August in American History: Part I

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August 1, 1944
The Warsaw Uprising begins. Led by the Polish Underground Resistance, this was one of the largest resistance movements during World War II. The operation consisted of two primary objectives: to aid the Allies in defeating Nazi Germany, and to drive the Germans out of Warsaw. The result was a German victory, and it is estimated that between 150,000 and 200,000 of the resistance movement were killed. The uprising ended on October 2, 1944. In response to the uprising, German forces committed a mass murder of Warsaw’s civilians. As the uprising was carried out, the US Army Air Force delivered supplies to the resistance fighters via Operation Frantic, but only after gaining Soviet clearance. Following the war, many of the survivors who participated in the insurrection were arrested by Soviet authorities, then imprisoned in gulags. On August 1, 1989, a monument in dedication to those Polish citizens who fought in the uprising was unveiled in Warsaw.

August 2, 1990
Iraq invades Kuwait, starting the Gulf War. In an effort to annex Kuwait for oil fields, Iraqi President Saddam Hussein initiated a conflict that later involved over 35 nations. After the initial invasion, Iraq retained control of Kuwait for several months, establishing a puppet state. The second phase of the war, known as Operation Desert Storm, began on January 17, 1991. Alongside American forces, the largest military alliance since World War II readied to expel Iraqi soldiers from Kuwait, with even China and the dying Soviet Union lending assistance. In essence, Hussein and his Iraqi Army were virtually on their own. The operation ended in just over a month with Iraqi forces being expelled from Kuwait.

August 3, 1492
Christopher Columbus departs on his first voyage from Palos de la Frontera, Spain. With three ships, named the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria, Columbus and his crew set sail in search of a passage to China and India. On October 12 of that year, land was sighted, and the crew stepped ashore on October 28. Thinking he had discovered Cathay, China, Columbus had actually reached Cuba. From there, he and his crew traveled throughout the Caribbean, searching for gold, silver, and other commodities. With his discoveries, Columbus also brought diseases not originating in the Americas, resulting in devastating mass casualties on Native populations. In January 1493, Columbus left the Caribbean and returned to Spain. He later returned to the Caribbean and and continued his search for gold. At one point, Columbus shipped roughly 500 Native slaves to Queen Isabella. In response, the queen returned the Natives to their homeland, considering them to be Spanish subjects. While Christopher Columbus may have been the first European to discover the Caribbean, Viking explorer Leif Erikson is actually considered to be the first European to discover the Americas, having found Canada in the 11th century.

August 4, 1961
Barack Obama is born in Honolulu, Hawaii. During his younger years, he attended Columbia University in New York City, then relocated to Chicago, Illinois, where he worked as a community organizer. In 1988, Obama became the first African-American president of the Harvard Law Review at Harvard University. He later served as an Illinois State Senator from 1997-2004, and then as a US Senator representing Illinois from 2005-2008. Obama made history in 2008 by becoming the first African-American to be elected to the presidency. Following his victory, he declared in a speech in Chicago, “Change has come to America.” A member of the Democratic Party, he served as President from 2009-2017. During this time, he signed the Affordable Care Act, oversaw the takedown of Osama bin Laden, ended the Iraq War (though new operations began there in 2014), and established the Obama Foundation. Following his presidency, Obama has remained somewhat active in politics.

August 5, 1620
The Mayflower departs from Southampton, England on its first voyage. Though this was an attempt to reach the New World, the crew had to turn back and port in Dartmouth, due to its companion ship experiencing a leak. Roughly one month later, the Mayflower set sail again, this time reaching the New World later that year. On November 21, 1620, the Mayflower’s Pilgrims arrived at Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Before stepping ashore to begin their new lives, the Pilgrims signed the Mayflower Compact. This was the first governmental document of the American colonies. Giving credence to God, 41 male Pilgrims signed the document, which established the basis for a functioning, free society. The compact was repealed in 1686, then reinstated in 1689, only to be repealed again two years later. It was then replaced with the Massachusetts Charter.

August 6, 1945
The atomic bomb “Little Boy” is dropped on Hiroshima, Japan. Following the Battle of Midway in 1942, the tide of the Second World War in the Pacific Theater had turned in favor of the Allies. For several years, construction of a weapon of mass destruction was being developed under the Manhattan Project. Near the end of World War II, President Harry Truman and General Douglas MacArthur decided that a mainland invasion of Japan would be catastrophic, and would result in roughly a million American casualties. This prompted Truman to make one of history’s most controversial decisions, and order the dropping of a weapon – one that the world had never before seen the likes of – onto the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The dropping of the atomic bomb resulted in the deaths of 90,000 – 130,000 people. Though disastrous, Emperor Hirohito nonetheless refused to surrender, prompting Truman to repeat his grave decision in just a matter of days.

August 7, 1782
George Washington designs the Purple Heart. Originally known as the Badge of Military Merit, Washington created it by order of his headquarters in Newburgh, New York. Three veterans of the American Revolution – Elijah Churchill, William Brown, and Daniel Bissell Jr. – were awarded the badge. The medal was not officially used again until after World War I. In 1927, Army Chief of Staff Charles Summerall sent a proposal to Congress to revive the “Badge of Military Merit.” The project was later supervised by General Douglas MacArthur in 1931. The medal was first awarded as the Purple Heart on February 22, 1932, when it was presented to 136 WWI veterans in New Windsor, New York.

