Today in History – 25th of August
Monday August 25, 2014 the 235th day and 33rd week of 2014, there are 130 days and 19 weeks left in the year. Highlights of today in world history…
325 Council of Nicaea concludes
The Council of Nicaea, the first ecumenical debate held by the early Christian church, concluded with the establishment of the doctrine of the Holy Trinity. Convened by Roman Emperor Constantine I in May, the council also deemed the Arian belief of Christ as inferior to God as heretical, thus resolving an early church crisis.
The controversy began when Arius, an Alexandrian priest, questioned the full divinity of Christ because, unlike God, Christ was born and had a beginning. What began as an academic theological debate spread to Christian congregations throughout the empire, threatening a schism in the early Christian church. Roman Emperor Constantine I, who converted to Christianity in 312, called bishops from all over his empire to resolve the crisis and urged the adoption of a new creed that would resolve the ambiguities between Christ and God.
1914 Germans burn Belgian town of Louvain
Over the course of five days, beginning August 25, 1914, German troops stationed in the Belgian village of Louvain during the opening month of World War Iburnt and looted much of the town, executing hundreds of civilians.
Located between Liege, the fortress town that saw heavy fighting during the first weeks of the German invasion, and the Belgian capital of Brussels, Louvain became the symbol, in the eyes of international public opinion, of the shockingly brutal nature of the German war machine. From the first days they crossed into Belgium, violating that small country’s neutrality on the way to invade France, German forces looted and destroyed much of the countryside and villages in their path, killing significant numbers of civilians, including women and children. These brutal actions, the Germans claimed, were in response to what they saw as an illegal civilian resistance to the German occupation, organized and promoted by the Belgian government and other community leaders—especially the Catholic Church—and carried out by irregular combatants or franc-tireurs (snipers, or free shooters) of the type that had participated in the Franco-Prussian War in 1870-71.
In reality this type of civilian resistance—despite being sanctioned by the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907, which the Germans objected to—did not exist to any significant degree in Belgium during the German invasion, but was used as an excuse to justify the German pursuit of a theory of terror previously articulated by the enormously influential 19th-century Prussian military philosopher Karl von Clausewitz. According to Clausewitz, the civilian population of an enemy country should not be exempted from war, but in fact should be made to feel its effects, and be forced to put pressure on their government to surrender.
The burning of Louvain came on the heels of a massacre in the village of Dinant, near Liege, on August 23, in which the German soldiers had killed some 674 civilians on the orders of their corps commander. Two days later, the small but hardy Belgian army made a sudden sharp attack on the rear lines of the German 1st Army, commanded by General Alexander von Kluck, forcing the Germans to retreat in disorder to Louvain. In the confusion that followed, they would later claim, civilians had fired on the German soldiers or had fired from the village’s rooftops to send a signal to the Belgian army, or even to approaching French or British troops. The Belgians, by contrast, would claim the Germans had mistakenly fired on each other in the dark. Whatever happened did not matter: the Germans burned Louvain not to punish specific Belgian acts but to provide an example, before the world, of what happened to those who resisted mighty Germany.
Over the next five days, as Louvain and its buildings—including its renowned university and library, founded in 1426—burned, a great outcry grew in the international community, with refugees pouring out of the village and eyewitness accounts filling the foreign press. Richard Harding Davis, an American correspondent in Belgium, arrived at Louvain by troop train on August 27; his report later appeared in the New York Tribune under the headline GERMANS SACK LOUVAIN; WOMEN AND CLERGY SHOT. A wireless statement from Berlin issued by the German Embassy in Washington, D.C., confirmed the incidents, stating that “Louvain was punished by the destruction of the city.” The Allied press went crazy, with British editorials proclaiming “Treason to Civilization” and insisting the Germans had proved themselves descendants not of the great author Goethe but of the bloodthirsty Attila the Hun.
By war’s end, the Germans would kill some 5,521 civilians in Belgium (and 896 in France). Above all, German actions in Belgium were intended to demonstrate to the Allies that the German empire was a formidable power that should be submitted to, and that those resisting that power—whether soldier or civilian, belligerent or neutral—would be met with a force of total destruction. Ironically, for many in the Allied countries, and in the rest of the world as well, a different conclusion emerged from the flames of Louvain: Germany must be defeated at all costs, without compromise or settlement, because a German victory would mean the defeat of civilization.
