Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid's Escapades, and Other Lesser Known Historic Events
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’s Escapades, and Other Lesser Known Historic Events

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’s Escapades, and Other Lesser Known Historic Events

Khalid Elhassan - January 21, 2020

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’s Escapades, and Other Lesser Known Historic Events
Dr. King delivering his ‘I have a dream’ speech. Black Past

3. An Inspired Improvisation

When Dr. King walked up to the podium that memorable August day in 1963, he intended to deliver a written and prepared speech – copies of which had already been distributed to the press – that contained no mention of dreaming. However, mid speech, while reading the seventh paragraph, King took a pause for breath. During that brief break, gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, a good friend of King, shouted “Tell ‘em about the dream!

King responded by pushing the prepared text aside, shifting gears, and giving himself over to the spirit. What followed was one of the greatest examples of rhetorical dexterity, as King abandoned the prepared speech halfway through, and began riffing and improvising the second half, with the “I have a dream” refrain.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’s Escapades, and Other Lesser Known Historic Events
A made of Kokura, made for targeting purposes in 1945. Nuclear Secrecy

2. The Japanese City That Dodged Destruction

Sometimes in history, the margin between catastrophe and salvation is rather thin, and depends on little more than the vagaries and whims of fate. Few examples are more illustrative of that than the fate of the Japanese city of Kokura on August 9th, 1945. At 3:49AM that morning, the Bockscar, a B-29 piloted by US Air Force Major Charles W. Sweeney, took off from Tinian Island in the Pacific, headed for Kokura.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’s Escapades, and Other Lesser Known Historic Events
Bockscar, the B-29 that took off with an atomic bomb intended for Kokura. National Air and Space Museum

In the bomb bay was Fat Man, a plutonium atomic bomb, more powerful than the uranium core weapon that had devastated Hiroshima three days earlier. As late night turned to dawn and then morning, Kokura stirred and came to life, its inhabitants blissfully unaware that death was winging its way towards them. Weather observation planes reported clear skies over Kokura, and the Bockscar proceeded to a rendezvous point where it was supposed to link up with Big Stink, a B-29 tasked with filming the strike. Then fate intervened, and spared Kokura.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’s Escapades, and Other Lesser Known Historic Events
The radioactive plume from the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, as seen from Koyagi-Jima, 9.6 miles away. Pintrest

1. One City’s Salvation Was Another City’s Doom

When Bockscar reached Kokura, Big Stink, with which it was scheduled to rendezvous, was nowhere to be seen. So Bockscar circled around, waiting for the film plane to show up. After 40 minutes of flying around, Major Sweeney gave up on Big Stink, and proceeded to Kokura. By then, however, clouds, plus smoke from a conventional bombing raid on a nearby city, had combined to obscure Kokura.

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’s Escapades, and Other Lesser Known Historic Events
Battered religious figures stand watch on a hill above a tattered valley in the aftermath of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki. Wikimedia

Over the next 50 minutes, Bockscar crisscrossed the skies above the target city, hoping for enough of a break in the cloud and smoke to drop its bomb. Below, the Kokurans went about their daily lives, innocently oblivious to the death circling above. After three failed bombing runs, Sweeney finally gave up, and flew at a new heading for his alternate target in case he was unable to bomb Kokura: Nagasaki. One city’s salvation proved to be another city’s doom.

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Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

Arab America – Al Mutanabbi: The Greatest Arab Poet

BBC, September 26th, 2013 – Stanislav Petrov: The Man Who May Have Saved the World

China Knowledge – The Red Eyebrows and Lulin Uprisings

Daily Beast – Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid’s Last Tango

Encyclopedia Britannica – Al Mutanabbi

Encyclopedia Britannica – Butch Cassidy

Encyclopedia Britannica – Red Eyebrows, Chinese Rebel Group

Forbes, August 27th, 2013 – How Martin Luther King Improvised ‘I Have a Dream’

Gabriel, Richard A. – Subotai the Valiant: Genghis Khan’s Greatest General (2004)

History – When Teddy Roosevelt Was Shot in 1912, a Speech May Have Saved His Life

Independent, The, August 9th, 1995 – City Remembers Day it Escaped the Bomb

Military History Matters: The Novgorod: Circular Ironclad

New York Times, August 7th, 1995 – Kokura, Japan, Bypassed by A-Bomb

Schama, Simon – Citizens: A Chronicle of the French Revolution (1990)

Wikipedia – Flight to Varennes

Wikipedia – Russian Monitor Novgorod

Wikipedia – Subutai the Valiant

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