Strange Politics: The Curious Case of Chinese Taipei

Time once again for the Summer Olympics to dominate our attention as we discuss medals, records, and big-name athletes from across our nation and around the world. I admit, I am a huge Olympics fan, and indeed a fan of international sports in general. Watching athletes compete to bring glory to their countries is definitely a thrill. Spectacular sports performances matched by the spectacle of the opening ceremonies makes this event an EVENT any time it is held. Plus, the games act as a way for countries to show off how awesome they are without, you know, shooting at each other.

But while most of the teams represent nations and a few represent colonies like Aruba or the British Virgin Islands, there is one rather odd team that parades with the others during the Parade of Nations. The announcer calls them “Chinese Taipei”. They use an anthem that clearly has Chinese lyrics, but the flag they use is all kinds of weird:

What is this? Are they some kind of Chinese team? If so, why don’t they just compete as China? If not, why are they called “Chinese”? And what is Taipei? What’s going on here?

Strange Politics. That’s what.

Let’s take a journey back in time to 1949. China was in the middle of a major civil war between Communists led by Mao Zedong and Nationalists led by Chiang Kai-Shek. And the Communists were winning. Chiang’s army was collapsing, as soldiers defected to the Communist side in droves. City after city was falling. In a desperate bid to save himself, Chiang decided to evacuate what was left of his army, government, and gold to the island of Taiwan, which he hoped to turn into an island fortress from which he could be safe while he prepared an epic counter-attack.

In the meantime, Mao and the Communists gathered in Beijing on October 1, 1949 and proclaimed the creation of a new People’s Republic of China. By then, they already controlled the northern half of the country, and they were advancing south at a breakneck pace, so they needed a formalized government to control the land, and they probably figured Chiang Kai-Shek was doomed anyway, so who cares if they hadn’t captured him yet?

Then something happened to throw a monkey wrench into the whole thing: the Korean War.

Suddenly, the war in China no longer looked like just a civil war to United States policymakers, it looked like part of a larger Communist plot to take over Asia. In response, President Harry S. Truman ordered the U.S. 7th fleet into the Taiwan Strait, forcing the two sides to stop fighting. And with that, one of the most long-standing political disputes in history began, which continues to this day and has created all manner of political strangeness, including that “Chinese Taipei” Olympic team, among many, many other things.

In essence, what Truman did was create two “Chinas”. The People’s Republic of China, ruled by Mao and the Communists, on the mainland and controlling nearly all of China’s territory and population, and the Republic of China, ruled by Chiang, on Taiwan. Both claimed to be the legitimate government of all China. Since this was the Cold War, it was only natural that the Soviet Union and its allies recognized the People’s Republic while the United States and our allies supported Chiang.

The problem wasn’t nearly so academic for the United Nations, because China is one of the five nations with a permanent seat on the Security Council, a position that comes with the power to veto almost anything the UN does. After some debate, the UN decided to support Chiang and his Taiwan-based government. The Soviet Union decided to protest the decision by boycotting the UN for a few months. Which meant they weren’t present to use their veto power when the UN decided to allow an American-led mission to protect South Korea from the North Korean invasion.

The International Olympic Committee, on the other hand, didn’t have their hands tied by political considerations, they just allowed both “Chinas” to send teams to the Olympics. But wait! It turned out Mao was offended by the idea that anyone would consider having two “China” teams at the Olympic Games, and refused to send his country’s athletes. For decades, the only team called “China” at the Olympics actually came from Taiwan.

Then, in the 1970s, this happened:

The United States decided to open up to the People’s Republic of China and make amends, largely to weaken the Soviet Union’s position on the world stage. Little by little, the United States shifted its recognition from Chiang to Mao. Many of America’s allies soon followed suit. In 1971, the UN voted to give China’s seat to the People’s Republic.

All of these trends meant there was mounting pressure on the Olympics to find a compromise that would allow the People’s Republic of China to send a team to the games. The difficulty, ultimately, stemmed from two facts:

  1. Both the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China agreed that there is only one China.
  2. Both the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of China said that they were the legitimate government of that one China. In other words, each said “I am the one China. I don’t know who this poser is.”

