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Mussolini wounded by mortar bomb

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/mussolini-wounded-by-mortar-bomb

On February 22, 1917, Sergeant Benito Mussolini is wounded by the accidental explosion of a mortar bomb on the Isonzo section of the Italian Front in World War I.

Born in Predappio, Italy, in 1883, the son of a blacksmith and a teacher, Mussolini was well-read, largely self-educated and had worked as a schoolteacher and a socialist journalist. He was arrested and jailed for leading demonstrations in the Forli province against the Italian war in Libya in 1911-12. The editor of Avanti!, the Socialist Party newsletter in Milan, Mussolini was one of the most effective socialist journalists in Europe. In 1912, at the age of 29, he took the reins of the Italian Socialist Party at the Congress of Reggio Emilia, preaching a strict Marxist socialism that prompted Vladimir Lenin to write in a Russian publication that The party of the Italian socialist proletariat has taken the right path.

Mussolini early on denounced the Great War, which broke out in 1914, as an imperialist conflict; he later reversed his position and began to advocate Italian entrance into the war on the side of the Allies. He left the Socialist Party in 1915 over its neutrality, believing that Italian participation in the Great War would boost its claims on recovered territory in Austria-Hungary after the war. Enlisting in the army, Mussolini was sent to the front at Isonzo, on the eastern end of the Italian Front near the Isonzo River, after Italy’s long-awaited entrance into the war in May 1915.

The mortar bomb that exploded during a training exercise on February 22, 1917, killed four of Mussolini’s fellow soldiers. He escaped alive, but spent six months in the hospital, where 44 fragments of shell were removed from his body. Discharged from the army after his release from the hospital, Mussolini headed back to Milan, where he started his own newspaper, Il Popolo d’Italia (The People of Italy), in which he published articles attacking those in Italy who voiced anti-war sentiments.

In the immediate post-war period, Mussolini and a group of fellow young war veterans founded the Fasci di Combattimento, a right-wing, strongly nationalistic, anti-Socialist movement named for the fasces, the ancient Roman symbol for discipline. Fascism grew rapidly in the 1920s, winning support from rich landowners, the army and the monarchy; the growing strength of Mussolini and his now notorious black-shirt militia led King Vittorio Emmanuel III to invite the charismatic leader to form a coalition government in 1922. 

By 1926, Benito Mussolini, now known as Il Duce, had consolidated power for himself, transforming Italy into a single-party, totalitarian state that would later, alongside Japan and Adolf Hitler’s Germany, return to the battlefield against the Allies in the Second World War.

Archibald Bulloch dies under mysterious circumstances

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/archibald-bulloch-dies-under-mysterious-circumstances

On February 22, 1777, Revolutionary War leader and Georgia’s first Provisional Governor Archibald Bulloch dies under mysterious circumstances just hours after Georgia’s Council of Safety grants him the powers of a dictator in expectation of a British invasion.

Bulloch was born in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1730 to a Scottish father, James, and his Puritan wife, Jean. He was educated and practiced law in South Carolina, and received a commission in the colony’s militia. Bulloch moved to Savannah, Georgia, in 1764 and married Mary de Veaux, the daughter of a prominent Savannah judge and landholder. He quickly became a leader in the state’s Liberty Party and was elected to the Commons House of Assembly in 1768, to the post of speaker of the Georgia Royal Assembly in 1772 and finally to the Continental Congress in 1775.

On June 20, 1776, Bulloch was elected the first president and commander in chief of Georgia’s temporary government, posts he held until February 5, 1777, when Georgia adopted its state constitution. Just over three weeks later, on February 22, 1777, Georgia faced a British invasion, and the state’s new government granted Bulloch executive power to head off the British forces. A few hours later, Bulloch was dead. The cause of his death remains unknown but unsubstantiated rumors of his poisoning persist.

Archibald Bulloch has gone down in history as one of the American Revolution’s great leaders; he is also known as the great-great-grandfather of America’s 26th president, Theodore Roosevelt. Theodore Roosevelt’s son, Archibald, and Bulloch County, Georgia, were both named in the Georgia Patriot’s honor.

