Monthly Archives: February 2014

February 27th – The Reichstag is set on fire

Firemen race to put out the fire at the Reichstag, February 27th, 1933.

Firemen race to put out the fire at the Reichstag, February 27th, 1933.

On this day in 1933, the Reichstag, Germany’s parliament in Berlin, was set on fire. At the time, Marinus van der Lubbe, a Dutch communist in Berlin at the time, as well as three other Bulgarian communists were arrested, tried and executed for starting the fire. Historians today however question whether van der Lubbe and his associates set fire to the Reichstag, or whether the fire was orchestrated and intentionally started by the Nazis. What is agreed upon though is that Adolf Hitler used the fire in the Reichstag as “evidence” of the Communist plot to overthrow the state, leading the German President Hindenburg to agree to Nazi requests to suspend civil liberties and give Hitler extraordinary “emergency powers”. The fire in the Reichstag solidified Nazi rule over Germany and was important in Hitler’s creation of the authoritarian state.

Hitler had been sworn in as Germany’s chancellor and as head of a coalition government only a month earlier. Hitler had envisioned passing the “Enabling Act” through the Reichstag, which would have given the Chancellor (himself) the power to pass laws by decree without the Reichstag in extraneous emergencies. The Enabling Act required 2/3s majority support in the Reichstag, and in January, the Nazis controlled only 1/3 of the seats in the Reichstag.

On February 27th, the Reichstag caught fire. Despite the work of the firemen at the scene, most of the Reichstag was gutted by the blaze. After it was reported that Communists had been arrested for the fire, Hitler asked for and received the “Reichstag Fire Decree” from President Hindenburg. The decree suspended civil liberties in Germany, allowing the Nazis to ban publications that they deemed unfriendly to their cause. Hitler also espoused that the fire in the Reichstag was evidence of a Communist plot to take over Germany, leading to the arrest of thousands of Communists in the days after the fire (including leaders of the Communist Party of Germany, the KPD). These arrests prevented Communists from taking their seats in the Reichstag. As well, several delegates of the Social Democratic Party (SPD) were intimidated from taking their seats in the Reichstag, under-representing their vote in the final tally for the Enabling Act. Consequently on March 23rd, the Enabling Act easily passed through Reichstag, making Hitler effectively the dictator of Germany, der Führer (the leader).

For the rest of the Third Reich’s existence, the Reichstag would not be in use. The building was severely damaged due to Allied bombing, and in postwar Germany, the Reichstag remained in disuse (note that Reichstag was physically in West Berlin, however only metres away from communist East Berlin). The West German parliament was moved to Bonn during the Cold War, leaving the Reichstag in a state of functional limbo. In 1999, 9 years after German reunification, German parliament met in the Reichstag for the first time in 66 years following renovations and restoration. The Reichstag is the second most visited attraction in Germany (after the Cologne Cathedral), and features a huge glass dome that replaced the original cupola (dome) of the Reichstag destroyed in the war. The glass dome allows for a 360° view of the Berlin cityscape. The glass dome also sits directly on top of the debating chamber of the Reichstag, symbolic of government transparency and the idea that the people are above the government, as was not the case during Nazi Germany. As someone who just visited Berlin in the past summer, I can testify that the Reichstag is definitely one of the must-see landmarks of that great city! Registration is required beforehand, but the good thing is that it is free and conveniently located close to other Berlin attractions such as the Brandenburg Gate, Pariser Platz, and the Holocaust Memorial (Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe).

Here is a link to the City of Berlin’s tourist page on visiting the Reichstag and it’s history: http://www.visitberlin.de/en/spot/reichstag

And here is the link for registering to visit the dome of the Reichstag: http://www.bundestag.de/htdocs_e/visits/kupp.html

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February 21st – Nixon visits China

Nixon meets Mao in Beijing, February 21st, 1972.

Nixon meets Mao in Beijing, February 21st, 1972.

On this day in 1972, President Richard Nixon visited the People’s Republic of China, marking the first time an American president had visited Communist China. Nixon’s visit marked the end of almost 25 years of separation between the United States and Mainland China (= Communist China/People’s Republic of China), and led to improved relations between the two countries. The president’s week-long trip to Beijing, Shanghai, and Hangzhou was described by Nixon himself as “the week that changed the world”.