1944 Paris liberated
After more than four years of Nazi occupation, Paris was liberated by the French 2nd Armoured Division and the U.S. 4th Infantry Division. German resistance was light, and General Dietrich von Choltitz, commander of the German garrison, defied an order by Adolf Hitlerto blow up Paris’ landmarks and burn the city to the ground before its liberation. Choltitz signed a formal surrender that afternoon, and on August 26, Free French General Charles de Gaulle led a joyous liberation march down the Champs d’Elysees.
Paris fell to Nazi Germanyon June 14, 1940, one month after the German Wehrmacht stormed into France. Eight days later, France signed an armistice with the Germans, and a puppet French state was set up with its capital at Vichy. Elsewhere, however, General Charles de Gaulle and the Free French kept fighting, and the Resistance sprang up in occupied France to resist Nazi and Vichy rule.
The French 2nd Armored Division was formed in London in late 1943 with the express purpose of leading the liberation of Paris during the Allied invasion of France. In August 1944, the division arrived at Normandy under the command of General Jacques-Philippe Leclerc and was attached to General George S. Patton’s 3rd U.S. Army. By August 18, Allied forces were near Paris, and workers in the city went on strike as Resistance fighters emerged from hiding and began attacking German forces and fortifications.
At his headquarters two miles inland from the Normandy coast, Supreme Allied Commander Dwight D. Eisenhowerhad a dilemma. Allied planners had concluded that the liberation of Paris should be delayed so as to not divert valuable resources away from important operations elsewhere. The city could be encircled and then liberated at a later date.
On August 21, Eisenhower met with de Gaulle and told him of his plans to bypass Paris. De Gaulle urged him to reconsider, assuring him that Paris could be reclaimed without difficulty. The French general also warned that the powerful communist faction of the Resistance might succeed in liberating Paris, thereby threatening the re-establishment of a democratic government. De Gaulle politely told Eisenhower that if his advance against Paris was not ordered, he would send Leclerc’s 2nd Armored Division into the city himself.
On August 22, Eisenhower agreed to proceed with the liberation of Paris. The next day, the 2nd Armored Division advanced on the city from the north and the 4th Infantry Division from the south. Meanwhile, in Paris, the forces of German General Dietrich von Choltitz were fighting the Resistance and completing their defences around the city. Hitler had ordered Paris defended to the last man, and demanded that the city not fall into Allied hands except as “a field of ruins.” Choltitz dutifully began laying explosives under Paris’ bridges and many of its landmarks, but disobeyed an order to commence the destruction. He did not want to go down in history as the man who had destroyed the “City of Light”–Europe’s most celebrated city.
The 2nd Armored Division ran into heavy German artillery, taking heavy casualties, but on August 24 managed to cross the Seine and reach the Paris suburbs. There, they were greeted by enthusiastic civilians who besieged them with flowers, kisses, and wine. Later that day, Leclerc learned that the 4th Infantry Division was poised to beat him into Paris proper, and he ordered his exhausted men forward in a final burst of energy. Just before midnight on August 24, the 2nd Armored Division reached the Hótel de Ville in the heart of Paris.
German resistance melted away during the night. Most of the 20,000 troops surrendered or fled, and those that fought were quickly overcome. On the morning of August 25, the 2nd Armored Division swept clear the western half of Paris while the 4th Infantry Division cleared the eastern part. Paris was liberated.
In the early afternoon, Choltitz was arrested in his headquarters by French troops. Shortly after, he signed a document formally surrendering Paris to de Gaulle’s provincial government. De Gaulle himself arrived in the city later that afternoon. On August 26, de Gaulle and Leclerc led a triumphant liberation march down the Champs d’Elysees. Scattered gunfire from a rooftop disrupted the parade, but the identity of the snipers was not determined.
De Gaulle headed two successive French provisional governments until 1946, when he resigned over constitutional disagreements. From 1958 to 1969, he served as French president under the Fifth Republic.
1967 McNamara concedes that bombing is less than effective
Defence Secretary McNamara conceded that the U.S. bombing campaign has had little effect on the North’s “war-making capability.” At the same time, McNamara refuses a request from military commanders to bomb all MIG bases in North Vietnam. In Hanoi, North Vietnam’s Administrative Committee orders all workers in light industry and all craftsmen and their families to leave the city; only persons vital to the city’s defence and production were to remain.
1971 173rd Airborne Brigade departs Vietnam
U.S. 173rd Airborne Brigade, among the first U.S. ground units sent to Vietnam, ceases combat operations and prepares to redeploy to the United Statesas part of Nixon’s troop withdrawal plan.
