On 30 November 1939, in what later be called the Winter War, the Soviet Union invaded neighboring Finland. The objectives were both strategic and territorial. Under the (secret)terms of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact signed in August, Finland was placed into their sphere of influence. Prior to the invasion, the Soviet Union wanted Finland to cede land that would provide more security for Leningrad (formerly known as St. Petersburg, changed to Petrograd during World War I, and renamed Leningrad in 1924 after Lenin’s death).
Everyone, including the Russians, believed it would be easy. The Soviet Union had more troops and aircraft. It was expected the Finns would easily surrender. It did not turn out that way at all. After the initial attack and bombing of Helsinki where 61 would die, the Finns instead showed remarkable resistance. The Finnish government used pictures of the raid showing women with dead babies and those crippled by the bombings to engender sympathy from the outside world and to generate the Finnish resistance to the Russians. The Soviet Army, dressed in summer clothing as winter started to set in, quickly realized they were facing stiff opposition. President Roosevelt extended $10 million in credit to Finland (they paid it back after the war). The League of Nations expelled the Soviet Union for its invasion.
The Soviet Union though reorganized and came with different tactics in February 1940. Finnish defenses were overcome and resistance, though still strong, was up against a better organized Soviet Army this time. In March 1940 the Moscow Peace Treaty was signed. The Soviet Union got what it initially demanded and more as well. Finland’s sovereignty was preserved but it came at a cost for the Soviet Union. Most Western governments considered the Soviet Red Army as poorly led.
Hitler and his generals viewed the Red Army as weak and that an attack on it would be successful. They would invade Russia in June 1941. Finland though would go to war with the Soviet Union. as well. There are different views as to why but generally it was to get back the land lost in the peace treaty of 1940. Unfortunately, a faction of Finnish military and political leaders decided to work closely with the German Wehrmacht for a joint attack. While never signing formally the Tripartite Pact that made them an ally of Nazi Germany, the did sign the Anti-Comintern Pact. This pact signed by Germany, Japan and other countries created an alliance against the Soviet Union.
Finland would retake the territories given to Russia but continued on. They participated in the siege of Leningrad by cutting its northern supply. The Soviet Army would eventually push them back and a ceasefire was called on 5 September 1944. The resulting agreement would require the expulsion or disarming of German troops in their territory. Under pressure from the Soviets to expel German forces, Finnish troops fired on German soldiers resulting in exchanges between the two. By November 1944 nearly all German troops had withdrawn. With the end of the war in 1945, the borders were restored to the 1940 treaty. Finland had to pay war reparations to the Soviet Union. Since they fought with Germany, they had to accept responsibility for their part in the war and acknowledge they had been a German ally.
Advent on the Christian calendar is a season of preparation for the birth of Jesus. It is a season of joy leading up to Christmas Day and also a time of preparation similar to Lent. Prayer, fasting and penance are part of the Advent season. The rules are not as strict as Lent but a time of self-preparation. The color purple is associated with penance. Each Advent Sunday is meant to ready oneself for rejoicing at the birth of Jesus that is to come. The Third Sunday of Advent is the anticipatory celebration and the color rose is used to represent joy.
The Advent wreath
Many homes and churches will have an Advent wreath to symbolize the season, and to mark each Sunday as it happens. The practice began by German Lutherans in the 18th century as a means of teaching Advent to children. The practice began to spread to Catholics and other Christian denominations as well.
Advent wreaths are circular to show that God’s love is infinite and is made with evergreen leaves. It used to be a family event to gather the leaves and make the wreath. The practice has resurfaced in recent years as many families now do this again. Advent wreaths made of artificial evergreens are available in a wide series of designs. Handmade ones can be made to last many years.
In early November 2020 the Taboola advertising platform promoted an advertisement claiming an old camera found in the deep ocean revealed “horrifying Titanic photos.” Placed by Floor8, it purported to show a black and white photo of Titanic. When you clicked through it was a different title claiming to show what the last days of Titanic were like, and no mention of a camera. Naturally it drew in a lot of people who wondered if it was true or not.