Ever since the Communist victory in the Chinese Civil War in 1949, the United States recognized the government in Taiwan, under the leadership of Chiang Kai-Shek, as the sole government of China. American diplomatic recognition was extended only to Taiwan and not Mainland China. Ironically, Nixon, a politician who had made his career as being fervently anti-communist, recognized the need to improve relations with Mainland China during his presidency. Nixon and his National Security Adviser, Henry Kissinger, believed that opening to China would allow the Americans to gain further diplomatic leverage against the other communist great power, the Soviet Union, during the Cold War. Additionally, improving relations with Communist China was thought by Kissinger to aid in a quicker resolution to the Vietnam War. From his first day in the Oval Office, Nixon worked towards open communication with Mainland China.

From February 21st to 28th, 1972, Nixon made his historical trip to China, visiting Beijing, Shanghai, and Hangzhou.  Almost immediately after landing in Beijing on Air Force One, Nixon met with Chairman Mao for a one hour meeting. Upon being introduced to Nixon, Mao quipped, through a translator, to Nixon: “I believe our old friend Chiang Kai-Shek would not approve of this.” Allegedly, Mao told his doctor after his encounter with the American president that he found Nixon “forthright” and Kissinger “suspicious”. While not attending diplomatic meetings, Nixon got the chance to visit the Forbidden City, the Great Wall of China, and the Ming Dynasty Tombs. As American television journalists (over 100) followed President Nixon throughout his trip to China, many Americans were able to see on TV these Chinese landmarks as well as a glimpse into life in Communist China.

Later on in the week, the United States and Mainland China issued the Shanghai Communiqué. In the Communiqué, the two governments pledged to normalize relations between their two countries, agreed that there was only ‘one China’ and that Taiwan was part of that China (the wording was such that the United States did not necessarily recognize that Taiwan was part of Communist China however), and that American military installations on Taiwan would be cut back. In Shanghai, Nixon said the following of what the Communiqué meant:

“This was the week that changed the world, as what we have said in that Communiqué is not nearly as important as what we will do in the years ahead to build a bridge across 16,000 miles and 22 years of hostilities which have divided us in the past. And what we have said today is that we shall build that bridge.”

Nixon’s visit to China in 1972 paved the way for increased Sino-American foreign relations. In 1979, the American government officially switched its diplomatic recognition of China from Taipei to Beijing, ending official relations with Taiwan. Historians also credit Nixon’s visit for leading to increased economic ties that bind the two countries together today.

Here is a link to a film produced by the Richard M. Nixon Presidential Library documenting President Nixon’s historic trip to China. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4cfsI4ZjTbU

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February 13th – The last “Peanuts” comic strip appears in newspapers

The last Peanuts comic strip published, February 13th, 2000. How we will never forget Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus, Lucy...

The last Peanuts comic strip published, February 13th, 2000. How we will never forget Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus, Lucy…

On this day in 2000, the last original Peanuts comic strip appears in newspapers, one day after the death of Peanuts creator Charles M. Schulz. Since October 2nd, 1950 to February 13th, 2000, the Peanuts ran in newspapers all over the world, with an estimated readership of 355 million in 75 countries, in 2600 newspapers and in 21 different languages. By February 13th, 2000, 17897 Peanuts comic strips had been published, and remains the most popular comic of all time.

By 2000, Charles M. Schulz had been producing Peanuts comics for almost 50 years. He had decided that he had to retire as a cartoonist due to failing health from colon cancer. There had been discussion of continuing on the Peanuts comics after Schulz’s retirement, however Schulz had written in his will that in order to keep the Peanuts characters as authentic as possible, no further Peanuts comics be produced after his death. By January 3rd, the last daily (weekday) comic had been printed, leaving five more Sunday Peanuts comics left to be released. On February 12th, Charles M. Schulz passed away at his home in Santa Rosa, California at the age of 77. The day after, on February 13th, the last Peanuts comic strip was released, as scheduled. Interestingly, Schulz had predicted that his comic strip would outlive him, given the fact that the comic strips he drew were done weeks in advance of publication.

The last Peanuts comic (see above) features Snoopy sitting on top of his doghouse with a typewriter, pondering the following last words of Charles M. Schulz to his readers:

Dear Friends,
I have been fortunate to draw Charlie Brown and his friends for almost fifty years. It has been the fulfillment of my childhood ambition.
Unfortunately, I am no longer able to maintain the schedule demanded by a daily comic strip. My family does not wish “Peanuts” to be continued by anyone else, therefore I am announcing my retirement.
I have been grateful over the years for the loyalty of our editors and the wonderful support and love expressed to me by fans of the comic strip.
Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus, Lucy… how can I ever forget them…
— Charles M. Schulz

In the week following Schulz’s death, several cartoonists released tribute comics to both Schulz and the Peanuts. Since Schulz’s death, reruns (no pun intended) of the Peanuts comics continue to run in newspapers worldwide. New television specials have appeared as well, based upon published Peanuts comic strips.

