Saddam Hussein captured


Updated:
Original:
Year
2003
Month Day
December 13

After spending nine months on the run, former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein is captured on December 13, 2003. Saddam’s downfall began on March 20, 2003, when the United States led an invasion force into Iraq to topple his government, which had controlled the country for more than 20 years.

Saddam Hussein was born into a poor family in Tikrit, 100 miles outside of Baghdad, in 1937. After moving to Baghdad as a teenager, Saddam joined the now-infamous Baath party, which he would later lead. He participated in several coup attempts, finally helping to install his cousin as dictator of Iraq in July 1968. Saddam took over for his cousin 11 years later. During his 24 years in office, Saddam’s secret police, charged with protecting his power, terrorized the public, ignoring the human rights of the nation’s citizens. While many of his people faced poverty, he lived in incredible luxury, building more than 20 lavish palaces throughout the country. Obsessed with security, he is said to have moved among them often, always sleeping in secret locations.

In the early 1980s, Saddam involved his country in an eight-year war with Iran, which is estimated to have taken more than a million lives on both sides. He is alleged to have used nerve agents and mustard gas on Iranian soldiers during the conflict, as well as chemical weapons on Iraq’s own Kurdish population in northern Iraq in 1988. After he invaded Kuwait in 1990, a U.S.-led coalition invaded Iraq in 1991, forcing the dictator’s army to leave its smaller neighbor, but failing to remove Saddam from power. Throughout the 1990s, Saddam faced both U.N. economic sanctions and air strikes aimed at crippling his ability to produce chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons. With Iraq continuing to face allegations of illegal oil sales and weapons-building, the United States again invaded the country in March 2003, this time with the expressed purpose of ousting Saddam and his regime.

Despite proclaiming in early March 2003 that, “it is without doubt that the faithful will be victorious against aggression,” Saddam went into hiding soon after the American invasion, speaking to his people only through an occasional audiotape, and his government soon fell. After declaring Saddam the most important of a list of his regime’s 55 most-wanted members, the United States began an intense search for the former leader and his closest advisors. On July 22, 2003, Saddam’s sons, Uday and Qusay, who many believe he was grooming to one day fill his shoes, were killed when U.S. soldiers raided a villa in which they were staying in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.

Five months later, on December 13, 2003, U.S. soldiers found Saddam Hussein hiding in a six-to-eight-foot deep hole, nine miles outside his hometown of Tikrit. The man once obsessed with hygiene was found to be unkempt, with a bushy beard and matted hair. He did not resist and was uninjured during the arrest. A soldier at the scene described him as “a man resigned to his fate.”

After standing trial, he was executed on December 30, 2006. Despite a prolonged search, weapons of mass destruction were never found in Iraq.

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Al Gore concedes presidential election


Updated:
Original:
Year
2000
Month Day
December 13

Vice President Al Gore reluctantly concedes defeat to Texas Governor George W. Bush in his bid for the presidency, following weeks of legal battles over the recounting of votes in Florida, on December 13 2000.

In a televised speech from his ceremonial office next to the White House, Gore said that while he was deeply disappointed and sharply disagreed with the Supreme Court verdict that ended his campaign, ”partisan rancor must now be put aside.”

“I accept the finality of the outcome, which will be ratified next Monday in the Electoral College” he said. “And tonight, for the sake of our unity as a people and the strength of our democracy, I offer my concession.”

Gore had won the national popular vote by more than 500,000 votes, but narrowly lost Florida, giving the Electoral College to Bush 271 to 266.

Gore said he had telephoned Bush to offer his congratulations, honoring him, for the first time, with the title ”president-elect.”

”I promised that I wouldn’t call him back this time” Gore said, referring to the moment on election night when he had called Bush to tell him he was going to concede, then called back a half hour later to retract that concession.

Gore only hinted at what he might do in the future. ”I’ve seen America in this campaign and I like what I see. It’s worth fighting for—and that’s a fight I’ll never stop.”

