goals achieved, the scale of the rebellion and the subsequently severe reprisals afterward are believed to have spurred Parliament to pass the Slavery Abolition Act a year later, with the final abolition of slavery across the British Empire in 1838.

Samuel Sharpe was officially proclaimed a National Hero of Jamaica in 1975, and is featured on the $50 of the Jamaican dollar.




The Former Italian Fascist Who Teamed Up With a Franco-Era Spanish Diplomat to Save Thousands of Jews During WWII

Giorgio Perlasca (pictured left, some time before his death in 1992) was an Italian businessman and ex-fascist who cleverly used international law and bold impersonations to save thousands of Hungarian Jews during the Holocaust.

Perlasca was once a committed fascist who had fought for Italy in its brutal war against Ethiopia, as well as for the Nationalists in the Spanish Civil War. By the start of the Second World War, however, he had grown disillusioned with fascism, especially following Italy’s alliance with Nazi Germany and the implementation of Italian racial laws in 1938.

While serving as an Italian delegate in Hungary (another Nazi ally), his country had surrendered to the Allies, forcing citizens to choose between remaining loyal to the fascists or joining the Allied cause; at great personal risk, Perlasca chose the latter, and he was subsequently arrested by Hungarian authorities.

Using a medical pass that allowed him to travel in the country, he fled to the Spanish Embassy in Budapest, where he requested political status. Fortunately, his service to the victorious Spanish Nationalists endeared them to his request, and he was subsequently given protection, since Spain was neutral. Perlasca then took full advantage of his diplomatic cover to save people of a completely different faith and nationality.

Lucky for him, Angel Sanz Briz (pictured right, in 1969) was stationed there with the same idea in mind.

Continue reading

Happy 86th Birthday Anne Frank

Anne FrankOn this day in 1929, Anne Frank was born. Had her life not been cruelly cut short, she would be 86 today, and probably one of the foremost writers of our time.

It was also on this day in 1942, her thirteenth birthday, that she first began keeping her diary. Her father gave her a book that she had pointed out in a shop window a few days earlier. Although it was an autograph book, Frank decided she would use it as a diary, and began writing in it right away.

Sure enough, her father Otto Frank, the family’s only known survivor, would be the one to publish the diary he had given his daughter. When he returned to Amsterdam from Auschwitz in 1945, he sought out his protectors in the hopes of finding his family. The diary and other personal papers had been kept safe by Miep Gies, one of the family’s protectors, who resolved to give them back to Anne. Instead, they were given to Otto when the death of Anne had been confirmed.

Of all her deep and well-written insights, the following resonates with me most. It was written July 15, less than a month before she and her family had been betrayed, arrested, and deported to their deaths.

It’s difficult in times like these: ideals, dreams and cherished hopes rise within us, only to be crushed by grim reality. It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impractical. Yet I cling to them because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart. It’s utterly impossible for me to build my life on a foundation of chaos, suffering and death. I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness, I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too, I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty too shall end, that peace and tranquility will return once more. In the meantime, I must hold on to my ideals. Perhaps the day will come when I’ll be able to realize them!

If someone hiding out from one of the most vicious regimes in history could maintain such a humanistic and compassionate spirit, I have little excuse. What better inspiration do I need? I would like to imagine that although she could not realize her ideals directly, her kindness, sincerity, and hope continue to influence others to carry it all on for her.

Congolese Gynecologist Wins Sakharov Prize

According to NPR, Dr. Denis Mukwege, a gynecological surgeon from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, has won the European Union’s prestigious Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought, in recognition of his work treating thousands of rape victims in his country.

I admit to having never heard of this amazing man prior to seeing this reported in Wikipedia’s news page today. Of course, that is not surprising given the humility that is often characteristic of these unsung heroes (not to mention the woeful lack of attention to the causes they serve).

As The New York Times reports:

Dr. Mukwege is known for his work in one of the most traumatized places in the world. In the hills above Bukavu, where for years there was little electricity or anesthetic, Dr. Mukwege has performed surgery on countless women, some a few steps away from death, who have reached his hospital.

