Today in History
History's Happenings for October 16
The closest brush America has ever had -- and hopefully will ever have -- with nuclear war began on October 16, 1962, when spy plane overfilghts confirmed the suspicion that the Soviet Union had indeed placed offensive nuclear missiles in Cuba.
The history of America's diplomatic relationship with Cuba plays an integral part in the lead-up to the crisis.
When Fidel Castro was leading guerrillas through the Cuban jungle in defiance of Cuban dictator Fulgencio Batista in the 1950's, he was regarded as a democratic reformer. America's support for the Battista regime had steadily eroded as he continued to ignore both the plight and the grievances of his people.
However, when Battista was overthrown and Castro's followers came to power, the social reforms they implemented in the name of democracy were increasingly totalitarian and confiscatory themselves, and threatened the large investment American companies had made in Cuba over the years. Even Cuba's liberals began to feel that Castro's promise of a return to democracy was pure fantasy.
Feeling its interests at risk, the U.S. saw its only relief in the removal of Castro. It began by implementing economic sanctions on sugar imports, to which Castro replied with nationalizations of U.S. industry. Then on October 19, 1960, Congress authorized a full economic embargo, excepting only food and medicine. Castro replied with more expropriations. He also began to strengthen his relations with the Soviet Union, who offered assistance to replace the lost trade with the U.S. Not lost on the Soviets was the emerging opportunity to use Cuba as a military base for any potential operations against the United States -- angry words were flowing over the issue of West Berlin, which Khrushchev had demanded be ceded to the East.
When the U.S. escalated its efforts by staging the failed Bay of Pigs invasion on April 17, 1961, Castro let the cat out of the hat -- he denounced the Cuban constitution, avowed that he was a communist, and set about creating a socialist state in close cooperation with the Soviet Union.
The fact that the Russians were shipping weapons and military materiel to Cuba was not a secret. In September, 1962, President Kennedy warned of the "gravest consequences" should the Soviets include offensive nuclear weapons in their shipments. There was obviously good cause for Kennedy to be concerned for, no sooner had he made the statement, on October 14, 1962 a spy plane overflight spotted what appeared to be a ballistic missile. Photo analysis on October 16 confirmed the presence of medium range missiles capable of hitting most of the U.S., and of carrying nuclear payloads. The crisis had begun.
Kennedy was in a box. If he launched an invasion or similar provocation, he risked nuclear war on the spot. If he did nothing, he similarly risked war by showing the United States to be weak and irresolute. After many conferences and much deliberation on the potential consequences, the decision was made to first institute a naval blockade, with the announced understanding that, if the missiles were not removed, it would be followed by military action. A blockade being an act of war, Kennedy chose to call it a quarantine. Kennedy also warned that any missile fired from Cuba would invoke a "full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union".
For days Kennedy, and the rest of America, held its collective breath waiting to see if the Soviet Navy would honor the blockade, or if a naval confrontation would initiate the unthinkable. Fortunately the Russian vessels avoided the blockade.
Kennedy and Khrushchev continued to exchange cables through diplomatic channels, but the tension heightened when a U.S. U-2 pilot was shot down and killed over Cuba on October 27. Kennedy refused to retaliate due to the risk of killing Soviet advisers.
To the credit of both sides, restraint prevailed, and on October 28 Khrushchev decided that the missiles simply posed too great a threat of war and announced his intention to withdraw them in return for the U.S. guarantee not to invade the island. The world breathed again.
Problems arose in using the U.N. to oversee the withdrawal -- Castro would not admit them. A sore loser, Castro had asked the Soviet Union not only to leave the missiles in his country, but to be ready to use them as the threat of another invasion worsened. A crisis outcome that relieved the world embittered Castro against his Soviet suppliers.
But starvation is a powerful motivator — he soon got over it.
Queen Marie Antoinette of France wound up lying in the bed she made, unfortunately.
Among the nobility, she was a queen to turn heads and an extravagant center of attention in late eighteenth century royal Europe. But being an Austrian by birth and having difficulty enough being accepted by the French people when she married future King Louis XVI, her staunch resistance to even moderate compromise during the Revolution of 1789 did little to endear her further with her subjects.
After the Revolution, she and Louis tried to escape in 1791 with their young prince, but were captured and returned to Paris. Then in 1792 the monarchy was formally overthrown and the French Republic declared. Kings and queens were no longer required or welcome as the Jacobin Reign of Terror commenced.
On October 16, 1793, Marie Antoinette, having been found guilty of treason, took the long last walk up the steps to the guillotine visited upon her husband in 1792, and upon so many of her subjects during those dark times.
John Brown was born -- in Torrington, CT in 1800 -- raised, and spent his life as an avowed abolitionist. In 1830's Pennsylvania he formed a group of similar leaning in an attempt to educate young blacks, a pursuit he engaged in for the next twenty years. His hatred of slavery was so great that he gradually evolved an acceptance of violence as a legitimate means to end the institution.
In the 1850's, Brown and his five sons traveled to Kansas Territory to engage in the ongoing struggle there between abolitionist and pro-slavery elements. After the massacre of abolitionists in Lawrence in 1856, the Brown family exacted vengeance against pro-slavers by hunting down and killing five of them.
By 1857 Brown had made a name for himself in national abolitionist circles, and he began to ruminate about freeing slaves through force, a plan which attracted a small following. Plans grew slowly and there were small skirmishes which amounted to nothing.
Then on October 16, 1859, Brown and eighteen followers, including several sons, struck, attacking the federal arsenal at Harpers Ferry, VA (now WV). After taking the arsenal and occupying the town, Brown's forces took up defensive positions as the local militia ranged against them. The next day, the militia was reinforced by a detachment of U. S. Marines under none other than Col. Robert E. Lee.
In the ensuing fight, Brown lost ten men, including two sons, and was forced to surrender. A Virginia court convicted him of treason and other crimes, and sentenced him to death. He was hanged in December, in Charlestown.
After his death, he quickly became a martyr for the anti-slavery movement, which found the institution more horrific than Brown's violence.
Having been found guilty the previous month of crimes against humanity during the Second World War, ten former Nazi leaders were hanged October 16, 1946 at Nuremberg, Germany. The condemned included Foreign Minister Joaquim von Ribbentrop, Gestapo chief Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Gauleiter and Jew-baiter Julius Streicher and Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, head of the General Staff.
Others, including former Nazi Party chief Rudolf Hess, Armaments Minister Albert Speer, and Grand Admirals Erich Raeder and Karl Dönitz were given lengthy prison terms.
Luftwaffe chief Hermann Göring managed to poison himself hours before his appointment with the gallows.