Today in 1950 Harry S. Truman publicly announced his support to develop the hydrogen bomb, a weapon hundreds of times more powerful than the atomic bombs dropped on Japan. The fact that the Soviets knew everything the Americans did about how to build a hydrogen bomb led Truman to approve massive funding for the superpower race to complete the world’s first “super bomb,” as he described it in his public announcement.
On November 1, 1952, the United States successfully detonated “Mike,” the world’s first hydrogen bomb, on the Elugelab Atoll in the Pacific Marshall Islands. The 10.4-megaton thermonuclear device instantly vaporized an entire island and left behind a crater more than a mile wide. Within 90 seconds the mushroom cloud climbed to 57,000 feet and entered the stratosphere. One minute later, it reached 108,000 feet, eventually stabilizing at a ceiling of 120,000 feet. Half an hour after the test, the mushroom stretched 60 miles across, with the base of the head joining the stem at 45,000 feet.
On November 22, 1955, the Soviet Union detonated its first hydrogen bomb. Both superpowers were now in possession of the “hell bomb,” as it was known by many Americans, and the world lived under the threat of thermonuclear war for the first time in history.
Today in 1865, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, abolishing slavery in America. The amendment read, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude…shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
In September 1862, Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing all slaves in areas that were still in rebellion against the Union. This measure opened the issue of what to do about slavery in border states that had not seceded or in areas that had been captured by the Union before the proclamation.
In 1864, an amendment abolishing slavery passed the U.S. Senate but died in the House as Democrats rallied in the name of states’ rights. The election of 1864 brought Republican majorities in both houses, so it appeared the amendment was headed for passage when the new Congress convened in March 1865. The amendment passed 119 to 56, seven votes above the necessary two-thirds majority. Several Democrats abstained, but the 13th Amendment was sent to the states for ratification, which came in December 1865. With the passage of the amendment, the institution that had indelibly shaped American history was eradicated.
Today in 1990 the first McDonald’s opened in Moscow. Throngs of people lined up to pay the equivalent of several days’ wages for Big Macs, shakes, and French fries.
The enthusiastic reception it received from the Russian people was signs those times were changing in the Soviet Union. An American journalist on the scene reported the customers seemed most amazed at the “simple sight of polite shop workers…in this nation of commercial boorishness.” A Soviet journalist stated the restaurant was “the expression of America’s rationalism and pragmatism toward food.” He also noted that the “contrast with our own unrealized pretensions is both sad and challenging.”
The arrival of McDonald’s in Moscow was a small but certain sign that change was on the horizon. In fact, less than two years later, the Soviet Union ceased to exist as a nation. As the American newsman reported, the first Russian McDonald’s customers “had seen the future, and it works, at least as far as their digestive tract.”
Today in 1990 Los Angeles prosecutors announced the coming retrial of Raymond Buckey, who was accused of molesting children at the McMartin Preschool in Manhattan Beach, California. The McMartin trials had already taken over six years and cost more than $13.5 million without a single guilty verdict resulting from 208 charges. However, a jury had deadlocked on 13 charges (voting 11-2 for acquittal) against Buckey, and prosecutors decided to retry him on eight of these counts.
The McMartin prosecutions represented the height of the hysteria over sexual abuse of children in America. Despite a complete lack of reputable evidence against the teachers and workers at McMartin Preschool, and with every indication that the children had been coerced and manipulated into their testimony, the prosecutors nonetheless proceeded against Ray Buckey.
“Believe the children” became the mantra of advocates who insisted that children never lied or were mistaken about abuse. The courts made unprecedented changes to criminal procedure to accommodate this mistaken notion. The California Supreme Court ruled that child witnesses were not required to provide details about the time and place of the alleged molestation to support a conviction. The U.S. Supreme Court held that child witnesses could testify outside the courtroom despite the Sixth Amendment’s clear command that a defendant had the right to confront his or her accusers.
Throughout the nation, parents and day-care workers were jailed after false, and often absurd, allegations about child sexual abuse. As this hysteria swept the country, abuse counseling quickly became a cottage industry, attracting often-unqualified people who seemed to find sexual abuse everywhere.
Recent research has found that young children are exceptionally easy to manipulate. Even when only subtly suggested, a child will respond with the answers he or she believes a questioner wants to hear.
