Monthly Archives: October 2018

Communists attack Plei Me Special Forces camp

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/communists-attack-plei-me-special-forces-camp

North Vietnamese troops launch a major assault on U.S. and South Vietnamese Special Forces Camp at Plei Me in the Central Highlands, 215 miles north of Saigon.

During a week of savage fighting, defenders of the besieged outpost, manned by 12 U.S. Green Berets, 400 Montagnard tribesmen, and a handful of South Vietnamese guerrilla specialists, repelled repeated Viet Cong attacks. The tide of the battle turned finally with the arrival of several hundred South Vietnamese reinforcements and numerous Allied air strikes. With the camp secured, General William Westmoreland, senior U.S. military commander in Saigon, decided to seize the advantage and send in the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) to “find, fix, and defeat the enemy forces” that had threatened Plei Me. This decision would result in November in the battle of the Ia Drang Valley, the war’s bloodiest battle to date.

Kissinger discusses draft peace treaty with President Thieu

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/kissinger-discusses-draft-peace-treaty-with-president-thieu

Henry Kissinger and U.S. officials hold meetings in Saigon with South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu to discuss the proposed peace treaty drafted by Kissinger and Le Duc Tho, the chief North Vietnamese negotiator in Paris.

Thieu remained adamant in his opposition to the draft treaty provisions that permitted North Vietnamese troops to remain in place in the South. Kissinger tried to convince Thieu to agree to the provisions anyway, but Thieu still balked. This would be a major stumbling block in the continuing negotiations. In an attempt to further the peace process, President Nixon announced a halt in bombing of North Vietnam above the 20th parallel. He also sent a message to North Vietnamese Premier Pham Van Dong confirming that the peace agreement was complete and pledging that it would be signed by the two foreign ministers on October 31.

However, Thieu’s continued recalcitrance caused so much friction at the negotiating table that the North Vietnamese walked out. They returned only after Nixon ordered the resumption of the Linebacker II bombing campaign against North Vietnam. The peace treaty was eventually signed in January 1973 (after the United States threatened to sign it alone with the North Vietnamese if Thieu refused to participate) and the cease-fire went into effect at midnight on January 27, 1973. Under the terms of the treaty, all U.S. military forces departed two months later. As Thieu feared, the peace treaty left 160,000 troops in the South and the fighting in South Vietnam resumed after only a brief pause. As U.S. military aid, which had been promised by President Nixon, slowed and then ceased altogether, the South Vietnamese were left fighting for their very lives. They held out for two years, but succumbed to the North Vietnamese in 1975, when Saigon fell in just 55 days.

Victory at Yorktown

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/victory-at-yorktown

Hopelessly trapped at Yorktown, Virginia, British General Lord Cornwallis surrenders 8,000 British soldiers and seamen to a larger Franco-American force, effectively bringing an end to the American Revolution.

Lord Cornwallis was one of the most capable British generals of the American Revolution. In 1776, he drove General George Washington’s Patriots forces out of New Jersey, and in 1780 he won a stunning victory over General Horatio Gates’ Patriot army at Camden, South Carolina. Cornwallis’ subsequent invasion of North Carolina was less successful, however, and in April 1781 he led his weary and battered troops toward the Virginia coast, where he could maintain seaborne lines of communication with the large British army of General Henry Clinton in New York City. After conducting a series of raids against towns and plantations in Virginia, Cornwallis settled in the tidewater town of Yorktown in August. The British immediately began fortifying the town and the adjacent promontory of Gloucester Point across the York River.

General George Washington instructed the Marquis de Lafayette, who was in Virginia with an American army of around 5,000 men, to block Cornwallis’ escape from Yorktown by land. In the meantime, Washington’s 2,500 troops in New York were joined by a French army of 4,000 men under the Count de Rochambeau. Washington and Rochambeau made plans to attack Cornwallis with the assistance of a large French fleet under the Count de Grasse, and on August 21 they crossed the Hudson River to march south to Yorktown. Covering 200 miles in 15 days, the allied force reached the head of Chesapeake Bay in early September.

