6 Historical Events Happening More Recently Than You Think
We define our historical eras, naturally, by things that we associate with them. We started making tools in the Bronze Age, the plague was in the Dark Ages, we strapped dogs and monkeys to rockets in the Space Age, and for a brief time in the '90s people wore shirts that changed color when they sweat.
But not everything is so cut and dried; sometimes things that you only thought existed in the black and white world were still around until just a few years ago. For instance ...
The (Original) VW Bug Was Still Being Produced Until 2003
First of all, we're not talking about the redesigned VW Beetle that Volkswagen introduced in 1998. We're talking about the original rear-engine Beetle, the car that symbolized the 1960s in the way the Model T symbolized the early 1900s. The "love bug" was contractually obligated to be featured in every film, TV show, book, play, dramatic reading, poetry slam and conversation held from 1967 to 1972.
The peace and love is so thick, it's sticky.
You don't see the classic Beetle around much nowadays, with the exception of those ancient collector cars carefully maintained by people who literally have rebuilt them with a mixture of gum, tinfoil and marijuana residue.
But Actually ...
Or, they could have just bought one from the factory as recently as 2003. That's the last year that Volkswagen produced the classic Beetle -- and yes, we mean the trunk-under-the-hood, 1960s-style Herbie version that we all know and love.
The 2003 Volkswagen Beetle. Really.
See? It has a CD player and everything!
From the 1930s to 1978, Volkswagen spit out car after car from its factory before deciding, decades before America made it popular, to move the Beetle factories to Mexico. But production didn't stop -- from 1978 until 2003, the Mexican plants continued flooding the market with the bubble-shaped cars that sold for around $6,000. On July 30, 2003, the last ever Beetle to be made rolled off the factory line.
Finally phased out because the windshield decorations made them unsafe to drive.
Who the hell was buying these things? Well, while the U.S. pressed forward with that pricey "New Beetle" in the late '90s, Volkswagen found that the rest of the world preferred things old school. Primarily used as taxis in Mexico, regulations requiring four-door cabs finally did them in. Without that, it's possible that production would have continued. Not bad for a car dreamed up by Hitler.
Ships Were Still Using Morse Code Until 1999
Back when the fastest way to get a message to somebody was tying it to a trained bird, the invention of the telegraph had to have seemed like a goddamned miracle. Sure, it couldn't transmit your voice, but you could instantly send a signal by hitting a little lever, so it was almost as good, as long as the person at the other end knew what your lever presses meant. That's where Morse code came in, a language of "dots" and "dashes" (short and long presses on the lever) established in the 1840s that would tell the recipient you had something to say, and that it wasn't just a dog chewing on the machine.
It was also a lifesaver for ships, as they quickly adopted a wireless system that let them send out the now-famous "SOS" emergency message, beckoning help by tapping out those three letters over and over again on their telegraph. Primitive, yes. But a hell of a lot better than, say, blowing into a conch shell in hopes Aquaman would rescue you.
As if that drunk would get off his ass long enough to help anything without fins.
Of course, radio came along a short time after that, and then phones, then satellite communications, etc. Nobody has heard that series of "SOS" beeps since, what, the Titanic era?
But Actually ...
That's almost right -- if you're referring to the movie. Morse code was still the standard ship distress call until they phased it out in 1999.
"Told you so."
In an era when cellphones were slowly taking over and email had replaced the postal service, ships were still yelling at each other over a long monotone string of dots and dashes. Until, finally, the International Convention for Ships Under Distress, who possibly have the most specific purpose for a convention ever, finally decided to stop using Morse code and upgrade to satellites and high-frequency radio.
Some stations continued to monitor Morse transmissions for a few months after the change-over. Finally, people started saying goodbye in Morse by trying to see how poetic they could get with their last messages on the old system. Among the last was the French Coast Guard's "Calling all. This is our last cry before our eternal silence" and Landsend Radios' last message, "But now the time has come, ours is not to reason why, the satellites are calling, our Morse transmissions die."
