Don't blame us. Things get goofy when the first day of the year arrives on a Sunday. We'll get to why, and work our way to the specific January 1st histories that determine a lot of this year's January 1st. Trust us, it'll surprise you. Along the way, there's plenty of unique and intriguing stuff, all dating from other, rather notable and for various reasons, surprising, January firsts. And it's astonishing how many of them weave in and out with one another. Even if you're reading this on Monday, it'll help you make sense of a little fragment of this inscrutable world that so badly needs unscrewing.
✔ Jan. 1, 1863: The EMANCIPATION PROCLAMATION takes effect. President Abraham Lincoln signed the final Emancipation Proclamation, which ended slavery in the "rebelling" seceded states of the Confederacy on January 1st. But it did not emancipate slaves in the border states that had not seceded. That would wait for the 13th Amendment. Lincoln was more an incredibly effective practitioner of "real politic" than the image we have of him as the consummate crusader for human freedom.
But there's more: In our time, folksinger-songwriter Michele Shocked ended the control of music record labels over the lives of artists, by winning a landmark constitutional law case: the courts accepted her argument that record labels were holding artists in "involuntary servitude," which the 13th Amendment abolished.
Except, oops, it doesn't end there. The 13th Amendment ironically has an escape clause regarding inmates of prisons. Even if its authors didn't envision our burgeoning for-profit private prison industry. Or the fact that the US has, by far, the world's largest prison population. Many US states take advantage of the escape clause to allow "involuntary labor" by inmates. We're not talking "Cool Hand Luke" chain gangs (except in Louisiana), or the old cliche about stamping-out your car's license plates. Today, it takes the form of HIGHLY profitable manufacturing operations consigned to private corporations who exploit the slave labor of incarcerated Americans. History is a living thing. We make it, or allow it to be made, every day.
✔ Jan. 1, 1895: J. EDGAR HOOVER, the first Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, is born in Washington, D.C. Hoover and his "G men" would bring-down the gangster era that arose during Prohibition. And Hoover would go on to build the most dangerous database in America's history, with "dirt" on every politician in D.C. and every powerful person in American industry.
At least, Hoover's collection of dossiers was the most extensive ever, prior to the Patriot Act. And before all of us became involuntary subjects of cybersurveillance through our cell phones, as the basis for corporate profit that sells as a marketable "product" the details of our every move, our every web search, every online purchase, every posted comment and meme and photo, and every utterance, which is all there to be packaged and priced because it's all being tracked. It's as if there were no longer a 4th Amendment to the Constitution. (Buehler? Buehler?) It also surrounds us with an echo chamber of clickbait that enriches somebody every time we open our social media accounts, and more so when we fall for something ridiculous that's custom-tailored to be irresistible to "verifying" our unfounded beliefs.
Even J. Edgar Hoover could never have imagined this. Though George Orwell did, in his novel, "1984," published in 1949.
✔ Jan. 1, 1912: THE REPUBLIC OF CHINA is established with Sun Yat-Sen the "provisional president," as China sought to end colonial rule by every military power in Europe, plus the US and Japan. That closely following the failure of the Boxer Rebellion and the fall of the Dowager Empress. (If you've seen "The Sand Pebbles" or "55 Days at Peking," or read Pearl Buck's "The Good Earth," you know a bit about all that.)
In name, the Republic of China (ROC) still exists as a nation, often called Taiwan, located on the island of Formosa. The nation's government fled there when the Chinese civil war was won by Mao Tse-Tung and his Chinese Communists in 1949. The president of the ROC, from when it encompassed all of China, was Chiang Kai-Shek. He and his wife, Madame Chiang, were driven out by the Imperial Japanese invasion and their genocidal occupation of China in the 1930s as the arguable start of WW II. Ostensibly US allies, the Chiang couple spent the war in the US, where government censorship kept her elaborate buying sprees out of the newspapers. The two attempted to return to power after the war, and were of course opposed by Mao and his army who had stayed and fought the Japanese.
Before Mao's victory, there was the United Nations, where the ROC was given one of five permanent seats, with veto power, on the UN Security Council. Other permanent members are the US, Russia (then the USSR), the UK, and France. Giant communist China, even before it chose an era of isolation and a "Cultural Revolution" that destroyed much of its history and architecture, was excluded from the UN, owing to the sequence of events and the US and Western Europe in the throes of the Cold War.
