Germans massacre men, women and children in Yugoslavia

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/germans-massacre-men-women-and-children-in-yugoslavia

On October 21, 1941, German soldiers go on a rampage, killing thousands of Yugoslavian civilians, including whole classes of schoolboys.

Despite attempts to maintain neutrality at the outbreak of World War II, Yugoslavia finally succumbed to signing a “friendship treaty” with Germany in late 1940, finally joining the Tripartite “Axis” Pact in March 1941. The masses of Yugoslavians protested this alliance, and shortly thereafter the regents who had been trying to hold a fragile confederacy of ethnic groups and regions together since the creation of Yugoslavia at the close of World War I fell to a coup, and the Serb army placed Prince Peter into power. The prince-now the king–rejected the alliance with Germany-and the Germans retaliated with the Luftwaffe bombing of Belgrade, killing about 17,000 people.

With Yugoslavian resistance collapsing, King Peter removed to London, setting up a government-in-exile. Hitler then began to carve up Yugoslavia into puppet states, primarily divided along ethnic lines, hoping to win the loyalty of some-such as the Croats-with the promise of a postwar independent state. (In fact, many Croats did fight alongside the Germans in its battle against the Soviet Union.) Hungary, Bulgaria, and Italy all took bites out of Yugoslavia, as Serb resisters were regularly massacred. On October 21, in Kragujevac, 2,300 men and boys were murdered; Kraljevo saw 7,000 more killed by German troops, and in the region of Macva, 6,000 men, women, and children were murdered.

Serb partisans, fighting under the leadership of the socialist Josef “Tito” Brozovich, won support from Britain and aid from the USSR in their battle against the occupiers. “The people just do not recognize authority…they follow the Communist bandits blindly,” complained one German official reporting back to Berlin.

Thousands protest the war in Vietnam

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/thousands-protest-the-war-in-vietnam

In Washington, D.C. nearly 100,000 people gather to protest the American war effort in Vietnam. More than 50,000 of the protesters marched to the Pentagon to ask for an end to the conflict. The protest was the most dramatic sign of waning U.S. support for President Lyndon Johnson’s war in Vietnam. Polls taken in the summer of 1967 revealed that, for the first time, American support for the war had fallen below 50 percent.

When the Johnson administration announced that it would ask for a 10 percent increase in taxes to fund the war, the public’s skepticism increased. The peace movement began to push harder for an end to the war—the march on Washington was the most powerful sign of their commitment to this cause. The Johnson administration responded by launching a vigorous propaganda campaign to restore public confidence in its handling of the war. The president even went so far as to call General William Westmoreland, commander of U.S. forces in Vietnam, back to the United States to address Congress and the public. The effort was somewhat successful in tempering criticisms of the war. However, the Tet Offensive of early 1968 destroyed much of the Johnson Administration’s credibility concerning the Vietnam War.

The protest was also important in suggesting that the domestic Cold War consensus was beginning to fracture. Many of the protesters were not simply questioning America’s conduct in Vietnam, but very basis of the nation’s Cold War foreign policy.

President Harding publicly condemns lynching

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/harding-publicly-condemns-lynching

On October 21, 1921, President Warren G. Harding delivers a speech in Alabama in which he condemns lynchings—illegal hangings committed primarily by white supremacists against African Americans in the Deep South.

Although his administration was much maligned for scandal and corruption, Harding was a progressive Republican politician who advocated full civil rights for African Americans and suffrage for women. He supported the Dyer Anti-lynching Bill in 1920. As a presidential candidate that year, he gained support for his views on women’s suffrage, but faced intense opposition on civil rights for blacks. The 1920s was a period of intense racism in the American South, characterized by frequent lynchings. In fact, the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People) reported that, in 1920, lynching claimed, on average, the lives of two African Americans every week.

During the 1920 presidential campaign, Harding’s ethnicity became a subject of debate and was used by his opponents to cast him in a negative light. Opponents claimed that one of Harding’s great-great-grandfathers was a native of the West Indies. Harding rebuffed the rumors, saying he was from white “pioneer stock” and persisted in his support of anti-lynching laws. Although the anti-lynching bill made it through the House of Representatives, it died in the Senate. Several other attempts to pass similar laws in the first half of the 20th century failed. In fact, civil rights for blacks were not encoded into law until Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act in 1964.

