This Day in History (22-Feb-1991) – US Gulf War allies give Iraq 24 hrs to begin Kuwait withdrawal

After the Iran-Iraq War of the 1980s, Iraq was extremely indebted to several Arab countries, including a $14 billion debt to Kuwait. Iraq hoped to repay its debts by raising the price of oil through OPEC oil production cuts, but instead, Kuwait increased production, lowering prices, in an attempt to leverage a better resolution of their border dispute. In addition, greatly antagonizing Iraq, Kuwait had taken advantage of the Iran-Iraq War and had begun illegal slant drilling for oil into Iraqi reserves, and had built military outposts on Iraqi soil near Kuwait. Furthermore, Iraq charged that it had performed a collective service for all Arabs by acting as a buffer against Iran and that therefore Kuwait and Saudi Arabia should negotiate or cancel Iraq’s war debts. The war with Iran had also seen the destruction of almost all of Iraq’s port facilities on the Persian Gulf cutting off Iraq’s main trade outlet. Iraq security could only be guaranteed by controlling more of the Gulf Coast, including more secure ports including Kuwait.

In August 1990, Iraqi troops crossed the Kuwaiti border with armor and infantry, occupying strategic posts throughout the country, including the Emir’s palace. Iraq detained thousands of Western visitors as hostages and later attempted to use them as bargaining chips. Hussein then installed a new Iraqi provincial governor, described as “liberation” from the Kuwaiti Emir

In January 1991 the United States Congress authorized the use of military force to drive Iraq out of Kuwait. The coalition launched a massive air campaign codenamed Operation Desert Storm, beginning early morning on January 17, 1991. On February 22, 1991, Iraq agreed to a Soviet-proposed cease-fire agreement. The agreement called for Iraq to withdraw troops to pre-invasion positions within three weeks following a total cease-fire, and called for monitoring of the cease-fire and withdrawal to be overseen by the UN Security Council. The US rejected the proposal but said that retreating Iraqi forces would not be attacked, and gave twenty-four hours for Iraq to begin withdrawing forces. On February 24, the US began Operation Desert Sabre, the ground portion of its campaign and declared that Kuwait had been liberated in next 3 days.



This Day in History (21-Feb- 1848) – The Communist Manifesto is Published for the First Time

The Communist Manifesto was a product of the social, economic and political turmoil that characterised Europe before 1850. Both of its authors, Marx and Engels, were touched by elements of this turmoil. Like many young Germans, Marx and Engels were profoundly influenced by the German philosopher Georg Hegel who had developed a theory of history that explained change. Collaboration between Marx and Engels began in Paris in 1844. In 1847 they joined an organisation of working-class German exiles, the League of the Just. A number of changes made at the 1847 congress of the League indicate their growing influence within it. The name, for example, was changed to the Communist League. In the aftermath of these changes, Marx and Engels were invited to draft a statement of aims. This was the genesis of The Communist Manifesto which was published on February 21, 1848. It is one of the world’s most-read political manuscripts.

The Communist Manifesto outlines a form of government designed to distribute wealth and eliminate social strata, for, as Marx and Engels wrote: “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.” Detailing the reasons why capitalism led to tension between the well-to-do bourgeoisie and the hard-laboring proletariat, Marx and Engels suggested the working class would soon rise up to overthrow their oppressors — hence the League’s slogan (borrowed from Marx): “Workers of the world, unite!”

Three days after Manifesto was published, February 23rd, riots broke out in France. Germany would see demonstrations next, followed by Denmark and nearly a dozen nations — some as far away as South America. Still, more than a century and a half after its first publication, The Communist Manifesto has a bewildering power over readers. The ideas espoused by Marx and Engels reflect a prescience few works can claim, as the Occupy Wall Street protests of 2011 often pointed to the same differences in class Marx touched on 163 years before. Marx and Engels may not have changed the world, but they certainly changed the way we interpret it.


This Day in History (20-Feb-1947) – Lord Mountbatten appointed as last viceroy of India

In October 1943, Lord Mountbatten became the supreme allied commander, South East Asia Command (SEAC), a position he held until 1946. He achieved the defeat of the Japanese offensive towards India and the reconquest of Burma. In September 1945, he received the Japanese surrender at Singapore. In 1947, Mountbatten was appointed as the Viceroy of India. He mainly administered the British withdrawal from India with minimal reputation damage and the transition from British India to independent states of India and Pakistan.