Among the friends and family beside Gore were his wife, Tipper, and his running mate, Senator Joseph I. Lieberman of Connecticut, and his wife, Hadassah.

A little more than an hour later, Bush addressed the nation for the first time as president-elect, declaring that the “nation must rise above a house divided.” Speaking from the podium of the Texas House of Representatives, Bush devoted his speech to themes of reconciliation following one of the closest and most disputed presidential elections in U.S. history. ”I was not elected to serve one party, but to serve one nation,” Bush said.

Bush and his running mate, Dick Cheney, took office on January 20, 2001. They were re-elected in 2004 over Democrats John Kerry and John Edwards. 

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Explorer Francis Drake sets sail from England


Updated:
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Year
1577
Month Day
December 13

English seaman Francis Drake sets out from Plymouth, England, with five ships and 164 men on a mission to raid Spanish holdings on the Pacific coast of the New World and explore the Pacific Ocean. Three years later, Drake’s return to Plymouth marked the first circumnavigation of the earth by a British explorer.

After crossing the Atlantic, Drake abandoned two of his ships in South America and then sailed into the Straits of Magellan with the remaining three. A series of devastating storms besieged his expedition in the treacherous straits, wrecking one ship and forcing another to return to England. Only The Golden Hind reached the Pacific Ocean, but Drake continued undaunted up the western coast of South America, raiding Spanish settlements and capturing a rich Spanish treasure ship.

Drake then continued up the western coast of North America, searching for a possible northeast passage back to the Atlantic. Reaching as far north as present-day Washington before turning back, Drake paused near San Francisco Bay in June 1579 to repair his ship and prepare for a journey across the Pacific. Calling the land “Nova Albion,” Drake claimed the territory for Queen Elizabeth I.

In July, the expedition set off across the Pacific, visiting several islands before rounding Africa’s Cape of Good Hope and returning to the Atlantic Ocean. On September 26, 1580, The Golden Hind returned to Plymouth, England, bearing treasure, spice, and valuable information about the world’s great oceans. Drake was the first captain to sail his own ship all the way around the world–the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan had sailed three-fourths of the way around the globe earlier in the century but had been killed in the Philippines, leaving the Basque navigator Juan Sebastián de Elcano to complete the journey.

In 1581, Queen Elizabeth I knighted Drake, the son of a tenant farmer, during a visit to his ship. The most renowned of the Elizabethan seamen, Sir Francis Drake later played a crucial role in the defeat of the Spanish Armada.

READ MORE: 10 Things You May Not Know About Francis Drake

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The Rape of Nanking


Updated:
Original:
Year
1937
Month Day
December 13

During the Sino-Japanese War, Nanking, the capital of China, falls to Japanese forces, and the Chinese government flees to Hankow, further inland along the Yangtze River.

To break the spirit of Chinese resistance, Japanese General Matsui Iwane ordered that the city of Nanking be destroyed. Much of the city was burned, and Japanese troops launched a campaign of atrocities against civilians. In what became known as the “Rape of Nanking,” the Japanese butchered an estimated 150,000 male “war prisoners,” massacred an additional 50,000 male civilians, and raped at least 20,000 women and girls of all ages, many of whom were mutilated or killed in the process.

Shortly after the end of World War II, Matsui was found guilty of war crimes by the International Military Tribunal for the Far East and executed.

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Woodrow Wilson arrives in France for peace talks


Updated:
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Year
1918
Month Day
December 13

On December 13, 1918, President Woodrow Wilson arrives in France to take part in World War I peace negotiations and to promote his plan for a League of Nations, an international organization for resolving conflicts between nations.

