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Today in History: January 11, 1961 – Kennedy Gives 2nd State of the Union Address

Thanks to holidays and whatnot, it’s been awhile since we’ve posted a Today in History post. Thus, since today happens to be the 57th anniversary and I’m listening to Kennedy’s 2nd State of the Union, that it’d be a good place to start.

In his 2nd State of the Union, Kennedy discussed the problem of machines taking over jobs and of the problem of the current recession. This was one of his major concerns, and he promised that he would work on strengthening the economy in response.

And of course, at the top of list was the Cold War. Kennedy discussed “diversity” – which, he noted, Communism does not allow. Along this same talk, there is noticeable foreshadowing to Kennedy’s forthcoming Peace topic, which would begin in earnest after the Cuban Missile Crisis, of the same year. But, then, in typical Kennedy fashion, he jumps onto a diverging topic. In this case, missiles. What followed was a long list of the missiles that had been doubled and tripled in number, all in the name of protecting America from foreign domination. And, because, Kennedy’s ‘Peace through Strength” mantra was still alive and strong. 

In the coming year, our reserve programs will be revised–two Army Divisions will, I hope, replace those Guard Divisions on duty–and substantial other increases will boost our Air Force fighter units, the procurement of equipment, and our continental defense and warning efforts. The Nation’s first serious civil defense shelter program is under way, identifying, marking, and stocking 50 million spaces; and I urge your approval of Federal incentives for the construction of public fall-out shelters in schools and hospitals and similar centers.

Following this, he discussed the importance of the Space Race. Not necessarily to be first, though he definitely did want to beat the Soviets. The importance, he reminded the nation, was to continue to search, to learn, and to strive. To sit back and let the Soviets win was very different than doing their best and still coming in second. (Although, a Kennedy never loses!)

President Kennedy also discussed the need for Congress to respond to certain domestic issues, including: pollution, education, mass transit, urban housing, civil rights, public health, and welfare assistance programs. He touched on the importance of military strength, of foreign relations, trade (low tariffs on both sides), and Berlin. And he, as always, urged the American people to act, not to leave it to the government alone.

Listen: Kennedy’s 1962 State of the Union Address

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Today in History: December 3, 1989 – Cold War’s End Is Near

Sort of seems appropriate. 29 years ago today, as we all know, the Cold War was finally coming to an end after 42 years. We’d had many close calls, but thanks to Reagan’s peace through strength policies, the end was in sight. 

On December 3, 1989, during a meeting off the coast of Malta, President George Bush and Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev both issued statements that suggested that the Cold War may just be officially coming to an end.

In office for less than a year, this was President Bush’s first summit with the Russian leader. He was “eager to follow up on the steps toward arms control taken by the preceding Reagan administration” (History). Even Gorbachev was vocal about wanting better relations with the U.S. That was quite a change from what it had been earlier. Gorbachev promised that these “talks marked in important first step toward ending the Cold War” (History). He went on to suggest that the very ideology of The Cold War needed to come to an end – all of the mistrust between the two countries, the arms race, and everything else The Cold War entailed. 

Unfortunately, despite their positive attitudes, the summit wasn’t overly successful. They walked away agree that both countries would work harder towards a “treaty dealing with long-range nuclear weapons and conventional arms in 1990” (History). Before leaving, they agreed to meet again in June of 1990, this time in Washington, D.C. 

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Today in History: November 22, 1963 – President Kennedy’s Assassination

Today, on Thanksgiving Day, we also honor (if that’s the right word) the 55th anniversary of President Kennedy’s assassination. (I actually thought this week’s USA-eVote Reads was fitting – and had we been active, oh, five months ago, we also would have had a post for the 50th anniversary of his brother’s assassination). It is interesting to note, that prior to his leaving for Texas, his brother begged him to skip Dallas, having been worried about an assassination plot. The president had, after all, avoid several already.

But, anyways, 55 years ago today, President Kennedy and his wife, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy – along with Vice President Johnson and his wife, amongst others – were in Texas. The morning started out well enough. The party had a grand breakfast feast (although, while they were waiting for the president’s arrival, the announcer kept going on and on about McKinley’s assassination, which I’m sure he regretted a few hours later) before flying to Dallas.

Dallas, of course, is the home of the infamous motorcade. 

As the motorcade passed the Texas School Book Depository and somewhere around Dealey Plaza and the grassy knoll, shots began to ring out. According to those in the motorcade, they felt like they going through a crossfire; shots were coming from all directions.