 

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February 11th – The Lateran Treaty is signed, the Vatican City is created

Benito Mussolini and Pietro Gasparri signing the Lateran Treaty in 1929, bringing the Vatican City into existence.

Benito Mussolini and Pietro Gasparri signing the Lateran Treaty in 1929, bringing the Vatican City into existence.

On this day in 1929, the Lateran Treaty was signed between the Kingdom of Italy and the Holy See (the ecclesiastical jurisdiction of the Catholic Church in Rome), which created the Vatican City and brought resolution to the “Roman Question”. Ever since the Risorgimento (Italian unification) in 1870, the political status of the Pope in Italy had been disputed, however the Lateran Treaty resolved these issues and created the world’s smallest sovereign state: the Vatican City (only 110 acres in area, and a population of 840 today).

Italy before Risorgimento was divided amongst several independent nations. Amongst these nations was the Papal States, a collection of lands in Central Italy, centered on Rome, that were under the direct rule of the Pope himself. While the rest of the Italian peninsula was being united under the leadership of King Victor Emmanuel II of Piedmont-Sardinia, the Papal States actively resisted unification efforts, wishing to maintain Church sovereignty over their lands. French Emperor Napoleon III left a garrison of troops in Rome to protect the Papal States from Italian unification. The threat of war with Prussia, however, led Napoleon III to withdraw his garrison from Rome and back to France, leaving the Papal States nominally defenseless. In 1870, Italian troops moved into the Papal States and occupied Rome, moving the capital of the Kingdom of Italy from Florence to the ‘Eternal City’ (prior to Florence, Turin was the capital of Italy). The Pope did not recognize the authority of the new Italian government in Rome, and for almost 60 years, relations between the Catholic Church and the Italian government would remain strained. The Pope and his cardinals remained “prisoners of the Vatican” for the duration of this time, because if they placed themselves outside the walls of the Vatican, they were afforded the protection of Italian law, which served as an implicit recognition of the authority of the Italian state in Rome. Needless to say, this “Roman Question” was an awkward position for both the Catholic Church and Italy.

Ironically it was the anti-clerical fascist dictator Benito Mussolini that normalized relations between Italy and the Catholic Church. A shrewd politician, Mussolini recognized that the majority of the Italian population, Catholic in religious affiliation, wanted a reconciliation between church and state. On February 11th, 1929, the Lateran Treaty was signed by Prime Minister Benito Mussolini for King Emmanuel III and Pietro Gasparri, Cardinal Secretary of State for Pope Pius XI. Through the Lateran Treaty, the sovereign state of the Vatican City was created, free from Italian law and taxation. Catholicism was recognized as the Italian state religion, with the Church holding authority over marriage and Catholicism being taught in school. Italy also agreed to pay the Vatican City 3250000 lire per annum as an indemnity for the Church’s loss of territory and sovereignty over lands formerly part of the Papal States. Today, despite the downfall of Mussolini and Italian fascism, the Lateran Treaty remains the legal document defining the relationship between Italy and the Vatican City.

Interesting facts about the Vatican City:

  • While the Vatican has approximately 840 citizens, Vatican citizenship is only temporary (citizenship ends upon the discontinuation of residency in the Vatican).
  • St. Peter’s Basilica is the largest Catholic church in the world. The Statue of Liberty can fit underneath the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica!
  • The Vatican has its own telephone system, post office, mint, astronomical observatory, radio station, banking system, and pharmacy. In fact the sale of coins and postage stamps at the Vatican’s post office makes up a substantial portion of the state’s revenue.
  • Per capita, the Vatican has a much higher crime rate than in Italy, given the popularity of the Vatican as a tourist location.

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February 9th – The Beatles make their first American appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show

The Beatles arrive in America, 1964.

The Beatles arrive in America, 1964.

On this day in 1964, fifty years ago today, the Beatles made their first American appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. The Beatles appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show has been cited by many historians as a momentous event in American pop culture, marking the beginning of Beatlemania and the British Invasion to North America. An estimated 73 million Americans tuned into Ed Sullivan Show for the Beatles’ American debut, a television record at the time.

