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Pope John Paul II dies

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/pope-john-paul-ii-dies

On April 2, 2005, John Paul II, history’s most well-traveled pope and the first non-Italian to hold the position since the 16th century, dies at his home in the Vatican. Six days later, two million people packed Vatican City for his funeral, said to be the biggest funeral in history.

John Paul II was born Karol Jozef Wojtyla in Wadowice, Poland, 35 miles southwest of Krakow, in 1920. After high school, the future pope enrolled at Krakow’s Jagiellonian University, where he studied philosophy and literature and performed in a theater group. During World War II, Nazis occupied Krakow and closed the university, forcing Wojtyla to seek work in a quarry and, later, a chemical factory. By 1941, his mother, father, and only brother had all died, leaving him the sole surviving member of his family.

Although Wojtyla had been involved in the church his whole life, it was not until 1942 that he began seminary training. When the war ended, he returned to school at Jagiellonian to study theology, becoming an ordained priest in 1946. He went on to complete two doctorates and became a professor of moral theology and social ethics. On July 4, 1958, at the age of 38, he was appointed auxiliary bishop of Krakow by Pope Pius XII. He later became the city s archbishop, where he spoke out for religious freedom while the church began the Second Vatican Council, which would revolutionize Catholicism. He was made a cardinal in 1967, taking on the challenges of living and working as a Catholic priest in communist Eastern Europe. Once asked if he feared retribution from communist leaders, he replied, “I m not afraid of them. They are afraid of me.”

Wojtyla was quietly and slowly building a reputation as a powerful preacher and a man of both great intellect and charisma. Still, when Pope John Paul I died in 1978 after only a 34-day reign, few suspected Wojtyla would be chosen to replace him. But, after seven rounds of balloting, the Sacred College of Cardinals chose the 58-year-old, and he became the first-ever Slavic pope and the youngest to be chosen in 132 years.

A conservative pontiff, John Paul II’s papacy was marked by his firm and unwavering opposition to communism and war, as well as abortion, contraception, capital punishment and homosexual sex. He later came out against euthanasia, human cloning and stem cell research. He traveled widely as pope, using the eight languages he spoke (Polish, Italian, French, German, English, Spanish, Portuguese and Latin) and his well-known personal charm, to connect with the Catholic faithful, as well as many outside the fold.

On May 13, 1981, Pope John Paul II was shot in St. Peter’s Square by a Turkish political extremist, Mehmet Ali Agca. After his release from the hospital, the pope famously visited his would-be assassin in prison, where he had begun serving a life sentence, and personally forgave him for his actions. The next year, another unsuccessful attempt was made on the pope’s life, this time by a fanatical priest who opposed the reforms of Vatican II.

Although it was not confirmed by the Vatican until 2003, many believe Pope John Paul II began suffering from Parkinson’s disease in the early 1990s. He began to develop slurred speech and had difficulty walking, though he continued to keep up a physically demanding travel schedule. In his final years, he was forced to delegate many of his official duties, but still found the strength to speak to the faithful from a window at the Vatican. In February 2005, the pope was hospitalized with complications from the flu. He died two months later.

Pope John Paul II is remembered for his successful efforts to end communism, as well as for building bridges with peoples of other faiths, and issuing the Catholic Church’s first apology for its actions during World War II. He was succeeded by Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, who became Pope Benedict XVI. Pope Francis, who succeeded Pope Benedict in March 2013, canonized John Paul II in April 2014.

READ MORE: 10 Things You May Not Know About the Vatican

Argentina invades Falklands

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/argentina-invades-falklands

On April 2, 1982, Argentina invades the Falklands Islands, a British colony since 1892 and British possession since 1833. Argentine amphibious forces rapidly overcame the small garrison of British marines at the town of Stanley on East Falkland and the next day seized the dependent territories of South Georgia and the South Sandwich group. The 1,800 Falkland Islanders, mostly English-speaking sheep farmers, awaited a British response.

The Falkland Islands, located about 300 miles off the southern tip of Argentina, had long been claimed by the British. British navigator John Davis may have sighted the islands in 1592, and in 1690 British Navy Captain John Strong made the first recorded landing on the islands. He named them after Viscount Falkland, who was the First Lord of the Admiralty at the time. In 1764, French navigator Louis-Antoine de Bougainville founded the islands’ first human settlement, on East Falkland, which was taken over by the Spanish in 1767. In 1765, the British settled West Falkland but left in 1774 for economic reasons. Spain abandoned its settlement in 1811.