Meanwhile, a British fleet under Admiral Thomas Graves failed to break French naval superiority at the Battle of Virginia Capes on September 5, denying Cornwallis his expected reinforcements. Beginning September 14, de Grasse transported Washington and Rochambeau’s men down the Chesapeake to Virginia, where they joined Lafayette and completed the encirclement of Yorktown on September 28. De Grasse landed another 3,000 French troops carried by his fleet. During the first two weeks of October, the 14,000 Franco-American troops gradually overcame the fortified British positions with the aid of de Grasse’s warships. A large British fleet carrying 7,000 men set out to rescue Cornwallis, but it was too late.

On October 19, General Cornwallis surrendered 7,087 officers and men, 900 seamen, 144 cannons, 15 galleys, a frigate, and 30 transport ships. Pleading illness, he did not attend the surrender ceremony, but his second-in-command, General Charles O’Hara, carried Cornwallis’ sword to the American and French commanders. As the British and Hessian troops marched out to surrender, the British bands played the song “The World Turned Upside Down.”

Although the war persisted on the high seas and in other theaters, the Patriot victory at Yorktown effectively ended fighting in the American colonies. Peace negotiations began in 1782, and on September 3, 1783, the Treaty of Paris was signed, formally recognizing the United States as a free and independent nation after eight years of war.

Guildford Four are cleared

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/guildford-four-are-cleared

The Guildford Four, convicted of the 1975 IRA bombings of public houses in Guildford and Woolwich, England, are cleared of all charges after nearly 15 years in prison.

On October 5, 1974, an IRA bomb killed four people in a Guildford pub frequented by British military personnel, while another bomb in Woolwich killed three. British investigators rushed to find suspects and soon settled on Gerry Conlon and Paul Hill, two residents of Northern Ireland who had been in the area at the time of the terrorist attack.

Under the recent Prevention of Terrorism Act, British investigators were allowed to hold and interrogate terrorist suspects for five days without any hard evidence. Conlon and Hill, who were nonpolitical petty criminals, were among the first suspects held under the new law. During their prison stay, investigators fabricated against them an IRA conspiracy that implicated a number of their friends and family members. The officers then forced the two suspects to sign confessions under physical and mental torture. In 1975, Gerry Conlon, Paul Hill, Paddy Armstrong, and Carole Richardson were sentenced to life in prison. Seven of their relatives and friends, called the Maguire Seven, were sentenced to lesser terms on the basis of questionable forensic evidence.

In 1989, in the face of growing public protest and after the disclosure of exonerating evidence, including the admittance of guilt in the bombings by an imprisoned IRA member, the Guildford Four were cleared of all charges and released after 14 years in prison. In the next year, a British appeals court also overturned the convictions of the Maguire Seven, who were jailed on the basis of forensic evidence that was shown to have no relevant scientific basis.

Napoleon retreats from Moscow

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/napoleon-retreats-from-moscow

One month after Napoleon Bonaparte’s massive invading force entered a burning and deserted Moscow, the starving French army is forced to begin a hasty retreat out of Russia.

Following the rejection of his Continental System by Czar Alexander I, French Emperor Napoleon I invaded Russia with his Grande Armée on June 24, 1812. The enormous army, featuring more than 500,000 soldiers and staff, was the largest European military force ever assembled to that date.

During the opening months of the invasion, Napoleon was forced to contend with a bitter Russian army in perpetual retreat. Refusing to engage Napoleon’s superior army in a full-scale confrontation, the Russians under General Mikhail Kutuzov burned everything behind them as they retreated deeper and deeper into Russia. On September 7, the indecisive Battle of Borodino was fought, in which both sides suffered terrible losses. On September 14, Napoleon arrived in Moscow intending to find supplies but instead found almost the entire population evacuated, and the Russian army retreated again. Early the next morning, fires broke across the city set by Russian patriots, and the Grande Grande Armée’s winter quarters were destroyed. After waiting a month for a surrender that never came, Napoleon, faced with the onset of the Russian winter, was forced to order his starving army out of Moscow.

