312: At the Battle of Milvian Bridge (crossing the Tiber), the Emperor Constantine sees a Vision of the Cross, which inspired him to victory in the battle and began the process of his subsequent conversion to Christianity.
1618: Death of Sir Walter Raleigh (b.1552), on the order of King James I of England, by beheading. Raleigh was a nobleman-adventurer, a favorite of Queen Elizabeth I, who commissioned his self-financed but ill-fated attempt to colonize “Virginia” down in what we now know as Dare County, NC. He fell out of Elizabeth’s favor when he secretly married one of her (pregnant) ladies-in-waiting without the Queen’s permission. For this crime, he was arrested and held in the Tower of London for a short time before his wife was released from Royal service. In 1594 he read a Spanish report concerning Muana, a supposed city of gold in South America. A year later he led an expedition that explored the northeast coast of that continent, particularly in and around the region of Guiana. A year after his return he published an account of the voyage, exaggerating somewhat the lurid concept of the golden city, as yet still undiscovered, and now known as the famous El Dorado. When the Protestant Elizabeth died in 1603, the Catholic James I had Raleigh arrested for treason based on circumstantial evidence linking him to an unsuccessful plot to overthrow the king. Back to the Tower he went, where he remained for thirteen years, writing prolifically, and where his son Crewe was conceived, although as a guilty traitor, Raleigh was legally “dead” during the conception. I wonder how that worked… James authorized his release in 1616 to undertake another expedition to find El Dorado. Again, they didn’t find it, but during the trip they did take the opportunity to plunder the Spanish town of San Tome. News of this act infuriated the Spanish ambassador, and for the sake of the already tenuous relationship between England and Spain, James had Raleigh re-arrested and executed. Always ready for the next adventure, as Raleigh lay his head on the block waiting for the axe to fall, he called to the executioner, “Strike man! Strike!”
1628: After 14 months of siege, the Huguenot seaport of La Rochelle surrenders to the forces of King Louis XIII and his Chief Minister, Cardinal Richelieu. La Rochelle was the center of French Protestantism, and despite having formal permission under the Edict of Nantes (1598) to worship as they chose, the Catholic restoration under Louis put the city- third largest in France at 30,000- in direct opposition to His Most Catholic Majesty. Richelieu’s determination to crush the Huguenots was the main force that consolidated central political power in the hands of the King, creating the concept of a strong, centralized state that defines nationhood to this day. The British, no surprise, made three significant attempts to intervene on behalf of La Rochelle, but were unable to sustain it by sea after the French fortified all the seaward approaches to the city.
1634: The legislature of the Massachusetts Bay Colony establishes the charter for Harvard College, with the specific injunction later noted in a 1645 brochure: “To advance Learning and perpetuate it to Posterity; dreading to leave an illiterate Ministery to the Churche.“
1704: Death of English philosopher John Locke (b.1632), whose writing on the nature of government, property, price theory and the life of the mind set the foundations for the Scottish Enlightenment and the Age of Reason. Thomas Jefferson considered Locke as one of the three “…greatest men that have ever lived, without any exception…”
1728: Birth of the British explorer, navigator, cartographer, and captain in the Royal Navy. He made detailed maps of Newfoundland prior to making three voyages to the Pacific Ocean, during which he achieved the first recorded European contact with the eastern coastline of Australia and the Hawaiian Islands, and the first recorded circumnavigation of New Zealand.
1810: The United States annexes the Republic of West Florida from Spain. What we now know as the Panhandle (between the Apalachicola and Perdido Rivers) was originally settled by Spain, was taken by Britain during French and Indian War, given back to Spain as part of the negotiations that ended the Revolution, and was briefly declared by its American settlers as an independent Republic in early 1810, under the “Bonney Blue Flag.”
1858: Birth of Nobel laureate, scholar, author, Rough Rider, Assistant Secretary of the Navy and 26th President of the United States, Theodore Roosevelt (d.1919).
1863: Under the leadership of Swiss businessman Henry Dunant, a group of 18 nations meets in Geneva and agree to form an “International Committee for Relief to the Wounded” with the specific charter that centered on: 1) The foundation of national relief societies for wounded soldiers; 2) Neutrality and protection for wounded soldiers; 3) Utilization of volunteer forces for relief assistance on the battlefield; 4) Organization of additional conferences to enact these concepts in legally binding international treaties, and; 5) The introduction of a common distinctive protection symbol for medical personnel in the field, namely a white armlet bearing a red cross. A year later, the Committee added two more requirements: 6) The national society must be recognized by its own national government as a relief society according to the convention, and 7) The national government of the respective country must be a state party to the Geneva Convention. So if you’ve ever wondered how a “neutral” organization could make such a lasting impact on the lives and well-being of war casualties world-wide, look again at the elegance of those seven standards, and thank the ICRC for its powerful work.
