The Lady

Happy Wednesday! I’m really excited about today’s Women in History post, as today we’ll focus on one of my biggest inspirations. I first learned about this woman briefly in the summer world geography class I was in before freshman year; when we were released that day I went home and immediately got on the computer to research her for hours. The first biography I ever read by choice was about her. Even now, I have a poster of Shepard Fairey’s “Freedom to Lead” print up on my wall, a constant reminder to strive for the good and rights of my fellow humans. Let’s get started, before I get too gushy about how amazing I think she is; this week’s WCW is Aung San Suu Kyi.

I lied – quick side note first. If you’re at all familiar with Suu Kyi, you probably know that her efforts have been focused on the people and country of Burma or as it’s known today, Myanmar. Before we get going too far, I need to clarify that I’ll be referring to the country as Burma, as that is what Suu Kyi prefers it to be called (explanation at 2:48 here). I understand that it’s globally accepted as Myanmar, but for this post, we’re calling it Burma. Okay, now that that’s out of the way, let’s begin.

Women in History Crush Wednesday - Aung San Suu Kyi

Aung San Suu Kyi was born on June 19th, 1945 in Rangoon, Burma to an extremely politically involved family; her father, General Aung San, was the prime minister of British-held Burma then led the Burmese independence movement, and her mother, Daw Khin Kyi, was the diplomatic ambassador to both India and Nepal. After General Aung San’s assassination in 1947, Khin Kyi, Suu Kyi, and her two siblings moved to India, where Suu Kyi attended Methodist East High School. Following graduation, Suu Kyi studied politics at Lady Shri Ram College until her graduation in 1964, then moved to the University of Oxford to earn a degree in philosophy, politics, and economics at St Hugh’s College by 1969. Suu Kyi met Dr. Michael Aris during her time at Oxford, and the two wed in 1971 and later had two sons. For the next three years, she worked as a budgetary writer for the United Nations. In 1985, Suu Kyi enrolled in a research program at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, graduating with a masters’ of philosophy in 1987. In order to take care of her mother, who had suffered a stroke, Suu Kyi moved back to Burma in 1988 – upon seeing the state of nation, which was brutally run by a military junta, Suu Kyi reentered the political sphere as a voice for basic human rights and freedoms.

Suu Kyi began her work by giving public speeches against the government’s inhumane treatment of the Burmese citizens and soon caught the attention of authority figures suspicious of her growing following. On September 27th, 1988 she founded the National League for Democracy (DNL) based on the principles of Buddhist teachings and the nonviolent protests of Mahatma Gandhi, in the hopes of increasing her presence in regards to human rights and the freedoms possible with democratic governments. Ten months later, Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest for “her treasonous speeches,” beginning her twenty-one year stretch as a political prisoner; between 1989 and 2010, Suu Kyi spent a little over fifteen years total under house arrest. For this first offense, she was released in less than a year, in time to run in the Election of 1990, the first democratic style election ever in Burma. At first, the election went extremely well for Suu Kyi, as the DNL won a majority of the seats in parliament and she looked to be the leading prime minister candidate. However, upon seeing these results, the junta nullified the election and again placed Suu Kyi under house arrest until 1995 for “undermining community peace and stability.” While detained, Suu Kyi was awarded the Sakharov and the Nobel Peace Prizes in 1991, which one of her sons had to collect for her because she was imprisoned. Between arrests in 1996, Suu Kyi was traveling with a group of NDL leaders and members when a violent 200-man assault rained down on them, killing several and injuring more. Suu Kyi and members of the NDL were punished for this episode, and Suu Kyi spent the next several years in and out of house arrest – starting in 2003, her sentence was simply renewed annually. Throughout the mid 2000’s, the United Nations attempted to intervene in favor of Suu Kyi and other political prisoners, at one point even issuing an updated Universal Declaration of Human Rights, but it was not accepted by the Burmese government. Finally in November of 2010, after much negotiation between the junta and leaders from around the world, all political prisoners in Burma were freed.

Women in History Crush Wednesday - Aung San Suu Kyi

With Suu Kyi back and stronger than ever, the junta grew nervous. In 2010, legislation was passed that made anyone one with a criminal background or anyone related to a non-Burmese bloodline ineligible to run for prime minister, effectively barring Suu Kyi from office. In response, the NLD didn’t register as a party that year as an act of solidarity. The legislation remained in 2011, but the party reregistered and Suu Kyi set her goals on being elected into a parliamentary seat. In May 2012, she accomplished this feat, and was sworn in on the 2nd of the month. During this term, Suu Kyi was able to take her first trip out of Burma since 1988, and so visited her family and Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, and also made a stop in Norway to give her acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize. Later that year, she was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal, becoming the first person to win it for their efforts while imprisoned. Suu Kyi was also awarded many honorary degrees, doctorates, and fellowships from universities across the globe.