Lee Petty wins first Daytona 500

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/lee-petty-wins-first-daytona-500

On February 22, 1959, Lee Petty defeats Johnny Beauchamp in a photo finish at the just-opened Daytona International Speedway in Florida to win the first-ever Daytona 500. The race was so close that Beauchamp was initially named the winner by William France, the owner of the track and head of the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR). However, Petty, who was driving a hardtop Oldsmobile 88, challenged the results and three days later, with the assistance of news photographs, he was officially named the champ. There was speculation that France declared Beauchamp the winner in order to intentionally stir up controversy and generate publicity for his new race track.

Today, the 200-lap, 500-mile Daytona 500 is one of auto racing’s premiere events and the first race of the NASCAR season. France, a gas station owner and racing promoter, officially co-founded NASCAR in Daytona Beach in 1948. The following year, Lee Petty, a mechanic from North Carolina, began his racing career at the age of 35. He went on to win more than 50 races on NASCAR’s Grand National circuit (subsequently known as the Winston Cup from 1971 to 2003, the NEXTEL Cup from 2004 to 2007 and the Sprint Cup from 2008 onward) and three championships before being seriously injured in a crash during a qualifying event at Daytona in 1961. Following the crash, Petty drove in a handful of races before retiring from competition in 1964. He went on to found Petty Enterprises, which became NASCAR’s oldest and most successful racing team. In January 2009, Petty Enterprises merged with Gillett Evernham Motorsports and became Richard Petty Motorsports.

Petty’s son, Richard (1937- ) became one of the greatest drivers in NASCAR history, winning the Daytona 500 a record seven times between 1964 and 1981. Richard Petty’s sixth victory at Daytona, in 1979, also marked the first time the race was shown live, flag-to-flag, on television. Due to a snowstorm on the East Coast, a larger-than-anticipated TV audience tuned in to the race, which included a memorable fistfight between drivers Cale Yarborough and brothers Donnie and Bobby Allison, and the broadcast was a key moment in NASCAR’s rise to become one of America’s most popular spectator sports.

The Petty racing dynasty also includes Richard’s son, Kyle Petty, and Adam Petty, Kyle’s son, who died at the age of 19 in a crash at the New Hampshire International Speedway on May 12, 2000. Adam’s great-grandfather, Lee Petty, had died less than a month earlier, on April 5, at the age of 86.

George Kennan sends “long telegram” to State Department

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/george-kennan-sends-long-telegram-to-state-department

George Kennan, the American charge d’affaires in Moscow, sends an 8,000-word telegram to the Department of State detailing his views on the Soviet Union, and U.S. policy toward the communist state. Kennan’s analysis provided one of the most influential underpinnings for America’s Cold War policy of containment.

Kennan was among the U.S. diplomats to help establish the first American embassy in the Soviet Union in 1933. While he often expressed respect for the Russian people, his appraisal of the communist leadership of the Soviet Union became increasingly negative and harsh. Throughout World War II he was convinced that President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s spirit of friendliness and cooperation with Soviet leader Joseph Stalin was completely misplaced. Less than a year after Roosevelt’s death, Kennan, then serving as U.S. charge d’affaires in Moscow, released his opinions in what came to be known as the “long telegram.”

The lengthy memorandum began with the assertion that the Soviet Union could not foresee “permanent peaceful coexistence” with the West. This “neurotic view of world affairs” was a manifestation of the “instinctive Russian sense of insecurity.” As a result, the Soviets were deeply suspicious of all other nations and believed that their security could only be found in “patient but deadly struggle for total destruction of rival power.” Kennan was convinced that the Soviets would try to expand their sphere of influence, and he pointed to Iran and Turkey as the most likely immediate trouble areas. In addition, Kennan believed the Soviets would do all they could to “weaken power and influence of Western Powers on colonial backward, or dependent peoples.” Fortunately, although the Soviet Union was “impervious to logic of reason,” it was “highly sensitive to logic of force.” Therefore, it would back down “when strong resistance is encountered at any point.” The United States and its allies, he concluded, would have to offer that resistance.

