March 20, 1995: Tokyo, Japan suffers an act of domestic terrorism. Aum Shinrikyo (now called Aleph) was a controversial group founded by Shoko Asahara. He published a book and declared himself Christ, Japan’s only fully enlightened master and identified himself with the Lamb of God. The book outlined an apocalyptic scenario which included World War III. Asahara’s mission was to take upon himself the sins of the world. His followers would have their sins removed. Conspiracies, according to him, were everywhere and perpetrated by Jews, Freemasons, the Dutch, the British Royal family, and of course, rival Japanese religions. On this day, they committed a sarin attack on a Tokyo subway which killed 12 people and severely injured 50 more. About 1,000 other subway riders suffered temporary vision disturbances.
This was not Aum Shinrikyo’s first sarin attack. That occurred on June 27, 1994 in Matsumoto, Japan. The cult converted a refrigerator truck and released a cloud of sarin to float near the homes of judges who were working on a real estate lawsuit which was predicted to go against the cult. In this attack, 500 people were injured and seven died. On this day, ten men carried out sarin attacks with five of them setting off the sarin and five working as getaway drivers. They attacked the Chiyoda line’s A725K train, the Marunouchi line’s A777 and B801 trains, and the Hibiya line’s B711T and A720s trains.
Ikuo Hayashi released the sarin in the Chiyoda train. Prior to joining Aum, he was a senior medical doctor at the Ministry of Science and Technology. He was a heart and artery specialist first at Keio Hospital and left to head the Circulatory Medicine department at the National Sanatorium Hospital. In 1990, he quit his job and left his family to join Aum in the monastic order Sangha. He became a favorite of Asahara and was appointed the group’s Minister of Healing which included administering sodium pentothal and electric shocks to members who failed to display the proper loyalty. These “treatment” resulted in several deaths.
Ken’ichi Hirose released sarin in one of the Marunouchi trains. He held a postgraduate degree in physics from Waseda University. He was an important member in the cult’s Chemical Brigade. He exposed himself to the sarin by mistake and although he had the antidote, he nearly died from the exposure. Toru Toyoda had studied applied physics at the University of Tokyo and he belonged to the Chemical brigade. His sarin release was in the other Marunouchi train. Masato Yokoyam, also an applied physics student, released sarin in a Hibiya train and Yasuo Hayashi was in the other Hibiya train. Hayashi was a student of artificial intelligence before joining the cult. The trials of 189 cult members resulted in 13 of them sentenced to death and five more sentenced to life in prison. Asahara remains alive although he was sentenced to death. He is now aged 59 and the father of twelve children.
Fanaticism is the child of false zeal and of superstition, the father of intolerance and of persecution. – John Fletcher
A celibate clergy is an especially good idea, because it tends to suppress any hereditary propensity toward fanaticism. – Carl Sagan
In morals, what begins in fear usually ends in wickedness; in religion, what begins in fear usually ends in fanaticism. Fear, either as a principle or a motive, is the beginning of all evil. – Anna Brownell Jameson
The closer a man approaches tragedy the more intense is his concentration of emotion upon the fixed point of his commitment, which is to say the closer he approaches what in life we call fanaticism. – Arthur Miller
Also on this day: Shoes – In 1885, Jan Matzeliger patented a shoe lasting machine.
Martha Place – In 1899, Martha was the first woman to be executed via the electric chair.
Iditarod Winner – In 1985, the first woman won the Iditarod.
Blue, Lots of Blue – In 1922, the US launched the first aircraft carrier.
Pusha da Button! – In 1933, Giuseppe Zangara was executed.