Today, we head on over to the Events bracket where we have two events that changed the world. The first, an event many of us listening heard of first hand, the attack by members of Al Qaida on September 11, 2001, on the World Trade Center buildings, the Pentagon and the plane that went down in a field in Pennsylvania. The second was a revolution that was as unlikely an event than almost any other one we will cover in Battle Ground History, the Russian Revolution.
I remember waking up on that warm day after being jostled by a phone call from my in-laws, that something terrible had happened in New York City and my wife and I needed to turn on the television immediately. I was living on the West Coast at the time in Lake Tahoe, so we had a three-hour difference in time zones. When I saw that a plane flew into one of the towers of the World Trade Center I was shocked beyond belief.
You see, I was born in Manhattan, New York City and saw the tearing down of the tenements and the digging of the pit, laying of the foundation and building of the two World Trade Center buildings while growing up. My older brother and I would head down every few weeks or so to look at this incredibly large center being constructed. We were both is such awe and the sheer size of the project. To see it come crashing down that day is forever etched into my memory as I am sure many of yours as well.
I remember looking at my wife and telling her after the second plane hit that if less than 10,000 people died there, it would be lucky. The buildings could hold tens of thousands of people. It was estimated that 17,400 people occupied the building, but with visitors, it could easily have been 50,000. According to the official casualty account, 2,753 people were reported killed in the incident not counting the terrorists that hijacked the two planes.
In addition to the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center, American Airlines Flight 11 and United Flight 175, you had American Flight 77 which hit the west façade of the Pentagon in Arlington County, Virginia and United Flight 93 which crashed in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Not counting the terrorists, thirty-five members of the flight crew and 213 passengers died that day.
What we sometimes forget are the brave firemen and police officers who lost their lives that day in trying to save as many people as possible. But more than the immediate losses that day, are the countless others who have come down with fatal diseases due to the toxic cloud that permeated the areas around the crash sites. I was privy to a report on the state of the environment around Manhattan a year after the attacks, and there were still high levels of toxic chemicals that were not found before the attacks. People are still suffering to this day.
Since many of you remember the day and understand all of the details surrounding the attack, I’d like to share somethings you may not know about 9/11.
- • It took over 100 days to put out the fires that the attacks started.
- • Workers sifted through more than one million tons of debris looking for remains and personal effects. They found 65,000 items, including 437 watches and 144 wedding rings.
- • Three hours before the attacks, a machine called a Random Event Generator at Princeton University predicted a cataclysmic event was about to unfold.
- • The section of the Pentagon hit by Flight 77 had just undergone a $258 million rearmament, in which walls had been strengthened, and reinforced windows had been installed. Many right next to the plane’s point of impact remained intact.
- • John Patrick O’Neill, a special agent in charge at the FBI, who had investigated al-Qaeda and the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993, left the FBI due to policy disagreements. He took up a new job as head of security at the World Trade Center – where he died on 9/11.
- • Scientists took advantage of the three-day flight ban over the US to conduct experiments on the effect on the atmosphere of jet planes. They found the days were a little warmer and the nights cooler, suggesting that the exhaust trails planes leave in the sky act like clouds; shielding the Earth from the sun during the day and trapping heat during the night.
Then we have this lucky person, a worker near the top of WTC 1 was saved because just before the attack, he had to go down to the lobby to let in a visitor who had forgotten his ID. The worker emerged from the elevator into the lobby just as the first plane hit, and a fireball exploded out of the elevator he had exited a moment earlier.
The tragedy shocked the world and led to the longest war the United States has ever fought, the war in Afghanistan, a conflict with no foreseeable end in sight. Thousands died that day, many thousands have died because of the aftermath of the attack, and millions have had the way they travel by air affected forever.
Now it is time to move on to an event I am very familiar with, the Russian Revolution. Many of you may know my other podcast, known as either the Russian Rulers History Podcast or Russian History Retold. I covered the Russian Revolution lightly in episodes 70 and 71, as well as the Civil War that followed in episodes 182 and 183.
For those of you not familiar with my Russian history podcast, let’s begin by laying the groundwork for why the Russian Revolution happened at all.