This was abundantly clear in Ray Buckey’s case. In one instance, a girl initially failed to identify Buckey as someone who had harmed her. After an interview with Children’s Institute International, the counseling agency that worked with every child in the case, the girl did pick Buckey as her attacker. It later turned out that Buckey wasn’t even at the school during the time period that the child attended McMartin.
By July, the jury had acquitted Buckey on seven charges and were deadlocked (once again, the majority voting for acquittal) on the other six accusations. The district attorney then decided to drop the case. The Buckeys successfully sued the parents of one child for slander in 1991, but they were awarded only $1 in damages.
Today in 1917, Germany announced the renewal of unrestricted submarine warfare in the Atlantic as German torpedo-armed submarines prepare to attack any and all ships, including civilian passenger carriers, said to be sighted in war-zone waters.
The Germans’ most formidable naval weapon was the U-boat, a submarine far more sophisticated than those built by other nations at the time. The typical U-boat was 214 feet long, carried 35 men and 12 torpedoes, and could travel underwater for two hours at a time. In the first few years of World War I, the U-boats took a terrible toll on Allied shipping.
Today in 1995 Bill Clinton sidestepped Congress’ rejection of an earlier $50 billion loan proposal and exercised his executive power. Claiming that he was acting in the national interest , he authorized the Treasury Department to issue a loan of $20 billion through the Exchange Stabilization Fund. This was the first time the fund had been used to help stabilize a foreign currency. Clinton justified his decision by arguing that if the peso continued to fall, Mexico’s economy would crash and in turn negatively impact the United States. He warned that U.S. exports to Mexico would dwindle, disrupting the U.S. economy.
Critics of Clinton’s policy resented what they saw as a rescue of Mexico from its own inept financial management and a bailout of Wall Street investment in unreliable Mexican bonds. Republican leaders agreed with conservative Pat Buchanan’s assessment of the loan as “daylight robbery of the nation’s wealth. [It is money] the American taxpayers will never see again.” Other members of Congress complained that Clinton’s bypass of the legislature was an abuse of executive power.
The public fear of bailouts was understandable. In 1989, following the widespread failure of deregulated savings and loan companies in 1986, Congress enacted the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act (FIRREA). This act required American taxpayers to contribute to the bailout of the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corporation (FSLIC). The resulting cost to taxpayers was estimated at $124 billion in 1999.
Critics of the loan to Mexico echoed opponents of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which was established by President George H.W. Bush and supported by Clinton. They argued that Clinton’s vision of a global economy would lead to an unacceptable trade deficit as American imports greatly outnumbered exports, widening the gap between economic classes and eliminating U.S. jobs.
In subsequent years, Mexico paid off the loan along with $500 million in interest, though its economy was still far from robust. In 1997, Clinton concluded, “some said we should not get involved, that the money would never be repaid, that Mexico should fend for itself. They were wrong. Today the American people can be proud that we did the right thing by Mexico and the right thing for the United States, and the right thing to protect global prosperity.”
Happy birthday Norman Kingsley Mailer, novelist, journalist, playwright, and film maker, born today in 1923 at Long Branch, New Jersey.
Mailer’s first novel The Naked and the Dead (1948) a popular success said to be based on his war experiences. He was not involved in much combat and completed his service as a cook. The Armies of the Night (1968) won a Pulitzer Prize for nonfiction and the National Book Award in 1969 and The Executioner’s Song (1979) won the Pulitzer for fiction in 1980. Marilyn: A Biography (1973) was particularly controversial. The book’s final chapter states that Monroe was murdered by agents of the FBI and CIA who resented her supposed affair with Robert F. Kennedy. Mailer wrote over 40 books, 11 of them novels, over a 59-year span.
Mailer died November 10, 2007 at Manhattan, New York.
Happy birthday Pearl Zane Gray, later known as Zane Grey (the family changed the name shortly after his birth), Western Americana novelist, born today in 1872 at Zanesville, Ohio.
Grey’s first novel was based on an ancestor. Betty Zane (1903) did not sell. He might have given up writing had it not been for Colonel C. J. “Buffalo” Jones who convinced Grey to write Jones’ biography. More importantly, Jones took him out West to gather material for the book, and Grey became deeply fascinated with the people and landscape of the region. Grey converted his experiences into The Last of the Plainsmen (1909)[another source says1908], describing the adventures of Buffalo Jones. The book got little attention but inspired his efforts on writing historical romances of the West. Riders of the Purple Sage (1912) earned him lasting fame.
