Beware the Ides of March

March 15, 44 BC

How Diarrhea Changed the World

On this day in 44 BC Julius Caesar was stabbed to death in the Roman Senate by a cadre of Senators who called themselves “the Liberators.”

During Caesar’s reign the Roman Empire achieved an unprecedented amount of power and land area, stretching from Britain to Africa to the Middle East. Caesar conquered Gaul and led the first Roman invasion of Britain.

The Roman Civil War of 50 BC divided the Romans between Caesar and Pompey. Caesar emerged victorious and became the undisputed ruler of the Roman Empire.

It was theorized by Cassius Dio that the main reason behind the conspiracy to murder Caesar was that he refused to rise, as was the custom, when he met with a delegation of Senators who informed Caesar of the honors they had bestowed upon him. And that the reason he did not rise, was not out of a lack of appreciation for the Senate, but of a severe case of diarrhea.

The doom associated with the Ides of March acquired new potency in 1939 when Adolf Hitler strode into Czechoslovakia without firing a shot, thanks to Western leaders, and proclaimed “Czechoslovakia has ceased to exist.”

Assassination of Molchior Ndadaye

October 21

“The was no way to predict or prepare for Rwanda.”

Not exactly true. In 1993, a year prior to the Rwanda genocide, a nearly identical scenario occurred in Burundi.

After years of Tutsi rule, Hutu political parties united in their support to elect Melchior Ndadaye, a Hutu, as President of Burundi. The Hutu parties succeeded, ousting the incumbent President Pierre Buyoya, a Tutsi, in the country’s first democratic election.

Ndadaye was 40 years old. He had grown up during the intense ethnic wars of 1972. He studied at the University of Rwanda and at the National Academy of Arts and Trades in France. He sought to bridge the ethnic divide in Burundi by appointing Tutsis to top governments posts, including that of Prime Minister. But less than three months from taking office a coup erupted to removed the ruling Hutu government. On October 21, 1993, under the guise of protection, Tutsi security forces escorted Ndadaye and top government officials to a secret location, and murdered them.

The coup ultimately failed, but the President’s death sparked passion and anger across the country, fueled by radio and other mass media. Hutus attacked Tutsis in mass, neighbor against neighbor. The weapon of choice, the machete. The Tutsi-led army retaliated by killing tens of thousands of Hutu men, women, and children. Before long, an estimated 100,000 Hutu and Tutsi Burundians lay dead.

And the world was none the wiser.

Despite the lessons learned from Burundi, the United Nations remained ill-equipped to combat the ethnic massacres in Rwanda the following year. In July 1994, a plane carrying both the Rwandan President and the new President of Burundi crashed, igniting the bloodiest massacre in modern times. In a matter of months, a million men, women, and children were slaughtered by their own neighbors.

The Burundi Civil War continued until 2005, taking the lives of over a quarter million Hutus and Tutsis.

The wounds are slow to heal. Burundi is one of the ten poorest countries in the world. Today its people remember the horrors of 1993 and the assassination of President Molchior Ndadaye.

Molchior Ndadaye
Molchior Ndadaye

Ninoy Aquino Day – Philippines

August 21

“The greatest president we never had”

Twenty-seven years ago today a shot rang out in a Manila airport.

Returning to the Philippines after three years in exile, Benigno Aquino, leader of the Liberal Party and the most vocal opponent of President Ferdinand Marcos, was struck dead by an assassin’s bullet.

Twelve years to the day prior to his death, Aquino had escaped another attack. He was not present at a Liberal Party rally where two fragmentation grenades were thrown on stage, killing 9 and injuring almost 100 Liberal Party members and supporters. In response to the bombing, President Marcos suspended habeas corpus and arrested scores of Maoists.

The following year he declared martial law, and had Aquino, his #1 opponent, arrested. Although no evidence connected Aquino to the crime, a military tribunal found Aquino guilty and sentenced him to death by firing squad. The sentence was later mitigated, but Aqunio remained in prison for seven years. In jail Aquino suffered a heart attack and was granted leave to receive surgery in the United States.