At the same time, he has campaigned relentlessly to shine a spotlight on the plight of Congolese women, even after an assassination attempt two years ago.

“It’s not a women question; it’s a humanity question, and men have to take responsibility to end it,” Dr. Mukwege said in an interview last year. “It’s not an Africa problem. In Bosnia, Syria, Liberia, Colombia, you have the same thing.”

A winner of over a dozen other humanitarian awards, and long considered a potential candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize, the 69-year-old Dr. Mukwege has dedicated his entire life to delivering these desperately needed services. The third of nine children, he pursued medicine in a desire to heal the many people that his minister father would pray for, working at first in a local rural hospital.

During his time there, he witnessed many women endure painful and often fatal complications from childbirth, due largely to the lack of qualified specialists. This inspired him to pursue the study of gynecology in France, which would come to be applied for another purpose: treating the horrific consequences of gang-rape that has been rampant in many parts of war-torn Congo for decades.

Dr. Mukwege founded Panzi Hospital in his native town of Bukavu in 1999, just one year after the start of the Second Congo War, Africa’s deadliest conflict, and one in which the incidence of gang rape was systemic. Located near the heart of the conflict zone, the hospital was strained by increased demand for both general medical services and gynecological surgery; Dr. Mukwege remains the facility’s only gynecologist, and one of only two doctors in all of eastern Congo specializing in reconstructive surgery.

Over the past 16 years, the hospital has treated over 30,000 women, many of them repeat visitors; many patients arrive right after being gang-raped, “sometimes naked, usually bleeding and leaking urine and faeces from torn vaginas” according to Dr. Mukwege’s own horrific testimony. Due to the still-high demand for his service, he often performs up to 10 surgeries a day during his 18-hour shifts (though the war ended in 2003, lingering and related conflicts continue).

His diligent and desperately needed work would be more than enough, but he has also used his firsthand experience to bring attention to this crisis and call for an end to the rampant rape that persists, often to dehumanize victims and traumatize families. According to the BBC, he saw the award as an opportunity to show rape survivors that “they are not alone”.

That in itself is a valuable aim, but hopefully this prize will also bring attention to Panzi Hospital’s need for donations: initially built for 120 beds, it as now squeezed in 350, out of which more than half are devoted to survivors of sexual violence. With an average of 410 patients per month, the hospital is currently running at maximum capacity and lacks staff, supplies, and resources.

While Dr. Mukwege’s $63,600 prize money will go a long way, we should consider donating to the Panzi Foundation and the good work it has done to help restore thousands of lives — and hopefully many more that are needed until this scourge of violence  and terror is finally done with.

The doctor collects his well-deserved prize.



Forgotten Hero: Henning von Tresckow

The whole world will vilify us now, but I am still totally convinced that we did the right thing. Hitler is the archenemy not only of Germany but of the world. When, in few hours’ time, I go before God to account for what I have done and left undone, I know I will be able to justify what I did in the struggle against Hitler. God promised Abraham that He would not destroy Sodom if only ten righteous men could be found in the city, and so I hope for our sake God will not destroy Germany. No one among us can complain about dying, for whoever joined our ranks put on the shirt of Nessus [a source of misfortune from which there is no escape]. A man’s moral worth is established only at the point where he is ready to give his life in defense of his convictions.

Last words of Henning von Tresckow, a Generalmajor in the German Wehrmacht who organized German resistance against Adolf Hitler, most famously the Valkyrie plan to overthrow the Nazis (known as the July 20 Plot).

Born into a Prussian noble family with 300 years of military tradition, he was the youngest lieutenant in the German Army during the First World War, earning the nation’s highest military honor — the Iron Cross — for outstanding courage and independent action against the enemy.

The young Tresckow (Wikimedia Commons).

