1983: Maurice Bishop, Prime Minister of Grenada

Add comment October 19th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1983, Grenadian Prime Minister Maurice Bishop was shot with seven supporters during the chaotic struggle of power that precipitated a U.S. invasion.

The charismatic Bishop grew up on the small British Commonwealth island in the south Caribbean, attended the London School of Economics, and became the leader of the Marxist New Jewel Movement.

In 1979, Bishop and the NJM overthrew the paranormal government of Eric Gairy (he’s famous for his controversial judging in the wild 1970 Miss World pageant).

Leftist governments in the hemisphere were just the sort of thing to irk the Yankee hegemon. Collaboration with Cuba and Nicaragua to build an airstrip on Grenada … could that open the door for Soviet air support when the Sandinistas invaded Harlingen, Texas?

Ironically, it would be an intra-party Communist coup against the fellow-Communist Bishop that provided the pretext for said hegemon to stanch this existential threat.

A deputy, one Bernard Coard, ousted Bishop in October 1983, apparently a factional dispute in the NJM along ideological lines. Bishop broke out of house arrest and led a march on Coard’s position on this date, contesting his control of the government; the march was broken up and its leadership collared — and, later that day, disposed of.

The Reagan administration didn’t care two figs about Maurice Bishop, but a scene of general chaos offered it all the pretext necessary* to invade on Oct. 25. To save from the red menace, oh, let’s say, a few American med students, plus a little thing called the free world.

Whew!

Years later, that provocative airstrip bears Maurice Bishop’s name.

Audio of several Bishop speeches can be had here; others can be found on YouTube.

* Another possible precipitating factor: a U.S. Marines barracks in Lebanon was spectacularly bombed by terrorists on Oct. 23, 1983, forcing (eventually) American withdrawal. The New Jewel Movement turned out to be an opponent more in Washington’s wheelhouse.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Execution,Famous,Grenada,Heads of State,History,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Politicians,Power,Revolutionaries,Shot,Summary Executions

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

1947: Nikola Petkov, “a dog’s death”

Add comment September 23rd, 2010 Headsman

At midnight as the calendar turned over to this date in 1947, anti-communist Bulgarian politician Nikola Petkov was hanged in Sofia’s central prison.

Petkov was a principal in a still-extant peasant party that briefly held state power in Bulgaria in the early 1920s.

His anti-fascist activities did him no favors as Bulgaria’s aligned with the Axis, and he spent the war touring his country’s internment camps.

The anti-fascist Fatherland Front that Petkov co-founded — allying with the Communist party in what would prove to be a Faustian bargain — had become the government by the end of the war, with Petkov in a ministerial role.

Unfortunately for Petkov, greater ministers of greater states were even then carving up spheres of influence in the postwar world. In the process, the Bulgarian statesman would get carved right out.

Here’s the blog of this critically acclaimed novel’s author.

With Bulgaria slated for the Soviet bloc and all its scary political purges, the Fatherland Front was soon controlled by the Communists. Petkov mounted brave but futile opposition as a Member of Parliament — until he was arrested in the parliament building itself, an apt image for Bulgaria’s entrance onto the Cold War chessboard as a red pawn.

The show trial and resultant death sentence “for having tried to overthrow the legal authority and restore Fascism in the country by conspiring with military organisations” briefly exercised western diplomats filing appeals and high-minded talk about justice during the summer of 1947.

Which stuff earned the derision of Bulgarian Premier Georgi Dimitrov, so Soviet-aligned that he was a Soviet citizen.

In this menacing speech to the Social Democrats the next January, his Don’t-Mess-With-TexasBulgaria umbrage at outside actors for having the temerity to object stands in ironic contrast to Dimitrov’s own history as a prewar international cause celebreback when he was unjustly accused in Nazi Germany for the Reichstag Fire.

So sauce for the goose-stepper is sauce for the dialectical materialist?

Negatory.

As you remember from this rostrum I many times warned your political allies from Nikola Petkov’s group. They did not listen to me. They took no notice of all my warnings. They broke their heads, and their leader is now under the ground. You should now think it over, lest you share their fate … When the trial against Nikola Petkov began you said “The court will not dare to sentence him to death. It would be too horrible. Both Washington and London will rise against it in order to stop it.” I said then: “Nobody can stop it. Those who may try to intervene from abroad will only worsen the position of the accused and his friends.’ What happened? What I said would happen. The court fulfilled its role, fulfilled the will of the people and sentenced the traitor to death.

Then you said: “If they execute the death sentence, the glass of patience will overflow. The whole world will rise against it, and all its wrath will fall on the back of the Bulgarian people.”

Of course, if there had been no interference from abroad, if they had not tried to dictate to the sovereign court, the head of Petkov could have been saved Yes, it could have been saved. His death sentence could have been commuted to another sentence. But when they tried to blackmail the Bulgarian people and question the authority of a sovereign court, it became necessary for the death sentence to be executed. And it was executed.