Kennan’s telegram caused a sensation in Washington. Stalin’s aggressive speeches and threatening gestures toward Iran and Turkey in 1945-1946 led the Truman administration to decide to take a tougher stance and rely on the nation’s military and economic muscle rather than diplomacy in dealing with the Soviets. These factors guaranteed a warm reception for Kennan’s analysis. His opinion that Soviet expansionism needed to be contained through a policy of “strong resistance” provided the basis for America’s Cold War diplomacy through the next two decades. Kennan’s diplomatic career certainly received a boost–he was named U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union in 1952.

After leaving government service, Kennan served on the faculty of the Institute for Advanced Study until his death in 2005 at the age of 101.

Gang commits largest robbery in British history

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/gang-commits-largest-robbery-in-british-history

In the early morning hours of February 22, 2006, a gang of at least six men, some of them armed, steal £53 million from the Securitas bank depot in Kent, Great Britain. It was the largest such theft in British history.

The plot was well planned. On the evening before, two men, dressed as police officers, pulled the depot manager, Colin Dixon, over as he was driving in nearby Stockbury. They convinced him to get out of his car, and forced him into their vehicle. At about the same time, two more men visited Dixon’s home and picked up Dixon’s wife and eight-year-old son; eventually all three Dixons were taken to a farm in West Kent, where the gang threatened their lives if Colin refused to cooperate with the robbery.

The Dixons were then forced to go with the gang to the Securitas depot, where Colin helped them evade the building’s security system. The gang proceeded to tie up 14 depot staff members, load the £53 million into a truck and, at about 2:15 a.m. on February 22, drive away. No one was injured in the robbery. Eventually, one depot worker was able to contact police, who launched a massive search for the culprits. As the stolen money was all in used bills, it was difficult to trace. Securitas and its insurers posted a £2 million reward for information leading to the arrests of the robbers and return of the money.

The next day, three people, one man and two women, were arrested in connection with the case; one had attempted to deposit £6,000 into a local bank that was bound in Securitas depot tape. However, all three were later released without being charged. 

George Washington is born

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

On February 22, 1732, George Washington is born in Westmoreland County, Virginia, the first of six children of Augustine and Mary Ball Washington. (Augustine had three additional children from his first marriage.) An initially loyal British subject, Washington eventually led the Continental Army in the American Revolution and became the new nation’s first president. He is often referred to as the father of the United States.

WATCH: Full episodes of the three-part miniseries event Washington

Washington rose to eminence on his own merit. His first job at age 17 was as a surveyor in the Shenandoah Valley. In 1752, he joined the British army and served as a lieutenant in the French and Indian War. When the war ended, Washington left the army and returned home to Virginia to manage Mount Vernon, the plantation he had recently inherited upon the death of his older brother. He married a wealthy widow, Martha Dandridge Custis, in 1759. Although the couple had no children, Washington adopted Martha’s son and daughter from her previous marriage. While in Virginia, Washington served in the colonial House of Burgesses and, like many of his compatriots, grew increasingly frustrated with the British government. He soon joined his co-revolutionaries in the Continental Congress.

READ MORE: 11 Key People Who Shaped George Washington’s Life

In 1775, the Continental Congress unanimously chose Washington to command the new Continental Army. In addition to advocating civilian control over the military, Washington possessed that intangible quality of a born leader and had earned a reputation for coolness under fire and as a strict disciplinarian during the French and Indian campaign. In that war, he dodged bullets, had horses shot out from under him and was even taken prisoner by the French. Part of his success in the Revolutionary War was due to his shrewd use of what was then considered the ungentlemanly, but effective, tactic of guerrilla warfare, in which stealthy hit-and-run attacks foiled British armies used to close-formation battle-line warfare. Although Washington led almost as many losing battles as he won, his successes at Trenton, Princeton and Yorktown proved pivotal for the Continental Army and the emerging nation. In 1789, in part because of the leadership skills he displayed during the war, the Continental Congress elected Washington as the first American president.