According to reports, the first shot hit President Kennedy in the back and lodged itself “approximately five inches below the collar and two inches  to the right of the spine (Nolan 150). The second shot went off a split second later (too close to the first to be from the same gun). This one hit Governor Connally, who sat directly in front of the President. “The third shot struck the President in the back of the head, driving his body forward, as witnessed in the [Zapruder] film” (151). At almost the same exact time, a fourth shot was fired, this one striking the President in the forehead. “The President was thrust backward and to the left and collapsed into his wife’s lap” (151). This is also the time where we see his head explode and Jackie climbing onto the trunk, chasing after fragments of his brain.

By the time the President reached Dallas’s Parkland Hospital, he’d lost most of his brain. Thirty minutes after the shooting began, President Kennedy was dead. J. Edgar Hoover would be the one to inform his brother.

After a somewhat shady autopsy at Parkland, Kennedy’s body was flown back to Washington where Jackie and the coffin were met by the late President’s brother. The family would spend the majority of the evening at Bethesda Naval Hospital. In the early morning hours of the 23rd, his body would be laid out in the East Room of the White House, per formalities. 

On November 24th, his flag-draped coffin was carried through the U.S. Capitol to lie in state. Hundreds of thousands of mourners would pay their respects. The next day, the family held the Requiem Mass at St. Matthew’s Cathedral before burying him in Arlington National Cemetery.

[Below: Jackie & Bobby at the funeral.]

So, today while we are being thankful, let us also remember that act that took place 55 years ago today. Let us also be thankful for the men who gave their lives for this country, such as President Kennedy. And remember his plea to this great country:

“And so, my fellow Americans: Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”

And let us continue . . . 

“My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man. Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us here the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead this land we love, asking His blessings and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.”

His was a call to action; a call to arms. It was not a call for selfishness and request of freebies from the government, but instead a call for sacrifice. Remember that this Thanksgiving Day – to give of yourself for the betterment of this country and for someone else.

[Below: Casket in Arlington Cemetery]

Works Cited:

Nolan, Patrick: CIA Rogues and the Killing of the Kennedys. New York: Skyhorse, 2013.

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Today in History: October 8, 1923 – Beer Hall Putsch

The Beer Hall Putsch is mentioned time and again in the Prisoner of Night and Fog and Conspiracy of Blood and Smoke as Gretchen’s father is an added member of the Putsch – he obviously wasn’t there in real life. Which means, of course, that the Beer Hall Putsch was an important event in history. But one not often discussed.

The Putsch was Hitler’s “attempt at seizing control of the German government” (Source). See, Hitler very likely never would have ever gained momentum for his party (much less being elected) had it not been for the Treaty of Versailles. The Treaty forced Germany to pay billions of dollars in reparations – money that they would never be able to repay. This left Germany in an even deeper depression than America, which, in turn, made Germany desperate for a way out. So desperate that they more than welcomed Hitler’s ludicrous plans to free them from the bonds of the depression.

The Beer Hall Putsch, then, was essentially Hitler’s coup against the government (yes, for paying war reparations). Hitler’s hope was that this would stretch far, all the way “to the dissatisfied German army, which in turn would bring down the central, democratic government in Berlin” (Source). So, on the evening of the 8th, under Hermann Göring – later head of the Luftwaffe – Bavarian government officials met with local business leaders.

During this meeting, Hitler burst in with his group of Nazi storm troopers (SA), discharged his pistol, and declared that “the national revolution has begun” (Source). The Bavarian leaders, held at gunpoint, reluctantly agreed.

But, then, in the early morning hours of November 9, the leaders repudiated this forced agreement, ordering quick suppression of Nazis. “At dawn, government troops surrounded the main Nazi force occupying the War Ministry building” (Source).

In response, Hitler marched the SA, some 3,000 men, into the center of town.

Here, they came face-to-face with 100 armed policemen. Shots were exchanged, during which time 16 Nazis and three policemen were killed. Hitler himself dislocated his shoulder while Göring escaped with wounds. In Gretchen’s story, her father saves Hitler’s life. That’s all I’ll say on that. Wouldn’t want to give away the plot!

Image result for Beer Hall Putsch

Three days later, Hitler was arrested for treason and was sentenced to a minimum of five years in prison. One might think that would be that. Of course, thanks to history we know it wasn’t. It was while he was imprisoned in Landsberg that he wrote Mein Kampf.