1864: Closing of the Second War of Schleswig, in which Denmark cedes the provinces of Schleswig, Holstein and Lauenburg to Prussia. This war is one of three initiated by Prussia under the leadership of Prime Minister Otto von Bismarck, and is studied at the war colleges today as a prime example of Clausewitz’ dictum that war is “an extension of diplomacy by other means.” In Bismarck’s context, war was an acceptable and useful action in support of limited and carefully defined territorial and political goals. His other wars were a relatively minor but victorious clash with Austria that he declined to follow up with further conquests, and the Franco-Prussian War, which we’ve been following in DLH for the last several months. You would be correct if you heard echoes of Bismarck’s philosophy in the present-day language of “irregular warfare,” “calibrated application of force,” “stabilization operations,” “building partner capacity,” and many other obfuscations along those lines. In point of fact, the concept colored the policy positions and decisions we (Joint Staff J-5) helped create* during the First Gulf War in 1990, when the Allied coalition was explicitly built only to expel Saddam from Kuwait, not to “march on to Baghdad” or “destroy the Republican Guard” or any of the other escalations we were accused of not doing.
1870: France suffers a second crippling defeat at Prussian hands at the siege of Metz, during the Franco-Prussian War. The collapse was a direct result of the earlier capture of an entire French army with the Emperor at Sedan in early September.
1877: Death of Nathan Bedford Forrest a Confederate cavalry commander. When asked about his successes during the Civil war, he was widely credited with explaining it to people by “…being the fustest with the mostest.”
1905: In an attempt to bring Russia politically into the 19th century, Russian Tsar Nicolas II grants a constitutional creation of a national legislative assembly, the Duma.
1914: Birth of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas (d.1953), author of the evocative lament on his father’s death: “Do not go gentle into that good night…rage, rage, against the dying of the light…”
1914: Birth of Jonas Salk, who discovered and developed one of the first successful polio vaccines.
1929: Wall Street suffers the original Black Monday, which put the exclamation point on two weeks of already-sagging stock prices that failed to rally from two earlier interventions. This one day’s losses amounted to a 13% drop in market value. On Tuesday, the market dropped another 12%, and the week ended with total losses of over $30,000,000,000.00. The index at its September peak was around 290.
1938: Orson Welles broadcasts a “live” report of H.G. Wells’ sci-fi thriller War of the Worlds.
1941: President Franklin Roosevelt signs into law the Lend-Lease Act that commits the U.S. to providing supplies and equipment to Great Britain and her allies in support of her war effort against Nazi Germany.
1956: First day of direct military action in the Suez Crisis of 1956. The dispute, centering on control of the Suez Canal, pitted a coalition of Britain, France and Israel against the United Arab Republic (Egypt) of President Gamal Abdul Nasser. The United States found itself in the awkward position of diplomatically opposing and militarily threatening its two closest Cold War and WWII allies in order to maintain its favorable position vis-à-vis its primary Arab ally, Saudi Arabia. The crisis had been playing out for the better part of 1956, with the nationalist Nasser overthrowing the pro-British King Farouk, followed by nationalizing the Canal itself, much to the dismay of Britain and France in particular. In a parallel slap to the United States, after the U.S. withdrew support for the Aswan High Dam project, Nasser took pains to also formally recognize Red China in defiance of the U.S. The secret Anglo-Franco-Israeli scheme was to have Israel capture the Sinai Peninsula and both sides of the Canal, after which Britain and France would call for UN disengagement between the Israeli and Egyptian forces, all the while they provided major air support from six aircraft carriers in the Mediterranean and three airfields on Cyprus. The expected end state was the restoration of British control over the Canal. On this day Israeli armed forces launched their attack to capture Mitla Pass and began a systematic destruction of Egyptian forces in the remainder of the Sinai. The actual end state was a highly successful Israeli military campaign, complemented by highly effective Anglo-French attacks on Egyptian infrastructure. For its part, the United States then itself quite effectively threatened the United Kingdom with bankruptcy if it persisted on its course, and re-positioned two U.S. carriers between the Anglo-French fleet and the coast of North Africa, the success of which threat underscored Britain’s (and to a lesser extent France’s) diminishing role on the international stage in the Cold War era.
1962: Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev announces the withdrawal of Russian SS-3 nuclear missiles from their new launching sites in Cuba, effectively ending the Cuban Missile Crisis. The United States, for its part, agreed publicly to not invade Cuba or allow anyone else to invade the island via U.S. assistance. Secretly, President Kennedy also agreed to withdraw our Jupiter missiles from Turkey and Italy, deployments that the Soviet leadership used to justify their installation of SS-3s in Cuba. In Soviet circles, Khrushchev was seen as having been disgraced by Kennedy, a situation that led to his dismissal as Party Secretary two years later.
1998: Space Shuttle Discovery launches into orbit on STS-95. One of the crew was 77 year old former Marine combat pilot, test pilot, astronaut and Senator, John Glenn. In the control room for his historic return to space was his Capsule Communicator for the riveting Friendship 7 mission at the dawn of American space flight, Scott Carpenter, who reprised for this launch his famous quote from the first one: “Godspeed John Glenn.”