WikiLeaks publishes the first documents leaked by Chelsea Manning


Year
2010
Month Day
February 18

On February 18, 2010, a relatively obscure website called WikiLeaks publishes a leaked diplomatic cable detailing discussions between American diplomats and Icelandic government officials. The leak of “Reikjavik13” barely registered with the public, but it was the first of what turned out to be nearly 750,000 sensitive documents sent to WikiLeaks by Chelsea Manning. Manning is now considered one of the most prolific and significant whistleblowers in American history, as her leaks shed light on atrocities committed by American armed forces, painted a far grimmer picture of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and greatly embarrassed the United States’ diplomatic establishment.

Manning, an intelligence analyst in the U.S. Army, was deployed to Iraq in October of 2009. Her job gave her access to all manner of classified and sensitive information from various organs of state. On January 5th, 2010, she began downloading massive amounts of material, starting with 400,000 documents pertaining to the Iraq War. Manning put the information on a CD marked “Lady Gaga” in order to smuggle it home and upload it to her personal computer. On leave in the United States, she shopped the information to both The New York Times and The Washington Post but neither took an interest. She began sending material to WikiLeaks in early February, but again got no response.

Then, on February 18, Manning sent WikiLeaks the cable known as “Reykjavik13.” The site published it within hours. Manning later said that she felt the cable depicted the U.S. government “bullying” the government of Iceland, and hoped that the leak would put pressure on the U.S. to lend economic assistance. The incident would have been a tiny historical footnote if not for the leaks that followed. Throughout the spring of 2010, WikiLeaks published hundreds of thousands of documents leaked by Manning, oftentimes via The New York Times, Der Spiegel and The Guardian

The diplomatic cables contained frank discussions of policy and American descriptions of foreign leaders, many of whom found cause to be offended, but other leaks revealed shocking truths about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Manning and WikiLeaks released multiple accounts and even videos of U.S. airstrikes that killed civilians, and the information they disclosed led watchdogs to estimate that American armed forces were responsible for over 10,000 more civilian deaths than they had officially acknowledged. As a whole, the leaks showed that the wars were not only going much worse than the government led the populace to believe, but that the scope of the humanitarian disaster was larger as well.

Manning was arrested in May of 2010 and was eventually sentenced to 35 years in military prison, which many called an extremely harsh sentence for a whistleblower. President Barack Obama stopped short of pardoning her but commuted her sentence in January of 2017, just three days before leaving office. She received international acclaim from free speech and anti-war activists, and is now known as a one of the most significant whistleblowers in U.S. history.

READ MORE: The United States Began Protecting Whistleblowers in 1777

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Green River serial killer pleads guilty to 49th murder


Year
2011
Month Day
February 18

On February 18, 2011, in a Kent, Washington, courtroom, Gary Leon Ridgway pleads guilty to the 1982 aggravated, first-degree murder of his 49th victim, 20-year-old Rebecca Marrero. Marrero’s remains were found in December 2010, decades after her murder, in a ravine near Auburn, Washington. After entering his guilty plea, the 62-year-old Ridgway received his 49th life sentence without the possibility of parole and returned to the Washington State Penitentiary in Walla Walla, where he was already serving 48 consecutive life sentences, one for each of the other women he killed.

In the 1980s, residents of Washington State were terrorized by the so-called Green River Killer, whose first five victims’ bodies were discovered in or near the Green River in King County (whose largest city is Seattle) in the summer of 1982. The strangled bodies of more victims soon appeared around King County; all were women, most of them young and many of them prostitutes, runaways and drug users. Ridgway, a thrice-married truck painter from Auburn, became a suspect after one of the victims was spotted getting into his truck. However, when questioned by police, he denied any knowledge of the slayings and passed a 1984 polygraph test. In 2001, he was finally arrested after DNA evidence (a technology not available when he began committing his crimes) connected him to some of the killings.

In a controversial 2003 plea deal, Ridgway admitted to the murders of 48 women between 1982 and 1998, and prosecutors agreed not to seek the death penalty against him if he cooperated with police in locating the remains of dozens of his victims. Ridgway reportedly claimed to have murdered more than 60 women in King County, although authorities at the time could only find sufficient evidence to link him to the 48 slayings. (Ridgway’s plea deal was limited to murders in King County; if, in the future, he is linked to unsolved killings in other counties or states, he could be eligible for the death penalty.)