This is not generally the norm, but as Suu Kyi is still politically active, we’ll touch on really recent events. I originally meant to put out this post in November, when the Burmese elections were being held, but I’m glad I didn’t, because now I can somewhat talk about how things turned out. The Burmese government has changed since 2011 – the military rule has greatly reduced its autocratic rule, and the government is now more civilian-run than it has been in the last half century. However, the legal requirements are still in place, so Suu Kyi couldn’t run for president, but she re-won her seat in parliament. As of this moment, over half of the seats in parliament are held by the NLD, making Suu Kyi the opposition leader. For more about the results, check out this BBC article.

To learn more about Aung San Suu Kyi’s revolutionary life, check out these bio., Famous People, Britannica, and CNN posts. Additionally, a movie about Suu Kyi titled “The Lady” came out in 2012 – I’ve yet to see it, but from the looks of the trailer it seems intense and fairly accurate. I’ll try to get a hold of and review it soon, but if you beat me to it, let me know what you think! Speaking of “The Lady,” before we finish, let me quickly explain that title. Up until about 2010, even mentioning Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma could get you in heaps of legal trouble, so people would refer to her as “The Lady” to avoid punishment. And that’s a wrap!

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more Women in History Crush Wednesdays!

Be heard!

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Braveheart Blunders

Welcome to my newest series: history-related film, television, and musical reviews! I’ve noticed that we as the viewing public tend to believe what we’re shown, which is a fair way to learn, but sometimes motion pictures and productions don’t cover the whole or even correct story. I hope this will be fun and interesting content matter – connecting the entertainment of today to that of times long since passed. Lets begin!

Mel Gibson’s 1995 classic Braveheart, while an Oscar-winning cinematic master-piece, is considered one of the most inaccurate historical epics to date. I watched this film a while ago now, and while I found it entertaining and enjoyed it for its artfully cinematography, its historical mistakes were obvious. There are some minor anachronisms, like costuming and some character timelines, and complete fictions, like the practice of primae noctis and some character interactions, but I’d like to focus on the two nonfictional battles that were inaccurately portrayed in the film.
Braveheart Blunders

Firstly, the Battle of Stirling. In the film, the battle takes place on a grassy plain. The geography is entirely wrong, which makes for most of the events of the battle being entirely fictitious. The real Battle of Stirling took place at a bridge that was so narrow and structurally unsound that only a couple English cavalrymen could cross it at a time. The English troops outnumbered the Scots like in the movie, but instead of the Scots defeating the English via cleverly placed pikes, the Scots won by waiting for the English to slowly cross the bridge and then ambushing them. After defeating the English that had crossed the bridge, the Scots charged the remaining troops on the other side, who were at a disadvantage because the Scots were attacking from higher ground. English reinforcements around Stirling Castles soon retreated, leaving the Lowlands in the hands of the Scots. True to both history and the film, this battle was a major win for the Scots is accredited to the leadership of Andrew Moray and William Wallace.

Next up, the Battle of Falkirk. Just like in the film, the loss of this battle took a huge toll on Scottish rebellion. However, the details of the battle differ in three major ways. In the movie, the start of Wallace’s failure occurs as his allies abandon him, but in reality desertion was by his own cavalrymen as they were overwhelmed by the size of the English cavalry. Secondly, archery indeed dominated this battle, but unlike the nonstrategic firing of the film, the superior technology and accuracy of the long bow by conscripted Welsh archers was what ultimately defeated the slingshot attacks of the Scots. Finally, the betrayal of Wallace by ally Robert the Bruce during the battle is also wrong; Robert initially criticized Wallace for rebelling against the English and then strongly supported his military campaign, but didn’t actually directly have anything to do with the Battle of Falkirk. Following the battle in real life, Wallace managed to flee to a nearby forest for a short period of time before being captured, and then, as likewise in the movie, he was tried and executed.

To conclude, the general message of William Wallace as a notable military leader during the Scottish fight for independence from England in the thirteenth century is present in the film Braveheart, but the means by which the story is told and the details involved are extremely flawed. Nearly every detail is a dramatization or complete fiction, filling the film with inaccuracies. In my opinion, Braveheart should solely be viewed for entertainment purpose, as there exists little historical fact to be drawn from it, especially in regards to specific battle.

Thanks, and be heard!

 

The Quaker Who Never Quaked

It’s the first Wednesday of the year and you know what that means – today’s another Women in History Crush Wednesday! Earlier this week you may have noticed that the Google doodle featured a group of women with a “votes for women” sign, and if you didn’t notice it then, you may notice now that the same cartoon adorns the top of this article. At the front of the pack stands our woman of the week holding a banner with her motto “deeds not words,” which we’ll touch on later. Now, without further ado our first WCW of 2016, Alice Paul.