Harding’s public denunciation of lynching would appear insincere if one were to believe allegations that he had actually been inducted into the Ku Klux Klan while in office. In 1987, historian Wyn Wade published The Fiery Cross, in which a former Ku Klux Klan member claimed to have witnessed Harding’s initiation into the Klan on the White House lawn. Scholars have since pored over Harding’s papers, but have found no evidence to support this allegation.

Kennedy secretly plans blockade of Cuba

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/kennedy-press-secretary-misleads-press

On October 20, 1962, the White House press corps is told that President John F. Kennedy has a cold; in reality, he is holding secret meetings with advisors on the eve of ordering a blockade of Cuba.

Kennedy was in Seattle and scheduled to attend the Seattle Century 21 World’s Fair when his press secretary announced that he had contracted an “upper respiratory infection.” The president then flew back to Washington, where he supposedly went to bed to recover from his cold.

Four days earlier, Kennedy had seen photographic proof that the Soviets were building 40 ballistic missile sites on the island of Cuba—within striking distance of the United States. Kennedy’s supposed bed rest was actually a marathon secret session with advisors to decide upon a response to the Soviet action. The group believed that Kennedy had three choices: to negotiate with the Russians to remove the missiles; to bomb the missile sites in Cuba; or implement a naval blockade of the island. Kennedy chose to blockade Cuba, deciding to bomb the missile sites only if further action proved necessary.

The blockade began October 21 and, the next day, Kennedy delivered a public address alerting Americans to the situation and calling on Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev to remove the missiles or face retaliation by the United States. Khrushchev responded by sending more ships—possibly carrying military cargo—toward Cuba and allowing construction at the sites to continue. Over the following six days, the Cuban Missile Crisis, as it is now known, brought the world to the brink of global nuclear war while the two leaders engaged in tense negotiations via telegram and letter.

By October 28, Kennedy and Khrushchev had reached a settlement and people on both sides of the conflict breathed a collective but wary sigh of relief. The Cuban missile sites were dismantled and, in return, Kennedy agreed to close U.S. missile sites in Turkey.

Watergate special prosecutor dismissed, starting "Saturday Night Massacre"

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/watergate-special-prosecutor-dismissed

On October 20, 1973, solicitor General Robert Bork dismisses Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox; Attorney General Richardson and Deputy Attorney General Ruckelshaus resign in protest. 

Cox had conducted a detailed investigation of the Watergate break-in that revealed that the burglary was just one of many possible abuses of power by the Nixon White House. Nixon had ordered Richardson to fire Cox, but he refused and resigned, as did Ruckelshaus when Nixon then asked him to dismiss the special prosecutor. Bork agreed to fire Cox and an immediate uproar ensued. 

This series of resignations and firings became known as the Saturday Night Massacre and outraged the public and the media. Two days later, the House Judiciary Committee began to look into the possible impeachment of Nixon.

The Watergate scandal involved the bungled burglary of the offices of the Democratic National Committee in the Watergate apartment complex in Washington, D.C., on June 23, 1972. It was eventually learned that the cover-up went all the way to the White House; President Nixon, facing impeachment, resigned from the presidency in August 1974.

READ MORE: How Watergate Changed America’s Intelligence Laws

Congress investigates Communists in Hollywood

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/congress-investigates-reds-in-hollywood

On October 20, 1947, the notorious Red Scare kicks into high gear in Washington, as a Congressional committee begins investigating Communist influence in one of the world’s richest and most glamorous communities: Hollywood.

After World War II, the Cold War began to heat up between the world’s two superpowers—the United States and the communist-controlled Soviet Union. In Washington, conservative watchdogs worked to out communists in government before setting their sights on alleged “Reds” in the famously liberal movie industry. In an investigation that began in October 1947, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC) grilled a number of prominent witnesses, asking bluntly “Are you or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party?” Whether out of patriotism or fear, some witnesses—including director Elia Kazan, actors Gary Cooper and Robert Taylor and studio honchos Walt Disney and Jack Warner—gave the committee names of colleagues they suspected of being communists.

A small group known as the “Hollywood Ten” resisted, complaining that the hearings were illegal and violated their First Amendment rights. They were all convicted of obstructing the investigation and served jail terms. Pressured by Congress, the Hollywood establishment started a blacklist policy, banning the work of about 325 screenwriters, actors and directors who had not been cleared by the committee. Those blacklisted included composer Aaron Copland, writers Dashiell Hammett, Lillian Hellman and Dorothy Parker, playwright Arthur Miller and actor and filmmaker Orson Welles.

