This Day in History (22-Jan-1506) – The Swiss Guards Arrive at the Vatican

Centuries ago, the Swiss Cantons had about 500,000 inhabitants and formed an overpopulated country, where, because of the precarious economic conditions of the times, there was much poverty. There was no choice but to emigrate and one of the most profitable jobs was that of a mercenary soldier abroad. There were some 15,000 men available for this type of work which was “organized” and controlled by the small Confederation of Cantons. They were the best troops of those times. Without cavalry and with little artillery, they had invented a tactic of movement that was superior to all others.

Pope Sixtus IV made alliance in 1497 with the Confederates, which foresaw the possibility of recruiting mercenaries, and he had barracks built for them. Later, renewing the old pact, Innocent VIII (1484-1492) also desired to make use of them against the Duke of Milan. January 22nd, 1506, is the official date of birth of the Pontifical Swiss Guard, as on that day, towards the evening, a group of one hundred and fifty Swiss soldiers commanded by Captain Kasparvon Silenen, of Canton Uri, passed through the Porta del Popolo and entered for the first time the Vatican, where they were blessed by Pope Julius II.

On the morning of May 6th, 1527, Captain General Bourbon launched a series of attacks on Rome. The Spanish mercenaries broke through the Torrione Gate. The Swiss Guard, standing firm resisted desperately. Their Captain, Kaspar Röist was wounded, and later killed by the Spaniards. Of the 189 Swiss Guards, only 42 survived, the ones who, when all was lost, under the command of Hercules Göldli guarded Pope Clement VII’s retreat to safety in Castel Sant’Angelo.

Tradition continues and today the tiny force is responsible for the Pope’s safety, including the security of the Apostolic Palace, and acts as the de facto armed forces of Vatican City, the world’s tiniest sovereign state. The 130 members of the Swiss Guard are required to be Catholic, unmarried Swiss citizens who have completed Swiss military service. They need to be at least 5ft 8in tall and between the ages of 19 and 30. The papal Swiss Guard tradition has been marching on for nearly 500 years — making it the oldest, continually active military corps in history.

Reference:

http://www.mapsofworld.com/on-this-day/january-22-1506-the-swiss-guards-arrive-at-the-vatican

http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/swiss_guard/swissguard/storia_en.htm

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/vaticancityandholysee/8873853/A-history-of-the-Vaticans-Swiss-Guard.html

http://www.catholicnews.com/data/stories/cns/swiss.htm

This Day in History (7-Jan-1999) – US President Bill Clinton’s Trial For Impeachment Began In The Senate

In 1994, Ms. Paula Jones, filed charges against President Bill Clinton alleging sexual harassment in 1991. Amidst the controversy surrounding the case and the investigation by independent counsel Kenneth W. Starr, of the Whitewater corruption allegations, President Clinton engaged in an illicit sexual affair in 1995, with a White House intern, Ms. Monica Lewinsky, aged 21. After 18 months, Ms. Lewinsky was transferred to the Pentagon in 1996 on account of “inappropriate and immature behavior”, where she befriended Linda Tripp. In her conversations with Ms. Tripp, Ms. Lewinsky detailed her relationship with the President. Ms. Tripp started to secretly tape-record Lewinsky’s telephone conversations.

With the permission of the US State Justice Department, Kenneth Starr expanded his investigation, determined to prove that the President had committed perjury and obstruction of justice by encouraging Ms. Lewinsky to lie. Ms. Lewinsky was subsequently intercepted by the FBI and confessed to the affair. Following this, President Clinton swore in his deposition that he did not have any sexual relations with Ms. Lewinsky. In July 1998, Starr egged Ms. Lewinsky into providing him DNA evidence of her sexual relationship with the president. With the evidence secure, Starr also persuaded Ms. Lewinsky to testify in front of a federal grand jury. The President also appeared before the jury but did not answer specific questions. Later, that night he confessed to the relationship on national TV.

On September 9, Starr delivered a 453-page report to the US House of Representatives citing 11 impeachable offenses. On December 19, the House impeached President Clinton. The impeachment trial in the Senate commenced on January 7, 1999. The impeachment trial lasted five weeks and ended with Clinton’s acquittal. Following the trial, Bill Clinton went on to say that he was “profoundly sorry” for the burden that his behavior had imposed on the people of the US and the American Congress. President Bill Clinton went on to complete the term of his presidency but the scandal severely damaged his reputation and that of White House. It was also responsible for Republican Senator Gorge W. Bush’s resounding success in the 2000 US presidential campaign and the defeat of Vice President Al Gore.

Reference:

http://www.mapsofworld.com/on-this-day/january-7-1999-us-president-bill-clintons-trial-for-impeachment-began-in-the-senate

http://edition.cnn.com/ALLPOLITICS/1998/resources/lewinsky/timeline/

This Day in History (3-Jan-1925) – Benito Mussolini announces he will become dictator of Italy

Benito Amilcare Andrea Mussolini, son of Italian blacksmith, moved to Switzerland at the age of 19 due to poverty, where he became involved in socialist politics. He returned to Italy in couple of years, and worked as a journalist in the socialist press, but he abandoned his party to advocate Italian intervention in World War I. Following the war, in which he served as a rifleman, Mussolini decided his destiny was to rule Italy as a modern Caesar and re-create the Roman Empire.  In March 1919, Mussolini formed the Fascist Party, galvanising the support of many unemployed war veterans. He organised them into armed squads known as Black Shirts, who terrorised their political opponents.

