Youth Day – South Africa

June 16

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.

SOPA Protest Day

January 18, 2012

Today, in protest of the U.S. Congress’s consideration of the proposed SOPA and PIPA legislation (Stop Online Piracy Act and Protect IP Act), thousands of websites across the webosphere are blacking out, in an effort to inform readers about the legislation and how it could impact the future of the internet.

Craigslist, Reddit, and the apolitical yet ubiquitous Wikipedia are all going black for the day, while Google is blacking out its logo.

Wikipedia offers a brief description of how the legislation could impact the internet, and what you can do to stop it:


Panama Martyrs Day

January 9

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.

very low-res cover of Life Magazine, 1/24/64, © Life Magazine
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.

Panamanian students with flag 1964

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.

Panama students and Canal Zone troops - 1/9/64

“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.

Torrijos-Carter Treaties

[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.

Statue of dedication - Panama Martyrs - 1/9/64
Statue in memory of 22 Panamanians who died in the fight

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?

Eric Jackson’s The Martyrs of 1964

The History of Panama by Robert C. Harding

The History of Panama (Google preview)

American Heritage article

La Prensa article (Spanish)

Dos de Mayo Uprising

May 2

Goya's "Dos de Mayo, 1808"

“The population of Madrid, led astray, has given itself to revolt and murder. French blood has flowed. It demands vengeance…”

— Joaquim Murat, 1808

Guerrilla warfare. To any kid who’s failed a spelling bee because of one of the most misspelled words in the English language, you’re in good company. Before learning the proper spelling, I too assumed it was war that took place deep in the African jungle.

The term ‘guerrilla warfare’ is used to describe tactics adopted by small militias and individual fighters, often in Third World countries, to engage larger occupying forces in small skirmishes rather than large battles. It comes from the Spanish word “guerra”, meaning war. And though guerrilla warfare has been a key component in dozens of South American conflicts over the last century, the term guerrilla hails from the other side of the Atlantic, from a conflict that began 200 years ago in Madrid.

In 1807 Napoleon signed an alliance treaty with Spain, which effectively split the country of Portugal between Spain and France. Portugal was taken without hardly firing a shot.

The following February, however, Napoleon turned on his Spanish ally. (A history lesson not lost on Hitler.) Napoleon didn’t even need to invade Spain; for the country was already inundated with French troops who had crossed the border under the pretense of invading Portugal. Meanwhile, Spain’s troops were scattered from Denmark to Portugal, many of them on loan to Napoleon. Spain was, militarily speaking, screwed.

Add to the plot a cast of wacky feuding royals (In March, Prince Ferdinand overthrew his father King Charles IV with the support of a discontented Spanish public) and you have the makings of a full-on Peninsular War.

Napoleon ingeniously played the Spanish royal pair against each other, calling father Charles and son Ferdinand up to French Bayonne for a little ‘mediation‘. [pronounced: ‘im·pri′son·mènt’]

Come Leap Day, French troops entered Barcelona–by pretending to be a convoy of wounded–(and you wonder why the Spanish don’t trust the French?)–and took the city. The French general Murat entered Madrid the following month.

Joaquim "I'm Too Sexy For My Haircut" Murat

About this time the Madrilenos began thinking maybe their beef was not with either of their kings, but with the French. Napoleon ordered the remainder of the Spanish royal family, including Charles’ 25 year-old daughter Maria Louisa, her uncle Don Antonio, and her little brother, the preteen Francisco de Paula, to join them in French Bayonne for a little more ‘mediation’.

The following morning had been fixed for the departure of the Queen of Etruria [Maria Louisa] and the Infante D. Francisco de Paula, and many persons, chiefly women, collected before the Palace to see them off…and some of the populace” were “determined that the last of the royal family should not be taken from them without resistance...” History of the Peninsular War (Southey)

An armed riot broke out, and Murat’s forces fired on the crowd. Soon, street fighting erupted through Madrid, focusing around the palace and the Puerta del Sol.

For a short time the Madrilenos pushed back the surprised French guards, but Murat sent in reinforcements, and quashed the outgunned Spanish rebels by nightfall.

Goya's The Third of May, 1808

On May 3, hundreds of Spanish rebels were executed by firing squad. News of the mass killings spread throughout Spain and the Spanish resistance was born. Guerrillas, referring to ‘little wars’ and the soldiers who fought them, changed the course of the Napoleonic era, not by defeating the French in large, decisive battles, but by engaging them in a steady stream of small attacks over thousands of square miles.

In February Napoleon had bragged he could take Spain with 12,000 men. He did take Spain, but he had to divert 160,000 of his troops from other battles to do it.

Napoleon called the guerrillas his ‘Spanish ulcer’. In 1813 British, Portuguese, and Spanish forces expelled French troops from the Iberian peninsula for good.