The first meeting of what would evolve into the Manhattan Project – at that time called the Briggs Advisory Committee on Uranium – was held in Washington DC on October 21, 1939, a little less than two months after the outbreak of World War Two (and more than two years prior to the USA actually entering the war).
The first meeting was basically a planning session. It identified four key problems that needed solving – finding a reliable source of uranium, developing better methods for extracting uranium-235, making atomic (fission) bombs and finally, exploring the use of nuclear fission as a power source. In addition, $6000 was allotted to Fermi and Szilard to continue their experiments (which promised to shed light on at least one of the four problems).
On December 18, 1941, the S1 Uranium Committee was reorganised under the leadership of Vannevar Bush and tasked with developing an atomic bomb, a mission that would reach completion on August 6, 1945, in the skies above Hiroshima.
It is the defining moment of the modern era. If you were old enough to remember it at the time, then you remember how you heard it, remember the image of the plane hitting the second building, remember it all.
Four separate planes were hijacked by terrorists belonging to Al Qaeda. One was brought down by the passengers when they realised what it was supposed to do. The other three were rammed into buildings – one into the Pentagon, one into each of the two towers of the World Trade Centre in New York City. Nearly 3000 people were killed in the attacks, and more died in the aftermath, killed trying to rescue others.
The reaction was one of shock, grief and anger. Within weeks, the world was plunged into war, first in Afghanistan, then in Iraq – a state from which it is yet to emerge.
COINTELPRO, or COunter INTELligence PROgram, was one of the FBI’s grossest violations of the civil rights of the people it supposedly protected in the agency’s existence. Authorised by FBI director J. Edgar Hoover on August 28, 1956, and did not end until 1971. It consisted of a variety of counter-intelligence manouvres aimed at what were euphemistically called ‘domestic targets’.
The target list included organisations deemed ‘subversive’ by the FBI, approximately 85% of them leftist groups and individuals (including Martin Luther King and Albert Einstein) associated with the Civil Rights movement. The list of groups reads like a counter-culture who’s who: the SDS, the NAACP, the Congress for Racial Equality, the Southern Christian Leadership Congress, the Weathermen, the American Indian Movement and almost every group protesting the Vietnam War. (The remaining 15% of COINTELPRO’s attentions were aimed at the Ku Klux Klan and similar extreme right groups.)
Tactics used by COINTELPRO included discrediting targets through psychological warfare; smearing individuals and groups using forged documents and by planting false reports in the media; harassment; wrongful imprisonment; and illegal violence, even assassination. It only stopped after an illegal break in stole and made public documents exposing the program – not because it was, you know, wrong or illegal or anything like that, but because it made Hoover look bad in the press.
It was only the beginning of the end, but by the time it was done, one of the greatest success stories of American business would be revelaed to be one of the greatest lies in American business. Enron was an energy provider originally based in Houston, Texas, but which grew to become an international titan with interests in gas, electricity and even non-energy fields such as communications. It was lauded for its innovations in business.
However, it turned out that the most innovative thing about them was their interesting new accounting practices: Enron’s single greatest contribution to the history of American business was their creative – and illegal – account keeping. By the time the SEC concluded their investigation, Enron would have declared bankruptcy and their director, Ken Lay, would be convicted on ten counts of assorted frauds. He died of a heart attck before he commenced his prison sentence.
It was, admittedly, an age when the censorious impulse ran wild. The same people who would eventually succeed in banning alcohol (albeit temporarily), led the movement to ban marijuana first.
This was justified, as ever, on the grounds of public morality and health, although a strong component of racism – marijuana being strongly associated with Mexicans – also played a part. But behind all of that, just as with the Tea Party today, were corporate interests manipulating the gullible for their own benefit. The paper industry was split between those who used hemp and those who used wood pulp. The former was more profitable, but the latter was supported by deeper pockets and greater influence.
Bunny Greenhouse was a rising star in the United States Army Corps of Engineers until the year 2000. Suddenly, under a new CO, her previously spotless performance appraisals were less so, something Greenhouse attributes to racism and sexism (claims which the US Army is yet to investigate).
In 2005, she testified before a public committee hearing of the Democratic Party regarding the Army’s deals with Halliburton, in particular with regard to waste, inefficiency, fraud, abuse of power and general corruption. Naturally, this led to the end of her military career, as the Bush White House apparently believed that free speech was something whistleblowers should be made to pay for.
Her actual words that day were an indictment of Halliburton, and by extension, the political, military and economic climate in which that company thrives: she described Halliburton’s dealings as “the most blatant and improper contract abuse I have witnessed during the course of my professional career.”
Nine days after the 9/11 attacks, George Bush gave his country what so very many of them were crying out for: a rallying cry, a cause and an outlet for vengeful bloodlust. The War on Terror – which has, nine years on, failed to achieve almost any of its stated goals (but which conspiracy theorists allege has achieved a number of its unstated goals) – has cost billions of dollars and thousands of lives.
The first person to be executed via the electric chair was William Kemmler in New York’s Auburn Prison on August 6, 1890; the ‘state electrician’ was Edwin Davis. The first 17-second passage of current through Kemmler caused unconsciousness, but failed to stop his heart and breathing. The attending physicians, Dr. Edward Charles Spitzka and Dr. Charles F. Macdonald, came forward to examine Kemmler. After confirming Kemmler was still alive, Spitzka reportedly called out, “Have the current turned on again, quick — no delay.”
The generator needed time to re-charge, however. In the second attempt, Kemmler was shocked with 2,000 volts. Blood vessels under the skin ruptured and bled and his body caught fire.
In all, the entire execution took approximately eight minutes. Westinghouse later commented: “They would have done better using an axe.” A reporter who witnessed it also said it was “an awful spectacle, far worse than hanging.”