Monthly Archives: November 2019

USSR attacks Finland

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/ussr-attacks-finland

On November 30, 1939, the Red Army crosses the Soviet-Finnish border with 465,000 men and 1,000 aircraft. Helsinki was bombed, and 61 Finns were killed in an air raid that steeled the Finns for resistance, not capitulation.

The overwhelming forces arrayed against Finland convinced most Western nations, as well as the Soviets themselves, that the invasion of Finland would be a cakewalk. The Soviet soldiers even wore summer uniforms, despite the onset of the Scandinavian winter; it was simply assumed that no outdoor activity, such as fighting, would be taking place. But the Helsinki raid had produced many casualties-and many photographs, including those of mothers holding dead babies, and preteen girls crippled by the bombing. Those photos were hung up everywhere to spur on Finn resistance. Although that resistance consisted of only small numbers of trained soldiers-on skis and bicycles!–fighting it out in the forests, and partisans throwing Molotov cocktails into the turrets of Soviet tanks, the refusal to submit made headlines around the world.

President Roosevelt quickly extended $10 million in credit to Finland, while also noting that the Finns were the only people to pay back their World War I war debt to the United States in full. But by the time the Soviets had a chance to regroup, and send in massive reinforcements, the Finnish resistance was spent. By March 1940, negotiations with the Soviets began, and Finland soon lost the Karelian Isthmus, the land bridge that gave access to Leningrad, which the Soviets wanted to control.

Battle of Franklin, Tennessee

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

On November 30, 1864, the once proud Confederate Army of Tennessee suffers a devastating defeat after its commander, General John Bell Hood, orders a frontal assault on strong Union positions around Franklin, Tennessee. The loss cost Hood six of his finest generals and nearly a third of his force.

Hood assumed command in late July 1864 while the Confederates were pinned inside Atlanta by the armies of Union General William T. Sherman. Hood made a series of desperate attacks against Sherman but finally relinquished the city in early September. No longer able to wage an offensive against the massive Yankee force, Hood retreated into Alabama to regroup. In early November, he moved north into Tennessee to draw Sherman out of the Deep South. By now, Sherman had enough troops to split his army. He dispatched General George Thomas to the Nashville area to deal with Hood’s threat while he took the rest of the force on his March to the Sea, during which his men destroyed most of central Georgia.

Hood approached Franklin, just south of Nashville, on November 29. Thomas waited in Nashville, while another Union force under John Schofield was moving from the south to join Thomas. Schofield was aware of Hood’s position and was attempting to move past the Confederates on his way to rejoining the rest of the Federal army. Hood tried to flank Schofield, but he marched right past Hood’s army and planted his Yankees in existing defenses at Franklin. Furious, Hood blamed his subordinates for failing to block Schofield’s route, and then prepared for a frontal assault on the formidable Union trenches. Hood was handicapped by the fact that one of his three divisions was still marching toward Franklin and much of his artillery had not yet arrived. Under these circumstances, Hood’s decision to attack could seem foolish, but he was perhaps motivated by an attempt to discipline his army and rebuild his men’s lost confidence. On November 30, the Confederates charged into the Union defenses. The Rebel lines moved forward in nearly perfect unison, the last great charge of the war. Parts of the Union’s outer trenches fell to Hood’s men, but a Yankee counterattack spelled disaster for the Confederates. They did not penetrate any further and suffered significant casualties.

The fighting continued until after dark before Schofield resumed his march northward. Of 15,000 Union troops engaged, some 200 were killed and more than 2,000 were wounded. The Confederates had 23,000 men at Franklin; approximately 1,750 died and 5,500 were wounded or captured. The losses among the Confederate leadership were major. Six generals were killed, including Patrick Cleburne, one of the Confederate army’s finest division commanders. Another five were wounded, one more captured, and 60 of Hood’s 100 regimental commanders were killed or wounded. Despite the defeat, Hood continued to move against Thomas. Just two weeks later, Hood hurled the remnants of his army against the Yankees at Nashville with equally disastrous results.