Ridgway told authorities he began to think of murdering prostitutes as his career, and did it “because he hated them, didn’t want to pay them for sex, and because he knew he could kill as many as he wanted without getting caught,” according to The Seattle Times. The serial killer said he picked up women off the street, strangled them in his home or truck, and meticulously hid their bodies near natural landmarks (such as trees or fallen logs) in an attempt to keep track of them.

At the time of his 49th conviction, Ridgway had been linked to more murders than any other convicted serial killer in U.S. history. 

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Ray Charles records “What’d I Say” at Atlantic Records


Year
1959
Month Day
February 18

The phone call that Ray Charles placed to Atlantic Records in early 1959 went something like this: “I’m playing a song out here on the road, and I don’t know what it is—it’s just a song I made up, but the people are just going wild every time we play it, and I think we ought to record it.” The song Ray Charles was referring to was “What’d I Say,” which went on to become one of the greatest rhythm-and-blues records ever made. Composed spontaneously out of sheer showbiz necessity, “What’d I Say” was laid down on tape on this day in 1959, at the Atlantic Records studios in New York City.

The necessity that drove Ray Charles to invent “What’d I Say” was simple: the need to fill time. Ten or 12 minutes before the end of a contractually required four-hour performance at a dance in Pittsburgh one night, Charles and his band ran completely out of songs to play. “So I began noodling—just a little riff that floated into my head,” Charles explained many years later. “One thing led to another and I found myself singing and wanting the girls to repeat after me….Then I could feel the whole room bouncing and shaking and carrying on something fierce.”

What was it about “What’d I Say” that so captivated the audience at the Pittsburgh dance that night and the rest of humanity ever since then? Charles always thought it was the sound of his Wurlitzer electric piano, a very unfamiliar instrument at the time. Others would say it was the call-and-response in the song’s bridge—all unnnhs and ooohs and other sounds not typically found on the average pop record of 1959. Whatever it was, it worked well enough to become Charles’ closing number from that night in Pittsburgh until his final show.

“You start ’em off, you get ’em just first tapping their feet. Next thing they got their hands goin’, and next thing they got their mouth open and they’re yelling, and they’re singin’ and they’re screamin’. It’s a great feeling when you got your audience involved with you.”

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Pluto discovered


Year
1930
Month Day
February 18

Pluto, once believed to be the ninth planet, is discovered at the Lowell Observatory in Flagstaff, Arizona, by astronomer Clyde W. Tombaugh.

The existence of an unknown ninth planet was first proposed by Percival Lowell, who theorized that wobbles in the orbits of Uranus and Neptune were caused by the gravitational pull of an unknown planetary body. Lowell calculated the approximate location of the hypothesized ninth planet and searched for more than a decade without success. However, in 1929, using the calculations of Lowell and W.H. Pickering as a guide, the search for Pluto was resumed at the Lowell Observatory in Arizona. On February 18, 1930, Tombaugh discovered the tiny, distant planet by use of a new astronomic technique of photographic plates combined with a blink microscope. His finding was confirmed by several other astronomers, and on March 13, 1930–the anniversary of Lowell’s birth and of William Herschel’s discovery of Uranus–the discovery of Pluto was publicly announced.

With a surface temperature estimated at approximately -360 Fahrenheit, Pluto was appropriately given the Roman name for the god of the underworld in Greek mythology. Pluto’s average distance from the sun is nearly four billion miles, and it takes approximately 248 years to complete one orbit. It also has the most elliptical and tilted orbit of any planet, and at its closest point to the sun it passes inside the orbit of Neptune, the eighth planet.

After its discovery, some astronomers questioned whether Pluto had sufficient mass to affect the orbits of Uranus and Neptune. In 1978, James Christy and Robert Harrington discovered Pluto’s only known moon, Charon, which was determined to have a diameter of 737 miles to Pluto’s 1,428 miles. Together, it was thought that Pluto and Charon formed a double-planet system, which was of ample enough mass to cause wobbles in Uranus’ and Neptune’s orbits. In August 2006, however, the International Astronomical Union announced that Pluto would no longer be considered a planet, due to new rules that said planets must “clear the neighborhood around its orbit.” Since Pluto’s oblong orbit overlaps that of Neptune, it was disqualified.

