How Can Catastrophe Fall From a Cloudless Sky?

British economist Norman Angell’s 1910 book The Great Illusion, which argued that war between industrial countries was futile, inspired the 1937 French film La Grande Illusion. A theater poster for the movie sold for $8,625 at a July 2006 auction.

“Everybody has a plan, until they get punched in the face.” – Mike Tyson

By Jim O’Neal

Throughout history, armies have always made plans. Alexander the Great had one to invade the Persian Empire to capture or kill Emperor Darius III. Phillip II of Spain had a plan to defeat England in 1588 by sailing an armada up the Channel, load his troops and land in Kent. The Duke of Marlborough planned to save Holland in 1704 by luring the French army down the Rhine and defeat it away from their home base.

Another famous plan by Hannibal in the Second Punic War was evading Rome’s navy, crossing the Alps and confronting the Legions in their homeland. Even the United States had a plan in 1861 to strangle the South by blockading the Mississippi River and all southern ports (the Anaconda Plan).

All these plans were made in the midst of war or when war was imminent. By 1870, war planning evolved to abstract contingencies for use only if a war became a reality. It was a futile effort of the paranoid, since war can become a reality if an overwhelming force becomes available for use by some ambitious leader (O’Neal’s Rule).

The Second World War – when it inevitably started in 1939 – was simply a continuation of the First World War. It was tragic and unnecessary conflict. Unnecessary because the train of events could have been interrupted at any point during the five weeks that preceded the first clash of arms. Tragic because the war ended the lives of 16 million people, tortured the lives of millions more, and destroyed the benevolent and optimistic culture of the European continent.

The puzzlement, of course, was how such a catastrophe came out of a cloudless sky in 1914 to a population raised to believe that war could never trouble their continent again. In the summer of that year, Europe enjoyed peaceful economic prosperity, so dependent on international exchange and cooperation that the prevailing wisdom considered war an impossibility.

A bestseller in 1910, The Great Illusion was an analysis of economic interdependence. It confirmed that war would be deterred by any threat to the disruption of international credit, and both industrial and commercial society were unambiguous in agreement. Industrial output was strong. New categories of manufactured goods, chemical dyes and internal-combustion vehicles flourished as new sources of cheaply extracted materials became more widely available. Rising populations everywhere and the enormous expansion of overseas empires were followed by a second revolution in transportation – steamships overtook sailing-ship tonnage.

Banks recovered their confidence. Gold-backed capital was circulating freely and fueled Russian railways, South African gold and diamonds, South American cattle, Australian sheep, Malaysian rubber and Canadian wheat. Every sector of the United States’ enormous economy devoured European capital as fast as it became available.

Naturally, everyone had strategic alliances (just in case), armies built up to offset naval imbalances (just in case), and contingency plans. However, diplomatic communications had not kept pace, as their need was a quaint relic of the past. There was no need since there was no trouble. Everybody was too busy getting rich.

War? Not a chance (plus, everyone had a “plan”). Maybe boxer Mike Tyson is smarter than we give him credit for.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Shortly After His Inauguration, Wilson Pivoted and Entered World War I

This World War I Tank Corps recruitment poster, issued by the U.S. government in 1917, sold for $8,962.50 at a July 2014 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

On Jan. 31, 1917, Germany’s Navy Admiral Eduard von Capelle assured his nation’s parliament, Americans “will not even come, because our submarines will sink them. Thus America from a military point of view means nothing, and again nothing and for a third time nothing.”

American President Woodrow Wilson had been re-elected just months earlier on a campaign slogan of, “He kept us out of war.” Although the Germans were regularly sinking American ships in the Atlantic, Wilson had consistently declared, “America is too proud to fight.” However, a month after his inauguration, he led Congress to vote to enter World War I.

The 1916 presidential election was almost as bizarre as the one we suffered through in 2016. In this case, an incumbent president (Wilson) was running against Supreme Court Justice Charles Evans Hughes, the Republican candidate. Wilson’s win was the first time a Democratic Party candidate had won two consecutive presidential elections since Andrew Jackson (1832).

But before the election, Democrats were so uncertain about their chances that they developed a radical plan to avoid leaving a potential four-month, lame-duck vacuum with war raging in Europe. It consisted of appointing president-elect Hughes (if he had won) as Secretary of State, followed by the resignation of Wilson’s vice president, Thomas Marshall. This would allow the new president to take residence in the WH immediately and avoid the gap until the scheduled March 1917 inauguration.

