this day in history

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February 19th 1942: Japanese internment begins

On this day in 1942, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed executive order 9066 which allowed the military to relocate Japanese-Americans to internment camps. A climate of paranoia descended on the US following the attack on the naval base at Pearl Harbor by the Empire of Japan, which prompted the US to join the Second World War. Americans of Japanese ancestry became targets for persecution, as there were fears that they would collude with Japan and pose a national security threat. This came to a head with FDR’s executive order, which led to 120,000 Japanese-Americans being rounded up and held in camps. The constitutionality of the controversial measure was upheld by the Supreme Court in Korematsu v. United States (1944). Interned Americans suffered great material and personal hardship, with most people losing their property and some losing their lives to illness or the violence of camp sentries. The victims of internment and their families eventually received an official government apology in 1988 and reparations began in the 1990s. This dark episode of American history is often forgotten in the narrative of US involvement in the Second World War, but Japanese internment poses a stark reminder of the dangers of paranoia and scapegoating.

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Happy Birthday to Charles Darwin! Born February 12, 1809, in Shrewsbury, England, Charles Darwin became one of the world’s most influential scientists. The Darwin Manuscripts Project has compiled full-color, high-resolution images of faithfully transcribed Darwin’s work.In these documents, you can trace the development of Darwin as a thinker and you will meet Darwin as a keen-eyed collector, an inspired observer, and a determined experimenter. You will also find Darwin the shrewd reader, attuned to his cultural context, and the strategic writer, ever reconsidering and revising. 

Explore the Darwin Manuscript Project here. 

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February 17th 1600: Giordano Bruno executed

On this day in 1600, the Italian friar, astronomer and philosopher Giordano Bruno was burned at the stake for heresy. Bruno’s ideas were controversial for his day, but are now hailed as precursory to modern scientific understanding. Bruno proposed the concept of an infinite universe populated by other intelligent life and rejected traditional geocentric astronomy. He agreed with Copernicus that the planets revolve around the Sun, but expanded on this by suggesting that the Sun is just another star. For these unorthodox views, which challenged traditional Christian ideas about the universe, Bruno was found guilty of heresy by the Roman Inquisition and burned at the stake. For his refusal to renounce his beliefs, Giordano Bruno is often remembered as a martyr for free thought.

“Perhaps your fear in passing judgment on me is greater than mine in receiving it”
- Giordano Bruno to the judges upon hearing his death sentence

HMS Curieux Captures Dame Ernouf, 8 February 1805, by Francis Sartorius Jr.

On 8 February 1805, Curieux chased the French privateer Dame Ernouf (or Madame Ernouf) for twelve hours before she able to bring her to action. After forty minutes of hard fighting Dame Ernouf, which had a crew almost double in size relative to that of Curieux, maneuvered to attempt a boarding. Captain Bettesworth anticipated this and put his helm a-starboard, catching his opponent’s jib-boom so that he could rake the French vessel. Unable to fight back, the Dame Ernouff struck.The action cost Curieux five men killed and four wounded, including Bettesworth, who took a hit in his head from a musket ball. Dame Ernouf had 30 men killed and 41 wounded.

Flak bursts blanket the skies above USS Enterprise (CV-6) during the Battle of Santa Cruz, October 26th, 1942. In the distant background the battleship USS South Dakota (BB-57) can be seen, as well as two destroyers. Enterprise is credited with downing 46 Japanese aircraft by AA fire, and South Dakota is credited with 26. This outstanding success is often attributed to the recent installation of the new 40mm Bofors anti-aircraft gun.

The Battle of St. Vincent, 14th February 1797 by Geoff Hunt.

This scene hinges on the actions of Nelson, then a commodore (having no fewer than four admirals superior to him actually present on the day). In a characteristic combination of eagerness, daring and independence that bordered on insubordination, he ordered his ship, the Captain, 74 guns, to “cut the corner” on a rather slow fleet manoeuvre and so got into action with the Spanish flagship, the 130-gun Santisima Trinidad, and at least two other first-rate battle ships before the rest of the British fleet caught up with him. The British ship Culloden is about to reach the battered Captain before passing on to the Spanish flagship. In the confused fighting that followed, Nelson was to perform his well-known feat of capturing an 80-gun ship, the San Nicholas, and using her as a bridge to capture another even larger, the 112-gun San Josef. The ship entering at extreme left is the 98-gun Prince George, which was to play a major role in knocking out the San Josef.

