Smallpox is officially declared eradicated


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Year
1979
Month Day
December 09

On December 9, 1979, a commission of scientists declare that smallpox has been eradicated. The disease, which carries around a 30 percent chance of death for those who contract it, is the only infectious disease afflicting humans that has officially been eradicated.

Something similar to smallpox had ravaged humanity for thousands of years, with the earliest known description appearing in Indian accounts from the 2 Century BCE. It was believed that the Egyptian Pharaoh Ramses V died of smallpox in 1145 BCE; however, recent research indicates that the actual smallpox virus may have evolved as late as 1580 CE. A type of inoculation—introducing a small amount of the disease in order to bring on a mild case that results in immunity—was widespread in China by the 16th century.

There is no record of a smallpox-like illness in the Americas before European contact, and the fact that Europeans brought pox with them was a major factor in their conquest and near-eradication of many of the indigenous peoples of North, South and Central America. Smallpox was the leading cause of death in 18th century Europe, leading to many experiments with inoculation. In 1796 the English scientist Edward Jenner discovered a vaccine. Unlike other types of inoculation, Jenner’s vaccine, made from a closely-related disease that affects cows, carried zero risk of transmission.

Many European countries and American states made the vaccination of infants mandatory, and incidents of smallpox declined over the 19th and early 20th centuries. Compared to other epidemic diseases, such as polio or malaria, smallpox eradication was relatively simple because the disease lives only in humans, making human vaccination highly effective at stopping its spread, and its symptoms appear quickly, making it easy to identify and isolate outbreaks.

Starting in 1967, the World Health Organization undertook a worldwide effort to identify and stamp out the last remaining outbreaks of the disease. By the mid-70s, smallpox was only present in the Horn of Africa and parts of the Indian subcontinent. The last naturally occurring case was diagnosed in Somalia in 1977. Two years later, doctors proclaimed its eradication. The elimination of smallpox is one of the major successes in the history of science and medicine.

READ MORE: How an African Slave in Boston Helped Save Generations from Smallpox

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Separation of Charles and Diana announced


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Year
1992
Month Day
December 09

British Prime Minister John Major announces the formal separation of Charles, Prince of Wales and heir to the British throne, and his wife, Princess Diana. Major explained that the royal couple were separating “amicably.” The report came after several years of speculation by the tabloid press that the marriage was in peril, citing evidence that Diana and Charles spent vacations apart and official visits in separate rooms.

On July 29, 1981, nearly one billion television viewers in 74 countries tuned in to witness the marriage of Prince Charles, heir to the British throne, to Lady Diana Spencer, a young English schoolteacher. Married in a grand ceremony at St. Paul’s Cathedral in the presence of 2,650 guests, the couple’s romance was, for the moment, the envy of the world. Their first child, Prince William, was born in 1982, and their second, Prince Harry, in 1984.

READ MORE: The Hidden Dark Side of Charles and Diana’s Relationship

Before long, however, the fairy tale couple grew apart, an experience that was particularly painful under the watchful eyes of the world’s tabloid media. Diana and Charles separated in 1992, though they continued to carry out their royal duties. In August 1996, two months after Queen Elizabeth II urged the couple to divorce, the prince and princess reached a final agreement. In exchange for a generous settlement, and the right to retain her apartments at Kensington Palace and her title of “Princess of Wales,” Diana agreed to relinquish the title of “Her Royal Highness” and any future claims to the British throne.

In the year following the divorce, the popular princess seemed well on her way to achieving her dream of becoming “a queen in people’s hearts,” but on August 31, 1997, she was killed with her companion Dodi Fayed in a car accident in Paris. An investigation conducted by the French police concluded that the driver, who also died in the crash, was heavily intoxicated and caused the accident while trying to escape the paparazzi photographers who consistently tailed Diana during any public outing.

Prince Charles married the Duchess of Cornwall, Camilla Parker Bowles, on April 9, 2005.

READ MORE: The Final Years of Princess Diana

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John Birch Society founded


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Year
1958
Month Day
December 09

In Indianapolis, retired Boston candy manufacturer Robert H.W. Welch, Jr., establishes the John Birch Society, a right-wing organization dedicated to fighting what it perceives to be the extensive infiltration of communism into American society. Welch named the society in honor of John Birch, considered by many to be the first American casualty in the struggle against communism. In 1945, Birch, a Baptist missionary and U.S. Army intelligence specialist, was killed by Chinese communists in the northern province of Anhwei.

