With the coming of summer, many students are struck with a debilitating illness known as cantgotoschoolitis. Symptoms may include inability to pay attention in class, wandering eyes, and an overactive imagination.
With students yearning so badly to get out of class, it’s hard to believe that on this day in 1976, many young students gave their lives fighting just to receive a fair and equal education.
In 1953, the white Apartheid government of South Africa passed the Bantu Education Act, which created a curriculum intended to reduce the aspirations and self-worth of the country’s black students.
As the Minister of Native Affairs and future Prime Minister Hendrik Verwoerd explained,
“When I have control of native education I will reform it so that Natives will be taught from childhood to realise that equality with Europeans is not for them…” (Apartheid South Africa, John Allen)
The supposed benefit of the Act was that it increased the number of black students able to attend school; the reality was that it provided no additional resources for the expansion. As a result, by 1975 the government was spending R644 per white student and R42 per black student.
The final straw came in the 1970s when the Apartheid government announced instruction would no longer take place in South Africa’s many native languages, but only in English and Afrikaans.
As one student editorial proclaimed:
“Our parents are prepared to suffer under the white man’s rule. They have been living for years under these laws and they have become immune to them. But we strongly refuse to swallow an education that is designed to make us slaves in the country of our birth.” (South Africa in Contemporary Times)
The conflict came to a head on June 16, 1976 when a group of students held a protest against the educational system in Soweto. When students refused to disperse, police unleashed tear gas. Students responded by throwing rocks; police, by firing bullets. At least 27 students were killed in the massacre, including a 12 year-old boy named Hector Pieterson.
A string of protests and riots engulfed the region. June 1976 is considered one of the most divisive and tragic months in South African history.
After the fall of the Apartheid government in the 1990s, South Africa chose to dedicate June 16 as Youth Day, in memory of those who died in the Soweto Riots, and those who devoted their lives to the long struggle for equal education and the abolition of apartheid.
On the anniversary of the murder of Raud the Strong in Norway, Panama’s Martyrs Day remembers a tragedy half a world away and a thousand years later. The oppressors this time? The good ol’ U.S. of A.*
On January 9th, 1964 two-hundred Panamanian high school students marched to Balboa High School in the U.S. Canal Zone to raise the Panamanian flag in what was expected to be a peaceful protest.
By the end of that day, twenty-two Panamanians lay dead, and the city was in chaos.
Tensions had increased over the early 1960’s between Panamanians and “Zonians,” the term used to refer to the highly patriotic group of U.S. citizens and supporters residing in the Canal Zone. The clash of identities and national pride was symbolized by an ongoing debate about flying the US and Panamanian flags at public institutions within the Canal Zone.
“In 1960, after a series of riots in Panama, President Eisenhower ordered that Panama’s flag should fly side by side with the Stars and Stripes at the U.S. Canal Zone building.”Life Magazine
Other sources point out it was actually Kennedy’s decision to fly the Panamanian flag with the U.S. flag throughout the Canal Zone. However, this policy had not been carried out at the time of Kennedy’s assassination in November 1963.
The patriotism of the Zonians was fueled by the recent assassination and by a Molotov cocktail attack on the U.S. Embassy in Panama City the month before.
The chief architect of the Panama Canal Company was suing to prevent the flying of the Panamanian flag at his site, and a temporary compromise was imposed–that satisfied no one and angered everyone. The compromise was to fly no flag, either U.S. or Panamanian at sites in the Canal Zone.
On January 7th Zonian students at Balboa High School in the Canal Zone protested this compromise by raising the U.S. flag at the school. Officials took down the flag, but the students walked out of class to raise it again and posted their own guards to prevent its removal.
On January 9th a group of 150-200 students from the Panamanian Instituto Nacional (high school) marched from Panama proper to Balboa High to raise a Panamanian flag in protest.
The were met by a large crowd of Zonian students, adults, and police at the high school. The situation worsened as the Zonian students refused to allow the Panamanians access to the flag pole and sang the
An altercation between Panamians and Zonians broke out in which the Panamanian flag was torn. This particular flag had a historical significance; it had been used in 1947 to protest the Filos-Hines Treaty.
“As word of the Balboa flag desecration incident spread, angry crowds formed along the border between Panama City and the Canal Zone. At several points demonstrators stormed into the zone, planting Panamanian flags. Canal Zone police tear gassed them. Rocks were thrown, causing minor injuries to several of the cops. The police opened fire.” — Eric Jackson
The first person killed was Ascanio Arosemena, a 20 year-old college student, who had not participated in the demonstrated, but was on his way to a movie when he came upon the scene. A photo (below) shows him helping to evacuate an injured student moments before he was shot in the back.
Angry Panamanians demonstrators set fire to Canal Zone cars, shops, and buildings, tore down sections of the “fence of shame” separating the Canal Zone, and used Molotov cocktails on the house of the US District Judge. Police initially used tear gas to stop the crowds. Then bullets.
When the onslaught was over, 22 Panamanians lay dead. Six of the them had been trapped when the American Airlines building was set on fire. One victim was an 18 month-old baby girl killed by excessive tear gas. Hundreds were wounded.
U.S. Army officials insisted bullets were never directly fired into the crowd, but one source says claims the military expended 450 .30 caliber rifle rounds, close to a thousand rounds of birdshot, and over 7,000 tear gas canisters.
By 8pm the pandemonium had spread throughout the country including the city of Colon, where riots broke out and three U.S. soldiers were killed.
