1945 – The Bomb is dropped on Hiroshima

The Enola Gay left its base on Tinian with two companion aircraft on the morning of AUhust 6, 1945. It flew for the Japanese mainland, aiming for the city of Hiroshima. Its payload was the nuclear bomb codenamed ‘Little Boy’, which was dropped and detonated over the target at approximately 8:15 local time.

Of the 340-350 thousand people who lived in Hiroshima, about 20% were killed in the blast itself. Another 20% died of injuries sustained in the blast or its aftermath, or from radiation sickness. Still more died later of related medical issues such as a cancer. All in all, about 200,000 human lives were ended by the first use of a nuclear bomb as a weapon of war. Hiroshima itself was devastated – the few structures that survived the inital blast were damaged or destroyed in the resulting fires.

Along with the detonation of another nuclear bomb, ‘Fat Man’, over Nagasaki three days later, and similar destruction and death there, the attack on Hiroshima was the proximate cause of Japan’s surrender to the Allies, thus ending World War Two.

Referenced in:

Mrs. O — The Dresden Dolls
Short Memory — Midnight Oil
Enola Gay — Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark

1885 – The Congo Free State is established by King Léopold II of Belgium

The Congo Free State was founded by King Leopold II, basically transforming the entirety of this territory (encompassing all the land now claimed by the Democratic Republic of the Congo) into one huge raw material extraction area.

This being the 1880’s in colonial Africa, the extraction was performed by native slave labour under the aegis of the Association internationale africaine – a company of which Leopold was both the chairman and the sole shareholder. For 23 years, it was a private fief of the King, and the site of terrifying cruelties and deaths so numerous that they could reasonably be considered a genocide.

With the end of Leopold’s rule in 1908, the territory became known as Belgian Congo, a colonial territory held by the Belgian government until 1960. Humanitarian policies gradually gained in importance over the five decades of Belgian rule, although the rule of the Belgians remained exploitative and frequently brutal.

Referenced in:

Short Memory — Midnight Oil

1519 – Hernan Cortes lands in Mexico

Hernan Cortes was 34 years old when he led the Spanish Conquistador invasion of Mexico. The initial landing took place on the Yucatan Peninsula, in what was then Maya territory. Cortes’ force was only 500 strong, but they were armed with muskets and cannons, as compared to the arrows and spears used by their opponents.

Although initially peaceful, Cortes’ mission was one of conquest, and would eventually result in the destruction of the Aztec nation and its tributaries, and the Spanish conquest of Mexico.

Referenced in:

Cortez the Killer — Neil Young
Short Memory — Midnight Oil
Monetzuma Was a Man of Faith — Andy Prieboy

1521 – The Aztecs surrender to Cortes

After a war that lasted for nearly two years, the Spanish Conquest of the Aztec Empire was finally completed with the destruction by fire of Tenochlitan, the Empire’s capital (which stood on the site of modern Mexico City). The last of the Aztec Emperors, Cuauhtémoc, surrendered to Cortes and his men.

The Spanish ruthlessly eradicated whatever traces of Aztec culture they found, considering it barbaric and cruel. The religion of the Aztecs was replaced by Christianity, their language of Nahautl by Spanish, and so on. In particular, almost all documents the Aztecs had kept were destroyed, often by Spanish missionaries.

Over the subsequent decades, the Spanish would defeat and destroy the other nations of Mexico: the Tlaxcala (who had been their allies against the Aztecs), the Zapotecs, the Maya and the Mixtecs all fell before the might of Spanish gunfire, although the complete conquest of Mexico would take until 1697 to be completed

Referenced in:

Short Memory – Midnight Oil
Montezuma was a Man of Faith – Andy Prieboy

1879 – The Anglo-Zulu wars begin

A series of border disputes between British settlers and the Zulu people escalated to the point where, in late 1878, the British sent an ultimatum to Cetshwayo, the ruler of the Zulu nation, requiring among other things that he disband his army, pay reparations and once more allow Christian missionaries into his lands. Cetshwayo ignored the ultimatum, which expired on January 10, 1879. The following day, a British and allied forced under Lieutenant General Frederick Thesiger, the 2nd Baron Chelmsford, invaded Zulu territory.

The Zulus had a massive numeric advantage over the British (over two to one), and were also fighting on their own land. The British, on the other hand, were better armed, with rifles and cannons as compared to the Zulu’s assegai (short spears). The Zulu nearly succeeded in overwhelming the British at Rorke’s Drift, but were turned back with enormous casualties on both sides. Another Zulu attack, at Islandwana, was more successful, and turned back the British. However, less than six months after the war’s commencement, the British had triumphed, and the Zulu nation’s power was broken forever.

Referenced in:
Short Memory – Midnight Oil