Mountbatten was fond of Congress leader Jawaharlal Nehru and his liberal outlook for the country. Though Mountbatten emphasized on the united, independent India, he could not influence Mohammad Ali Jinnah, who demanded a separate Muslim state of Pakistan, despite being aware of the difficulties that would arise while meeting the demands.  Unable to sway away Jinnah from his modus operandi of a separate Muslim state, Mountbatten adapted himself to the changing situation and concluded that his vision for a united India was an unachievable dream. He then resigned himself to a plan for partition, creating the independent nations of India and Pakistan.

He worked towards setting a fixed date for the transfer of power from British India to the Indians. At the stroke of midnight on August 14-15, 1947, India and Pakistan attained independence. Mountbatten served as the country’s first Governor General for ten months until June 1948.

Mountbatten also developed a strong relationship with the Indian princes, who ruled those portions of India not directly under British rule. His intervention was decisive in persuading the vast majority of them to see advantages in opting to join the Indian Union. Thus the integration of the princely states can be viewed as one of the positive aspects of his legacy.

In 1953, Mountbatten returned to the Royal Navy, becoming commander of a new NATO Mediterranean command. Finally, he retired from the navy in 1965 as a Chief of the defence staff. In 1979, Mountbatten was murdered when IRA terrorists blew up his boat off the coast of County Sligo, Ireland.



This Day in History (19-Feb-1985) – William J. Schroeder becomes the first recipient of an artificial heart to leave hospital

An artificial heart is a device that replaces the heart. Artificial hearts are typically used to bridge the time to heart transplantation, or to permanently replace the heart in case heart transplantation is impossible. Although other similar inventions preceded it going back to the late 1940s, the first artificial heart to be successfully implanted in a human was the Jarvik-7, designed by Robert Jarvik and implemented in 1982. Dr. Kolff implanted the Jarvik 7 artificial heart into Barney Clark, a dentist from Seattle who was suffering from severe congestive heart failure. While Clark lived for 112 days tethered to an external pneumatic compressor, a device weighing some 400 pounds (180 kg), during that time he suffered prolonged periods of confusion and a number of instances of bleeding, and asked several times to be allowed to die.

On November 25, 1984, Schroeder became the second human recipient of the Jarvik 7. The transplant was performed at Humana Heart Institute International in Louisville, Kentucky by Dr. William C. DeVries. After 18 days, he suffered the first of a series of strokes. He died on August 7, 1986 of a lung infection, 620 days after receiving the Jarvik 7. This was the longest that anyone had survived with an artificial heart at that time. His survival showed that people could live long-term on the plastic and metal device. But the strokes and other complications they suffered impaired the quality of their lives and blunted initial enthusiasm for the heart. The seriousness of the complications suffered by artificial-heart recipients prompted suggestions that developers of the device take another look at its basic design.

The headstone marking Schroeder’s grave is made of black granite in the shape of two overlapping hearts. One is laser engraved with an image of the Jarvik 7.

After the first five permanent cases, the Jarvik 7 heart became more widely used as a temporary total artificial heart, bridging patients to transplant. One of the patients was bridged from the Jarvik 7 heart to a human heart that gave him fourteen more years of normal life. Since 1982, more than 350 patients have used the Jarvik 7 heart, and it remains in use today.



This Day in History (18-Feb-1930) – Clyde Tombaugh Discovers Pluto

Looking over some photographic plates from the month before as part of his research into asteroids, astronomer Clyde Tombaugh noticed a peculiar object on February 18, 1930: the ‘Planet X’. Part of a larger cloud of debris called the Kuiper belt, the small orb 4.6 billion miles from the sun has become a controversial figure in the scientific community. Lurking among the distant rocks sprayed across space beyond the orbits of Uranus and Neptune, Percival Lowell — the founder of the observatory Tombaugh worked at — first theorized the presence of a “Planet X” affecting the two outermost planets and predicted its location in 1909. Tombaugh carried on the research after Lowell’s death and diligently spent each day taking photographs of the night sky and looking them over with a blink comparator, an optical device that allows the researcher to quickly flip back and forth between two images.

The news shocked the public, resulting in a flood of more than a thousand letters arriving at the Lowell Observatory with ideas for naming the planet. Venetia Burnley, an 11-year-old girl from the English city of Oxford, suggested Pluto, Roman name for the Greek god of the underworld, Hades (world of deads). Taking 248 Earth years to make one pass around the sun, Pluto’s orbit does not fit the regular pattern exhibited by the other eight planets. At times, it is within the path trotted by Neptune, a factor in debates about the true status of the object.