In 1972, President Nixon opened relations with the giant People's Republic of China. Whereupon, the four other Security Council members, in an unprecedented move, disenfranchised their fellow member, the ROC. Taiwan was kicked out of the UN altogether, and the seat and its power were given to the PRC.
Today, the US supplies millions of dollars in weapons to Taiwan, there is brisk trade in high tech electronics, and students from the island nation pursue educations at US universities. But, due to demands from mainland China, the US has never resumed diplomatic relations with Taiwan and no longer recognizes it as a free nation. That, even while the PRC threatens to invade and conquer the island under the guise that it is an annoying "rebel province," and promising the day is coming when the rogue island must be subdued.
And, in 2017, you thought Fukishima and North Korea and that giant Red Chinese military base on mid-ocean artificial islands were the only things to worry about in East Asia. As Roseanne Rosannadanna said, "It's always something."
✔ Jan. 1, 1915: The original Hollywood epic, "THE BIRTH OF A NATION," gets a special advance screening at the Loring Opera House in Riverside, California. It's still there today as the Golden State Theatre, the building considered a true "cinema treasure."
D.W. Griffith’s first full-length feature film, and one of Hollywood's first-ever lengthy features -- early in the silent film era -- had no resemblance to the current modern remake of the same name. The original was based on a novel called, "The Clansman: A Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan," published in 1905. It was the second work in the Ku Klux Klan trilogy by Thomas F. Dixon, Jr.
The modern film hijacked the title in a 101-year-old-retribution of the film and 115-year-old retribution of the novel. The current "Birth of a Nation" is a fictionalization of Nat Turner's Rebellion, an infamously bloody slave revolt that murdered men, women, and children to retaliate for atrocities committed against America's slave population. Moreover, the rebellion was a shock that horrified Southern whites in its time. Today we see it as an inevitable uprising by the oppressed because they were regarded, and treated as less than human, held in bondage, beaten when their performance did not meet expectations, and sold without regard for separating parents from children. A real connection to today's America is still with us: slaves were counted in the Constitution as "3/5 of a human being" for purposes of determining a slave state's representation in Congress AND the number of electors it held in the Electoral College. Too bad the new movie doesn't explore THAT.
✔ Jan. 1, 1942: THE UNITED NATIONS is created when President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill issue a declaration, signed by representatives of 26 countries.
The UN replaces Woodrow Wilson's dream that had failed, the "League of Nations" that might have prevented WW II. Except it couldn't, because the isolationist US Congress had refused to allow America to join the international community in the wake of WWI.
The UN and all its subsidiaries, like UNICEF and the International Commission on Human Rights, is still rankling new generations of isolationists to keep their bloomers in a bunch. It's worth noting that the organization dedicated to world peace took its name from the wartime alliance of powers united to defeat the Nazis and Imperial Japan, and thus named the “United Nations.”
✔ Jan. 1, 1959: JOHNNY CASH performs his first prison concert at San Quentin State Prison. It launched an improbable series of events that resulted in a hit song and two top-selling albums, as well as an obscure young inmate named Merle Haggard deciding to turn his life around from petty criminal to music legend. Haggard is one of far too many artists we lost in 2016.
After Johnny Cash's 1955 song "Folsom Prison Blues," he had been interested in recording a full album in a live performance at a prison. His idea was put on hold until 1967 by his uninterested label. When he finally got their cooperation, there was little initial investment by Columbia. But the album, "At Folsom Prison," was a huge hit in the US, reaching number-one on the country charts and the top 15 on the national album chart. The lead single from the album, a live version of "Folsom Prison Blues," was a top 40 hit, Cash's first since 1964's "Understand Your Man."
It didn't stop with "At Folsom Prison," the live album he wanted to make for years, and his 27th overall album, released on Columbia Records in May 1968. The "whoda thunk it" acclaim following the popularity of that prison concert album, along with the immediate good reviews accompanying its release, all combined to revitalize Cash's career. That led to the release of the second prison album, "At San Quentin." It was Cash's 31st overall album, recorded live at that state prison in 1969. This one was nominated for a number of Grammy Awards, including "Album of the Year," and won "Best Male Country Vocal Performance" for the song, "A Boy Named Sue." The concert was filmed by Granada Television, produced and directed by Michael Darlow, and turns-up on cable movie channels.
"At San Quentin" was certified gold in August,1969, and platinum and double platinum in 1986. it was re-released with additional tracks in 1999 and as a three-disc set in 2008, reaching triple Platinum in 2003, for US sales exceeding three million. (All certifications by the Recording Industry Association of America.) The "At San Quentin" album cover photo by Jim Marshall is regarded as an enduring iconic image of Cash, with Marshall Grant's Epiphone Newport bass guitar famously silhouetted in the foreground.
✔ Jan. 1, 1959: Facing a popular revolution spearheaded by FIDEL CASTRO’s "26th of July Movement," Cuban dictator FULGENCIO BATISTA flees the island nation.
Of course, the US government had supported the American-friendly Batista regime since it came to power in 1952, and Cuba had become the base of operations for the mob with its big money-laundering hotels and casinos. American policy tried to find a “middle road” between Batista and Castro, making our confused involvement in Syria look deja vu all over again. The Eisenhower administration's Cuba policy ultimately failed. And, given the need to cut their losses, the fall of Batista is why the mob moved to the desert and built Las Vegas from a desolate railroad water stop into North America's money laundering gambling mecca. The US government had facilitated that with unlimited water from Hoover Dam, which had been built in the 1930s. Finally, in 2016, the Obama administration's reopening of the US Embassy in Havana and trade and tourism with Cuba -- despite Congressional opposition and obstructionism -- ended the long shunning that had been precipitated by a dumb and failed policy. Even if the same lesson continues to be lost where Syria is concerned.
Fidel Castro's freeing Cuba from the mob and imperialist corporatists is a lot of why his Nov. 25, 2016 death was so widely mourned in Cuba.
✔ Jan. 1, 1966: In SOUTH VIETNAM, advance elements of the 1st Regiment of the Marine 1st Division arrive on this date. From there, it was off to tearing America apart, questioning previously trusted institutions that proved to be bumbling, corrupt, and in the hands of corporatists enriching themselves on blood money. By the end of 1966, U.S. military personnel in South Vietnam numbered 385,300. In a series of authorizations completed by August of 1966, Congress had approved an increase in troop strength to 429,000.
President Lyndon Johnson would see his popularity and public approval collapse over the next two and half years, and the Democrats would lose the White House to Richard Nixon in 1968. With Nixon failing to have "a secret plan to end the war in Vietnam" as he had promised in his campaign, the ever-widening Vietnam/Southeast Asian wars' financial costs kept compounding. Eventually, runaway costs of endless war caused cancellation of America's manned planetary and lunar space programs. It likewise brought the end of huge infrastructure investments in America, including continued rapid expansion of the interstate highway system.
Vietnam, the umbrella title for expanded overt and covert military actions, increasing government lies and secrecy, and massive aerial bombings of surrounding countries, would become the worst military debacle and longest war in US history.
Until the same questions of "why should we do this?" were again ignored going into Afghanistan and Iraq, and those unending US military occupations became our longest-running wars.
✔ Jan. 1, 2017: Well, we've arrived at "now," the current NEW YEAR'S DAY. Unless we're supposed to celebrate it on Monday. Because, along the way, the Constitution's protection of "Freedom of Religion" somehow has been taken to give churches hegemony over New Year's parades. Just as happens with Presidential Inaugurations. When January 1st or January 20th falls on a Sunday, that is.
Meaning those parades -- and most of the college football bowl games -- aren't happening on New Year's Day since they aren't allowed to happen on a Sunday. Because that might hurt church attendance and the haul required for the churches' collection plates. (Yes, there is testimony by religious leaders, even to the Pasadena City Council, going back over a hundred years to that effect.)
So, America's radical religious hegemonists have forced all of society to take a de facto day off on Monday, if they want to enjoy what was supposed to happen on January 1st. Or, similarly, to do the business of state that was supposed to happen on January 20th, when necessary. Simply because the correct date fell on a Sunday. Note that the Jews and the Seventh Day Adventists, lacking the political power, don't get the same consideration for their holy day on Saturday, so it certainly isn't about piety. Argument closed.
Anyway, you have time on your hands this January 1st. Time you would have been occupying with New Year's Day activities if it were a Saturday. Or any of the five weekdays. But no. You found yourself sitting there with nothing to do for New Year's Day. Because it's on a Sunday. Considering how long ago we had the festivities of the Salem Witch Trials, that seems an odd bit of history to be persisting today, on this January 1st, seventeen years into a new millenium. Hence, this feature, to come to the rescue and give you some relief from the void. "Why? Because we LIKE you," as an ancient Mousketeer used to proclaim.
Sorta seems like a "War on New Year" like that Fox News "War on Christmas," to our reckoning.
So, in defiance, we'll say, "Happy New Year." Even if we aren't supposed to say that unless we wait 'til Monday.