588 BC: Traditional start date for Nebuchadnezzar II’s siege of Jerusalem, which steadily tightens the noose around the Jewish capitol until it finally capitulates in July, 586 BC, sending the majority of Judah’s population into exile in Babylon. You can read what it was like to be on the receiving end of this period in the Biblical books of 2 Kings, 2 Chronicles, Jeremiah (chapters 4 & 52), and the early chapters of Daniel.
630: Arab warlord and putative prophet Mohammad, leading an army of some 10,000 soldiers from his hometown of Medina, conquers nearby Mecca in a nearly bloodless assault that puts the city at the heart of Mohammad’s burgeoning new religion.
1493: From his anchorage off the Caribbean island of Hispanola, Christopher Columbus weighs anchor and sets his small fleet on a course back to Spain, bringing to a close the exploratory phase of his first voyage to the New World.
1559: Coronation of Elizabeth I as Queen of England.
1729: Birth of Edmund Burke (d.1797), Member of the British Parliament who nonetheless supported the cause of the American Revolution, based on his admiration of its dependence on the principles of classical liberalism and the Scottish Enlightenment. His writing defined the “Old Whigs” of the 18th Century. He was an unabashed critic of the excesses of the French Revolution, best known in this regard for his Reflections on the Revolution in France, in which he correctly identified that a government unconstrained by external morality would descend into tyranny. Today, Burke is widely considered the father of modern Conservatism. Wikipedia highlights a typical Burkean quote, still worth considering to this day: “The writers against religion, whilst they oppose every system, are wisely careful never to set up any of their own.” –from his book, A Vindication of Natural Society (1756).
1741: Birth of Benedict Arnold (d.1801)
1755: Birth of Alexander Hamilton (d.1804), on tiny Nevis Island in the St. Vincent and Grenadines chain in the Caribbean, British Crown territory. You remember, too, why this little fact played such a large part in the formation of the United States.
1759: Opening day for the British Museum. On this side of the pond, we refer to our Smithsonian as “the nation’s attic.” The museum makes tangible the scope and breadth of Great Britain’s global empire, their trading relationships, and their insatiable curiosity about the world they eventually dominated. The priceless artifacts resident in museum are breathtaking to behold, preserving an international heritage that would likely have been lost without British stewardship and analysis of these cultural treasures.
1784: The new United States government ratifies the Treaty of Paris, in which Great Britain acknowledges our existence as an independent political entity.
1815: The frigate USS President, under the command of Commodore Stephen Decatur, is captured by a squadron of four British frigates as it tries to break out of its year-long blockade of New York harbor.
1863: The Confederate commerce raider CSS Alabama, under the command of Captain Raphael Semmes, attacks and sinks the USS Hatteras off the coast of Galveston, Texas.
1866: Establishment of the Royal Aeronautical Society, in London. If you notice the date here, and you remember that the Wright Brothers first flight at Kitty Hawk was in 1903, you’d be correct in realizing that the problem of manned flight- that is, the actual scientific physics and mechanics of it, not the dreaming- had been under study for decades before finally achieving success.
1875: Birth of Albert Schweitzer (d.1965), musician, theologian, and medical doctor whose work in easing the lives of African tribesmen in Gabon, and his deep intellectual response to the real problems of both colonialism and the de-colonizing movement earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952.
1879: Opening moves of the Anglo-Zulu War, with the British crossing the Buffalo River to begin their invasion of Zululand.
1889: In Atlanta, incorporation of the Pennington Medicine Company, which became famous and wealthy from their premier retail product. The company eventually changed their name to match that product, which is Coca-Cola.
1893: Birth of German fighter ace of the Great War, Herman Goering (d.1946).
1919: Death of Rosa Luxemburg (b.1871), a fiery Marxist absolutist who played a crucial role in agitating German workers during the 1918 revolution through her pamphleteering and communist agitation in the immediate aftermath of the Great War. With the functional dissolution of the German government, bands of vigilante enforcers known as the Freicorps roamed the cities and countryside, enforcing a harsh German nationalism against the untrammeled influences of outside forces. As a particularly blatant exemplar of those outside forces, Rosa Luxemburg found herself increasingly harassed by the Freicorps and finally on this day, she was arrested, tortured, and murdered- her corpse thrown into the Landwher Canal for good measure. Since her death, the international communist movement has worked to beatify her as a martyr for the Marxist-Socialist movement. She remains a darling of the intellectual Left; in their minds her brutal death is an exemplar of what happens if the communists are not in charge of everything.
