WWII (Romania) #3

So you probably don’t know much about Romania’s involvement in World War II.  Never fear, you’re about to know some of it!

Romania started out in the war as a neutral country; 1939, Britain and France were promising that they would protect Romania’s independence (same thing they promised Poland, by the way). As you might have guessed, when France fell and Britain retreated off of the continent, that left Romania in a pretty sticky situation.

On one side, the Soviet Union loomed, eager for more land, like a kid making grabby hands at someone else’s food. On the other, they had Nazi Allies, particularly Hungary. Just to note, Hungary and Romania have historically liked each other about as much as the average cat loves a bath.

The King of Romania tried to hold on to neutrality by giving up chunks of land to the countries around them (some to the Soviet Union, some to Bulgaria, some to Hungary), but that made him really unpopular. So a general overthrew him, and the Iron Guard took over.

You know how Italy was fascist during WWII? Well, now Romania was too. And the Iron Guard was merciless, particularly towards Jews.

So the guy in charge of Romania decided they had to choose a side, and they went with Nazi Germany, which made life even more horrible for the Jews in the country.

Funny thing about Nazi Germany: they tended to invade their allies. About 50,000 troops showed up in Romania, and now Romania was the breadbasket for the Nazi empire.

Another funny thing about Nazi Germany: they didn’t feel like paying for the food, oil, and other products, so they simply didn’t. Inflation soared in Romania, and conditions became fairly miserable.

And before you ask, yes, they did have concentration camps. On a sobering note, Romania has the second highest death toll for Jews among Nazi Germany and its allies: more than 200,000. Most of the Jews in Romania escaped death, however.

The relationship between Germany and Romania was cut off by the Soviet Union, which German and Romanian troops had both been fighting on the Eastern Front. Romania was invaded and Germany lost its supply of food and materials.

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Colonialism (New Zealand) #3

Or, hey, you could call this an Age of Discovery topic, to be honest. This is before New Zealand became a colony.

So you’ve heard of the Bay of Murderers, yeah? Okay, so if you’re not a New Zealander, you probably haven’t. It’s called the Golden Bay now, and it’s actually a rather lovely spot in New Zealand.

But what caused it to deserve such a name?

Well, cool thing is, this story is the first recorded instance of European contact with the Maori, the native people of New Zealand. Specifically, the Dutch, who discovered Australia (if you don’t count, well, all the people who were already living there) and sailed on a little farther to find New Zealand.

This guy called Abel Tasman (for whom Tasmania was named) was in charge of exploring. When they stopped in the bay with a couple of ships, Maori showed up in their canoes.

It seemed like a peaceful enough meeting, and the sailors tried to communicate that they wanted to trade. No trading that day, however, only seeing each other and not understanding a single word. Abel was pretty confident about their meeting, as he wrote in his log; the Dutch believed they had made a good impression.

However, we can only guess that they did not, because not too long after, several men in a row boat going between the ships were attacked by Maori in much faster canoes. As you can probably guess, a couple of them died.

The Dutch were utterly horrified, and the place was named Murderers’ Bay.

A more in detail account can be found in the book Come On Shore and We Will Kill and Eat You All.

Colonialism (Australia) #2

For a group of colonies with a huge convict population, Australia was really not that rebellious.

It’s sort of like when a kid is punished a lot and therefore never acts out; life as a convict in Australia was hard. In many places, the convicts were worked to death. Living conditions were horrible, though there was hope to be released and assigned to work for wages.

So, you’re probably wondering why convicts were even being sent to Australia. It was on the other side of the world, considered empty space by the colonial powers of the time (despite a number of people already living there). Sounds like a cruel and unusual punishment to be exiled to the other end of the world, with deadly creatures and no hope of ‘civilization’ like back home, doesn’t it?

However, while being cruel was pretty much normal for the British penal system, that wasn’t the main reason that they decided to start shipping people off to Australia.

Zip back to around the end of the 1700s; Britain is in its Industrial Revolution. People have come in from the countryside in hopes of a better life in the city, working in factories. The problem is, there are a lot of them, far more than there are jobs.

This means, since there’s no wage control of any kind, that the wages plummet to whatever the most desperate people are willing to be paid. And the most desperate people tend to be the Irish immigrants, shipped over from poverty in Ireland.

With a huge population and not enough ways for them to support themselves, crime becomes rampant, especially thieving. You might remember Fagin, the Artful Dodger, and the rest of the boys in Oliver Twist? Thieves are everywhere.

Soon enough, Britain’s prisons are overflowing (and btw, they are horrible, horrible places to be). What to do with all these people?

Tons of undesirables, and a vast, empty set of colonies. Britain’s ruler’s had a light bulb moment (or rather, an oil lamp moment).

Just so you understand, the upper class’s attitude towards the poor at this time was outright callous. They thought they were dirty, bad, and just overall to blame for their own problems. They were seen as human, but lesser – far lesser.

So bing bang boom, repeat offenders start getting shipped off to Australia.

Not only that, but the Irish are getting shipped out in large numbers. Why? Because they’re rebellious.

This leads to the first major rebellion in Australia.

1798, there’s a big rebellion in Ireland. It’s squashed, and the rebels are sent to Australia (except the ones who are executed).