As the redeployment commenced, the communists launched a new offensive to disrupt the upcoming General Assembly elections in South Vietnam. The height of the new offensive occurred from August 28 to August 30, when the Communists executed 96 attacks in the northern part of South Vietnam. U.S. bases also came under attack at Lai Khe, Cam Ranh Bay, and other areas. Nixon’s troop reduction plans were supposedly tied to the level of enemy activity on the battlefield, but once they began, very little attention was paid to what the enemy was doing and the withdrawals continued unabated.
1985 Gooden becomes youngest 20-game winner in history
On August 25, 1985, New YorkMets pitcher Dwight Gooden became the youngest 20-game winner in Major League Baseball history. Gooden was 20 years, nine months and nine days old when he led his Mets over the San Diego Padres 9-3–a month younger than “Bullet” Bob Feller was when he racked up his 20th win in 1939. Although Gooden was one of the best young pitchers in baseball history, his star burned out quickly as a result of substance abuse.
Dwight “Doc” or “Doctor K” Gooden burst into the National League in 1984. His explosive fastball and sharp, tight curveball combined to frustrate hitters, and at just 19 years old in his rookie season, Gooden won 17 games and led the NL with 276 strikeouts. He performed even better the next year, and took the mound on August 25 with 19 wins to just 3 losses. With 37,000 of the Mets faithful anxiously standing by to cheer on the young star at Shea Stadium, Gooden struggled to establish a rhythm, and had trouble gripping the ball in the wet weather. Fortunately for Gooden, his Mets teammates took up the slack. Right fielder Darryl Strawberry hit a home run in the fifth and drove in four runs, while Gooden’s catcher, future Hall of Famer Gary Carter, had three hits. When Gooden left the game after the sixth inning, the Mets led 4-3. Roger McDowell pitched three scoreless innings in relief and the Mets offense racked up five more runs to give their ace his 20th win overall and 14th win in a row.
Gooden finished the 1985 season in impressive fashion with a 24-4 record, 1.53 ERA and 268 strikeouts, good for the pitching triple crown (leading the league in wins, strikeouts and earned run average). Gooden then helped the Mets to victory in the 1986 World Series, but trouble was brewing, and he entered drug rehab for the first time after testing positive for cocaine during 1987 spring training. The rest of his career was rocky: He pitched inconsistently after 1988 and was suspended for 60 days in 1994 and for all of the 1995 season after failing drug tests.
Gooden returned to baseball in 1996 with the New York Yankees alongside fellow former Mets superstar Darryl Strawberry, whose rapid rise and fall due to drug abuse paralleled Gooden’s. Though he never quite returned to his earlier form, he did manage one final hurrah: a no-hitter on May 14, 1996, against the Seattle Mariners. Gooden retired after the 2000 season.
1991 Michael Schumacher makes Formula One debut
The German race car driver Michael Schumacher made his Formula One (Europe’s top racing circuit) debut in the Belgian Grand Prix at Spa Francorchamps on this day in 1991.
Schumacher was born in Hurth-Hermulhein, West Germany, in 1969. His father managed a go-kart track in the town of Kerpen, and young Michael won the German junior karting championship in 1984 and 1985 and the German and European titles in 1987. He left school to work as a car mechanic and in 1988 began racing on the Formula Three circuit, which features less-powerful vehicles than those of Formula One. After winning the German Formula Three championship in 1990, Schumacher made the move to the big time: The next August, he made his Formula One debut at Spa, racing for Irish businessman Eddie Jordan’s team.
Though Schumacher retired during the first lap of that first Grand Prix (as individual Formula One events are called) with clutch problems, he drew the attention of Benetton, another Formula One constructor owned by the same family as the international clothing store chain. Benetton soon snapped up the rising young star (he and Jordan had not signed a contract), beginning a successful five-year collaboration. Schumacher won the drivers’ world championship, Formula One’s top honor, for the team in 1994–a season marred by the death of the Brazilian driver Ayrton Senna in the San Marino Grand Prix and accusations of technical irregularities against the Benetton team–and 1995.