The “four boys from Liverpool” were already a hit throughout Europe when Ed Sullivan ran into the band at Heathrow Airport in December 1963, who were just returning from Stockholm. Noticing the immense crowd of teenagers who had come to Heathrow to meet the band, Sullivan asked the Beatles’ manager, Brian Epstein, if they would play for the Ed Sullivan Show. Epstein agreed, and it was decided that the Beatles would play on three consecutive Sundays in February on the Ed Sullivan Show. Their first show would be on February 9th, 1964.

On this night, fifty years ago, Ed Sullivan began his show, with the now-famous introduction: “Ladies and gentlemen… the Beatles!“. The Beatles began with their hit “All My Lovin’“, followed by “Till There Was You“, and then “She Loves You“. Later on in the show, the Beatles came back on stage to perform “I Saw Her Standing There” and “I Want to Hold Your Hand“. The crowd, feverishly infatuated with John, Paul, George and Ringo, were unable to settle in their seats following “She Loves You”, such that the Ed Sullivan Show had to use a pre-recorded version of the act that followed the Beatles for television broadcast. It was this Beatles appearance on American television that kick-started the popularity of the Beatles themselves in North America, along with other British bands such as the Rolling Stones, the Who, and the Kinks.

Here is a link of the Beatles first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, February 9th, 1964. Not shown in the video is the Beatles’ performance of “I Saw Her Standing There“. http://www.jukebo.com/the-beatles/music-clip,the-ed-sullivan-show-first-appearance,qp8rul.html

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February 4th – The Confederate States of America was formed

Map of the United States at the beginning of the American Civil War. Blue = Union, non-slaveholding states. Yellow = Union, slaveholding states. Dark Red = Confederate, states that seceded by February 1861. Bright Red = Confederate, states that seceded after attack on Fort Sumter.

Map of the United States at the beginning of the American Civil War. Blue = Union, non-slaveholding states. Yellow = Union, slaveholding states. Dark Red = Confederate, states that seceded by February 1861. Bright Red = Confederate, states that seceded after attack on Fort Sumter.

Sorry for the hiatus on blogging, I have been recently bogged down with some school work. On this day in 1861, the Confederate States of America was formed. The Confederate States of America initially constituted the seven Deep South states that seceded from the American Union following the election of Abraham Lincoln to the presidency in the November 1860 election. Almost two months after the formation of the Confederate States of America, the attack on Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbour would start the American Civil War between the United States of America and the Confederate States of America, the bloodiest war in American history, with over 600000 dead.

Tensions between the northern and southern sections of America over the issue of slavery had existed since America’s formation. It would be foolhardy, even impossible, to attempt to discuss the history of slavery from Colonial America to Antebellum America in a single blog post, therefore I shall only write about the immediate events preceding the Confederate States of America’s formation. The election of 1860 featured four major candidates for president, as the Democratic Party fractured into northern and southern wings over the issue of slavery: Abraham Lincoln of Illinois for the Republican Party, John C. Breckinridge of Kentucky for the Southern Democratic Party, John Bell of Tennessee for the Constitutional Union Party, and Stephen Douglas of Illinois for the (Northern) Democratic Party. Lincoln won the election, however his victory came with little support from the Southern states. In fact, given Lincoln’s general unpopularity in the South, in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, Tennessee and Texas, Lincoln did not even make it on the ballot. Fearful that the election of a Republican president, along with concurrent Republican control of both houses of Congress, would serve to eradicate Slave Power in the country, Southern states began seceding from the Union. By February 1st, 1861, seven Deep South states had left the Union, forming independent republics in the following order: 1.) South Carolina, 2.) Mississippi, 3.) Florida, 4.) Alabama, 5.) Georgia, 6.) Louisiana, and 7.) Texas.

On February 4th, 1861, representatives from the seceding states met in Montgomery, Alabama in the State Capitol. There, a provisional Confederate government was formed, with a Confederate Congress founded, and Montgomery made the capital of the Confederacy. After the attack on Fort Sumter in April, four other slave states joined the Confederacy: Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina. Slave-holding Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware stayed loyal to the Union, however sent soldiers to fight on both sides of the Civil War. The Confederate States of America would remain unrecognized as a country throughout the American Civil War, and ceased to exist following the surrender of the Army of Northern Virginia by General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Court House on April 9th, 1865.

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