August 8, 1908
Orville and Wilbur Wright conduct their first public flight in Le Mans, France. Born in Dayton, Ohio and Melville, Indiana, the Wright brothers became famous for performing their first successful airplane flight in 1903. This occurred at Kill Devil Hills, located on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. At Le Mans, the Wright brothers’ flight made a tremendous impact on the world of aviation, where they presented the flight before a crowd of roughly 200 people. Over the following year, Wilbur Wright conducted more than 200 flights across Europe.

August 9, 1945
The atomic bomb “Fat Man” is dropped on Nagasaki, Japan. Several weeks prior, at the Potsdam Conference, an agreement was reached by the US, Britain, the USSR, and China. The conclusion was that if Japan did not surrender unconditionally, they would be met with total destruction. When the second atomic bomb was dropped on August 9, 1945, over 30,000 people were killed. As a result, Emperor Hirohito later held the Jewel Voice Broadcast, during which he read out the plan for surrender. The Japanese Empire formally surrendered to Allied forces on September 2, 1945, bringing an end to the most destructive conflict in history.

August 10, 1874
Herbert Hoover is born in West Branch, Iowa. The son of a Quaker couple, Hoover was sent to live with his uncle in Oregon at 11 years of age. In 1891, he enrolled at Stanford University in Stanford, California, and later graduated with a degree in mining engineering. Hoover and his wife then moved to China, where he operated as a head engineer for a mining company. While working in China, he was caught amid the Boxer Rebellion, where he rescued Chinese children, then later assisted in helping American citizens return home during the outbreak of World War I. A member of the Republican Party, Hoover served as Secretary of Commerce from 1921-1928. He served as President from 1929-1933, and during this time, he was faced with the Stock Market Crash of 1929, which started the Great Depression. For the next few years, Hoover embraced the idea that further government intervention would prolong the depression. For this, he was widely criticized, though historians continue to debate his contributions to the situation. Following his presidency, Hoover assisted in establishing the Commission for Polish Relief during World War II, and he was later appointed as Chairman of the Hoover Commission. He passed away on October 20, 1964.

August 10, 1988
President Ronald Reagan signs the Civil Liberties Act. During World War II, thousands of Japanese-American citizens were interned in camps under an executive order by Franklin D. Roosevelt. One of these citizens – Fred Korematsu – refused to relocate to a camp, and took the issue to the US Supreme Court. The court ruled that, due to the concurrent conflict, Roosevelt’s order rested within his constitutional limits, and that Korematsu needed to relocate to a camp. “Korematsu vs. US” remains one of the most controversial Supreme Court decisions in US history. Forty-four years later, President Reagan’s signing of the Civil Liberties Act provided a $20,000 reparation to all surviving Japanese-Americans who were interned.

August 11, 1929
George “Babe” Ruth becomes the first baseball player to hit 500 home runs. This occurred at League Park in Cleveland, Ohio. Ruth was born on February 6, 1895 in Baltimore, Maryland. From 1914-1935, he held a professional career in Major League Baseball. Starting as a pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, the “Bambino,” as he was often called, joined the New York Yankees in 1920. While Ruth’s career continued to thrive, what followed for the Red Sox was a period of championship drought, lasting until 2004. This became known as “The Curse of the Bambino.” During his career, Ruth broke numerous records, hitting over 700 home runs. His 500th home run at League Park stood as a world record until 1974, when it was broken by Henry “Hank” Aaron. In 1936, Ruth was one of the original five members added to the Baseball Hall of Fame. He was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2018 by President Donald Trump.

August 13, 1906
The Brownsville Affair begins. In the border town of Brownsville in southern Texas, a white bartender was killed and a white police officer wounded by an unknown assailant. Buffalo Soldiers from the 25th Infantry Regiment were accused and the affair turned into an incident of racial injustice. Following an investigation by the Inspector General, President Theodore Roosevelt dishonorably discharged 167 members of the Buffalo Soldiers. This cost the soldiers pensions and prevented them from serving again in a civil service job. The incident sparked outrage among both the black and white communities. In 1972, President Richard Nixon pardoned the accused 167 men, clearing their names.

August 14, 1941
President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill sign the Atlantic Charter. Occurring at Placentia Bay in Newfoundland and lasting from August 9-12, the Atlantic Conference was held to establish a series of post-war goals between the US and Britain. These goals included the establishment of self-government to those deprived of it, reduction of trade restrictions, and global cooperation for better economic and social conditions. As a result of the Atlantic Charter, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was formed after World War II, and the British Empire was relieved of its superpower status. On June 10, 2021, President Joe Biden and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson signed the New Atlantic Charter.

August 15, 1914
The Panama Canal opens to traffic. Construction of the canal began in 1881, following a proposal by President Ulysses S. Grant just years prior, which called for a route that connected the Caribbean to the Pacific Ocean. Many of the original construction workers came from France, with the project being spearheaded by Ferdinand de Lesseps. Construction of the canal was halted in 1894, due to a high worker mortality rate. In 1904, the US took over the project as part of President Theodore Roosevelt’s foreign policy, and finished it 10 years later. The canal was officially completed when President Woodrow Wilson triggered the explosion of the Gamboa Dike. The first ship to enter the canal was the SS Ancon. In 1977, President Jimmy Carter signed an agreement that turned control of the Panama Canal over to Panama.

Garrett Smith
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