Happy New Year; the blessings of being alive in today’s world

German_soldiers_in_a_railroad_car_on_the_way_to_the_front_during_early_World_War_I,_taken_in_1914__Taken_from_greatwar_nl_site

To those crusaders of the keyboard who take the time to visit this site – whether by chance or on purpose (Hi, Mom!) – we here at the Cotton Boll Conspiracy would like to wish you a Happy New Year.

Regular readers – all six of you – may have noted this blog’s fascination with history. As much as today’s media would like us to stay glued to our television sets, Twitter feeds, and anything else through which they can pour out bad news or, more often, dress up mediocre news so that it looks really, really scary and thereby keeps us in a fear-induced trance, the world today is perhaps safer than it’s ever been.

No, it’s not perfectly safe and never will be. Anyone who expects that is a fool.

However, consider what was going on 100 years ago today, on Jan. 1, 1915:

Most of the world’s great powers were a few months into what would become one of the worst wars in history.

At this point a century ago, more than a million men had already died in what would eventually be known as World War I, and another 10 million or so would lose their lives before the fighting ended in November 1918.

However, even with the end of the Great War, other conflicts spurred by WWI would continue across Eastern Europe into the 1920s, costing millions more lives.

World War I also magnified one of the deadliest natural disasters in human history, the 1918 flu pandemic that claimed between 50 million and 100 million lives worldwide.

It sparked the Bolshevik Revolution, which led to the rise of Lenin and Stalin, and claimed tens of millions of more lives, not to mention decades of misery for hundreds of millions.

It led to the rise of Hitler in Germany, Mussolini in Italy, the subsequent collapse of the League of Nations and the rise of the Axis Powers. That brought World War II, the Holocaust, atomic warfare, the deaths of somewhere between 60 million and 70 million individuals, and the onset of the Cold War and the Iron Curtain.

And those are just the high points.

We’d all do well to head to the local library once in a while, check out a roll of microfilm from a 70 or 100 years ago, and see what real crises looked like.

Are there problems today? Yes. Are they anywhere near what the world face 100 years ago? No, thank goodness.

So get out there and enjoy a wonderful 2015. And thanks for stopping by.

(Top: German soldiers on the way to the front in the late summer of 1914. Many of these men would be dead by Jan. 1, 1915, and few survived World War I.)

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Italian cataclysm forged on Pact of Steel

pact of steel photo

The three main Axis powers of World War II made for an improbable combination. Imperial Japan seemed an unlikely partner for Nazi Germany, considering the latter’s focus on racial purity and the “master race.”

Both nations, however, were militaristic and bent on expansion, and both were at opposite ends from a common foe – the Soviet Union – so there was much in the union that made sense.

Germany’s alliance with Italy, however, was much less logical, at least from the Italian point of view.

Outside of being led by a pair of dictators who embraced fascism, there was actually a great deal of difference between Mussolini’s Italy and Hitler’s Germany when the Pact of Steel uniting the two countries was signed 75 years ago this month.

The two nations had fought on different sides in World War I, with Italy being a member of the victorious allies that laid down what Germans saw as the draconian terms of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. And while Germany lost the First World War, it acquitted itself well while Italy’s performance was seen by many as less than spectacular.

Despite having invaded and captured Abyssinia (today’s Ethiopia) in the mid-1930s, assisted Franco in the Spanish Civil War and taken over Albania in 1939, Mussolini knew his country suffered from a number of military shortcomings.

It had relatively few tanks and those it did have were of poor quality; its artillery was of World War I variety; and the nation’s primary fighter was a biplane that was obsolete compared to monoplanes used by the other major countries. Also, while the Italian navy did have several modern battleships, it had no aircraft carriers.

Italy recognized its military inadequacies. Under terms of the Pact of Steel it was stipulated that neither country was to make war without the other earlier than 1943.

But recognizing his military was ill-prepared Mussolini declined to get involved when Germany invaded Poland in September 1939.

Italy finally joined the conflict on June 10, 1940, mostly because Mussolini, having seen the lightning speed with which Germany was dispatching its European foes, was afraid he’d get none of the spoils.

On June 17, 1940, the day France sought surrender terms from Germany, Mussolini ordered an Italian invasion of southern France.