George Washington’s legacy has endured a long process of untangling myth from fact. The famous cherry tree incident never occurred, nor did Washington have wooden teeth, though he did have only one tooth by the time he became president and wore a series of dentures made from metal and cow or hippopotamus bone. In portraits of Washington, the pain caused by his dentures is evident in his facial expression. Known for being emotionally reserved and aloof, Washington was concerned with personal conduct, character and self-discipline, but was known to bend the rules if necessary, especially in war. Although Washington was undoubtedly ambitious, he pursued his goals humbly and with quiet confidence in his abilities as a leader.

An extraordinary figure in American history and unusually tall at 6′ 3, Washington was also an ordinary man. He loved cricket and fox-hunting, moved gracefully around a ballroom, was a Freemason and possibly a Deist, and was an astute observer of the darker side of human nature. His favorite foods were pineapples, Brazil nuts (hence the missing teeth from cracking the shells) and Saturday dinners of salt cod. He possessed a wry sense of humor and, like his wife Martha, tried to resist the vanities of public life. Washington could also explode into a rage when vexed in war or political battles. Loyal almost to a fault, he could also be unforgiving and cold when crossed. When Republican Thomas Jefferson admitted to slandering the president in an anonymous newspaper article for his support of Federalist Alexander Hamilton’s policies, Washington cut Jefferson out of his life. On at least one occasion, Washington’s stubbornness inspired John Adams to refer to him as Old Muttonhead.

READ MORE: Was Washington Our Greatest President? 

An unenthusiastic political leader, Washington nevertheless recognized his unique and symbolic role in keeping a fledgling nation together. He worked hard to reconcile competing factions within his administration and was keenly aware of setting unwritten rules of conduct for future presidents. He struggled with advisors over what sort of image a president should project. He preferred one of dignity and humility and stumbled when encouraged to act out of character or monarchical. After two terms, old, tired, and disillusioned with vicious partisan politics, he resigned. His granddaughter remembered him as a prisoner of his own celebrity. Abigail Adams described Washington as having a dignity which forbids familiarity mixed with an easy affability which creates love and reverence.

After leaving office, Washington returned to Mount Vernon, indulged his passion for the rural life and started a successful whiskey distillery. A member of the Virginia planter class, he grew increasingly uncomfortable with the hypocrisy of owning slaves, yet publicly he promoted a gradual abolition of slavery. In his will he requested that his slaves be freed upon Martha’s death. Although he and Martha had a good relationship, the great love of his life was Sally Fairfax, the wife of his friend George. Abandoning his characteristic self-control, Washington wrote to Sally toward the end of his life, confessing that his moments with her had been the happiest of his life.

On December 14, 1799, Washington died of a severe respiratory ailment. He humbly identified himself in his will as George Washington, of Mount Vernon, a citizen of the United States.

READ MORE: George Washington’s Final Years—And Sudden, Agonizing Death 

Japanese prime minister Hideki Tojo makes himself “military czar”

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/tojo-makes-himself-military-czar

On this day, Hideki Tojo, prime minister of Japan, grabs even more power as he takes over as army chief of staff, a position that gives him direct control of the Japanese military.

After graduating from the Imperial Military Academy and the Military Staff College, Tojo was sent to Berlin as Japan’s military attache after World War I. Having earned a reputation for sternness and discipline, Tojo was given command of the 1st Infantry Regiment upon returning to Japan. In 1937, he was made chief of staff of the Kwantung Army in Manchuria, China. When he returned again to his homeland, Tojo assumed the office of vice-minister of war and quickly took the lead in the military’s increasing control of Japanese foreign policy, advocating the signing of the 1940 Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy that made Japan an “Axis” power.

In July 1940, he was made minister of war and soon clashed with the prime minister, Prince Fumimaro Konoye, who had been fighting for reform of his government, namely, demilitarization of its politics. In October, Konoye resigned because of increasing tension with Tojo, who succeeded him as prime minister. Not only did Tojo keep his offices of army minister and war minister when he became prime minister, he also assumed the offices of minister of commerce and industry.

