Labor organizer and civil rights activist Cesar Chavez begins hunger strike

Year
1972
Month Day
May 01

On May 1, 1972, Mexican-American labor organizer and civil rights activist Cesar Chavez begins a hunger strike. The strike, which he undertook in opposition to an Arizona law severely restricting farm workers’ ability to organize, lasted 24 days and drew national attention to the suffering of itinerant farm workers in the Southwest.

A fervent admirer of Mahatma Gandhi, Chavez had undertaken several hunger strikes before. As a co-founder of the United Farm Workers, he and his strikes had played important roles in many major labor actions, including the five-year Delano Grape Strike in California. In response to the wave of organizing that had swept the region, Arizona’s legislature passed a bill that constricted workers’ rights to organize, outlawed secondary boycotts, and allowed growers to obtain a restraining order to prevent strikes during the harvest. Despite an outcry from farm workers and Chavez’s request that they meet to discuss the bill, Governor Jack Williams immediately signed it into law. Later that day, Chavez began his fast.

READ MORE: When Millions of Americans Stopped Eating Grapes in Support of Farm Workers

An increasingly emaciated Chavez appeared regularly at mass, attended by his supporters and others from the civil rights movement. Coretta Scott King, whose husband Martin Luther King, Jr. had supported Chavez in his previous strikes, attended one such mass, as did Democratic presidential nominee George McGovern. Chavez referred to the strike as “a fast of sacrifice,” repeatedly reminding observers that his suffering was meant to represent the daily suffering of farm workers. Finally, after 24 days, he ended his fast at a memorial mass for Bobby Kennedy, who had thrown his political support behind Chavez’s cause in the years prior to his 1968 assassination. The following year, Chavez and the UFW organized another major agricultural strike, the Lettuce Growers Strike, and in1975 California passed a landmark law affirming workers’ rights to boycott and to collective bargaining.

READ MORE: Cesar Chavez: His Life and Legacy

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The United Arab Emirates is formed


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Year
1972
Month Day
December 21

On December 21, 1972, the United Arab Emirates is formed. The union of six small Gulf kingdoms—to which a seventh was soon added—created a small state with an outsized role in the global economy.

A number of kingdoms on the norther coast of the Arabian Peninsula came under British protection through a series of treaties beginning in 1820. Concerned with protecting trade routes and their prized colony of India, the British navy protected what became known as the Trucial States in exchange for their cooperation with British interests. During this period of British protection, the region’s vast oil reserves were discovered. As the Trucial States and nearby kingdoms like Bahrain and Qatar became major suppliers of oil, the British Empire’s influence receded due to a number of factors, the two World Wars chief among them. In 1968, the British government declared that it would end the protectorate, withdrawing its military and leaving the people of the region to their own devices.

Dwarfed by their neighbors in terms of size, population and military capabilities, the small kingdoms of the region attempted to organize themselves into a single political unit. The negotiations proved difficult, and Bahrain and Qatar elected to declare independence unilaterally. With the British treaty due to expire and both Iran and Saudi Arabia eyeing their territory and resources, the kingdoms of Abu Dhabi, Ajman, Fujairah, Sharjah, Dubai and Umm al-Quwain became the independent United Arab Emirates on this day in 1972. Ras al-Khaimah joined two months later.

Since then, the UAE has been a sovereign nation, enjoying the profits of its natural resources—its reserves of oil and natural gas are the seventh-largest in the world, and it has the seventh-highest GDP per capita. This wealth has turned the Emirates into a major hub of trade, travel, tourism and finance. Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, the tallest structure in the world, is emblematic of the Emirates’ dramatic construction boom and rise to global prominence. Though its cities are some of the most modern in the world, the nation remains a monarchy governed by religious law—its president and prime minister are the absolute monarchs of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, respectively, and apostasy, homosexuality and even kissing in public are punishable by law.

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Bobby Fischer becomes the first American to win the World Chess Championship

On September 1, 1972, in what’s billed as the “Match of the Century,” American chess grandmaster Bobby Fischer defeats Russian Boris Spassky during the World Chess Championship in Reykjavik, Iceland.

In the world’s most publicized title match ever played, Fischer, a 29-year-old Brooklynite, became the first American to win the competition since its inception in 1866. The victory also marked the first time a non-Russian had won the event in 24 years.

Fischer, who started playing chess professionally at age 8, won the U.S. Open Championship when he was 14 (he would go on to win it seven more times) and became the world’s youngest international grandmaster at age 15.

Fischer’s skills and age—and demanding, arrogant attitude—made him a pop culture phenomenon. He became the subject of books and movies and even inspired a song, “The Ballad of Bobby Fischer.”

Played during the Cold War, the Reykjavik match also carried political undertones. Fischer had already accused the Soviets of rigging the tournament system and didn’t mince words in his feelings about them, saying the match was “really the free world against the lying, cheating, hypocritical Russians … They always suggest that the world’s leaders should fight it out hand to hand. And that is the kind of thing we are doing.”

Fischer missed the competition’s July 1 opening ceremony, after demanding more money, as well as a cut of TV and film rights. After a two-day delay—and a doubling of the prize purse by British millionaire Jim Slater—Fischer finally showed. A call from Henry Kissinger, national security assistant for President Nixon at the time, may have helped persuade him to compete, as well. “America wants you to go over there to beat the Russians,” he reportedly told Fischer.

“Fischer is known to be graceless, rude, possibly insane,” financier Slater once said. “I really don’t worry about that, because I didn’t do it for that reason. I did it because he was going to challenge the Russian supremacy, and it was good for chess.”

Spassky took the first game (Fischer blamed the TV cameras and ordered them to be removed). Fischer then forfeited the second game after some of his other demands weren’t met. Following much quarreling, the match resumed July 16 with a win by Fischer. Over 21 games, Fischer won seven, Spassky won three, and 11 were draws. Spassky resigned after 40 moves on the 21st game via telephone, with the final score set at 12.5 to 8.5

Fischer took home $156,250 in prize money for the feat, while the Soviet grandmaster Spassky, who was 35 and the reigning world champion, earned $93,750.

Fischer lost his world title by forfeit in 1975, when he refused to play against Soviet Anatoly Karpov in Manila after the competition’s governing body failed to meet all his demands. 

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More Israeli hostages killed in Munich

Year
1972
Month Day
September 06

At Furstenfeldbruck air base near Munich, an attempt by West German police to rescue nine Israeli Olympic team members held hostage by Palestinian terrorists ends in disaster. In an extended firefight that began at 11 p.m. and lasted until 1:30 a.m., all nine Israeli hostages were killed, as were five terrorists and one German policeman. Three terrorists were wounded and captured alive. The hostage crisis began early the previous morning when Palestinian terrorists from the Black September organization stormed the Israeli quarters in the Olympic Village in Munich, killing two team members and taking nine others hostage.

The 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich, West Germany, were publicized by organizers as the “Games of Peace and Joy.” West Germans were intent on erasing the memory of the last Olympics held in Germany: the 1936 Berlin Olympics that Adolf Hitler exploited as a vehicle of Nazi propaganda. Police in Munich–the birthplace of Nazism–kept a low profile during the 1972 Games, and organizers chose lax security over risking comparison with the Gestapo police tactics of Hitler’s Germany.

So just before dawn on September 5, 1972–the eleventh day of the XX Olympiad–evidently no one thought it strange that five Arab men in track suits were climbing over a six-and-a-half-foot fence to gain access to the Olympic Village. The village, after all, had a curfew, and many other Olympic athletes had employed fence climbing as a means of enjoying a late night out on the town. In fact, some Americans returning from a bar joined them in climbing the fence. A handful of other witnesses hardly gave the five men a second glance, and the intruders proceeded unmolested to the three-story building where the small Israeli delegation to the Munich Games was staying.

These five men, of course, were not Olympic athletes but members of Black September, an extremist Palestinian group formed in 1971. In their athletic bags they carried automatic rifles and other weapons. They were joined in the village by three other terrorists, two of whom were employed within the Olympic compound.

Shortly before 5 a.m., the guerrillas forced their way into one of the Israeli apartments, taking five hostages. When the Palestinians entered another apartment, Israeli wrestling coach Moshe Weinberg struggled with them. He was shot to death after knocking two of his attackers down. Weightlifter Yossef Romano then attacked them with a kitchen knife, and he succeeded in injuring one terrorist before he was fatally shot. Some Israelis managed narrowly to escape through a back entrance, but a total of nine were seized. Four of the hostages were athletes–two weightlifters and two wrestlers–and five were coaches. One of the wrestlers, David Berger, had dual American-Israeli citizenship and lived in Ohio before qualifying for the Israeli Olympic team.

Around 8 a.m., the attackers announced themselves as Palestinians and issued their demands: the release of 234 Arab and German prisoners held in Israel and West Germany, and safe passage with their hostages to Cairo. The German prisoners requested to be released included Ulrike Meinhof and Andreas Baader, founders of the Marxist terrorist group known as the Red Army Faction. If the Palestinians’ demands were not met, the nine hostages would be killed. Tense negotiations stretched on throughout the day, complicated by Israel’s refusal to negotiate with these or any terrorists. The German police considered raiding the Israeli compound but later abandoned the plan out of fear for the safety of the hostages and other athletes in the Olympic Village. Ten West German Olympic organizers offered themselves as hostages in exchange for the Israeli team members, but the offer was declined.

Finally, in the early evening, the terrorists agreed to a plan in which they were to be taken by helicopter to the NATO air base at Fürstenfeldbruck and then flown by airliner to Cairo with the hostages. The terrorists believed they would be met in Egypt by the released Arab and German prisoners. Around 10 p.m., the terrorists and hostages emerged from the building; the Israelis bound together and blindfolded. They took a bus to a makeshift helicopter pad and were flown the 12 miles to Fürstenfeldbruck.

German authorities feared that the Israelis faced certain death upon their arrival in the Middle East. Egypt had denied the request to allow the plane to land in Cairo, and Israel would never release the Arab prisoners in question. Israel had a crack military task force ready to raid the plane wherever it landed, but the German police planned their own ambush. In the course of the transfer, however, the Germans discovered that there were eight terrorists instead of the expected five. They had not assigned enough marksmen to kill the terrorists and, moreover, lacked the gear, such as walkie-talkies and bulletproof vests, necessary to carry out such an ambush effectively. Nevertheless, shortly before 11 p.m., the sharpshooters opened fire. Their shots were off mark in the dark, and the terrorists fired back.

Toward the end of the firefight, which lasted more than two hours, the Palestinians gunned down four of the hostages in one of the helicopters and tossed a grenade into another helicopter holding the other five–killing them all. At approximately 1:30 a.m., the last terrorist still resisting was killed. All eight Palestinians were shot during the gun battle–five fatally–and a German policeman was killed. One of the helicopter pilots was also seriously injured.

In the aftermath of the tragedy, the Munich Games were temporarily suspended. A memorial service for the 11 slain Israelis drew 80,000 mourners to the Olympic stadium on September 6. International Olympic Committee President Avery Brundage, who was widely criticized for failing to suspend the Games during the hostage crisis, was further criticized for his decision to resume them on the afternoon of September 6. On September 11, closing ceremonies ended the XX Olympiad.

On October 29, Palestinian terrorists hijacked a Lufthansa jet in Beirut and ordered it flown to Munich, where the three surviving Munich terrorists were being held. Germany agreed to turn the terrorists over in exchange for the release of the airliner’s passengers and crew, which was carried out after the jet landed in Libya. The Black September terrorists, however, did not enjoy their freedom for long. Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, formed an assassination squad that eventually killed two of the three terrorists along with at least six others believed to have been involved in the attack on the Israeli Olympic compound. One of the Munich terrorists, Jamal al-Gashey, survives in hiding.

READ MORE: When World Events Disrupted the Olympics

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“American Pie” hits #1 on the pop charts


Year
1972
Month Day
January 15

On January 15, 1972, “American Pie,”, an epic poem in musical form that has long been etched in the American popular consciousness, hits #1 on the Billboard charts.

The story of Don McLean’s magnum opus begins almost 13 years before its release, on a date with significance well-known to any American who was alive and conscious at the time. Tuesday February 3, 1959, was the date of the plane crash that killed Buddy Holly, Ritchie Valens and the J.P. “the Big Bopper” Richardson—a date that would be imbued with transcendent meaning by Don McLean when he labeled it “the Day the Music Died.” One might reasonably point out that the baby-boom generation has since invested its entire rock-and-roll experience with transcendent meaning, but don’t blame Don McLean for starting the trend. “American Pie” wasn’t written to be a generation-defining epic; it was written simply to capture McLean’s view of “America as I was seeing it and how I was fantasizing it might become.”

When asked to explain what exactly he was trying to say with some of his more ambiguous lyrics, McLean has generally declined. Many others have applied themselves to the task, however, and even today the Internet bristles with exhaustively reasoned interpretations of “American Pie” and its web of lyrical references to the youth culture of the 1950s and 60s. The meaning of the Stolen Crown and Marching Band may be of interest only to the most obsessive of baby boomers, but almost all of us know the chorus of “American Pie” better than we know our own national anthem, and the chances are good that our great-grandchildren will, too. Which isn’t bad for a song that was written and recorded by a struggling folk singer who merely hoped that it would “earn two or three thousand dollars and make survival for another year possible.”

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Mac Davis earns one of the 1970s’ most head-scratching #1 hits with “Baby Don’t Get Hooked on Me”

Year
1972
Month Day
September 23

On September 23, 1972, “Baby Don’t Get Hooked On Me” by singer-songwriter Mac Davis reached the top of the American pop charts. In a year that not only saw Congress pass the Equal Rights Amendment, but also saw Helen Reddy score a #1 hit with her feminist anthem “I Am Woman,” “Baby Don’t Get Hooked On Me” stands in rather stark contrast as one of the more blithely chauvinistic pop hits of all time.

Early in his career, Scott “Mac” Davis was best known within the music industry as a professional songwriter who scored a quartet of late-career hits for Elvis Presley—”A Little Less Conversation” (1968), “Memories” (1969), “In The Ghetto” (1969) and “Don’t Cry Daddy” (1969)—and another for Bobby Goldsboro—”Watching Scotty Grow” (1971). With “Baby Don’t Get Hooked On Me,” Davis would score his first hit as a performer.

“Baby Don’t Get Hooked On Me” was sung from the perspective of a young man reluctant to allow a romantic fling to turn into a committed relationship, despite a certain undeniable fondness for his paramour. “You’re a hot-blooded woman-child,” he sings, “and it’s warm where you’re touchin’ me.“But after dispensing with such pleasantries, the protagonist proceeds to explain, “Baby, baby, don’t get hooked on me/’Cause I’ll just use you and I’ll set you free.”

Despite lyrics likely to be deemed chauvinistic by 21st-century standards, “Baby Don’t Get Hooked On Me” found ready acceptance in 1972 and launched Mac Davis on a decade-long run in the pop-cultural spotlight. And in contrast to the apparent callousness of “Baby Don’t Get Hooked On Me,” Mac Davis proved during that run to be one of the most charming and likable characters in the pop-cultural landscape, not only hosting his own short-lived TV variety show, but also making numerous appearances as an actor on television and in movies. And if the song that made him a star hasn’t aged all that well, his signature tune, “I Believe In Music” and his humorously self-deprecating country hit “It’s Hard To Be Humble” certainly have.

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Japanese soldier found hiding on Guam


Year
1972
Month Day
January 24

After 28 years of hiding in the jungles of Guam, local farmers discover Shoichi Yokoi, a Japanese sergeant who was unaware that World War II had ended.

Guam, a 200-square-mile island in the western Pacific, became a U.S. possession in 1898 after the Spanish-American War. In 1941, the Japanese attacked and captured it, and in 1944, after three years of Japanese occupation, U.S. forces retook Guam. It was at this time that Yokoi, left behind by the retreating Japanese forces, went into hiding rather than surrender to the Americans. In the jungles of Guam, he carved survival tools and for the next three decades waited for the return of the Japanese and his next orders. After he was discovered in 1972, he was finally discharged and sent home to Japan, where he was hailed as a national hero. He subsequently married and returned to Guam for his honeymoon. His handcrafted survival tools and threadbare uniform are on display in the Guam Museum in Agana.

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Watergate burglars arrested

Year
1972
Month Day
June 17

In the early morning of June 17, 1972, five men are arrested for breaking into the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate, an office-hotel-apartment complex in Washington, D.C. In their possession were burglary tools, cameras and film, and three pen-size tear gas guns. At the scene of the crime, and in rooms the men rented at the Watergate, sophisticated electronic bugging equipment was found. Three of the men were Cuban exiles, one was a Cuban American, and the fifth was James W. McCord, Jr., a former CIA agent. That day, the suspects, who said they were “anti-communists,” were charged with felonious burglary and possession of implements of crime.

READ MORE: The Watergate Scandal: A Timeline 

On June 18, however, it was revealed that James McCord was the salaried security coordinator for President Richard Nixon’s reelection committee. The next day, E. Howard Hunt, Jr., a former White House aide, was linked to the five suspects. In July, G. Gordon Liddy, finance counsel for the Committee for the Re-election of the President, was also implicated as an accomplice. In August, President Nixon announced that a White House investigation of the Watergate break-in had concluded that administration officials were not involved. In September, Liddy, Hunt, McCord, and the four Cubans were indicted by a federal grand jury on eight counts of breaking into and illegally bugging the Democratic National Committee headquarters.

In September and October, reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward of The Washington Post uncovered evidence of illegal political espionage carried out by the White House and the Committee for the Re-election of the President, including the existence of a secret fund kept for the purpose and the existence of political spies hired by the committee. Despite these reports, and a growing call for a Watergate investigation on Capitol Hill, Richard Nixon was reelected president in November 1972 in a landslide victory.

In January 1973, five of the Watergate burglars pleaded guilty, and two others, Liddy and McCord, were convicted. At their sentencing on March 23, U.S. District Court Judge John J. Sirica read a letter from McCord charging that the White House had conducted an extensive “cover-up” to conceal its connection with the break-in. In April, Attorney General Richard Kleindienst and two top White House advisers, H.R. Haldeman and John Ehrlichman, resigned, and White House counsel John Dean was fired.

On May 17, 1973, the Senate Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities, headed by Senator Sam Ervin of North Carolina, began televised proceedings on the rapidly escalating Watergate affair. One week later, Harvard Law professor Archibald Cox was sworn in as special Watergate prosecutor. During the Senate hearings, former White House legal counsel John Dean testified that the Watergate break-in had been approved by former Attorney General John Mitchell with the knowledge of White House advisers Ehrlichman and Haldeman, and that President Nixon had been aware of the cover-up. Meanwhile, Watergate prosecutor Cox and his staff began to uncover widespread evidence of political espionage by the Nixon re-election committee, illegal wiretapping of thousands of citizens by the administration, and contributions to the Republican Party in return for political favors.

READ MORE: Watergate: Who Did What and Where Are They Now?

In July, the existence of what were to be called the Watergate tapes–official recordings of White House conversations between Nixon and his staff–was revealed during the Senate hearings. Cox subpoenaed these tapes, and after three months of delay President Nixon agreed to send summaries of the recordings. Cox rejected the summaries, and Nixon fired him. His successor as special prosecutor, Leon Jaworski, leveled indictments against several high-ranking administration officials, including Mitchell and Dean, who were duly convicted.

Public confidence in the president rapidly waned, and by the end of July 1974 the House Judiciary Committee had adopted three articles of impeachment against President Nixon: obstruction of justice, abuse of presidential powers, and hindrance of the impeachment process. On July 30, under coercion from the Supreme Court, Nixon finally released the Watergate tapes. On August 5, transcripts of the recordings were released, including a segment in which the president was heard instructing Haldeman to order the FBI to halt the Watergate investigation. Four days later, Nixon became the first president in U.S. history to resign. On September 8, his successor, President Gerald Ford, pardoned him from any criminal charges.

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Supreme Court strikes down death penalty

Year
1972
Month Day
June 29

In Furman v. Georgia, the U.S. Supreme Court rules by a vote of 5-4 that capital punishment, as it is currently employed on the state and federal level, is unconstitutional. The majority held that, in violation of the Eighth Amendment to the Constitution, the death penalty qualified as “cruel and unusual punishment,” primarily because states employed execution in “arbitrary and capricious ways,” especially in regard to race. It was the first time that the nation’s highest court had ruled against capital punishment. However, because the Supreme Court suggested new legislation that could make death sentences constitutional again, such as the development of standardized guidelines for juries that decide sentences, it was not an outright victory for opponents of the death penalty.

In 1976, with 66 percent of Americans still supporting capital punishment, the Supreme Court acknowledged progress made in jury guidelines and reinstated the death penalty under a “model of guided discretion.” In 1977, Gary Gilmore, a career criminal who had murdered an elderly couple because they would not lend him their car, was the first person to be executed since the end of the ban. Defiantly facing a firing squad in Utah, Gilmore’s last words to his executioners before they shot him through the heart were, “Let’s do it.”

READ MORE: Was the Colonies’ First Death Penalty Handed to a Mutineer or Spy?

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President Nixon arrives in Moscow for historic summit

Year
1972
Month Day
May 22

On May 22, 1972, President Richard Nixon arrives in Moscow for a summit with Soviet leaders.

Although it was Nixon’s first visit to the Soviet Union as president, he had visited Moscow once before–as U.S. vice president. As Eisenhower’s vice president, Nixon made frequent official trips abroad, including a 1959 trip to Moscow to tour the Soviet capital and to attend the U.S. Trade and Cultural Fair in Sokolniki Park. Soon after Vice President Nixon arrived in July 1959, he opened an informal debate with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev about the merits and disadvantages of their governments’ political and economic systems. Known as the “Kitchen Debate” because of a particularly heated exchange between Khrushchev and Nixon that occurred in the kitchen of a model U.S. home at the American fair, the dialogue was a defining moment in the Cold War.

Nixon’s second visit to Moscow in May 1972, this time as president, was for a more conciliatory purpose. During a week of summit meetings with Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev and other Soviet officials, the United States and the USSR reached a number of agreements, including one that laid the groundwork for a joint space flight in 1975. On May 26, Nixon and Brezhnev signed the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT), the most significant of the agreements reached during the summit. The treaty limited the United States and the USSR to 200 antiballistic missiles each, which were to be divided between two defensive systems. President Nixon returned to the United States on May 30.

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