Benito Mussolini declares himself dictator of Italy


Publish date:
Year
1925
Month Day
January 03

Similar to Adolf Hitler, Italian Fascist leader Benito Mussolini did not become the dictator of a totalitarian regime overnight. For several years, he and his allies worked more or less within the confines of the Italian constitution to accrue power, eroding democratic institutions until the moment came for them to be done away with entirely. It is generally agreed that that moment came in speech Mussolini gave to the Italian parliament on January 3, 1925, in which he asserted his right to supreme power and effectively became the dictator of Italy.

Mussolini had been a schoolteacher and an avowed socialist, but after World War I he became a leader of the nascent Fascist movement. Like much of Europe, Italy was rife with social turmoil in the wake of the war, with paramilitary groups and street gangs frequently clashing over their competing visions for the new political order. A close confidant of Mussolini formed a Fascist paramilitary group, known as the Blackshirts or squadristi, as Mussolini led the political party, and they found that government fears of a communist revolution allowed them to operate without state intervention. By 1921, Mussolini had been elected to parliament as the leader of the growing National Fascist Party.

Soon after Mussolini’s election, armed Blackshirts marched on Rome, demanding that the king install Mussolini as Prime Minister. In a decision that utterly changed the course of Italian and European history, King Victor Emmanuel III ignored Prime Minister Luigi Facta’s pleas that he declare martial law, leading to Facta’s resignation and Emmanuel’s invitation to Mussolini to form a new government. The Fascists and their moderate allies set about dismantling Italy’s democratic institutions. He was proclaimed dictator for a year and increasingly merged his party and its paramilitary wing with the state and the official military. He also undertook a program of privatizations and anti-union legislation in order to assure industrialists and aristocrats that fascism would protect them from socialism.

Despite these reforms, many Fascists felt Mussolini was moving too slowly. In 1924, assassins with ties to Mussolini killed socialist leader Giacomo Matteotti, leading most of the parliamentary opposition to boycott Mussolini’s legislature. The Fascists felt that their moment had come. On December 31, they issued an ultimatum to Mussolini. Three days later, he addressed the remainder of parliament, declaring “I, and I alone, assume the political, moral, and historical responsibility for all that has happened,” obliquely referring to the assassination of Matteotti. In doing so, Mussolini dared prosecutors and the rest of Italy’s democratic institutions, as well as the king, to challenge his authority. None did. Thus, from 1925 onward, Mussolini was able to operate openly as a dictator, styling himself Il Duce and fusing the state and the Fascist Party. Two decades of suppression and brutality followed, culminating in Mussolini’s alliance with Nazi Germany and the Second World War.

READ MORE: Mussolini’s Final Hours

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The Mars Exploration Rover “Spirit” safely lands on the Red Planet


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Year
2004
Month Day
January 03

The Mars Exploration Rover Spirit lands on the Red Planet on January 3, 2004. 21 days later, its twin, Opportunity, also arrived safely. In one of the longest and most successful missions in NASA history, Spirit would survey Martian geography for the next seven years, while Opportunity remained active until June of 2018.

The rovers’ primary mission was expected to last 90 sols, the term used for Martian days. In March, scientists announced that they had made a momentous discovery: a survey of Martian rocks strongly suggested that water had once flowed there, and analysis of Opportunity‘s landing site indicated that it had once been the bed of a salty sea. Later in 2004, Opportunity also discovered the first meteorite to be found on Mars.

The rovers continued to explore Mars for several years, with Spirit becoming a “stationary research platform” after getting stuck in sand. Spirit eventually fell out of contact with NASA, which declared its mission over in 2011. Opportunity, however, continued exploring. In 2014, it broke the record for longest distance driven by an off-Earth wheeled vehicle, and the next year NASA celebrated as Opportunity finished a “marathon,” having traversed over 26.2 miles. In February 2019, NASA announced the end of the MER mission after Opportunity ceased responding to their communications. The rover had broken several other records, including the highest elevation reached on Mars, and sent back 224,642 images. Having far surpassed its original goals and contributed greatly to human understanding of Mars and its potential to host life, the MER mission had a major impact on mankind’s knowledge of our solar system.

READ MORE: The Amazing Handmade Tech That Powered Apollo 11’s Moon Voyage

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Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega surrenders to U.S.


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Year
1990
Month Day
January 03

On January 3, 1990, Panama’s General Manuel Antonio Noriega, after holing up for 10 days at the Vatican embassy in Panama City, surrenders to U.S. military troops to face charges of drug trafficking. Noriega was flown to Miami the following day and crowds of citizens on the streets of Panama City rejoiced. On July 10, 1992, the former dictator was convicted of drug trafficking, money laundering and racketeering and sentenced to 40 years in prison.

Noriega, who was born in Panama in 1938, was a loyal soldier to General Omar Torrijos, who seized power in a 1968 coup. Under Torrijos, Noriega headed up the notorious G-2 intelligence service, which harassed and terrorized people who criticized the Torrijos regime. Noriega also became a C.I.A. operative, while at the same time getting rich smuggling drugs.

In 1981, Omar Torrijos died in a plane crash and after a two-year power struggle, Noriega emerged as general of Panama’s military forces. He became the country’s de facto leader, fixing presidential elections so he could install his own puppet officials. Noriega’s rule was marked by corruption and violence. He also became a double agent, selling American intelligence secrets to Cuba and Eastern European governments. In 1987, when Panamanians organized protests against Noriega and demanded his ouster, he declared a national emergency, shut down radio stations and newspapers and forced his political enemies into exile.

That year the United States cut off aid to Panama and tried to get Noriega to resign; in 1988, the U.S. began considering the use of military action to put an end to his drug trafficking. Noriega voided the May 1989 presidential election, which included a U.S.-backed candidate, and in December of that year he declared his country to be in a state of war with the United States. Shortly afterward, an American marine was killed by Panamanian soldiers. President George H.W. Bush authorized “Operation Just Cause,” and on December 20, 1989, 13,000 U.S. troops were sent to occupy Panama City, along with the 12,000 already there, and seize Noriega. During the invasion, 23 U.S. troops were killed in action and over 300 were wounded. Approximately 450 Panamanian troops were killed; estimates for the number of civilians who died range from several hundred to several thousand, with thousands more injured.

Noriega, derogatorily nicknamed “Pineapple Face” in reference to his pockmarked skin, died in Panama City, Panama, on May 29, 2017.

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Martin Luther excommunicated


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Year
1521
Month Day
January 03

On January 3, 1521, Pope Leo X issues the papal bull Decet Romanum Pontificem, which excommunicates Martin Luther from the Catholic Church.

Martin Luther, the chief catalyst of Protestantism, was a professor of biblical interpretation at the University of Wittenberg in Germany when he drew up his 95 theses condemning the Catholic Church for its corrupt practice of selling indulgences, or the forgiveness of sins. He followed up the revolutionary work with equally controversial and groundbreaking theological works, and his fiery words set off religious reformers all across Europe.

In January 1521, Pope Leo X excommunicated Luther. Three months later, Luther was called to defend his beliefs before Holy Roman Emperor Charles V at the Diet of Worms, where he was famously defiant. For his refusal to recant his writings, the emperor declared him an outlaw and a heretic. Luther was protected by powerful German princes, however, and by his death in 1546, the course of Western civilization had been significantly altered.

READ MORE: Reformation: Definition and History

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King Tut’s sarcophagus uncovered


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Year
1924
Month Day
January 03

Two years after British archaeologist Howard Carter and his workmen discovered the tomb of the Pharaoh Tutankhamen near Luxor, Egypt, they uncover the greatest treasure of the tomb–a stone sarcophagus containing a solid gold coffin that holds the mummy of Tutankhamen.

When Carter first arrived in Egypt in 1891, most of the ancient Egyptian tombs had been discovered, although the little-known Pharaoh Tutankhamen, who had died when he was a teen, was still unaccounted for. After World War I, Carter began an intensive search for “King Tut’s Tomb,” finally finding steps to the burial room hidden in the debris near the entrance of the nearby tomb of King Ramses VI in the Valley of the Kings. On November 26, 1922, Carter and fellow archaeologist Lord Carnarvon entered the tomb, finding it miraculously intact.

Thus began a monumental excavation process in which Carter carefully explored the four-room tomb over four years, uncovering an incredible collection of several thousand objects. The most splendid architectural find was a stone sarcophagus containing three coffins nested within each other. Inside the final coffin, made out of solid gold, was the mummy of the boy-king Tutankhamen, preserved for more than 3,000 years.

