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August: Never a dull moment in history

As one born in August, I've always viewed the month with a mix of pride and dismay.

August has an imperial pedigree — it was named after Augustus, the great Roman emperor — and most of the month falls under what we Leos consider the most majestic of astrological signs.

But in the United States at least, August is the only month without a single holiday or special day. (Think about it.) And for much of the world's population, August is a steaming hot, miserable time, something to be struggled through between the gentle days of spring and the crisp relief of fall.

Maybe that's why so many awful things seem to happen in August.

The June 28, 1914, assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria precipitated World War I, but it was not until August that actual fighting began in a four-year conflict that took 20-million lives.

World War I was also known as "the War to End All Wars,'' which of course it wasn't. As August 1939 drew to a close, Hitler's troops massed on the Polish border, ready to invade and start a second world war, this one lasting six years and killing as many as 70-million.

August also saw two of history's most horrifying events — the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima on Aug. 6, 1945, followed three days later by the dropping of an A-bomb on Nagasaki. As many as 220,000 Japanese were incinerated or later died.

Subsequent Augusts had their share of military adventurism. Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990. That was 22 years after Soviet and Warsaw Pact troops crushed Czechoslovakia's brief "Prague Spring'' of democracy. The Soviet Union is no more, but two of its remnants, Russia and Georgia, began battling Aug. 8 in what one commentator called "the most dramatic foreign policy event since 9/11.''

And speaking of 9/11, al-Qaida's deadliest attacks before then were the Aug. 7, 1998, bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania.

All this August mayhem is somewhat ironic, given that the reign of Emperor Augustus ushered in Pax Romana — the relatively peaceful period when the Roman Empire spanned much of the ancient world. The Senate declared Augustus a god and renamed the Latin month of Sextilis, making Augustus and his great uncle, Julius Caesar, the only two humans to be memorialized on the calendar.

Just as August seems to bring out the ferocity in humans, so it does in nature. Some of the worst hurricanes on record struck this month: Katrina in 2005, Andrew in 1992 and Camille in 1969. And in August A.D. 79 Mount Vesuvius erupted and buried the towns of Pompeii and Herculaneum.

But August is not without its better moments.

American women got the right to vote in August 1920. Japan surrendered in August 1945, ending World War II. And President Richard M. Nixon resigned on Aug. 8, 1974, bringing to a close what his successor, Gerald R. Ford, called the "long national nightmare'' of Watergate.

August also is the most popular birth month, perhaps because those crisp November nights nine months earlier made our parents feel especially frisky. Among the notables born this month: Mother Teresa, Napoleon Bonaparte, Louis Armstrong, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Madonna and Michael Jackson.

(On the flip side, August has seen a lot of notable deaths: Cleopatra, Babe Ruth, Charles Lindbergh, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley and Princess Diana.)

Coincidentally, the two presumptive U.S. presidential nominees have August birthdays: Sen. Barack Obama on the fourth and Sen. John McCain on the 29th. But Obama is a Leo and McCain is a Virgo, raising the inevitable astrological question:

Will the fire sign (Leo) scorch the earth sign (Virgo)?

Or will earth snuff out fire?

Susan Taylor Martin can be contacted at

August: Never a dull moment in history 08/23/08 [Last modified: Monday, August 25, 2008 2:57pm]
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