I usually check the historical significance of dates. This time, I discovered that August 2 is one of the most ethically disastrous in history.
- In 1934, Chancellor Adolf Hitler became the absolute dictator of Germany with the death of German President Paul von Hindenburg. I think we can all agree that this wins the prize as the worst event on this date. The German army quickly took an oath of allegiance to its new commander-in-chief, and Germany’s democratic government was erased, with Hitler’s Third Reich taking its place.
The result was genocide, world war, and the deaths of millions.
- On August 2, 1990, Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait. This, in turn, led to the Persian Gulf War, which resulted in at least 25,000 Iraqi soldiers killed and more than 75,000 wounded in one of the most one-sided military conflicts in history. Only 148 American soldiers were killed and 457 wounded. The war also ended the lives of an estimated 100,000 Iraqi civilians who died from wounds, lack of adequate water, food, or medical supplies. As Saddam Hussein exploited corruption in the U.N. and played games with the terms of the cease fire, about a million more Iraqi civilians died as a result of the U.N. sanctions.
The Persian Gulf War led directly to 9-11, the Afghanistan War, and the invasion of Iraq, and indirectly to too many horrible results to count.
- Speaking of too many horrible results to count, the Potsdam Conference concluded this day in 1945. That meeting ensured the launch of the Cold War, notably by dividing Germany and Berlin, and condemned millions of citizens in Germany, Poland, Austria, Hungary, Rumania and Bulgaria to Soviet domination.
Of course, the earlier Yalta Conference started the latter process, and the new trio of Truman (taking over for FDR), Stalin and Churchill completed it. That the Cold War didn’t kill us all is only moral luck.
- President Warren G. Harding died of a stroke at the age of 58 on this date in 1923. The death in office of any President is a national trauma and a tragedy, but Harding’s death was the one Presidential demise in office that unequivocally removed an inferior Chief Executive and blessed the country with a far more competent one. When he died, Harding was popular; the extent of his scandal-riddled administration was not yet known. (His habit of having adulterous sex with every young woman who came within reach in the White House was also yet to be revealed, and remained a secret for many years.) There is emerging evidence that Harding was growing into the job, and was a more skilled and forward looking leader than his reputation, which usually has him at or near the bottom of Presidential rankings, suggests.
That, however, is squarely in the wistful fantasy land of What Might Have Been.
- On August 2 in 1876, “Wild Bill” Hickok was assassinated in Deadwood, South Dakota during a poker game. One of the few genuine gunfighters in the Old West, the aging Hickock had seen better days. His eyesight was failing, and he knew that many would love to gain momentary fame by killing him. As a result, Hickok always played poker sitting with his back to the wall. But on August 2, the game he wanted to play in had no such seats open, so Bill sat with his back to the saloon door. An aspiring gunslinger named Jack McCall walked in that door, recognized Hickock’s flowing locks, and seized his opportunity. He approached Hickok from behind, and shot him in the back of the head. Hickok died immediately, leaving on the table his probably winning hand: a pair of aces and a pair of eights, all black. Even today, it is known as “the dead man’s hand.”
In John Ford’s movies where a Western character is killed after playing poker, he always is shown getting dealt aces and eights.