Both the People’s Republic and the Republic rejected the proposal of having the mainland team named “China” and the Taiwanese team named “Taiwan”, because that would make it sound like Taiwan was a country. There was a suggestion to have the Taiwanese team named “Taiwan, China”, but the Republic of China rejected this name because it made them sound subordinate to the mainland.

Eventually, the International Olympic Committee settled on the name “Chinese Taipei”. “Chinese” because that was the one thing both sides could agree on, that the people of the island were Chinese of some sort. Taipei is a Taiwanese city serving as the “temporary” capital of the Republic of China. The reason they went with that city instead of the whole island (i.e., “Chinese Taiwan”) was that by doing so they were leaving the political boundaries of this, um, entity, as wide-open as possible, in case someday the Republic of China decided to make good on its promise to invade the mainland. No, really, that’s why.

But apparently, it wasn’t enough for the Communists that the team from Taiwan had a funky-weird name. They also demanded that the team couldn’t use the Republic of China’s official flag or anthem.

Sorry, you’re not welcome here.

They had to invent the flag at the beginning of this article to satisfy the mainland. And if that weren’t enough, the two sides couldn’t agree on the Chinese characters to represent the name. Should the team be 中国台北, implying that the “Chinese” in the name is a political designation equating the team with the Chinese state, or should it be 中華台北, implying the “Chinese” was just a cultural designation? (They eventually settled on the latter.)

Obviously, times have changed a whole lot since then. Mao and Chiang are both long-since dead. The People’s Republic of China has become a major economic powerhouse, largely thanks to reforms by the late Deng Xiaoping. They are now the biggest emerging world power. Meanwhile, the Republic of China has effectively given up on unrealistic fantasies of reconquering the mainland, instead focusing on becoming a thriving and successful democracy.

And yet the political mess remains.

The People’s Republic claims Taiwan is a “renegade province”, and demands that it reunify with the mainland. Preferably peacefully, but the People’s Republic has made it clear that they won’t rule out a military invasion of the island.

Meanwhile, the Republic may not be actively seeking to take over the mainland, but on paper they still technically claim all of China and even Mongolia. The real issue with Taiwan, though, is not what it claims, but what its people want. While Chiang Kai-Shek ruled the island as dictator, nobody was allowed to question the Republic’s official position that it was China’s legitimate government. Since becoming a democracy, people are free to discuss where Taiwan goes from here, and a very large and vocal segment of the population wants to formally change the country’s name to something like “The Republic of Taiwan” and declare the island’s independence from China. Naturally, this angers the mainland, and so many Taiwanese prefer to maintain the status quo and give lip service to eventual reunification in order to avoid a war.

Today, only 23 countries recognize the Republic of China, though interestingly one of those is the Vatican, which does so out of protest to the Communist government of the People’s Republic propping up a state-run “Catholic Church” whose bishops are appointed by the government and banning the actual, Pope-run Roman Catholic Church. Taiwan is only able to participate in international organizations like the World Trade Organization and World Health Organization with the mainland’s permission, and it generally has to use that same “Chinese Taipei” designation to do so. Taiwan has applied for membership in the United Nations year after year, and is always rejected.

Though, to be fair, the World Organization of the Scout Movement, a federation of all the Boy Scout organizations around the world, calls its Taiwanese wing the “Scouts of China” because the Boy Scouts are banned on the mainland.

So, in summary, “China” has two governments, one that controls almost all of the country and one that just controls Taiwan. Both claim to be the legal government of all China, though in Taiwan’s case it’s only on paper. Yet that one island can’t actually do anything on the world stage, even so much as participate in the Olympics, without bending over backwards to appease the mainland, or else they might spark a war. What’s more, they can’t officially declare their independence, even though they have been independent in practice for decades, for the same reason. And it’s all Harry Truman’s fault.

TRUMAN!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Information from Wikipedia and various books I’ve read.

The Dark Knight Impresses

You knew this was coming. I reviewed The Avengers, and I reviewed The Amazing Spider-Man. Of course I’m going to review the remaining highly-anticipated comic book movie of the year.

