Throwback Thursday: August 13

Every Thursday, we will use an event that occurred on this date to discuss an important moment in international history. This week: Construction Begins on the Berlin Wall  (1961)

East German Workers reinforce the Berlin Wall near the Brandenburg Gate, 1961 (Wikimedia Commons/U.S. Information Service)

East German Workers reinforce the Berlin Wall near the Brandenburg Gate, 1961 (Wikimedia Commons/U.S. Information Service)

On August 13, 1961, the German Democratic Republic (GDR, East Germany) began constructing a wall to isolate West Berlin from surrounding East Germany. 

The GDR built the wall in an effort to reduce defections and border-crossings by East Germans into the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG, West Germany). Although the border between the Eastern Bloc and West Germany had been fortified since the 1950s, the borders of Berlin remained somewhat porous given the shared occupation by the US, USSR, UK, and France.  Faced with mounting defections, GDR State Council chairman Walter Ulbricht authorized the closure of the border with West Berlin.

Although the Berlin Wall began as a chain fence between Soviet and Western sections of the capital city, it expanded into a massive concrete fortification spanning over 90 miles around the city. The wall was patrolled round-the-clock by Eastern armed guards and featured watchtowers, traps, and anti-vehicle trenches. The United States condemned the creation of the Berlin Wall, and despite its effectiveness at reducing emigration and black market activities in East Germany, the barrier damaged the reputation of the Soviet Union and symbolized the oppressive nature of the Iron Curtain dividing Europe.  

Following multiple political upheavals in 1989, including popular movements of dissent against Soviet control in Poland and Hungary, mass demonstrations unfolded in East Germany. As pressure mounted for peaceful German reunification, the Berlin Wall crumbled and today remains an important reminder of the struggles faced by Europeans during the Cold War Era.

Throwback Thursday: August 6

Every Thursday, we will use an event that occurred on this date to discuss an important moment in international history. This week: The U.S. Voting Rights Act (1965)

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons/ Yoichi Okamoto

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons/ Yoichi Okamoto

On 6th August, 1965, the United States Voting Rights Act was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson. The act prohibits racial discrimination in voting rights. Even though the three Reconstruction Amendments that followed the end of the Civil War were hailed as a major breakthrough in promoting the ideals of liberty and equality, civil rights groups were forced to continue their struggle against the disenfranchisement of minorities for years. 

Prior to the three Reconstruction Amendments -- the Thirteenth Amendment (1865), The Fourteenth Amendment (1866) and The Fifteenth Amendment (1869) -- the United States Constitution allowed all states to exercise full discretion to determine the voter qualifications of their residents. While the three amendments were intended to limit this discretion, they were ‘rendered useless by subversive tactics like secret ballots, poll taxes, literacy tests and other discriminatory practices that essentially made it impossible for most blacks to cast a ballot.

In Giles v. Harris, for instance, the Supreme Court upheld a discriminatory Alabama state law as although it did disenfranchise African-Americans in practice through a grandfather clause --a statute that allowed white voters to circumvent literacy tests, poll taxes etc. -- there was no such stated intent.

In July, 1964, Lyndon B. Johnson signed into law the Civil Rights Act, which was proposed by Kennedy just prior to his assassination, and outlawed segregation and other forms of discrimination, including in voting rights. 

Although the Civil Rights Act fell severely short of putting an end to discrimination, Johnson, afraid of alienating the Southern states so soon after assuming office, refrained from pushing for further reform. His decision, however, was overturned by the historic Selma to Montgomery marches, when peaceful protesters demanding voting rights were violently beaten by Alabama state troopers. 

In response to the horrific incident, Johnson called for the Voting Rights Act, which was passed in the U.S. Senate and the House of Representatives by 77-19 and 333-85 votes respectively.  On 6th August, 1965, Johnson signed the bill into law at a ceremony, with Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks and other civil rights leaders present. 

Throwback Thursday: July 30

Every Thursday, we will use an event that occurred on this date to discuss an important moment in international history. This week: The House of Burgesses Convenes for the First Time (1619)

Patrick Henry Before the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1765 (Wikimedia Commons/Peter F. Rothermel)

Patrick Henry Before the Virginia House of Burgesses in 1765 (Wikimedia Commons/Peter F. Rothermel)

On July 30, 1619, the first legislative body of elected representatives in North America convened at Jamestown Island, Virginia. In an effort to draw more colonists to Virginia, the Virginia Company established the House of Burgesses to promote a sense of self-governance and allow residents to deliberate issues of local concern. Unlike members of the Virginia Governor's Council (upper house) who were appointed by the Virginia Company, members of the House of Burgesses (lower house) were elected by local residents of the colony. Although the Governor’s Council and the Virginia Company retained veto power over the lower house, each burgess, or local representative, oversaw the affairs and petitions or their respective county.