What happened then? Who rose against it in the country? Where were the demonstrations, the mutinies with which we were threatened? Nothing like that happened.

And what happened abroad? Not even decent diplomatic notes were delivered, which could have been expected. No one raised a hand in defense of Petkov. Some people in the West shouted for a while, but soon quietened (sic) down … The whole incident was soon forgotten.

The Balkans In Our Time

Hard to say Dimitrov was wrong about that: just one week after Petkov’s execution, the United States officially recognized a Bulgarian state dedicated (so the U.S. State Department had only just declared) “to remov[ing] all save a purely nominal opposition and to consolidat[ing], despite its professions to the contrary, a totalitarian form of government.”

“To a dog, a dog’s death,” sneered the official trade union council about Petkov — a taunt liberally repeated by Radio Sofia.

The “dog” was posthumously rehabilitated in 1990, and now has the requisite post-Soviet public monuments.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Bulgaria,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Espionage,Execution,Hanged,History,Martyrs,Politicians,Posthumous Exonerations,Power,Treason

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

1938: Arkadi Berdichevsky, Jon Utley’s father

8 comments March 30th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1938, Arkadi (or Arcadi) Berdichevsky, a Russian Jew run afoul of the (pre-KGB) NKVD, was executed in the Arctic Circle prison town of Vorkuta for leading a prisoners’ hunger strike.

Though the powerful whom Stalin purged are well-known to the student of Russian history, Berdichevsky is just one of the countless obscure Soviet citizens who disappeared into the gulag never to emerge again.

Berdichevsky had something most of his fellow-victims did not: an English wife.

Freda Utley and her son Jon Utley — the couple cannily gave the boy his mother’s foreign last name to make it easier to emigrate if it should come to that, as indeed it did — left the USSR and Freda’s communist youth for fame as (paleo)conservative giants.

While young Jon — just two years old when his father was whisked out of their Moscow flat by the spooks — came of age, Freda Utley naturalized as an American and turned against her former ideology with the zeal of the converted.

Berdichevsky’s widow, Freda Utley, published this book in 1940 about her disillusionment with communism. This work and many others by Utley are also available as free pdfs from FredaUtley.com.

She savaged the U.S. government officials who “lost China”, and testified at Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s behest in the latter’s 1950’s red-hunt. (Utley also supplied McCarthy some research. She defended Tailgunner Joe until her death in 1978.)

Along the way, Freda Utley learned the date of her husband’s death, but never the circumstances.

That discovery fell to Jon Utley, who made his own fortune in business and became a conservative activist/intellectual himself, notable for his anti-imperialist position. (Utley writes regularly for antiwar.com, and opposed the recent Iraq blunder.)

In 2004, Jon Utley finally obtained the remarkably detailed records revealing that it was a firing squad rather than cold or malnutrition that took his father’s life. Utley then personally visited the sites of that Calvary in the Komi region of Russia.

Jon Utley gives a video interview about the experience and about his own path as an anti-communist here, but most especially recommended for our purposes is his written account of finding his father: HTML form here; pdf here.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Jews,Mass Executions,Notably Survived By,Posthumous Exonerations,Russia,Shot,Treason,USSR

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1961: William Morgan, the Americano

6 comments March 11th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1961, American William Morgan — once an anti-Batista rebel — was shot in Havana’s La Cabana fortress for counter-revolutionary activity against the Castro government.

The high school dropout and army washout went to Cuba around late 1957 or early 1958.

He’d had an unsettled life, this Morgan. He’d been a convict, a circus sideshow, a wanderer. But he was about to make his name.

This strange gringo soon to be nicknamed “El Americano” walked into the Escambray Mountains and joined a group of anti-Batista rebels that was unaffiliated with Castro’s 26th of July Movement. Morgan won the respect of Cubans for his courage and his evidently un-mercenary commitment to the cause.

Fatally for him, that cause was a constitutional-democracy take on opposing the Batista dictatorship.

Morgan was stridently anti-Communist and not shy about saying so.

“There isn’t anyone in Cuba who doesn’t know where I stand-Fidel, Raul, or anyone. I am anticommunist. I don’t like them.”

That attitude would put him on a collision course with the only other foreigner to hold a comandante rank among the anti-Batista guerrillas: Argentinian Ernesto “Che” Guevara.

Those two men’s columns nearly exchanged shots when Guevara was dispatched by Castro to reach an understanding with Morgan. Morgan and Guevara came to terms that day — there was a revolution to be won, after all — but animosity would remain between these two impassioned freedom-fighters whose visions of freedom could never be reconciled.

They personify the competing choices before post-Batista Cuba, in those first years when Cuba kept to a tenuous hold on non-alignment.