The Progressive Republicans had already essentially forfeited their chances by selecting Teddy Roosevelt for president and he had sent a telegram refusing their offer. The vice presidential candidate had already decided to support Hughes so that was out as well.

Admiral Capelle’s “they will never come” statement became one of history’s worst declarations when on May 29, the Allies launched a three-hour barrage of fire that exceeded what both sides fired during the entire four-year Civil War. The $180 million equated to $1 million of ordnance every 60 seconds. I suspect the folks in Afghanistan recently experienced something similar.

You can never tell about these American presidents.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Put on Your Trivia Hat … it’s Time for the Academy Awards

A rare six-sheet poster for The Grapes of Wrath (20th Century Fox, 1940), measuring 81 by 81 inches, sold for $35,850 at a July 2007 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

The 89th Academy Awards are set for Sunday:

►Three films won 11 Oscars: Ben Hur (1959), Titanic (1997) and The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003).

►Three films had 14 nominations: All About Eve (1950), Titanic and La La Land (2016).

►Cabaret (1972) won eight Oscars … but not Best Picture.

►Katharine Hepburn has the most Best Actress Oscars … four (yes, more than Meryl Streep).

►Henry Fonda is the oldest actor (76) to win an Oscar for Lead Role in On Golden Pond (1981).

►John Ford won four Oscars for Best Director … The Informer (1935), The Grapes of Wrath (1940), How Green Was My Valley (1941) and The Quiet Man (1952).

►Peter Finch won Best Actor posthumously for Network (1976).

►Heath Ledger won Best Supporting Actor posthumously for The Dark Knight (2008).

►Peter O’Toole was nominated for Best Actor and lost eight times.

►Joan Fontaine and Olivia de Havilland are the only sisters to each win an Academy Award for Best Actress.

►Walt Disney won 22 competitive Oscars and four Honorary.

►Hattie McDaniel was the first African-American to win an Oscar, for her Supporting Role in Gone With the Wind (1939).

►Midnight Cowboy (1969) is the only X-rated movie to win Best Picture.

►Gone With the Wind (1939) is the first color movie to win Best Picture.

►Cate Blanchett won an Oscar playing real-life Oscar-winner Kate Hepburn in Aviator (2004).

►Laurence Olivier is the only person to direct himself in winning an acting Oscar, for Hamlet (1948).

►Barry Fitzgerald was nominated twice for the same role in Going My Way (1944) … Best Actor and Best Supporting (won). The rules were changed to avoid this in the future.

►The most nominations (11) with zero Oscars … The Turning Point (1977) and The Color Purple (1985).

►Halle Berry is the only African-American to win Best Actress, for Monster’s Ball (2001).

Tatum O’Neal and Ryan O’Neal in 1973’s Paper Moon.

►George Bernard Shaw is the first person to win an Oscar and a Nobel Prize (Bob Dylan matched this feat last year).

►Timothy Hutton is the youngest (20) to win Supporting Actor, for Ordinary People (1980).

►Tatum O’Neal is the youngest (10) Supporting Actress, for Paper Moon (1973).

Best of luck to the nominees.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Winning a War is Difficult, Even with Vastly Superior Forces

The original movie poster art for Oliver Stone’s 1986 Vietnam war drama Platoon, by artist Mike Bryan, sold for $21,510 at a March 2014 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

The decision to mount a sustained bombing campaign was not made until Feb. 13, 1965 – two days after the Viet Cong had launched yet another attack on the U.S. barracks at Qui Nhon. The significance was that this decision, which had taken so long, had been kept completely separate from the decision on combat troops. It was to be an activity unto itself. But in their hearts, the military knew better and this was a crucial lapse in judgment. It differed sharply from the decision-making in 1954, when the Army staff cast serious reservations about U.S. aerial intervention in Indochina.

In 1954, Army Chief of Staff Matthew Ridgway had made one thing crystal clear: Air power and ground power could not be separated. If air power was used and failed, ground power would almost certainly be necessary. In 1965, no one made the comparable case as the pressure for bombing escalated too fast.

The bombing campaign was going ahead under the name of Rolling Thunder, designed to force the other side to start negotiating, thus avoiding the use of ground troops. In the intelligence community, the ones most knowledgeable about Vietnam knew with certainty that Hanoi would never negotiate or capitulate. However, the principals were convinced that bombings would preclude the use of any ground forces.