By October 1922, Italy seemed to be slipping into political chaos. The Black Shirts marched on Rome and Mussolini presented himself as the only man capable of restoring order. King Victor Emmanuel invited Mussolini to form a government. Mussolini gradually dismantled the institutions of democratic government and in 1925 made himself dictator, taking the title ‘Il Duce’. He set about attempting to re-establish Italy as a great European power. The regime was held together by strong state control and Mussolini’s cult of personality. In 1935, Mussolini invaded Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) and incorporated it into his new Italian Empire. He provided military support to Franco in the Spanish Civil War. Increasing co-operation with Nazi Germany culminated in the 1939 Pact of Steel. Influenced by Hitler, Mussolini began to introduce anti-Jewish legislation in Italy. His declaration of war on Britain and France in June 1940 exposed Italian military weakness and was followed by a series of defeats in North and East Africa and the Balkans.

After the Allied victories of November 1942, Mussolini implored Hitler to make peace with Joseph Stalin and concentrate on defeating the British-American forces. Hitler’s refusal and the Sicilian invasion convinced the king and high command to overthrow Mussolini in July 1943. In September, Italy signed an armistice with the Allies. Mussolini was rescued by German commandos and was installed as the leader of a new government, but had little power. The April 1945 German surrender in Italy forced Mussolini to flee. Insurgents captured and shot him.

Reference:

http://www.mapsofworld.com/on-this-day/january-3-1431-joan-of-arc-is-turned-over-to-bishop-pierre-cauchon

http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/mussolini_benito.shtml

http://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/benito-mussolini

This Day in History (30-Dec-2006) – Former President of Iraq Saddam Hussein is executed

In 1957, Saddam joined the Ba’ath Party at the age of 20, whose ultimate ideological aim was the unity of Arab states in the Middle East. In a failed attempt to assassinate Iraq’s then-president, Abd al-Karim Qasim, Saddam managed to escape to Syria with a bullet wound. In 1963, when Qasim’s government was overthrown in the so-called Ramadan Revolution, Saddam returned to Iraq. In 1968, Saddam participated in a bloodless but successful Ba’athist coup that resulted in Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr becoming Iraq’s president and Saddam his deputy. Saddam did much to modernize Iraq’s infrastructure, industry, and health-care system, and raised social services, education. Saddam also helped develop Iraq’s first chemical weapons program.

In 1979, Saddam forced al-Bakr to resign, and became president of Iraq. In 1980, Saddam ordered Iraqi forces to invade the oil-rich region of Khuzestan in Iran. After years of intense conflict that left hundreds of thousands dead on both sides, a ceasefire agreement was finally reached in 1988. In 1990, using the justification that Kuwait was a historical part of Iraq, Saddam ordered the invasion of Kuwait. UN coalition force headed by the United States defeated Iraqi forces.

Soon after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City, Soviet intelligence relayed information to the U.S. government that indicated Iraq was planning further terrorist attacks against the United States. UN inspection in Iraq did not find any weapons of mass destructions. Despite this, on March 20, 2003, under the pretense that Iraq did in fact have a covert weapons program and that it was planning attacks, a U.S.-led coalition invaded Iraq. Within weeks, the government and military had been toppled, and on April 9, 2003, Baghdad fell. Saddam, however, managed to elude capture. In the months that followed, an intensive search for Saddam began. Finally, on December 13, 2003, Saddam was found hiding in a small underground bunker near a farmhouse in ad-Dawr, near Tikrit. He was officially handed over to the interim Iraqi government to stand trial for crimes against humanity. On November 5, 2006, Saddam was found guilty and sentenced to death. On December 30, 2006, at Camp Justice, an Iraqi base in Baghdad, Saddam was hanged.

Reference:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/December_30

http://www.biography.com/people/saddam-hussein-9347918

This Day in History (19-Dec-1984) – UK signs agreement with China to return Hong Kong to China in 1997

In the two ‘opium wars’ faught between China and Britain between 1839 to 1860, Britain ceded the part of Hong Kong island in perpetuity. Further China was weakened due to defeat in Sino-Japanese war of 1894-95. In 1898, China signed the lease contract to give British full jurisdiction of remaining Hong Kong that was necessary to ensure proper military defence of the colony around the island. The lease agreement was for 99 years expiring on 30 Jun 1997, with zero rent. Claude MacDonald, the British representative during the convention, picked a 99-year lease because he thought it was “as good as forever.”  Part ceded and part leased, made it unfeasible to return the leased land alone as it would have split Hong Kong in two parts. The Chinese also started to pressure the British to return all of Hong Kong, taking the position that they would not accept so-called “unequal treaties” that were imposed on them by colonial powers.

