Not only are we in the midst of Dog Days, high humidity, pre-season sports practice (except golf, which is already underway) and the start of the 95th State Fair of West Virginia, but the last full month of summer is rapidly moving forward. August holds its place among months as the witness to some of the most amazing events anyone has ever witnessed.
Originally called “In Defense of Fort McHenry,” Francis Scott Key’s poem written in the early fall of 1814 was recognized by Congress little more than a century later as the National Anthem that we now know as “The Star Spangled Banner.” Key, born on August 1, 1779, is one of the more noteworthy birthday celebrants in this our eighth month.
Key was a captive at the time during the night bombardment but lived to tell the tale and the Marylander is still celebrated for his epic composition. However, in recent years, there has been some outspoken opposition to the song in that it was written about freedom during a period when many thousands of slaves were held in bondage in the United States.
Another epic moment in American history marks an opening week in August as its auspicious anniversary. In 1945, there was a widespread fear that a ground invasion of Japan would be necessary to force a surrender. Although the Allied powers had “won” the war, the Japanese — with an ingrained belief that to give up to an enemy was an unthinkable dishonor — would not give up the fight.
Predictions of perhaps a million casualties were considered fairly accurate by many war-time observers.
Few knew that the U.S. forces were willing to unleash the most powerful weapon of all time, the atomic bomb, on the island nation. The weapon, which had been under development in various stages at Los Alamos and Almagordo, New Mexico as well as in Oak Ridge, Tenn., for years, was ready. In fact, there were two – one dubbed “fat man” and other “little boy” prepared and President Harry Truman gave the order to proceed.
Thus, on a mission that began in darkness and concluded in early morning sunlight, the Japanese city of Hiroshima was reduced to rubble in a matter of seconds on August 6. It was an historic moment then and remains the only time (so far) in history that one country has used an atomic bomb against another nation.
Almost exactly six years earlier, on August 2, 1939, renowned mathematician Albert Einstein wrote a letter to President Franklin Roosevelt and said that “such a weapon delivered on a boat might well destroy the harbor and quite a bit of the surrounding territory” when discussing whether such a program as the Manhattan Project (the atomic bomb project) be undertaken and what it might achieve.
Einstein, in fact, was the great Jewish scientist whose famed formula “E = mc squared” that is, “energy equals mass times the speed of light squared” first unveiled in 1905 and known as the theory of relativity and he was responding to questions about what might work as scientists began their development of super weapons prior to the world wide conflict.
After the first bomb was dropped, the Japanese gave no public response and so on August 9, another bomb was unleashed. This time the city of Nagasaki was leveled and within a short time the Emperor publicly announced that Japan would accept the terms of unconditional surrender. American forces in the Pacific and around the world breathed a sigh of relief, having been ready to forge ahead but thankful it would not be necessary.
In another battle for freedom that gained world-wide notoriety, South African activist Nelson Mandela was arrested on August 4, 1964 and eventually served some 27 years in prison.
Finally released in 1990, Mandela had become a universal symbol of resistance to oppression and he became the country’s president in 1994, a year after being awarded the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize.
Ironically, it was also on August 4 (1961) that Barack Obama was born in Hawaii and went on to become the first African American to become president. He was elected the 44th chief executive in 2008 after defeating Hillary Clinton in a battle for the Democratic nomination and then winning over John McCain in the national election.
Like many presidents, Obama was often the target of scathing criticism. Another famous leader, Abraham Lincoln, suffered many slings and arrows himself. During the Civil War, one of Lincoln’s ideas that received a less than enthusiastic welcome was the first income tax, a three percent levy on incomes above $800. However, the controversial maneuver, proposed to help fund the tremendous cost of war, was never enacted and did not become a law. The dreaded income tax would not surface in actuality until the 20th century.
August 9, 1974 was a momentous day in U.S. history for yet another president as Richard M. Nixon resigned his office. It remains the only time a president has voluntarily left office.
Nixon was under tremendous pressure after a group of operatives had burglarized Democratic offices in the Watergate complex in the Washington/Georgetown area prior to his win over Hubert Humphrey in the ‘72 election. It appeared that Nixon had tried to protect his friends and ultimately that cost him Congressional support, without which he could no longer effectively govern.
All, of course, is not bad news. In only 20 days, the biggest football game in the area and perhaps the entire state of West Virginia will take place at Mitchell Stadium when the Bluefield Beavers host the defending state champion Graham G-Men.
Larry Hypes is a teacher at Bluefield High School and a Daily Telegraph columnist.