Monthly Archives: October 2018

President Johnson announces bombing halt

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/president-johnson-announces-bombing-halt

In a televised address to the nation five days before the presidential election, President Lyndon B. Johnson announces that on the basis of developments in the Paris peace negotiations, he has ordered the complete cessation of “all air, naval, and artillery bombardment of North Vietnam.” Accordingly, effective November 1, the U.S. Air Force called a halt to the air raids on North Vietnam known as Operation Rolling Thunder.

The President further disclosed that Hanoi had finally agreed to allow the South Vietnamese government to participate in the peace talks. Johnson said that the United States would consent to a role for the National Liberation Front, though he stated that the latter concession “in no way involves recognition of the National Liberation Front in any form.” The National Liberation Front (or Viet Cong, as it was more popularly known) was the classic Communist front organization that included both Communists and non-Communists who had banded together in opposition against the Saigon regime. Domestically, President Johnson’s action drew widespread acclaim; both major presidential candidates expressed their full support. The reaction in Saigon, however, was much more subdued; President Thieu issued a communiqué declaring that the United States had acted unilaterally in its decision to halt the bombing.

Thieu vows to never accept a coalition government

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/thieu-vows-to-never-accept-a-coalition-government

South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu delivers a speech on the state of the nation before a joint session of the South Vietnamese National Assembly, asserting that 99.1 percent of the country had been “pacified.” The pacification program that he alluded to had been a long-term multi-faceted effort to provide territorial security, destroy the enemy’s underground government, reassert political control, involve the people in their own government, and provide for economic and social reforms. Citing success in this program, Thieu said that a military victory was close at hand and that “we are seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.” With regard to the ongoing peace talks in Paris, the South Vietnamese president declared that the Communists viewed negotiations merely as a way to gain time and “to achieve victory gradually.” He said he would never accept a coalition government with the Communists, because “countless past experiences” had already shown that such an approach would not bring peace.

Martin Luther posts 95 theses

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/martin-luther-posts-95-theses

On this day in 1517, the priest and scholar Martin Luther approaches the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, and nails a piece of paper to it containing the 95 revolutionary opinions that would begin the Protestant Reformation.

In his theses, Luther condemned the excesses and corruption of the Roman Catholic Church, especially the papal practice of asking payment—called “indulgences”—for the forgiveness of sins. At the time, a Dominican priest named Johann Tetzel, commissioned by the Archbishop of Mainz and Pope Leo X, was in the midst of a major fundraising campaign in Germany to finance the renovation of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. Though Prince Frederick III the Wise had banned the sale of indulgences in Wittenberg, many church members traveled to purchase them. When they returned, they showed the pardons they had bought to Luther, claiming they no longer had to repent for their sins.

Luther’s frustration with this practice led him to write the 95 Theses, which were quickly snapped up, translated from Latin into German and distributed widely. A copy made its way to Rome, and efforts began to convince Luther to change his tune. He refused to keep silent, however, and in 1521 Pope Leo X formally excommunicated Luther from the Catholic Church. That same year, Luther again refused to recant his writings before the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V of Germany, who issued the famous Edict of Worms declaring Luther an outlaw and a heretic and giving permission for anyone to kill him without consequence. Protected by Prince Frederick, Luther began working on a German translation of the Bible, a task that took 10 years to complete.

The term “Protestant” first appeared in 1529, when Charles V revoked a provision that allowed the ruler of each German state to choose whether they would enforce the Edict of Worms. A number of princes and other supporters of Luther issued a protest, declaring that their allegiance to God trumped their allegiance to the emperor. They became known to their opponents as Protestants; gradually this name came to apply to all who believed the Church should be reformed, even those outside Germany. By the time Luther died, of natural causes, in 1546, his revolutionary beliefs had formed the basis for the Protestant Reformation, which would over the next three centuries revolutionize Western civilization.

Houdini is dead

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/houdini-is-dead

Harry Houdini, the most celebrated magician and escape artist of the 20th century, dies of peritonitis in a Detroit hospital. Twelve days before, Houdini had been talking to a group of students after a lecture in Montreal when he commented on the strength of his stomach muscles and their ability to withstand hard blows. Suddenly, one of the students punched Houdini twice in the stomach. The magician hadn’t had time to prepare, and the blows ruptured his appendix. He fell ill on the train to Detroit, and, after performing one last time, was hospitalized. Doctors operated on him, but to no avail. The burst appendix poisoned his system, and on October 31 he died.

Houdini was born Erik Weisz in Budapest in 1874, the son of a rabbi. At a young age, he immigrated with his family to Appleton, Wisconsin, and soon demonstrated a natural acrobatic ability and an extraordinary skill at picking locks. When he was nine, he joined a traveling circus and toured the country as a contortionist and trapeze performer. He soon was specializing in escape acts and gained fame for his reported ability to escape from any manacle. He went on his first international tour in 1900 and performed all over Europe to great acclaim. In executing his escapes, he relied on strength, dexterity, and concentration—not trickery—and was a great showman.