The clever folks at Snopes looked into it and confirmed it was false. Apparently Floor8 took a frame from Cameron’s Titanic movie and altered it to appear black and white. And it was simply a plot to get you to click through a slideshow. You probably have done this without even noticing how clever it is. You are at a website and see something like “You will not believe what the cast of Lost in Space looks like today!” or something similar. The purpose is to grab your attention so that you click through a long slideshow. Advertisers make money on this slideshow clicks, which is why it takes a frustratingly long time to get through them. In the advertising world, it is called advertising arbitrage.
That is a fancy phrase for bait and switch which more accurately says what is going on. You are lured on for one thing but directed to something else. In the retail trade, you advertise a product knowing you do not have it. When a customer asks for it, you say it is out of stock and on backorder for several months. You then direct them to the next best product, which of course is more expensive. This tactic, however, is considered deceitful and fraudulent in many jurisdictions. And will ultimately damage the reputation of the business that practices it. Now in this case there is no actual product they are selling. But they are luring you in promising something that turns out to be false, as in this case. And while there is no product, it is done to generate sales to advertisers. I have no doubt some clever prosecutor may make a case out of it.
Probably the lesson from this is when you see it is a sponsored ad on many news or entertainment sites, to not click through for an endless slideshow that pays advertisers every time you click to the next slide.
One of the things I like about Thanksgiving is the gathering of friends and relatives. You spend time sharing and catching up on a lot of things that happened during the year. Kids would be playing together, outside and inside. Laughter and warmth would be the atmosphere of the home as the wonderful smell of turkey slowly cooking filled the air. It had been properly defrosted and brined (brining is an absolute must for a delicious turkey). Some of us would be in the kitchen doing the final stages such as warming up the cranberry sauce made the day before, making the mashed potatoes (often my task), or preparing a nice salad (Greek style).
Sometimes you learn new things as well. A missed item like whipped cream makes you learn how to make it yourself. It is not so hard to do even if you do not have a stand mixer. You do it the old-fashioned way my grandmother did. A chilled bowl, whipped cream, a little vanilla and a large whisk. You stir fast to get those stiff peaks and that it will not easily fall out of the bowl when you turn it over (a test required in culinary school to make sure you have done it right). Once you realize how easy it is to make, those store ones are hardly needed. Those aerosol ones are pretty awful (mostly air and sometimes not even any cream in it-just flavorings!) so making it yourself means some pretty delicious whipped cream for your pumpkin pie.
This year Thanksgiving was very different. Restrictions differed from state to state and even within states. Mandates on how many could be present, mask requirements, having to do it outdoors and more. Some officials even said to avoid the holiday and stay home. It was hard for families, used to visiting with each other, to not gather. Many states are already going back to nearly shutting up again. Once again small business owners are being impacted and for some, I fear, it will be the final blow. They endured months of lockdown and only managed to stay afloat with disaster funds. Some were reopening just as those riots hit destroying the business they had worked so hard to build. Shattered windows, doors busted in, and all the products taken by the mob that had done this. Most just gave up at that point. Signs of “For Rent” or “For Sale” now appear on boarded-up storefronts in many areas.
Black Friday saw thousands storm into stores and malls to shop the bargains. Massive traffic jams occurred keeping police busy directing traffic. News and police helicopters were overhead also watching what was unfolding below. This year it will be much quieter. Most major stores are directing people to their websites to get the same deals they would have gotten in the store. If the store is allowed to open (and that varies depending on state and county), there are restrictions on how many can be in the store. Masks are required and markers indicate where you need to stand for assistance at counters or at checkout stands. Plexiglass screens are up everywhere as well.
Recently I had to travel using our local rapid transit system for a required appointment. It was a Tuesday morning, and the parking lot was mostly empty. The train never really filled up as it made its way to its destination. After I arrived, I walked out of the mostly empty station into what normally would have been a crowded area of people heading to work. It was nearly devoid of people. There were some people about but not many. The coffee shop person indicated that their only traffic now were critical federal office workers from the nearby federal courthouse and government office. The post office, banks and the nearby UPS Store were open but that was about it for the area. With so many offices and businesses closed, they only had a quarter of what was once a booming trade. They had to lay off some staff as well since they could no longer afford them. Money is still quite tight. Now with the prospect of having the coronavirus restrictions extending well into the New Year, it will get harder for the small business owner to stay afloat.