The John Birch Society, initially founded with only 11 members, had by the early 1960s grown to a membership of nearly 100,000 Americans and received annual private contributions of several million dollars. The society revived the spirit of McCarthyism, claiming in unsubstantiated accusations that a vast communist conspiracy existed within the U.S. government. Among others, the organization implicated President Dwight D. Eisenhower and Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren. However, after the debacle of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s public hearings in the early 1950s, America became more wary of radical anti-communism, and few of the society’s sensational charges were taken seriously by mainstream American society. The John Birch Society remains active today, and its members seek “to expose a semi-secret international cabal whose members sit in the highest places of influence and power worldwide.”

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Walesa elected president of Poland


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Year
1990
Month Day
December 09

In Poland, Lech Walesa, founder of the Solidarity trade union, wins a landslide election victory, becoming the first directly elected Polish leader.

Walesa, born in 1943, was an electrician at the Lenin Shipyard in Gdansk when he was fired for union agitation in 1976. When protests broke out in the Gdansk shipyard over an increase in food prices in August 1980, Walesa climbed the shipyard fence and joined the thousands of workers inside. He was elected leader of the strike committee, and three days later the strikers’ demands were met. Walesa then helped coordinate other strikes in Gdansk and demanded that the Polish government allow the free formation of trade unions and the right to strike. On August 30, the government conceded to the strikers’ demands, legalizing trade unionism and granting greater freedom of religious and political expression.

Millions of Polish workers and farmers came together to form unions, and Solidarity was formed as a national federation of unions, with Walesa as its chairman. Under Walesa’s charismatic leadership, the organization grew in size and political influence, soon becoming a major threat to the authority of the Polish government. On December 13, 1981, martial law was declared in Poland, Solidarity was outlawed, and Walesa and other labor leaders were arrested.

In November 1982, overwhelming public outcry forced Walesa’s release, but Solidarity remained illegal. In 1983, Walesa was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Fearing involuntary exile, he declined to travel to Norway to accept the award. Walesa continued as leader of the now-underground Solidarity movement, and he was subjected to continual monitoring and harassment by the Communist authorities.

In 1988, deteriorating economic conditions led to a new wave of labor strikes across Poland, and the government was forced to negotiate with Walesa. In April 1989, Solidarity was again legalized, and its members were allowed to enter a limited number of candidates in upcoming elections. By September, a Solidarity-led government coalition was in place, with Walesa’s colleague Tadeusz Mazowiecki as premier. In 1990, Poland’s first direct presidential election was held, and Walesa won by a landslide.

President Walesa successfully implemented free-market reforms, but unfortunately he was a far more effective labor leader than president. In 1995, he was narrowly defeated in his reelection by former communist Aleksander Kwasniewski, head of the Democratic Left Alliance.

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Intifada begins on Gaza Strip


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Year
1987
Month Day
December 09

In the Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip, the first riots of the Palestinian intifada, or “shaking off” in Arabic, begin one day after an Israeli truck crashed into a station wagon carrying Palestinian workers in the Jabalya refugee district of Gaza, killing four and wounding 10. Gaza Palestinians saw the incident as a deliberate act of retaliation against the killing of a Jew in Gaza several days before, and on December 9 they took to the streets in protest, burning tires and throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails at Israeli police and troops. At Jabalya, an Israeli army patrol car fired on Palestinian attackers, killing a 17-year-old and wounding 16 others. The next day, crack Israeli paratroopers were sent into Gaza to quell the violence, and riots spread to the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

December 9 marked the formal beginning of the intifada, but demonstrations, small-scale riots, and violence directed against Israelis had been steadily escalating for months. The year 1987 marked the 20-year anniversary of the Israeli conquest of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank, the formerly Egyptian- and Jordanian-controlled lands that the Palestinians called home. After the Six Day War of 1967, Israel set up military administrations in the occupied territories and permanently annexed East Jerusalem in the West Bank. With the support of the Israeli government, Israeli settlers moved into the occupied territories, seizing Arab land. By December 1987, 2,200 armed Jewish settlers occupied 40 percent of the Gaza Strip, while 650,000 impoverished Palestinians were crowded into the other 60 percent, making the Palestinian portion of the tiny Gaza Strip one of the most densely populated areas on earth.