Naturally, the Irish are not happy to be there (no one really is). So, about five years later, several of the rebels from Ireland have planned a rebellion.

In New South Wales, near Castle Hill, the Castle Hill Rebellion begins. There are plans for well over a thousand convicts to be involved; about 200-300 end up kicking it off. They escape from the farm they’re stuck on, and get a bunch of arms and supplies for their rebellion. They swell out over the colony, collecting more convicts (whether or not the other convicts want to be part of it) and getting a huge chunk of the weapons in the colony.

The goal? Get ships and get back to Ireland.

It doesn’t go so well. While it causes quite the scare (a lot of hated officials flee the colony on boat), there are several problems: they are short on numbers, less than a third of the planned number, and they lose their element of surprise.

Colonial troops had caught up with them, and the leaders are tricked into parley and then captured. It’s only a short battle between the troops and the convicts, most of whom run for their lives, not exactly trained to deal with professional soldiers. 15 convicts are shot dead.

Most of the convicts involved are given amnesty, but it is the first major hiccup in the colonization of Australia. And another one is on its heels.

WWII (Poland & Germany, + Free City of Danzig) #2

“First to Fight.”

That phrase from a British propaganda poster sums up a lot about Poland’s WWII history. Well, at least the beginning.

Cool thing about the Polish, especially at this time in history: really super patriotic. You can hardly blame  them, though, because Poland wasn’t even a country until the end of WWI; it was a bunch of lands that had been split up by the countries around it (Prussia, Austria, and Russia) about 1795 like chocolate pudding pie at a family gathering. For centuries, all that kept the Polish heritage alive was zealous Poles who resisted being Russified or Germanized by their rulers.

Anyway, after WWI, the Poles had to fight a lot just to keep their borders, and they did so well they even expanded them.

Come 1939, tensions had been brewing between Nazi Germany and Poland for some time.

Back up a second;  you all probably know that Germany attacked Poland, and that is was for a totally fake reason. But what was the reason?

There was this place called the Free City of Danzig (which was independent, btw), now called Gdańsk today. Now, Danzig was super important to Poland, because according to WWI treaties and stuff, Danzig was where Poland got a harbor. This was because President Wilson had promised Poland, along with its freedom and independence, free access to the sea.

Now, the thing about Danzig was that the population was mostly German, with some Poles also living there. The Nazi party had its influences there, and soon they were in charge.

Nazi Germany was soon pushing for Danzig to rejoin Germany, and the Germans in Danzig were like ‘yeah man, totally.’

But Poland was like ‘Hell no!’ except a bit more diplomatically than that. Access to the sea meant access to countries outside the countries that surrounded Poland. So, super important, especially in that time because using planes to transport goods just wasn’t a thing in Poland.

However, Danzig was not the main focus of Hitler’s; while it may have been a focus for the Poles, Hitler’s aims were far beyond that. Quote from Hitler: It is not Danzig that is at stake. For us it is a matter of expanding our Lebensraum in the east. 

(We’re cool on what lebensraum means, right? Lebensraum = land for German people to live in and be super exclusive)

This is where the Gleiwitz Attack comes in. The Germans needed a good reason to go to war with Poland, so a bunch of Nazis pretending to be Poles took over a German radio station. Quite literally, the morning after Nazi Germany attacked Poland on the 1st of September. They attacked Danzig first, and ended up annexing it.

And that is when WWII started.

More to come.

WWII (Japan & Hong Kong) #1

You know how I mentioned Hong Kong in the last post? Well, Hong Kong has its own history as well.

Zip back to the Opium Wars: China is defeated and humiliated, forced to concede Hong Kong to Britain. But here’s the thing: Hong Kong is nothing at this point. They get some salt from it and not much more. The place that would one day host one of the most dense populations in the world was more sparsely populated than toast with a teaspoon of Nutella on it.

Then why did Britain even want it? The thing about Hong Kong is that it was nicely situated, not too far from Macau and other European trading ports. And the British didn’t have their own trading port like the Portuguese, so they saw an opportunity to make money with a bit of investment, and they took it.

Zipping back to WWII times, Hong Kong is very profitable, with a population of about 1,500,000 people. However, what it also is is very far away. And with Britain’s forces spread thin fighting Germany, there is almost nothing to spare for Hong Kong.

Mostly Canadian troops end up there to defend Hong Kong. From what? Imperial Japan, that has been gobbling up land like a child with a full, mostly unprotected cake. The nations surrounding Japan are no match for it; China has already been taking a severe beating since the thirties, and Korea has been under Japan’s thumb since 1910.

So, 1942, Japan is bearing down on Hong Kong. The defenders are no match for the superior numbers of Japan, and they are overwhelmed. Raping, killing, and looting is going on unchecked, as is characteristic of Imperial Japan. The attack started around the same time as the attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii and the bombing in Darwin, Australia.

And it lasts until Christmas day, when finally, the British government surrenders Hong Kong to Japan in order to stop the widespread killing and raping. This day is known as Black Christmas.

Hong Kong stays in Japanese hands until the end of the war. By the end, through mistreatment, fleeing Chinese, and general starvation, the population in Hong Kong is 500,000 roughly.

Hong Kong’s future, however, is bright after the war, and especially after the Communists win control of China, but that’s another story.