READ MORE: See Stunning Photos of King Tut’s Tomb

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Meiji Restoration begins


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Year
1868
Month Day
January 03

In an event that heralds the birth of modern Japan, patriotic samurai from Japan’s outlying domains join with anti-shogunate nobles in restoring the emperor to power after 700 years. The impetus for the coup was a fear by many Japanese that the nation’s feudal leaders were ill equipped to resist the threat of foreign domination. Soon after seizing power, the young Emperor Meiji and his ministers moved the royal court from Kyoto to Tokyo, dismantled feudalism, and enacted widespread reforms along Western models. The newly unified Japanese government also set off on a path of rapid industrialization and militarization, building Japan into a major world power by the early 20th century.

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Jack Ruby dies before second trial


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Year
1967
Month Day
January 03

On January 3, 1967, Jack Ruby, the Dallas nightclub owner who killed the alleged assassin of President John F. Kennedy, dies of cancer in a Dallas hospital. The Texas Court of Appeals had recently overturned his death sentence for the murder of Lee Harvey Oswald and was scheduled to grant him a new trial.

On November 24, 1963, two days after Kennedy’s assassination, Lee Harvey Oswald was brought to the basement of the Dallas police headquarters on his way to a more secure county jail. A crowd of police and press with live television cameras rolling gathered to witness his departure. As Oswald came into the room, Jack Ruby emerged from the crowd and fatally wounded him with a single shot from a concealed .38 revolver. Ruby, who was immediately detained, claimed he was distraught over the president’s assassination. Some called him a hero, but he was nonetheless charged with first-degree murder.

Jack Ruby, originally known as Jacob Rubenstein, operated strip joints and dance halls in Dallas and had minor connections to organized crime. He also had a relationship with a number of Dallas policemen, which amounted to various favors in exchange for leniency in their monitoring of his establishments. He features prominently in Kennedy assassination theories, and many believe he killed Oswald to keep him from revealing a larger conspiracy. In his trial, Ruby denied the charge, maintaining that he was acting out of patriotism. In March 1964, he was found guilty and sentenced to death.

The official Warren Commission report of 1964 concluded that neither Oswald nor Ruby were part of a larger conspiracy, either domestic or international, to assassinate President Kennedy. Despite its seemingly firm conclusions, the report failed to silence conspiracy theories surrounding the event, and in 1978 the House Select Committee on Assassinations concluded in a preliminary report that Kennedy was “probably assassinated as a result of a conspiracy” that may have involved multiple shooters and organized crime. The committee’s findings, as with the findings of the Warren Commission, continue to be widely disputed.

READ MORE: The Other Victims of the JFK Assassination

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Alaska admitted into Union


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Year
1959
Month Day
January 03

On January 3, 1959, President Eisenhower signs a special proclamation admitting the territory of Alaska into the Union as the 49th and largest state.

The European discovery of Alaska came in 1741, when a Russian expedition led by Danish navigator Vitus Bering sighted the Alaskan mainland. Russian hunters were soon making incursions into Alaska, and the native Aleut population suffered greatly after being exposed to foreign diseases. In 1784, Grigory Shelikhov established the first permanent Russian colony in Alaska on Kodiak Island. In the early 19th century, Russian settlements spread down the west coast of North America, with the southernmost fort located near Bodega Bay in California.

Russian activity in the New World declined in the 1820s, and the British and Americans were granted trading rights in Alaska after a few minor diplomatic conflicts. In the 1860s, a nearly bankrupt Russia decided to offer Alaska for sale to the United States, which earlier had expressed interest in such a purchase. On March 30, 1867, Secretary of State William H. Seward signed a treaty with Russia for the purchase of Alaska for $7.2 million. Despite the bargain price of roughly two cents an acre, the Alaskan purchase was ridiculed in Congress and in the press as “Seward’s folly,” “Seward’s icebox,” and President Andrew Johnson’s “polar bear garden.” Nevertheless, the Senate ratified purchase of the tremendous landmass, one-fifth the size of the rest of the United States.

Despite a slow start in settlement by Americans from the continental United States, the discovery of gold in 1898 brought a rapid influx of people to the territory. Alaska, rich in natural resources, has been contributing to American prosperity ever since.