The United States and U.S.S.R. open talks to reduce intermediate-range nuclear forces

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/the-united-states-and-u-s-s-r-open-talks-to-reduce-intermediate-range-nuclear-forces

Representatives from the United States and the Soviet Union open talks to reduce their intermediate-range nuclear forces (INF) in Europe. The talks lasted until December 17, but ended inconclusively.SALT I (1972) and SALT II (1979) reduced the number of strategic nuclear weapons held by the two superpowers, but left unresolved the issue of the growing number of non-strategic weapons-the so-called intermediate-range nuclear missiles in Europe. 

By 1976, the Soviets began to update their INF systems with better SS-20 missiles. America’s NATO allies called for a U.S. response, and the United States threatened to deploy cruise and Pershing II missiles by 1983 if no agreement could be reached with the Soviets concerning INFs.However, by 1981, the situation changed. No-nuke forces were gaining strength in western Europe and there was a growing fear that President Ronald Reagan’s heated Cold War rhetoric would lead to a nuclear showdown with Europe as the battlefield. 

 The United States and U.S.S.R. agreed to open talks on INFs in November 1981.Prior to the talks, President Reagan announced the so-called “zero option” as the basis for the U.S. position at the negotiations. In this plan, the United States would cancel deployment of its new missiles in western Europe if the Soviets dismantled their INFs in eastern Europe. The proposal was greeted with some skepticism, even by some U.S. allies, who believed that it was a public relations ploy that would be completely unacceptable to the Soviets. The Soviets responded with a detailed proposal that essentially eliminated all of the INFs from Europe, including French and British missiles that had not been covered in Reagan’s zero option plan. 

Of course, such a plan would also leave west Europe subject to the Soviets’ superior conventional forces. Neither proposal seemed particularly realistic, and despite efforts by some of the U.S. and Soviet negotiators, no compromise could be reached. An INF treaty would not be signed until December 1987, when President Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev finally hammered out a plan acceptable to both sides.

Female serial killer strikes in Florida

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/americas-first-female-serial-killer-strikes

Richard Mallory, a storeowner in Palm Harbor, Florida, is last seen taking a ride with Aileen Wuornos. The following day, his car—containing his wallet, some condoms, and an empty vodka bottle—was found abandoned in a remote area of Ormond Beach. Nearly two weeks later, his body turned up in a Daytona Beach junkyard with three bullets in his chest. Mallory’s murder was the first of seven committed by Aileen Wuornos over the next year. Perhaps because she was one of the few women killers to gain widespread fame and notoriety, she was inaccurately dubbed “America’s first female serial killer.” Her case was heavily publicized through television talk show appearances and a documentary, The Selling of a Serial Killer.

Wuornos had been the victim of abuse and neglect herself. Her parents split before she was born and her father, who had been arrested for child molesting, killed himself while awaiting trial in a mental institution. When her mother abandoned her at a young age, Aileen was sent to live with her grandparents. But she was kicked out of their home when she got pregnant at age 14. From 1974 to 1976, Wuornos operated under several aliases and amassed an arrest record for offenses including drunk driving, assault, and armed robbery. In 1986, she became romantically and criminally involved with a woman named Tyria Moore.

In late 1989, Wuornos began her infamous killing spree. Five months after Richard Mallory was killed, David Spears was found dead, shot six times with a .22 caliber gun in the woods near Tampa. At around the same time, another male body turned up nearby that appeared to have been killed with the same type of gun. Three additional men met the same demise during the summer of 1990.

When the seventh victim was found in November, the media was alerted to the possibility of a serial killer. After receiving several tips, detectives caught Wuornos in a seedy biker bar in January 1991. With Moore assisting police, Wuornos decided to confess to the killings but claimed that they had all been done in self-defense. When a jury found Wuornos guilty on January 27, 1992, she screamed out, “I’m innocent! I was raped! I hope you get raped! Scumbags of America!” 

Wuornos was sentenced to death, and died on October 9, 2002. 

“Jeopardy!” contestant’s record winning streak ends

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/jeopardy-contestants-record-winning-streak-ends

On November 30, 2004, after winning 74 straight games and more than $2.5 million–a record for U.S. game shows–Jeopardy! contestant Ken Jennings loses. Jennings’ extended winning streak gave the game show a huge ratings boost and turned the software engineer from Salt Lake City, Utah into a TV hero and household name, at least temporarily. Barbara Walters named him one of the 10 most fascinating people of the year (along with Google co-founder Sergey Brin, Republican operative Karl Rove and hotel heiress-socialite Paris Hilton, among others) and Jennings appeared on such shows as Late Night with David Letterman, The Tonight Show with Jay Leno and even Sesame Street.

Jennings, who was born in 1974, outside of Seattle, Washington, graduated from Brigham Young University in 2000, where he headed the school’s national quiz bowl team. 

At the time of Jennings’ appearance, Jeopardy! was well-established as one of the top-rated game shows in American history. Created by TV talk-show host and entertainment mogul Merv Griffin (1925-2007), Jeopardy! debuted in 1964 on NBC, with Art Fleming serving as host. Griffin (who went on to create another hugely popular, long-running game show, Wheel of Fortune, which premiered in 1975) suggested a format in which contestants were given trivia answers in a variety of categories and then required to come up with the questions. Cancelled in 1975, Jeopardy! returned briefly, airing from 1978 through 1979. In September 1984, a syndicated version of Jeopardy! launched with Alex Trebek as host and Johnny Gilbert as the announcer.

Trebek, who was born in 1940 in Sudbury, Ontario, began his broadcast career in Canada and moved to America in the early 1970s, where he hosted such game shows as High Rollers and Battlestars. In 1991, he became the first person ever to host three game shows at one time, when he served as master of ceremonies for Jeopardy! along with Classic Concentration and To Tell the Truth. After more than two decades on Jeopardy!, Trebek has become a pop-culture icon and has his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. The erudite, articulate host is also a favorite parody target on Saturday Night Live and other shows.

Mark Twain is born

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/mark-twain-is-born

Samuel Clemens, later known as Mark Twin, is born in Florida, Missouri, on November 30, 1835.

Clemens was apprenticed to a printer at age 13 and later worked for his older brother, who established the Hannibal Journal. In 1857, the Keokuk Daily Post commissioned him to write a series of comic travel letters, but after writing five he decided to become a steamboat captain instead. He signed on as a pilot’s apprentice in 1857 and received his pilot’s license in 1859, when he was 23.

Clemens piloted boats for two years, until the Civil War halted steamboat traffic. During his time as a pilot, he picked up the term “Mark Twain,” a boatman’s call noting that the river was only two fathoms deep, the minimum depth for safe navigation. When Clemens returned to writing in 1861, working for the Virginia City Territorial Enterprise, he wrote a humorous travel letter signed by “Mark Twain” and continued to use the pseudonym for nearly 50 years.

In 1864, he moved to San Francisco to work as a reporter. There, he wrote the story that made him famous: “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.”

In 1866, he traveled to Hawaii as a correspondent for the Sacramento Union. Next, he traveled the world writing accounts for papers in California and New York, which he later published the popular book The Innocents Abroad (1869). In 1870, Clemens married the daughter of a wealthy New York coal merchant and settled in Hartford, Connecticut, where he continued to write travel accounts and lecture. In 1875, his novel Tom Sawyer was published, followed by Life on the Mississippi (1883) and his masterpiece Huckleberry Finn (1885). Bad investments left Clemens bankrupt after the publication of Huckleberry Finn, but he won back his financial standing with his next three books–Pudd’Nhead Wilson (1894), Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc (1895), and Following the Equator (1897). In 1903, he and his family moved to Italy, where his wife died. Her death left him sad and bitter, and his work, while still humorous, grew distinctly darker. He died in 1910.

President Truman refuses to rule out atomic weapons

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/truman-refuses-to-rule-out-atomic-weapons

On November 30, 1950, President Harry S. Truman announces during a press conference that he is prepared to authorize the use of atomic weapons in order to achieve peace in Korea. At the time of Truman’s announcement, communist China had joined North Korean forces in their attacks on United Nations troops, including U.S. soldiers, who were trying to prevent communist expansion into South Korea.

Truman blamed the Soviet Union for using communist Chinese insurgents as part of a devious plan to spread communism into Asia and pledged to “increase our defenses to a point where we can talk—as we should always talk—with authority.” The press then asked what Truman planned to do if the Chinese Nationalists, who were already struggling against the spread of communism in their own country, failed to get involved in the Korean conflict. Truman responded that the U.S. would take “whatever steps were necessary” to contain communist expansion in Korea. A reporter asked “Will that include the atomic bomb?” to which Truman replied, “That includes every weapon that we have.”

In 1945, Truman authorized the use of two atomic bombs to end the war with Japan. The bombs were dropped on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and, although the Japanese did surrender, the horrifying results were still fresh in everyone’s minds. At the time, the U.S. was the only country to possess nuclear weapons. By the time the Korean conflict erupted, however, the Soviet Union had also developed an atomic bomb.

After affirming that the president always had to consider the use of nuclear weaponry in any scenario involving U.S. troops, Truman went on to assure the press that day that he never wanted to see the bomb used again. “It is a terrible weapon, and it should not be used on innocent men, women, and children.” Truman continued to be mindful of the dangers of the nuclear arms race through the end of his tenure in office. In fact, in his farewell address to Congress in 1954 he warned, “we are being hurried forward, in our mastery of the atom…toward yet unforeseeable peaks of destructive power [when man could] destroy the very structure of a civilization…such a war is not a possible policy for rational men.”

In the end, the Korean conflict ended in stalemate, and did not involve the use of atomic weapons by either side. Korea was partitioned into democratic and communist spheres in the south and north respectively, with a demilitarized zone separating the two, which is patrolled by American troops to this day. The North Korean communist government is currently in the midst of developing its own nuclear weapons.

Robert S. McNamara resigns as Secretary of Defense

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/mcnamara-resigns-as-secretary-of-defense

Robert S. McNamara announces that he will resign as Secretary of Defense and will become president of the World Bank.

Formerly the president of Ford Motor Company, McNamara had served as Secretary of Defense under two presidents, John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, from 1961 until 1968. He initially supported U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War and encouraged President Johnson to escalate in 1964, but he later began privately to question U.S. policy and eventually advocated a negotiated settlement to the war. In the summer of 1967, he helped draft the San Antonio formula, a peace proposal offering to end the U.S. bombing of the north and asking North Vietnam to join in productive discussions. The North Vietnamese rejected the proposal in October.

Early in November, McNamara submitted a memorandum to Johnson recommending that the United States freeze its troop levels, cease the bombing of the north, and turn over responsibility for fighting the ground war to the South Vietnamese. Johnson rejected these recommendations outright. McNamara subsequently resigned; Johnson adviser Clark Clifford succeeded him.

U.N. votes for partition of Palestine

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/u-n-votes-for-partition-of-palestine

Despite strong Arab opposition, the United Nations votes for the partition of Palestine and the creation of an independent Jewish state.

The modern conflict between Jews and Arabs in Palestine dates back to the 1910s, when both groups laid claim to the British-controlled territory. The Jews were Zionists, recent emigrants from Europe and Russia who came to the ancient homeland of the Jews to establish a Jewish national state. The native Palestinian Arabs sought to stem Jewish immigration and set up a secular Palestinian state.

Beginning in 1929, Arabs and Jews openly fought in Palestine, and Britain attempted to limit Jewish immigration as a means of appeasing the Arabs. As a result of the Holocaust in Europe, many Jews illegally entered Palestine during World War II. Radical Jewish groups employed terrorism against British forces in Palestine, which they thought had betrayed the Zionist cause. At the end of World War II, in 1945, the United States took up the Zionist cause. Britain, unable to find a practical solution, referred the problem to the United Nations, which on November 29, 1947, voted to partition Palestine.

The Jews were to possess more than half of Palestine, though they made up less than half of Palestine’s population. The Palestinian Arabs, aided by volunteers from other countries, fought the Zionist forces, but the Jews secured full control of their U.N.-allocated share of Palestine and also some Arab territory. On May 14, 1948, Britain withdrew with the expiration of its mandate, and the State of Israel was proclaimed by Jewish Agency Chairman David Ben-Gurion. The next day, forces from Egypt, Transjordan, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq invaded.

The Israelis, though less well equipped, managed to fight off the Arabs and then seize key territories, such as Galilee, the Palestinian coast, and a strip of territory connecting the coastal region to the western section of Jerusalem. In 1949, U.N.-brokered cease-fires left the State of Israel in permanent control of those conquered areas. The departure of hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Arabs from Israel during the war left the country with a substantial Jewish majority.