The Dark Knight Rises is the end of Christopher Nolan’s turn at the Batmobile’s wheel. Not the end of Batman, of course – he earns far too much money for Time Warner for them to give him up, and there are already plans in the works for a Batman reboot – but the end of the incarnation of Batman we have come to know and love for the past seven years. This means that some things were inevitable with TDKR, and simply couldn’t be avoided.

  1. The film would be tinged with a hint of sadness, as audiences say farewell to Nolan’s beloved “gritty, ultra-realistic” Batman universe.
  2. Nolan would feel pressured to make this movie his “crowning achievement” and “crescendo”, and so he would go over-the-top with the drama, action, and explosions to try to best The Dark Knight.
  3. The main villain, Tom Hardy’s Bane, will have some huge shoes to fill considering just how big of a hole was left by Heath Ledger’s Joker.

That said, the film manages to take these facts with stride and build a really compelling, edge-of-your-seat film that people will talk about for a long time.

In terms of sheer quality and entertainment value, The Dark Knight Rises matches The Dark Knight; the two films are equally awesome. However, don’t walk into the theaters expecting The Dark Knight. In spite of the (rather un-creative and lame) name, TDKR is a completely different movie, and it is good for completely different reasons. The Dark Knight was a great Batman movie, but TDKR is more like a great action movie that happens to include Batman in a few scenes. Indeed, this movie is far more like Batman Begins in that it focuses a lot more on Bruce Wayne and his motivations and personality.

Ultimately, though, it just isn’t fair to compare TDKR to any other Batman film, because it is a totally different animal. In effect, the film’s structure basically divides it into two parts, and neither really resembles anything Nolan has attempted before. The first half of the film plays out like a classic Batman comic book. So much so, in fact, that those who are intimately familiar with classic Batman lore will likely see the “major twist” that ends this first act coming from a mile away. Then, the second act turns into a dystopian future/guerrilla resistance film. No, really.

See, this version of Bane takes on the mantle and appearance of a charismatic, populist, radical revolutionary who turns Gotham City into a pseudo-Communist city-state for his own nefarious ends, and it’s up to the overthrown authority figures – the police and the businessmen, plus Batman – to take back the city from Bane’s army of armed thugs. You can just feel Nolan’s conservative politics seeping through the celluloid, and doubtless the Occupy Wall Street movement will be rather offended. But, much like Avatar, the drama, action, and excitement help to soften the blow so that the film is still quite enjoyable for most of the audience, regardless of political persuasion.

If I had to point to one thing as the best part of this movie, it would be Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman.

Okay, I might be a little biased here.

Catwoman is a hard one to get right. She’s a thief with a conscience. She’s hot, knows it, and uses it to her advantage. She is sometimes Batman’s enemy, sometimes his ally and even sometimes his love interest. She is cunning, resourceful, and a great butt-kicker. And unlike most of the Batman rogues’ gallery, she is completely sane – she dresses the way she does and does what she does because it’s awesome.

Yet previous attempts to put her on the big screen were, shall we say, different.

Mr. Burton? We need to talk.

But Hathaway gets it spot-on. She provides one of the most compelling performances of the entire movie, and demonstrates how to make a comic-book character believable.

The Dark Knight Rises is definitely a great finale to the Nolan-verse Batman. It tidies everything up nicely and is never dull. The acting is great, the dialogue is great, the cinematography is just stunningly beautiful, and the final sequence will be long-remembered. A must-see 5 out of 5, for sure.

A sad note must be made before we leave. During the opening of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado, an armed gunman in black body armor killed 12 and wounded 58. University of Colorado graduate student James Holmes has been arrested for the shooting. The investigation into the incident is ongoing. Cat Flag’s heart and prayers are with the victims and their families.

Cat Flag #100: My favorite (and least favorite) flags

Would you believe this is my 100th Cat Flag post? Boy, does life fly past us! I decided that, in honor of my 100th post, I should do something different. Instead of talking about the news, or movies, or history, I’m going to get back to a subject I haven’t really talked about since my second post: Flags.

Kind of a major oversight on my part, considering the name of this blog is “Cat Flag”.

