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Tuesday, July 27, 2021

One day

Exactly 100 years ago on this day, Mar. 14, 1908, Ed Heinemann was born. A self-taught engineer by age 20, Ed went on to work with the Douglas Aircraft Company in the 1930s and was soon a chief engineer overseeing the construction of 100,000 fighter planes for World War II – planes with names like the A-26 Invader, Havoc and The Daunter. The company shone and became a member of the RAND Corporation, which was formed by the government in conjunction with the U.S. Air Force.

In 1879, long before Heinemann’s birth, another man was born Mar. 14, a man whom many consider the greatest physicist to ever live: Albert Einstein. He published – on Mar. 14, 1905 – his Theory of Relativity, which would later prove monumental in producing the atomic bomb, to the despair of Einstein, who was a pacifist. In 1939, as Heinemann was busy engineering the construction of fighter planes, Einstein wrote to President Roosevelt about the rapid progression and danger of Germany’s atomic research. Shortly thereafter, the Manhattan Project, a secret operation that would later produce the atomic bombs that desecrated Hiroshima and Nagasaki, was established.

On Mar. 14, 1920, Hank Ketcham was born as well. An aspiring cartoonist, he felt much more inclined to doodle than fight in combat when World War II commenced. As Mar. 14, 1941 rolled around, German troops fully occupied the Czechoslovakian provinces of Bohemia and Moravia, pressuring Britain. Eventually this sparked the Lend Lease program, from which the United States traded warships to the needy British troops. It was one of these ships on which Ketcham was deployed in 1941 as a U.S. Naval Reserve photographer where he captured numerous wartime photographs that are well recognizable today.

Again on Mar.14, this time in 1945, the American fighter planes, which Ed Heinemann had built back home, were used to bomb Osaka, Japan in one of the first of many fire bombings that peppered East Asia.

The atomic bombs, created with the help of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity were, in August of that year, dropped on their targets, ending World War II in barbaric fashion.

Ten years after the war, Einstein would pass away, as the very theory he formulated became the launching pad for the Cold War, which would span long beyond his death.

Heinemann would continue to build aircraft, and would eventually design the F-16 fighter jet used in Vietnam before his death in 1991.

Ketcham returned home from war and drew propaganda cartoons for a while before sitting down at his desk one day and sketching out a scruffy looking kid who’d later become Dennis the Menace, the star of his later internationally recognized cartoon strip.

But as all these men were born on Mar. 14, someone died as well, on Einstein’s fourth birthday in 1883. The ideas of this man would resonate far beyond his demise and would dramatically affect the lives of not only the three men above, but of tens of millions of people around the world. Today in 1883, Karl Marx, the father of communism, passed away. Years later, Adolf Hitler was sparked by Marx’s writings, and thusly horrors of history commenced.

You’ve probably never thought about Mar. 14 – I hadn’t before sitting down to analyze it – but like any other undecorated single day in history, it holds secrets unknown to most. Today, on Mar. 14, 2008, as you sit in your lectures or read this on the bus, keep in mind that 125 years ago, perhaps at the very moment you read this, Karl Marx died, and in flashes of time in subsequent years, Heinemann, Einstein and Ketcham all saw light for the first time. The latter three would grow to fight against the very ideas that the first one established, but when it comes down to paper, all four men share this day in history, whether in life or death.

Mar. 14 – oh day of life, day of death. So much you brought to us, so much you changed us. And all in one day.

ZACK CROCKETT likes to analyze the trifles in life; e-mail him your creepy coincidences at ztcrockett@ucdavis.edu. This column is dedicated, in all its awfulness, to Paul Arden.

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