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Good News in History, November 11

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201 years ago today, Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky was born in Moscow. Numerous literary critics consider him the greatest novelist in all world history. Most of his major works are considered masterpieces, and are given out to students in literature classes all around the world. Dostoevsky’s books have been translated into more than 170 languages, and one large poll conducted via television viewers ranked Dostoevsky as the ninth greatest Russian to ever life. READ one of his most famous passages… (1881)

Dostoevsky portrait

After his mother died, Dostoevsky attended the Nikolayev Military Engineering Institute. After graduating, he worked as an engineer and briefly enjoyed a lavish lifestyle. In the mid-1840s he wrote his first novel, Poor Folk, which gained him entry into Saint Petersburg’s literary circles. It was a poor decision, as he was arrested in 1849 for nothing less than belonging to a literary circle.

Dostoevsky was sentenced to death, incredibly enough, but the sentence was commuted at the last moment. He spent four years in a Siberian prison camp, followed by six years of compulsory military service in exile. During such a time he earned money as a journalist, publishing for magazines.

Friedrich Nietzsche called Dostoevsky “the only psychologist from whom I had something to learn” and described him as being “among the most beautiful strokes of fortune in my life.” Indeed Dostoevsky’s insight into human wretchedness seems like the body of work from a 40-year career in psychology. The psychologist Jordan Peterson, when writing his first book based on studies from Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, has stated that this particular passage from Dostoevsky always stood out to him:

Now I ask you: what can be expected of man since he is a being endowed with strange qualities? Shower upon him every earthly blessing, drown him in a sea of happiness, so that nothing but bubbles of bliss can be seen on the surface; give him economic prosperity, such that he should have nothing else to do but sleep, eat cakes and busy himself with the continuation of his species, and even then out of sheer ingratitude, sheer spite, man would play you some nasty trick. He would even risk his cakes and would deliberately desire the most fatal rubbish, the most uneconomical absurdity, simply to introduce into all this positive good sense his fatal fantastic element. It is just his fantastic dreams, his vulgar folly that he will desire to retain, simply in order to prove to himself–as though that were so necessary–that men still are men and not the keys of a piano, which the laws of nature threaten to control so completely that soon one will be able to desire nothing but by the calendar. And that is not all: even if man really were nothing but a piano-key, even if this were proved to him by natural science and mathematics, even then he would not become reasonable, but would purposely do something perverse out of simple ingratitude, simply to gain his point.

More Good News on this Date:

  • Hans Christian Andersen’s The Ugly Duckling was first published (1843)
  • The final recording session for The Beatles’ Rubber Soul album produced the last two new songs to finish the album—Paul’s ‘You Won’t See Me’ and John’s ‘Girl’ were completed in two takes and the LP was in record shops a couple weeks later (1965)
  • Rhodesia (now, Zimbabwe) proclaimed its independence from Britain (1965); Angola gained its independence from Portugal (1975)
  • Three US prisoners of Vietnam war were released by Viet Cong to antiwar activist Tom Hayden (1967)
  • The Church of England voted to allow the ordination of women to become priests (1992)
  • New Zealand Tomb of the Unknown Warrior was dedicated in Wellington (2004)
  • Today is honored as Veterans Day in the US, also known in other countries as Remembrance Day and Armistice Day.

101 years ago today, The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was dedicated at Arlington National Cemetery for deceased U.S. service members whose remains have not been identified, a tradition first practiced by the British and French.

The first ‘Unknown’ was chosen in a ceremony that presented the exhumed remains from four unidentified American soldiers buried in cemeteries in France. A highly decorated Army sergeant chose the third casket from the left. The Unknown then received the Medal of Honor, the Victoria Cross (from Britain) and other awards from foreign countries—all of which were entombed with the casket on this day. The U.S. Unknowns who had been chosen from unnamed graves in WW2 and the Korean War were also recipients of the Medal of Honor, presented personally by U.S. presidents who presided over their funerals at the new Memorial Amphitheater located just outside Washington, D.C.

The Tomb’s North and South panel is adorned with 3 wreaths on each side representing the six major battles engaged in by American forces in France. The West panel is inscribed: HERE RESTS IN HONORED GLORY AN AMERICAN SOLDIER KNOWN BUT TO GOD.

A 24-hour armed guard, now supplied by a special Army platoon, was first posted in 1937. The Tomb has been guarded continuously, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, since then—and snow, sleet, or terrorist attack has never caused the watch to cease. For the first time in nearly 100 years, the public was allowed to lay flowers at the Tomb this week.

The first unknown soldier brought back from France was interred at the bottom of a three-level marble tomb, with a rectangular opening in the center of each level into which the unknown remains can be placed through the tomb and into the ground below. A stone slab, rather than marble, covers the rectangular opening.

