From The Beacon: Celebrate March and its many milestones
March is a month of change. Spring arrives. The days are lengthening and daylight saving time begins. St. Patrick's Day parades and festivals abound, and the Ides of March represent the day that Julius Caesar was assassinated in 44 B.C.
However, did you know that several lesser known and obscure events occurred during the month of March? Here are some examples and suggested books on the subject.
The emancipation of the serfs by Alexander II of Russia took place March 3, 1861. Although the emancipation of the serfs was one of the most significant developments in 19th century Russia, it led to problems that the country was ill-prepared to solve. A
t first, the tsar instituted much needed reforms, but eventually became repressive and was assassinated in 1881. The seeds for the Russian Revolution were sown. Much has been written about Nicholas II, Lenin and the Russian Revolution. The following books give a portrait of a country in crisis: "Alexander II: The Last Great Tsar" by Edvard Radzinsky; and "Russia Under the Old Regime" by Richard Pipes.
The Spanish influenza pandemic hits the United States with the first case reported March 4, 1918.
The Spanish influenza pandemic was one of the greatest catastrophes in history.According to sources, the pandemic killed 20 million to 40 million people worldwide. Far more people died of this flu than during World War I. More died from it than have died from AIDS. The first reported case in the United States was in Fort Riley, Kan. There are two excellent books on the subject: "The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Greatest Plague in History" by John Barry, focuses on the American experience and response; and "Epidemics and Pandemics: Their Impacts on Human History" by J.N. Hays, a history of the world's deadliest epidemics.
The Suez Canal in Egypt opened March 7, 1869 connecting the Mediterranean Sea and the Red Sea.
Egypt, along with other African countries, has been in turmoil recently, and this has increased concerns about the security of the Suez Canal. Because of its location, the canal is important to trade and military planning. The Suez Canal was built by the French, controlled by the British, and nationalized by Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1956.
After nationalization, the Israelis, British and French then launched military campaigns to regain control of the canal. World opinion and pressure from the U.S. forced the nations to withdraw, and the canal was returned to Egypt. "Parting the Desert: The Creation of the Suez Canal" by Zachary Karabell and "Building the World: An Encyclopedia of the Great Engineering Projects in History" by Frank P. Davidson and Kathleen Lusk describe an amazing engineering feat.
President Thomas Jefferson signed legislation establishing the U.S. Military Academy at West Point on March 16, 1802.
West Point is the oldest military college in the United States. Generations of graduates have led troops into battle. Books on the subject include "Duty, Honor, Country: A History of West Point" by Stephen Ambrose, "Duty first: West Point and the Making of American Leaders" by Ed Ruggero, and "Absolutely American: Four years at West Point" by David Lipsky.
The Tuskegee Airmen were first activated March 1941 and the first class graduated in March 1942.
The Tuskegee Airmen, so named because they trained at an Army airbase in Tuskegee, Ala., were the first black aviators in the United States. They later became part of the Army Air Force, 99th Pursuit Squadron, and the 332nd Fighter Group. The first class included 47 officers and 429 enlisted men.
Regulations at the time mandated that blacks be trained separately from whites. The fighter group performed admirably in combat. The following books describe the historical context for Tuskegee Airmen. For example, the military was segregated by race until 1947; the Airmen incurred racial discrimination before, during and after their service. Learn of the many successes and challenges faced by these men in these books: "The Tuskegee Airmen of World War II" by J. Todd Moye and "Red-tail Angels: The Story of the Tuskegee Airmen of World War II" by Patricia C. McKissack and Fredrick L. McKissack.
The Eiffel Tower was inaugurated on March 31, 1889. Arguably the world's most recognizable landmark, the Eiffel Tower is a wonder to behold. It was completed in time for the 1889 World's Fair, which commemorated the 100th anniversary of the French Revolution. At the time, there were critics who said it was ugly. Did you know that it was to be torn down after 20 years?
The following books provide insight into the France of the late 19th and early 20th centuries: "For the Soul of France: Culture Wars in the Age of Dreyfus" by Frederick Brown; "Eiffel's Tower: And the World's Fair Where Buffalo Bill Beguiled Paris, the Artists Quarreled, and Thomas Edison Became a Count" by Jill Jonnes and "Building the World" by Davidson and Lusk.