January 16, 1920 — Prohibition officially begins in the USA

One of the most expensive and counter-productive intrusions of the government into the private sphere in human history, Prohibition was enabled by the 18th Amendment to the US Constitution. It banned the sale, production and consumption of alcohol throughout the United States. Naturally, it was immensely unpopular with the kind of people who like to drink alcohol, and these people, if they could not obtain their tipple legally, would do so illegally. The new law – which was also rather more heavily enforced on the poorer classes than than the richer, often by police known to drink themselves – lead to an incredible increase in the number and wealthiness of criminals, with a corresponding increase in violent crime.

Ultimately, Prohibition failed and was written out of law with another amendment to the Constitution, but the hand of organised crime had been strengthened in a way that, nearly a century later, law enforcement has still not brought back to pre-Prohibition levels.

1920 — The “Black and Tans” get their name

The Royal Irish Constabulary Reserve Force – to give them their official name – were a force of Temporary Constables recruited to assist the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) during the Irish War of Independence. They were the idea of Winston Churchill, Secretary of War for the United Kingdom in 1919. In 1920, the government advertised for men willing to “face a rough and dangerous task”. It would turn out that their roughness would only make things more dangerous for everyone.

The Black and Tans got their nickname from the colours of the uniforms that they wore: khaki army uniforms (usually only trousers) and dark green RIC or blue British police surplus tunics, caps and belts. Christopher O’Sullivan wrote in the Limerick Echo on 25 March 1920 that, meeting a group of recruits on a train at Limerick Junction, the attire of one reminded him of the Scarteen Hunt, whose “Black and Tans” nickname derived from the colouration of its Kerry Beagles. Ennis comedian Mike Nono elaborated the joke in Limerick’s Theatre Royal, and the nickname soon took hold, persisting even after the men received full RIC uniforms.

Referenced in:

Bug Powder Dust — Bomb The Bass

1920 — Construction of the permanent Cenotaph in London begins

Edwin Lutyens was one of the greatest British architects, possibly the greatest of his era. His design for the Cenotaph was originally intended to be a temporary structure, but became so beloved of the British people that it was replaced with a permanent version made of white stone. Its design has often been copied elsewhere in Britain and in other Commonwealth nations, and it is the centre of Remembrance Day events each November 11.

Like all cenotaphs, its design is that of an empty tomb, a memorial to ‘the Unknown Soldier’ – to all those who lost not merely their lives but their identities, but also to all those who served. It is sometimes referred to as “The Glorious Dead.”

Referenced in:
Think Back and Lie of England — Skyclad

1920 – Bloody Sunday takes place in Dublin

One of the more infamous incidents in the long Irish struggle for independence, the day that would become known as Bloody Sunday. There were actually three separate incidents over the course of the day.

The first was an operation by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) led by Michael Collins, that killed twelve British agents/informers and two Auxiliaries. In response, that afternoon, British military forces opened fire on the crowd at a football match in Croke Park, killing fourteen civilians (all Irish, of course). Finally, that evening, three IRA prisoners in Dublin Castle were beaten and killed by their British captors – allegedly while trying to escape.

The day became something of a rallying cry for both sides – both of whom would go on to further atrocities in the course of their long struggle with each other, a struggle that still goes on.

Referenced in:

Sunday Bloody Sunday — U2