Tojo, now a virtual dictator, quickly promised a “New Order in Asia,” and toward this end supported the bombing of Pearl Harbor despite the misgivings of several of his generals. Tojo’s aggressive policies paid big dividends early on, with major territorial gains in Indochina and the South Pacific. But despite Tojo’s increasing control over his own country–tightening wartime industrial production and assuming yet another title, chief of staff of the army, on February 21, 1944–he could not control the determination of the United States, which began beating back the Japanese in the South Pacific. When Saipan fell to the U.S. Marines and Army on June 22, 1944, Tojo’s government collapsed. Upon Japan’s surrender, Tojo tried to commit suicide by shooting himself with an American .38 pistol but he was saved by an American physician who gave him a blood transfusion. He was convicted of war crimes by an international tribunal and was hanged on December 22, 1948.

READ MORE: Why Did Japan Attack Pearl Harbor?

NASCAR founded

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/nascar-founded

On February 21, 1948, the National Association for Stock Car Racing–or NASCAR, as it will come to be widely known–is officially incorporated. NASCAR racing will go on to become one of America’s most popular spectator sports, as well as a multi-billion-dollar industry.

The driving force behind the establishment of NASCAR was William “Bill” France Sr. (1909-1992), a mechanic and auto-repair shop owner from Washington, D.C., who in the mid-1930s moved to Daytona Beach, Florida. The Daytona area was a gathering spot for racing enthusiasts, and France became involved in racing cars and promoting races. After witnessing how racing rules could vary from event to event and how dishonest promoters could abscond with prize money, France felt there was a need for a governing body to sanction and promote racing. He gathered members of the racing community to discuss the idea, and NASCAR was born, with its official incorporation in February 1921. France served as NASCAR’s first president and played a key role in shaping its development in the sport’s early decades.

NASCAR held its first Strictly Stock race on June 19, 1949, at the Charlotte Speedway in North Carolina. Some 13,000 fans were on hand to watch Glenn Dunnaway finish the 200-lap race first in his Ford; however, Jim Roper (who drove a Lincoln) collected the $2,000 prize after Dunnaway was disqualified for illegal rear springs on his vehicle. In the early years of NASCAR, competitors drove the same types of cars that people drove on the street–Buicks, Cadillacs, Oldsmobiles, among others–with minimal modifications. (Today, the cars are highly customized.)

In 1950, the first NASCAR-based track, the Darlington Raceway in South Carolina, opened. More new raceways followed, including the Daytona International Speedway, which opened in 1959. Lee Petty won the first Daytona 500, which was run on February 22 of that year. The Daytona 500 became NASCAR’s season opener and one of its premiere events. Lee Petty’s son Richard, who began his racing career in 1958, won the Daytona 500 a record seven times and became NASCAR’s first superstar before retiring in 1992. On February 18, 1979, the first live flag-to-flag coverage of the Daytona 500 was broadcast on television. An end-of-the-race brawl between drivers Cale Yarborough and Donnie and Bobby Allison was a huge publicity generator and helped boost NASCAR’s popularity on a national scale.

In 1972, France’s son, William France Jr., took over the presidency of NASCAR from his father. Over the next three decades, the younger France (1933-2007) was instrumental in transforming NASCAR from a regional sport popular primarily in the southeast U.S. into one with a global fan base. France led NASCAR into a new era of lucrative corporate sponsorships and billion-dollar TV contracts, which continues to this day. 

READ MORE: How Prohibition Gave Birth to NASCAR

President Nixon arrives in China for talks

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/nixon-arrives-in-china-for-talks

In an amazing turn of events, President Richard Nixon takes a dramatic first step toward normalizing relations with the communist People’s Republic of China (PRC) by traveling to Beijing for a week of talks. Nixon’s historic visit began the slow process of the re-establishing diplomatic relations between the United States and communist China.

Still mired in the unpopular and frustrating Vietnam War in 1971, Nixon surprised the American people by announcing a planned trip to the PRC in 1972. The United States had never stopped formally recognizing the PRC after Mao Zedong’s successful communist revolution of 1949. In fact, the two nations had been bitter enemies. PRC and U.S. troops fought in Korea during the early-1950s, and Chinese aid and advisors supported North Vietnam in its war against the United States.