Christmas will be dramatically scaled down as well. Not as many outdoor or even indoor events will be held. Christmas tree lighting will occur but will be streamed instead. Probably a lot of Christmas concerts, stage plays, and ballet will not be held as well (possibly streamed, though to an Internet audience). Every business that used to rely on Christmas events to bring in revenue is going to suffer, both large and small. Some companies will weather it by selling online. Many businesses though cannot do that so easily or at all (like event production companies that create, staff, or build equipment for events). And that will trigger, sadly, a lot more businesses that will shutter triggering more problems for the local and state economies.
When I returned back from my appointment, there had been no extra cars that had parked in the lot. I was just one of a handful of people that got off the train. As I walked the plaza to the parking lot, it was just as empty as it was when I came in earlier that morning. I stopped at the grocery store on the way back. It was fairly crowded but then again it is Thanksgiving week, so people were busy stocking up. I spotted some familiar faces and they indicated they were only buying for themselves and not for the usual crowd they would have over. I mentally calculated that must mean fewer sales of some items. A lot less Yukon gold potatoes, spices, items needed for stuffing, less gravy needed etc.
As I headed home, I wondered how it was we went from a nation that once said: “We have nothing to fear but fear itself” to now shutting ourselves down because of a virus. I am not downplaying its seriousness, but something is out of whack here. We rose up from that terrible day we were attacked on December 7, 1941. We rebuilt our fleet, got our industrial sector producing needed war materials rapidly, and got sailors and soldiers trained. By the end of 1942, we had won a decisive victory at the Battle of Midway where we sank four Japanese aircraft carriers. We went on from there to push the Japanese back to their main islands and ended the war in 1945.
Now we are in fear and retreating into isolation. Sheltering in place, nonessential businesses closed, and houses of worship shuttered. Is this the hallmark of a post-industrial civilization that mastered malaria, fought measles, and made polio a thing of the past? We made it through a Great Depression that wracked our country in the 1930’s. Millions were out of work, yet we managed some impressive things like building the Golden Gate Bridge and Hoover Dam to name a few. Roosevelt was right about fear and that generation knew not to let fear guide them. It appears that lesson has been lost and giving into that fear will cost us enormously economically and politically as well.
Thanksgiving was not an official national holiday until 1863. A letter from a 74-year magazine editor, Sarah Josepha Hale, inspired President Abraham Lincoln to create a national holiday. She wrote in 1863 that we needed to have a national day of Thanksgiving so that everyone could celebrate it on the same day. At the time Thanksgiving was celebrated by the various states but not on the same date. She wanted President Lincoln to make it a national day so it would become a permanent part of “American custom and institution.”
According to Abraham Lincoln Online , other presidents had ignored such requests. Lincoln decided to act on her request and directed a proclamation be drawn up. On 3 October 1863, President Lincoln’s proclamation that establishes Thanksgiving as a national day was issued. It sets aside the last Thursday of November as a “day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.” Secretary of State William Seward actually drafted the proclamation which Lincoln signed. Thanksgiving became a national holiday and was celebrated on that date until 1939. President Roosevelt in 1939, 1940 and 1941 changed it to the third Thursday (to extend the Christmas season) causing considerable controversy. A joint resolution of Congress in 1941 resolved it by decreeing Thanksgiving would fall on the fourth Thursday of November.
Lincoln’s proclamation was written during the American Civil War, a terrible time in U.S. history. Today we forget why this day was made a national holiday. It was to thank God for the blessings of liberty but also to ask his help. In our politically correct times, this proclamation is not always read in full or edited. So here is the original proclamation. Read it and understand why Lincoln thought a national day of Thanksgiving was needed for the United States of America.
— Proclamation Establishing Thanksgiving Day October 3, 1863
The year that is drawing towards its close, has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature, that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God. In the midst of a civil war of unequalled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union. Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence, have not arrested the plough, the shuttle, or the ship; the axe had enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years, with large increase of freedom.