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January 20th 2009: Inauguration of Barack Obama

On this day in 2009, eight years ago, Barack Obama was sworn into office as the 44th President of the United States. That day, Obama made history as the nation’s first African-American President, having successfully defeated Republican candidate John McCain in the 2008 election. January 20th has been the official presidential Inauguration Day since the ratification of the 20th Amendment in 1933; previously, new presidents were sworn in on March 4th. Obama’s inauguration was one of the most observed events in global history, with millions watching in person, online, or on television. The day’s theme was ‘A New Birth of Freedom’, which derives from President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, to commemorate the 200th anniversary of Lincoln’s birth. Obama was sworn into office by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Roberts, who administered the oath of office required by the Constitution in Article Two, Section One, Clause Eight. However, the oath administered to Obama strayed slightly from the exact words specified in the Constitution, and he thus retook the oath the next evening. Obama was re-elected to office in 2012, defeating Republican Mitt Romney. The Obama presidency will be remembered primarily for the historic passage of the Affordable Care Act, the normalisation of relations with Cuba, and his appointments to the Supreme Court. His years in office were also marked by increased partisanship and division in America, and continued instability in the Middle East. Obama leaves office today, to be replaced by Republican Donald Trump, with high approval ratings, leaving a legacy of grace and statesmanship that will not be soon forgotten.

Casual reminder that today, 113 years ago, February 8th, 1904, marks the official declaration of the Russo-Japanese War.

Sources do not agree on a precise number of deaths from the war because of a lack of body counts for confirmation. The number of Japanese Army dead in combat is estimated at around 47,000, with around 27,000 additional casualties from disease, and between 6,000 and 12,000 wounded. Estimates of Russian Army dead range from around 50,000 to around 70,000 men. The total number of war dead is generally stated as around 130,000 to 170,000. China suffered 20,000 civilian deaths, and financially the loss amounted to over 69 million taels’ worth of silver, or roughly $1,228,200,000 USD (as of today’s silver value per ounce).

This was the first major military victory in the modern era of an Asian power over a European nation. Russia’s defeat was met with shock in the West and across the Far East. Japan’s prestige rose greatly as it came to be seen as a modern nation. Concurrently, due to it’s continuous string of lost battles to a superior Japanese navy, Russia lost virtually it’s entire Pacific and Baltic fleets, and also much international esteem. This was particularly true in the eyes of Germany and Austria-Hungary before World War I. Russia was France’s and Serbia’s ally, and that loss of prestige had a significant effect on Germany’s future when planning for war with France, and Austria-Hungary’s war with Serbia.

Though there had been popular support for the war among the Russian public following the Japanese attack at Port Arthur in 1904, that popular support soon turned to discontent after suffering multiple defeats at the hands of the Japanese. For many Russians, the immediate shock of unexpected humiliation at the hands of Japan caused the conflict to be viewed as a metaphor for the shortcomings of the Romanov autocracy.

Popular discontent in Russia after the war added more fuel to the already simmering Russian Revolution of 1905. In the latter half of the war, along with immediately afterwards, riots, by both civilians and military personnel, as well as mass unrest broke out and ensued across Tsarist Russia. Historians theorize that said unrest, hatred for the government, and embarrassment of loss is a major factor in what would lead to the Bolshevik uprising of October, 1917.

To the Western powers, Japan’s victory demonstrated the emergence of a new Asian regional power. With the Russian defeat, some scholars have argued that the war had set in motion a change in the global world order with the emergence of Japan as not only a regional power, but rather, the main Asian power. Rather more than the possibilities of diplomatic partnership were emerging, however. The Japanese success increased self-confidence among anti-colonial nationalists in colonised Asian countries – Vietnamese, Indonesians, Indians and Filipinos – and to those in countries like the Ottoman Empire and Persia in immediate danger of being absorbed by the Western powers. It also encouraged the Chinese who, despite having been at war with the Japanese only a decade before in the First Sino-Japanese War, still considered Westerners the greater threat. “We regarded the Russian defeat by Japan as the defeat of the West by the East. We regarded the Japanese victory as our own victory,” declared Sun Yat-sen.

In the absence of major western competition, and with the distraction of European nations during World War I, combined with the Great Depression that followed, the Japanese military began efforts to dominate China and the rest of Asia, which eventually led to the Second Sino-Japanese War and the Pacific War theatres of World War II.