On Feb. 22, nine days after the decision to go ahead with the bombing, General William Childs Westmoreland – commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam – sent in a request for two battalions of Marine Corps, strictly to provide security for the U.S. air base in Danang. It was a modest request, just the two groups, and the mission was minor, as well. Just provide security.

This was the first time American combat units would arrive as units. There was a nagging fear among many in Washington and Saigon that this was not the end. However, it was a small request and it had to be done.

After all, slipping in the first troops was just an adjustment, an asterisk really, to the firm decision they had made to avoid sending in troops. Of course, there had to be protection for the airplanes and if there was bombing, then you needed airfields. And if there were airfields, then troops were needed for security. No one pointed out that a regiment is small and can’t really protect itself. Even as they were bombing, they were preparing for a new rationale: the protection of men and material. The expanding rationale would provide its own rhythm of escalation. The whole basis of the escalation and of providing ground troops hung on a slender hope; it would be brief.

Four short years later, in 1969, United States troops in Vietnam peaked at 549,500, with 16,592 KIA (killed in action).

It is hard to win a war, even with vastly superior forces, if the other side is determined to never quit. You can even leave the country, as we did in Iraq, but chances are you will be back. Especially in wars on “terrorism,” even if you choose to quit, who do you surrender to?

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Bataan Death March a Cruel Episode of an Already-Brutal War

The 1945 film Back to Bataan starring John Wayne tells the story of the U.S. Army Ranger raid at the Cabanatuan prisoner-of-war camp.

By Jim O’Neal

Last month marked the 75th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor (Dec. 7, 1941) that resulted in the United States entry into World War II.

The Japanese war plan assumed that a quick strike that disabled American naval forces would deter the United States from interfering with their strategic objective of conquering Asia and acquiring rich natural resources.

They predicted a surprise victory would preclude a declaration of war and keep us focused on Europe, where Nazi Germany was on a rampage. The primary target was the Pacific Fleet, which included aircraft, battleships and aircraft carriers. They intentionally ignored the fuel depots and maintenance facilities since they would become superfluous (wrong!).

Ironically, U.S. plans included a proviso “to avoid charging across the Pacific” … in stark contrast to the core Japanese rationale. Further, the three aircraft carriers (Enterprise, Lexington and Saratoga) were at sea and escaped damage. So, quite perversely, these assets, three aircraft carriers, airplanes and all the supporting infrastructure, were precisely what we used to respond. “Remember Pearl Harbor” was the rallying cry that gave Congress the cover to declare war, something the American public opposed.

Six hours later, in a less-familiar situation, the Japanese also started bombing the U.S. Protectorates in the Philippines and Guam. General Douglas MacArthur was in Manila the day the bombing started – in his cozy suite at the Manila Hotel – and inexplicably failed to pass on the warning he had received hours before. He then relocated to the island of Corregidor in the mouth of Manila Bay and was there from December until March 1942, when FDR ordered him to Australia for his safety.

Bataan is a peninsula in the Philippines between Manila Bay and the South China Sea. It is a mountainous, hot, densely jungled place. It is also the location of one of the worst American defeats in WWII. On April 9, 1942, U.S. and Filipino forces on Bataan surrendered unconditionally to the Japanese after months of bombing and an invasion.

What followed was the infamous Bataan Death March.

More than 70,000 already-weakened Allied POWs were forced to walk over 60 miles to Japanese prison camps; many were sent to the Cabanatuan prison camp on the coast of Luzon. Thousands died en route of sickness, dehydration and murderous acts inflicted by their Japanese captors. Conditions at the camp are almost too gruesome to repeat.

In addition to the ordinary conditions of malaria, dysentery, scurvy, pellagra, beriberi and rickets, the long-term effects of vitamin and mineral deprivation exposed an abyss of human physiology. When the last phantom residues burned away, prisoners lost their voices, hair, eyes, teeth and hearing. Even their skin fell off. It was a pseudo-human medical freak show.

Finally, after nearly three years of tortuous living conditions, in January 1945, 121 hand-selected troops from the elite U.S. Army 6th Ranger Battalion slipped behind enemy lines and rescued the 513 American and British POWs that were still alive at Cabanatuan. It was a long three years for these survivors and it is almost miraculous that any made it.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is president and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Battle of Stalingrad Defined Struggle Between Fascism and Bolshevism

the-boy-from-stalingrad-columbia-1943
The Boy from Stalingrad was a 1943 Columbia Pictures movie about Russian youths fighting the German assault on Stalingrad. The propaganda film was officially approved by the U.S. government, which briefly worked to maintain its wartime alliance with the Soviets.