Wilson had initially tried to keep America out of the war by claiming neutrality in 1914, when hostilities broke out in Europe. The 1915 sinking of the Lusitania, a passenger ship carrying American citizens, and Germany’s expansion of submarine warfare into the Atlantic, fueled increasing U.S. anger toward Germany. However, it wasn’t until March 1917, when a telegram from Germany to Mexico proposing an alliance between the two countries was made public that Wilson decided to ask Congress to declare war on Germany, which he did in early April. American troops later joined their British and French allies in fighting the Central Powers until an armistice was reached in November 1918.

The war, in which approximately 320,000 American soldiers died, grimly illustrated to Wilson the unavoidable relationship between international stability and American national security. In January 1918, Wilson outlined a plan for a League of Nations, which he hoped would peacefully arbitrate international conflicts and prevent another war like the one just ended. Wilson took this plan with him to France in December 1918 and reiterated what he had told Americans in a January speech: “the world [must] be made fit and safe to live in; and particularly that it be made safe for every peace-loving nation which, like our own, wishes to live its own life, determine its own institutions, be assured of justice and fair dealing by the other peoples of the world as against force and selfish aggression.”

Wilson’s treaty negotiations in Europe set the tone for post-war American foreign diplomacy, which emphasized intervention over isolation, and introduced the idea of a multi-national peace organization. The League of Nations failed, largely as a result of the fact that the U.S. decided not to join, but it was the precursor to the United Nations, which was established in the wake of the Second World War.

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Dick Van Dyke born


Updated:
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Year
1925
Month Day
December 13

On December 13, 1925, Dick Van Dyke, the quintessential “nice guy” actor who would become known for his performances in such movie classics as Mary Poppins and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, as well as the popular 1960s TV sitcom The Dick Van Dyke Show, is born in West Plains, Missouri.

Van Dyke, who was raised in Danville, Illinois, served in the military during World War II and in the 1950s took various acting jobs and hosted a series of TV game shows. In 1960, he starred on Broadway in Bye Bye Birdie, a role which earned him a Tony Award. The following year, he signed on to play comedy writer Rob Petrie on The Dick Van Dyke Show. The show was the brainchild of the writer-director-producer Carl Reiner, who reportedly based the sitcom on his own experiences working as a comedy writer for Sid Caesar.The Dick Van Dyke Show featured a strong ensemble cast that included Mary Tyler Moore as Rob’s wife Laura, Morey Amsterdam and Rose Marie as Rob’s colleagues Buddy and Sally and Larry Matthews as the Petries’ son, Ritchie. In the show’s opening credits, Van Dyke was famously seen tripping over an ottoman in the family’s home in New Rochelle, New York, where, in keeping with the conservative broadcasting standards of the time, Rob and Laura Petrie slept in separate beds. After The Dick Van Dyke Show went off the air in 1966, Mary Tyler Moore starred in her own successful TV sitcom, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, which originally aired from 1970 to 1977.

In addition to his TV success in the 1960s, Van Dyke appeared in a string of movies, including the 1963 big-screen adaptation of Bye Bye Birdie, which co-starred Ann-Margret and Janet Leigh. The following year, he appeared as the charming chimney sweep Bert in Walt Disney’s movie musical Mary Poppins, which featured Julie Andrews, in her feature film debut, as the umbrella-toting super nanny. The film, now a beloved cinematic classic, earned 13 Academy Award nominations and took home five Oscars, including Best Actress for Andrews. Though Van Dyke received positive reviews for his singing and dancing, critics skewered him for his bad English accent. In 1968, Van Dyke had another hit movie musical with Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, in which he plays the eccentric inventor Caratacus Potts, who develops a magic car. The film’s screenplay was co-written by Roald Dahl, the best-selling author of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.

From 1971 to 1974, Van Dyke starred in The New Dick Van Dyke Show, playing a Phoenix TV talk show host. The actor, who in the 1970s went public with his struggle with alcoholism, was featured in a series of made-for-TV movies and did guest appearances on various TV shows before he was cast in another successful series, the medical crime drama Diagnosis Murder. The show, which originally aired from 1993 to 2001, also featured Van Dyke’s son Barry Van Dyke. After half a century in show business, Van Dyke continues to act. Among his recent movie credits are Curious George (2006), Night at the Museum (2006), Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb (2014) and Mary Poppins Returns (2018). 

