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History's Happenings for October 23

Hungary Revolts!
1956

Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev

When Nikita Khrushchev succeeded Josef Stalin as Soviet Premier in 1953, the Communist Party was shaken internally by the loss of the iron hand of the dictator, and viewed with growing distaste in the world at large because of his wanton brutality.

In order restore the reputation of the party and distance his regime from the bad memories of the past, Khrushchev began to purge the Soviet government not only of the worst of Stalin's henchmen and practices, but also of the cult of Stalinism itself.

While this played well for the most part in the Soviet Union, in the satellite countries, which had a thinner foundation of Communism since the Second World War, de-Stalinization tended to destabilize, to open a chink in the armor of totalitarianism by dividing the hard-liners and reformers in the Socialist governments.

Nowhere more so, as it turned out, than in Hungary, where the perceived division in national government prompted a popular revolt that began on October 23, 1956, when university students demanded the return of ousted reformer Prime Minister Imre Nagy.

Unable to quash the growing uprising -- the troops more often sided with the rebels -- the communist government gave in and reappointed Nagy to his post. He was similarly unable to suppress the revolt, which had moved from demands for reform to insistence upon the complete withdrawal of the country from the Soviet orbit. Riding the tide, on November 2 the Nagy government announced that Hungary would withdraw from the Warsaw Pact and remain neutral, as well as instituting other democratic reforms.

Unfortunately for Hungary, this was too much for Khrushchev. On November 4, 4000 Warsaw Pact tanks rumbled into Hungary, capturing Budapest and other cities in several days of intense fighting. As many as 50,000 rebels were killed -- an incredible number for such a short period, rivaling America's total losses in the ten-year Vietnam conflict. The invaders lost about 7,000 troops.

Nagy appealed to the U.N., which placed the issue on its agenda but did nothing. U.S. President Eisenhower, despite his staunch anti-communism, also declined to intervene.

After crushing the revolt, the Soviets installed a pro-Moscow government under János Kádár which, to avoid further problems, loosened the communist yoke just a bit.

Two years later, Nagy was executed. Hungary waited thirty-three more years for her freedom.

Federal Army Finishes Rebs in Missouri
1864

Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev

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Suffragettes March for Vote
1915

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Battle of El Alamein Begins
1942

Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery

The real battle for Africa during World War II began in the spring of 1941, when Hitler sent in General (later Field Marshal) Erwin Rommel and his Afrika Korps to relieve the Italians who, having invaded Egypt in the fall of 1940, had been quickly pushed 500 miles back into Libya by the British Army of the Nile.

In see-saw battles across the unforgiving Libyan desert, by the summer of 1942 Rommel had closed to within 70 miles of Alexandria against stiff British resistance, and stretched his supplies to the limit. While the German dictator awaited word of the final conquest of the Nile, the British reinforced and reorganized their forces into the Eighth Army under General (later Field Marshal) Bernard Montgomery.

A prima donna, detested by many of his peers, Monty was always cautious. But he never lost a battle and earned the respect of the ordinary soldier. After two months of preparation that left Winston Churchill wondering if he had any will to fight, Monty threw the full weight of the British Eighth Army against Rommel at a patch of nowhere called El Alamein, sixty miles west of Alexandria.

Confronted by massive German minefields, the British opened the battle on October 23, 1942 with a thousand-gun barrage lasting five hours, devastating the forward German positions and softening the minefields. Behind the guns followed Monty's troops, replete with kilted pipers. And with them the onslaught of tanks, including the fast new Crusader.

The Germans were overwhelmed by superior strength, weapons and logistics. They had nowhere to maneuver -- on the north was the Mediterranean, on the south the impassable Quattara Depression. So Rommel retreated, leaving in his trail sixty thousand prisoners and most of his heavy equipment and tanks. The battle had lasted almost two weeks.

Shortly after retiring from El Alamein with Monty on his tail -- a retreat that would eventually take the German Army 1750 miles across North Africa -- Rommel learned of the November 8 Allied invasion of Morocco. Caught in a giant pincer from which there looked to be no escape, Rommel commanded his last major African campaign in February, 1943, defeating the advancing Allied forces at Kasserine Pass in Morocco. He was then recalled by his Führer and the unsupplied Axis armies were left to their fate in Africa.

Battle of Leyte Gulf
1944

Admiral Chester Nimitz, Pacific Fleet commander

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Vidkun Quisling Executed
1945

Norwegian traitor Vidkun Quisling

Vidkun Quisling, the name that became synonymous with traitor in Norway, was executed on this day in 1945 for his collaboration with the Nazis.

Born in 1887, Quisling graduated first in his class from the Norwegian Military Academy, and served the Norwegian legation in post-revolutionary Russia. When Britain severed relations with the Communist government, Quisling continued to look after her affairs, and was later awarded the CBE (Commander of the Most Magnificent Order of the British Empire) for his efforts.

During his tenure in Russia, he supported both the British and Bolshevist causes, and was impressed by the success of the Communist revolution.

Returning to Norway Quisling approached the Labor Party with the idea of starting its own Red Army. Suspicious, they turned him down. After serving a brief stint as Minister of Defense, he left to form a party of the opposite extreme, the Nazi-leaning National Union. Unable to get elected to office in democratic Norway, Quisling turned to Germany for help. As war approached in the late thirties, he began to impress upon the Nazi leadership the need to take control of Norway.

When Germany ultimately invaded the country in April, 1940 their intent was to install Quisling as Prime Minister in a government still nominally headed by King Haakon VII. But the king refused, and his government hastily retired in defiance to the mountain town of Hamar, from whence they later fled to London.

In 1942 the Nazis installed Quisling as Prime Minister, and he proceeded to collaborate fully with his new masters, and to create a proper National Socialist regime there, including the use of terror against the opposition and the persecution of Jews and other undesirables.

When the war ended, Quisling was tried by a Norwegian court, found guilty of treason, and executed.

U.N. General Assembly Holds First Meeting
1946

United Nations flag

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Senate Borks Bork
1987

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