READ MORE: Why the Purchase of Alaska Was Far From “Folly”

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Buffalo Bills pull off one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history


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Year
1993
Month Day
January 03

On January 3, 1993, backup quarterback Frank Reich leads the Buffalo Bills to a 41-38 overtime victory over the Houston Oilers in an American Football Conference (AFC) wild card playoff game that will forever be known to football fans as “The Comeback.”

By halftime of the game, Houston was out in front, 28-3, behind four touchdown passes by future Hall of Famer Warren Moon. At the beginning of the second half, things got even darker for Buffalo when the Houston strong safety Bubba McDowell intercepted a pass from Reich, who was filling in for the injured Jim Kelly. McDowell ran 58 yards for another Oiler touchdown, putting the score at 35-3. At this point, many Bills fans headed home out of the chilly western New York weather, convinced the game was lost.

On the very next possession, however, Buffalo began to rally, driving 50 yards in 10 plays and scoring a touchdown on a one-yard run by Kenneth Davis. Bills kicker Steve Christie then recovered his own onside kick to give Reich the ball. Reich needed only four plays that time, connecting with Don Beebe on a 38-yard touchdown to put the score at 35-17. A stellar job by the Bills’ defense gave Buffalo possession again, and Reich capitalized by finding Andre Reed for a 26-yard touchdown. On the Oilers’ next drive, Bills safety Henry Jones intercepted a deflected Moon pass for a 15-yard return, enabling Reich to find Reed for another score. By that point, the Bills had cut their deficit to four points, in a span of only six minutes and 52 seconds.

After the Oilers botched a field goal attempt and turned the ball over again, Reich made a 17-yard touchdown pass to Reed to put Buffalo up 38-35 with less than three minutes left in regulation. In the waning seconds of the game, Houston’s Al Del Greco made a 26-yard field goal kick to tie the score and send the game into overtime. On a Houston drive, the Bills defensive back Nate Odomes intercepted a Moon pass. Davis made two six-yard rushes, and Christie stepped up for a 32-yard field goal attempt. He booted the ball through the uprights, winning the game for Buffalo 41-38 and completing the largest comeback victory (32 points) in National Football League (NFL) history.

The Bills made it to the Super Bowl that year but lost to the Dallas Cowboys. It was the third of four consecutive Super Bowl appearances for the Bills; they lost all four games.

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Franklin Roosevelt founds March of Dimes


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Year
1938
Month Day
January 03

Franklin Delano Roosevelt, an adult victim of polio, founds the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, which he later renamed the March of Dimes Foundation, on January 3, 1938. A predominantly childhood disease in the early 20th century, polio wreaked havoc among American children every summer. The virus, which affects the central nervous system, flourished in contaminated food and water and was easily transmitted. Those who survived the disease usually suffered from debilitating paralysis into their adult lives. In 1921, at the relatively advanced age of 39, Roosevelt contracted polio and lost the use of his legs. With the help of the media, his Secret Service and careful event planning, Roosevelt managed to keep his disease out of the public eye, yet his personal experience inspired in him an empathy with the handicapped and prompted him to the found the March of Dimes.

In 1926, Roosevelt started the non-profit Georgia Warm Springs Foundation on the site of the springs he visited to partake of the waters’ therapeutic effects. Twelve years later, he reinvented the charity as the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (NFIP). The NFIP was a non-partisan association of health scientists and volunteers that helped fund research for a polio vaccine and assisted victims on the long path through physical rehabilitation. Funded originally through the generosity of wealthy celebrities at yearly President’s Birthday Balls, the foundation could not raise money fast enough to keep pace with polio’s continued toll on America’s children and, during the Depression, the polio epidemic worsened. In 1938, Roosevelt decided to appeal to the general public for help. At one fundraiser, celebrity singer Eddie Cantor jokingly urged the public to send dimes to the president, coining the term March of Dimes. The public took his appeal seriously, flooding the White House with 2,680,000 dimes and thousands of dollars in donations.

In subsequent years, the March of Dimes continued to lead lucrative fundraising campaigns that set the model for other health-related foundations. In 1941, the foundation provided funding for the development of an improved iron lung, which helped polio patients to breathe when muscle control of the lungs was lost. The March of Dimes appointed Dr. Jonas Salk to lead research for a polio vaccine in 1949. Roosevelt, who died in 1945, did not live to see Salk develop and test the first successful polio vaccine in 1955.

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