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Soldiers perish in avalanche as World War I rages


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Year
1916
Month Day
December 13

A powerful avalanche kills hundreds of Austrian soldiers in a barracks near Italy’s Mount Marmolada on December 13, 1916. Over a period of several days, avalanches in the Italian Alps killed an estimated 10,000 Austrian and Italian soldiers in mid-December. The avalanches occurred as the Austrians and Italians were fighting World War I and some witnesses claim that the avalanches were purposefully caused to use as a weapon. Though there is little evidence that this was the case with these avalanches, it is possible that avalanches were used as weapons at other times during the war.

The Italians entered World War I on the side of Britain, France and Russia against Germany and Austria-Hungary in late April 1915. Over the next three years, the Italian army engaged the Austrians in a series of bloody battles in the mountainous region along the Isonzo River near the Italian-Austrian border. The conditions in the mountains were often worse than the actual fighting. An Austrian officer once said “The mountains in winter are more dangerous than the Italians.” This was certainly true in mid-December 1916 when heavy snowfall in the Alps created conditions ripe for avalanches.

Hundreds of Austrian troops stationed in a barracks near the Gran Poz summit of Mount Marmolada were in particular danger. Although the camp was well-placed to protect it from Italian attack, it was situated directly under a mountain of unstable snow. On December 13, approximately 200,000 tons of snow, rock and ice plunged down the mountain directly onto the barracks. About 200 troops were pulled to safety, but 300 others died. Only a few of the bodies were recovered.

As the heavy snow and high winds continued over the next week, incidents like the one at Marmolada happened with disturbing frequency. Entire regiments were lost in an instant. The bodies of some victims weren’t found until spring. The best estimate is that somewhere between 9,000 and 10,000 soldiers died by the end of December 1916 because of the avalanches.

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Texas Seven prison break


Updated:
Original:
Year
2000
Month Day
December 13

On December 13, 2000, seven convicts break out of a maximum-security prison in South Texas, setting off a massive six-week manhunt. The escapees, dubbed the “Texas Seven” by the media, overpowered civilian employees and prison guards in the maintenance shop where they worked and stole clothing, guns and a vehicle. The men left a note saying: “You haven’t heard the last of us yet.”

Soon after escaping from the Connally Unit lockup in Kenedy, Texas, the fugitives picked up another getaway vehicle, allegedly provided by the father of one of the men, and robbed a Radio Shack store in Pearland, Texas, making off with cash and police scanners. On Christmas Eve, the escapees, who had been convicted for a long list of violent crimes, including murder, rape and robbery, struck a sporting-goods store in Irving, Texas, where they stole a large amount of cash and weapons. In the process, the men killed police officer Aubrey Hawkins, shooting him multiple times with multiple weapons and running him over. The Texas Seven then fled to Colorado, where they purchased a motor home, told people they were Christian missionaries and spent the month at a trailer park near Woodland Park, Colorado.

On January 22, 2001, a tip from someone who had seen the Texas Seven profiled on the TV program America’s Most Wanted led police to the fugitives.Ringleader George Rivas was captured along with three of the other men. A fifth fugitive committed suicide after being surrounded by police.Two days later, law enforcement officials closed in on the two remaining escapees at a hotel in Colorado Springs.A standoff ensued, during which the fugitives conducted phone interviews with a TV news station and claimed their escape was a protest against Texas’ criminal justice system. The men then surrendered to authorities.

In February 2001, the six surviving members of the Texas Seven were indicted on capital murder charges in the death of Officer Hawkins. Each man was later convicted and sentenced to death. 