By Jim O’Neal

While the siege of Leningrad was under way, a ferocious battle was beginning over Stalingrad, a sprawling provincial city of half a million, outlining the banks of the Volga River.

If there was one battle that defined the struggle between fascism and Bolshevism – the essential confrontation that Adolf Hitler had long dreamed of winning – it was this one. From a strategic standpoint, it would allow Germany to cut off the supply route to the Russian Army up north and open the way for the Wehrmacht to control the oil fields surrounding the Caucasus Mountains.

But Hitler wanted Stalingrad for a personal reason, too. Joseph Stalin had named this city in 1925 to honor the battle he had led there during the Russian Civil War. Its capture would be a symbolic victory and erode Russia’s willpower. However, Stalingrad would prove important to both sides and together they would expend the lives of 1 million people in just five months.

The drama began with the Germans attacking the city’s northern edge and discovering Russian civilians, many of them women in dresses, firing the guns. It was a harbinger of the legendary Russian resistance. That night, an enormous roar deafened Stalingrad, the sound of 600 German planes descending at once. They dropped bombs carrying incendiary devices and when they ignited, the city was so bright from flames that soldiers 40 miles away claimed they could read a newspaper. In all, 40,000 civilians died that night and the worst was yet to come.

Since the city was home to several prized armament plants, tanks rolled off the assembly line directly into battle. Yet it was hand-to-hand combat that came to dominate the fighting – building by building, block by block, rooftop to rooftop – until giant piles of rubble remained. Snipers worked from every garret, booby traps appeared at every turn, and hand grenades came flying from every angle. The insanity of the fighting was obvious even to impotent commanders, but the two leaders in Moscow and occupied Ukraine insisted their armies fight on.

Ignoring the pleas of his advisors, Hitler failed to protect his flanks and fresh Russian troops encircled the city, trapping the entire German army inside. Now they were the ones under siege, starving and freezing while they waited for the promised reinforcements that never came.

By January 1943, the battle was over and 80,000 German troops were marched off to Soviet camps, where all but a handful would eventually die. Things would only go downhill from here as the German people lost faith and the Allies started their offense directly against the Fatherland.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

President Wilson’s Daughters Were Champions of Women’s Suffrage

suffrage-poster-inez-milholland
A poster featuring Inez Milholland Boissevain was produced to commemorate her ride through Washington, D.C., and her fateful death in 1916. This example realized $402.50 at a June 2005 auction.

By Jim O’Neal

On March 3, 1913, the day before the presidential inauguration, the Thomas Woodrow Wilson family arrived in Washington, D.C. There was very scant attention paid to the arrival of the new president-elect since it coincided with an unusually high-profile demonstration.

About 8,000 women, led by Vassar-educated lawyer Inez Milholland Boissevain (astride a beautiful white horse), were marching in the capital’s streets to further the cause of women’s suffrage. There were marching bands, floats and pageantry galore along the route. The demonstration was intended to emphasize frustrations with the slow progress in Congress, despite the many years of effort to gain national rights.

Prior to 1912, only 1.3 million women in six states had equal voting rights with men and a mere three states had been added for a grand total of nine. However, the movement seemed to be gaining broader support, although eight more years would be needed before the 19th Amendment was approved.

On this particular day, the crowds were boisterous and opponents took delight in spitting on their banners and throwing lighted cigarettes and cigars at and on marchers. At times, the crowds got out of control and more than 100 people were trampled or bruised to the point they required hospital care.

The three Wilson daughters, Margaret, Jessie and Eleanor (nicknamed Nellie), were all ardent supporters of women’s suffrage and were constantly badgering their father to make it a priority even before he was elected. Jessie had even taken a bold stance while in college and ended up resigning from her sorority when her efforts were scorned.

jessie-woodrow-wilson-sayre
Jessie Woodrow Wilson

Jessie Woodrow Wilson was born on Aug. 28, 1887, and educated far beyond most women of the day, similar to outgoing First Lady Helen Taft. She had studied at Goucher College and Princeton, where she was Phi Betta Kappa after her high academic accomplishments. After college, she worked at the Lighthouse Settlement House for women millworkers, where she observed firsthand the downtrodden women, and it transformed her into a passionate supporter of women’s suffrage and equal rights.

