This one is so bad that it warrants a special post. The only thing benign about the 25th is that almost no historical villains have it for a birthday, which is odd. Only Nazi war criminal Klaus Barbi, aka “The Butcher of Lyon,” born on this date in 1913, fits the bill, unless you are inclined to be harsh on East German Olympic swimmer, Cornelia Ender (born 10/25/1958), who became one of the symbols of the Soviet bloc’s cheating by shooting up its female athletes with steroids. I’m not, since it seems clear that she was a victim.
The events that took place on this date, however, could sustain an ethics tome, so as I am fond of quoting Willy Loman’s wife, Linda (actually Arthur Miller), “Attention must be paid”:
The Charge of the Light Brigade (1854) has been referenced here more than any other milestone on this date, because it is one of the prime examples of how hierarchies, cultures and bureaucracies often do evil, destructive, stupid or disastrous things because nobody has the courage to stand up and scream, “STOP! This is crazy!” despite the fact that almost everyone in the chain of command knows it’s crazy. This was the phenomenon examined in historian Barbara Tuchman’s “The March of Folly.” In the now-legendary charge, Lord James Cardigan led the Light Brigade cavalry in a frontal attack against well-defended Russian artillery during the Battle of Balaclava in the Crimean War. It snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, as the saying goes.The British were winning when Cardigan received a mistaken order to attack the Russians. It was obviously a terrible idea, but he charged on anyway down a valley and his cavalry was shot to pieces by the heavy Russian guns, suffering 40 percent casualties. Lord Cardigan, who survived the battle, was hailed as a national hero in Britain. No, he wasn’t. A real hero would have had the integrity and competence to refuse the order.
The Teapot Dome Scandal (1929) started getting its just desserts when Albert B. Fall, President Harding’s Secretary of the Interior was found found guilty on this date of accepting a bribe in the form of a $100,000 interest-free “loan” from Edward Doheny of the Pan-American Petroleum and Transport Company, who wanted Fall to grant his firm a valuable oil lease in the Elk Hills naval oil reserve in California. That site, along with the Teapot Dome naval oil reserve in Wyoming, was transferred to the control of the Department of the Interior as part of the criminal machinations of Fall, a corrupt crony of the 20th President. one of many. Fall realized the personal gains he could achieve by leasing the land to private corporations. He became the first Cabinet member in U.S. history to be convicted of a crime while in office.
The U.S. invaded tiny Grenada in 1983, an unethical use of U.S. military power. The justification cited was the threat posed to American nationals on the Caribbean nation of Grenada by that nation’s new Marxist regime There were nearly 1,000 Americans in Grenada at the time, many of them students at the island’s medical school. President Reagan ordered the Marines to invade to secure their safety, or, in other words, overthrow the government, which was accomplished in days. About 2,000 U.S. troops descended on the island, and by the time the smoke had cleared, nearly 6,000 U.S. troops were there. Nearly twenty American soldiers were killed and over a hundred wounded. More than 60 Grenadan and Cuban troops died. Reagan declared a great victory, though critics suspected that the attacke was a PR move to counter the deadly explosion, just a few days before, that killed over 240 U.S. troops in a U.S. military installation in Lebanon.
South Carolina mother Susan Smith launched one of the most terrible crime stories of all time in 1994, when she reported that she was carjacked and the man took her two small children along with the vehicle. Smith finally confessed after nine days that this was a lie, and that she had driven her Mazda into a lake, intentionally drowning her children, three-year-old Michael and one-year-old Alex. It’s tempting to excuse Smith as being sick, but the evidence suggests that she was sociopath. She and her husband, David Smith, used their children to manipulate their messy marriage, as both engaged in serial adulterous affairs. At the time of the murders, Susan’s current paramour was a man who did not want children, so she eliminated them to preserve the relationship. Smith is a perfect example of when capital punishment is appropriated, but she’s still alive, serving a life prison sentence.
On October 25, 1944, the Japanese deployed the first kamikaze (“divine wind”) suicide bombers against American warships.during the Battle of the Leyte Gulf, The tactic was regarded by the U.S.as barbaric and a sign that the Japanese did not respect human life. It was a move born of desperation: conventional naval and aerial engagements had failed to stop the American offensive.
The first kamikaze force consisted of of 24 volunteer pilots, and the targets were U.S. escort carriers. Eventually more than 5,000 kamikaze pilots died, killing more than 3.000 Americans while sinking over 30 ships. Was it an unethical tactic in warfare, or just an especially repugnant one?
That’s a topic for another day.