“These are the times that try men’s souls; the summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. ”
— Thomas Paine, “American Crisis”
Today in 1776 Thomas Paine’s essay “American Crisis” appeared in the “Pennsylvania Journal.” Between September and December, 11,000 American volunteers gave up the fight and returned to their families. General Washington knew the consequences if the rest of his demoralized men returned home when their service contracts expired on December 31. In August, they had suffered humiliating defeats and lost New York City to British troops.
Washington commanded that the freshly printed pamphlet be read aloud to his dispirited men; the prose had its intended effect. The troops mustered their remaining hopes for victory and crossed the icy Delaware River to defeat hung-over Hessians on Christmas night and on January 2, the British army’s best general, Earl Cornwallis, at the Battle of Princeton.
Paine’s classic “Common Sense” appeared January 10, 1776.
On October 25, 1986 Michael Sergio parachuted into Game Six of the 1986 World Series at New York’s Shea Stadium. Over 55,000 spectators witnessed the sky diver’s arrival and cheered. Sergio was quickly removed from the field by police and spent a night in jail and was released without bail.
On December 10, Sergio pled guilty to criminal trespass in exchange for dropping a more serious charge of reckless endangerment. Today on December 19, he was sentenced to 100 hours of community service and fined $500. However, Sergio was later held in contempt of court for refusing to reveal the name of the pilot who flew the plane from which he jumped. As a result, in May 1987, he was sentenced to six months in federal jail.
Today in 1972 the last three astronauts to travel to the moon splashed down safely in the Pacific Ocean; Apollo 17 had lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, 10 days before.
Beginning with Apollo 11. from 1969 to 1972, there were six successful lunar landing missions, and one aborted mission, Apollo 13. Although Apollo 17 was the last lunar landing, the last official Apollo mission was conducted in July 1975, when an Apollo spacecraft successfully rendezvoused and docked with the Soviet Soyuz 19 spacecraft in orbit around the Earth.
Today in 1732, Benjamin Franklin published Poor Richard’s Almanack. (Not a typo, that’s the way it was spelled.) The book, filled with proverbs preaching industry and prudence, was published continuously for 25 years and became one of the most popular publications in colonial America, selling an average of 10,000 copies a year.
Today in 1964 John Ford’s Cheyenne Autumn was released by Warner Brothers. Despite his success with other themes, Ford always returned to Western movies, continually pushing the boundaries of the genre so that it could be a vehicle for studying larger social and political issues. Stagecoach (1939) set the standard for other western films to follow, raising the genre above its usual B-grade status. (The director-actor Orson Welles claimed to have watched Stagecoach more than 40 times before he made Citizen Kane, and when asked to name three directors he considered his superior, Welles replied, “John Ford, John Ford, and John Ford.”)
In the post-World War II period, Ford’s Westerns became noticeably darker and more pessimistic. Having spent the first half of his career creating movies that celebrated a mythic West of brave heroes and grand adventure, Ford began undermining this perspective by creating the first “anti-Westerns,” films that emphasized the negative side of America’s frontier experience. Rejecting the formulaic plots in which the “good guys” always won out over the outlaws and Indians, films like She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949) offered a brutal vision of the West in which warfare between settlers and Indians produced much tragedy but no clear victors.
In his film, The Searchers (1956), Ford created one of the first western anti-heroes; a fanatical racist played by John Wayne who believes a white woman kidnapped by Indians deserves to die simply because she would rather stay with the tribe than return to “civilization.”
Cheyenne Autumn emphasized the tragic fate of the American Indian and tried to rectify the racist stereotypes he had once propagated. The last of Ford’s great Westerns, it strongly condemned the U.S. treatment of the Cheyenne that forced them into intolerable living conditions and then violently suppressed any rebellion. It featured the Indians as the heroes of the film and the army as the force for evil, completely reversing the roles his earlier films had developed.
John Ford died on August 31, 1973.