680: Husayn ibn Ali, grandson of the prophet Mohammad, is decapitated in battle against the army of Caliph Yazid I. Ali’s death is one of the defining events in Islam’s great Sunni-Shi’a split. The core of the dispute centers on who rules as the legitimate successor to the prophet himself: blood heirs (Shi’a position) or political-scholarly leaders (Sunni position). The death is commemorated as the feast of Ashurah.
732: A Frankish army of 30,000 under the command of Charles “The Hammer” Martel, decisively defeats the invading Muslim army of Abdul Rahman al Ghafiqi at the Battle of Tours (also known as the Battle of Poitiers (pronounced “pwat’-teeaay”)). As I mentioned a few days ago (DLH 10/7) with the Battle of Lepanto, this victory was one of three- many would say it was the most important- engagements that halted the militant spread of Islam in its tracks, and ensured that Europe would continue to develop as a collection of explicitly Christian kingdoms. The conventional wisdom over the last century or so is that had Martel’s army not been successful here, the tallest towers in the cities of Europe would have been minarets instead of church steeples.
1780: A massive hurricane tears through the Lesser Antilles, creating a swath of destruction from the Grenadines to Bermuda that leaves 23,200 souls dead and no fewer than 65 naval vessels from France, the Netherlands and Great Britain lost at sea or smashed to splinters on a lee shore, to say nothing of the devastation ashore, where thousands of homes and business were swept away by the storm’s surge. The Great Hurricane of 1780 remains the single most destructive weather event in the history of the Atlantic Ocean.
1845: The first class of The Naval School is seated in Annapolis, Maryland; 50 midshipmen and 7 instructors begin the process of formalizing the training of nascent officers of the U.S. Navy.
1871: Three days after “Mrs. O’Leary’s cow” knocked over the lantern in the barn, The Great Chicago Fire finally burns itself out. The cataclysm took over 300 lives, left nearly three and a half square miles of the city center in cinders, and displaced over 100,000 people from their homes. The cow story, by the way, was fabricated by a journalist, knowing it would play well against the latent anti-Irish sentiment that infected much of Chicago society.
1928: Three years after the death of his long time mentor, Sun Yat Sen, General Chang Kai Shek becomes Chairman of the Republic of China
1945: In the aftermath of the Japanese surrender, the Communist Chinese under Mao Tse Tung and the Kuomintang of Chang Kai Shek sign an agreement on the post-war future of China. The “Double Tenth” agreement confirmed that the Kuomintang was the de facto ruling party of China, but that the Communists were a legitimate opposition party. You probably knew this, but the love didn’t last.
1967: The Outer Space Treaty goes into effect. The parties to the treaty agree to not place nuclear weapons into orbit, and to refrain from using the moon or other celestial bodies as military testing or staging areas. The treaty is often misconstrued as prohibiting the “militarization” of space, but this is not the case. It does provide a framework for consultation and non-interference between spacefaring nations; it considers space part of the global commons, and the moon and other celestial bodies as part of the “common heritage of mankind,” a locution that is rife with good intentions and very difficult applications.