In December 1987, despair by the Palestinians over their plight exploded in the intifada. The grassroots uprising soon came under the control of Palestinian leaders who formed the Unified National Command of the Uprising, which had ties to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Although images of young refugee-camp Palestinians throwing rocks at Israeli troops dominated television reports of the intifada, the movement was widespread across Palestinian society. Affluent Palestinians and women’s groups joined militant groups in strikes, boycotts, and other sophisticated tactics in their effort to win Palestinian self-rule.

In July 1988, Jordan’s King Hussein renounced all administrative responsibility for the West Bank, thereby strengthening the Palestinian influence there. In November 1988, the PLO voted to proclaim the establishment of an independent Palestinian state. Meanwhile, the intifada raged on, and by its first anniversary more than 300 Palestinians had been killed, more than 11,000 had been wounded, and many more were arrested.

In the final weeks of 1988, PLO leader Yasser Arafat surprised the world by denouncing terrorism, recognizing the State of Israel’s right to exist, and authorizing the beginning of “land-for-peace” negotiations with Israel. In 1992, Labor Party leader Yitzhak Rabin became Israeli prime minister and vowed to move quickly on the peace process. He froze new Israeli settlements in the occupied territory, and the intifada was called off after five years.

In 1993, secret Israeli-Palestinian negotiations in Oslo, Norway, resulted in the signing of the historic Declaration of Principles on Interim Self-Government Arrangements in Washington, D.C., on September 13. The accord called for the withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank town of Jericho and the establishment of a Palestinian government that would eventually be granted authority over much of the West Bank.

Despite attempts by extremists on both sides to sabotage the peace process with violence, the Israelis completed their withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and Jericho in May 1994. In July, Arafat entered Jericho amid much Palestinian jubilation and set up his government–the Palestinian Authority. In 1994, Arafat, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts at reconciliation.

In 1995, Rabin was assassinated by a Jewish extremist at a peace rally in Tel Aviv, and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process stalled under his successors: Shimon Peres, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Ehud Barak. In September 2000, the worst violence since the end of the intifada erupted between Israelis and Palestinians after rightist Likud Party leader Ariel Sharon visited the Temple Mount, a religious site in Jerusalem of great importance to both Jews and Muslims, the latter of whom control it. Seeking a strong leader to suppress the bloodshed, Israelis elected Sharon prime minister in February 2001. After suffering a stroke, he was replaced by his deputy, Ehud Olmert, in April 2006. 

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U.S. Marines storm Mogadishu, Somalia


Updated:
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Year
1992
Month Day
December 09

On December 9, 1992, 1,800 United States Marines arrive in Mogadishu, Somalia, to spearhead a multinational force aimed at restoring order in the conflict-ridden country.

Following centuries of colonial rule by countries including Portugal, Britain and Italy, Mogadishu became the capital of an independent Somalia in 1960. Less than 10 years later, a military group led by Major General Muhammad Siad Barre seized power and declared Somalia a socialist state. A drought in the mid-1970s combined with an unsuccessful rebellion by ethnic Somalis in a neighboring province of Ethiopia to deprive many of food and shelter. By 1981, close to 2 million of the country’s inhabitants were homeless. Though a peace accord was signed with Ethiopia in 1988, fighting increased between rival clans within Somalia, and in January 1991 Barre was forced to flee the capital. Over the next 23 months, Somalia’s civil war killed some 50,000 people; another 300,000 died of starvation as United Nations peacekeeping forces struggled in vain to restore order and provide relief amid the chaos of war.

In early December 1992, outgoing U.S. President George H.W. Bush sent the contingent of Marines to Mogadishu as part of a mission dubbed Operation Restore Hope. Backed by the U.S. troops, international aid workers were soon able to restore food distribution and other humanitarian aid operations. Sporadic violence continued, including the murder of 24 U.N. soldiers from Pakistan in 1993. As a result, the U.N. authorized the arrest of General Mohammed Farah Aidid, leader of one of the rebel clans. On October 3, 1993, during an attempt to make the arrest, rebels shot down two of the U.S. Army’s Black Hawk helicopters and killed 18 American soldiers.