Morgan supported that revolution; he even made the headlines for dramatically foiling a Dominican-backed plot to topple Castro in 1959.

But it was Guevara who was the future. More radical July 26th members won senior spots in the new administration, while outsiders like Morgan got assignments like frog-farming. Geopolitical events saw Cuba sliding into the Soviet camp.

Disenchanted, Morgan started plotting for real.* It didn’t work.

He was caught in late 1960, held incommunicado for a period, then tried, convicted and condemned two days before his execution (along with fellow-traveler and -plotter Jesus Carreras Zayas (Spanish link)) after nightfall March 11, 1961.

Morgan’s execution was carried out by a fellow Yanqui, Herman Marks — himself destined to run afoul of the Castro regime down the road. (Marks fled back to the U.S.) The sympathetic account of el Americano‘s death is quite the flowery affair, with the Cubans kneecapping Morgan when he defiantly refuses to kneel.

Castro himself is sometimes said to be present, the shadowy observer issuing the fatal commands to which Morgan will not bow, like the insouciant silhouette of Stalin behind a screen at trials where his former henchmen were purged.

A poetic touch, though one would think a head of state might have more pressing business than personally orchestrating executions: and indeed, it seems that Fidel actually spent that evening at a diplomatic reception with Soviet and Chinese ambassadors. Two months later, Castro officially declared Cuba a socialist state.

And as with Morgan, so with many of his brethren-in-arms from the Escambray Mountains. It took Havana the better part of the 1960s to suppress anti-communist “bandits” in Morgan’s old stomping-grounds — Cuba’s (successful) War Against the Bandits.

* There’s more skullduggery in Morgan’s shadowy life than this post has space for, but theories exist that the Dominican plot he “foiled” was actually one he had been an earnest participant in before it was sniffed out by Cuban security, with the war hero Morgan forced to betray it.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Cuba,Death Penalty,Execution,Guerrillas,History,Power,Revolutionaries,Ripped from the Headlines,Shot,Soldiers,Torture,Treason,USA

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1960: Oliviu Beldeanu, for the Berne incident

Add comment February 18th, 2010 Headsman

On this date in 1960, Romanian anti-communist Oliviu Beldeanu was executed at Jilava prison for a headline-grabbing protest he’d orchestrated in Switzerland five years before.

Beldeanu (here‘s his Romanian Wikipedia page) was the ringleader of a group of Romanian exiles who’d commandeered the Romanian embassy in Bern(e) in February 1955.

The aptly-named Berne Incident was meant to be a symbolic protest — Communist symbols smashed, damaging secret correspondence released, that sort of thing — but it did also result in an embassy driver being shot to death.

These “legionary fascist groups”* and “traitors abroad,” (pdf) (in the official lexicology of Bucharest) were handled fairly gently by Switzerland, predictably keen to stay clear of diplomatic incidents.

Beldeanu et al drew lenient prison sentences from which they were released early.

And that would have been the end of it … but a Communist cloak-and-dagger operation after the ex-cons were freed lured Beldeanu to Berlin. He was kidnapped by the East German Stasi and flown to Romania, there to be subject to a perfunctory trial and speedy execution.

* “Legionary fascist” denunciations — associating the Switzerland activists with Romania’s notorious Iron Guard — cited by Paul Nistor, “The five who scared … America, too. The immediate effects of the attempt in Bern (1955) over the Romanian diplomacy”, Valahian Journal of Historical Studies, Dec. 2009.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Activists,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Martyrs,Power,Romania,Shot,Treason

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

1996: Dr. Mohammad Najibullah

86 comments September 27th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1996, the man who once ruled ruled Afghanistan under the aegis of a superpower succumbed to the tender mercies of his country’s fundamentalist insurgency.

Mohammad Najibullah was the last president of the Soviet-backed Democratic Republic of Afghanistan. Unfortunately for Najibullah, he was on the job when Moscow decided to throw in the towel on the Soviet-Afghan War.

After losing the subsequent civil war, the former President was trapped for a nervous few years in Kabul — blocked from joining his family in flight to India by the offices of former Soviet client and present-day American client Abdul Rashid Dostum.

When Kabul finally surrendered to the Taliban in 1996, the hated onetime Communist viceroy — whose stepping-stone to that post was heading the hated Afghan secret police — had a problem.

At the instigation of future Taliban second-in-command Mohammad Rabbani, Najibullah and his brother were hauled out of the U.N. compound where they had taken refuge, publicly beaten, tortured and castrated, and strung up on a traffic barricade.

There was a new sheriff in town.



On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Afghanistan,Borderline "Executions",Capital Punishment,Cycle of Violence,Death Penalty,Doctors,Execution,Hanged,Heads of State,History,Lynching,Mature Content,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Politicians,Power,Public Executions,Summary Executions,The Worm Turns,Torture,Wartime Executions

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1962: Gheorghe Arsenescu, Romanian partisan

Add comment May 29th, 2009 Headsman

On this date in 1962, partisan Gheorghe Arsenescu was put to death at Bucharest’s Jilava Prison.

