Today in History – 23rd of April
Wednesday April 23, 2014 the 112th day and 16th week of 2014, there 253 days and 36 weeks left in the year. Highlights of today in world history…
1564 William Shakespeare born
According to tradition, the great English dramatist and poet William Shakespeare was born in Stratford-on-Avon on April 23, 1564. It is impossible to be certain the exact day on which he was born, but church records show that he was baptized on April 26, and three days was a customary amount of time to wait before baptizing a newborn. Shakespeare’s date of death is conclusively known, however: it was April 23, 1616. He was 52 years old and had retired to Stratford three years before.
Although few plays have been performed or analyzed as extensively as the 38 plays ascribed to William Shakespeare, there are few surviving details about the playwright’s life. This dearth of biographical information is due primarily to his station in life; he was not a noble, but the son of John Shakespeare, a leather trader and the town bailiff. The events of William Shakespeare’s early life can only be gleaned from official records, such as baptism and marriage records.
He probably attended the grammar school in Stratford, where he would have studied Latin and read classical literature. He did not go to university but at age 18 married Anne Hathaway, who was eight years his senior and pregnant at the time of the marriage. Their first daughter, Susanna, was born six months later, and in 1585 William and Anne had twins, Hamnet and Judith. Hamnet, Shakespeare’s only son, died 11 years later, and Anne Shakespeare outlived her husband, dying in 1623. Nothing is known of the period between the birth of the twins and Shakespeare’s emergence as a playwright in London in the early 1590s, but unfounded stories have him stealing deer, joining a group of travelling players, becoming a schoolteacher, or serving as a soldier in the Low Countries.
The first reference to Shakespeare as a London playwright came in 1592, when a fellow dramatist, Robert Greene, wrote derogatorily of him on his deathbed. It is believed that Shakespeare had written the three parts of Henry VI by that point. In 1593, Venus and Adonis was Shakespeare’s first published poem, and he dedicated it to the young Henry Wriothesley, the 3rd earl of Southampton. In 1594, having probably composed, among other plays, Richard III, The Comedy of Errors, and The Taming of the Shrew, he became an actor and playwright for the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, which became the King’s Men after James I’s ascension in 1603. The company grew into England’s finest, in no small part because of Shakespeare, who was its principal dramatist. It also had the finest actor of the day, Richard Burbage, and the best theater, the Globe, which was located on the Thames’ south bank. Shakespeare stayed with the King’s Men until his retirement and often acted in small parts.
By 1596, the company had performed the classic Shakespeare plays Romeo and Juliet, Richard II, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream. That year, John Shakespeare was granted a coat of arms, a testament to his son’s growing wealth and fame. In 1597, William Shakespeare bought a large house in Stratford. In 1599, after producing his great historical series, the first and second part of Henry IV and Henry V, he became a partner in the ownership of the Globe Theatre.
The beginning of the 17th century saw the performance of the first of his great tragedies, Hamlet. The next play, The Merry Wives of Windsor, was written at the request of Queen Elizabeth I, who wanted to see another play that included the popular character Falstaff. During the next decade, Shakespeare produced such masterpieces as Othello, King Lear, Macbeth, and The Tempest. In 1609, his sonnets, probably written during the 1590s, were published. The 154 sonnets are marked by the recurring themes of the mutability of beauty and the transcendent power of love and art.
Shakespeare died in Stratford-on-Avon on April 23, 1616. Today, nearly 400 years later, his plays are performed and read more often and in more nations than ever before. In a million words written over 20 years, he captured the full range of human emotions and conflicts with a precision that remains sharp today. As his great contemporary the poet and dramatist Ben Jonson said, “He was not of an age, but for all time.”
1942 Germans begin “Baedeker Raids” on England
On this day in 1942, in retaliation for the British raid on Lubeck, German bombers stroke Exeter and later Bath, Norwick, York, and other “medieval-city centres.” Almost 1,000 English civilians were killed in the bombing attacks nicknamed “Baedeker Raids.”