As horrified TV viewers watched images of the bloodshed—including footage of Aidid’s supporters dragging the body of one dead soldier through the streets of Mogadishu, cheering—President Bill Clinton immediately gave the order for all American soldiers to withdraw from Somalia by March 31, 1994. Other Western nations followed suit. When the last U.N. peacekeepers left in 1995, ending a mission that had cost more than $2 billion, Mogadishu still lacked a functioning government. A ceasefire accord signed in Kenya in 2002 failed to put a stop to the violence, though a new parliament was convened in 2004.

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Paris peace talks break down


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Year
1971
Month Day
December 09

For the first time since the Paris peace talks began in May 1968, both sides refuse to set another meeting date for continuation of the negotiations.

The refusal to continue came during the 138th session of the peace talks. U.S. delegate William Porter angered the communist negotiators by asking for a postponement of the next scheduled session of the conference until December 30, to give Hanoi and the Viet Cong an opportunity to develop a “more constructive approach” at the talks.

The U.S. side was displeased with the North Vietnamese, who repeatedly demanded that South Vietnamese President Nguyen Van Thieu resign as a prerequisite for any meaningful discussions. Although both sides returned to the official talks in January 1972, the real negotiations were being conducted between Henry Kissinger and Le Duc Tho, the lead North Vietnamese negotiator, in a private villa outside Paris. These secret talks did not result in a peace agreement until January 1973, after the massive 1972 North Vietnamese Easter Offensive had been blunted and Nixon had ordered the “Christmas bombing” of Hanoi and Haiphong to convince North Vietnam to rejoin the peace negotiations.

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The Texan Army captures San Antonio


Updated:
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Year
1835
Month Day
December 09

Inspired by the spirited leadership of Benjamin Rush Milam, the newly created Texan Army takes possession of the city of San Antonio, an important victory for the Republic of Texas in its war for independence from Mexico.

Milam was born in 1788 in Frankfort, Kentucky. He became a citizen and soldier of Mexico in 1824, when newly independent Mexico was still under a republican constitution. Like many Americans who immigrated to the Mexican state of Texas, Milam found that the government both welcomed and feared the growing numbers of Americans, and treated them with uneven fairness. When Milam heard in 1835 that Santa Ana had overthrown the Mexican republic and established himself as dictator, Milam renounced his Mexican citizenship and joined the rag-tag army of the newly proclaimed independent Republic of Texas.

After helping the Texas Army capture the city of Goliad, Milam went on a reconnaissance mission to the southwest but returned to join the army for its planned attack on San Antonio-only to learn that the generals were postponing the attack on San Antonio for the winter. Aware that Santa Ana’s forces were racing toward Texas to suppress the rebellion, Milam worried that any hesitation would spell the end of the revolution. Milam made an impassioned call for volunteers, asking: “Who will go with old Ben Milam into San Antonio?”

Inspired by Milam’s bold challenge, three hundred men did volunteer, and the Texas Army began its attack on San Antonio at dawn on December 5. By December 9, the defending forces of the Mexican army were badly beaten, and the commanding general surrendered the city. Milam, however, was not there to witness the results of his leadership–he was killed instantly by a sniper bullet on December 7. If Milam had survived, he might well have been among the doomed defenders of the Alamo that were wiped out by Santa Ana’s troops the following March.

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“The Charge of the Light Brigade” by Alfred Lord Tennyson is published


Updated:
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Year
1854
Month Day
December 09

On December 9, The Examiner prints Alfred Lord Tennyson’s poem “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” which commemorates the courage of 600 British soldiers charging a heavily defended position during the Battle of Balaklava, in the Crimea, just six weeks earlier. Tennyson had been named poet laureate in 1850 by Queen Victoria.

