History Book – A revolutionary speech and the Nero Decree


NICK EICHER, HOST: Today is Monday, March 23rd. You’re listening to WORLD Radio and we are really glad you are! Good morning. I’m Nick Eicher.

MARY REICHARD, HOST: And I’m Mary Reichard. Coming next on The WORLD and Everything in It: the WORLD History Book.

Today, the first woman to win the Iditarod Dog Sled race. Plus, near the end of World War II, Hitler issues a scorched earth decree.

EICHER: But first, 245 years ago today, the most famous speech of the American Revolution. Here’s Paul Butler.

PAUL BUTLER, REPORTER: We begin today in March, 1775. 120 delegates gather at St. John’s Episcopal Church, in Richmond, Virginia, for the Second Virginia Convention. A fiery lawyer sits in the third row of pews—his name is Patrick Henry. 

Henry is determined to convince the other delegates to take defensive action against the British crown. On March 23rd, 1775, he submits a resolution to raise a Virginia militia. 

After several delegates argue the merits, Patrick Henry rises from his seat to address the gathering. Here’s Chris Fabry, reenacting a portion of his speech: 

FABRY: Sir, we have petitioned; we have remonstrated; we have supplicated, and have implored its interposition to arrest the tyrannical hands of the ministry and Parliament… 

After reviewing how those petitions had been slighted, and supplications disregarded, Henry says there is no longer any hope for peace. He says all that is left is to take up arms and appeal to God for help.

FABRY: There is a just God who presides over the destinies of nations. The battle, sir, is not to the strong alone; it is to the vigilant, the active, the brave…

As Henry speaks, he gets more and more animated. He says that war is inevitable. Fellow delegates appeal for peace.

FABRY: Gentlemen may cry, Peace, Peace—but there is no peace. The war is actually begun! Is life so dear, or peace so sweet, as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God!

I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!

The famous speech convinces many delegates. After Thomas Jefferson voices his support, the resolution passes. The convention then appoints Patrick Henry as head of the new committee tasked with making the militia ready for combat. 

Next, 75 years ago, during World War II: Adolf Hitler issues his “Nero Decree.” Read here by actor David Pierczynski:

HITLER: Our nation’s struggle for existence forces us to utilize all means, even within Reich territory, to weaken the fighting power of our enemy and to prevent further advances. Any opportunity to inflict lasting damage on the striking power of the enemy must be taken advantage of. 

Hitler’s March 19th order includes three specific commands. First that all military, communication, industrial and supply installations that might be of use to the Allies are to be destroyed. Second, that every military command post is to follow his order. And third, any contrary order is illegitimate. 

HITLER: During his retreat, the enemy will leave behind only scorched earth and will abandon all concern for the population.

Hitler taps Albert Speer, Germany’s Minister of Armaments and War Production, as the one to enforce the decree. But Speer becomes disillusioned—believing Hitler has lost his mind—so he delays and ignores the order. 

Weeks later, Speer tells Hitler of his disobedience. Hitler is furious, but allows Speer to leave, and the Nero Decree is never fully executed.

And finally, 35 years ago, two and a half weeks into the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race:

REPORTER: Are you worried at all about going into this wind?
RIDDLE: Yeah, it probably would bother them, but I’m going to do it anyway…

That’s 28-year old Libby Riddles. She’s a veteran of the sport, having run the 1,100-mile race twice before in the early 80s.

In 1985 she returns to the race with a strong team and keeps a competitive pace—despite many mishaps. Just an hour into the race, she was thrown from her sled when it hit a washing machine buried in the snow. Later, she fell off the sled and the dogs continued on without her. One night, she struck a low hanging branch and split open the bridge of her nose—losing her headlamp in the process. 

Severe storms interrupt the marathon a number of times during the 3-week race. Three-quarters into the race, a ground blizzard makes visibility nearly impossible. Riddles decides to brave the storm while everyone else hunkers down. 

RIDDLE: I made an agreement with myself before I left that if I took off, I wasn’t going to come back. Even if it’s crummy. 

The bold move works. Riddles takes a commanding six hour lead. White-out conditions eventually force Riddles to stop.  

After 18 days, 20 minutes, 17 seconds, Riddles rides into Nome, Alaska—two and a half hours ahead of the nearest competitor—becoming the first woman to win the race. 

In 2007, her Iditarod Trail Race victory was inducted as a “Hall of Fame Moment” into the Alaska Sports Hall of Fame.

RIDDLE: I hope that there are always dog teams running around this state…And I hope we never forget our traditions and our heritage, and thank you so much for this. [APPLAUSE]

That’s this week’s WORLD History Book, I’m Paul Butler.


(Photo/History) Patrick Henry

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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