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Mark Twain publishes “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”


Year
1885
Month Day
February 18

On February 18, 1885, Mark Twain publishes his famous–and famously controversial–novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Twain (the pen name of Samuel Clemens) first introduced Huck Finn as the best friend of Tom Sawyer, hero of his tremendously successful novel The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876). Though Twain saw Huck’s story as a kind of sequel to his earlier book, the new novel was far more serious, focusing on the institution of slavery and other aspects of life in the antebellum South.

At the book’s heart is the journey of Huck and his friend Jim, a runaway slave, down the Mississippi River on a raft. Jim runs away because he is about to be sold and separated from his wife and children, and Huck goes with him to help him get to Ohio and freedom. Huck narrates the story in his distinctive voice, offering colorful descriptions of the people and places they encounter along the way. The most striking part of the book is its satirical look at racism, religion and other social attitudes of the time. While Jim is strong, brave, generous and wise, many of the white characters are portrayed as violent, stupid or simply selfish, and the naive Huck ends up questioning the hypocritical, unjust nature of society in general.

Even in 1885, two decades after the Emancipation Proclamation and the end of the Civil War, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn landed with a splash. A month after its publication, a Concord, Massachusetts, library banned the book, calling its subject matter “tawdry” and its narrative voice “coarse” and “ignorant.” Other libraries followed suit, beginning a controversy that continued long after Twain’s death in 1910. In the 1950s, the book came under fire from African-American groups for being racist in its portrayal of black characters, despite the fact that it was seen by many as a strong criticism of racism and slavery. As recently as 1998, an Arizona parent sued her school district, claiming that making Twain’s novel required high school reading made already existing racial tensions even worse.

Aside from its controversial nature and its continuing popularity with young readers, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has been hailed by many serious literary critics as a masterpiece. No less a judge than Ernest Hemingway famously declared that the book marked the beginning of American literature: “There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since.”

READ MORE: Mark Twain & the Boyhood that Inspired His Classics

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Murder ignites Lincoln County War


Year
1878
Month Day
February 18

Long simmering tensions in Lincoln County, New Mexico, explode into a bloody shooting war when gunmen murder the English rancher John Tunstall.

Tunstall had established a large ranching operation in Lincoln County two years earlier in 1876, stepping into the middle of a dangerous political and economic rivalry for control of the region. Two Irish-Americans, J.J. Dolan and L.G. Murphy, operated a general store called The House, which controlled access to lucrative beef contracts with the government. The big ranchers, led by John Chisum and Alexander McSween, didn’t believe merchants should dominate the beef markets and began to challenge The House.

Tunstall, a wealthy young English emigrant, soon realized that his interests were with Chisum and McSween in this conflict, and he became a leader of the anti-House forces. He won Dolan’s and Murphy’s lasting enmity by establishing a competing general merchandise store in Lincoln. By 1877, the power struggle was threatening to become overtly violent, and Tunstall began to hire young gunmen for protection, including the soon-to-be-infamous William Bonney, better known as Billy the Kid.

Early the next year, The House used its considerable political resources to strike back at Tunstall, winning a court order demanding that Tunstall turn over some of his horses to pay an outstanding debt. When Tunstall refused to turn over the horses, the House-controlled Lincoln County sheriff dispatched a posse-with William Morton, another House supporter, at the head-to take them. Billy the Kid and several other Tunstall hands were working on the ranch when they spotted the approaching posse. Outnumbered, the men fled, but they had not gone far before they saw Tunstall gallop straight up to the posse to protest its presence on his property. As Billy and the others watched, Morton pulled his gun and shot Tunstall dead with a bullet to the head.

Although he had not worked for Tunstall long, Billy the Kid deeply resented this cold-blooded murder, and he immediately began a vendetta of violence against The House and its allies. Lincoln County became a war zone, and both sides began a spree of vicious killings. By July, The House was prevailing, having added McSween to its lists of victims. However, fighting would continue to erupt sporadically until 1884, when Chisum died of natural causes, and The House finally regained full control of Lincoln County. By that time, Billy the Kid had already been dead for three years, gunned down by Lincoln County Sheriff Pat Garrett.