Tennyson was born into a chaotic and disrupted home. His father, the eldest son of a wealthy landowner, was disinherited in favor of his younger brother. Forced to enter the church to support himself, the Reverend Dr. George Tennyson became a bitter alcoholic. However, he educated his sons in the classics, and Alfred Tennyson, the fourth of 12 children, went to Trinity College at Cambridge in 1827. The same year, he and his brother Charles published Poems by Two Brothers. At Cambridge, Tennyson befriended a circle of intellectual undergraduates who strongly encouraged his poetry. Chief among them was Arthur Hallam, who became Tennyson’s closest friend and who later proposed to Tennyson’s sister.

In 1830, Tennyson published Poems, Chiefly Lyrical. The following year, his father died, and he was forced to leave Cambridge for financial reasons. Besieged by critical attacks and struggling with poverty, Tennyson nevertheless remained dedicated to his work and published several more volumes.

The sudden death of Tennyson’s dear friend Arthur Hallam in 1833 inspired several important works throughout Tennyson’s later life, including the masterful In Memoriam of 1842. Later that year, he published a volume called Poems, containing some of his best works. The book boosted Tennyson’s reputation, and in 1850 Queen Victoria named him poet laureate. At long last, Tennyson achieved financial stability and finally married his fiancée, Emily Sellwood, whom he had loved since 1836.

Tennyson’s massive frame and booming voice, together with his taste for solitude, made him an imposing character. He craved solitude and bought an isolated home where he could write in peace. In 1859, he published the first four books of his epic Idylls of the King. Eight more volumes would follow. He continued writing and publishing poems until his death in 1892.

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“Scarface,” starring Al Pacino, opens in theaters


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Year
1983
Month Day
December 09

The actor Al Pacino stars as a Cuban refugee who becomes a Miami crime boss in Scarface, which opens in theaters on December 9, 1983.

In Scarface, Pacino played Tony Montana, who arrives in Florida from Cuba in 1980 and eventually becomes wealthy from his involvement in the booming cocaine business. Things fall apart when Tony becomes addicted to the drug and his world collapses in violence. Directed by Brian De Palma from a screenplay by Oliver Stone, Scarface co-starred Michelle Pfeiffer, Steven Bauer, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and Robert Loggia. The film was loosely based on a 1932 gangster film of the same name, directed by Howard Hawks and reportedly inspired in part by the real-life mobster Al “Scarface” Capone. Though De Palma’s Scarface received mixed reviews upon its initial release and was criticized for its violence, it proved to be a success at the box-office and went on to achieve pop-culture status.

Tony Montana is just one of many notable roles in the career of Pacino, who was born on April 25, 1940, in New York City. He first gained notice for his portrayal as a young drug addict in 1971’s The Panic in Needle Park, which was produced by Dominick Dunne and written by Joan Didion and John Gregory Dunne. Pacino’s next film (just the third of his career) was the director Francis Ford Coppola’s now-iconic crime-family drama The Godfather (1972), co-starring Marlon Brando, James Caan, Diane Keaton and Robert Duvall. Pacino received a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his performance as the conflicted crime boss Michael Corleone, a role he would reprise in the acclaimed sequels The Godfather: Part II (1974) and The Godfather: Part III (1990).

Throughout the rest of the 1970s, Pacino turned in a number of acclaimed performances, garnering three Academy Award nominations for Best Actor, for Serpico (1973), Dog Day Afternoon (1975) and …And Justice for All (1979). In the ensuing decades, the prolific actor continued to rack up an impressive list of credits in such films as the 1989 hit Sea of Love, opposite Ellen Barkin; Dick Tracy (1990), for which he earned yet another Best Actor Oscar nomination; and Glengarry Glen Ross (1992), for which he received a nod for Best Supporting Actor. He took home his first Best Actor Oscar for his performance as a blind, retired Army officer in Scent of a Woman (1992). Among Pacino’s other memorable films are the 1970s-era gangster drama Carlito’s Way (1993); the New York mafia drama Donnie Brasco (1997); the Oscar-nominated The Insider (1999), with Russell Crowe; and director Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday (1999), in which Pacino played a pro football coach. In 2008, Pacino teamed up with another Italian-American screen legend, Robert De Niro, to play New York City police detectives in Righteous Kill; the two appeared again in 2019’s mob drama The Irishman, directed by Martin Scorsese. 

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