Nixon seemed an unlikely candidate to thaw those chilly relations. During the 1940s and 1950s, he had been a vocal cold warrior and had condemned the Democratic administration of Harry S. Truman for “losing” China to the communists in 1949. The situation had changed dramatically since that time, though. In Vietnam, the Soviets, not the Chinese, had become the most significant supporters of the North Vietnamese regime. And the war in Vietnam was not going well. The American people were impatient for an end to the conflict, and it was becoming increasingly apparent that the United States might not be able to save its ally, South Vietnam, from its communist aggressors. 

The American fear of a monolithic communist bloc had been modified, as a war of words—and occasional border conflicts—erupted between the Soviet Union and the PRC in the 1960s. Nixon, and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger saw a unique opportunity in these circumstances—diplomatic overtures to the PRC might make the Soviet Union more malleable to U.S. policy requests (such as pressuring the North Vietnamese to sign a peace treaty acceptable to the United States). In fact, Nixon was scheduled to travel to meet Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev shortly after completing his visit to China.

Nixon’s trip to China, therefore, was a move calculated to drive an even deeper wedge between the two most significant communist powers. The United States could use closer diplomatic relations with China as leverage in dealing with the Soviets, particularly on the issue of Vietnam. In addition, the United States might be able to make use of the Chinese as a counterweight to North Vietnam. Despite their claims of socialist solidarity, the PRC and North Vietnam were, at best, strongly suspicious allies. As historian Walter LaFeber said, “Instead of using Vietnam to contain China, Nixon concluded that he had better use China to contain Vietnam.” For its part, the PRC was desirous of another ally in its increasingly tense relationship with the Soviet Union and certainly welcomed the possibility of increased U.S.-China trade.

READ MORE: How Ping-Pong Diplomacy Thawed the Cold War

Battle of Valverde

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

On February 21, 1862, at the Battle of Valverde, Confederate troops under General Henry Hopkins Sibley attack Union troops commanded by Colonel Edward R. S. Canby near Fort Craig in New Mexico Territory. The first major engagement of the Civil War in the far West, the battle produced heavy casualties but no decisive result.

This action was part of the broader movement by the Confederates to capture New Mexico and other parts of the West, and thereby secure territory that the Rebels thought was rightfully theirs but had been denied them by political compromises made before the Civil War. Furthermore, the cash-strapped Confederacy could use Western mines to fill its treasury. From San Antonio, the Rebels moved into southern New Mexico (which included Arizona) and captured the towns of Mesilla and Tucson. Sibley, with 3,000 troops, now moved north against the Federal stronghold at Fort Craig on the Rio Grande.

At Fort Craig, Canby was determined to make the Confederates lay siege to the post. The Rebels, Canby reasoned, could not wait long before running low on supplies.He knew that Sibley did not possess sufficiently heavy artillery to attack the fort. When Sibley arrived near Fort Craig on February 15, he ordered his men to swing east of the fort, cross the Rio Grande, and capture the Valverde fords of the Rio Grande. He hoped to cut off Canby’s communication and force the Yankees out into the open.

At the fords, five miles north of Fort Craig, a Union detachment attacked part of the Confederate force. They pinned the Texans in a ravine and were on the verge of routing the Rebels when more of Sibley’s men arrived and turned the tide. Sibley’s second in command, Colonel Tom Green, filling in for an ill Sibley, made a bold counterattack against the Union left flank. The Yankees fell back in retreat, and headed back to Fort Craig.

The Union suffered 68 killed, 160 wounded and 35 missing out of 3,100 engaged. The Confederates suffered 31 killed, 154 wounded and 1 missing out of 2,600 troops. It was a bloody but indecisive battle. Sibley’s men continued up the Rio Grande. Within a few weeks, they captured Albuquerque and Santa Fe before they were stopped at the Battle of Glorieta Pass on March 28.