In 1816 Argentina declared its independence from Spain and in 1820 proclaimed its sovereignty over the Falklands. The Argentines built a fort on East Falkland, but in 1832 it was destroyed by the USS Lexington in retaliation for the seizure of U.S. seal ships in the area. In 1833, a British force expelled the remaining Argentine officials and began a military occupation. In 1841, a British lieutenant governor was appointed, and by the 1880s a British community of some 1,800 people on the islands was self-supporting. In 1892, the wind-blown Falkland Islands were collectively granted colonial status.

For the next 90 years, life on the Falklands remained much unchanged, despite persistent diplomatic efforts by Argentina to regain control of the islands. In 1981, the Falkland Islanders voted in a referendum to remain British, and it seemed unlikely that the Falklands would ever revert to Argentine rule. Meanwhile, in Argentina, the military junta led by Lieutenant General Leopoldo Galtieri was suffering criticism for its oppressive rule and economic management, and planned the Falklands invasion as a means of promoting patriotic feeling and propping up its regime.

In March 1982, Argentine salvage workers occupied South Georgia Island, and a full-scale invasion of the Falklands began on April 2. Under orders from their commanders, the Argentine troops inflicted no British casualties, despite suffering losses to their own units. Nevertheless, Britain was outraged, and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher assembled a naval task force of 30 warships to retake the islands. As Britain is 8,000 miles from the Falklands, it took several weeks for the British warships to arrive. On April 25, South Georgia Island was retaken, and after several intensive naval battles fought around the Falklands, British troops landed on East Falkland on May 21. After several weeks of fighting, the large Argentine garrison at Stanley surrendered on June 14, effectively ending the conflict.

Britain lost five ships and 256 lives in the fight to regain the Falklands, and Argentina lost its only cruiser and 750 lives. Humiliated in the Falklands War, the Argentine military was swept from power in 1983, and civilian rule was restored. In Britain, Margaret Thatcher’s popularity soared after the conflict, and her Conservative Party won a landslide victory in 1983 parliamentary elections.

READ MORE: How the Falklands War Cemented Margaret Thatcher’s Reputation as the ‘Iron Lady’

First U.S. House of Representatives elects speaker

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/first-u-s-house-of-representatives-elects-speaker

On this day in 1789, the first U.S. House of Representatives, meeting in New York City, reaches quorum and elects Pennsylvania Representative Frederick Augustus Conrad Muhlenberg as its first speaker.

Muhlenberg, a Lutheran minister and the former president of the Pennsylvania convention to ratify the U.S. Constitution, was the son of Henry Augustus Muhlenberg and grandson of Johann Conrad Weiser, two of the leading Germans in colonial Pennsylvania. His brother, Major General John Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg, also served in the first House of Representatives.

Like his father, Frederick Muhlenberg studied theology at Germany’s University of Halle. He returned to Pennsylvania to be ordained in 1770 at the age of 20 and preached in Stouchsburg and Lebanon until 1774. Muhlenberg began preaching in New York City later that year, but returned to Pennsylvania upon the British invasion of New York in 1776. For three years, he served as pastor to congregations in New Hanover, Oley and New Goshenhoppen before embarking on a political career.

Muhlenberg was a member of the Continental Congress from 1779 to 1780 and speaker of Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives from 1780 to 1783. He presided over the Pennsylvania ratifying convention of 1787, and then served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1789 to 1797. He was speaker during the first and third Congresses.

Frederick did not enter into military service during the American Revolution. His brother, John Peter, however, earned renown for removing his pastoral robes to reveal a military uniform underneath while proclaiming his support for the war from his pulpit in Virginia.

Hitler sentenced for his role in Beer Hall Putsch

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/beer-hall-putsch-secures-hitlers-rise-to-power

Adolf Hitler is sentenced for his role in the Beer Hall Putsch of November 8, 1923. The attempted coup in Munich by right-wing members of the army and the Nazi Party was foiled by the government, and Hitler was charged with high treason. Despite his conviction, Hitler was out of jail before the end of the year, with his political position stronger than ever.

Germany was in the midst of a national crisis in the early 1920s. After World War I, its economy was in shambles, and hyperinflation caused widespread discontent. Hitler and the Nazis stepped into this breach with often-racist demagoguery that attracted a significant following throughout the nation.

The failed coup turned out to be quite a boon for Adolf Hitler. His trial brought him more attention and publicity than ever before. With a crowd of thousands-including press from around the world-watching the proceedings, Hitler made the most of this opportunity by going on the offensive.