As far as veracity, Grey relied on first-hand experience, careful note-taking and considerable research. Yet, his works have been criticized for presenting idealized versions of the Wild West and unrealistic characters. He wrote 78 other books during his prolific career, most of them Westerns. By 1955, his books had sold more than 31 million copies around the world. With the possible exception of Riders, today Grey’s books are little read, and most modern readers find them pompous, moralizing, and sentimental.
Zane Grey died October 23, 1939, at his home in Altadena, California. He was age 67. He is interred at Lackawaxen, Pennsylvania.
Happy birthday Jack Roosevelt “Jackie” Robinson, first black Major League Baseball player, born today in 1919 at Cairo, Georgia. He played for the Brooklyn Dodgers from 1947 to 1956. In over ten seasons, he played in six World Series and contributed to the Dodgers’ 1955 World Championship. He was selected for six consecutive All-Star Games from 1949 to 1954, was the recipient of the inaugural MLB Rookie of the Year Award in 1947, and won the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 1949.
Jackie Robinson died October 24, 1972 at age 53.
Robinson was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962. In 1997, Major League Baseball “universally” retired his uniform number, 42, across all major league teams; he was the first pro athlete in any sport to be so honored. Since that time, Major League Baseball has adopted a new annual tradition, “Jackie Robinson Day,” in which all players on all teams wear #42.
Robinson was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal.
Rest in peace Schmuel Gelbfisz, later Samuel Goldfish and finally Samuel Goldwyn, film pioneer and producer, who died today in 1974 at Los Angeles, California. He was age 94. He is buried in Glendale, California.
Goldwyn was born July 1879 [day inexact] at Warsaw, Poland and immigrated to New York through England at about age 11. He is most known for being the founding contributor and executive of several motion picture studios in Hollywood. He took the name Samuel Goldfish, the easiest approximation of his Polish name. Goldwyn went into business with his brother-in-law Jesse Lasky and they co-founded the Jesse Lasky Feature Play Company. The company’s first production, The Squaw Man (1914) was the first feature-length motion picture to be produced in Hollywood.
Goldwyn left the company in 1917, selling out his shares for nearly half a million dollars. With Edgar and Arch Selwyn, he established Goldwyn Pictures Corporation as a combination of “Goldfish” and “Selwyn.” He liked the name so much he had his surname legally changed to Goldwyn. The company merged with Metro Pictures, forming what would later become Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. Goldwyn subsequently left the company to become an independent film producer. The Best Years of Our Lives (1946), won Goldwyn his first Oscar for Best Picture. In 1959, at the age of 78, Goldwyn came out of retirement to make his last movie, Porgy and Bess.
In the 1980s, Samuel Goldwyn Studio was sold to Warner Bros. There is a theater named after him in Beverly Hills and he has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. On March 27, 1971, Goldwyn was presented with the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Richard Nixon.
Rest in peace Edward Donald Slovik , the only American soldier to be court-martialled and executed for desertion since the American Civil War today in 1945. He was age 24. Eddie Slovik was born February 18, 1920 at Detroit, Michigan.
Slovik’s criminal record classified him as unfit for duty in the U.S. military (4-F), but he was reclassified as fit for duty (1-A) and subsequently drafted by the Army.
Slovik was buried at the American Cemetery and Memorial in Fère-en-Tardenois, France, alongside 95 American soldiers executed for rape and/or murder. Their grave markers are hidden from view by shrubbery and bear sequential numbers instead of names.
Antoinette Slovik unsuccessfully petitioned the Army for her husband’s remains and his pension until her death in 1979. Slovik’s case was taken up in 1981 by Bernard V. Calka, a Polish-American World War II veteran, who continued to petition the Army to return Slovik’s remains. In 1987, he succeeded in convincing President Ronald Reagan to order their return. Calka raised $8,000 to pay for their transfer from France to Detroit’s Woodmere Cemetery, where Slovik was reburied next to his wife.
Although Antoinette Slovik and others petitioned seven U.S. presidents for a pardon, none was granted.
During World War II the United States military executed 102 soldiers for rape and/or murder of civilians, but only Slovik was executed for the military offense of desertion.