Today in War – August 11
Posted by Nick Milne on August 11, 2010
A strange pair of men are united by the fact of their both having died on this day, though some 450 years apart. Taken together, they tell an interesting story; both passionately devoted to their cause and willing to stop at nothing in prosecuting it, they could not possibly be any more different when it comes to their moral status and their actual tactical achievements.
Exhibit A is John Hunyadi (c. 1407-56), one of the most famous Hungarians to ever live, and justly so. Even among that celebrated people he stands especially tall, a man of immortal legend.
A brilliant statesman, reformer, family man, general and tactician, he waged a war against the Ottoman Empire so furious and complete that even now his methods – and successes – are looked upon with awe. Not content to just liberate Hungarian territories that had long been held by the Turks, he pursued the fleeing invaders into other states, liberating them as well, breaking the back of the Ottomans in Europe and the Balkans with a totality from which they would never, ultimately, recover. He tore through Bosnia, Serbia, Albania, among others; he fought the Turk by land and sea; he brokered peace with neighbouring states; he was briefly imprisoned by Vlad Tepes’ father in Wallachia; he was better than his king (who died, like the Emperor Valens, in a foolish charge); his son (Matthias Corvinus) would become in his turn Hungary’s greatest king; he had the sweetest coat of arms in Europe (see below). And so on.
All of which is not even to go into the utter excellence of his actions at Belgrade in July of 1456. With a small force comprised in equal measure of highly-trained mercenaries and ill-equipped peasants whipped into a religious fervor, he destroyed Mehmed II’s Turks at sea, broke the siege of Belgrade proper, faced them in pitched battle outside the city’s walls and finally drove them off. The victory was shocking to all involved, and the aftermath among the Europeans involved would have been one mad round of exultant revelry were it not for the plague that struck them shortly afterward. It brought down weak and strong indiscriminately, and Hunyadi himself, having secured his greatest victory, gave up the ghost on August 11th, 1456. We shall not see his like again, but at least we can remember him without shame. One of my readers in particular would likely be able to recommend some excellent sources for learning more about him, so I hope he chooses to comment (I’m looking at you, Chris).
Exhibit B, by way of stark, stark contrast, is young Khudiram Bose (1889-1908). You could be forgiven for never having heard of him, to be sure; while he became briefly notorious at the time of the events about to be described, there is nothing in that renown that is deserving of elevation to fame, and, the political sympathies of the twentieth century being what they were, it is not possible to safely reduce it to infamy either, though I should sorely like to.
Khudiram was a Bengali peasant by birth and a revolutionary by choice. Through a mixture of peer pressure and genuine resentment of the policies and presence of the British Raj, Khudiram was prevailed upon by his colleagues to undertake a campaign of bombings directed at various Imperial targets. This typically saw the bombs (mostly useless and shabbily-constructed) placed near police stations and guard outposts, but the incident that brought his name to the attention of the Empire at large was of a somewhat different – and far more deadly – character.
In 1908, Khudiram and a colleague were ordered to go to the town of Muzaffarpur and assassinate a high-ranking Imperial magistrate. Disdaining anything that smacked of precision, Khudiram and his partner elected to do the deed with the bombs that had so far been their trademark. Unfortunately for those who were shortly to die, these bombs worked perfectly; more unfortunately still, the victims were entirely innocent, and not even connected to the magistrate in question.
The pair’s grand plan was to wait outside a popular European club in town for the magistrate to leave, but they had gone to no trouble to determine what he or his vehicle looked like. They hurled their bombs at the first carriage to pull out, destroying it and killing its inhabitants. They were a Mrs. Kennedy, her young daughter, and a maidservant. We may at least hope that they never knew what hit them.
Khudiram and his partner fled, the partner shortly thereafter committing suicide rather than facing capture. Khudiram was swiftly apprehended, anyway, and, after a high-profile trial, was finally hanged on August 11, 1908. It is a perhaps noteworthy window onto the character of the Indian nation (or at least of Muzaffarpur) that the train station in which Khudiram was arrested is now named after him and not, say, after the women he murdered. There’s also this: