October 6, 1981: Anwar Sadat Assassinated

On this day in 1981, Egyptian President Anwar El Sadat was assassinated by a group of fundamentalist army officers. His murder sent shockwaves throughout the Middle East and the rest of the world.

Anwar SadatOn this day in 1981, Egyptian President Anwar El Sadat was assassinated by a group of fundamentalist army officers. His murder sent shockwaves throughout the Middle East and the rest of the world.

Sadat was one of the most effective and beloved presidents in the country’s history. He led Egypt to victory in the October War of 1973 with Israel and instituted progressive political and economic reforms.  He also agreed to the 1979 Israel/Egypt Peace Treaty, which was generally accepted by a majority of Egyptians. However, it outraged the Muslim Brotherhood and resulted in Egypt being suspended from the League of Arab States. This anger is generally accepted as the main motivation behind his assassination.

Sadat was assassinated during the annual victory parade celebrating the crossing of the Suez Canal during the October War.  Lieutenant Khalid Ahmed Showky Al-Islambouli, was participating in the parade when he ran into the stands throwing grenades and fired all his bullets into Sadat. The Egyptian president was killed, along with 11 others, and 28 more were wounded. Islambouli’s act was directed by the terrorist organization, Al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya.

Sadat was succeed by Vice-President Hosni Mubarak, who ruled until 2011. Former Presidents Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford and Richard Nixon, but only representatives attended his funeral from 3 of the 24 countries in the Arab League. President Ronald Reagan wrote in his diary that, “[Sadat] was truly a great man, a kind man with warmth and humor.”

More than 300 individuals were indicted for conspiring to assassinate Sadat. Islambouli was tried, convicted and executed in April of 1982.

September 6, 1997: Princess Di Laid to Rest

On this day in 1997, the public funeral was held for Diana, Princess of Wales, in Westminster Abbey. The televised event is probably the most widely viewed funeral in world history.

Princess Diana FuneralOn this day in 1997, the public funeral was held for Diana, Princess of Wales, in Westminster Abbey. The televised event is probably the most widely viewed funeral in world history.

Princess Diana was killed on August 31 when her driver drunkenly crashed in Paris’ Pont de l’Alma road tunnel to escape pursuing paparazzi. Her companion, Dodi Fayed, and the driver, Henry Paul, who was also acting security manager of the Hotel Ritz Paris, were also killed.

The funeral was not a state funeral, but a national one, and was attended by everyone from the royal family to Tom Cruise. Princess Diana’s two children, Princes William and Harry walked beyond her coffin as it was taken from St. James Palace to Westminster Abbey. During the funeral, Elton John sang his famous version of “Candle in the Wind” that had been rewritten by Bernie Taupin for Princess Diana. An estimated two billion people watched the event worldwide.

An additional service was held the next day in Westminster Abbey. That same day, a private burial was held on an island on her family’s estate.

In the last years of her life, Princess Diana’s life had embroiled in scandal and controversy with her divorce from Prince Charles. Her funeral showed how beloved she truly was.

September 1, 1958: The Cod Wars Begin

On this day in 1958, the first intense dispute between Iceland and Great Britain over territorial waters began. The Cod Wars marked a period of intense hostility between the two nations, and had a few casualties.

Scylla and Odinn ClashOn this day in 1958, the first intense dispute between Iceland and Great Britain over territorial waters began. The Cod Wars marked a period of intense hostility between the two nations, and had a few casualties.

Iceland is about 500 miles northwest of Britain in the North Atlantic, and its primary income is from fishing. For years, the country had its surrounding waters to itself. However, by the 1940s and 50s, technology had advanced to a point where British ships could travel several hundred miles into “Icelandic waters” to fish. So Iceland expanded its territorial waters to 12 nautical miles.

It still had to enforce this new territory and deployed 8 patrol vessels to do so. Britain responded with 28 destroyers to protect its boats and the next two and half months brought a handful of hostile moments at sea. Britain eventually chose to accept Iceland’s new boundaries and the two agreed to take any future disputes to the International Court of Justice at Hague.

Cod War II began in 1972 when Iceland expanded its fishing zone to 50 miles and didn’t bother going to the court. Over the next 14 months, the Icelandic Coast Guard used net cutters to help enforce its new law and ships would ram each other. An Icelandic engineer was electrocuted when seawater overtook him while he was trying to weld a hole shut. An agreement was eventually reached in which Britain would honor the zone in exchange for being able to catch 150,000 tons of fish before November 13, 1975.

So on November 13, 1975, Iceland expanded its exclusive fishery zone to 200 miles and the Third Cod War began. This period almost brought the two nations to war, and again involved and net cutting and ships ramming each other (see above picture). This period had one casualty when a British sailor was hit by a cut cable and injured.

In June of 1976, Britain again accepted the expansion, thus decimating its northern fishing industry. In 2012, it issued a multi-pound compensation and apology to the fisherman who lost their livelihood.

August 31, 1939: Nazis Stage Attack on Own Radio Station

On this day in 1939, German agents dressed in Polish uniforms staged an attack on a radio station in Gleiwitz, Germany (now Gilwice, Poland). This incident on the eve of World War II was designed to fuel tensions between the two countries and justify an invasion.

Plaque Commemorating Gleiwitz AttackOn this day in 1939, German agents dressed in Polish uniforms staged an attack on a radio station in Gleiwitz, Germany (now Gilwice, Poland). This incident on the eve of World War II was designed to fuel tensions between the two countries and justify an invasion.

In the weeks prior, Germany had been laying the groundwork for invading. Adolf Hitler had told League of Nations High Commissioner on August 11, “If there’s the slightest provocation, I shall shatter Poland without warning into so many pieces that there will be nothing left to pick up.” On August 23, Germany and the Soviet Union signed their pact on the takeover of Poland. Now all they needed was a “reason.”

The faux Polish rebels entered the radio station around 8:00 pm and assaulted three of its employees. Unable to find the main channel, they broadcast their anti-German messages over an emergency one. And to add another level of realism, they brought in Franciszek Honiok, a Polish sympathizer arrested the previous day, killed him by lethal injection and then shot him to make it appear as if one of the rebels had been killed.

It’s uncertain how many Germans actually heard broadcast. However, a German radio station reported the “attack” at 10:30 pm that night, and then the BBC did. The New York Times reported it the next day.

As the German military invaded Poland in the early morning hours of September 1, the propaganda groundwork had been laid. It would not be until 1946, when attack organizer Alfred Naujocks testified at the Nuremburg Trials, that the world knew what really happened.

August 23, 1944: Romania Switches Sides

On this day in 1944, Romania switched its alliance from the Axis Powers to the Allies. Some historians estimate that the change, thanks to a coup led by King Michael I, shortened World War II by at least six months.

King Michael IOn this day in 1944, Romania switched its alliance from the Axis Powers to the Allies.  Some historians estimate that the change, thanks to a coup led by King Michael I, shortened World War II by at least six months.

The monarchy had basically ruled Romania from 1881 until 1940, when Defense Minister Ion Victor Antonescu seized power and forged an alliance with Nazi Germany. Under Antonescu, Romania participated in the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union and assisted in the Holocaust.

By 1944, the Soviets were pushing the Axis powers back and on the borders of Romania. However, Antonescu would not budge, so Michael I, the last King of Romania and a great-great-grandson of Queen Victoria, conspired with Romania’s communist party to stage coup against him. Antonescu was removed from power and Romanian forged an alliance with the Soviets. The 22-year-old Michael had been serving as King, but mainly in a figurehead capacity prior to the switch.

The change allowed the Soviet Army to speed through Romania on its way to Germany. Once the war ended, and a communist regime was in place, Michael again found himself serving as a figurehead, and left the country in 1947. He did not return again until 1992. Antonescu was tried and executed in June of 1946.

August 22, 1911: “Mona Lisa” Stolen

On this day in 1911, the “Mona Lisa” was reported stolen from the Louvre in Paris. The theft made Leonardo Da Vinci’s masterpiece the most famous painting in the world.

Mona LisaOn this day in 1911, the “Mona Lisa” was reported stolen from the Louvre in Paris. The theft made Leonardo Da Vinci’s masterpiece the most famous painting in the world.

It was actually stolen the previous morning by three men who had spent the night in the art supply closest. However, the crime was so unfathomable that the museum did not even notice the four bare hooks where the painting hung until the next morning.

Prior to the theft, the “Mona Lisa,” which Da Vinci completed in 1507, was virtually unknown outside of the small world of art aficionados. The stolen painting forced the Louvre to close for a week, required French authorities to assign 60 detectives to the case and created an international incident. Numerous high-profile individuals, including J.P. Morgan and Pablo Picasso, were questioned.

In November of 1913, Vincenzo Peruggia, a 32-year-old Italian who lived in Paris and the ringleader of the theft, attempted to sell the “Mona Lisa” to an art dealer in Florence. He was arrested, and served eight months in prison.

The “Mona Lisa” returned to the Louvre with a fascination and appreciation from the world that not other painting has ever experienced.

August 13, 1962: Vatican and Russian Orthodox Church Sign Metz Accord

On this day in 1962, the Vatican and Russian Orthodox Church signed the Metz Accord, in Metz, France. This secret agreement allowed for the Russian Church to send observers to the Second Vatican Council in exchange for the Catholic Church not condemning the Soviet Union’s atheistic communism.

Christ the Savior Cathedral - MoscowOn this day in 1962, the Vatican and Russian Orthodox Church signed the Metz Accord, in Metz, France. This secret agreement allowed for the Russian Church to send observers to the Second Vatican Council in exchange for the Catholic Church not condemning the Soviet Union’s atheistic communism.

Since eliminating religion was part of its ideology, the Soviets spent decades executing and torturing clergy, sending churchgoers to labor camps and closing churches. To make matters worse, the policy was not consistent. For example, Premier Joseph Stalin began promoting the Russian Orthodox Church in 1945 to boost Soviet morale following World War II, but then Nikita Khrushchev reversed it by beginning his own campaign against the church in 1959.

When the Second Vatican Council announced that it would meet, it was apparent that a condemnation of communism would be damning to Soviet “diplomacy” and its efforts to expand the ideology into other countries. So the Cardinal of the Curia, Eugène Tisserant, who represented Pope John XXIII, and Nikodin, who represented the Russian Orthodox Church, met and reached this secret but monumental agreement.

Two months later, more than 2,000 bishops, sisters, observers and laymen began the first of four sessions between 1962 and 1965. Vatican II produced 16 documents that laid the foundation for the modern Catholic Church. Sadly, communism was not part of the discussion.

August 4, 2009: Bill Clinton Visits North Korea

On this day in history, former U.S. President Bill Clinton visited North Korea to negotiate the release of Euna Lee and Laura Ling. The two journalists had been held captive for the past five months for illegally entering North Korea from China.

On this day in history, former U.S. President Bill Clinton visited North Korea to negotiate the release of Euna Lee and Laura Ling. The two journalists had been held captive for the past five months for illegally entering North Korea from China.

While my first emotion was to be thankful that Lee and Ling were returning home to their families, my next reaction was to worry about where we would see the above photo of Clinton and the late North Korean Leader Kim Jong Il in the years to come. I hoped it would not end up being an incendiary part of news stories and books regarding U.S. policy with North Korea, but simply a picture to go with an obscure footnote in our nation’s history.

While not much has changed in relations between the U.S. and North Korea, this event has become a nearly forgotten moment over the past four years.

July 30, 1929: Capitoline Wolf Statue Dedicated in Rome, Georgia

On this day in 1929, the Capitoline Wolf statue was dedicated in the town of Rome, Georgia. This statue of Romulus and Remus suckling from a wolf may be the tackiest municipal statue in America for more reasons than one.

Capitoline Wolf Statue - Rome, GAOn this day in 1929, the Capitoline Wolf statue was dedicated in the town of Rome, Georgia. This statue of Romulus and Remus suckling from a wolf may be the tackiest municipal statue in America for more reasons than one.

The town of around 35,000, like its Italian namesake, sits on seven hills with a river running between them. In 1928, Rome decided to further cement its connection with the ancient city by commissioning the statue. Italian premier Benito Mussolini sent a block of marble, then a bronze replica of the Capitoline Wolf statue to help connect the two cities. The inscription on it read:

“This statue of the Capitoline Wolf, as a forecast of prosperity and glory, has been sent from Ancient Rome to New Rome during the consulship of Benito Mussolini in the year 1929.”

The statue has drawn severe criticism over the years, especially during World War II, but still stands today. I am not saying the town should move it, but the statue looks ridiculous on Capitoline Hill in Italy. It looks even sillier in north Georgia.

July 19, 64: Rome Burns

On this day in 64 A.D., the Great Fire of Rome began, spreading quickly and continued for six days. How it started and how Roman Emperor Nero reacted have been the subject of debate for more than two thousand years.

The Great Fire of RomeOn this day in 64 A.D., the Great Fire of Rome began, spreading quickly and continued for six days. How it started and how Roman Emperor Nero reacted have been the subject of debate for more than two thousand years.

The popular, sexier version is that an insane Nero had the fire set for spits and giggles and strummed his lyre while the city burned. However, according to Tacitus, a Roman Senator and historian, Nero was in Antium when the fire started, but rushed back to Rome and set up a relief effort akin to the modern-day American Red Cross.

I prefer the latter version since Nero is usually portrayed as cruel and insane, with no regard for human life. A story that shows the humanity of Nero and Rome is a bit refreshing.

Then again, Nero did end up blaming Christians for starting the fire so I may be grasping at historical straws.