2018
Joseph Stalin
February 22, 2018
Josef Vissarionovich Djugashvili, born in December 1878 in Georgia, assumed the name Stalin (man of steel) in his 30s. Growing up the poor, only child of a shoemaker and laundress, he attended a Georgian Orthodox seminary as a young man. Inspired by the works of Karl Marx, he became a political organizer for the Bolshevik Party. Arrested multiple times, he was imprisoned and exiled to Siberia. In 1903 Stalin married the seamstress Ekaterina "Kato" Svanidze and had a son Yakov. Ekaterina died of typhus in 1907. Yakov died as a POW in WWII Germany. Stalin married his second wife, Nadezhda Alliluyeva in 1919, and had two children: Vasily, who was imprisoned after his father's death in 1953 and Svetlana, who defected in the 1960s. Their mother Nadezhda committed suicide in 1932. Stalin reportedly also fathered several children out of wedlock. When the Bolshevik leader Vladimir Lenin died in 1924, Stalin gained control of the party. Assuming dictatorial powers, he instituted a farm collectivization program, suppressed opposition and purged his party of potential rivals. Many of his perceived enemies were executed or sent to forced labor camps. In 1929, Stalin launched a disastrous series of five-year plans to industrialize the agrarian Russian economy. As the government seized control of farms, peasant farmers who refused to cooperate were shot or exiled. The forced collectivization also led to widespread famine across the Soviet Union that killed millions. Stalin expanded the powers of the secret police, encouraged citizens to spy on one another and had millions of people killed or sent to the Gulag system of forced labor camps. From 1937-38, he instituted the Great Terror, a series of arrests, executions and exiles designed to remove people from the Communist Party, the military and Soviet society that he considered a threat.   Controlling the Soviet media, Stalin promoted a cult of personality for himself. Cities were renamed in his honor, history books augmented his role in the revolution, and artwork, literature and music extolled his name.   In 1939, Stalin signed a nonaggression pact with Nazi Germany. He then proceeded to annex parts of Poland, Romania, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, and launch an invasion of Finland. However, in June 1941 Hitler broke the pact and invaded the USSR with Operation Barbarossa.  As German troops advanced toward Moscow, Stalin ordered a scorched earth  policy to destroy anything that might benefit the enemy. In 1942, the tide on the Eastern Front turned with the Battle of Stalingrad, and the Red Army eventually drove the invading Germans from Russia. In 1945, Stalin's health deteriorated and heart problems forced a two-month vacation. He grew increasingly concerned about possible attempts to oust him from power. Senior political and military figures were monitored by secret police and many (including Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov and NKVD head Lavrentiy Beria) were eventually demoted from positions of power. After WWII, many Russians viewed Stalin as a hero and savior of the nation. Post-war Soviet society became somewhat more tolerant: The Russian Orthodox Church was allowed to retain churches opened during the...
2015
Japanese New Year
December 31, 2015
At midnight on December 31, bells in Japan's Buddhist temples ring 108 times to symbolize 108 human sins and remove 108 worldly desires. At the Japanese New Year (正月) a special selection of dishes is prepared. Called osechi-ryōri (御節料理) these dishes consist of boiled seaweed, fish cakes, sweet potato with chestnut, burdock root, soybeans and rice cakes. Similar to the Western custom of sending Christmas cards, the Japanese send New Year's Day cards (年賀状) to their friends and relatives.
Japanese Demons and Spirits
October 26, 2015
Source: 10 Horrifying Demons and Spirits from Japanese Folklore | Mental Floss Oni(鬼) variously translated as demons, devils, ogres or trolls) are popular characters in Japanese art, literature and theater. Hairy, multi-colored humanoid creatures, dressed in tiger skin loincloths, Oni are frequently depicted with claws and horns. Often carrying iron clubs, Oni are considered to be invincible. Yurei(幽霊)  are creatures of Japanese folklore similar to ghosts. The name Yurei is often translated as faint spirits or departed souls. During the Pacific war, Japanese often referred to the Allies as 鬼畜 (kichiku, “demon-creature”), originally a Buddhist term meaning “brute” or “beast,” expanded to 鬼畜米英 (kichiku Beiei, bestial Americans and British) or 鬼畜米帝 (kichiku Beitei, bestial American imperialists).  
Taps
September 10, 2015
The American military tune "Taps," sounded at dusk by bugle or trumpet, is also played at military funerals. Like its German and Imperial Japanese counterparts, it evokes melancholy and tribute to valorous fallen comrades. 
Kamishibai
May 28, 2015
In 12th Century Japan, Buddhist monks originated a paper drama storytelling technique called Kamishibai (紙芝居) to draw moral lessons. Kamishibai experienced a revival in the 1920s when storyteller bicyclists travelled about Japan setting up small stages to perform for children. During WWII the militaristic government transformed the medium into a propaganda tool for adults as well as children. Unlike American propaganda that emphasized the extermination of an enemy often depicted as subhuman, Japanese wartime propaganda placed little focus on the enemy.  Wartime Kamishibai emphasized dedication to the homeland, family, service, heroism and ultimately, glorious sacrifice of one's own life for the Emperor.      
2013
National Parks USA
April 10, 2013
Following the establishment of Yellowstone National Park in 1872, the U.S. Congress authorized the use of many federal lands for additional parks and monuments.
2012
Kimigayo- Japanese National Anthem
November 30, 2012
  From 1868-1945 Kimigayo was the national anthem of the Japanese Empire proclaiming the rule of the Emperor for a 10,000 years. Following WWII,  although the Emperor was retained as a figurehead,  Japan became a parliamentary democracy and the anthem (now proclaiming a 10,000 year reign for Japan) was retained.  
Akiko Yosano – Feminist Poet
April 18, 2012
The feminist poet Akiko Yosano wrote thousands of poems and translated Japanese classics into modern Japanese. Her social commentary (As a Human and as a Woman;  Going through Turbulent Times) promoted female education and was critical of growing Japanese militarism. Full of water                                 A worn out boat                            Reflects the white sky                   Of early autumn.                             Swifter than hail Lighter than a feather, A vague sorrow Crossed my mind.
2011
Philippine-American War
June 14, 2011
Shortly after the USA defeated Spain and annexed the Philippines, Filipino revolutionaries fought to gain independence. Casualties were estimated at 34,000–1,000,000. While both sides undoubtably committed some atrocities, American troops burned entire villages to the ground, placed many civilians in concentration camps and employed torture (notably, water boarding). Many Americans, including Mark Twain and William Jennings Bryan, opposed the annexation of the Philippines as colonialism. "Our Boys entrenched against the Filipinos."  NARA; Ca. 1899-1900 ; Public Domain

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