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Today’s Old News

Oct. 27 in History: Christ, Hawaiian funeral rites and broken pinky promises. Read more of yesterday’s old news today.

Oct 26, 2019

Constantine, Christ and the Cross
In 312 CE, Rome was in crisis. Ruled by a tetrarchy — a system of four co-emperors who each controlled their own administrative district — the empire was thrown into civil war when the ruler of the central district died. Despite having been denied the support of the senior Emperor Galerius, who ruled the eastern district, the son of the previous emperor, Maxentius, still decided to lay claim to the title of Caesar. In response, Galerius sent another co-emperor Severus, to remove the new Caesar, but his forces rebelled against him and Severus was seized and promptly executed. This caused the responsibility of stopping the usurper to fall to Constantine, who was now expected to defeat an army that was a quarter larger than his own. The situation seemed dire until the late hours of Oct. 27, when Constantine demanded that every soldier paint the symbol of the cross on their shields. The reasons behind this decision are hotly debated; some historians and theologians claim that it was because Constantine received a vision where Jesus himself appeared and told him that embracing the symbol would grant him victory, whilst others reject this claim. What is known is that the next morning, Constantine would march on the Milvian bridge and defeat Maxentius. He would later be known as Constantine the Great — a reformer, a conqueror, a patron of the arts and sciences, and the first Christian emperor of Rome.
Cooked Up
On Oct 27, 1728, James Cook was born to a Scottish Farmhand and his wife in Yorkshire. In the next 52 years, aboard the HMB Endeavour, he would become the first non-Pacific islander to chart Australia, New Zealand, Tonga, Easter Island, New Caledonia, the South Sandwich Islands and South Georgia. Cook’s legacy remains a controversial one to say the least. Though his voyages were crucial in mapping the Pacific and for the development of trade and the sciences, his efforts also enabled the spread of British imperialism in the regions he visited . On one hand, he was able to develop diplomatic relations with new groups of people, and thus provided the world with invaluable ethnographic data. On the other hand, he was known for violent incursions and paved the way for the conquest and near-extinction of these people. The dichotomy that was present in Cook’s life is nowhere more clearly represented than in his death. Cook was killed after attempting to kidnap the King of Hawaii Kalaniʻōpuʻu who he sought to use as a bargaining tool. Despite his nefarious intent, the Hawaiians treated his corpse with great respect and gave him the same burial rites as chiefs and elders from their own culture, demonstrating their admiration for the strange foreigner.
Breaking One Billion?
The question of China’s overpopulation carries with it a surprisingly heavy degree of political connotations. This was undeniably evident on Oct. 27, 1982, when the governing body of the People's Republic of China (PRC), the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), decided to include Taiwan, Macau and Hong Kong in its audit of the population of China. Then accounting for a total of 23 million people, these areas helped produce PRC’s final figure of over a billion. Though a population statistic may seem somewhat innocuous, it was undoubtedly a source of contention due to its assumption that these areas were naturally a part of the PRC’s territory. The discussion of the figure at the time was accompanied by debates over nuances such as how Macau was still being administered by Portugal, Hong Kong was still being administered by the United Kingdom, and Taiwan was (and continues to be) administered by its own elected government. Though the PRC itself would independently break the population barrier of one billion by the end of the decade, it still maintains that this barrier was broken on that day in 1982.
Mandate Fortunately Maintained By United Nations
For the majority of the 20th century, South Africa ruled Namibia through a mandate system. It was first granted this mandate by the League of Nations which provided South Africa with administrative authority. When the League collapsed in 1945, South African Prime Minister Jan Smuts moved to incorporate Namibia as South Africa's fifth province but failed to do so due to the United Nations’ intervention which ensured that the nation remained a mandate. This led to a strained relationship between South Africa and the UN. Tensions escalated when South Africa began attempting to implement apartheid in Namibia and the situation worsened when Namibians began to take active strides towards independence by forming the South West Africa People's Organization (SWAPO). All this culminated on Oct. 27, 1966, when the UN declared that South Africa had no legal right to administer Namibia and should end its occupation immediately. As often is the case, the UN’s declarations were neglected and South Africa continued to administer Namibia despite mounting international opposition and Namibian resistance. Finally, in 1990, after years of war, South Africa relented, ending the occupation and enabling Namibia to administer itself for the first time in over 100 years.
President Promises Perpetual Peace
On Oct. 27, 1913, President Woodrow Wilson made a speech at Mobile, Alabama, declaring that the United States will never again invade another country in Latin America. Wilson proposed that the United States and its southern neighbours should be drawn together by multiple ties, and attempt to achieve a mutual understanding of one another that can only be promoted through equality. Instead of actively invading the nations as was the historic precedent, Wilson promised that the government would seek to spread its values of democratic liberty and human rights. Unsurprisingly, Wilson failed to keep his promise. During the course of his presidency, the US would invade and occupy the Dominican Republic, Nicaragua, and Haiti. It would also continue to dominate previously established protectorates such as Cuba and interfere in the Mexican revolution. However, this was minimal compared to the actions taken by Wilson’s successors throughout the twentieth century. Most notably, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan would all further bury this speech in a growing mountain of hypocrisy by deploying countless strategies to undermine the sovereignty of Latin American states from Guatemala to Chile.
Toby Le is a columnist. Email him at
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