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WWII leader addresses Romanian parliament

To understand how long it’s been since Romania’s former King Michael first ascended to his country’s throne, consider that he was initially crowned more than 80 years ago, some six years before Adolf Hitler became chancellor of Germany.

Michael, one of the last surviving leaders from World War II, on Tuesday made his first address to Romania’s parliament since he was deposed nearly 65 years ago by Communist forces.

During a special session to mark his 90th birthday Michael called on his country’s politicians to restore Romania’s dignity.

“The last 20 years have brought democracy, freedom and a beginning of prosperity,” Michael told lawmakers, according to Agence France-Presse.

“The time has come after 20 years to … break for good with the bad habits of the past,” Michael added, saying that in 2011 “demagogy, selfishness and attempts to cling to power” should not have their place in the Romanian institutions, an implicit criticism of current politicians.

“It is within our power to make this country prosperous and worthy of admiration,” he added, prompting a standing ovation.

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Axis wreck discovered off Albania

Archaeologists believe they have discovered the wreckage of an Italian ship torpedoed off the coast of Albania by British forces during World War II.

The remnants, discovered with undersea scanning devices, were probably were part of the 8,000-ton freighter Rosandra, which was hit by the British submarine HMS Tactician on June 14, 1943, while Albania was occupied by Italy, a team of US and Albanian archaeologists said on Monday, the 67th anniversary of the sinking.

The vessel was located 260 feet beneath the surface of the Ionian Sea near Albania’s Karaburun Peninsula, 90 miles southwest of Tirana, the capital, during a survey of the country’s seabed that began four years ago, according to an Associated Press report.

“Expedition coordinator Auron Tare of Albania said the size of the wreck, and sonar images of two holes apparently caused by torpedo explosions, matched information from Italian and British sources on the Rosandra,” according to the Associated Press.

Six people died in the attack on the vessel, which was carrying 400 tons of food and military supplies to Italian occupation forces in neighboring Greece, but 173 survived and were safely evacuated.

The Rosandra had been headed from the Albanian port of Vlora — 70 miles from Italy — to Patras in Greece.

Albania was under Fascist Italian occupation from 1939 until September 1943, when Italy surrendered to Allied forces.

Italy lost about 90 percent of its merchant fleet during World War II, according to the AP report.

Launched in 1943, the Tactician sank two Italian vessels, including the Rosandra, a Japanese ship and two Siamese ships. She survived the war and was eventually scrapped in the 1960s.

Hitler may have sought Shroud of Turin

The famed Shroud of Turin was secretly hidden in a Benedictine abbey in Southern Italy during World War II because the Vatican feared that German dictator Adolf Hitler wanted to steal it.

The shroud, said to be the burial cloth of Christ, was transferred for its safety to the Benedictine sanctuary of Montevergine in Avellino, in the southern Campania region of Italy in 1939 and was only transferred to Turin in 1946, according to a British newspaper, The Telegraph.

“The current director of the library at the abbey, Father Andrea Cardin, said the reason behind the move was because Hitler was “obsessed” with the sacred relic,” the publication reported.

“Both the Vatican and the Italian royal family, the Savoys, who were the guardians and owners of the shroud, feared that the German leader, who had an interest in the esoteric, might try to steal the linen cloth,” it added.

Cardin told Italian magazine Diva e Donna that officially the moving of the shroud was to protect it from possible bombing in Turin, but in reality it was to hide it from Hitler.

“When he visited Italy in 1938, top-ranking Nazi aides asked unusual and insistent questions about the Shroud,” Cardin told the magazine.

Cardin said that Italy entered the war in alliance with Hitler, and German forces were sent to Italy, the shroud was very nearly discovered in its secret hiding place.

“In 1943 when German troops searched the Montevergine church, the monks there pretended to be in deep prayer before the altar, inside which the relic was hidden,” he told the magazine. “This was the only reason it wasn’t discovered.”

The shroud, which is supposed to have wrapped Christ’s body after he was crucified, was returned to Turin in 1946 on the orders of Italy’s last king, Umberto II.

The monarchy was abolished in 1946 when Italy voted in a referendum to become a republic, and ownership of the shroud eventually passed to the Holy See, wrote The Telegraph.