During the disastrous retreat, Napoleon’s army suffered continual harassment from a suddenly aggressive and merciless Russian army. Stalked by hunger and the deadly lances of the Cossacks, the decimated army reached the Berezina River late in November but found its route blocked by the Russians. On November 26, Napoleon forced a way across at Studienka, and when the bulk of his army passed the river three days later, he was forced to burn his makeshift bridges behind him, stranding some 10,000 stragglers on the other side. From there, the retreat became a rout, and on December 8 Napoleon left what remained of his army to return to Paris with a few cohorts. Six days later, the Grande Armée finally escaped Russia, having suffered a loss of more than 400,000 men during the disastrous invasion.

Ethiopia stands alone

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/ethiopia-stands-alone

The League of Nations votes to impose deliberately ineffectual economic sanctions against Fascist Italy for its invasion of Ethiopia. Steps that would impede the progress of the invasion, such as banning the sale of oil to Italy and closing the Suez Canal, were not taken, out of fear of igniting hostilities in Europe.

In the first loss of Ethiopian independence in its long history, tens of thousands of Ethiopians were killed as the Italian army employed poison gas and other modern atrocities to suppress the country. By the end of 1936, the Italian conquest of Ethiopia was complete. Ethiopia’s leader, Emperor Haile Selassie, went into exile but returned in 1941, when British and Ethiopian troops liberated the country. Ignoring the British occupation authorities, Selassie quickly organized his own government.

“Take on Me” music video helps Norway’s a-Ha reach the top the U.S. pop charts

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/take-on-me-music-video-helps-norways-a-ha-reach-the-top-the-u-s-pop-charts

From its beginnings in the early 1980s, it was clear that MTV, the Music Television Network, would have a dramatic effect on the way pop stars marketed their music and themselves. While radio remained a necessary engine to drive the sales and chart rankings of singles and albums, the rise of new artists like Duran Duran and the further ascent of established stars like Michael Jackson showed that creativity and esthetic appeal on MTV could make a direct and undeniable contribution to a musical performer’s commercial success. But if ever a case existed in which MTV did more than just contribute to an act’s success, it was the case of the Norwegian band a-Ha, who went from total unknowns to chart-topping pop stars almost solely on the strength of the groundbreaking video for the song “Take On Me,” which hit #1 on the Billboard pop chart on this day in 1985.

By 1985 the medium was established enough that it took a unique angle to achieve music video stardom. Enter a-Ha, a synth-pop group that caught a late ride on the dying New Wave thanks to the video for “Take On Me,” in which lead singer Morten Harket was transformed using a decades-old technology called Rotoscoping. The creators of the “Take On Me” video painted portions or sometimes the entirety of individual frames to create the effect of a dashingly handsome comic-book motorcycle racer (Harket) romancing a pretty girl from the real world, fighting off a gang of angry pursuers in a pipe-wrench fight before bursting out of the comic-book world as a dashingly handsome real boy.

The wildly popular video was an esthetic marvel at the moment of its unveiling, and it propelled a-Ha not only to the top spot on the pop charts, but to a still-unbeaten record of eight wins at the 1986 MTV Video Music Awards. Predictably enough, the F/X gimmick that seemed so fresh in “Take On Me” soon became something of a cliché, showing up in ads for everything from minivans to maxi-pads. As for a-Ha, they may be thought of by many Americans as one-hit wonders—or two-hit wonders for those who remember “The Sun Always Shines On T.V.”—but internationally they have enjoyed a tremendously successful recording career without any further help from MTV.

John Z. DeLorean is arrested in $24 million cocaine deal

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/john-z-delorean-is-arrested-in-24-million-cocaine-deal

On October 19, 1982, the automaker John Z. DeLorean is arrested and charged with conspiracy to obtain and distribute 55 pounds of cocaine. DeLorean was acquitted of the drug charges in August 1984, but his legal woes were only beginning. He soon went on trial for fraud and over the next two decades was forced to pay millions of dollars to creditors and lawyers. Nevertheless, DeLorean occupies an important place in automotive history: Thanks to its starring role in the 1985 film “Back to the Future,” his gull-wing sports car is one of the most famous cars in the world.