We begin with a weak ruler, who would become the last of the Romanov’s, Nicholas II. When his father Alexander III died in 1894, Nicholas had to step up and become the next Tsar based on rules set down by the son of Catherine the Great, Tsar Paul. He so hated his mother that he changed the law allowing women to rule Russia. He also passed an edict that only the oldest surviving son would become Tsar, even if he were incompetent. Nicholas honestly did not want to be Tsar, nor was he capable of handling the position.
His reign was one of terrible mistakes, brash beliefs, and misguided advice. The first calamity was at a celebration of his ascendency to the throne known as the Khodynka Tragedy where over 1,300 people were trampled to death trying to get souvenirs celebrating the Tsar’s coming to power. The bad advice he got from his family was to not only stay away from the tragedy for safety reasons but that it was okay to go to the ball that evening in celebration of becoming Tsar.
Next up we have the disastrous Russo-Japanese War in which the Russians were shown to be the paper tiger they were. The Japanese handed them a crushing defeat which lowered the stature of their army and the Tsar.
We then have the Bloody Sunday event in January of 1905 where a few hundred peaceful protestors were gunned down in St. Petersburg. We then had the event which some say “set the stage” for the Russian Revolution, the 1905 Revolution. That one was repressed violently which further blemished the Nicholas II’s image.
When the Tsar agreed to his version of a constitutional monarchy, things began to look up. People were happy and thought they finally may be able to have some say in their government. Well, Nicholas, yet again listening to some terrible advice and still believing that Russia was a Romanov holding and that he was the Father of the Country, kept dismissing the Duma, the equivalent of a Congress, when they tried to pass laws he disagreed with. He basically told the people of Russia that they had no say in their country. The radicals believed that the only way that things would change is that the Tsar had to be gotten rid of.
Then the worst thing that could have happened to the Tsar and his government was the outbreak of World War I. The Russians were so ill-prepared that there were times when some of the soldiers had no guns and had to pick up the ones that their fellow soldiers dropped when they were killed. Hundreds of thousands of men deserted instead of being led out to slaughter. When things looked as bad as they could get, Tsar Nicholas II did something that to this day is stunningly stupid, he named himself as the Commander-In-Chief despite no education in fighting tactics. Now whatever went wrong could be blamed solely on his shoulders.
To top things off, we have this crazy Siberian monk giving guidance to Tsarina Alexandra, a woman who was deeply mistrusted by the rest of her family and was considered very reserved by the general public. One of the main reasons she was distrusted at this time is because of where she came from. Before her marriage to Nicholas she was known as Alix of Hesse and by Rhine. Her being mostly German in a war against that country is a major strike against her but what many people don’t realize is that by the time Nicholas II became Tsar, his family was 97% German.
By February 1917, it was clear that there was no way that the monarchy could survive. Nicholas II abdicated on March 2nd, giving way to his brother Michael who refused to become Tsar. A Provisional Government was set up with Alexander Kerensky taking control from Georgy Lvov. There were plans for a democratic election, but things were still dicey as there were many loyal monarchists out there.
The Provisional Government was on tenuous ground, so they began to round up radicals like many of the top Bolshevik’s and made sure that they had no access to any weapons. Lenin and Stalin hightailed it out of town and were not in custody. They also blundered by not taking Russia out of World War I.
What happened next seems almost comical if it wasn’t so tragic for the people of Russia. In August, rumors were floating around that there was unrest in the capital city of Petrograd, which had been renamed from St. Petersburg. The Commander of the Russia military, General Lavr Kornilov decided that he needed to head to the capital and pacify the rebels. Kerensky, falsely thinking that Kornilov was coming after him, decided to ask the Bolsheviks for help and released many of them from prison and then, amazingly, arm them. They would use these weapons to overthrow the Provisional Government in October. Kornilov for all of his efforts was arrested which left Kerensky with no armed supporters.
Many people think that the beginning of the Russian Revolution was a hard-fought battle to storm the government headquarters known as the Winter Palace amidst fierce resistance. The Bolshevik’s fought tooth and nail against large numbers of Tsarist and Provisional troops, and through all of the blood and guts, they finally triumphed in grand fashion.
Eh, that didn’t happen quite that way. In fact, the storming of the Winter Palace, if you can even call it, that was just a waltz into the building with some female soldiers giving the Reds just a little bit of guff. And just like that, the Provisional Government was finished. Many of the top officials were either captured or ran off into exile like Alexander Kerensky who hightailed it to France where he had to leave in 1940 with the invasion by the Nazi’s ending up in New York City. It took a total of 20 hours to overthrow the government.
