Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Holy Shit, Special Order 191!

On September 13, 1862, Barton Mitchell was moseying around a hilltop when he came across an envelope. Inside were three cigars wrapped in a single piece of paper. "Lucky me," Barton presumably thought as he unwrapped his prize, perhaps assuming the paper was a birthday card or something.

But then he saw the writing. It wasn't a pithy, jejune greeting. It was a thoroughly detailed ten point list...of orders. Confederate orders. Not just any Confederate orders, either. They were explicit movement orders for every high-ranking officer in the Army of Northern Virginia. And Barton Mitchell just happened to be a Union soldier. Naturally, he slackened his jaw, allowing the cigar to fall dramatically to the grass. Probably.
The Scream
Artist's Rendition
Then he took the orders directly to his commanding officer, who sent it up the chain, person by person, until it reached Major General George B. McClellan, who practically jumped for joy and said, "Here is a paper with which, if I cannot whip Bobby Lee, I will be willing to go home."

Two weeks later, largely thanks to the intelligence gleaned from Special Order 191, the Union won a strategic victory at the Battle of Antietam, which brought the Confederate offensive to a grinding halt and proved a significant enough turning point for Abraham Lincoln to deliver the Emancipation Proclamation. While the war had always been about slavery, the Emancipation Proclamation stated without question that freeing slaves in Confederate territory was now a strategic goal of the Union.
Lincoln and McClellan
Along with posing in a most dignified manner.
Arguably, the Civil War could have gone differently if Barton Mitchell hadn't stumbled upon such a valuable piece of information. In fact, there's a lengthy series of alternate history novels that base their point of divergence on that very event. The tiniest mishaps, like using the wrong paper to wrap your cigars and then leaving them behind, can be what Gandalf called "the falling of small stones that starts an avalanche in the mountains."
Gandalf from The Two Towers
He would actually fit in pretty well, given the facial hair.

Holy shit.

"LostOrdersCramptonsGap112611" by Wilson44691 - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

"The Scream" by Edvard Munch

"Lincoln and McClellan 1862-10-03" by Alexander Gardner - This image is available from the United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID cwpb.04351.

The Two Towers still by New Line Cinema. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Holy Shit, Viktor Tsoi!

On August 15th, 1990, a man in Latvia died in a car accident after falling asleep at the wheel. Within hours, the story was all over the Russian media, and a message was spraypainted onto a Moscow wall in all black that simply read, "Viktor Tsoi died today." Soon after, a separate message appeared, insisting, "Tsoi Lives!" The second message became something of a rallying cry for the Soviet and post-Soviet rock scene in Eastern Europe. Because Viktor Tsoi and his band, Kino, were the most important musical pioneers in Soviet history.

Kino rose to fame at a time when it was suddenly possible to criticize the communist regime in the USSR. In the 1980s, Glasnost and Perestroika became a thing and censorship started to wane. Kino was at the forefront of the new wave of artistic freedom. They took their inspiration from Western bands like The Smiths, R.E.M., and The Cure. At the height of their popularity, they released an album called Gruppa Krovi, or "Blood Type." The title track goes like this:

The chorus roughly means, "My blood type is pinned on my sleeve, and my number and rank. Wish me luck in the battles to come. Wish for me not to lay dead in the grass. Wish me luck in the battle." It's a protest song about the war in Afghanistan.
The one where America was rooting for the Islamists
The band was just reaching its full potential when Viktor Tsoi died in the aforementioned car accident. Kino was in the midst of recording their highly anticipated eighth album. In fact, Tsoi was carrying a tape with him in the car that was the only copy of the recording of his vocal tracks for said album.

The crash was horrific. His car smashed into a bus and was all but disintegrated, and he died instantly. The tape not only survived, but it was entirely undamaged. Four months later, the album was released. Its cover was a mournful black with its title (KINO) in small white letters at the center. The name was quickly disregarded by fans, who dubbed it "The Black Album."
Where'd they get that idea?

The wall where "Tsoi Lives!" was written became a major cultural landmark in Moscow, and the phrase itself was repeated as something of a meme throughout Western Europe. It meat defiance in the face of grief. Rebellion in the face of loss. It was the new Russia. Or at least what the new Russia was supposed to be.
The Tsoi Wall
It's still there, too.

Holy shit.

"Victor Tsoi 1986 cropped" by Victor_Tsoi_1986.jpg: Igor Mukhinderivative work: Beaumain (talk) - Victor_Tsoi_1986.jpg. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

"Mortar attack on Shigal Tarna garrison, Kunar Province, 87" by Erwin Lux - Private collection; apparently a crop of this image at Flickr. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

"Кино, Черный альбом (Kino, Chyorny album) (1990)" by группа Кино - Чёрный альбом. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons

"Tsoi Wall 02" by Superchilum - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons