Monthly Archives: April 2020

Afghan president is overthrown and murdered

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/afghan-president-is-overthrown-and-murdered

Afghanistan President Sardar Mohammed Daoud is overthrown and murdered in a coup led by procommunist rebels. The brutal action marked the beginning of political upheaval in Afghanistan that resulted in intervention by Soviet troops less than two years later.

Daoud had ruled Afghanistan since coming to power in a coup in 1973. His relations with the neighboring Soviet Union had grown progressively worse since that time as he pursued a campaign against Afghan communists. The murder of a leading Afghan Communist Party leader in early April 1978 may have encouraged the communists to launch their successful campaign against the Daoud regime later that month. In the political chaos that followed the death of Daoud, Nur Mohammed Taraki, head of the Afghan Communist Party, took over the presidency. In December 1978, Afghanistan signed a 20-year “friendship treaty” with the Soviet Union, by which increasing amounts of Russian military and economic assistance flowed into the country. None of this, however, could stabilize the Taraki government. His dictatorial style and his decision to turn Afghanistan into a one-party state alienated many people. In September 1979, Taraki was himself overthrown and murdered. Three months later, Soviet troops crossed into Afghanistan and installed a government acceptable to the Russians, and a war between Afghan rebels and Soviet troops erupted. The conflict lasted until Russian leader Mikhail Gorbachev withdrew the Soviet forces in 1988.

In the years following the Soviet intervention, Afghanistan became a Cold War battlefield. The United States responded quickly and harshly to the Soviet action by freezing arms talks, cutting wheat sales to Russia, and boycotting the 1980 Olympic games in Moscow. Tension increased after Ronald Reagan became president in 1981. The United States provided arms and other assistance to what Reagan referred to as the “freedom fighters” in Afghanistan. For the Soviets, the Afghanistan intervention was a disaster, draining both Soviet finances and manpower. In the United States, commentators were quick to label the battle in Afghanistan “Russia’s Vietnam.”

U.S. troops land in the Dominican Republic in attempt to forestall a “communist dictatorship”

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/u-s-troops-land-in-the-dominican-republic

In an effort to forestall what he claims will be a “communist dictatorship” in the Dominican Republic, President Lyndon B. Johnson sends more than 22,000 U.S. troops to restore order on the island nation. Johnson’s action provoked loud protests in Latin America and skepticism among many in the United States.

Troubles in the Dominican Republic began in 1961, when long-time dictator Rafael Trujillo was assassinated. Trujillo had been a brutal leader, but his strong anticommunist stance helped him retain the support of the United States. His death led to the rise of a reformist government headed by Juan Bosch, who was elected president in 1962. The Dominican military, however, despised Bosch and his liberal policies. Bosch was overthrown in 1963. Political chaos gripped the Dominican Republic as various groups, including the increasingly splintered military, struggled for power. By 1965, forces demanding the reinstatement of Bosch began attacks against the military-controlled government. In the United States government, fear spread that “another Cuba” was in the making in the Dominican Republic; in fact, many officials strongly suspected that Cuban leader Fidel Castro was behind the violence. On April 28, more than 22,000 U.S. troops, supported by forces provided by some of the member states of the Organization of American States (a United Nations-like institution for the Western Hemisphere, dominated by the United States) landed in the Dominican Republic. Over the next few weeks they brought an end to the fighting and helped install a conservative, non-military government.

President Johnson declared that he had taken action to forestall the establishment of a “communist dictatorship” in the Dominican Republic. As evidence, he provided American reporters with lists of suspected communists in that nation. Even cursory reviews of the list revealed that the evidence was extremely flimsy–some of the people on the list were dead and others could not be considered communists by any stretch of the imagination.

Many Latin American governments and private individuals and organizations condemned the U.S. invasion of the Dominican Republic as a return to the “gunboat diplomacy” of the early-20th century, when U.S. Marines invaded and occupied a number of Latin American nations on the slightest pretexts. In the United States, politicians and citizens who were already skeptical of Johnson’s policy in Vietnam heaped scorn on Johnson’s statements about the “communist danger” in the Dominican Republic. Such criticism would become more and more familiar to the Johnson administration as the U.S. became more deeply involved in the war in Vietnam.

Muhammad Ali refuses Army induction

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/muhammad-ali-refuses-army-induction

On April 28, 1967, boxing champion Muhammad Ali refuses to be inducted into the U.S. Army and is immediately stripped of his heavyweight title. Ali, a Muslim, cited religious reasons for his decision to forgo military service.

Born Cassius Marcellus Clay, Jr., in Louisville, Kentucky, on January 14, 1942, the future three-time world champ changed his name to Muhammad Ali in 1964 after converting to Islam. He scored a gold medal at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome and made his professional boxing debut against Tunney Husaker on October 29, 1960, winning the bout in six rounds. On February 25, 1964, he defeated the heavily favored bruiser Sonny Liston in six rounds to become heavyweight champ.

READ MORE: Muhammad Ali vs. the United States of America 

On April 28, 1967, with the United States at war in Vietnam, Ali refused to be inducted into the armed forces, saying “I ain’t got no quarrel with those Vietcong.” On June 20, 1967, Ali was convicted of draft evasion, sentenced to five years in prison, fined $10,000 and banned from boxing for three years. He stayed out of prison as his case was appealed and returned to the ring on October 26, 1970, knocking out Jerry Quarry in Atlanta in the third round. On March 8, 1971, Ali fought Joe Frazier in the “Fight of the Century” and lost after 15 rounds, the first loss of his professional boxing career. On June 28 of that same year, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned his conviction for evading the draft.

At a January 24, 1974, rematch at New York City’s Madison Square Garden, Ali defeated Frazier by decision in 12 rounds. On October 30 of that same year, an underdog Ali bested George Foreman and reclaimed his heavyweight champion belt at the hugely hyped “Rumble in the Jungle” in Kinshasa, Zaire, with a knockout in the eighth round. On October 1, 1975, Ali met Joe Frazier for a third time at the “Thrilla in Manila” in the Philippines and defeated him in 14 rounds. On February 15, 1978, Ali lost the title to Leon Spinks in a 15-round split decision. However, seven months later, on September 15, Ali won it back. 

In June 1979, Ali announced he was retiring from boxing. He returned to the ring on October 2, 1980, and fought heavyweight champ Larry Holmes, who knocked him out in the 11th round. After losing to Trevor Berbick on December 11, 1981, Ali left the ring for the final time, with a 56-5 record. He is the only fighter to be heavyweight champion three times. In 1984, it was revealed Ali had Parkinson’s disease. He died on June 3, 2016. 

READ MORE: 10 Things You May Not Know About Muhammad Ali 

President Nixon approves Cambodian incursion

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/nixon-approves-cambodian-incursion

President Richard Nixon gives his formal authorization to commit U.S. combat troops, in cooperation with South Vietnamese units, against communist troop sanctuaries in Cambodia.

READ MORE: How Nixon’s Invasion of Cambodia Triggered a Check on Presidential Power

Secretary of State William Rogers and Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird, who had continually argued for a downsizing of the U.S. effort in Vietnam, were excluded from the decision to use U.S. troops in Cambodia. Gen. Earle Wheeler, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, cabled Gen. Creighton Abrams, senior U.S. commander in Saigon, informing him of the decision that a “higher authority has authorized certain military actions to protect U.S. forces operating in South Vietnam.” Nixon believed that the operation was necessary as a pre-emptive strike to forestall North Vietnamese attacks from Cambodia into South Vietnam as the U.S. forces withdrew and the South Vietnamese assumed more responsibility for the fighting. Nevertheless, three National Security Council staff members and key aides to presidential assistant Henry Kissinger resigned in protest over what amounted to an invasion of Cambodia.

When Nixon publicly announced the Cambodian incursion on April 30, it set off a wave of antiwar demonstrations. A May 4, protest at Kent State University resulted in the killing of four students by Army National Guard troops. Another student rally at Jackson State College in Mississippi resulted in the death of two students and 12 wounded when police opened fire on a women’s dormitory. The incursion angered many in Congress, who felt that Nixon was illegally widening the war; this resulted in a series of congressional resolutions and legislative initiatives that would severely limit the executive power of the president.

READ MORE: Vietnam War Protests

D.A. announces negligence caused death of “The Crow” actor Brandon Lee

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/d-a-announces-negligence-caused-brandon-lees-death

As a nearly month-long police investigation draws to a close, North Carolina District Attorney Jerry Spivey announces on April 27, 1993 that the death of 28-year-old Brandon Lee on March 31 of that same year during filming of The Crow was due to negligence on the part of the film’s crew, not foul play.

Lee was the son of the martial-arts legend Bruce Lee, whose performance in Enter the Dragon (1973) catapulted him to fame in America and Europe. Already a huge star in Hong Kong thanks to such movies as Fist of Fury and Way of the Dragon, Bruce Lee would not live to see the film’s release. On July 20, 1973, he died at the age of 32 after being found unconscious in his Hong Kong home. His death was attributed to a brain edema, or excess of fluid. Controversy swirled around the incident, and rumors persisted that he might have been murdered by gangsters in the Hong Kong film industry or by a drug gang.

Brandon Lee made his own acting debut at age 21, in the TV movie Kung Fu: The Movie (1986), based on the 1970s series Kung Fu. He starred in one Hong Kong action film, Legacy of Rage (1986), and made his American big-screen debut opposite Dolph Lundgren in the cop-buddy action movie Showdown in Little Tokyo (1991). In early 1993, Lee landed the lead role of Eric Draven in The Crow, based on the popular underground Gothic comic book series about a rock musician who returns from the dead to avenge his and his fiancee’s murders.

Filming of The Crow began in February 1993. Around midnight on the morning of March 31, the cast and crew were filming a scene at Carolco Studios in Wilmington, North Carolina. As Lee entered a room, another actor shot him from a distance of 15-20 feet. Though the gun was supposed to have been loaded with blanks, police later found that a .44 bullet entered Lee’s abdomen and lodged in his spine, fatally wounding him. He died in the hospital hours later of internal injuries, blood loss and heart failure.

As the police investigation began, little was certain about how Lee died, and rumors circulated that the film set was jinxed (there had been a series of accidents), or that his death had been plotted by some unknown enemy. In the end, the truth was far less sinister, but no less tragic. Hollowed-out cartridges are often used to film close-ups of a gun being loaded; the “dummy” cartridges are then supposed to be removed and replaced with blanks before being fired. The police investigation into Lee’s death concluded that a tip of one of the cartridge’s bullets broke off from the cartridge and lodged in the gun, then fired at Lee along with the blank.

D.A. Spivey eventually decided against bringing charges against Crowvision, the production company making the movie. Though Lee was to have appeared in nearly all of the scenes left to be shot, the filmmakers completed The Crow using another actor as a double and a good deal of digital technology. The movie went on to make $50 million at the box office.

Explorer Zebulon Pike killed in battle

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/explorer-zebulon-pike-dies

After surviving two dangerous exploratory expeditions into uncharted areas of the West, Zebulon Pike dies during a battle in the War of 1812.

By the time he became a general in 1812, Pike had already faced many perilous situations. He joined the army when he was 15, and eventually took various military posts on the American frontier. In 1805, General James Wilkinson ordered Pike to lead 20 soldiers on a reconnaissance of the upper Mississippi River. Expecting to return before the rivers froze, Pike and his small band departed up the Mississippi in a 70-foot keelboat in early August. Slow progress, however, meant Pike and his men spent a hard winter near present-day Little Falls, Minnesota, before returning the following spring.

Less than three months later, Wilkinson ordered Pike to head west again. This time, Pike and his men explored the headwaters of the Arkansas River, a route that took them into Colorado. There, Pike saw the towering peak that now bears his name, and he made an ill-advised attempt to climb it. Grossly underestimating the height of the mountain and dressed only in thin cotton uniforms, Pike and his men struggled with deep snow and sub-zero temperatures before finally abandoning the ascent.

During this second expedition, Pike also became lost and wandered into Spanish-controlled territory. A Spanish patrol arrested him and took him into custody. Although Pike had indisputably lost his way, he had also hoped the Spanish would capture him so he could see more of their territory. This risky strategy paid off. Failing to recognize they were providing Pike with a golden opportunity to spy on the territory, the Spanish obligingly moved their prisoner first to Santa Fe and then to Chihuahua, before finally releasing him near the U.S. boundary at Louisiana.

Impressed with his daring and his reputation as an efficient officer, the military promoted Pike to brigadier general during the War of 1812. Having survived two perilous journeys into the Far West, Pike was killed on April 27, 1813 while leading an attack on British troops in Toronto. He was 34 years old.

President Ulysses S. Grant is born

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

Ulysses S. Grant, Civil War leader and 18th president of the United States, is born on April 27, 1822.

The son of a tanner, Grant showed little enthusiasm for joining his father’s business, so the elder Grant enrolled his son at West Point in 1839. Though Grant later admitted in his memoirs he had no interest in the military apart from honing his equestrian skills, he graduated in 1843 and went on to serve in the Mexican-American War, though he opposed it on moral grounds. He then left his beloved wife and children again to fulfill a tour of duty in California and Oregon. 

The loneliness and sheer boredom of duty in the West drove Grant to binge drinking. By 1854, Grant’s alcohol consumption so alarmed his superiors that he was asked to resign from the army. He did, and returned to Ohio to try his hand at farming and land speculation. Although he kicked the alcohol habit, he failed miserably at both vocations and was forced to take a job as a clerk in his father’s tanning business.

If it were not for the Civil War, Grant might have slipped quickly into obscurity. Instead, he re-enlisted in the army in 1861 and embarked on a stellar military career, although his tendency to binge-drink re-emerged and he developed another unhealthy habit: chain cigar-smoking. He struggled throughout the Civil War to control the addictions. In 1862, he led troops in the captures of Forts Henry and Donelson in Tennessee, and forced the Confederate Army to retreat back into Mississippi after the Battle of Shiloh. (After the Donelson campaign, Grant received over 10,000 boxes of congratulatory cigars from a grateful citizenry.)

READ MORE: 10 Things You May Not Know About Ulysses S. Grant

In 1863, after leading a Union Army to victory at Vicksburg, Grant caught President Lincoln’s attention. The Union Army had suffered under the service of a series of incompetent generals and Lincoln was in the market for a new Union supreme commander. In March 1864, Lincoln revived the rank of lieutenant general—a rank that had previously been held only by George Washington in 1798—and gave it to Grant. As supreme commander of Union forces, Grant led a series of epic and bloody battles against the Confederate General Robert E. Lee. On April 9, 1865, Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox Court House, Virginia. The victory solidified Grant’s status as national hero and, in 1868, he was elected to the first of two terms as president.

Grant’s talent as a political leader paled woefully in comparison to his military prowess. He was unable to stem the rampant corruption of his administration and failed to combat a severe economic depression in 1873. There were bright spots in Grant’s tenure, however, including the passage of the Enforcement Act in 1870, which temporarily curtailed the political influence of the Ku Klux Klan in the post-Civil War South, and the 1875 Civil Rights Act, which attempted to desegregate public places such as restrooms, inns, public conveyances on land or water, theaters, and other places of public amusement. In addition, Grant helped heal U.S. and British diplomatic relations, despite the fact that Britain had offered to supply the Confederate Army with the tools to break the Union naval blockade during the Civil War. He also managed to stay sober during his two terms in office.

Upon leaving office, Grant’s fortunes again declined. He and his wife Julia traveled to Europe between 1877 and 1879 amid great fanfare, but the couple came home to bankruptcy caused by Grant’s unwise investment in a scandal-prone banking firm. Grant spent the last few years of his life writing a detailed account of the Civil War and, after he died of throat cancer in 1885, Julia managed to scrape by on the royalties earned from his memoirs.

GRANT, a three-night miniseries event, premieres Memorial Day at 9/8c on HISTORY. Watch a preview:

Rocky Marciano retires as world heavyweight champion

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/rocky-marciano-retires-as-world-heavyweight-champion

On April 27, 1956, world heavyweight champ Rocky Marciano retires from boxing at age 31, saying he wants to spend more time with his family. Marciano ended his career as the only heavyweight champion with a perfect record–49 wins in 49 professional bouts, with 43 knockouts.

Rocco Francis Marchegiano was born into a working-class family in Brockton, Massachusetts, on September 1, 1923. After being drafted into the U.S. Army in 1943, he reportedly began boxing as a way to get out of kitchen duty and other less-than-desirable jobs. Marciano finished his military service in 1946 and continued to box as an amateur. He tried out for the Chicago Cubs, but his dream of becoming a pro baseball player ended when he was soon cut from the team. He returned to boxing and fought his first professional match on March 17, 1947, defeating Lee Epperson in a third-round knockout. Marciano went on to win his next 15 matches by knockout. He became known as a tough fighter and powerful puncher, but he was criticized for his awkward style, which some though lacked finesse.

On October 26, 1951, Marciano signaled to the boxing world that he was a contender when he faced former heavyweight champ Joe Louis and knocked him out in the eighth round. Marciano captured the heavyweight crown in Philadelphia on September 23, 1952, when he scored a knockout against defending champ Jersey Joe Walcott in the 13th round. Marciano faced Walcott again in Chicago on May 15, 1953, and defeated him in a first-round knockout. Marciano, nicknamed the “Brockton Blockbuster,” would successfully defend his title five more times, with his last professional bout, against Archie Moore in New York on September 21, 1955, ending in a ninth-round KO.

On April 27, 1956, Marciano announced his retirement from boxing and said he had no plans to return to the ring for a comeback. Marciano died in a small-plane crash in Iowa on August 31, 1969.

Universe is created, according to Kepler

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/universe-is-created-according-to-kepler

On April 27, 4977 B.C., the universe is created, according to German mathematician and astronomer Johannes Kepler, considered a founder of modern science. Kepler is best known for his theories explaining the motion of planets.

Kepler was born on December 27, 1571, in Weil der Stadt, Germany. As a university student, he studied the Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus’ theories of planetary ordering. Copernicus (1473-1543) believed that the sun, not the earth, was the center of the solar system, a theory that contradicted the prevailing view of the era that the sun revolved around the earth.

In 1600, Kepler went to Prague to work for Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe, the imperial mathematician to Rudolf II, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Kepler’s main project was to investigate the orbit of Mars. When Brahe died the following year, Kepler took over his job and inherited Brahe’s extensive collection of astronomy data, which had been painstakingly observed by the naked eye. Over the next decade, Kepler learned about the work of Italian physicist and astronomer Galileo Galilei (1564-1642), who had invented a telescope with which he discovered lunar mountains and craters, the largest four satellites of Jupiter and the phases of Venus, among other things. Kepler corresponded with Galileo and eventually obtained a telescope of his own and improved upon the design.

In 1609, Kepler published the first two of his three laws of planetary motion, which held that planets move around the sun in ellipses, not circles (as had been widely believed up to that time), and that planets speed up as they approach the sun and slow down as they move away. In 1619, he produced his third law, which used mathematic principles to relate the time a planet takes to orbit the sun to the average distance of the planet from the sun.

Kepler’s research was slow to gain widespread traction during his lifetime, but it later served as a key influence on the English mathematician Sir Isaac Newton (1643-1727) and his law of gravitational force. Additionally, Kepler did important work in the fields of optics, including demonstrating how the human eye works, and math. He died on November 15, 1630, in Regensberg, Germany. As for Kepler’s calculation about the universe’s birthday, scientists in the 20th century developed the Big Bang theory, which showed that his calculations were off by about 13.7 billion years.

British parliament passes unpopular Tea Act

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/parliament-passes-the-tea-act

On April 27, 1773, the British Parliament passes the Tea Act, a bill designed to save the faltering East India Company from bankruptcy by greatly lowering the tea tax it paid to the British government and, thus, granting it a de facto monopoly on the American tea trade. Because all legal tea entered the colonies through England, allowing the East India Company to pay lower taxes in Britain also allowed it to sell tea more cheaply in the colonies. Even untaxed Dutch tea, which entered the colonies illegally through smuggling, was more expensive the East India tea, after the act took effect.

British Prime Minister, Frederick, Lord North, who initiated the legislation, thought it impossible that the colonists would protest cheap tea; he was wrong. Many colonists viewed the act as yet another example of taxation tyranny, precisely because it left an earlier duty on tea entering the colonies in place, while removing the duty on tea entering England.

When three tea ships carrying East India Company tea, the Dartmouth, the Eleanor and the Beaver, arrived in Boston Harbor, the colonists demanded that the tea be returned to England. After Massachusetts Governor Thomas Hutchinson refused to send back the cargo, Patriot leader Samuel Adams organized the so-called Boston Tea Party with about 60 members of the radically anti-British Sons of Liberty. On December 16, 1773, the Patriots boarded the British ships disguised as Mohawk Indians and dumped the tea chests, valued then at £18,000 (nearly $1 million in today’s money), into the water.

Parliament, outraged by the Boston Tea Party and other blatant acts of destruction of British property, enacted the Coercive Acts, known to colonists as the Intolerable Acts, the following year. The Coercive Acts closed Boston to merchant shipping, established formal British military rule in Massachusetts, made British officials immune to criminal prosecution in America and required colonists to quarter British troops. The colonists subsequently called the first Continental Congress to consider a united American resistance to what they saw as British oppression.

READ MORE: 7 Events That Led to the American Revolution