Arsenescu was a leader and co-founder of one of Romania’s several bands of anti-communist resistance units. Arsenescu’s Haiducii Muscelului — the Muscel Outlaws — were a band of 30 to 40 in the Carpathian fooothills who scarcely posed a serious threat to the Romanian state, but who nevertheless managed to elude capture for nine solid years in the 1950’s.

(More about the Haiducii in this Romanian pdf.)

Arsenescu was finally nabbed in 1960, a few months after his former comrades Toma and Petre Arnautoiu had themselves been executed. According to Revolution and Resistance in Eastern Europe, Arsenescu’s wife and father were also given long prison sentences for aiding him.

This band was perhaps most especially notable for one of its members who not only survived capture, but outlived the Communist regime: Elisabeta Rizea.

Crippled by torture, Rizea became a potent symbol in post-Communist Romania of the resistance of Arsenescu and others.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Guerrillas,History,Martyrs,Popular Culture,Power,Revolutionaries,Romania,Shot,Soldiers,Torture,Treason

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , ,

1939: The 18 corpses of the rebellion

Add comment December 5th, 2008 Headsman

On this date in 1939, 18 junior officers of the Thai military were shot in Bangkok.

Ostensibly condemned for being part of a coup plot to depose the adolescent King Ananda Mahidol in favor of his abdicated predecessor Prajadhipok, they were in reality the casualties of a purge by the Field Marshal-turned-Prime Minister Phibun Songkhram.

It’s alternatively transliterated “Phibun Songkhram” or “Pibunsonggram”, and familiarly abbreviated to “Por”, but by any name he dominated Thai politics for a generation.

One of the military leaders of the bloodless 1932 Siamese Revolution that made the country a constitutional rather than an absolute monarchy, Phibun had in 1938 muscled his way to the Prime Ministership.

Beset by assassination attempts linked to royal revanchists to whose purposes the young turk’s programme was deeply inimical, Phibun determined to break the back of monarchism en route to a modernized, militaristic nationalism (pdf) that would be right at home in the imminent world war.*

As 1939 opens, we join the narrative of Paul Handley’s The King Never Smiles:

Phibun swept the capital and arrested 50 royals, nobles, and soldiers in the clique of his People’s Party rival Colonel Song Suradej for plotting his overthrow …

Whatever the truth behind the cabal, its quashing came to represent the final victory of the 1932 revolutionists and the constitutionalists over the monarchists. To mark it, Phibun commissioned a huge monument to the constitution, later called Democracy Monument, in the middle of the city’s main thoroughfare, Rajadamnoen (“royal progress”) Avenue.


The Democracy Monument in Bangkok.

The eighteen officers who took it in the shorts on this date were not joined by condemned VIPs like royal blood Prince Rangsit, who copped a commutation. It’s widely thought now that the “Songsuradet Rebellion” — or aptly-named “Rebellion of 18 Corpses” — was trumped-up, if not an phantasm altogether.

The Democracy Monument was not the only bulwark of Thai nationalism thrown up by Phibun in the year between the “conspirators'” January arrest and their deaths this day.**

He dropped the old absolutist name “Siam” in favor of the more nationalistic “Thailand” in June of that year; made the date of the 1932 revolution a national holiday; stripped the language of class-distinctive structures; and pressed irredentist claims against neighboring French colonies.

And if the royal house was efficiently marginalized by Phibun, it would yet develop in the latter part of the century into one of the region’s weightiest political entities† … intertwined with the Thai military Phibun helped hoist to pride of place, a formula that has left coups and unstable governments a presistent feature of the political landscape down to the present day.

* And subsequently, too. Despite aligning with the Axis powers during World War II, Phibun was a feted anti-Communist dictator as Washington started counting dominoes in Southeast Asia in the 1950’s.

** The Wikipedia page for the rebellion claims that the executions were carried out in batches of four per day. A New York Times report of December 6, 1939 said that all 18 had been executed the previous day.

† The current King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who coincidentally turns 81 today, is the world’s longest-reigning monarch as of this writing … with no shortage of concern about the conflict his passing may unstop.

On this day..

Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Escapes,Execution,Hanged,History,Mass Executions,Murder,Not Executed,Pardons and Clemencies,Power,Shot,Soldiers,Thailand,Treason,Wrongful Executions

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Next Posts


Calendar

July 2020
M T W T F S S
« Jun    
 12345
6789101112
13141516171819
20212223242526
2728293031  

Archives

Categories

Execution Playing Cards

Exclusively available on this site: our one-of-a-kind custom playing card deck.

Every card features a historical execution from England, France, Germany, or Russia!