Panama broke off relations with the United States, and the U.S. action and policy toward Panama was multi-laterally condemned by France, Great Britain, the Soviet Union and China. The tragedy of January 9, 1964 had long-lasting repercussions which paved the way for the 1977 treaty that transfered the Canal Zone to Panama in 1999.
[Another factor that fueled the conflict: President Lyndon Johnson’s notion that Communist agents were inciting the unrest in Panama–as opposed to it being an authentic expression of anger against U.S. policy in the region. Members of Panama’s leftist party were indeed involved in demonstrations, but not in the mayhem that followed.]
It seems remarkable and tragic that a debate over a flag would, within hours lead to a confrontation so bloody.
But such devotion to the symbolic value of a nation’s flag is echoed in the national anthems of countries across the world. The United States’ own national anthem doesn’t ask about democracy, peace, the President, free markets, or American government. It simply asks “…does that star-spangled banner yet wave…O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?”
You may know that today is the anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the event that killed over 2400 Americans in 1941 and brought the United States into World War II.
But December 7 is also a memorial in other parts of the world.
In Iran, December 7 is Students Day. It marks the day in 1953 that three students were killed by Iranian police while protesting the arrival of U.S. Vice President Richard Nixon.
Four months earlier a U.S.-backed coup overthrew Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh. Mossadegh had nationalized Iran’s oil industry, much to the dismay of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (now British Petroleum). The coup is believed to have been led by the CIA and MI6, and it gave power to General Zahedi and Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, aka the Shah, who would rule Iran until 1979.
In December of 1953…
“Iran and the United Kingdom agreed to resume diplomatic relations. The British prevailed on the Americans and the Americans on the shah and Zahedi to move forward on the resumption. The announcement made on 5 December caused a protest at Tehran University…prompting martial law forces to intervene. Ordered to contain the demonstrators, the soldiers fired on the crowd on 7 December (16 Azar), leaving three students dead and several wounded.”
The Shah was deposed in the Iranian Revolution of 1979.
Each year students remember those killed and wounded in the student protests of 1953.
Today is also a holiday in Côte d’Ivoire. December 7 marks the anniversary of the death of Côte d’Ivoire’s first President, Félix Houphouët-Boigny in 1993. Houphouët-Boigny was president of the small West African nation from 1960 until his death in December 1993. Houphouët-Boigny was instrumental in the fight for independence from France in the late 1950’s.
“It is interesting that the press and the politicians are beginning to refer to the student body of our nation as one of those “aggressor enemies” that we have become all too familiar with in the past: the “Huns,” the Nazis, the Commies; and now it is our kids, virtually the entire generation of them…For make no mistake; a generation is speaking.”
–Murray N. Rothbard, The Student Revolution, 1969
The kids are alright.
–The Who, 1965
They say the pen is mightier than the sword, and at times the student body is as powerful as an army.
On the average day students are more interested in unlocking the secrets of their universe, or in securing that elusive A than in prompting massive social change. But at pivotal moments throughout history–from Jesus’ Disciples (Disciple come from the Latin discipulus, meaning ‘pupil’) to the demonstration at Tiananmen Square–students have been the first to vocally question and defy ruling paradigms, and the university has become the battleground for society’s deepest rifts.
Holidays we’ve documented this year that stem from student protests include:
But in the 20th century, perhaps no campus symbolized the havoc that ravaged the Western world than than that of Prague’s 760 year-old Charles University (Universitas Carolinas).
Charles University has never shied away from conflict. One of its first rectors, Jan Hus, translated the heretical writings of John Wycliffe into Czech and was rewarded by being burned at the stake by the Church in 1415, a full century before Martin Luther’s ’95 Theses’.
Five centuries later Charles University became a battleground of a different kind.
In 1938, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain ensured his subjects “Peace for our time” by trading Czechoslovakia’s heavily fortified Sudetenland for the German Chancellor’s signature. The following year Hitler annexed the remainder of now-defenseless Czechoslovakia anyway, splitting it into the Slovak State and the Nazi-occupied Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia.
On October 28, 1939, the anniversary of Czechoslovakia’s foundation, anti-Nazi demonstrations broke out in Prague, during which a medical student named Jan Opletal was shot and killed by German police. After Opletal’s funeral on November 15, thousands of his follow students marched to protest the Nazi occupation. The Nazis responded on November 17, 1939 by arresting and executing 9 student leaders without trial and by deporting 1200 students to Saschenhausen concentration camp.
Today, November 17 is remembered as International Students Day.
But the story of Charles University’s students doesn’t stop there.
Following World War II, Czechoslovakia was absorbed into the Communist Soviet Bloc. On the 50th anniversary of the student executions and deportations, 15,000 Prague students and citizens led a non-violent protest against Communist rule, taunting riot police (not much older than the average demonstrator) with songs and placing flowers in their helmets. The demonstrators demanded passage to Wenceslas Square, where Czechs annually paid homage to the unofficial shrine of Jan Opletal, but riot police put down the demonstration with violence.
The police response sparked public outcry across the nation. By the end of the month approximately 800,000 people participated in anti-government rallies in Prague. Media outlets such as Federal Television and radio supported a growing national strike, and the Ministry of Culture agreed to uncensored anti-Communist literature. On December 29, just 6 weeks after the student march, the Federal Assembly elected anti-Communist writer Václav Havel as President of Czechoslovakia.