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First Academy Awards announced


Year
1929
Month Day
February 18

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announces the winners of the first Academy Awards on February 18, 1929. It was a far cry from the suspense, glamour and endless press coverage surrounding the Oscars today: The first award recipients’ names were printed on the back page of the academy’s newsletter. A few days later, Variety published the information–on page seven. The ceremony was then held in May

Spearheaded by movie mogul Louis B. Mayer, the Academy was organized in May 1927 as a non-profit organization dedicated to the advancement and improvement of the film industry. The first awards went to movies produced in 1927 and 1928. Though the announcements were made in February 1929, the actual awards weren’t given out until May 16, 1929, in a ceremony and banquet held in the Blossom Room of the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. Some 270 people attended the dinner, many paying $5 each for a ticket.

The first Academy Award winners received gold statuettes designed by art director Cedric Gibbons and sculpted by George Stanley. The Academy’s first president, the silent film actor Douglas Fairbanks, handed out the statuettes to the winners, who included Janet Gaynor for Best Actress (for three different films: Seventh Heaven, Street Angel and Sunrise) and the German-born Emil Jannings (The Last Command and The Way of All Flesh) for Best Actor. Frank Borzage and Lewis Milestone both won Best Director awards, for Seventh Heaven and Two Arabian Knights, respectively. Best Picture honors went to Wings, the World War I drama directed by William Wellman.

In the second year of its awards, the Academy changed its policy and began releasing the names of each year’s winners to the press at 11 p.m. on the night of the awards ceremony. This practice ended in 1940 after the Los Angeles Times broke from tradition and published the results in its evening edition, which meant they were revealed before the ceremony. The Academy subsequently instituted a system of sealed envelopes, which remains in use today. The awards weren’t nicknamed “Oscars” until 1931, when a secretary at the Academy noted the statue’s resemblance to her Uncle Oscar, and a journalist printed her remark.

The awards were broadcast on radio until 1953, when the first televised Oscars program aired. Since then, the Academy Awards have become one of the world’s most watched television events. Hosts have included Will Rogers, Jack Benny, Johnny Carson, Billy Crystal, Whoopi Goldberg, Steve Martin, Chris Rock, Ellen DeGeneres and Jon Stewart.

READ MORE: Academy Award Winners Who Rejected Their Oscars

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Arsonist sets fire in South Korean subway


Year
2003
Month Day
February 18

On February 18, 2003, a man ignites a gasoline-filled container inside a subway train in Daegu, South Korea. The blaze engulfed the six-car train, before spreading to another train that pulled into station a few minutes later. In all, 198 people were killed and nearly 150 others were injured.

The arsonist was later found to be a 56-year-old unemployed former taxi driver named Kim Dae-han. Kim had been left partially paralyzed after suffering a stroke in November 2001, and is believed to have been mentally unbalanced at the time of the arson. He later told police that he had wanted to commit suicide, and chose a crowded place to do so because he did not want to die alone.

Kim started the fire at 9:53 a.m., as train 1079 was entering Daegu’s Jungango Station. He then escaped the burning train, along with some other passengers. Within two minutes, the fire had spread to all six cars of the train. At 9:57, a second train pulled into the station and was also set ablaze. The second train’s driver fled the scene shortly thereafter without opening the train doors; all 79 of the train’s passengers were trapped on board and killed. Meanwhile, the platform–which was not equipped with sprinklers–was filled with toxic smoke and flames, causing delays in the rescue effort. The fire was not extinguished until more than three hours later.

Kim was the not the only person arrested in the wake of the fire: Two subway drivers and and five subway officials were also charged with negligent manslaughter for failing to safely evacuate passengers. Kim Dae-han was sentenced to life in prison on August 6, 2003. The drivers were sentenced to four and five years in jail, while two of the subway officials were given three-year terms. The three other officials received suspended sentences.

Kim Dae-han died in prison in August 2004.

