March 11th, 2010
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.
Also on this date
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: 1960s, 1961, anti-communism, che guevra, communism, cuban revolution, ernesto che guevara, fidel castro, geopolitics, havana, herman marks, jesus carrera zayas, la cabana, politics, william morgan
October 22nd, 2008
Executed Today’s Guide to Halloween, Part I (Click here for Part II.)
Grim, ghastly, and gruesome — it must be
election time Halloween!
The grisliest tricks of the past are the tastiest treats of the season, and that makes Executed Today purpose-built for the occasion. Heck … that’s why it’s our anniversary.
That’s also why it’s rich with ghoulish inspiration for your Halloween costume.
For all the severed heads and flayed skins around here, the set of execution victims who are Halloween-ready is a limited one. It’s just not enough to be famous (or infamous); one must also have an iconography recognizable enough to get the public credit you deserve for your inspired disguise.
If you happen to roll with a crowd that’s totally going to get your Savonarola outfit, more power to you. The rest of us have to play to the masses.
But some few of our principals fit the bill well enough to be fine Halloween choices without too much exertion in the prep department.
Even a character as renowned as Anne Boleyn is a little hard to play: quick, what does she look like?
But between The Tudors and The Other Boleyn Girl, there’s a current pop-culture context for the character (and plenty of precedents). Tudor garb plus the famous “B” necklace will be a dead giveaway for those in the know. For extra credit, add a prosthetic sixth finger to simulate her alleged polydactylism.
Accessories: Date decked out as Henry VIII … or as the French swordsman who beheaded her.
You could rock this collection of Antoinette portraits, but unless you’re designing for a movie, an 18th century gown and a big tall stack of hair ought to do the trick.
Though ahistorical for Marie herself, a red ribbon around the neck, a la the post-Terror “Victim’s Balls”, makes a nice twist.
Accessories: Bring cake.
Armor, a Christian emblem, and a tomboyish look will take you home. Totally roust any English you come across.
Accessories: Business cards reading “Miss of Arc”.
There’s the intrinsic sensuality of death and all, but the famous stripper-spy is this blog’s best choice for a sexy look still true to the theme.
Mata Hari was known for her (supposedly) Indian outfits and routines.
Accessories: Orientalism, by Edward Said.
“The only man to enter parliament with honest intentions”: that is, to blow it up.
That V for Vendetta mask is re-usable for Guy Fawkes Day on — remember, remember? — the fifth of November.
Accessories: Let’s just say it’s nothing they’ll let you take on an airplane.
Cromwell succeeded where Fawkes failed, at least as pertains the royal person. And if you’re the type who can sell a Charles I costume — possibly requiring a fairly highbrow room — you’ll have nigh outstripped the achievements of both.
The lush coiffure, the wispy facial hair, the delicate movements … not everyone can pull that stuff off. If you can, get your Alec Guinness impression down and you’re on your way to a date at Whitehall.
Accessories: The whole point is to wear the silly hat, isn’t it?
Francophiles may go for Vercingetorix, but Mel Gibson made Wallace the barbarian everyone loves to hang, draw and quarter.
Don’t neglect to bellow “FREEDOM!” repeatedly at the top of your lungs. Everyone loves that.
Accessories: That big, swingin’ sword. You know what I’m talking about.
Gone but not forgotten, Saddam offers a variety of looks:
Beaten, older Saddam, with salt-and-pepper beard (wear the noose with this look, unless you’re a dead ringer);
Haggard, fresh-captured Saddam (not recommended; neither the goofball look nor the implicit triumphalism square with the known sequel)
Younger, despotic Saddam, with crazy smile and military fatigues;
The Coen brothers’ “bowling alley Saddam” that can double as duds for your neighborhood Lebowski Fest.
Accessories: Be sure to complete the outfit by bringing Colin Powell. Seriously, he’ll be grateful for something to do.
Love him or hate him, no post-World War II icon is more instantly recognizable than the Cuban guerrilla. Do your part, comrade! Contribute to the posthumous appropriation of his image with a “revolutionary” is-that-ironic-or-not-? Che costume.
Accessories: Che Guevara cigarettes. Che Guevara ankle socks. There’s no shortage of Che Guevara accessories to choose from; for a more meta look, go as Che’s mediated historical image by simply dressing entirely in various Che-branded apparel.
Creative Commons pumpkin image courtesy of fabbio
Also on this date
Entry Filed under: Administrative Messages
Tags: alec guinness, anne boleyn, bill and ted's excellent adventure, braveheart, charles i, che guevara, coen brothers, colin powell, edward said, ernesto che guevara, guy fawkes, guy fawkes day, guy fawkes night, halloween, halloween costumes, holiday, iconography, jeanne d'arc, joan of arc, lebowski fest, marie antoinette, mata hari, mel gibson, orientalism, saddam hussein, savonarola, the big lebowski, the other boleyn girl, the tudors, v for vendetta, vercingetorix, william wallace