Women in History Crush Wednesday - Alice Paul

Born on January 11th, 1885 in Mt Laurel, New Jersey, Alice Paul was raised on her family’s farm in Paulsdale. I don’t generally mention the ancestors of our WCWs, but Paul was related to some big names, including William Penn, John Winthrop, and one of the founders of Swarthmore College. Raised a Hicksite Quaker, Paul grew up following a tenet of equality, which taught that men and women were equal in every sense of the word. This principle, along with the women’s suffrage meetings that Paul attended with her mother during her childhood, spurred the interest in equal rights-based activism that she carried with her for her whole life.

Paul graduated high school at the top of her class, then in 1905 earned a degree in biology from Swarthmore College. For the next two years, she conducted graduate work at the New York School of Philanthropy (presently the Columbia School of Social Work) while pursuing another degree, this time in sociology, from the University of Pennsylvania. In 1907, Paul moved to Birmingham, England to study social work and gain experience as a case worker at the Woodbrooke Settlement. While in England, Paul befriended leaders of the British suffrage movement Christabel and Emmeline Pankhurst, and from them learned radical activism, an extreme form of protest that includes using approaches from non-violent picketing to window smashing in order to be heard. It was with the Pankhursts that Paul began living by “deeds not words,” as to her this meant to actually work for the cause instead of just talking about it. When Paul returned to Pennsylvania in 1910, she brought these lessons with her and with them reinvigorated the American suffrage movement.

While working for her doctorate in social work at the University of Pennsylvania, which she completed in 1912, Paul served as the leader of the Washington D.C. chapter of the National American Women’s Suffrage Association. On March 3rd, 1913, Paul and fellow activist Lucy Burns organized the largest parade the nation’s capital had ever seen – over eight thousand women marched to the White House advocating for the right to vote. Though the parade was initially peaceful, groups of onlookers soon began physically attacking the suffragettes, while police stood idly by. The conflict didn’t hurt the suffrage campaign but rather strengthened it, acting as justification for the necessity of the movement.

Women in History Crush Wednesday - Alice Paul

After several years with the NAWSA, Paul felt in 1916 that she needed to increase the pressure on policy makers and so founded firstly the Congressional Union for Woman Suffrage in order to lobby for suffrage, and secondly the National Women’s Party to maintain presence picketing at the White House. Many of these “Silent Sentinels” were arrested over their eighteen month stint for obstructing traffic, although there is speculation that some arrests were made out of frustration because the women were “bothering President Wilson during wartime.” Paul herself spent seven months in jail, during which she organized several hunger strikes and wrote about the abusive treatment of older suffragettes within the prison, the latter of which helped gain public support for the movement. Finally in 1920, the 19th Amendment was passed and ratified, and women were allowed to vote in the United States.

Following her success with women’s suffrage in the US, Paul went back to school and received three law degrees, then spent several decades traveling to Europe and South America to advocate equal rights. Beginning in 1923, Paul worked on an amendment for absolute gender equality, first known as the Lucretia Mott Amendment, then the Equal Rights Amendment, and sometimes referred to during the mid twentieth century as the Alice Paul Amendment. Though she and others worked on passing this document for over fifty years, such an amendment has yet to be ratified and added to the Constitution. In 1938 she founded the World Women’s Party, which often worked with the League of Nations for including gender equality in their agenda. Additionally, Paul led a successful campaign to include a sexual discrimination clause to the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Paul continued speaking out about equality internationally until well into her eighties.

 “I think if we get freedom for women, then they are probably going to do a lot of things that I wish they wouldn’t do. But it seems to me that it isn’t our business to say what they should do with it. It is our business to see that they get it.”

Paul died on July 9th, 1977 in Moorsetown, New Jersey. Eight years later, the Alice Paul Institute was founded to honor her and the equal rights movement. To this day, the institute runs programs to teach young women how to be leaders, as well as acting as a museum of women’s history.

To learn more about Alice Paul’s incendiary life, check out these National Women’s History Museum, History Channel, and Alice Paul Institute pages. Paul’s perseverance and dedicated work ethic in regards to equal rights remain as something to admired, and personally I’m in awe of and inspired by her scholarly achievements and success politically.

Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for more Women in History Crush Wednesdays!

Be heard!

Guess Who’s Back, Back Again

It’s been a couple months now since I last posted…my apologies for the unexpected hiatus. But thanks to a friendly reminder from Juan Duenas, I’m back! I’ve kept busy with my research – I have a couple dozen articles ready to publish, and will start sharing them with you starting tonight. I know I have some catching up to do; I promise to finish some of the things I started last year, it may just take some time. This year, we’ll continue learning about women in history and discussing current events in the political world, especially as the presidential debate draws closer, but we’ll also embark on adventures with museums exhibits, historical inaccuracies in movies, women in politics and positions of power globally, and some European history. I’m excited to share what I’m learning with you, stick around for an intellectually expansive 2016!