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9/11 - What's in a Date?
Posted: Wednesday, September 11, 2002

By Terry Joseph

Any mention of September 11 conjures up mainly horrific images of terrorist attacks on the US, obliterating recollection of other major historical events, in a world pained still by the 3,000 civilian lives terminated in that calamity.

But the date also plays host to many other anniversaries. Ironically, September 11 used to be a public holiday in Afghanistan, commemorating National Assembly Foundation Day, the inaugural edition of which took place in 1964.

Last year on 9/11, that country was mourning the loss of another freedom fighter, Ahmed Shah Massoud, nemesis of the Taliban, who killed two days earlier during a news conference by a bomb hidden in a TV camera.

This morning, relatively few will remember the Afghan liberation event or Massoud or, for that matter, the Ethiopian New Year, which is also being celebrated today.

Interestingly, Chile and Pakistan also celebrate this day with public holidays, marking respective anniversaries of their founding as republics. In Pakistan it is called Jinnah Day, after the leader who died* on 9/11 in 1948.

The day also holds another kind of significance for the people of Chile. On September 11, 1973, Chile's socialist president Salvador Allende, regarded as a threat by the Nixon administration, shot himself after US-aided troops of Augusto Pinochet surrounded his La Moneda fortress in Santiago.

Indeed, loss of life on 9/11 seems to have been with us from the dawn of our time but in fairness to the date, it has no monopoly on bad news, even though imprinted in 20th Century minds as the telephone number you call only when horrible things happen.

First known reference to bad news on 9/11 comes from the belief of Orthodox Christians who, weaving backwards through history's several calendar adjustments, have identified this day as the one on which John the Baptist was beheaded.

It was also the day in 1609 Henry Hudson colonised Manhattan for the revolutionaries, snuffing out countless Native American Indians he found there, the very place that was to become the site of Al Qaeda initiated carnage nearly 400 years later.

In 1777, corpses were also being counted on September 11, thousands of troops having lost their lives in hopeless confrontation, as General George Washington finally capitulated to British forces at the Battle of Brandywine in Pennsylvania. They were numbering the dead again 21 years later on that day, when the Americans triumphed over the British at Lake Champlain in New York.

In 1857, Mormon fanatic John D Lee, angered by President Buchanan's order to remove founder Brigham Young from governorship of Utah, incited a band of equally zealous brethren on 9/11 to ambush a California-bound wagon train ferrying 135 Methodists through Mountain Meadows. Every man, woman and child was killed in the religion-inspired massacre.

US Marines invaded Honduras on September 11, 1919, precisely 26 years before the final batch of American troops landed in Korea to begin the fight against a perceived Soviet threat, triggering what was to become three years of war, with consequential loss of more than 100,000 lives.

In 1923, New Yorkers had their first major scare with aircraft flying low over the city, when on September 11, the world's largest dirigible ZR-1 hovered over the Woolworth Towers, the tallest building at the time. No casualties were reported, although several persons were severely traumatised.

Memorable deaths of entertainment industry icons occurring on 9/11 include Bonanza lead actor Lorne Greene (1987) and reggae star Peter Tosh (1988). In 1991, former Soviet Premier Nikita Kruschev succumbed to a heart attack on September 11, the same day on which 33 persons died in a train crash in Coshucton, Ohio and 14 perished when a Continental Express commuter-flight went down near Houston, Texas. In 1986, it was the day the Dow Jones plummeted 86.61 points, still its biggest drop ever.

It was on September 11, 1998 that the US Congress released the report of special prosecutor Kenneth Starr, which detailed President Bill Clinton's sexual misconduct and fingered him on perjury and obstruction of justice charges.

But before you become nervous about setting foot outside today (and thank God it is still two days shy of Friday 13th), remember too the assets and good times that came to us on 9/11. Among notables born on this day were poet and novelist DH Lawrence in 1885, civil rights leader Charles Evers in 1922 and 23 years later, soccer-star Franz Beckenbauer.

In 1847, Stephen Foster chose the magic day to release "Oh! Susanna", the first of many songs he would compose to mark the period, a catalogue that eventually included "My Old Kentucky Home", the spiritual "Massa Stone Cold in de Ground", "Jeanie With the Light Brown Hair" and "Old Black Joe."

Unfortunately, that too had a dark side. Bereft of the protection of copyright law, Foster died an impoverished man, left to rot in a charity ward at New York's Bellevue Hospital, where he succumbed in 1864 on - you guessed it - September 11.

No horror attended the switching on of the world's first traffic-light pedestrian crossing in San Francisco on that day in 1929, nor the effort by Florence Chadwick, the first woman to swim the English Channel; a feat accomplished in just under17 hours on September 11, 1951.

But if a lasting happy story connected with this date will lift you today, consider this: On September 11, 1962, a music revolution began when The Beatles released "Love Me Do", the song that made them known to the world. The group would eventually release 30 songs that reached Billboard magazine' s top-ten pop music charts during that decade.

Formed in 1960 in Liverpool, England, from an earlier group called The Quarry Men, The Beatles originally had five members, John Lennon, Paul Mc Cartney, George Harrison, Peter Best and Stuart Sutcliffe. Ringo Starr eventually replaced Best. Sutcliffe left the group in September 1961, the actual day still the subject of dispute.

Suffice it to say neither of two dates argued is September 11.


Updated Sept 12, 2002: * 'was killed' changed to died.

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