Some of the blacklisted writers used pseudonyms to continue working, while others wrote scripts that were credited to other writer friends. Starting in the early 1960s, after the downfall of Senator Joseph McCarthy, the most public face of anti-communism, the ban began to lift slowly. In 1997, the Writers’ Guild of America unanimously voted to change the writing credits of 23 films made during the blacklist period, reversing—but not erasing—some of the damage done during the Red Scare.

Mao’s Long March concludes

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/maos-long-march-concludes

Just over a year after the start of the Long March, Mao Zedong arrives in Shensi Province in northwest China with 4,000 survivors and sets up Chinese Communist headquarters. The epic flight from Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist forces lasted 368 days and covered 6,000 miles, more than twice the distance from New York to San Francisco.

Civil war in China between the Nationalists and the Communists broke out in 1927. In 1931, Communist leader Mao Zedong was elected chairman of the newly established Soviet Republic of China, based in Kiangsi province, in the southwest. Between 1930 and 1934, the Nationalists launched a series of five encirclement campaigns against the Soviet Republic. Under the leadership of Mao, the Communists employed guerrilla tactics to successfully resist the first four campaigns, but in the fifth, Chiang raised 700,000 troops and built fortifications around the Communist positions. Hundreds of thousands of peasants were killed or died of starvation in the siege, and Mao was removed as chairman by the Communist Central Committee. The new Communist leadership employed more conventional warfare tactics, and its Red Army was decimated.

With defeat imminent, the Communists decided to break out of the encirclement at its weakest points. The Long March began on October 16, 1934. Secrecy and rear-guard actions confused the Nationalists, and it was several weeks before they realized that the main body of the Red Army had fled. The retreating force initially consisted of 86,000 troops, 15,000 personnel, and 35 women. Weapons and supplies were borne on men’s backs or in horse-drawn carts, and the line of marchers stretched 50 miles. The Communists generally marched at night, and when the enemy was not near, a long column of glowing torches could be seen snaking over valleys and hills into the distance.

The first disaster came in November, when Nationalist forces blocked the Communists’ route across the Hsiang River. It took a week for the Communists to break through the fortifications and cost them 50,000 men–more than half their number. After that debacle, Mao steadily regained his influence, and in January he was again made chairman during a meeting of the party leaders in the captured city of Tsuni. Mao changed strategy, breaking his force into several columns that would take varying paths to confuse the enemy. There would be no more direct assaults on enemy positions, and the destination would now be Shensi Province, in the far northwest, where the Communists would fight the Japanese invaders and earn the respect of China’s masses.

After enduring starvation, aerial bombardment, and almost daily skirmishes with Nationalist forces, Mao halted his columns at the foot of the Great Wall of China on October 20, 1935. Waiting for them were five machine-gun- and red-flag-bearing horsemen. “Welcome, Chairman Mao,” one said. “We represent the Provincial Soviet of Northern Shensi. We have been waiting for you anxiously. All that we have is at your disposal!” The Long March was over.

The Communist marchers crossed 24 rivers and 18 mountain ranges, mostly snow-capped. Only 4,000 troops completed the journey. The majority of those who did not complete the journey had perished along the way. It was the longest continuous march in the history of warfare and marked the emergence of Mao Zedong as the undisputed leader of the Chinese Communists. Learning of the Communists’ heroism and determination in the Long March, thousands of young Chinese traveled to Shensi to enlist in Mao’s Red Army. After fighting the Japanese for a decade, the Chinese Civil War resumed in 1945. Four years later, the Nationalists were defeated, and Mao proclaimed the People’s Republic of China. He served as chairman of the country until his death in 1976.

Dick Fosbury flops to an Olympic high jump record

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/fosbury-flops-to-an-olympic-record

On October 20, 1968, 21-year-old Oregonian Dick Fosbury wins gold—and sets an Olympic record—when he high-jumps 7 feet 4 1/4 inches at the Mexico City Games. It was the first American victory in the event since 1956. It was also the international debut of Fosbury’s unique jumping style, known as the “Fosbury Flop.”

The Flop, according to one journalist, “looked like a guy falling off the back of a truck.” Instead of the traditional scissors- or straddle-style forward kick over the bar, it featured a midair rotation so that the jumper landed back-of-the-head-first on the mat. Fosbury described it this way: “I take off on my right, or outside, foot rather than my left foot. Then I turn my back to the bar, arch my back over the bar and then kick my legs out to clear the bar.” It looked odd, but it worked better than any other technique.