On March 28 of the same year, 234 British bombers struck the German port of Lubeck, an industrial town of only “moderate importance.” The attack was ordered (according to Sir Arthur Harris, head of British Bomber Command) as more of a morale booster for British flyers than anything else, but the destruction wreaked on Lubeck was significant: Two thousand buildings were totalled, 312 German civilians were killed, and 15,000 Germans were left homeless.
As an act of reprisal, the Germans attacked cathedral cities of great historical significance. The 15th-century Guildhall, in York, as an example, was destroyed. The Germans called their air attacks “Baedeker Raids,” named for the German publishing company famous for guidebooks popular with tourists. The Luftwaffe vowed to bomb every building in Britain that the Baedeker guide had awarded “three stars.”
1945 Truman confronts Molotov
Less than two weeks after taking over as president after the death of Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry S. Truman gave a tongue-lashing to Soviet Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov. The incident indicated that Truman was determined to take a “tougher” stance with the Soviets than his predecessor had.
When Roosevelt died of a massive stroke on April 12, 1945, Harry S. Truman took over as president. Truman was overwhelmed by the responsibilities so suddenly thrust upon him and, particularly in terms of foreign policy, the new president was uncertain about his approach. Roosevelt had kept his vice-president in the dark about most diplomatic decisions, not even informing Truman about the secret program to develop an atomic bomb. Truman had to learn quickly, however. The approaching end of World War II meant that momentous decisions about the post war world needed to be made quickly. The primary issue Truman faced was how to deal with the Soviet Union. Just weeks before his death, Roosevelt met with Russian leader Joseph Stalin and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill at Yalta to discuss the post war situation. Agreements made during the meeting left the Soviets in de facto control of Eastern Europe in exchange for Soviet promises to hold “democratic” elections in Poland. Some officials in the U.S. government were appalled at these decisions, believing that Roosevelt was too “soft” on the Soviets and naive in his belief that Stalin would cooperate with the West after the war. Truman gravitated to this same point of view, partially because of his desire to appear decisive, but also because of his long-standing animosity toward the Soviets.
On April 23, 1945, Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov arrived at the White House for a meeting with the new president. Truman immediately lashed out at Molotov, “in words of one syllable,” as the president later recalled. As Molotov listened incredulously, Truman charged that the Soviets were breaking their agreements and that Stalin needed to keep his word. At the end of Truman’s tirade, Molotov indignantly declared that he had never been talked to in such a manner. Truman, not to be outdone, replied that if Molotov had kept his promises, he would not need to be talked to like that. Molotov stormed out of the meeting. Truman was delighted with his own performance, telling one friend that he gave the Soviet official “the straight one-two to the jaw.” The president was convinced that a tough stance was the only way to deal with the communists, a policy that came to dominate America’s early Cold War policies toward the Soviets.
1067 Soviet cosmonaut is killed
On this day in 1967, Soviet cosmonaut Vladimir Komarov was killed when his parachute failled to deploy during his spacecraft’s landing.
Komarov was testing the spacecraft Soyuz I in the midst of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. Earlier in 1967, the U.S. space program had experienced its own tragedy. Gus Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chafee, NASA astronauts in the Apollo program, were killed in a fire during tests on the ground.
Komarov, a fighter pilot and aeronautical engineer, had made his first space trip in 1964, three years before the doomed 1967 voyage. After 24 hours and 16 orbits of the earth, Komarov was scheduled to re enter the atmosphere, but ran into difficulty handling the vessel and was unable to fire the rocket brakes. It took two more trips around the earth before the cosmonaut could manage re entry.
When Soyuz I reached an altitude of 23,000 feet, a parachute was supposed to deploy, bringing Komarov safely to earth. However, the lines of the chute had gotten tangled during the craft’s re-entry difficulties and there was no backup chute. Komarov plunged to the ground and was killed.
There was vast public mourning of Komarov in Moscow and his ashes were buried in the wall of the Kremlin. Sadly, Komarov’s wife had not been told of the Soyuz I launch until after Komarov was already in orbit and did not get to say goodbye to her husband.
Despite the dangers, both the Soviet Union and the U.S. continued their space exploration programs. The U.S. landed men on the moon just two years later.