So, today, I’m going to talk about some of my favorite flags from around the world. As well as some of my least favorite flags, for entertainment’s sake. Because for every awesome flag, there’s a flag that whose designers just don’t seem to get it.

Awesome flag: Old Glory

File:Flag of the United States.svg

We Americans should feel lucky we have such a beautiful banner. The colorful pattern, the stars matching so well with the stripes, the blue shining against a blue sky, it’s really a sight to behold. We’re definitely spoiled, compared to some countries that only have two or three boring stripes as their national emblem. And I know I’m not just biased by my patriotism, because when the first ships from the newly independent United States sailed into Chinese ports in the late 18th century, the locals called the flag the 花旗 (huaqi), or “flower-flag”, because they thought it was as beautiful as a flower. The story goes that crowds of people flooded to the port to see this rumored “flower-flag ship”.

Which makes it all more jarring when our nation comes up with some really terrible flags.

Terrible flags: Lazy U.S. state flags

File:Flag of Connecticut.svg
File:Flag of Idaho.svg
File:Flag of Massachusetts.svg
File:Flag of Washington.svg

Not all states do this, but enough do that it’s rather annoying. Back in 1893, the city of Chicago hosted the World’s Columbian Exposition, celebrating 400 years since Christopher Columbus’s voyage. This was to be the largest World’s Fair yet, and was to symbolize that America, as a nation, had come of age and was emerging as a world power. Many states decided they needed some sort of symbol to represent themselves at the fair, and thus was born the idea of a “state flag”. The problem was that far too many state legislatures decided to simply put their state seal on a single-colored background and call it a day. Thus, we have a nation peppered with ugly state flags that don’t do the people, heritage, or culture of their state any justice. I mean, compare those monstrosities with some of these state flags:

File:Flag of Wyoming.svg
File:Flag of South Carolina.svg
File:Flag of New Mexico.svg
File:Flag of Indiana.svg
File:Flag of Ohio.svg
File:Flag of Arkansas.svg
File:Flag of Arizona.svg

See the difference a little effort makes?

Awesome flags: Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan

File:Flag of Kazakhstan.svg

File:Flag of Turkmenistan.svg

These two ex-Soviet nations decided they were going to do something interesting and pretty with their flags. Putting an intricate design on the left-hand side adds a bit of “pop” that helps the flag stand out, and also gives a sense of heritage that not every flag has. I especially like the Kazakh one because they follow it up with an awesome eagle-and-sun device that just looks cool.

Terrible flags: Australia and New Zealand

File:Flag of Australia.svg

File:Flag of New Zealand.svg

First off, these flags are so similar it’s really easy to get them mixed up. Second, no offense to the Union Jack – it is a very pretty flag that I like and that has a very long history – but why are they using a colonial holdover flag with another country’s emblem on it? I mean, yes, they still consider Elizabeth II to be their Queen, but apart from that they are politically independent nations.

This pretty much says it all.

There are groups in both countries who advocate changing the flag. My favorite proposal is this one, designed by Brendan Jones as a possible new Australian flag (image from Ausflag):

Reconciliation Flag

Awesome flag: Christmas Island

File:Flag of Christmas Island.svg

Sometimes the smallest countries or territories have the coolest flags. Take Christmas Island, a tiny little place in the Indian Ocean about 220 miles south of Indonesia that was colonized by the British and is now administered by Australia.  It has a tiny population of just 1,493 people, and virtually no resources apart from a phosphate mine. Most outsiders probably wouldn’t even know it existed if it weren’t for the annual red crab migration that nature documentaries love to film:

And yet they took the time to design an awesome flag that just screams, “check us out!” (Or maybe that was the point, to try to get tourists?)

Terrible Flag: Antarctica

File:Flag of Antarctica.svg

Then there’s this boring thing. Yeah, I know Antarctica is uninhabited apart from a tiny few scientists. Yeah, I know the Antarctic Treaty was written to set aside any territorial claims to the continent and leave it as a peaceful, scientific preserve. Still doesn’t excuse the boring, bland, useless design of this flag. I mean, couldn’t they at least have put some penguins on it?