Fosbury had invented his Flop in high school, when he discovered that, though he was terrible at the scissors-kick, the straddle and the belly-roll, if he stretched out on his back and landed headfirst, he could jump higher than anyone on his high-school track team. “The advantage,” he said, “from a physics standpoint is, it allows the jumper to run at the bar with more speed and, with the arch in your back, you could actually clear the bar and keep your center of gravity at or below the bar, so it was much more efficient.” At Oregon State University, he used the Flop to win the 1968 NCAA title and the Olympic Trials.

“I think quite a few kids will begin trying it my way now,” he said when the Games were over. “I don’t guarantee my results, and I don’t recommend my style to anyone. All I say is if a kid can’t straddle, he can try it my way.” And indeed, kids everywhere began to practice the Flop over the backs of their sofas and into piles of leaves in the yard. Parents and coaches worried that Fosbury’s technique was dangerous—U.S. Olympic Coach Pat Jordan even warned that it would “wipe out an entire generation of high jumpers because they will all have broken necks”—but the Flop soon became standard practice at track meets. Within a decade, almost every elite high-jumper was doing it Fosbury’s way. Since 1980, no one using any other technique has held the world record.

First Battle of Ypres

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/first-battle-of-ypres

On October 19, 1914, near the Belgian city of Ypres, Allied and German forces begin the first of what would be three battles to control the city and its advantageous positions on the north coast of Belgium during the First World War.

After the German advance through Belgium and eastern France was curtailed by a decisive Allied victory in the Battle of the Marne in late September 1914, the so-called “Race to the Sea” began, as each army attempted to outflank the other on their way northwards, hastily constructing trench fortifications as they went. The race ended in mid-October at Ypres, the ancient Flemish city with its fortifications guarding the ports of the English Channel and access to the North Sea beyond.

After the Germans captured the Belgian city of Antwerp early in October, Antwerp’s remaining Belgian forces along with troops of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), commanded by Sir John French, withdrew to Ypres, arriving at the city between October 8 and 19 to reinforce the Belgian and French defenses there. Meanwhile, the Germans prepared to launch the first phase of an offensive aimed at breaking the Allied lines and capturing Ypres and other channel ports, thus controlling the outlets to the North Sea.

On October 19, a protracted period of fierce combat began, as the Germans opened their Flanders offensive and the Allies steadfastly resisted, while seeking their own chances to go on the attack wherever possible. Fighting continued, with heavy losses on both sides, until November 22, when the arrival of winter weather forced the battle to a halt. The area between the positions established by both sides during this period—from Ypres on the British side to Menin and Roulers on the German side—became known as the Ypres Salient, a region that over the course of the next several years would see some of the war’s bitterest and most brutal struggles.

Battle of Cedar Creek

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/battle-of-cedar-creek

Union General Philip Sheridan averts a near disaster in the Shenandoah Valley when he rallies his troops after a surprise attack by Confederate General Jubal Early and scores a major victory that almost destroys Early’s army at the Battle of Cedar Creek in Virginia.

Through the summer of 1864, Early moved his army with impunity around the Shenandoah and its surrounding area. Union General-in-Chief Ulysses S. Grant dispatched Sheridan to take care of Early’s army, which was distracting Grant and preventing him from applying the full pressure of the Union army against the forces of Robert E. Lee around Petersburg, Virginia. Sheridan performed his task well, defeating Early at Winchester, Fischer’s Hill, and Tom’s Brook. By mid-October, Sheridan’s troops were busy destroying the rich harvest of the Shenandoah to deny food supplies to Lee’s army.

Sheridan departed for a military conference in Washington, D.C., and before he returned, Early launched a devastating attack on the surprised Yankees at Cedar Creek. Throughout the morning of October 19, the Rebels drove the Union troops back more than three miles. By late morning, Early slowed the attack despite the urgings of General John B. Gordon, who insisted that Early press his assault to achieve total destruction of the Federal force. Returning from Washington, Sheridan heard the battle from Winchester and began a furious, 12-mile ride to the front. Along the way, he met his retreating soldiers and turned them back toward the battle for a counterattack. This effort, which was later called Sheridan’s Ride, became legendary.

After Early cut off his assault, an eerie silence settled on the battlefield. Sheridan orchestrated his counterattack by late afternoon, and it was devastating. The Yankees tore through the Confederate lines and sent Early’s army in retreat. Sheridan lost 5,500 out of 31,000 troops. Early lost almost 3,000 of the 22,000 men in his command, but nearly all of the Confederate artillery was captured in the Union counterattack. It was the last major battle in the Shenandoah campaign, and Early was never able to mount a serious offensive again.