1923: Birth of the ultimate car guy, Carol Shelby (d.2012) Yes, that’s his name attached to the Cobra and dozens of other spectacular racing and road cars.
1929: Birth of Civil Rights activist and Baptist preacher, Martin Luther King, Jr. (d.1968)
1932: Birth of drag racer Don “Big Daddy” Garlits.
1938: Norway formally annexes for itself a huge slice of Antarctica, naming the area Queen Maude Land. It remains the only du jure territorial occupation on the continent, although the rest of it is divided up between six other claimants and multiple non-claimants (including the U.S. and Russia) who maintain permanent scientific stations above and below the ice.
1943(a): After over 6 months of brutal combat and continuing losses to the U.S. Marines, the Japanese army completes Operation KE, the evacuation of Guadalcanal, which they consider a great success.
1943(b): First day of the Casablanca Conference between President Roosevelt and Prime Minister Winston Churchill with representatives of the Free French forces. Joseph Stalin was invited but declined to attend because of the ongoing siege of Stalingrad. This conference was notable for publicly declaring unconditional surrender as the core Allied war aim against Germany. The decision was also made to not attempt to open a second European front via an immediate cross-channel invasion, but to continue the pressure on the southern flank by invading Sicily. As an aside, in order to get to the conference, Roosevelt became the first President to fly in an airplane while serving in office, taking a plane between Miami and Casablanca across the Atlantic Ocean.
1943 (c): Formal signing of a little-known, but far reaching agreement supporting the Allied effort during the Second World War. Under tremendous diplomatic pressure from the United States, Great Britain signs a treaty with the Republic of China to help ensure their continued combat participation against Japan. The high cost of this treaty was Britain’s eventual post-war position vis-a-vis their pre-war sphere of influence in Asia. The British-Chinese Agreement for the Relinquishment of Extra-Territorial Rights in China formally brought to an end the era of monopolistic trade concessions along with British (and U.S.) exemption from Chinese laws. The war not only fundamentally changed the relationship between China and the Western world (i.e. this treaty), but also among the Chinese themselves, as the Nationalists, with whom this treaty was made, found themselves increasingly at odds with the Communists as the war wound down.
1943 (d): Opening day for The Pentagon, at the time and for decades afterward, the world’s largest office building. For all of the evil associated with it, the building remains a uniquely functional space. Despite its size, a normal person can walk from any office to any other in 12 minutes or less. Its hubs and spokes provide for a straightforward office numbering system (I worked in 2E977) and the courtyard in the middle provides a very nice respite from the cube-farm world inside. Here’s another fascinating fact: the hot dog stand in the middle of the courtyard has more nuclear weapons targeted on it than any other hot dog stand in the world.
1950: First flight of the prototype MiG-17 fighter plane, a workhorse of the communist bloc through the 1980s. You should see the size of the gunsight in that thing; it is so big and opaque that you can barely see forward through the windscreen. [See what I mean?] FYI- the Korean War display at the USAF museum in Dayton has a MiG-17 on display side-by-side with a North American F-86. The similarities are remarkable, and very much reflect the postwar competition between “our” captured German scientists and engineers and “their” captured German scientists and engineers. Let’s pause briefly for a little counter-factual moment: had the ground war in 1944-45 not moved as quickly as it did, this jet* (and by extension the F-86) could very well have been the undoing not only of the Allies strategic bombing campaign on the European continent, but also a devastating menace to the ground forces pounding their way toward the German heartland.
1951: Birth of radio impresario and commentator, Rush Limbaugh, brother of columnist David.
1976: Death of the great mystery writer Agatha Christie (b.1890). Her technique seems simplistic on the surface, but it works, every time. I don’t know about you, but I can hardly ever guess who done it, right up to the final group meeting where she lays it all out. My favorite film adaptation is the BBC Poirot series, starring David Suchet.
1991: The United States Congress authorizes the President to use military force to expel Iraqi forces from Kuwait, which they have occupied since August. I mentioned in DLH 1/9 that several of us on the Joint Staff helped craft Secretary Baker’s talking points, and we watched in great anticipation when Mr. Baker came out of the meeting with Tariq Aziz and spoke to the Press. He carefully outlined the U.S. and UN positions, including all the steps short of war that we were willing to accept. And then he said the word on which- in this case- the forces of history pivot: “Unfortunately…” His recitation of Iraqi intransigence led directly to the Congressional Resolution passed this week.