A worldly man well versed in poetry, foreign languages, economics, and law, Tresckow nonetheless remained a career soldier, rising to the General Staff after graduating best in his class in 1936. He opposed many of Hitler’s military and foreign policies, such as the Anschluss with Austria and the invasion of Czechoslovakia, even predicting that Germany would fall from an overly aggressive foreign policy.

Although once an enthusiastic supporter of Nazism due to its opposition to the harsh Treaty of Versailles, he became quickly disillusioned following the Night of the Long Knives in 1934, when the nascent SS murdered numerous political opponents and rivals. He regarded the infamous Kristallnacht, the state-sanctioned pogrom against Jews, as personal humiliation and degradation of civilization. He immediately sought out civilians and officers who opposed Hitler, proclaiming to a loved one that “both duty and honor demand from us that we should do our best to bring about the downfall of Hitler and National Socialism to save Germany and Europe from barbarism”.

During the campaign against the Soviet Union, he became further appalled by Nazi brutality, including the treatment of Russian prisoners of war and the mass shootings of Jewish women and children. When he learned about the massacre of thousands of Jews at Borisov, Tresckow appealed passionately to a fellow officer: “Never may such a thing happen again! And so we must act now.”

Thus, as the chief operations officer of Army Group Center, he took great risk to seek out other officers who shared his views and place them in key positions to build up a strong base for internal resistance. He tried to persuade other high-ranking officers to join his conspiracy, to little avail (notably, all those he did manage to recruit cited the massacre of Jews and others as the catalyst for their opposition to Hitler and the Nazis).

Ultimately, he teamed up with several dozen fellow resisters — chief among them Ludwig Beck, Carl Friedrich Goerdeler, Colonel Hans Oster, General Friedrich Olbricht, and Colonel Claus von Stauffenberg — and devised the Valkyrie plan to kill Hitler, seize control of the government from the Nazis, and make peace with the Allies. A few days before the coup attempt, Tresckow confided to a friend that “in all likelihood everything will go wrong”, and when asked whether the action was necessary nonetheless, he replied, “Yes, even so”.

Unfortunately, as we all know, it did go wrong, with many of the plotters later being caught and executed. When Tresckow, who was stationed on the Eastern Front, learned of this failure, he opted to commit suicide after issuing the last words quoted above to his liaison. In order to protect his co-conspirators from suspicion, he staged his death to look like an enemy attack, firing several bullets from his pistol before detonating a grenade beneath his chin. His words from months before ring true to this day, if unfortunately forgotten:

The assassination must be attempted at all costs. Even if it should not succeed, an attempt to seize power in Berlin must be made. What matters now is no longer the practical purpose of the coup, but to prove to the world and for the records of history that the men of the resistance dared to take the decisive step. Compared to this objective, nothing else is of consequence.

It is a shame that his story, like that of so many other resisters to the Nazis, remains widely unknown outside Germany (recent attempts by Hollywood notwithstanding).

Tresckow c. 1943 (Wikimedia Commons / German Federal Archives).



What Martin Luther King Jr. Stood For

Martin Luther King Jr. remains one of the most enduring and popular figures in American history, and rightfully so: his brilliant oratory, moral integrity, and steadfast dedication to social justice make him a timeless role model for people across the world.

But like most prominent figures, especially those who promoted such ambitious goals, many have come to challenge King’s contributions; namely, whether his goals were ultimately achieved. Given the persistence of racial inequality — highlighted by disproportional rates of poverty, imprisonment, and the like — it’s easy, if not understandable, to consider King’s dream a failure (or at least a work in progress).

While I sadly don’t have the time to share my own thoughts on the matter, I’ve found a great piece on DailyKos that more or less echoes my views as well. I recommend you read the whole article, but the following excerpt represents the crux of it:

So yes, Dr. King had many other goals, many other more transcendent, non-racial, policy goals, goals that apply to white people too, like ending poverty, reducing the war-like aspects of our foreign policy, promoting the New Deal goal of universal employment, and so on. But his main accomplishment was ending 200 years of racial terrorism, by getting black people to confront their fears. So please don’t tell me that Martin Luther King’s dream has not been achieved, unless you knew what racial terrorism was like back then and can make a convincing case you still feel it today. If you did not go through that transition, you’re not qualified to say that the dream was not accomplished.