Although its first session proved unproductive and was cut short by an outbreak of malaria, the House of Burgesses played a critical role in establishing the groundwork for democratic deliberation in Virginia and throughout Colonial North America. While the Virginia Company anticipated that the House of Burgesses would quell local animosities and strengthen allegiances to the crown, the institution fostered sentiments of self-determination (and later separatism) that became the driving forces of the American Revolution. Figures such as George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Patrick Henry, and other leaders of the American Revolution developed their political careers while serving in the House of Burgesses. In fact, Henry Clay’s presentation of the Virginia Resolves, a series of grievances against Britain in response to the Stamp Act of 1765, proved to be a seminal moment in the movement for American Independence.

While the House of Burgesses lacked substantial political authority, entrenched class divisions in Virginia planting society, and restricted suffrage to male property-owners, the institution facilitated a shift in the locus of political authority toward the common people of Colonial North America.

Throwback Thursday: July 23

Every Thursday, we will use an event that occurred on this date to discuss an important moment in international history. This week: The European Coal and Steel Community (1952)

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons/ JLogan

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons/ JLogan

On 18 April 1951, six European states – France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Luxembourg and the Netherlands – came together to sign an accord in Paris. A little over a year later, on 23 July 1952, the treaty came into force, thus creating the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC). The ECSC was the forerunner to the European Union (EU). The European Economic Community (EEC) and the Treaty establishing the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom) were also based on the same principles as the ECSC.

The French architects of the treaty, Robert Schuman and Jean Monnet, envisioned a free market for coal and steel that would be free from national governance. Devised just after the end of the Second World War, the ECSC was intended to reconstruct the European economy, bring an end to Franco-German animosity and lead the way to European integration. Schuman proposed  that “Franco-German production of coal and steel as a whole be placed under a common High Authority, within the framework of an organization open to the participation of the other countries of Europe.”

Since coal and steel were essential products necessary for the production of arms, the negotiators hoped  that taking control over them away from the state governments would make another World War impossible.  Additionally, the existence of ties in such key sectors would facilitate not only economic, but also political cooperation.

The Treaty of Paris was the first agreement where the term ‘supranational’ appeared.  The ECSC was thus a compromise between the proposed ideas of a unified Europe and separate independent entities. 

The treaty also established the structure of the organization. The ECSC would comprise of a High Authority, an Assembly, a Council of Ministers and a Court of Justice. The High Authority was the supreme executive, in-charge of supervising activities such as improving methods of production, export policies and working conditions. The Court of Justice, the legal organ of the community ensured that the laws of the treaty were observed.

As the negotiators had hoped, trade between the countries did increase dramatically, and with the financing made available to them, producers began to focus on increasing the quality and efficiency of their product. The most notable accomplishments  of the ECSC however, were in the welfare sector. Through ‘modernization loans,’ the working conditions for miners were significantly alleviated. The organization also assisted in financing the workers’ properties as well as compensated workers who were laid off when mines or factories were shut down. 

Despite all its achievements, the ECSC fell short  of what was envisaged in the Paris Treaty in several ways. One of the prime objectives of the organization had been to keep cartels and large firms from amassing power again. However, the community failed in this regard.  The ECSC also failed to ensure the upward equalization of pay of its workers.

The Treaty of Paris limited the existence of the ECSC to fifty years. On 23 July 2002, the ECSC ceased to exist. The community’s flag was lowered for the final time at a ceremony  in Brussels and replaced with the EU flag. 

Throwback Thursday: July 16

Every Thursday, we will use an event that occurred on this date to discuss an important moment in international history. This week: The World’s First Nuclear Weapon (1945)

Obelisk at Ground Zero of the Trinity Test Site (Wikimedia Commons/Samat Jain)

Obelisk at Ground Zero of the Trinity Test Site (Wikimedia Commons/Samat Jain)

During the 1940s, the United States, United Kingdom, and Canada collaborated on a military program that conducted top secret research and development on nuclear weapons. The Manhattan Project sought to build an atomic bomb as part of the effort to secure victory for the Allied Powers during the Second World War. Given the complexity of the uranium-enrichment process and the limitations of 1940s-era technology, it took months of labor by thousands of workers before the United States possessed enough weapons-grade material to complete the world’s first atomic bomb.