1969 Sirhan Sirhan receives death penalty
On this day in 1969, Sirhan Sirhan is sentenced to the death penalty after being convicted in the assassination of politician Robert F. Kennedy. In 1972, Sirhan’s sentence was commuted to life in prison after California abolished the death penalty.
In the early morning hours of June 5, 1968, Robert Kennedy, a U.S. senator from New York who had just won California’s Democratic presidential primary, gave a victory speech in the ballroom of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles. After the speech, Kennedy was making his way toward the hotel kitchen to greet supporters when he was shot three times at close range by Sirhan Sirhan with a .22 caliber revolver; a fourth bullet went through Kennedy’s jacket. Five other people were shot as well, none fatally. Several of the senator’s friends and aides subdued Sirhan on the scene.
Kennedy died at the hospital the next day, June 6, at age 42. The funeral for Kennedy, who served as U.S. attorney general from 1961 to 1964 and had been a senator since 1965, was held at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. His body was then taken to Washington, D.C., by train, with thousands of people lining the route to pay their respects. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery next to his brother, President John F. Kennedy, who had been assassinated by Lee Harvey Oswald on November 22, 1963.
Sirhan Bishara Sirhan, a Palestinian immigrant born in Jerusalem in 1944, moved to the United States with his family as a boy and attended high school in California. He later stated he killed Robert Kennedy because the senator had supported Israel in the Arab-Israeli war of 1967. Following a three-month trial, during which Sirhan’s lawyers argued he was mentally unstable at the time of the murder, he was convicted on April 17, 1969. On April 23, he was given the death penalty. However, in 1972, the California Supreme Court abolished the death penalty and Sirhan’s sentence was commuted to life in prison. His requests for parole have been denied over a dozen times, and he continues to serve his time in a California prison.
1975 Ford says that war is finished for America
At a speech at Tulane University, President Gerald Ford said the Vietnam War was finished as far as America is concerned. “Today, Americans can regain the sense of pride that existed before Vietnam. But it cannot be achieved by re-fighting a war.” This was devastating news to the South Vietnamese, who were desperately pleading for U.S. support as the North Vietnamese surrounded Saigon for the final assault on the capital city.
The North Vietnamese had launched a major offensive in March to capture the provincial capital of Ban Me Thuot (Darlac province) in the Central Highlands. The South Vietnamese defenders there fought very poorly and were quickly overwhelmed by the North Vietnamese attackers. Despite previous promises by both Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford to provide support, the United States did nothing. In an attempt to reposition his forces for a better defence, South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu ordered his forces in the Highlands to withdraw to more defensible positions to the south. What started out as a reasonably orderly withdrawal soon degenerated into a panic that spread throughout the South Vietnamese armed forces. The South Vietnamese abandoned Pleiku and Kontum in the Highlands with very little fighting and the North Vietnamese pressed the attack from the west and north. In quick succession, Quang Tri, Hue, and Da Nang in the north fell to the communist onslaught. The North Vietnamese continued to attack south along the coast, defeating the South Vietnamese forces at each encounter.
As the North Vietnamese forces closed on the approaches to Saigon, the politburo in Hanoi issued an order to Gen. Van Tien Dung to launch the “Ho Chi Minh Campaign,” the final assault on Saigon itself. Dung ordered his forces into position for the final battle.
The South Vietnamese 18th Division made a valiant final stand at Xuan Loc, 40 miles northeast of Saigon, in which the South Vietnamese soldiers destroyed three of Dung’s divisions. However, the South Vietnamese finally succumbed to the superior North Vietnamese numbers. With the fall of Xuan Loc on April 21 and Ford’s statement at Tulane, it was apparent that the North Vietnamese would be victorious. President Thieu resigned and transferred authority to Vice President Tran Van Huong before fleeing Saigon on April 25.
By April 27, the North Vietnamese had completely encircled Saigon and began to maneuver for their final assault. By the morning of April 30, it was all over. When the North Vietnamese tanks crashed through the gates of the Presidential Palace in Saigon, the South Vietnamese surrendered and the Vietnam War was officially over.