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Thursday, 21 November 2013

The shot heard round the world

The phrase ‘the shot heard round the world’ has a specific origin but since then has been used as a means to describe various incidents, from world-shattering events to sporting achievements, whether golf, baseball or even darts.

The phrase was coined by Ralph Waldo Emerson in his Concord Hymn of 1836 and it refers to the weapon discharge that signalled the beginning of the American War of Independence, referred to as the American Revolutionary War.
Oppressive government was beginning to wear down the colonials in thirteen colonies of British North America and the Massachusetts Colony was ripe for sedition in the spring of 1775. Conflict appeared inevitable and preparations by the Americans went on throughout the previous winter, producing arms and munitions and clandestinely training militia, including the minutemen. The Governor, General Gage, obtained secret knowledge of the preparations and decided to counter them by sending a force out of Boston to confiscate the weapons stored in the village of Concord and also capture the leaders Samuel Adams and John Hancock, who were staying at nearby Lexington.

The atmosphere in Boston was tense and the colonials set up a messaging system to pass on news of the advancing British troops. Paul Revere, a metal-worker, arranged for a signal to be sent by lantern from the steeple of North Church – which figures in that enjoyable film National Treasure. On the night of 18 April, 1775 the lantern alarm was sent and Paul Revere and William Dawes followed it by riding inland to spread the warning. In the pre-dawn light of the following day, the beating drums and peeling church bells summoned about seventy militiamen to the town green of Lexington. They lined up in battle formation as the redcoats approached through the morning fog.
My wife Jen and I visited here in July 1997...
Statue of a minuteman
A skirmish at Lexington during the British advance found the militia outnumbered and they fled. However, at the Old North Bridge that spanned the Concord River, five full companies of minutemen and five non-minutemen militia occupied the hill overlooking the access to the bridge while other supporters continued to stream in, eventually numbering about 500 against the combined force of the British Light Infantry companies totalling about 110 men.
North Bridge
The British broke ranks and fled, to be rescued by the reinforcements of the Second Duke of Northumberland. They then marched back to Boston under heavy fire in a tactical withdrawal. In the days following, the Siege of Boston would begin and the French would side with the Americans to help them win the war.

Emerson’s poem was written for the event of dedicating a memorial by the Old North Bridge and it runs:

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,
Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard ‘round the world,
The foe long since in silence slept,
Alike the Conqueror silent sleeps,
And Time the ruined bridge has swept
Down the dark stream which seaward creeps.

On this green bank, by this soft stream,
We set to-day a votive stone,
That memory may their deed redeem,
When like our sires our sons are gone.

Spirit! who made those freemen dare
To die, or leave their children free,
Bid time and nature gently spare
The shaft we raise to them and Thee.

Naturally, the shot couldn’t be heard, he was using artistic license, but the repercussions of the first shot were indeed felt around the globe – even to this day. Nobody really knows whether a ‘farmer’ – militiaman – or a soldier of the British army fired the first shot of the Battle of Lexington and Concord.

Another shot that was heard round the world was that which assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand on 28 June, 1914. His killers were Serbian nationalists. The Archduke was in Sarajevo to assert Austrian imperial authority over Bosnia, a Slavic territory.
Painting of the assassination of the Archduke
This assassination triggered the cascade of events that quickly produced war, though the causes of the war were multiple and complex. After the assassination, Austro-Hungary didn’t rush into any decision about a response but waited for three weeks while a large part of the army was on leave to help in the gathering of the harvest.

On 23 July, assured by unconditional support of the Germans if war broke out, Austro-Hungary sent an ultimatum to Serbia, and among the demands was that Austrian agents must be allowed to take part in the investigation, since they held Serbia responsible for the assassination. Amazingly, the Serbian Government accepted all the terms, except that of the participation of the Austrian agents in the inquiry, which it saw as a violation of its sovereignty. Austro-Hungary rejected the Serbian reply and broke diplomatic relations and declared war on Serbia on 28 July, proceeding to bombard Belgrade the following day.

This prompted Austro-Hungary and Russia to order the general mobilisation of their armies. The Germans, having pledged their support to Austro-Hungary, sent Russia an ultimatum to stop mobilisation within twelve hours.

On 1 August, the ultimatum having expired, the German ambassador to Russia formally declared war.

The next day, Germany occupied Luxembourg, as a preliminary step in the German’s Schlieffen Plan, which required Germany to attack France first and then Russia. Another ultimatum was delivered to Belgium, requesting free passage for the German army on the way to France. Don’t mind us, while we march through your land to invade your neighbour. Not surprisingly, the Belgians refused.

Almost at the eleventh hour, Kaiser Wilhelm II asked the German generals to cancel the invasion of France in the hope that this would keep Britain out of the war. Horrified by the prospect of the utter ruin of the Schlieffen Plan, the German military refused on the grounds that it would be impossible to change the rail schedule – typical...

On 3 August Germany declared war on France and invaded Belgium the next day. Britain had vacillated over the growing storm clouds, partly due to the monarchy’s connections to the Kaiser, partly due to a reluctance to go to war when still unprepared. Nobody had listened to ‘warmonger’ Churchill. But the violation of Belgian neutrality - to which Prussia, France and Britain were all committed to guarantee - gave Britain little choice but to declare war on Germany on 4 August. Next year will mark 100 years since the beginning of the slaughter of millions of young men, the snuffing out of a generation.

The conflict of the First World War had a profound effect on society and nations and began the disintegration of the British Empire.

Thanks to radio and television, the shot that was actually heard round the world was the bullet that killed President John F Kennedy in Dallas on 22 November, 1963. Well, three shots are supposed to have been heard by witnesses. Kennedy was hit in the head and throat while being driven in a motorcade past the School Book Depository building. Governor Connally was also shot. Kennedy slumped in his wife Jackie’s arms and the limousine was driven at high speed to Parklands Hospital. He died thirty-five minutes after being shot. He was the fourth US president to be assassinated.
The image that is indelibly fixed

Besides changing the course of history, the Kennedy assassination spawned an amazing collection of conspiracy theories, among them: Lyndon Johnson, the CIA, the Mafia, the oil industry, anti-Castro groups, Castro supporters, Krushchev, Freemasons, Onassis and the Illuminati, the Corsican Mafia, the Israelis, Frank Sinatra, Soviet hard-liners and anti-Civil Rights agents in the CIA, many of which are quite fascinating even if totally untrue…



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