In keeping with efforts to conceal the nature of the project and to ensure public safety, the U.S. Army selected the White Sands Proving Grounds, an isolated area in rural New Mexico, as the ideal location to detonate the nuclear weapon. The desolate testing grounds were situated within the Alamogordo Bombing and Gunnery Range, a flat region with optimal wind conditions where the military had frequently tested other weapons. The area proved to be an optimal location for “Trinity,” the codename of a top secret nuclear weapons test.

The first nuclear bomb, known as the “Gadget” among scientists and military leaders, was an implosion-type plutonium device, meaning that explosives surrounded the plutonium core of the bomb in order to squeeze it and trigger the nuclear reaction. Scientists feared that without proper study and observation of this mechanism in action, a potential nuclear weapon could “fizzle” or not function properly when deployed on the battlefield.  

At 5:29am on July 16, 1945, the bomb exploded with the force of roughly 20 kilotons of TNT, generating a blast that could be seen nearly 186 miles away from ground zero. Upon detonation, the weapon melted the sands around the blast site into a light green, radioactive glass called trinitite. Military personnel marveled at the immense force and light generated by the explosion. Civilians throughout New Mexico noticed the explosion and its substantial shockwaves, which the military claimed was a consequence of ordinary explosives and pyrotechnics at the proving grounds. Only after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima did the United States reveal the true nature of the Trinity test.

Gadget’s detonation in 1945 signaled the beginning of an Atomic Age, where weapons of mass destruction would significantly influence military strategies and the balance of powers in global affairs. In 1965, the Trinity blast site was designated a National Historic Landmark and later added to the National Register of Historic Places.

July 16, 2015 marks the 70th Anniversary of the Trinity test.

Throwback Thursday: July 9

Every Thursday, we will use an event that occurred on this date to discuss an important moment in international history. This week: The 14th Amendment (1868), Wimbledon (1877) and Independence for South Sudan (2011)

The U.S. Supreme Court. Image Source: Flickr/kubina

The U.S. Supreme Court. Image Source: Flickr/kubina

The 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution (1868)
The 14th Amendment was ratified in 1868 as a part of three Reconstruction Amendments passed by the U.S. Congress in the years immediately following the Civil War. The decision was a historic one as it granted citizenship rights and equal protection of the laws to former slaves. Despite opposition from several Southern states and then president, Andrew Johnson, the law became operational on July 9, 1868, having secured ratification by the requisite three-fourths of the states. 

The Amendment, which contains the Due Process and Equal Protection under Law clauses, has been subject to much debate and various interpretations in Supreme Court decisions. In Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) the Supreme Court gave federal approval to the Jim Crow laws, ruling that racial segregation on trains was in accordance with the 14th Amendment, as long as the facilities were equal. This decision was not overturned until the monumental Brown v. Board of Education (1954) when public school segregation based on race was declared to be in violation of the Amendment. The Court ruled that ‘separate education facilities are inherently unequal’. In more recent times, in a landmark decision in June 2015, the Supreme Court ruled that denying same-sex couples the fundamental right to marry is in violation of the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses. 

 

Lew Hoad (left) and Ken Rosewall (right) playing a doubles match. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons/State Library of Victoria

Lew Hoad (left) and Ken Rosewall (right) playing a doubles match. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons/State Library of Victoria

Inaugural Wimbledon Championships (1877)
Wimbledon – the oldest tennis tournament in the world—was first held by the All England Club in 1877, only a few years after modern lawn tennis is said to have been devised by Walter Clopton Wingfield, a Welsh inventor and army officer. The Gentleman’s Singles was the only event held, until 1884, when the Ladies’ Singles and Gentlemen’s Doubles were added. 
Spencer Gore became the first ever Wimbledon Champion by defeating William Marshall in three straight sets.

Today, Wimbledon – one of the four Grand Slams and the only one still played on grass-- is one of the most highly regarded tennis tournaments worldwide. 