In 1908, Houdini began performing more dangerous and dramatic escapes. In a favorite act, he was bound and then locked in an ironbound chest that was dropped into a water tank or thrown off a boat. In another, he was heavily bound and then suspended upside down in a glass-walled water tank. Other acts featured Houdini being hung from a skyscraper in a straitjacket, or bound and buried—without a coffin—under six feet of dirt.

In his later years, Houdini campaigned against mediums, mind readers, fakirs, and others who claimed supernatural talents but depended on tricks. At the same time, he was deeply interested in spiritualism and made a pact with his wife and friends that the first to die was to try and communicate with the world of reality from the spirit world. Several of these friends died, but Houdini never received a sign from them. Then, on Halloween 1926, Houdini himself passed on at the age of 52. His wife waited for a communiqué from the spirit world but it never came; she declared the experiment a failure shortly before her death in 1943.

Stalin’s body removed from Lenin’s tomb

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/stalins-body-removed-from-lenins-tomb

Five years after Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev denounced Stalinism and the “personality cult” of Soviet rulers at the 20th Party Congress, Joseph Stalin’s embalmed body is removed from Lenin’s tomb in Moscow’s Red Square.

When Vladimir Lenin died in 1924, the leader of Russia’s Bolshevik revolution was embalmed and placed in a special mausoleum before the Kremlin wall. Featuring glass casing, the tomb made the father of Soviet Russia visible for all posterity.

Lenin was succeeded as Soviet leader by Joseph Stalin, who ruled over the USSR with an iron fist for three decades, executing or working to death millions of Soviets who stood in the way of his ruthless political and economic plans. However, Stalin also led his country to a hard-won victory over German invaders during World War II, and when died in 1953 he joined Lenin in his tomb. Within a few years of Stalin’s death, however, Soviet authorities uniformly condemned the brutal leader. In October 1961, his body was removed from public display in Red Square and shunted off to a nearby tomb.

Winfield Scott steps down

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/winfield-scott-steps-down

Citing failing health, General Winfield Scott, commander of the Union forces, retires from service on this day in 1861. The hero of the Mexican War recognized early in the Civil War that his health and advancing years were a liability in the daunting task of directing the Federal war effort. Scott was born in Virginia in 1786. He graduated from William and Mary College and joined the military in 1808; he had become the youngest general in the army by the end of the War of 1812. Scott was an important figure in the development of the U.S. Army after that war, having designed a system of regulations and tactical manuals that defined the institution for most of the 19th century. Although Scott’s tactics, many of which were borrowed from the French, were of little use in the irregular warfare the army waged against the Seminoles and Creek in the southeast, his methods worked brilliantly during the war with Mexico in 1846 and 1847. His campaign against Mexico City, in particular, is remembered for the strength of its planning and execution. During the secession crisis of 1861, Scott remained at his post, refusing to join his native state in abandoning the union. Scott was asked by U.S. President Abraham Lincoln to devise a comprehensive plan to defeat the Confederacy. The strategy Scott developed called for the blockading of ports to isolate the South economically, to be followed by an offensive down the Mississippi River. In the optimistic early days of the war, this strategy seemed hopelessly sluggish—in fact, critics dubbed it the “Anaconda Plan” after the giant Amazonian snake that slowly strangles its prey. Despite this initial criticism, it was the basic strategy that eventually won the war for the Union.Scott also drew criticism for ordering the advance of General Irwin McDowell’s army into Virginia, which resulted in the disastrous Union defeat at the First Battle of Bull Run on July 21, 1861. With the arrival of George McClellan as commander of the Army of the Potomac shortly after, Scott’s influence waned. He weighed over 300 pounds, suffered from gout and rheumatism, and was unable to mount a horse. His resignation on October 31 did not end his influence on the war, however. Lincoln occasionally sought his counsel, and many of his former officers commanded forces and executed the same maneuvers that he had used in Mexico. Scott retired to West Point to write his memoirs and died in 1866.

Muhammad Ali wins the Rumble in the Jungle

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/muhammad-ali-wins-the-rumble-in-the-jungle

On October 30, 1974, 32-year-old Muhammad Ali becomes the heavyweight champion of the world for the second time when he knocks out 25-year-old champ George Foreman in the eighth round of the “Rumble in the Jungle,” a match in Kinshasa, Zaire. Seven years before, Ali had lost his title when the government accused him of draft-dodging and the boxing commission took away his license. His victory in Zaire made him only the second dethroned champ in history to regain his belt.

The “Rumble in the Jungle” (named by promoter Don King, who’d initially tagged the bout “From the Slave Ship to the Championship!” until Zaire’s president caught wind of the idea and ordered all the posters burned) was Africa’s first heavyweight championship match. The government of the West African republic staged the event—its president, Mobutu Sese Seko, personally paid each of the fighters $5 million simply for showing up—in hopes that it would draw the world’s attention to the country’s enormous beauty and vast reserves of natural resources. Ali agreed. “I wanted to establish a relationship between American blacks and Africans,” he wrote later. “The fight was about racial problems, Vietnam. All of that.” He added: “The Rumble in the Jungle was a fight that made the whole country more conscious.”