DeLorean grew up in Detroit and began to work for Chrysler while he was still in college. His career was a promising one: He worked his way up the corporate ladder at General Motors, where he is credited with designing the GTO and the Firebird, and became a vice-president in 1972, but he left the company just a year later to pursue his own business interests. In 1978, he started the DeLorean Motor Company in Northern Ireland—the British government, along with investors like Johnny Carson and Sammy Davis, Jr., paid the bulk of his start-up costs—to build his dream car: the DMC-12, a sports car that was like nothing anyone had ever seen before. Its stainless-steel body was unpainted; its doors opened up, not out; it had a 130-hp Renault engine and could go from zero to 60 mph in eight seconds.

But not many people actually bought a DeLorean car. They were much too expensive: Each one cost $25,000, compared with $10,000 for the average car and $18,000 for a souped-up Corvette. The company’s financial trouble, DeLorean’s attorneys argued, was the reason the FBI had been able to entrap him in the $24 million drug deal–the authorities knew he would do anything to save his business.

DeLorean was already mired in legal problems by the time director Steven Spielberg chose a DMC–12 to serve as Marty McFly’s time machine in “Back to the Future.” Spielberg had originally planned to use an old refrigerator instead of a car, but had changed his mind at the last minute. (The director liked the DeLorean’s futuristic look, but more than that he was worried that young fans of the movie might accidentally get stuck in refrigerators and freezers while playing make-believe.) While the DeLorean’s instant celebrity did not do much to revive its creator’s fortunes, it granted him a permanent footnote in pop-culture history.

U.S. takes control of Puerto Rico

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/u-s-takes-control-of-puerto-rico

Only one year after Spain granted Puerto Rico self-rule, American troops raise the U.S. flag over the Caribbean nation, formalizing U.S. authority over the island’s one million inhabitants.

In July 1898, near the end of the Spanish-American War, U.S. forces launched an invasion of Puerto Rico, the 108-mile-long, 40-mile-wide island that was one of Spain’s two principal possessions in the Caribbean. With little resistance and only seven American deaths, U.S. troops were able to secure the island by mid August. After the signing of an armistice with Spain, the island was turned over to the U.S forces on October 18. U.S. General John R. Brooke became military governor. In December, the Treaty of Paris was signed, ending the Spanish-American War and officially approving the cession of Puerto Rico to the United States.

In the first three decades of its rule, the U.S. government made efforts to Americanize its new possession, including granting full U.S. citizenship to Puerto Ricans in 1917 and considering a measure that would make English the island’s official language. However, during the 1930s, a nationalist movement led by the Popular Democratic Party won widespread support across the island, and further U.S. assimilation was successfully opposed. Beginning in 1948, Puerto Ricans could elect their own governor, and in 1952 the U.S. Congress approved a new Puerto Rican constitution that made the island an autonomous U.S. commonwealth, with its citizens retaining American citizenship. The constitution was formally adopted by Puerto Rico on July 25, 1952.

Movements for Puerto Rican statehood, along with lesser movements for Puerto Rican independence, have won supporters on the island, but popular referendums in 1967 and 1993 demonstrated that the majority of Puerto Ricans still supported their special status as a U.S. commonwealth.

Peking’s Summer Palace destroyed

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/pekings-summer-palace-destroyed

British troops occupying Peking, China, loot and then burn the Yuanmingyuan, the fabulous summer residence built by the Manchu emperors in the 18th century. China’s Qing leadership surrendered to the Franco-British expeditionary force soon after, ending the Second Opium War and Chinese hopes of reversing the tide of foreign domination in its national affairs.

In the 1870s, Chinese Empress Dowager Cixi began rebuilding the palace and its stunning gardens, renaming it Yiheyuan, or “Garden of Good Health and Harmony.” In 1900, during the Boxer Rebellion, the palace was burned again by Western troops, and it remained dilapidated until the Chinese Communists rebuilt it in the 1950s.