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Dale Earnhardt Sr. killed in crash


Year
2001
Month Day
February 18

On February 18, 2001, Dale Earnhardt Sr., considered one of the greatest drivers in National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) history, dies at the age of 49 in a last-lap crash at the 43rd Daytona 500 in Daytona Beach, Florida. Earnhardt was driving his famous black No. 3 Chevrolet and vying for third place when he collided with another car, then crashed into a wall. After being cut from his car, Earnhardt, whose tough, aggressive driving style earned him the nickname “The Intimidator,” was taken to a hospital, where he was pronounced dead of head injuries.

Earnhardt had been involved in another crash at the Daytona 500 in 1997, when his car flipped upside down on the backstretch. He managed to escape serious injury and went on to win Daytona in 1998, his first and only victory in that race after 20 years of trying. The 200-lap, 500-mile Daytona 500, which was first run in 1959 at the newly opened Daytona International Speedway, is one of NASCAR’s premiere events as well as its season opener.

Earnhardt, whose father was a race car driver, was born on April 29, 1951, in Kannapolis, North Carolina, and dropped out of high school to pursue his own racing career. He went on to become one of NASCAR’s most successful and respected competitors, winning 76 Winston Cup (now known as the Sprint Cup) races in his career and taking home a record seven Cup championships, a feat achieved by just one other driver in his sport, Richard Petty. In addition to his legendary accomplishments as a driver, Earnhardt was also a successful businessman and NASCAR team owner. The 2001 Daytona race which cost Earnhardt his life was won by Michael Waltrip, who drove for Dale Earnhardt Inc. (DEI). Earnhardt’s son, Dale Jr., also a DEI driver (until 2008, when he began driving for the Hendrick Motorsports team), took second place in the race.

Dale Earnhardt Sr.’s death in 2001 made him the fourth NASCAR driver to die within a nine-month period and eventually prompted NASCAR officials to implement a series of more stringent safety regulations, including the use of head-and-neck restraints.

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Nazis arrest White Rose resistance leaders


Year
1943
Month Day
February 18

Hans Scholl and his sister Sophie, the leaders of the German youth group Weisse Rose (White Rose), are arrested by the Gestapo for opposing the Nazi regime.

The White Rose was composed of university (mostly medical) students who spoke out against Adolf Hitler and his regime. The founder, Hans Scholl, was a former member of Hitler Youth who grew disenchanted with Nazi ideology once its real aims became evident. As a student at the University of Munich in 1940-41, he met two Roman Catholic men of letters who redirected his life. Turning from medicine to religion, philosophy, and the arts, Scholl gathered around him like-minded friends who also despised the Nazis, and the White Rose was born.

During the summer of 1942, Scholl and a friend composed four leaflets, which exposed and denounced Nazi and SS atrocities, including the extermination of Jews and Polish nobility, and called for resistance to the regime. The literature was peppered with quotations from great writers and thinkers, from Aristotle to Goethe, and called for the rebirth of the German university. It was aimed at an educated elite within Germany.

The risks involved in such an enterprise were enormous. The lives of average civilians were monitored for any deviation from absolute loyalty to the state. Even a casual remark critical of Hitler or the Nazis could result in arrest by the Gestapo, the regime’s secret police. Yet the students of the White Rose (the origin of the group’s name is uncertain; possibly, it came from the picture of the flower on their leaflets) risked all, motivated purely by idealism, the highest moral and ethical principles, and sympathy for their Jewish neighbors and friends. (Despite the risks, Hans’ sister, Sophie, a biology student at her brother’s university, begged to participate in the activities of the White Rose when she discovered her brother’s covert operation.)

On February 18, 1943, Hans and Sophie left a suitcase filled with copies of yet another leaflet in the main university building. The leaflet stated, in part: “The day of reckoning has come, the reckoning of our German youth with the most abominable tyranny our people has ever endured. In the name of the entire German people we demand of Adolf Hitler’s state the return of personal freedom, the most precious treasure of the Germans which he cunningly has cheated us out of.” The pair were spotted by a janitor and reported to the Gestapo and arrested. Turned over to Hitler’s “People’s Court,” basically a kangaroo court for dispatching dissidents quickly, the Scholls, along with another White Rose member who was caught, were sentenced to death. They were beheaded–a punishment reserved for “political traitors”–on February 23, but not before Hans Scholl proclaimed “Long live freedom!”

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