"P.S. I just wanted you to love me, dad."
Today, Morse has been replaced by the GMDSS, or Global Maritime Distress and Safety System, which, by the way, leaves Antarctica and the North Pole totally uncovered, so have fun if your ship sinks around those areas. But still, after 170 years of service, it was probably about time for Morse to go.
The U.S. Military Still Fought on Horseback in 2001
You have to feel sorry for whatever poor bastard in World War I first rode into battle on horseback against brand new tanks on the other side. We're pretty sure that guy's last words, before he was squished under tank treads, were, "That's cheating!"
Keep in mind, a horse-mounted cavalry was the way to win a war for centuries before that moment -- a bunch of guys on horses versus a bunch of dudes on foot wasn't much more fair than tank vs. horse. But once that technology came along around 1915, horses were doomed to be relegated to places far away from the action, like in parades and under Canadian cops.
"All social unrest can be solved by jousting."
But Actually ...
That last cavalry charge by U.S. troops happened in, wait for it, 2001.
In the invasion of Afghanistan, U.S. Special Forces were sent in to locate and fight alongside Afghani Northern Alliance soldiers, who shared the Americans' desire to get rid of the Taliban government. The troops weren't on horseback as some sort of dare or cruel punishment from their superiors. And it wasn't because the U.S. military forgot to pay their tank bill.
Due to a typo, we accidentally built 200,000 of them out of cake.
It has to do with the "Special" in "Special Forces" -- the entire point of those troops is that they wage "unconventional" warfare, which means improvising and adapting on the fly. In this case, they needed to blend in with the locals who, due to their culture and a need to traverse terrain that featured steep, two-foot-wide mountain paths, still got around the old-fashioned way.
"Haha! Am I high?"
By the way, the American troops had no training on horses whatsoever -- only one of them had even been on horseback before. The U.S. command, like the rest of us, kind of thought the horse fad had passed. But this was Afghanistan, a place where time stands still, and thus in the Battle of Mazari Sharif, about 300 Northern Alliance soldiers and U.S. Special Forces, armed with M-16s, AK-47s and RPGs, saddled up and attacked Taliban defensive lines armed with freaking tanks. And won. Decisively.
"Haha! My Jeep poops!"
But, of course, after the invasion, horses were once again relegated to ... wait, what's that? In Russia, the Cossacks still retain actual cavalry regiments ready for combat at a moment's notice? And have been used as recently as the 2008 South Ossetia War?
Switzerland Didn't Give All Women the Vote Until 1990
Considering how long democracy has been around, the history of women voters is embarrassingly short. In the U.S., for instance, it wouldn't be until the Nineteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution was ratified in 1920.
Other countries came to their senses before that -- Sweden gave some women the vote in 1862, the Netherlands did it in 1919, Germany in 1918. Other countries would come along later, or would introduce it slowly and begrudgingly. In the U.K., women were allowed to vote in 1918 ... if they were over 30, and owned some property, and could best a man in an arm wrestling match (probably). They were finally given full rights in 1928.
"Is that your heel on my bal-AAAAGH!"
The point is, this was a struggle won in the days of poofy dresses and jerky black and white film. If we told you that some women still couldn't vote when Seinfeld was on the air, you'd assume we were talking about some backward Third World country where a wife can be bought for the price of a nice used donkey.
"Tell you what ... you throw in the kids, and it's a deal."
But Actually ...
What? Switzerland? Really?
Yep, they didn't even start getting the ball rolling on women's right to vote until 1950-freaking-9, when the first canton (what Americans would call a state) allowed women the right to vote in federal elections. The rest of the country, with the exception of a few remaining cantons, followed suit 12 years later in 1971. But incredibly, it wasn't until 1990 when the last two Swiss cantons, Appenzell Ausserrhoden and Appenzell Innerrhoden, finally passed amendments that allowed women to vote in the elections.
"Once all the women are done 'voting' we can recycle their ballots into confetti and blunt wrappers."