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Battle of Fredericksburg


Updated:
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Year
1862
Month Day
December 13

On December 13, 1862, Confederate General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia repulses a series of attacks by General Ambrose Burnside’s Army of the Potomac at Fredericksburg, Virginia. The defeat was one of the most decisive loses for the Union army, and it dealt a serious blow to Northern morale in the winter of 1862-63.

Burnside assumed command of the Army of the Potomac in November 1862 after George McClellan failed to pursue Lee into Virginia following the Battle of Antietam in Maryland on September 17. Burnside immediately crafted a plan to move against the Confederate capital at Richmond, Virginia. This called for a rapid march by the Federals from their positions in northern Virginia to Fredericksburg on the Rappahannock River. Burnside planned to cross the river at that point and then continue south.

The campaign began promisingly for the Union. The army moved quickly down the Rappahannock, but then stalled across the river from Fredericksburg. Due to poor execution of orders, a pontoon bridge was not in place for several days. The delay allowed Lee to move his troops into place along Marye’s Heights above Fredericksburg. The Confederates were secure in a sunken road protected by a stone wall, looking down on the open slopes that stretched from the edge of Fredericksburg. So strong was the Confederate position that one Rebel officer claimed “a chicken could not live on that field when we open on it.”

Burnside decided to attack anyway. On December 13, he hurled 14 attacks against the Confederate lines. Although the Union artillery was effective against the Rebels, the 600-yard field was a killing ground for the attacking Yankees. No Union soldiers reached the wall at the top of Marye’s Heights, and few even came within50 yards of it. “It is well that war is so horrible, or else we should grow too fond of it,” Lee observed to General James Longstreet as they watched the carnage. A bitterly cold night froze many of the Union dead and wounded.

Burnside considered continuing the attack on December 14, but his subordinates urged him to stop. On December 15, a truce was called for the Union to collect their dead and wounded soldiers. Burnside retreated northward under the cover of darkness and rain. The one-sided nature of the battle was reflected in the casualty figures. The Yankees suffered around 12,650 killed and wounded, while Lee lost only about 4,200 men. General Joseph Hooker replaced Burnside as commander of the Army of the Potomac in January 1863.

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General Charles Lee leaves his troops for Widow White’s Tavern


Updated:
Original:
Year
1776
Month Day
December 13

On December 13, 1776, American General Charles Lee leaves his army, riding in search of female sociability at Widow White’s Tavern in Basking Ridge, New Jersey.

General George Washington had repeatedly urged General Lee to expedite his movements across New Jersey in order to reinforce Washington’s position on the Delaware River. Lee, who took a commission in the British army upon finishing military school at age 12 and served in North America during the Seven Years’ War, felt slighted that the less experienced Washington had been given command of the Continental Army and showed no inclination to rush.

Famed for his temper and intemperance, the Mohawk had dubbed Lee Boiling Water. Lee was an adopted tribesman through his marriage to a Mohawk woman, but his union apparently failed to quell his interest in prostitutes. Lee rode to Widow White’s tavern with a minimal guard and it was there that Banastre Tarleton and the 16th Queen’s Light Dragoons captured him on the morning of December 15.

The former comrades were now captor and captive. After being disappointed in his efforts to acquire a lucrative royal appointment, Lee had retired to the colonies in 1773 and quickly joined the Patriot cause. Tarleton had sworn in a London club that he would hunt down the traitor to the crown and relieve him of his head. Fortunately for Lee, Tarleton failed to keep his promise, although the vain general may well have preferred a quick end to the humiliation of being led from Widow White’s tavern to New York City in his nightdress.

The British rejoiced at the capture of the Patriots’ best-trained commander, while Washington fruitlessly negotiated for his release. Meanwhile, Lee enjoyed his captivity, even drafting a battle plan for his captors from plush accommodations in which his personal servant maintained his three rooms and no doubt served his food and wine in a most civilized fashion. The British did not act upon his plan, and Lee reported to Valley Forge upon his release in May 1778. After a series of arguments with Washington, Lee was suspended from the army in December 1778 and dismissed in 1780.

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