Thanks to pressure from the Nazis (very likely with some forceful persuasion by the SA), the government reduced Hitler’s sentence to a mere nine months. If only they’d forced him to complete the sentence!

In the late 20’s, the Nazis were declared a mass movement, by none other than Hitler, of course. And, as we all know, in 1933 Hitler was nominated Chancellor and a mere two months later was the Reichstag Fire followed by Hitler declaring himself dictator. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Well, except that exactly 16 years later, on the anniversary of the Beer Hall Putsch, the first assassination attempt on Hitler failed. But more on that in the very near future with a full article.

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Today in History: November 7, 1944 – FDR Wins an Unprecedented 4th Term


We all know that FDR is the only president to serve more than 2 terms. And, of course, we also know that the main reason for this was the war over in Europe. Well, on October 7, 1944, Franklin Delano Roosevelt won his fourth presidential election bid.

We also know that FDR had to defy all odds to win one term in the White House, because he was crippled after contracting polio in 1921 at the age of 29. But being crippled didn’t stop him from presiding over two of the biggest crises in American History: The Great Depression and World War Two. The people clearly had an awful lot of faith in him if they were willing to election him that many times!

Unfortunately, though, by the time the 1944 elections rolled around, America was head over heels in war in Europe and the South Pacific. Even more unfortunate was the fact that President Roosevelt’s health was failing rapidly. “His arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) had been worsened by the stress of serving as a war-time president” (Source). But President Roosevelt did have one thing going for him, at least election-wise: America had just, months earlier, experienced one of the greatest victories in American history – D-Day.

Then, in 1947, under Roosevelt’s successor, Truman, the Congress decided to ensure that no other president could ever serve more than two terms. “In 1951, the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution was passed, officially limiting a president’s tenure in office to two terms of four years each” (Source). The amendment is an important one and we should all be grateful that it exists. No matter how great a president may be, eight years of any one administration is probably enough. Then, it’s time for some new blood in the White House.

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Today in History: October 24, 1951 – Truman Officially Ends War with Germany

Six years after VE-Day (Victory over Europe) on May 8, 1945, President Truman signed  Proclamation 2950, declaring that war with Germany was officially over.

“Most Americans assumed that the war with Germany had ended with the cessation of hostilities six years earlier” (Source). Same is true today. However, it is interesting to note that at the end of the war, a treaty hadn’t even been signed! Complications prevented it, namely the territory that Germany had been taking over since 1938 (although, it is a bit surprising that he waited a whole 5 years before invading).

Although, in this case it had more to do with how Germany was divided, split between the British, Americans, French, and Soviets. Essentially, this meant that it was actually divided between the democratic Allies and the communist Soviets. What resulted was a bit of tension. Each side claimed the other had violated post-war treaties. Tensions rose.

Finally, in 1948, Stalin ordered a blockade of Berlin, despite the fact that the other Allies still controlled the Western half.

As a result, Truman was forced to order an airlift to fly much-needed supplies into Berlin, such as food and fuel. While tensions were being worked out, the treaty was put on hold. Tensions only grew worse on October 3, 1951, when Stalin began an atomic weapons test.

But, on October 24, 1951, almost 10 years after the declaration of war with Germany, Truman announced that war was over.

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Today in History: October 12, 1945 – 1st Ever Conscientious Objector Wins the Medal of Honor

Today in 1945, was the first time ever that a conscientious objector won the Medal of Honor. Private First Class Desmond T. Doss earned the medal of “outstanding bravery as a medical corpsman” (Source).

During WWII, at the Battle for Okinawa, Doss put his life on the line to save 75 lives. Doss DID NOT carry a weapon into battle due to religious beliefs. When WWII began, he registered with the Medical Corps, wanting to save lives. And save lives he did.

During the battle, the 1st Battalion was assaulted on top of the 400-foot Hacksaw Ridge. The soldiers scaled the cliff, “only to be met by Japanese machine gun fire and flamethrowers” (Source). As others began to retreat, Doss put his own life on the line to lower – one by one – men down from the cliff on self-made rope-supported litter.

Just two weeks later, Doss would again refuse to seek cover until he saw to his ailing comrades. This time, he would be the one needing medical attention. He had been injured in the legs by a grenade. But that did not stop him from helping other injured men. While attending to this patient, Doss was hit again, this time in the arm. “He created a splint out of a rifle stock and crawled 300 yards to the aid station” (Source).