A Vietnam Unknown service member was ceremoniously interred in 1984, but was later identified, exhumed, and shipped home to his family. The slab over the crypt with its original inscription of “Vietnam” has been changed to “Honoring and Keeping Faith with America’s Missing Servicemen” as a reminder of the commitment of the Armed Forces to the fullest possible accounting of missing service members. It was decided that the crypt would remain vacant.

WATCH news coverage of the 100th anniversary—or read more… (1921)

 

104 years ago today, World War I officially ended—on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month—when Germany signed an armistice with the Allies, a moment that is annually honored throughout the Western world with two-minutes of silence.

By Fluteflute, CC license

Known as the Great War and one of the deadliest conflicts the world has known, it killed 16 million civilians and soldiers in four years—and it all started when a Bosnian Serb nationalist assassinated an Austro-Hungarian heir to the throne in 1914. The great powers of Europe quickly divided into two camps: France, Russia and Britain against Germany, Austria-Hungary, Italy, and the Turkish Ottoman Empire. The U.S entered the war 3 years later, only after 7 US merchant ships were sunk by German submarines and a telegram was intercepted that has offered troops to Mexico to help win back the territories of Texas, New Mexico, and Arizona in exchange for them joining the Germans.

Although the post-war Treaty of Versailles brought into being the League of Nations, the first international organization dedicated to maintaining world peace, the collapse of four empires at one time (the German, Russian, Ottoman, and Austro-Hungarian), the shifting of so many national boundaries and the creation of new countries in the war’s aftermath, as well as a heavy financial burden falling to Germany, resulted in ongoing resentments, revolutions, and the rise of Totalitarianism, Fascism, and Nazism. See all the new countries labeled in red, and empires divided in the map below. (1918)

And, 68 years ago today, J. R. R. Tolkien’s The Two Towers was first published. The second volume in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and a continuation of Tolkien’s inceptive mythology introduced in The Hobbit, the high fantasy novel set in Middle-earth became so popular in the 1960s it was a cult classic—and later was made into a Hollywood blockbuster.

The New York Times praised the book, calling it “an extraordinary work – pure excitement, unencumbered narrative, moral warmth, barefaced rejoicing in beauty, but excitement most of all.” Another notable critic said, “No writer save E. R. Eddison has ever so satisfactorily and compellingly created his own mythology and made it come vividly alive … described in some of the most sheerly beautiful prose that this harsh decade has seen in print.”

The book opens with Aragorn searching for Frodo, and finding Boromir mortally wounded by arrows, saying that Saruman’s army had kidnapped some of the hobbits. After the captors are attacked by the Riders of Rohan, the Hobbits soon escape into a forest inhabited by giant treelike Ents. Gandalf, Aragorn, Gimli, and Legolas, along with King Théoden and daughter Éomer prepare to defend Gondor in the coming war against Mordor. Meanwhile, Frodo and Sam have discovered and captured Gollum, who had been stalking them during their quest to reach Mount Doom and destroy the cursed ring. Sam loathes and distrusts the former owner of the ring, but Frodo pities the poor creature, which promises to lead the pair to the Black Gate of Mordor. He leads them, instead, to the lair of a giant spider who stings Frodo leaving him lifeless, and the Orcs carry him away, but Sam is on their trail. The book ends with the line, “Frodo was alive but taken by the Enemy.” (1954)

Also, Happy 62nd Birthday to Stanley Tucci, the actor, writer, director-producer who made his film debut 35 years ago in Prizzi’s Honor.

Photo, left, by Martin Kraft, CC license, 2017; scene from Devil Wears Prada

The former model returned to his fashion roots in the iconic film The Devil Wears Prada, and rejoined his costar Meryl Streep playing Julia Child’s husband in Julie & Julia, of which he said, “I’m food obsessed and it just was one of the happiest experiences ever.”

He authored a cookbook, The Tucci Table: Cooking With Family and Friends, and now has a popular food/travel series running on CNN, Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy. Other film appearances include Deconstructing Harry, Road to Perdition, The Terminal, Easy A, Captain America: The First Avenger, The Hunger Games, and 2015’s Spotlight.

Tucci won three Emmy Awards and was nominated for an Academy Award for his supporting performance in The Lovely Bones in 2009 and was nominated for a Tony Award in 2003. His 2020 project was The Witches on HBO, a dark fantasy comedy film directed by Robert Zemeckis, based on the book by Roald Dahl, which costars Anne Hathaway and Octavia Spencer, narrated by Chris Rock. WATCH him play a fun adoptive dad on Easy A with Emma Stone… (1960)

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