At 4:30 a.m. on October 30, 60,000 spectators gathered in the moonlight (organizers had timed the fight to overlap with prime time in the U.S.) at the outdoor Stade du 20 Mai to watch the fight. They were chanting “Ali, bomaye” (“Ali, kill him”). The ex-champ had been taunting Foreman for weeks, and the young boxer was eager to get going. When the bell rang, he began to pound Ali with his signature sledgehammer blows, but the older man simply backed himself up against the ropes and used his arms to block as many hits as he could. He was confident that he could wait Foreman out. (Ali’s trainer later called this strategy the “rope-a-dope,” because he was “a dope” for using it.)

By the fifth round, the youngster began to tire. His powerful punches became glances and taps. And in the eighth, like “a bee harassing a bear,” as one Times reporter wrote, Ali peeled himself off the ropes and unleashed a barrage of quick punches that seemed to bewilder the exhausted Foreman. A hard left and chopping right caused the champ’s weary legs to buckle, and he plopped down on the mat. The referee counted him out with just two seconds to go in the round.

Ali lost his title and regained it once more before retiring for good in 1981. Foreman, meanwhile, retired in 1977 but kept training, and in 1987 he became the oldest heavyweight champ in the history of boxing. Today, the affable Foreman is a minister and rancher in Texas and the father of five daughters and five sons, all named George. He’s also the spokesman for the incredibly popular line of George Foreman indoor grills.

Marines repel attack near Da Nang.

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/marines-repel-attack-near-da-nang

Just miles from Da Nang, U.S. Marines repel an intense attack by successive waves of Viet Cong troops and kill 56 guerrillas.

A search of the dead uncovered a sketch of Marine positions written on the body of a 13-year-old Vietnamese boy who had been selling drinks to the Marines the previous day. This incident was indicative of the nature of a war in which even the most seemingly innocent child could be the enemy. There were many other instances where South Vietnamese civilians that worked on or near U.S. bases provided information to and participated in attacks alongside the enemy.

Also on this day: Two U.S. planes accidentally bomb a friendly South Vietnamese village, killing 48 civilians and wounding 55 others. An American civic action team was immediately dispatched to the scene, and a later investigation disclosed that a map-reading error by South Vietnamese officers was responsible.

Also on this day: In New York City, military veterans lead a parade in support of government policy in Vietnam. Led by five recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor, 25,000 people march in support of America’s action in Vietnam.

The World’s Columbian Exposition closes in Chicago

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/the-worlds-columbian-exposition-closes-in-chicago

October 30, 1893 is the last day of Chicago’s World’s Columbian Exposition, a great fair that celebrated the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s arrival in the New World and offered fairgoers a chance to see the first gas-powered motorcar in the United States: the Daimler quadricycle. The exposition introduced Americans to all kinds of technological wonders—for instance, an alternating-current power plant, a 46-foot-long cannon, a 1,500-pound Venus de Milo made of chocolate, and Juicy Fruit gum—along with replicas of exotic places and carnival-style rides and games.

Four years earlier, the Universal Exposition in Paris had featured an elaborate display of steam- and gas-powered vehicles, including the Serpollet-Peugeot steam tricar, named for its three wheels and powered by a coke-burning boiler and a lightweight, petrol-fueled four-wheeled car built by the German engineer Gottlieb Daimler. The Chicago fair promised an even more impressive spectacle. Its Transportation Building, designed by Louis Sullivan, was crammed full: Pack mules and horse-drawn carts crowded next to bicycles and boats. Most exciting of all were the rows of massive American-built steam locomotives that towered over everything else in the hall. Trains, the Exposition’s organizers seemed to say, were the transportation of the future.

Only one internal-combustion vehicle was on display at the fair, tucked away in the corner of the Transportation Building: another of the wire-wheeled, tiller-steered, one-cylinder platform quadricycles that Daimler had introduced to Parisian fairgoers in 1889. It was like nothing most Americans had ever seen and yet almost no one paid any attention to it. Reporters barely mentioned the Daimler car and it didn’t even appear in the exhibition catalog.

But a few very important people did notice it and studied it closely. One was the bicycle mechanic Charles Duryea, who used the Daimler car as the inspiration for the four-wheeled, one-cylinder Motor Wagon that he built with his brother Frank. In 1896, the Duryea Motor Wagon Company became the first company to mass-produce gas-powered vehicles in the United States.

Another admirer of the Daimler car was Henry Ford, who returned to Dearborn after the fair and built an internal-combustion quadricycle of his own. (He called it his “gasoline buggy.”) Ford drove his little car for the first time on July 4, 1896 and sold it later that year for $200. Just a few years later, he incorporated the Ford Motor Company and the automobile age had begun.