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.



This Day in History (7-Nov-1917) – The October Revolution of 1917

February Revolution in 1917 overthrew the Tsarist autocracy and established a provisional government in Russia composed predominantly of former nobles and aristocrats. In April 1917, Lenin and other revolutionaries returned to Russia from exile. Lenin galvanized the small and theretofore cautious Bolshevik party into action. The courses he advocated were simplified into the powerful slogans “end the war,””all land to the peasants,” and “all power to the soviets.”

The provisional government and the Menshevik and Socialist Revolutionary leaders in the soviet lost support from the impatient soldiers and workers, who turned to the Bolsheviks. Although the Bolsheviks were a minority in the first all-Russian congress of soviets (June), they continued to gain influence. Conservative and even some moderate elements, who wished to limit the power of the soviets, rallied around General Kornilov, who attempted to seize Petrograd by force. At Kerensky’s request, the Bolsheviks and other socialists came to the defense of the provisional government and the attempt was put down. From mid-September on the Bolsheviks had a majority in the Petrograd soviet, and Lenin urged the soviet to seize power.

On the night of Nov. 6, the Bolsheviks staged an coup, engineered by Trotsky; aided by the workers’ Red Guard and the sailors of Kronstadt, they captured the government buildings and the Winter Palace in Petrograd. A second all-Russian congress of soviets met and approved the coup after the Mensheviks and Socialist Revolutionaries walked out of the meeting. A cabinet, known as the Council of People’s Commissars, was set up with Lenin as chairman, Trotsky as foreign commissar, Rykov as interior commissar, and Stalin as commissar of nationalities.

The second congress immediately called for cessation of hostilities, gave private and church lands to village soviets, and abolished private property. Old marriage and divorce laws were discarded, the church was attacked, workers’ control was introduced into the factories, the banks were nationalized, and a supreme economic council was formed to run the economy. October revolution was followed by civil war finally leading to the creation of ‘Soviet Union’.



This Day in History (27-Oct-1962) – The United States and Soviet Union step back from brink of nuclear war

After the failed U.S. attempt to overthrow the Castro regime in Cuba with the Bay of Pigs invasion, and while the US President Kennedy administration planned Operation Mongoose, in July 1962 Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev reached a secret agreement with Cuban premier Fidel Castro to place Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba to deter any invasion attempt. On October 14 a U.S. U–2 aircraft took pictures clearly showing sites for nuclear missiles under construction in Cuba. On October 22, Kennedy ordered a naval “quarantine” of Cuba. That same day, Kennedy sent a letter to Khrushchev declaring that the United States would not permit offensive weapons to be delivered to Cuba, and demanded that the Soviets dismantle the missile bases, and return all offensive weapons to the U.S.S.R. The Joint Chiefs of Staff announced a military readiness status and naval forces accelerated plans for a military strike on Cuba.

On October 24, Khrushchev responded to Kennedy’s message with a statement that the U.S. “blockade” was an “act of aggression”. Nevertheless, during October 24 and 25, some ships turned back from the quarantine line. Khrushchev sent Kennedy a message on October 26 for truce. The next day, October 27, Khrushchev sent another message indicating that any proposed deal must include the removal of U.S. Jupiter missiles from Turkey. That same day a U.S. U–2 reconnaissance jet was shot down over Cuba. That night, Kennedy set forth in his message to the Soviet leader proposed steps for the removal of Soviet missiles from Cuba under supervision of the United Nations, and a guarantee that the United States would not attack Cuba. Attorney General Robert Kennedy then met secretly with Soviet Ambassador, Anatoly Dobrynin, and indicated that the United States was planning to remove the Jupiter missiles from Turkey anyway, but this could not be part of any public resolution. On 28th, Khrushchev issued a public statement that Soviet missiles would be dismantled and removed from Cuba. The crisis was over but the naval quarantine continued until the Soviets agreed to remove their IL–28 bombers from Cuba and, on November 20, 1962, the United States ended its quarantine. U.S. Jupiter missiles were removed from Turkey in April 1963.


This Day in History (4-Oct-1957) – The Soviet Union launches Sputnik 1 into space

History changed on October 4, 1957, when the Soviet Union successfully launched Sputnik I. The world’s first artificial satellite was about the size of a beach ball (58 cm. in diameter), weighed only 83.6 kg, and took about 98 minutes to orbit the Earth on its elliptical path. That launch ushered in new political, military, technological, and scientific developments. While the Sputnik launch was a single event, it marked the start of the space age and the U.S.-U.S.S.R space race.

The story begins in 1952, when the International Council of Scientific Unions decided to establish July 1, 1957, to December 31, 1958, as the International Geophysical Year (IGY) because the scientists knew that the cycles of solar activity would be at a high point then. In October 1954, the council adopted a resolution calling for artificial satellites to be launched during the IGY to map the Earth’s surface. In July 1955, USA announced plans to launch an Earth-orbiting satellite for the IGY and solicited proposals from various Government research agencies to undertake development. In September 1955, the Naval Research Laboratory’s Vanguard proposal was chosen to represent the U.S. during the IGY.

However the Sputnik launch changed everything. As a technical achievement, Sputnik caught the world’s attention and the American public off-guard. Its size was more impressive than Vanguard’s intended 3.5-pound payload. In addition, the public feared that the Soviets’ ability to launch satellites also translated into the capability to launch ballistic missiles that could carry nuclear weapons from Europe to the U.S. Then the Soviets struck again; on November 3, Sputnik II was launched, carrying a much heavier payload, including a dog named Laika.

The Sputnik launch also led directly to the creation of National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). In July 1958, US Congress passed the National Aeronautics and Space Act (commonly called the “Space Act”), which created NASA as of October 1, 1958 from the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA) and other government agencies.