Aquino and his wife Corazon did not return to the Philippines for 3 years. In that time both were active speakers against the Marcos government, which had amended the Constitution in the 1970s and 80s to extend martial law, increase the scope of Marcos’s power and the length of his term.

Benigno Aquino returned to Manila on August 21, 1983, knowing full well the many dangers that awaited him. Below is the beginning of the address he was set to give upon his return.

“I have returned on my free will to join the ranks of those struggling to resolve our rights and freedoms through non-violence. I seek no confrontation. I only pray and will strive for a genuine national reconciliation founded on justice. I am prepared for the worst, and have decided against the advice of my mother, my spiritual adviser, many of my tested friends, and a few of my most valued political mentors.

“A death sentence awaits me. Two more subversion charges, both calling for death penalties, have been filed since I left three years ago and are pending with the courts. I could have opted to seek political asylum in America, but I feel it is my duty, as it is the duty of every Filipino, to suffer with his people especially in time of crisis.

“I never sought nor have I been given any assurances or promise of leniency by the regime. I return voluntarily, armed only with a clear conscience and fortified in the faith that in the end, justice will emerge triumphant.”

Full speech –

Aquino never had a chance to deliver the speech. He was assassinated “by a lone gunman” according to the government, the moment he stepped off the airplane.

Ninoy Aquino

He was reportedly called “The Greatest President we never had,” by Liberal Party leader Jovito Salonga.

There was never proved any direct evidence linking Marcos to the assassination, but it sparked widespread discontent with the Marcos administration. In November 1985 Marcos announced Presidential elections to take place in February. Benigno Aquino’s widow Corazon ran against Marcos. The Marcos government claimed to have won the election, but accusations of extreme voter fraud and massive public demonstrations against his rule combined with military opposition and U.S. pressure forced Marcos to resign on February 25, 1986.

Beningo Aquino’s widow Corazon Aquino became the first female President of the Philippines. She passed away on August 1, 2009.

Philippines Free Press – Benigno Aquino, Man of the Year

Death of San Martín

August 17

…never had I entertained any ambition other than to merit the hatred of the ungrateful and the esteem of the virtuous.

-José de San Martín, July 22, 1820

San Martín did both.

One of the greatest heroes of Pan-American history, San Martín was an exceptionally rare kind in that, after achieving what he had set out to accomplish–namely the liberation of most of South America–he held true to his word. He relinquished all power and returned home following a fateful and mysterious meeting with fellow libertador Simón Bolívar.

Both men had hopes for a united South America, and both were disillusioned by the continual conflicts that thwarted their idealistic vision.

Upon vanquishing the Spanish army from Argentina, San Martín had hardly set foot outside his newly independent homeland when internal divisions led that nation to civil war. San Martín’s powerful army and his own fame could have swayed the civil war, but he chose to fight the Spanish in Chile and Peru rather than return to Argentina with his army to take sides and shed the blood of his countrymen.

He was proclaimed Protector of Peru, a title he relinquished after his meeting with Bolívar, along with command of his army. He then returned briefly to his farm in Mendoza, Argentina. After the death of his wife, San Martín placed himself in voluntary exile in Europe, moving to France with his daughter Mercedes. He would spend the rest of his life in France, a nation he had once fought against as a youth in service to Spain.

Today San Martín is revered as the national hero of Argentina.

The Life of José de San Martín

the Promised Land

April 4, 1968

Early Morning – April 4
A shot rings out in the Memphis sky
Free at last, they took your life
They could not take your pride

— Pride (In the Name of Love), U2

40 years ago Martin Luther King Jr. looked off the balcony of his room on the second story of the Lorraine Hotel.

King had given what would be his last address the day before. The Mountaintop speech. King was used to death threats, but their increasing frequency and vindictiveness had reached a point that even King himself may have known he was on borrowed time.

In his last speech King alluded to the journey of Moses and the Hebrew slaves who escaped from bondage in Egypt, only to wander for 40 years in the desert.

After four decades, God called to Moses and told him to stand on the mountaintop, to look over the land God would bestow on the Israelites.

Then the Lord said to him, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.”

— Deuteronomy 34:4

“Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.”

— Martin Luther King Jr., April 3, 1968