An election was quickly put together in November with the Bolsheviks getting a total of 24% of the vote. Outside of Moscow and St. Petersburg they would have been lucky to get 5% of the vote. So, they did what any radical minority group would do, they dissolved the Constituent Assembly in January of 1918. This precipitated one of the bloodiest conflicts up to that time in Russian history, their own Civil War.
This can be considered part of the Russian Revolution as the hold that the Bolsheviks had on the government was a very tenuous one. They had enemies all over the place and not a whole lot of allies. What they did have was an organization and a clear goal of what they wanted. Their opponents, the White’s who for the most part were monarchists and traditionalists, were scattered all over Russia and did not have a clear leadership structure and were very poorly coordinated. There was another group of anarchists known as the Black led by Nestor Makhno who opposed everyone until Lenin and Trotsky convinced him to join them. Of course, they double-crossed him and wiped out his army.
Leon Trotsky turned out to be a brilliant military mind, but more importantly, he was a great organizer, rushing from one front line battle to another at breakneck speed. If you could point to one person who guaranteed a Bolshevik victory in the Russian Civil War and the Revolution, it would be Leon Trotsky. For all of his work, he was exiled from the newly formed Soviet Union in 1929 and murdered by orders of Joseph Stalin in Mexico City in 1940.
The Russian Revolution and the subsequent Russian Civil War cost the lives of millions of Russians, Ukrainians, and other peoples throughout what would become the USSR. Tens of millions more would perish, be tortured or be set to forced labor camps known as gulags because of the victory of the Bolsheviks. The Cold War might never have happened if not for their victory. But, on the other hand, without Stalin’s forced industrialization, Hitler’s Wehrmacht army might have marched straight through Russia and won World War II. What might have happened is a topic for some other podcast.
Now we need to head over to the scorers’ table to see which of the two events moves on to the second round.
The first fifteen points are to be given out to the event that had the most people involved. The attacks on 9/11 were carried out by a relatively small number of people, maybe 50 or even if you believe in some reports, 100. That pales in comparison to the Russian Revolution which involved if we add the Civil War, millions. For this reason, I am handing out the full 15 to the Russians and one to 9/11.
Next up is the 20 points on how the event affected the world at the time. Now this one leans heavily in favor of the attacks in 2001. The world changed that day. Travel via airplanes was transformed. You could no longer go to the gate to meet someone coming in and don’t get me started on the difficulties getting through security. Also, many American’s changed their views about Muslims. Some viewed them as their eternal enemy, to be hated and shunned. After 9/11, Sikhs were attacked even though they have nothing to do with Islam. I remember a Hispanic person being called a dirty Muslim. When I defended him, he told me that it was alright, he had this happen to him numerous times. Sad days.
The Russian Revolution was a violent event, but it took a few years to really hit home for the rest of the world as there was a global conflict going on in World War I and people were still trying to figure out this whole concept of Communism. For these reasons, I’m giving the 9/11 attack the full 20 points with 8 going to the Russian Revolution.
Next up is the 25 points for the lasting effect on world history. Here we run into some problems. The Russian Revolution was fought and won, but we know that the Soviet Union collapsed and passed into history 63 years after the uprising. With 9/11, we have had only a scant 18 years after it occurred to digest its ramifications. This is a tough call, but I’m giving the Russian Revolution 25 points with 9/11 getting 22.
Last but not least is the immediate effect on the country or countries involved. The attack by Al Qaida on the United States had changed parts of our way of life on many different levels, but I can’t equate the severity to what the Russian Revolution did to the peoples that would make up the USSR. Millions would perish, millions would be displaced, and millions would suffer for decades post-revolution. For these reasons, the Russian’s get the forty points, and the attack of 9/11 gets 30.
The winner of today’s Historical Event battle is the Russian Revolution with a score of 88 points with 9/11 getting 73. One of the most significant rebellions in history moves on to face, either the Invention of Agriculture or the publication of Charles Darwin’s book, On the Origin of Species. Join me next time when we head back to the Villains Bracket where we find one of the people involved in the Russian Revolution, Joseph Stalin, facing one of the most powerful bosses in American Mafia history, Carlo Gambino.