Taking every chance to turn the subject away from the putsch itself, Hitler frequently made speeches about Germany’s postwar plight. He blamed the Jews, Marxism, and France for all of the country’s problems, repeatedly returning to his theme of hypernationalism. The conservative-leaning judges did nothing to stop Hitler or keep the focus on the attempted coup. The prosecutors, who had been threatened by Hitler’s student followers, shrank from challenging the defendant.

It soon became evident that Hitler was winning the public relations battle by using the 25-day trial as a showcase for his extreme right-wing views, even if he was technically losing the case. In his closing argument, Hitler declared that he would ignore the court’s verdict because the “Eternal Court of History” would acquit him.

After his conviction, Hitler spent the remainder of the year in prison writing the first volume of Mein Kampf. By the time he was released, he had become more popular than ever, and within eight years he had taken over Germany.

READ MORE: When Hitler Tried (and Failed) to Be an Artist

Alaskan earthquake triggers massive tsunami

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/alaskan-earthquake-triggers-massive-tsunami

On April 1, 1946, an undersea earthquake off the Alaskan coast triggers a massive tsunami that kills 159 people in Hawaii.

In the middle of the night, 13,000 feet beneath the ocean surface, a 7.4-magnitude tremor was recorded in the North Pacific. (The nearest land was Unimak Island, part of the Aleutian chain.) The quake triggered devastating tidal waves throughout the Pacific, particularly in Hawaii.

Unimak Island was hit by the tsunami shortly after the quake. An enormous wave estimated at nearly 100 feet high crashed onto the shore. A lighthouse located 30 feet above sea level, where five people lived, was smashed to pieces by the wave; all five were killed instantly. Meanwhile, the wave was heading toward the southern Pacific at 500 miles per hour.

In Hawaii, 2,400 miles south of the quake’s epicenter, Captain Wickland of the United States Navy was the first to spot the coming wave at about 7 a.m., four-and-a-half hours after the quake. His position on the bridge of a ship, 46 feet above sea level, put him at eye level with a “monster wave” that he described as two miles long.

As the first wave came in and receded, the water in Hawaii’s Hilo Bay seemed to disappear. Boats were left on the sea floor next to flopping fish. Then, the massive tsunami struck. In the city of Hilo, a 32-foot wave devastated the town, completely destroying almost a third of the city. The bridge crossing the Wailuku River was picked up by the wave and pushed 300 feet away. In Hilo, 96 people lost their lives.

On other parts of the island of Hawaii, waves reached as high as 60 feet. A schoolhouse in Laupahoehoe was crushed by the tsunami, killing the teacher and 25 students inside. The massive wave was seen as far away as Chile, where, 18 hours after the quake near Alaska, unusually large waves crashed ashore. There were no casualties.

This tsunami prompted the U.S. to establish the Seismic SeaWave Warning System two years later. The system, now known as the Pacific Tsunami Warning System, uses undersea buoys throughout the ocean, in combination with seismic-activity detectors, to find possible killer waves. The warning system was used for the first time on November 4, 1952. That day, an evacuation was successfully carried out, but the expected wave never materialized.

READ MORE: The Deadliest Natural Disasters in US History

Soap operas "General Hospital" and "The Doctors" premiere

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/soap-operas-general-hospital-and-the-doctors-premiere

On April 1, 1963, the ABC television network airs the premiere episode of General Hospital, the daytime drama that will become the network’s most enduring soap opera and the longest-running serial program produced in Hollywood. On the same day, rival network NBC debuts its own medical-themed soap opera, The Doctors.

By setting their new shows in a hospital, both networks were attempting to capitalize on the popularity of prime-time medical dramas such as Dr. Kildare and Ben Casey. Set in the fictional upstate New York town of Port Charles, General Hospital focused on the lives of the doctors, nurses and patients of the town’s General Hospital, including Dr. Steve Hardy (John Beradino) and Nurse Audrey March (Rachel Ames). The central character of The Doctors was Dr. Matthew Powers (James Pritchett), chief of staff of Hope Memorial Hospital, located in the fictional New England town of Madison.

In contrast to General Hospital, The Doctors first ran as an anthology series, with each episode focusing on a single plotline. It later ran as a weekly serial and became a full-fledged daily soap in March 1964. For most of its run, the show was largely sponsored by the Colgate-Palmolive Company, makers of Fab detergent, Palmolive dish liquid and Irish Spring soap, among many other products. The tagline of The Doctors, announced at the beginning of each episode, was “a daytime drama series dedicated to the brotherhood of healing.” The Doctors won numerous Emmy Awards, including Best Daytime Drama in 1972 and 1974, Best Actress for Elizabeth Hubbard (who played Dr. Althea Davis) in 1974 and Best Actor for Pritchett in 1978. Some of the notable actors that have appeared on The Doctors include Ellen Burstyn, Alec Baldwin, Kathleen Turner and Armand Assante. With ratings declining steadily after 1975, The Doctors was canceled in 1982, just months before its 30th anniversary.