 

Women at a polling center in South Darfur. Image Source: Flickr/un_photo

Women at a polling center in South Darfur. Image Source: Flickr/un_photo

Independence for South Sudan (2011)
In the run-up to Sudan’s independence from Anglo-Egyptian rule in 1956, tensions between the southern regions and the rest of the state began to escalate. The two regions had been administered separately under colonial rule. Amidst efforts to create a federal system, leaders in the south accused the new authorities in Khartoum of trying to impose an Islamic and Arabic identity. The tensions ignited two bloody civil wars, where an estimated 1.5 million lost their lives, and millions more were displaced.

The hostilities finally halted in 2005, when a Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed in Nairobi. The treaty granted the south autonomy for a period of six years, following which there was to be a referendum on independence.  South Sudan, the newest nation in the world, was created when an overwhelming 98.83% voted in favor of independence in the 2011 referendum.

Contrary to what was expected, South Sudan has been wracked with difficulties since its secession. This is largely due to internal conflict. Less than two years after its creation, the country broke into civil war, displacing over 2 million. Despite having inherited three-quarters of the former Sudan’s oil reserves, South Sudan’s oil revenues have suffered a crippling decline due to disputes with Sudan, which controls the only available pipeline, pushing the state to the brink of famine. South Sudan has been assigned the highest score under the Fragile States Index.


Throwback Thursday: July 2

Every Thursday, we will use an event that occurred on this date to discuss an important moment in international history. This week: The Zeppelin’s maiden voyage (1900), Walmart opens its first store (1962), and President Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act (1964). 

Left to Right: German Airship in 1914 (Wikimedia Commons/A. Millership); Walmart Store Façade c. 2014 (Wikimedia Commons/Mike Mozart of JeepersMedia); President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act 1964 (Wikimedia Commons/Cecil Stoughton, White House Press Office)

Left to Right: German Airship in 1914 (Wikimedia Commons/A. Millership); Walmart Store Façade c. 2014 (Wikimedia Commons/Mike Mozart of JeepersMedia); President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act 1964 (Wikimedia Commons/Cecil Stoughton, White House Press Office)

The First Zeppelin Airship Takes Flight (1900)

German Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin conducted the first test flight of a rigid airship near Lake Constance, Germany on July 2, 1900. Unlike earlier versions of hot air balloons and blimps, Zeppelin’s airship featured a rigid frame that encased gas-filled bags within the aircraft. Such a design enabled the construction of enormous vessels that could fly faster, higher, and further than ordinary balloons. During the 1910s, Zeppelin paved the way for international air travel with the creation of specialized Zeppelins designed for civilian passengers. During the First World War, Germany used Zeppelins for bombing raids in Europe, which redefined the concept of 'total war' and expanded the scope of military engagement to include targets on the home front. Although the Zeppelin quickly became obsolete with the advent of ‘heavier-than-air’ airplanes, the airship endures in popular memory as both a symbol of the promise of air travel, but also as a grim reminder of the origins of aerial warfare. 

Walmart Opens its First Store (1962)

Sam Walton opened the first Walmart Discount City store in Rogers, Arkansas on July 2, 1962. During the 1960s, Walmart expanded into neighboring states and incorporated as Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. By 1980, the company operated 276 stores in the United States and employed 21,000 people. In 1988, Walmart introduced its first Supercenter, a large shopping center featuring both a supermarket and conventional department store. Drawing customers with its wide variety of merchandise and low prices, Walmart continued to occupy an immense presence in the global economy. Today, Walmart is the largest corporation in the world by revenue, operating over 5,000 stores and employing over two million associates.

President Johnson Signs Civil Rights Act (1964)

U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act at the White House shortly after it passed in the U.S. Congress on July 2, 1964. President John F. Kennedy first called for the bill after the 1963 Birmingham movement. After President Kennedy's assassination, President Johnson urged congress to pursue “the earliest possible passage of the civil rights bill.” The Civil Rights Act passed in 1964 after decades of social mobilization and resistance against segregation and discrimination in the United States.

The Civil Rights Act outlawed discrimination on the basis of race, color, religion, national origin, or sex, barring unequal application of voter registration requirements and ending segregation in schools, the workplace, and all public accommodations. The Civil Rights Act paved the way for the passage of Executive Order 11246, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, and the Civil Rights Act of 1968, which outlined further provisions to end discrimination in the workplace, voting registration practices, and housing. Today, discussions continue in the United States about expanding the Civil Rights Act and subsequent laws to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.