That is what Dr. King did—not march, not give good speeches. He crisscrossed the south organizing people, helping them not be afraid, and encouraging them, like Gandhi did in India, to take the beating that they had been trying to avoid all their lives.

Once the beating was over, we were free.

It wasn’t the Civil Rights Act, or the Voting Rights Act or the Fair Housing Act that freed us. It was taking the beating and thereafter not being afraid. So, sorry Mrs. Clinton, as much as I admire you, you were wrong on this one. Our people freed ourselves and those Acts, as important as they were, were only white people officially recognizing what we had done.

What are your thoughts?

Labor of Love

In the following photo, Dr. Zbigniew Religa, a Polish cardiac surgeon who was one of the best in the field, monitors his patient after a successful 23-hour successful lung and heart transplant (his assistant is sleeping in the corner). The photo was among National Geographic’s 100 Best Pictures.

The procedure took place in 1987 Communist Poland, with the technology of the time requiring constant monitoring and care — something Religa was willing to do even after nearly 24 hours of difficult surgery. The following is an interview with the photographer, James L. Stanfield:

He’d captured the anxious eyes of Dr. Zbigniew Religa tracking the vital signs of a heart-transplant patient. “I never let him out of my sight, never turned my back on him,” he says. “This was the payoff.”

It was 1987, in an outmoded operating room in post-Soviet Poland. Stanfield was looking for an image that would portray the critical state of the country’s free health-care system—and that’s exactly what he got.

His lens not only focuses on a dedicated surgeon’s eyes, but also on a patient hooked up to technologically outdated equipment. Stanfield also includes a weary staff member (far right) sleeping after assisting Religa with two transplants during an all-night session. “Each of these elements,” says Stanfield, “gives dimension and drama to the photograph, while helping tell a story”.

Here is a touching photo of the patient, no doubt grateful for the doctor’s dedication and skill.

I cannot imagine carrying out even the simplest task after nearly 24 strait hours, much less something as complex as a multi-organ transplant. This is a clear testament to the doctor’s skill and compassion.

Dr. Religa passed away in 2009 aged 70, two years after he finished serving as the Minister of Health of Poland.

Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan


Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, often called the the “Muslim Gandhi,” was an Afghan political and spiritual leader known for his nonviolent opposition to British Rule in India. A devout Muslim and dedicated pacifist, he worked with Gandhi to put an end to the British Raj and bring unity among the divided people of South Asia. He once said it is “better [to] be poisoned in one’s own blood then to be poisoned in one’s principle.”

Khan was also a reformer and social activist who sought to alleviate the poverty, violence, and hatred of his society. To that end, he formed the Khudai Khidmatgar (Servants of God) movement, in which members would take an oath of honesty, integrity, self-sacrifice, and the serving of others without regard to faith or ethnicity. The success of this group led to a harsh crackdown by the British, though Khan remained committed to nonviolence.

He opposed the partition of India, and because of this – as well as his lifelong opposition to authoritarian rule – he was frequently arrested, exiled, and harassed by the Pakistani authorities. Despite this, he never wavered in his values and remained a pacifist for the rest of his life.

Happy 100th Birthday Alan Turing (Edit: In 2 Days!!)

A man provided with paper, pencil, and rubber, and subject to strict discipline, is in effect a universal machine.

Alan Turing was a visionary mathematician and computer scientist who helped cracked Germany’s military code during World War II, and who developed algorithms and concepts that would eventually lead to the creation of the modern computer. Indeed, he regarded as the father of computer and artificial intelligence, and the “Turing test” is used to this day for determining a machine’s intelligence.