For its part, General Hospital has remained on the air for more than four decades, making it ABC’s longest-running soap opera. Though falling ratings in the late 1970s threatened the show’s existence, it turned things around and become a hit with younger audiences in the early 1980s. Some of its more popular ongoing storylines involved the “super couple” Luke Spencer (Anthony Geary) and Laura Webber (Genie Francis), whose 1981 wedding was the most-watched event in daytime television history. 

Jane Austen declines royal writing advice

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/jane-austen-declines-royal-writing-advice

Jane Austen responds to a letter from the Prince Regent (the future King George IV) suggesting she write a historic romance, saying, “I could not sit down to write a serious romance under any other motive than to save my life.”

Austen’s correspondence with the Prince Regent, as well as literary figures of the day, was prompted by the success of her novels Sense and Sensibility, (1811) Pride and Prejudice, (1813) Mansfield Park, (1814) and Emma (1815). Two additional novels were published after her death. Her identity as the author was known to only a small circle; the general reading public only knew that “a lady” had written the books. Although enjoying the appreciation of such leading contemporary authors as Sir Walter Scott, Austen led a quiet, retiring life in the English country until she died at age 42.

Austen was born in 1775, the seventh of eight children born to a clergyman in Steventon, a country village in Hampshire, England. She was very close to her older sister, Cassandra, who remained her faithful editor and critic throughout her life. The girls had five years of formal schooling, then studied with their father. Jane read voraciously and began writing her own sketches as young as age 12, completing an early novella at age 14.

Austen’s quiet, happy world was disrupted when her father retired to Bath in 1801. Jane hated the resort town but amused herself by making close observations of ridiculous society manners. After her father’s death in 1805, Jane, her mother, and sister lived with one of her brothers until 1808, when another brother provided them a permanent home at Chawton Cottage, in Hampshire.

Jane wrote on small pieces of paper that she could easily slip under a blotter when someone came into the room. Though she avoided society, she was charming, intelligent, and funny at home. She rejected at least one proposal of marriage. She died in 1817 of what today is thought to be Addison’s disease.

READ MORE: Why Jane Austen Never Married 

Marvin Gaye is shot and killed by his own father

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/marvin-gaye-is-shot-and-killed-by-his-own-father

At the peak of his career, Marvin Gaye was the Prince of Motown—the soulful voice behind hits as wide-ranging as “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)” and “Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology).” Like his label-mate Stevie Wonder, Gaye both epitomized and outgrew the crowd-pleasing sound that made Motown famous. 

Over the course of his roughly 25-year recording career, he moved successfully from upbeat pop to “message” music to satin-sheet soul, combining elements of Smokey Robinson, Bob Dylan and Barry White into one complicated and sometimes contradictory package. But as the critic Michael Eric Dyson put it, the man who “chased away the demons of millions…with his heavenly sound and divine art” was chased by demons of his own throughout his life. That life came to a tragic end on this day 1984, when Marvin Gaye was shot and killed by his own father one day short of his 45th birthday.

If the physical cause of Marvin Gaye’s death was straightforward—”Gunshot wound to chest perforating heart, lung and liver,” according to the Los Angeles County Coroner—the events that led to it were much more tangled. On the one hand, there was the longstanding conflict with his father dating back to childhood. Marvin Gay, Sr., (the “e” was added by his son for his stage name) was a preacher in the Hebrew Pentecostal Church and a proponent of a strict moral code he enforced brutally with his four children. He was also, by all accounts, a hard-drinking cross-dresser who personally embodied a rather complicated model of morality. By some reports, Marvin Sr. harbored significant envy over his son’s tremendous success, and Marvin Jr. clearly harbored unresolved feelings toward his abusive father.

Those feelings spilled out for the final time in the Los Angeles home of Marvin Gay, Sr., and his wife Alberta. Their son, the international recording star, had moved into his parents’ home in late 1983 at a low point in his struggle with depression, debt and cocaine abuse. Only one year removed from his first Grammy win and from a triumphant return to the pop charts with “Sexual Healing,” Marvin Gaye was in horrible physical, psychological and financial shape.

