Category Archives: This Date in History

Twenty Years After 9-11

I’ve never posted this poem here, but today seems an appropriate day. I wrote it when my brother Keith was serving as a civilian contractor, driving trucks in Iraq, and he told me they weren’t allowed to stop when people ran in the road because of the threat of IEDs (improvised explosive devices). Please note that what happens to the trucker in the poem is something that I imagined, not that my brother experienced. Keith died last December of COVID-19, so now for me personally, this poem relates to two of the great tragedies in our country’s recent history.

Fatal Impacts

I. The Fireman

He never knows what wakes him—

the click of the furnace,

the dull scrape of a snowplow in the street,

his wife’s soft sigh—

but once awakened, he hears explosions,

the loud percussive impact of a body hitting street,

bursting in a wet and heavy instant

like a monstrous water balloon

or a dropped melon.

Like a repeating loop of newsreel,

he sees them jump from the towering pyre

and try to keep on running,

arms pumping, legs striding through the smoky sky

as they plummet to eternity.

And he who could not save them,

nor the comrades lost in the Twin Towers’ fall,

keeps faith by living with the burden of memory—

the smell of burning flesh and fuel

the acrid taste of powdered concrete—

and waits for it to crush him

so he can join the others.

II. The Trucker

The snores are loud in a tent of 40 men,

shaking him from sleep

just as the roar of jet engines

must have vibrated the tower windows

right before the impact.

Eighteen hours he drove that day,

hauling steak, detergent, and stacks of mail

to an army base near Fallujah.

As he returned,

a barefoot boy in dirty clothes,

scrambled over the gravel shoulder

and onto the single-lane highway.

The boy held out his hands before him

in the universal gesture for “Stop”

and squeezed shut his eyes.

Following orders,

the convoy neither slowed nor turned

but drove straight forward to avoid ambush.

His was the truck that hit the slender body,

the initial thud of impact

followed by a bump as he ran over a yielding mass,

each set of wheels encountering less and less of a barrier.

Now he lies on his cot, trying not to shudder,

and tells himself the boy would have grown to be a terrorist,

so that killing him was like squashing a baby scorpion.

Above the snores of his tent mates,

comes the high-pitched hum of an overworked heater.

And hearing its whine, he imagines

that somewhere in the desert,

a brother or uncle or cousin

wails over a broken body

and vows jihad.

Copyright: Ruth Hull Chatlien. May not be reprinted or published without the author’s written permission.

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Bonaparte Milestones on This Date

In 1803, Napoleon crowned himself emperor in Notre Dame Cathedral.

In 1804, Napoleon won a major battle at Austerlitz, defeating the combined Austrian and Russian armies, who outnumbered him.

In 2013, The Ambitious Madame Bonaparte officially went on sale. It’s available at amikapress.com and on Amazon.

Jacques-Louis David, The Coronation of Napoleon editJacques-Louis David [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

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“In Flanders Fields” by John McCrae

This is the second of two poems I always associate with Veterans Day. These verses are the reason poppies are used to honor veterans.

In Flanders Fields
by John McCrae, May 1915

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

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This Date in History: October 12, 1809

At the beginning of the French Revolution, most European nations were shocked by the the events in France and considered it appropriate to try to restore the French king to his throne. It goes without saying that all those other countries had monarchy in some form or another. However, by January 1793, Louis XVI was dead. The execution of the Bourbon king only intensified international opposition to the idea of a republican France. In 1793, Austria, Great Britain, Prussia, Spain, and the United Provinces of the Netherlands formed a coalition to oppose both the French government and the spread of revolutionary ideas to their own lands.

Over the course of the next 23 years, France was almost continuously at war, and in all probability, the only thing that kept it from being defeated at an earlier date was the military genius of Napoleon Bonaparte. Napoleon’s leadership was a double-edged sword, if you’ll forgive the pun. His brilliant victories defeated Austria and kept Britain at bay time and time again. However, after he became First Consul in 1799 and  emperor in 1804, the other rulers of Europe viewed him as an upstart and a usurper, and they adopted the goal of defeating him at any cost. It became a vicious no-win situation for Napoleon. He felt that he had to use his leadership and military skills to keep his country safe, yet he became one of the primary reasons his country was being attacked.

Which brings me to October 12, 1809. By this time, the Allies had formed not one, not two, but five coalitions to defeat France. The Fifth Coalition essentially fell apart when Napoleon trounced the Austrians. France and Austria negotiated a treaty to end the war at the palace of Schönnbrunn in Vienna. While this was going on, a seventeen-year-old German named Friedrich Staps decided to assassinate Napoleon to bring an end to his rule. Staps entered the palace grounds on October 12 while Napoleon was viewing a military parade and tried to approach the emperor. One of Napoleon’s aides found the young man suspicious and had him arrested, and a knife was found to be hidden on his body. Under questioning, Staps admitted his plans. When Napoleon asked if he would be grateful for a pardon, Staps declared that he would still try to assassinate Napoleon anyway. A firing squad executed Staps on the 17th.

It was not the first attempt to assassinate Napoleon, and such attempts on his life only made him more obdurate in pursuing his goal to build a French empire. He greatly feared what would happen to France if he should die without a clear succession plan in place. After this attempt, he took decisive action that I will discuss in my next blog post.

Schloss Schoenbrunn Gloriette

Schönnbrunn Palace, via Wikimedia Commons

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This Date in History: September 10, 1813

The War of 1812, largely forgotten today, plays a significant role in my novel The Ambitious Madame Bonsparte, and today is the anniversary of a significant event in the war. Two hundred years ago on this date, the United States Navy won one of the first great victories of its existence. Let me provide a little background.

In June 1812, the United States declared war against Great Britain for several reasons:

• First, the British navy had been stopping American ships and impressing any sailors it found who had been born in Britain—even if they had since become U.S. citizens. This was a violation of U.S. rights as an independent nation.

• Second, Britain was at war with France, and to weaken its enemy, the British navy was trying to stop the United States from trading with France.

• Third, there had been conflicts between the United States and Native Americans of the Northwest Territory, and many Americans suspected that Britain was egging the natives on.

• Fourth, some Americans had their eye on conquering Canada and adding it to our territory.

Even though the United States was the one to declare war, it was a young nation that was woefully unprepared for conflict. The army had fewer than 12,000 men, and the navy had roughly 20 ships. In July 1812, when an American force under General William Hull (no relation as far as I know) invaded Ontario, they were driven out of Canada and forced to surrender, thus losing Detroit.

The U.S. navy went on a ship-building spree to try to gain control of the Great Lakes. On September 12, 2013, Oliver Hazard Perry led a fleet of nine small ships into Lake Erie. Perry’s flagship was the Lawrence, which he had named after his friend James Lawrence, a naval officer who was killed in battle earlier in the war. (Lawrence’s gift to history was the saying, “Don’t give up the ship,” which he commanded his crew as he lay dying.) The other large ship of the U.S. fleet was the Niagara.

The U.S. fleet began the battle by attacking the two largest vessels of the six ships in the British fleet. The Lawrence was badly damaged, and Perry rowed to the Niagara to continue the attack. The Niagara sailed right at the British ships, raking them with broadsides. Within 15 minutes, the British fleet surrendered. Perry sent a famous message to William Henry Harrison, the army commander:

“We have met the enemy, and they are ours.”

The Battle of Lake Erie allowed the United States to retake Detroit, control Lake Erie, and even conquer part of Canada.

For his part, Oliver Hazard Perry became a national hero. He was promoted and given a gold medal. Six years later, he caught yellow fever while on a mission to South America and died at the age of 34.

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