What do you think? What are your favorite or least favorite flags? Let me know in comments!

Flag images from Wikipedia, unless otherwise noted.

The Not-Amazing-but-Still-Pretty-Good Spider-Man

While watching this film, I was stung by a bee. So far, no bee-related powers have emerged, sadly. Just an uncomfortably stiff right pinkie.

Anyway, I went to see The Amazing Spider-Man, the third of 2012’s five superhero films (the others being The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance and Dredd). To be honest, I was a bit apprehensive about this film. The trailers didn’t impress, and made the film look like it would be corny and lame:

Then one of my favorite film critics gave this film a scathing review. Not looking good.

Not to mention the fact that this was a movie made in haste by Sony in order to keep the movie rights to Spider-Man, lest they return to growing movie powerhouse Marvel. Not the best circumstances for a film to be born from.

But I went anyway, and I’ve got to tell you, I was pleasantly surprised.

Now, to be clear: The Amazing Spider-Man is no Avengers. It is no The Dark Knight, no True Grit, no Inception, and certainly no Citizen Kane. It will not go down as one of the great films of our age. But that doesn’t mean it’s a bad movie. Far from it, I found this movie rather enjoyable. The Amazing Spider-Man is, at the end of the day, a movie with awkward flaws and weaknesses but also some redeeming qualities. Kind of like the titular hero, actually.

Here are some examples of what I’m talking about.

Flaw: Spider-Man’s new origin story involves an undertone of destiny – his father had disappeared after working on a formula for “cross-species genetics” alongside the man who would be the film’s main villain, Dr. Curt Connors. This version of Peter Parker is apparently brilliant enough to figure out what his father was working on. This is what leads to his becoming Spider-Man and the villain becoming The Lizard. I’m sorry, but a large part of what makes Spider-Man, you know, Spider-Man, is that he’s supposed to be just some ordinary guy who gains his powers by accident and has to figure out what to do with them. Forcing a “destiny” angle into the story just doesn’t work.

Redeeming Quality: That issue aside, though, the rest of the origin story is actually pretty good. I know not everybody is into high school teen drama antics in their movies – I am certainly not a fan – but the film’s first act actually is one of its strongest points. The characters feel real, their actions believable, and their relationships to each other are complex and tangible. There is one sequence where our hero goes to ask his crush out, and the whole conversation is nothing but awkward body language and unfinished sentences, because both boy and girl are just too nervous and excited. Seems about right.

Flaw: The editing of the film is sometimes baffling. For example, you know how sometimes movies like to flash back and forth between two different sequences? Usually they want to show how these two events are tied together, or they want to create some sort of ironic tonal contrast. In this case, though, the two scenes had nothing to do with each other. Each scene would have been strong enough on its own, but by shuffling them together it just made everything confusing. This is just one example of this film feeling like nobody was sure what the pacing should be, and the editors and director just made things up as they went along.

Redeeming Quality: However, the director and post-production team did make a very good decision. You know how Spidey has a long-standing trope of swinging from place to place? And how sometimes that mode of locomotion seems physically impossible?

Just what is he swinging from in this picture? The air?

Well, this movie makes a point of showing us where, exactly, Spidey’s web is sticking. It sounds lame, but trust me, they make it work: the very best scene in the movie is based around this concept. (Sorry, I’m not going to spoil it, you’ll just have to trust me here.)

Flaw: This movie is way too long. When I got out of the theater, I was shocked at just how late it was. I’m sorry, but if your running time is 136 minutes, you had better be engaging and entertaining for all of those minutes. I saw somebody actually fall asleep in the theater. Not a good sign for an action movie.

Redeeming Quality: But if you can get past the boring bits, things really start to get exciting as the climax approaches. I don’t want to spoil anything, but the characters we’ve come to know from the “teen drama” first act are put in danger, and start to show another, very interesting, side to them as a result.

Flaws: The final boss fight is pretty cliché and lame, the transition between scenes is often clunky, and the film periodically introduces something that could make for some interesting stuff only to apparently forget about it.

Redeeming Qualities: But the acting is great, the dialogue is great, and at the end of the day, I left the theater with a smile on my face.