Schumacher signed with the venerable Ferrari team before the 1996 season. Things began well, despite an incident in 1997 when Schumacher tried in vain to ram the car of his top rival, Jacques Villeneuve, off the road during the final race, at Jerez in Spain; he was stripped of his second-place finish as punishment. After crashing his Ferrari during the 1999 British Grand Prix–he emerged with a broken leg, the only injury of his career to date–Schumacher won the 2000 drivers’ world championship (Ferrari’s first since 1979). He went on to win the title another four years in a row, racking up nine Grand Prix wins in 2001 and 11 in 2002. His sixth drivers’ title in 2003 broke the previous record, held by the Argentine driver Juan Manual Fangio. In 2004, Schumacher won 13 of 18 total Grand Prix races held that year, easily securing his seventh championship.
At the age of 37, still at the top of his game, Schumacher retired from racing. During his final season in 2006, he won seven Grand Prix races, bringing his career total to 91, and making him by far the winningest driver in Formula One history (his closest rival, the French driver Alain Prost, had 51).
2009 Ted Kennedy, “liberal lion of the Senate,” dies at 77
On this day in 2009, Edward “Ted” Kennedy, the youngest brother of President John F. Kennedyand a U.S. senator from Massachusettsfrom 1962 to 2009, dies of brain cancer at age 77 at his home in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts. Kennedy, one of the longest-serving senators in American history, was a leader of the Democratic Party and a spokesman for liberal causes who also was known for his ability to work with those on both sides of the political aisle.
Edward Moore Kennedy was born in Boston on February 22, 1932, the youngest of nine children of Joseph P. Kennedy Sr., a wealthy financier who served as the first chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission and later as ambassador to Great Britain, and Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, the daughter of a Boston politician. After serving in the U.S. Army in the early 1950s, Kennedy graduated from Harvard University in 1956 and earned a law degree from the University of Virginiain 1959. While still a student, he managed his brother John’s successful 1958 re-election campaign to the U.S. Senate from Massachusetts. Also in 1958, Ted Kennedymarried Joan Bennett, with whom he later had three children. The couple divorced in 1982, and in 1992, Kennedy married Victoria Reggie, a Washington attorney with two children.
In November 1960, John Kennedy was elected America’s 35th president. The following month, a Kennedy family friend was appointed to fill the president-elect’s vacated Senate seat until a special election was held. In November 1962, Ted Kennedy, who earlier that year had turned 30, the minimum age requirement for a U.S. senator, won the special election in Massachusetts to serve out the remainder of his brother’s Senate term, ending in January 1965. Massachusetts voters re-elected Kennedy to the seat eight more times, in 1964, 1970, 1976, 1982, 1988, 1994, 2000 and 2006.
Kennedy came from privileged background, but his family was no stranger to tragedy. His oldest brother, Joseph Kennedy Jr., a Navy pilot, died in World War II, while his second-eldest sister, Kathleen, was killed in a 1948 plane crash. President John Kennedy was assassinated in 1963. The following year, Ted Kennedy was seriously injured in a plane crash that left him hospitalized for six months. In 1968, U.S. Senator Robert Kennedy was also assassinated. With Robert’s death, Ted Kennedy became the family patriarch and a substitute father to his two slain brothers’ 13 children.
On July 18, 1969, Kennedy was involved in a controversial event that would mar the rest of his career, when he accidentally drove his car off a bridge on Massachusetts’ Chappaquiddick Island, killing his passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne, who drowned. Kennedy failed to report the incident to the authorities for nearly 10 hours, claiming the delay was due to the fact that he had suffered a concussion and was exhausted from attempting to rescue Kopechne. He later pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident and received a two-month suspended sentence. However, Kennedy was plagued by questions about his behaviour, as well as his relationship with Kopechne, a former campaign worker for Robert Kennedy. He later referred to his actions as “inexcusable,” and said Kopechne’s death “haunts me every day of my life.”
In 1980, Kennedy made a failed bid against President Jimmy Carterfor the Democratic presidential nomination. He never again ran for the White House, instead focusing on his work on Capitol Hill, where he was dubbed the “liberal lion of the Senate.” During his nearly 47-year-career in Washington, D.C., Kennedy successfully fought for legislation concerning education, immigration reform, health care, increases to the federal minimum wage, voting rights, various consumer protections and equal rights for minorities, the disabled, women and gay Americans. In foreign policy matters, he was an opponent of the wars in Vietnam and Iraq, and a champion of human rights in such places as Africa and South America.
In May 2008, Kennedy was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour. That August, despite his poor health, he made a rousing speech at the Democratic National Convention in Denver in support of Barack Obama, who he had endorsed for president.
After his death in August 2009, Kennedy was buried at Virginia’s Arlington National Cemetery, near the graves of his brothers John and Robert.
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