This delay was attributed to the fact that Switzerland is a direct democracy, and therefore, such things take a little longer. Especially when, you know, the people whose rights are being voted on aren't allowed to participate.
World War II Never Ended (Between Russia and Japan, Anyway)
A while back we mentioned that WWII lasted something like half a century longer than it should have, thanks to some treaties never getting signed (a worldwide Armageddon that kills nearly 50 million people has a way of creating lingering hard feelings).
But, hey, that was just a technicality over some paperwork, right? It's not like the sides were still pointing guns at each other that whole time.
It's like grandma used to say: "You don't drink another man's beer without having to put on the assless chaps."
But Actually ...
While the Treaty to Finally Sort Out Germany's Shit did indeed end WWII in Europe, it unfortunately did not do squat for the problems Japan and Russia have yet to sort out. Not only are the two nations still wrangling over how to formulate a formal end to WWII, but things are actually getting worse between them.
It all started on August 9, 1945, the same day as the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, when the USSR launched a surprise invasion of Manchuria that kicked off what is called the Soviet-Japanese War of 1945. In terms of military planning, execution and outcome, the spectacular Soviet onslaught did to Japan what the Hulk did to Loki in The Avengers. A long string of islands stretching from Russia's Kamchatka Peninsula to Hokkaido were seized in the process.
That has to be a bitch to mow. We'd just give it to them.
To this day, neither side wishes to part with these militarily strategic, mineral-rich islands. Seriously, they're so valuable that it's been 67 years and neither nation has been willing to end WWII over them.
While the Japanese have shown willingness to surrender some of the islands, then Russian President Medvedev described them in 2011 as "unalienable Russian territory," and he means it -- he even beefed up the region's missile defenses after the Japanese premier said something he didn't like. And here we thought that photo of the sailor kissing that lady in the street ended the whole thing.
In America, wars don't end until there's a herpes outbreak.
Native Americans Were Still Fighting the Government in the 1970s
No matter how much we try to smooth it over with turkey holidays and wacky football team logos, the treatment of the Native Americans was a genocidal nightmare. Along with slavery, it's one of those historical black marks that Americans would prefer to leave buried in the distant past. When kids used to play Cowboys and Indians, they pretended they were in the Old West, not the disco era.
"Jimmy, your mom and I would like to talk to you about what adults call 'sexual identity.'"
But Actually ...
First of all, full-blown battles to force Native Americans off of their land continued longer than most people think -- as in, after World War I. In 1923, there was a clash with tribes who refused to leave their land in Utah called the Posey War. Still, 90 years is a long time ago, maybe it's no surprise that violence was still flaring up on occasion. OK, so how about 1973?
Two hundred Oglala Lakota and American Indian Movement followers seized Wounded Knee, South Dakota, on February 27, 1973, during the Wounded Knee incident.
This shit happened. Like, during the Nixon era.
Taking place a full 82 years after the Wounded Knee massacre of at least 150 Sioux, the Wounded Knee incident of 1973 resulted in a standoff between armed members of the Oglala Sioux Civil Rights Organization, the American Indian Movement, United States Marshals and the FBI. And when we say "standoff" we're not talking an "Occupy Wall Street" type protest where they just squatted with some signs until they got arrested. This was a full-blown battle, with more than 130,000 rounds of ammunition spent over the course of 10 weeks.
By the time it ended, an FBI agent and two Native Americans had been killed in the ongoing gun play. Fortunately, this battle could be considered the official end of the American Indian Wars. So the killing only lasted for, oh, about 450 years.
Xavier Jackson has a Facebook page and can be contacted at XavierJacksonCracked@gmail.com. Jacopo della Quercia is on Twitter. Follow him. Eric Yosomono writes for GaijinAss.com and has a Facebook page.
For more ridiculous tidbits of history you're probably unaware of, check out Fun Size Countries: The Insane Histories of the World's 6 Tiniest Nations and 6 National Anthems That Will Make You Tremble With Fear.
If you're pressed for time and just looking for a quick fix, then check out Mathematical Proof That the Media Is Sexist and Bad at Math