June 4

781 BCE, 1940, 1666, 1917, 1989

781 BCE: The oldest Chinese recording of a solar eclipse; which is not in fact the oldest recording of a solar eclipse, for which see April 6 - though even that may not be the oldest, if our understanding of Joshua 10:12 is correct; and anyway there are scholars who think the Chinese one happened on September 6th, 776 BCE (the illustration came up searching the Chinese, not the Joshua, and yet...)

1940: the evacuation of Dunkirk completed (see May 28) - a nice irony, because there was a very different military operation at Dunkirk, in the devil's year, 1666. Admiral Michiel de Ruyter of Holland versus Admiral General George Monck of England. It began on June 1st (in the Julian calendar, which the Brits were using; June 11th in the Gregorian, which the Dutch were using) and it is known as "The Four-Day Battle", because it ended today. And why were they fighting? Why do countries ever fight? Control of the markets, usually. The Brits had passed a Navigation Act in 1651, to try to keep the Dutch fleets out of English waters, especially the herring boats. But also the new lands in the Americas - remember that New York was originally New Amsterdam; Holland was a major player in the game in those days. In terms of the big war, the Dutch lost; in terms of this particular battle, the "Vierdaagse Zeeslag" as it is known rather more poetically in Dutch, the English were forced to make a hasty retreat, an evacuation indeed, from Dunkirk.

And as an addendum to that May 28 entry, my English almanac confirms what I said there about the English facility for presenting disaster as though it were triumph, with the headline: "British complete the 'Miracle of Dunkirk' by evacuating 338,226 allied troops from France via a flotilla of over 800 vessels including Royal Navy destroyers, merchant marine boats, fishing boats, pleasure craft and even lifeboats". A magnificent tactical advance - backwards!

1917: First Pulitzer Prizes awarded. And who was Pulitzer anyway? And who the first winners, and which subjects, and why then? And who decides? (The only winner I've ever met is the poet Gregory Pardlo, who gave a splendid recital of his work, at Berkeley, in San Francisco, back in 2015; lots of his work here).

1989: Tiananmen Square Massacre ended - I like this way of presenting the event, and of putting it on this date for that reason. The alternative, to go back to April 15 and headline it as "student demonstrations against the Chinese Communist broke out in Bei-Jing today" just wouldn't have the same impact. Nor do the Chinese disagree; their own history books now speak of it as "The June 4th Incident" - though it must be said, they don't often speak of it at all - click here to learn why not.

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