Unfortunately, Turing was also subject to persecution for his homosexuality, which during his time was a crime in the UK. He was subject to chemical castration, public humiliation, and stripped of his job with the UK’s intelligence agency (where he had pioneered a lot of computer and cryptanalytical work).  He died two years later from cyanide poisoning, in what is widely considered to have been a suicide (the government has since offered a posthumous apology for the legal actions levied against him).

It’s a shame Turing would die so relatively young, given what more he could’ve provided us. In his brief time on this Earth, he made  instrumental contributions to what is now one of the most important technological developments in human history. Despite his tragic and untimely death, he left quite a legacy.

A Cruel World

A car crash in Cape Cod this holiday weekend claimed the life of Marina Keegan, a 22-year-old woman from Wayland, Mass. who graduated from Yale University last week, with plans to pursue a writing career, the New York Daily News reports.

Keegan was killed around 2 p.m. Saturday afternoon in a single-vehicle rollover that occurred when her boyfriend Michael Gocksch, also 22, lost control of his Lexus and hit the right-side guarding rail, according to a press release from police in Dennis, Mass.

Keegan was pronounced dead at the scene while Gocksch, a fellow Yale alum who graduated with Keegan last Monday, was transported to Cape Cod Hospital in stable condition. Police said both passengers were wearing seatbelts and speed did not appear to be a factor in the crash.

According to Yale Daily News, Keegan was “a prolific writer, actress and activist” who graduated magna cum laude from the university with a concentration in writing. She had just landed a job at The New Yorker as an editorial assistant and was scheduled to move to Brooklyn with friends in June.

In addition to acting, writing plays and serving as President of the Yale College Democrats, Keegan was a member of OccupyYale who sparked debate on campus with a feature story in Yale’s WEEKEND Magazine called “Even artichokes have doubts,” which discussed the high percentage of Yale graduates who enter the consulting and finance industry. National Public Radio highlighted the story in a February episode of the program “All Things Considered.”

During Memorial Day weekend, Keegan had planned to workshop her folk musical “Independents,” which was slated to appear in the New York International Fringe Festival in August.

“[Marina] was just one of those amazing, wise souls that was given to us as a gift. She had an unbelievable, beyond-her-years way of looking at the world, and her passion was to try and use her words to explore the human condition,” Keegan’s mother told the New York Daily News. “[The musical] is one of her legacies that she will leave behind.”

In her last piece as a staff writer for the Yale Daily News, an editorial called “The Opposite of Loneliness” published Sunday following her death, Keegan wrote about her hopes and anxieties as she looked toward the future.

“What we have to remember is that we can still do anything. We can change our minds. We can start over. Get a post-bac or try writing for the first time,” Keegan wrote. “The notion that it’s too late to do anything is comical. It’s hilarious. We’re graduating college. We’re so young. We can’t, we MUST not lose this sense of possibility because in the end, it’s all we have.”

Source: Huffington Post

This is yet another reminder of the horrific randomness and indiscrimination of death. By all accounts, this girl did not deserve to die. Nor should she have: she was wearing her seatbelt, and the car was not going particularly fast. Many people have survived far worse. That could just as easily have been me in her place. There’s just no telling how death will work its arbitrary ways.

Think about what this young woman could’ve given this world. She had talent, intelligent, and ambition. She was already a leader among her generation. And now she’s gone forever due to the most unexpected scenario (though we’ve yet to know what really caused the crash).

I feel especially bad for her boyfriend, who will wake up to hear the most horrific news imaginable. He’ll no doubt blame himself, too, given that he was the driver. Losing someone like that is hard enough, but feeling some level of responsibility for it is even worse. It’s an awful feeling, and I had a close-call like that myself (sparing the details, at one point I thought my girlfriend had died in a car accident; the horror remains indescribable).

The world is such a cruel place. Even if you remove all our capacity for evil and foolishness, there are still terrible occurrences like this going on all the time (an earthquake recently struck Italy for example). As long as we have the intellectual capacity to be self-aware of our mortality, we’ll always suffer for some reason or another. Even a “natural” death is no less painful to loved ones. Distress is an inseparable component of life. All the good in the world is just a band-aid.