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January 27th 1945: Liberation of Auschwitz

On this day in 1945, the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Poland was liberated by the Soviet Red Army. One of the most notorious camps of Nazi Germany, Jews and others persecuted by the Nazi regime were sent to Auschwitz from 1940 onwards. During its years in operation, over one million people died in Auschwitz, either from murder in the gas chambers or due to starvation and disease. As the war drew to a close and the Nazis steadily lost ground to the Allied forces, they began evacuating the camps and destroying evidence of the war crimes and crimes against humanity committed there. The leader of the SS, Heinrich Himmler, ordered the evacuation of the remaining prisoners at the camp as the Soviet Red Army closed in on the area. Nearly 60,000 prisoners from Auschwitz were forced on a march toward Wodzisław Śląski (Loslau) where they would be sent to other camps; some 20,000 ended up in the Bergen-Belsen camp in Germany. However, thousands died during the evacuation on the grueling marches, leading to them being called ‘death marches’. 7,500 weak and sick prisoners remained in Auschwitz, and they were liberated by the 322nd Rifle Division of the Soviet Red Army on January 27th 1945. Auschwitz remains one of the most powerful symbols of the Holocaust and the horrific crimes committed by the Nazi regime against Jews and numerous other groups.

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December 14th 1780: Alexander Hamilton and Elizabeth Schuyler marry

On this day in 1780, Founding Father Alexander Hamilton married Elizabeth Schuyler. Hamilton was born to a troubled family in the British West Indies, and moved to America as a teenager for an education. However, as the American colonies teetered on the brink of revolution, Hamilton found himself drawn to the Patriot cause. Soon into the war, Hamtilon became the assistant and adviser to General George Washington. It was during this time that he met and married Elizabeth Schuyler, who came from a prominent New York family. Elizabeth, or Eliza, was known for her sharp wit, and Hamilton was immediately smitten with her. The couple married in 1780, and went on to have eight children. As Hamilton’s career progressed, Eliza was his chief companion and helped him with his political writings. Hamilton was a fierce advocate of a strong central government, penning the majority of the Federalist Papers which supported the ratification of the Constitution, and became the nation’s first Secretary of the Treasury. Hamilton and Schuyler’s marriage was not without its trials; in 1797 the so-called Reynolds Pamphlet was published, revealing Hamilton’s affair with a woman named Maria Reynlds. In 1801, their nineteen-year-old son Philip was killed in a duel defending his father’s honour. Just three years after losing her son, Elizabeth was widowed when Alexander was killed by Aaron Burr in a duel. Elizabeth then devoted her life to philanthropy and preserving Hamiton’s legacy; in 1806, she founded New York’s first private orphanage. By the mid-nineteenth century, Elizabeth was one of the last living links to the revolutionary era, making her a very famous figure. In 1848, during the cornerstone-laying ceremony for the Washington Monument, Elizabeth rode in the procession with President James K. Polk and future presidents James Buchanan, Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson. Elizabeth Schuyler Hamilton died in 1854, aged 97, fifty years after her husband’s death.

“With my last idea; I shall cherish the sweet hope of meeting you in a better world. Adieu best of wives and best of Women. Embrace all my darling Children for me.”
- Alexander Hamilton to Elizabeth Schuyler, just days before his death

February 19

Eric Henderson and Woodrow (“Woody”) Van Chelton are adoptive brothers. After years of estrangement they are brought together by the mysterious death of their father. They set out to find their father’s killer and, in the course of their investigation, are accidentally imbued with powers. Straitlaced and earnest Eric Henderson always strove for a life of disciplined achievement—in school, in the Army and in his career. In contrast, Woody, has been irresponsible and undisciplined, living on the streets, gregarious but promiscuous, and leading a life of petty crime. Where their father Derek is killed at his top-secret experimental energy lab, the brothers reconnect at the funeral which leads to a fistfight and resultant jailtime. Distraught, suspected of murder, and determined to bring the real killers to justice, Eric and Woody decide to investigate the crime themselves, despite having no qualifications for doing so. They break into Derek’s lab to gather clues, but they accidentally activate a machine which emits strange energy to which they are exposed before causing a massive explosion. Miraculously, they survive and moreover, they possess the ability to shoot energy and generate shields of pure power. However, another result requires them to slam their metal wristbands to each other’s every 24 hours to avoid being dissolved. Utilizing their unstable energy powers, Eric and Woody learn of a mysterious group, Edison’s Radical Acquisitions (ERA), which was seeking Dr. Henderson’s research. Calling themselves Quantum and Woody, the duo infiltrate a ERA gathering in Washington, DC. They debuted in Quantum and Woody #1 (February 19, 1997).

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100 Years Ago Today: Zapata and Villa Take Mexico City

On December 6, 1914, a hundred years ago today, the revolutionary forces of Emiliano Zapata and Francisco “Pancho” Villa took Mexico City. In the top image, Villa, Commander of the División del Norte, and Zapata, Commander of the Ejército Libertador del Sur, pose for a now famous photo inside the National Palace along with their generals and others. It is said, Zapata insisted that Villa sit in the presidential throne.

A hundred years later, the struggle for a truly liberated Mexico continues.