No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy. It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and voice by the whole American people. I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens. And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to his tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquillity and Union.
In testimony whereof, I have hereunto set my hand, and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed. Done at the city of Washington, this third day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, and of the independence of the United States the eighty-eighth. A. Lincoln
On 21 November 1916, HMHS Britannic was sunk by mine near the island of Kea in the Aegean Sea. The ship sank in 55 minutes and 1,035 people were rescued, only 30 perished. Britannic was the third and last ship of the Olympic class liners built by White Star Line. The other two were Olympic and Titanic. Britannic was launched in February 1914. Many design changes were made prior to launch due to lessons learned from Titanic. Those changes were:
Double hull along the engine and boiler rooms raising six of the watertight bulkheads up to B deck.
More powerful turbine installed due to increase in hull width.
Watertight compartments were enhanced so that the ship can stay afloat with six compartments flooded.
Motorized davits to launch six lifeboats (only five out of eight were installed before war service). Manual operated davits were used for the remaining lifeboats. The new design also allowed all lifeboats to be launched even if the ship was listing. There were 55 lifeboats with capacity for 75 each so that 3,600 people could be carried.
When World War I broke out, the ship had to be retrofitted as a hospital ship. Most of the furnishings were stored in a warehouse to be placed back aboard after the war. The Britannic began service as a hospital ship on 12 December 1915. She was sent to the Aegean Sea to bring back sick and wounded soldiers. Her first tour of service was ended on 6 June 1916 and she was sent back to Belfast to be refitted back as a passenger liner. As this was underway, the ship was again recalled to military service on 26 August 1916 and was sent back to the Mediterranean Sea.
On the morning of 21 November 1916, the Britannic under the command of Captain Alfred Barnett was steaming into the Kea Channel when at 8:12 am a loud explosion shook the ship. The explosion, unknown at the time whether it was a torpedo or mine, damaged the first four watertight compartments and rapidly filled with water. Water was also flowing into the boiler room. Captain Bartlett ordered the watertight doors closed, sent a distress call, and ordered the lifeboats be prepared. Unfortunately, while they could send messages, damage to the antenna wires meant they could not hear the responses back from ships responding to their SOS. Britannic was reaching her flooding limit and open portholes (opened by nurses to ventilate wards) were bringing more water in as well.
As the ship was still moving, Bartlett did not order lifeboats be lowered but two lifeboats were lowered anyway. They were sucked into the ships propellor and torn to bits killing everyone in those two lifeboats. Bartlett ordered the ship stopped to assess the damage. The ship was listing so badly that the gantry davits were inoperable. Thinking the sinking had slowed, he ordered the engines back on to try and beach the ship. The flooding increased as more water was coming in aided by the open portholes the nurses had opened to air out their wards early in the morning. Bartlett ordered the engines stopped and to abandon ship. She would sink at 9:07 am, 55 minutes after the explosion. Thankfully the water temperature was high (70 F), they had more lifeboats than Titanic, and rescue came less than two hours. Nearby fisherman were able to help and at 10:00 am, the HMS Scourge arrived and later the HMS Heroic and later the HMS Foxhound.
1,035 survived. Of the 30 lost, only five were buried as their bodies were not recovered. Memorials in Thessaloniki and London honor those lives lost. Survivors were housed on the warships and the nurses and officers were put into hotels. Most survivors were sent home, and some arrived in time for Christmas. Speculation about whether it was a torpedo or a mine was resolved when it was learned that a German submarine (SM U-73) had planted mines in the Kea Channel in October 1916. The loss of two Olympic class ships was a major blow to White Star Line. They would get, as a result of the Treaty of Versailles, the German ocean liner Bismarck (renamed Majestic), which replaced Britannic. They also got Columbus which was named Homeric.
Britannic has been largely forgotten except when news of expeditions were made to the wreck site over the years. The wreck itself was bought by noted author Simon Mills, who has written two books on the ship. An expedition in September 2003 located by sonar mine anchors confirming German records of U-73 that Britannic was sunk by a single mine. The expedition found several watertight doors open making it likely the mine strike was during a watch change on the ship. One notable survivor was Violet Jessop. She had been on Olympic as stewardess when it collided with the HMS Hawke, aboard Titanic in the same capacity when it sank, and then aboard Britannic as a stewardess with the Red Cross.