Following more than 75 years of being regarded as a planet, the International Astronomical Union announced Pluto no longer fit the bill in August 2006. Citing the shape of its orbit and the various asteroids it shares the Kuiper belt with, experts decided to downgrade it to a dwarf planet. (True planets have to “own” their path around the sun.)

There are now officially only eight planets in our solar system. Pluto  is much smaller than any of the official planets. It is smaller than seven of the solar system’s moons including moon of the earth. Pluto has not yet been visited by a spacecraft. Even the Hubble Space Telescope can resolve only the largest features on its surface (left and above). A spacecraft called New Horizons was launched in January 2006. If all goes well it should reach Pluto in 2015.


This Day in History (17-Feb-1936) – “Phantom” cartoon strip by Lee Falk debuts

Leon “Lee” Falk, is the creator of two of the most successful and longest-running action-adventure strips in the history of comic art: “Mandrake the Magician” and “The Phantom.” He began his career as a 19-year-old college student. “Mandrake the Magician” was the first action-adventure strip in which magic was the main theme. Falk’s mysterious magician was immediately a worldwide sensation.

Just two years later, Falk developed still another blockbuster. “The Phantom” made its debut in newspaper comics pages on Feb. 17, 1936. Falk combined his love of epic poetry, fairy tales and stories of chivalry to create the riveting, myth-freighted legend of the first costumed super hero, ‘The Phantom,” also known as “The Ghost Who Walks,” “The Man Who Cannot Die” and “The Guardian of the Eastern Dark.”

Falk wrote ‘Phantom’ stories for over 60 years until his death in 1999 while he was narrating the next Phantom story. The first Phantom was supposedly first seen in year 1525. His sons have followed him. The current Phantom is supposed to be the 21st. As per the story, during the sixteenth century, a man named Christopher Walker was sailing on the seas of Africa with his father, when they fell prey to pirates’ attack. The pirates slaughtered the ship’s crew and blew up the ship. The only survivor was young Christopher. He was washed up onto the Bangallan Beach. He then took his father’s skull and swore an oath upon it, “I swear to devote my life to the destruction of piracy, greed, cruelty and injustice! And my sons, and their sons, shall follow me!” Thus originated the first Phantom. He became friends with the various local tribes and dedicated his life to fighting injustice and cruelty.

Originally Phantom’s” outfit was grey but in a colour printing of the comic it looked purple. Falk liked it and decided to keep it purple. “The Phantom” became a lodestar for what has become practically an industry built around supernatural men and women. King Features distributes “The Phantom” today to more than 500 newspapers. It is translated into 15 languages.



This Day in History (16-Feb-1659) – 1st known cheque (£400) (on display at Westminster Abbey)

There are early evidences of using cheques. In India, during the Mauryan period (from 321 to 185 BC), a commercial instrument called adesha was in use, which was an order on a banker desiring him to pay the money of the note to a third person, which corresponds to the definition of a bill of exchange as we understand it today. During the Buddhist period, there was considerable use of these instruments. Merchants in large towns gave letters of credit to one another. In early 1500s, the check first got widespread usage in Holland. Amsterdam in the sixteenth century was a major international shipping and trading center. People who had accumulated cash began depositing it with Dutch “cashiers,” for a fee, as a safer alternative to keeping the money at home. Eventually the cashiers agreed to pay their depositors’ debts out of the money in each account, based on the depositor’s written order or “note” to do so.

The first known handwritten cheque in Britain was signed in 1659 on this day. It was made out for £400, signed by Nicholas Vanacker, and made payable to a Mr Delboe and drawn on Messrs Morris and Clayton, scriveners and bankers of the City of London. The world “check” also may have originated in England in the 1700s when serial numbers were placed on these pieces of paper as a way to keep track of, or “check” on, them. As checks became more widely accepted, bankers encountered problem of collecting the money due from so many other banks. At first, each bank sent messengers to the other banks to present checks for collection, but that meant a lot of traveling and a lot of cash being hauled around. The solution to this problem was found at a British coffee shop. The story goes that a London bank messenger stopped for coffee and noticed another bank messenger. They got to talking, realized that they each had checks drawn on the other’s bank, and decided to exchange them and save each other the extra trip. The practice evolved into a system of check “clearinghouses”—networks of banks that exchange checks with each other—that still is in use.

The use of cheques peaked in 1990 but has dropped significantly since being partly replaced by electronic payment systems. Today two-thirds of under 25s have never written a cheque.