This movie ranks about the same to me as the Robert Downey, Jr. Sherlock Holmes movies. Not my favorite, nor exceptional in any way, but still enjoyable and something I’d be willing to watch over and over again when there is nothing good on TV. A solid 3 out of 5.

Some Facts You Might Not Know About the American Revolution

Time once again to light up the grill, open a beer, hang up your flags and patriotic bunting, and celebrate our nation’s birthday with some fireworks! We all know the great tale of our nation’s founding by heart: Boston Tea Party, Paul Revere, Lexington, George Washington, Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, Declaration of Independence, crossing the Delaware, the winter at Valley Forge, and victory at Yorktown.

But, as I’ve mentioned a number of times previously, the stories we are taught in history class are often not the whole picture. And in some cases, I feel that’s kind of a tragedy, because the whole picture can sometimes be more awesome than the history class version, especially when it comes to the American Revolution. Things like…

The Revolutionary War was also a World War

Many of us know that in 1778 Benjamin Franklin, after a long diplomatic struggle, convinced the French to help us fight the British. Spain joined in the following year. But we are often told that the alliance was a rocky one, and the French were unreliable allies that didn’t keep their commitments and only got really involved at the very end during the Battle of Yorktown. Heck, in the movie The Patriot France’s flakiness was a major plot point.

This view is completely distorted. The reason France had a hard time sending arms and troops to help the Continentals was because they were so busy fighting the British in Europe, the Caribbean, and Asia. Our French and Spanish allies turned the Revolutionary War into a world war in order to force the British to fight in as many fronts as possible, meaning they were no longer able to concentrate their strength in the Thirteen Colonies. This gave the Americans an advantage that set the stage for their eventual victory at Yorktown.

In India, France’s ally, Mysore, attacked the British in 1780 and kicked some serious British butt, largely thanks to the fact the Mysoreans were using freakin’ rockets against the redcoats!

Such awesomeness should never have been left out of our history books!

In 1779, the French and Spanish laid siege to the tiny British colony of Gibraltar, in what would become the largest battle  in the entire war. 7,500 British troops fought 63,000 combined enemy soldiers, sailors and marines in a four-year siege that inspired one of Mozart’s pieces.

The allies even built up an Armada with the goal of invading England, though disease spreading among their crews forced them to abandon the plan. So, no, the French and Spanish were far from being unhelpful allies – they arguably guaranteed that our fight for independence would succeed.

Information from Wikipedia

The Revolution was a Civil War to the Americans…

Though many Americans were gung-ho about independence, the cause was far from universally accepted. Many Americans were still loyal to King and Country, were accustomed to British rule and resistant to the idea that the colonies could make it on their own, and didn’t like that Patriots resorted to violence to achieve their means. Historians estimate that between 15% and 20% of the colonial population were so-called “Tories”, colonists who opposed independence and wanted to stay British.

Their reasons for continued loyalty varied. Many were part of the colonial establishment and feared “mob rule” if the Patriots won, or were recent immigrants from Europe who tried initially to stay neutral but felt pushed to the Crown’s side. Some sided with the British because they still had friends and family back in England, and many slaves joined the British army’s ranks because they were promised freedom for doing so.

In the early phase of the war, as Patriots staged coups d’etat and seized power from royal governors in each of the colonies, these Tories usually went into hiding, for if they were discovered Patriots would arrest them as spies and traitors, or worse subject them to “mob justice” such as tarring and feathering. However, not all of them were so passive: in 1775, nearly 2,000 Tories laid siege to a Patriot camp in South Carolina. A similar battle in North Carolina was fought the following year. Later, as the British captured New York City, Philadelphia, Savannah, and Charleston, Tories began flocking to the British ranks as volunteers for service to the Crown. Many battles in the Revolution featured Americans fighting Americans. When the war ended and America’s independence was recognized, many Tories fled to Canada.

Thus beginning one of our nation’s oldest traditions.

Information from the History Channel series The Revolution

… and a “Vietnam” to the British.