In the aftermath of World War II, there was debate about how to hold accountable those responsible for war crimes and especially the Holocaust. Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler and Joseph Goebbels were already dead by suicide. Churchill had the simplest approach of wanting to simply execute them but it was decided that tribunal would be a better method. The tribunal would reveal to the world the extent of the crimes upon humanity the persons were responsible for.
The concept of an international tribunal was novel and had never been done before. Then again, no nation had before committed to full scale extermination of whole peoples as the Nazi’s had tried to do. An international tribunal composed of representatives from Great Britain, France, the Soviet Union, and the United States was formed. Defendants faced charges that varied from war crimes to crimes against humanity. Twenty- four were indicted along with six Nazi organizations such as the Gestapo that were also determined to be criminal. One was declared medically unfit to stand trial and another committed suicide before the trial began.
Each defendant was allowed to choose their own lawyers. They all pled not guilty and either argued that the crimes they committed were declared crimes after the London Charter (meaning ex post facto) or that they were applying harsh standards as they were the victors. The trials would last under October 1946 when verdicts were handed down. Twelve were sentenced to death and others got prison terms. Hermann Goering committed suicide the night before he was to be executed.
Fortunately, for the sake of history, government officials in both the United States and Great Britain moved aggressively to find out what had happened and why. Their inquiries, beginning on April 19 and May 2 respectively, put on record much of what the world now knows about the disaster—that the ship was traveling too fast for the icy conditions, that its design made it more vulnerable to sinking than anyone realized, that it was carrying far too few lifeboats for the people onboard and much more.
Kingston’s Marine Museum of the Great Lakes is charting a new course for the future with an ambitious fundraising campaign and a Titanic-era steamship in its sights. Chris West, chair of the museum’s board of directors, revealed to Global News for the first time that the museum is in “very close talks” to acquire the more than century-old SS Keewatin, an Edwardian passenger steamship, to become its flagship exhibit.
On 19 November 1863 President Abraham Lincoln delivered what would be the most memorable speech given by a president in U.S. history. He was attending the dedication of the Soldier’s National Cemetery (now called Gettysburg National Cemetery) in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Four and a half months prior the Battle of Gettysburg had taken place resulting in a major victory for the Union armies. The casualties to both sides were considerable. It also had the highest number of Confederate and Union generals who died in battle as well.
Edward Everett, the best orator of the time, delivered a two hour speech preceding Lincoln’s. When Lincoln spoke, it was only for a few minutes. His speech was only 271 words long after the long speech of Everett’s, so it could have been easily forgotten. People attending gave different accounts of how it was received. Some said a dignified silence, others polite applause. Edward Everett thought it was well done and said so to Lincoln in a letter. Once the text got out to the general public, Democrat leaning newspapers derided it while Republican ones praised. The Times of London thought it a ludicrous speech.
Yet this speech would become famous. It would become oft quoted and praised by many as time went on. Far from being ludicrous, as the Times of London thought it was, it became a standard for other orators to try and emulate. And his eloquent words: “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, shall not perish from the earth,” are still stirring to this day.
The Gettysburg Address
Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.
But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.
The Irish Post reported that the Pastor Harper letter, penned before the ship left Cobh, was auctioned off for $55,803 (£42,000) by Henry Aldridge & Son. The name of the person who won was not revealed. The contents of the letter are as follows:
My Dear Brother Young,
I am penning you this line just before we get to Queenstown to assure you that I have not forgotten you and especially all your kindness while we were north.
I intended sending on Mrs Pratt’s train fares just before I left but in the rush, which was exceptional having had 11 or 12 services for the week-end, I was unable to get it done.
I will send it on from Chicago. We had a great season of blessing during the last few days in Walworth.
I don’t know how I am to thank dear Aunty Mary and yourself for all your kindness. The Lord will repay you for it all. Trust things are going well at Paisley Road. The warriors are with me here and are doing well so far on the journey.
Very kindest love, your loving auld Pastor, John Harper.