In 1915, Margaret acted as honorary hostess for the convention of the National American Women Suffrage Association (later known as the League of Women Voters) and Eleanor would speak at the convention along with members of her father’s cabinet. 1915 was also the first year a U.S. president would attend the World Series. The Philadelphia Phillies won the first game, but it would take 65 years before the next one (1980). The Red Sox easily won the series 4-1. Their pitching staff was so good that a young pitching star named George “Babe” Ruth was limited to a single appearance as a pinch-hitter (he grounded out).

Jessie Wilson continued her political career and even introduced Al Smith as the first Catholic presidential nominee in 1928 (he lost to Herbert Hoover), and was obviously poised for big things when Franklin D. Roosevelt won the first of his four elections and dominated the Democratic Party.

Alas, on Jan. 15, 1933, Jessie Woodrow Wilson Sayre died at age 45 following complications from abdominal surgery. I suspect she would have been heavily involved in politics had she lived a longer life.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Americans’ Love of Travel Ran Into Dreadful Road System

new-mexico-and-arizona
This Union Pacific poster, circa 1925, promotes travel by train to New Mexico and Arizona – “Land of History and Mystery.” It sold for $2,031 at a November 2014 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

In 1919, America, now rapidly becoming mechanized, seemed to be filled with people inclined to travel. There was an abundance of money, and new transportation technologies were eager to provide alternatives to existing modes of travel. World War I was over and soldiers had returned home flush with cash and eager to join the social changes under way. A Model T Ford or Chevrolet 490 cost less than $400 … little more than three months’ pay.

Four million cars were already in use and Ford was selling 600,000 more each year. One in eight Americans owned a car and this would increase to one in six in the 1920s. Farmers were buying small trucks – 250,000 in use by 1916 – to haul produce to market and fertilizer back to their farms.

The stagecoach had all but vanished, but there were still 20 million horses conveying people or goods. Bus services were popping up to serve the less affluent. The joy ride was a hot, new leisure concept and the invention of the taximeter enabled motorcar taxi service in most cities. The roar of the Roaring Twenties was a combination of the internal combustion engine combined with the jazz bands on dance-hall floors and the din from speakeasies.

Amidst all this frenetic energy was a national disgrace: America’s roads.

There were plenty of them – some 3 million miles in total, but only 369,000 in 1919 were paved with any kind of durable, lasting surface. The rest were mostly dirt roads that were too often simply chassis-deep mud. They were plagued with hundreds of broken bridges or faint trails of blowing desert sands that quietly vanished, leaving travelers utterly lost.

Bad roads were a perpetual hindrance to trade, an abiding nuisance to agriculture and a profound inconvenience to the traveling public. One congressional report noted it cost more to move a peach from a Georgia orchard 20 miles to Atlanta by road than 3,000 miles by rail from California to New York.

Lobbying groups of drivers and car manufacturers were proliferating in Washington, D.C., primarily to get the federal government to assume national responsibility and eliminate the pervasive cronyism and corruption that existed in state legislatures. Most of this was ineffective since lobbyists hadn’t perfected their skills ($$$). However, help arrived from a totally unexpected source.

The War Department was developing plans to protect the West Coast from attacks from unspecified Asian enemies, a thinly veiled euphemism for Japan. Specifically, the war-gamers needed to know how quickly fully equipped soldiers could travel from the big Army bases on the East Coast to a hypothetical battlefield in the West.

A top-level decision was made to perform a real-life test to verify the time and feasibility involved. Fortunately, a quiet major volunteered to accompany the expedition strictly as an observer. His name was Dwight David Eisenhower.

Tomorrow: The creation of America’s Interstate Highway System – the greatest engineering project in world history.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Hamilton-Burr Duel Remains a Puzzle of American History

alexander-hamilton-warner-brothers-1931-one-sheet
Warner Brothers’ 1931 film Alexander Hamilton was based on the play that opened on Broadway in 1917. This original poster for the movie sold for $5,975 at a July 2016 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Alexander Hamilton was born in the West Indies, arriving in America in 1772 to pursue an education. Aaron Burr was born in 1756 in Newark, N.J. When they met for their famous duel, Hamilton was a former Revolutionary War General and had been the first Secretary of the Treasury. Burr was a respected soldier, former U.S. Senator and the vice president of the United States.

Their duel is still controversial and somewhat puzzling. Why would two prominent Americans end up early one morning in a situation where one would be killed and the political career of the other effectively ended?