In Britain, the Revolutionary War produced a major identity crisis. 18th-century Britain had built its empire, rightly or wrongly, on the notion that they were an “Empire of Liberty”, a society where government was bound by laws and everyone had rights (except slaves, of course). When the colonists began demanding “No taxation without representation”, they were referring to the Magna Carta of 1215, which declared that no Englishman could be taxed without having some form of say in the matter – such as being able to vote their leaders into and out of office. In the colonists’ minds, they were Englishmen demanding their rights under English law, and there were many in Britain, including some voices in Parliament, who agreed. However, the majority in Parliament felt that the colonists were behaving like spoiled brats, and King George III ultimately agreed. They sent the army to shut the colonists up, and the rest is history.

The war in Britain was very controversial. How could they be an “Empire of Liberty”, opponents to the war asked, if they were denying liberty to their own people? As the war dragged on and victory seemed ever more elusive, more and more British voices joined the chorus calling for an end to it, especially after France and Spain joined the fight. The British surrender at Yorktown proved the decisive last straw – street protests forced King George and Parliament to sue for peace and evacuate their troops from America.

Information from the BBC series A History of Britain

The Continental Congress narrowly escaped a military coup

In 1783, the war was winding to a close, and thousands of soldiers were getting ready to go home and start a new life in the new nation they had fought and died for. There was one problem, though: the Continental Congress had fallen behind on their pay.

This had been a perennial problem during the war. Congress controlled the Continental Army and was responsible for funding it, but since Congress had no power to tax, it had to depend on the states for funding. And the states were not exactly known for actually providing the money they promised. Combine this with perennial corruption and mismanagement along the supply lines, and the average American soldier spent the war underpaid and under-supplied. Soldiers mutinied time and time again, and while sometimes Congress was able to negotiate a settlement for a particular unit’s grievances, the root problem remained.

Finally, on June 20, 1783, 400 American soldiers decided that they had been ignored and mistreated long enough. They marched up to Independence Hall in Philadelphia to confront Congress. This could very well have been the end of the Continental Congress, right then and there, but luckily for them Alexander Hamilton managed to persuade the mutineers to let them adjourn for the day to consider their grievances and find a compromise.

In fact, the Hamilton and several of his fellow Congressmen used the tiny breathing space the soldiers gave them to meet in secret that night. They wrote an urgent message to the government of Pennsylvania begging for aid. The state’s leaders, for reasons that have never been quite clear, refused the Congress’s request. Perhaps they were sympathetic to the mutineers, or thought the matter could be resolved peacefully?

Whatever the reason, Congress decided not to wait around to find out and instead skipped town, setting up shop in Princeton, New Jersey. They had survived the coup, but had seen just how precarious their position was. The experience was one of the key reasons we now have Washington, D.C. as our nation’s capital – if the states couldn’t be relied on to protect the federal government, then the federal government would be better served to not be based in any state.

Information from Wikipedia

The Revolution is part of the reason we have a planet named “Uranus”.

In 1781, British astronomer William Herschel discovered a new planet in our solar system, beyond the orbit of Saturn. At first, he thought he had found a comet, but after further observations it became clear that it was, indeed, a planet. The Astronomer Royal, Nevil Maskelyne, wrote to Herschel and said, “do the astronomical world the faver [sic] to give a name to your planet, which is entirely your own, [and] which we are so much obliged to you for the discovery of.”

And Herschel did. He named it Georgium Sidis.

So, why don’t our solar system models have a gas giant named Georgium Sidis between Saturn and Neptune? Well, we can thank the American Revolution, at least in part. See “Georgium Sidis” is Latin for “George’s Star”, the “George” in question being King George III. In Britain, this name was just fine, but in the countries at war with Britain at the time – the American colonies, France, and Spain – the name was flatly rejected. Soon, there were a number of competing names for the planet floating around out there, such as “Herschel” and “Neptune”. By about 1850, the global public had settled on the name Uranus, even in Britain. Why that name in particular, I’m not sure, but it does fit the explanation given by the German astronomer Johann Elert Bode, who first suggested it: “Just as Saturn is the father of Jupiter, the new planet should be named after the father of Saturn.”

I guess that one counts as a “Politics is Strange”, huh?

Information from this video.