Doss saw it as his opportunity to “serve God and country” (Source).

On October 12, 1945, President Harry Truman awarded him for his heroism:

‘Through his outstanding bravery and unflinching determination in the face of desperately dangerous conditions Pfc. Doss saved the lives of many soldiers,’ his Medal of Honor citation read. ‘His name became a symbol throughout the 77th Infantry Division for outstanding gallantry far above and beyond the call of duty.’

Doss would later be called to the White House for another ceremony, this time by President Kennedy.

To learn more about Desmond Doss’s heroism, check out The Unlikeliest Hero or Redemption at Hacksaw Ridge (which is just the reprinting of the same story).

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Today in History: October 7, 1960 – 2nd Nixon-Kennedy Debate


On October 7, 1960, the 2nd Nixon-Kennedy debate took place. This time, Vice President Nixon was much more prepared to face-off with the ever-popular Senator Kennedy.

Meeting in Washington D.C. for this debate, the two discussed foreign policy including:

  • The Cold War
  • Cuba
  • U-2 Spy Planes &
  • The US-Soviet Summit

Kennedy made clear in his remarks that Castro was a Communist and that Cuba had as good as given up their freedom. Although, Castro was actually a self-proclaimed Socialist. A Socialist who said that Hitler was his hero. So, who knows what he actually was. What we do know is that he sure did give President Kennedy a number of headaches in his mere 1,000 days in office. In his remarks, Kennedy also made it clear that he saw the Soviet Union was a major threat. Nixon argued that the Soviets didn’t really want a summit and didn’t really want to negotiate with the U.S. This, as we can see throughout history, was true.

Overall, “Kennedy’s strategy was to paint the Republican administration in which Nixon served as timid, indecisive, and given to poor strategizing in terms of the Cold War. Nixon, on the other hand, wanted to portray Kennedy as naïve and much too willing to compromise with the Soviets and communist Chinese” (Source).

As for the second debate, most experts saw the experienced Nixon as the winner of this round. However, analysts believe that Kennedy’s telegenic TV appearance swayed voters.

But, there was still two more debates to go before the November election.

Image result for 1960 election debate


Watch: 2nd Nixon-Kennedy Debate

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Today in History: October 7, 1949 – Eastern Germany is Created


In a world where people are calling for Socialism, this seems like an important topic, for 69 years ago today, East Germany or the Democratic Republic of Germany was created. Of course, there was nothing democratic republic about it. Not when it was under the oppression of Soviet rule. A state run by the Communistic authority of Stalin. And, as we all know, Socialism is the gateway to Communism. After all, the Soviet Union was socialist state before it became communist.

But back to Germany. On October 7, 1949, Eastern Germany was divided from the Allied-run West Germany. Wilhelm Pieck was named the first president and Otto Grotewohl the prime minister. Eastern Germany consisted of Mecklenburg, Brandenburg (yes, as in the famous gate), Lusatia, Saxony, and Thuringia. Meanwhile, Berlin, located deep within the Communist-own Eastern Germany, was still divided in half.

As we all know, Eastern Germany remained under Communist rule until 1990, while the Berlin Wall came down in 1989.

[Translation: Long live J.W. Stalin, the best friend of the German people!]

And anyone who believes that is brainwashed . . .

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Today in History: September 6, 1961 – Kennedy Urges Americans to Build Bomb Shelters


In a letter to the members of the Committee on Civil Defense of the Governors’ Conference, President Kennedy laid out how both government, business, and private citizens could insure the best protection possible against the effects of a thermonuclear attack. At the same time, he laid out how the Federal Government, state governments, industry, and other institutions could work together to ensure the work was done. And done well.

He explained that a large number of casualties would come from radioactive fallout. These could extend downwind some several hundred miles.

His goal: For the Federal Government to move forward “to bring into operation fallout shelter space for large groups of people under very austere condition. Many homeowners, communities, and business firms can and will provide more adequate and better located shelter space for their own needs” (Source).

Kennedy’s plans would prove useful as a mere year and 10 days later, the world would come shockingly close to nuclear holocaust.

[Below: The Kennedy fallout shelter. Located on Peanut Island, the shelter would likely have been used by President Kennedy & his top advisers in the event of a nuclear holocaust]

Image result for kennedy fallout shelter


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