Burr has steadily become one of the great villains of American history. But before the duel, he was an impressive man. Contemporary reports asserted he was open and kind, and wrote letters to his servants, solicitous about their welfare. He had fought to eliminate slavery throughout the country and is credited with helping end the practice in New York in 1799.

Before the contentious election of 1800, Burr and Hamilton were friends who enjoyed dining together and their two daughters were also friendly. Yet the two men, among the most prominent lawyers in New York and the entire country, found themselves enmeshed in the code duello, a system of honor no better than current street rules for gangs in Chicago or Los Angeles.

It had started in February 1804 at a political dinner when Hamilton had supposedly called Burr a “dangerous man” unfit to lead. A doctor, Charles Cooper, leaked the comments to an Albany newspaper, which printed them. When Burr confronted Hamilton, Burr was told to ask Dr. Cooper, and then several more letters were exchanged, each one slightly more hostile than the previous.

Eventually, Burr challenged Hamilton to the duel in June 1804 and they agreed to meet in Weehawken, N.J., the exact spot Hamilton’s son had been killed in a duel three years earlier. The time was to be 7 to 7:30 a.m. on July 11 and both men were using modified pistols of over .50 caliber, more lethal than World War II heavy .50 caliber machineguns.

These guns were designed for killing, not dueling!

Hamilton was hit in the lower right side, fell, was carried to a boat waiting in the Hudson River and taken back to a friend’s house in New York. He died 36 hours later and his funeral was very impressive – a procession of his coffin on a carriage and his general’s uniform proudly on top. It was a memorable date, July 14, Bastille Day, and the 15th anniversary of the French Revolution.

Burr was indicted for murder, but never tried. In 1805, President Thomas Jefferson dropped him from the presidential ticket and Burr’s career careened into a deep spiral, his honor tarnished forever.

The infamous code duello had claimed two more victims.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

As America Played, Europe’s Dictators Set Stage for World War II

New York Worlds Fair Comics 1939
This 1939 edition of New York World’s Fair Comics, featuring a blond Superman on its cover and graded CGC VF/NM 9.0, sold for $25,300 at a July 2002 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

Spring 1939 was a season of triumph for Europe’s trio of new dictators. Francisco Franco finished up his work in Spain at a cost of 1 million dead. Benito Mussolini seized Albania and Adolf Hitler marched unopposed into Prague and claimed the rest of Czechoslovakia. Neville Chamberlain and his Munich Pact would be enshrined in the hall of naïveté for eternity. Another diplomatic fantasy dashed.

War fever was ratcheted up a notch, but most of the world pretended not to notice.

In the United States, people sought escape in entertainment, particularly in New York, where the flashy World’s Fair offered them a glimpse into “The World of Tomorrow.” The pavilions of 33 states, 58 countries (minus Nazi Germany) and 1,300 companies filled the imaginations of visitors with modern marvels like television, nylons, robots and man-made electricity.

The popular General Motors “Futurama” exhibit drew 28,000 visitors daily and featured their vision of life in 1960, where everyone would be fit and tan, take two-month vacations and drive cars powered by “liquid air.” Visitors left with a button reading “I have seen the future” — wandering the 1,200 acres like members of a congregation that had witnessed a divine miracle.

Love Finds Andy Hardy (MGM, 1938)
The 1938 film Love Finds Andy Hardy marked the second pairing of the popular Mickey Rooney and Judy Garland.

In June, the King and Queen of England came to America and their parade in New York attracted over 3 million people (second only to Charles Lindbergh) and another 600,000 in Washington, D.C. Eleanor Roosevelt famously served them genuine American hot dogs when they finally made it to the White House.

Fantasy also reigned at the movies, where Walt Disney in 1937 introduced his first full-length cartoon, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, and was hard at work on an animated paean to classical music, Fantasia. But the hottest box-office draw in 1938 was the freckle-faced teenager Mickey Rooney and his small-town exploits as Andy Hardy. Then came the most anticipated event in movie history, the premiere of Gone with the Wind and its epic romance in Civil War Georgia.

Awash in fairy tales and cartoons, science-fiction and nostalgia, people had little patience for bad news. However, when it started, there seemed to be no end. A surprise agreement between Germany and the Soviet Union and on Sept. 1, 1939, the killing began. After a faked Polish invasion of Germany, they unleashed 1½ million German soldiers in “response,” backed up by the most powerful war machine ever known to man.

Fantasy time had ended.

Jim O'NielIntelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].