After an argument between father and son escalated into a physical fight on the morning of April 1, 1984, Alberta Gay was trying to calm her son in his bedroom when Marvin Sr. took a revolver given to him by Marvin Jr. and shot him three times in his chest. Marvin Gaye’s brother, Frankie, who lived next door, and who held the legendary singer during his final minutes, later wrote in his memoir that Marvin Gaye’s final, disturbing statement was, “I got what I wanted….I couldn’t do it myself, so I made him do it.”

President Nixon signs legislation banning cigarette ads on TV and radio

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/nixon-signs-legislation-banning-cigarette-ads-on-tv-and-radio

On April 1, 1970, President Richard Nixon signs legislation officially banning cigarette ads on television and radio. Nixon, who was an avid pipe smoker, indulging in as many as eight bowls a day, supported the legislation at the increasing insistence of public health advocates.

Alarming health studies emerged as early as 1939 that linked cigarette smoking to higher incidences of cancer and heart disease and, by the end of the 1950s, all states had laws prohibiting the sale of cigarettes to minors. In 1964, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) agreed that advertisers had a responsibility to warn the public of the health hazards of cigarette smoking. In 1969, after the surgeon general of the United States released an official report linking cigarette smoking to low birth weight, Congress yielded to pressure from the public health sector and signed the Cigarette Smoking Act. This act required cigarette manufacturers to place warning labels on their products that stated “Cigarette Smoking May be Hazardous to Your Health.”

READ MORE: When Cigarette Companies Used Doctors to Push Smoking 

By the early 1970s, the fight between the tobacco lobby and public health interests forced Congress to draft legislation to regulate the tobacco industry and special committees were convened to hear arguments from both sides. Public health officials and consumers wanted stronger warning labels on tobacco products and their advertisements banned from television and radio, where they could easily reach impressionable children. (Tobacco companies were the single largest product advertisers on television in 1969.) Cigarette makers defended their industry with attempts to negate the growing evidence that nicotine was addictive and that cigarette smoking caused cancer. Though they continued to bombard unregulated print media with ads for cigarettes, tobacco companies lost the regulatory battle over television and radio. The last televised cigarette ad ran at 11:50 p.m. during The Johnny Carson Show on January 1, 1971.

Tobacco has played a part in the lives of presidents since the country’s inception. A hugely profitable crop in early America, Presidents Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Jackson owned tobacco plantations and used tobacco in the form of snuff or smoked cigars. Regulation of the tobacco industry in the form of excise taxes began during Washington’s presidency and continues to this day. In 1962, John F. Kennedy became the first president to sponsor studies on smoking and public health.

Tobacco has not been the only thing smoked at the White House. In 1978, after country-music entertainer Willie Nelson performed for President Carter there, he is said to have snuck up to the roof and surreptitiously smoked what he called a big fat Austin torpedo, commonly known as marijuana.

Warsaw Pact ends

Previously posted at: https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/warsaw-pact-ends

After 36 years in existence, the Warsaw Pact—the military alliance between the Soviet Union and its eastern European satellites—comes to an end. The action was yet another sign that the Soviet Union was losing control over its former allies and that the Cold War was falling apart.

The Warsaw Pact was formed in 1955, primarily as a response to the decision by the United States and its western European allies to include a rearmed West Germany in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). NATO had begun in 1949 as a defensive military alliance between the United States, Canada, and several European nations to thwart possible Soviet expansion into Western Europe. In 1954, NATO nations voted to allow a rearmed West Germany into the organization. The Soviets responded with the establishment of the Warsaw Pact. The original members included the Soviet Union, East Germany, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, and Albania. Although the Soviets claimed that the organization was a defensive alliance, it soon became clear that the primary purpose of the pact was to reinforce communist dominance in Eastern Europe. In Hungary in 1956, and then again in Czechoslovakia in 1968, the Soviets invoked the pact to legitimize its interventions in squelching anticommunist revolutions.

By the late-1980s, however, anti-Soviet and anticommunist movements throughout Eastern Europe began to crack the Warsaw Pact. In 1990, East Germany left the Warsaw Pact in preparation for its reunification with West Germany. Poland and Czechoslovakia also indicated their strong desire to withdraw. Faced with these protests—and suffering from a faltering economy and unstable political situation—the Soviet Union bowed to the inevitable. In March 1991, Soviet military commanders relinquished their control of Warsaw Pact forces. A few months later, the pact’s Political Consultative Committee met for one final time and formally recognized what had already effectively occurred—the Warsaw Pact was no more.