Hong Kong propspered in 20th century. However facing the uncertain future of Hong Kong, Governor MacLehose raised the question in the late 1970s about lease agreement. The expiry of lease in 1997 created problems for business contracts, property leases and confidence among foreign investors. In 1983, the United Kingdom reclassifed Hong Kong as a British Dependent Territory (now British Overseas Territory) when reorganising global territories of the British Empire. Talks and negotiations began with China and concluded with the 1984 Sino-British Joint Declaration.

The declaration stated that Hong Kong’s sovereignty will be transfered to the People’s Republic of China on 1 July 1997, when Hong Kong would remain autonomous as a Special Administrative Region and be able to retain its free-market economy, British common law through the Basic Law, independent representation in international organisations (e.g. WTO and WHO), treaty arrangements and policy-making except foreign diplomacy and military defence.  It stipulated that Hong Kong would be governed as a special administrative region, retaining its laws and a high degree of autonomy for at least 50 years after the transfer.

Reference:

http://www.historyorb.com/day/december/19?p=2

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/430163/Opium-Wars

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hong_Kong

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Convention_for_the_Extension_of_Hong_Kong_Territory

This Day in History (18-Dec-1972) – US begins its heaviest bombing of North Vietnam

North Vietnam defeated the French colonial administration of Vietnam in 1954. Vietnamese Communist Party, led by Ho Chi Minh with its capital Hanoi ruled the North Vietnam. In the South, the French transferred most of their authority to the State of Vietnam, which had its capital at Saigon and was nominally under the authority of the former Vietnamese emperor, Bao Dai.  North Vietnam wished to unify the entire country under a single communist regime modeled after those of the Soviet Union and China. The South Vietnamese government, on the other hand, fought to preserve a Vietnam more closely aligned with the West. US was driven by Cold War concerns about the spread of communism, particularly “domino theory” – the idea that if one Asian nation fell to the leftist ideology, others would quickly follow.

US active combat units were introduced in 1965. By 1969 more than 500,000 U.S. military personnel were stationed in Vietnam. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union and China poured weapons, supplies, and advisers into the North. The war lasted from 1965 to 1973 with South Vietnam and US accepting the defeat. As per the official estimates casualities were 2 million civilians on both sides and some 1.1 million North Vietnamese and Viet Cong fighters. The U.S. military estimated that 250,000 South Vietnamese soldiers died alongwith 58,000 US soldiers in the war.

Vietnam emerged from the war as a potent military power within Southeast Asia, but its agriculture, business, and industry were disrupted, large parts of its countryside were scarred by bombs and defoliation and laced with land mines, and its cities and towns were heavily damaged. A mass exodus in 1975 of people loyal to the South Vietnamese cause was followed by another wave in 1978 of “boat people,” refugees fleeing the economic restructuring imposed by the communist regime. Meanwhile, the United States, its military demoralized and its civilian electorate deeply divided, began a process of coming to terms with defeat in what had been its longest and most controversial war. The two countries finally resumed formal diplomatic relations in 1995.

 

Reference:

http://www.historyorb.com/day/december/18?p=2

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/628478/Vietnam-War

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/shared/spl/hi/asia_pac/05/vietnam_war/html/introduction.stm

This Day in History (16-Dec-1773) – Boston Tea Party

Since the beginning of the 18th century, tea had been regularly imported to the American colonies. It has been estimated American colonists drank approximately 1.2 million pounds of tea each year. Britain realized it could make even more money off of the lucrative tea trade by imposing taxes onto the American colonies. In effect, the cost of British tea became high, and, in response, American colonists began a very lucrative industry of smuggling tea from the Dutch and other European markets. In 1773, the Tea Act was passed and granted the British East India Company a monopoly on tea sales in the American colonies. American colonists were outraged over the tea tax. They believed the Tea Act was a tactic to gain colonial support for the tax already enforced. The direct sale of tea by agents of the British East India Company to the American colonies undercut the business of colonial merchants. The smuggled tea became more expensive than the British East India Company tea. Smugglers like John Hancock and Samuel Adams were trying to protect their economic interests by opposing the Tea Act, and Samuel Adams sold the opposition of British tea to the Patriots on the pretext of the abolishment of human rights by being taxed without representation.

In cities as New York, Philadelphia, and Charleston, tea agents resigned or canceled orders, and merchants refused consignments. In Boston, however, the royal governor Thomas Hutchinson determined to uphold the law and maintained that three arriving ships should be allowed to deposit their cargoes and that appropriate duties should be honoured. On the night of December 16, 1773, a group of about 60 men comprising of  Samuel Adams and the Sons of Liberty encouraged by a large crowd of Bostonians, donned blankets and Indian headdresses, marched to Griffin’s wharf, boarded the ships, and dumped the 342 tea chests, valued at £18,000 (about $1m today), into the water.

In retaliation, Parliament passed the series of punitive measures known in the colonies as the Intolerable Acts, including the Boston Port Bill, which shut off the city’s sea trade pending payment for the destroyed tea. The British government’s efforts to single out Massachusetts for punishment served only to unite the colonies and impel the drift toward war.

Reference:

http://www.bostonteapartyship.com/boston-tea-party-facts

http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/74947/Boston-Tea-Party

http://www.history.com/topics/american-revolution/boston-tea-party