It’s Monday! Did You Know…
* 1963 – John Diefenbaker’s minority government defeated over nuclear weapons policy.
Throughout his term as Prime Minister, John Diefenbaker struggled to determine whether Canada should acquire nuclear weapons. Minister of Defence George Peakes recommended that Canada integrate its air defenses with the United States in order to present a united front designed to protect both nations. The North American Aerospace Defence Command policy (NORAD) was approved by Diefenbaker in early 1957. Although NORAD represented a major defense commitment, the decision was made without discussion with Cabinet or the Defence Committee.
In order to meet the requirements of NORAD, Canada planned to make a significant investment in upgrading its military technology and resources. Previously, Canada’s military planning had focused primarily on the development of the Avro Arrow interceptor. After a lengthy debate, it was determined that the Avro was too costly and unable to effectively meet Canada’s security needs. The Avro project was abandoned, and in its place, the government agreed to establish an arrangement with the United States for the sharing of Bomarc ground-to-air missiles as well as utilizing the American Semi-Automatic Ground Environment (SAGE), a system for tracking and intercepting enemy aircraft.
The Bomarc missile was designed exclusively to carry a nuclear warhead; therefore arrangements had to be made for Canada to acquire them. According to Minister of National Defence Douglas Harkness, “it was unreasonable to secure the Bomarc without the nuclear warhead.” By September of 1958, the direction of the Canadian Defence Policy indicated that the nation fully intended to acquire nuclear warheads from the United States.
A number of delays were encountered as the negotiations over the details of storing, transporting and authorizing the nuclear missiles continued. In May 1961, U.S. President John F. Kennedy met with Diefenbaker in Ottawa. The intention of Kennedy’s Administration during the meeting was to push the issue of Canada’s incorporation of nuclear missiles into its national defense policy. However, Diefenbaker’s cabinet was increasingly divided over the question of whether nuclear warheads should be utilized at all.
Internationally, Canada objected to the spread of nuclear weapons. The new Minister of Foreign Affairs, Howard Green, attempted to discourage the use of nuclear missiles in the nation’s defense plan as it would be inconsistent with foreign policy. At the same time, Diefenbaker began receiving letters and petitions from Canadian citizens who felt the same way. The cabinet failed to make a firm decision on the issue and it was put on hold, despite public scrutiny of the delay.
In 1963, Liberal Leader of the Opposition, Lester B. Pearson declared his support of acquiring nuclear weapons in order to meet the obligations of Canada’s NATO and NORAD agreements. Pearson expressed his misgivings over the defense role that Canada had agreed to play but stated that until Canada’s defense policy changed, a Liberal government would not evade its commitments.
Tension mounted within the Diefenbaker Cabinet until 3 February 1963. In a Cabinet meeting that morning, Harkness announced that the “people of the nation, Party, Cabinet and he had lost confidence in the Prime Minister”. Diefenbaker asked for a standing Vote of Confidence and, upon seeing several of his Ministers remain seated, left to submit his resignation to the Governor General. Diefenbaker was persuaded to return to the meeting and remain as Prime Minister. His government fell in the House of Commons on 6 February. In the election that followed, the Liberals emerged victorious and formed a minority government while Diefenbaker took up the position of Leader of the Opposition. Pearson quickly concluded an agreement with the United States to obtain nuclear warheads and presented it to the House of Commons in September of 1963. In January 1969, Canada ratified the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, and the missiles were phased out. Canada is currently a member of every international disarmament organization and is committed to pushing for an end to nuclear weapons.
* 1994 Beckwith convicted of killing Medgar Evers.
On this day in 1994, white supremacist Byron De La Beckwith is convicted in the murder of African-American civil rights leader Medgar Evers, over 30 years after the crime occurred. Evers was gunned down in the driveway of his Jackson, Mississippi, home on June 12, 1963, while his wife, Myrlie, and the couple’s three small children were inside.
Medgar Wiley Evers was born July 2, 1925, near Decatur, Mississippi, and served in the U.S. Army during World War II. After fighting for his country, he returned home to experience discrimination in the racially divided South, with its separate public facilities and services for blacks and whites. Evers graduated from Alcorn College in 1952 and began organizing local chapters of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People). In 1954, after being rejected for admission to then-segregated University of Mississippi Law School, he became part of an NAACP campaign to desegregate the school. Later that year, Evers was named the NAACP’s first field secretary in Mississippi. He moved with his family to Jackson and worked to dismantle segregation, leading peaceful rallies, economic boycotts and voter registration drives around the state. In 1962, he helped James Meredith become the first African American to attend the University of Mississippi, a watershed event in the civil rights movement. As a result of his work, Evers received numerous threats and several attempts were made on his life before he was murdered in 1963 at the age of 37.
Beckwith, a fertilizer salesman and Ku Klux Klan member widely believed to be the killer, was prosecuted for murder in 1964. However, two all-white (and all-male) juries deadlocked and refused to convict him. A second trial held in the same year resulted in a hung jury. The matter was dropped when it appeared that a conviction would be impossible. Myrlie Evers, who later became the first woman to chair the NAACP, refused to give up, pressing authorities to re-open the case. In 1989, documents came to light showing that jurors in the case were illegally screened.
Prosecutor Bobby DeLaughter worked with Myrlie Evers to force another prosecution of Beckwith. After four years of legal maneuvering, they were finally successful. At the third trial, they produced a riflescope from the murder weapon with Beckwith’s fingerprints, as well as new witnesses who testified that Beckwith had bragged about committing the crime. Justice was finally achieved when Beckwith was convicted and given a life sentence by a racially diverse jury in 1994. He died in prison in 2001 at the age of 80.
* 1989 The last Soviet troops leave Kabul.
In an important move signaling the close of the nearly decade-long Soviet military intervention in Afghanistan, the last Russian troops withdraw from the capital city of Kabul. Less than two weeks later, all Soviet troops departed Afghanistan entirely, ending what many observers referred to as Russia’s “Vietnam.”
Soviet armed forces entered Afghanistan in December 1979 to support that nation’s pro-Soviet communist government in its battles with Muslim rebels. Almost immediately, the Soviet Union found itself mired in a rapidly escalating conflict. Afghan rebels put up unexpectedly stiff resistance to the Russian intervention. Soon, thousands of Soviet troops were fighting a bloody, costly, and ultimately frustrating battle to end the Afghan resistance. By the time the Soviets started to withdraw in early 1989, over 13,000 Russian soldiers were dead and over 22,000 had been wounded. The Soviet Union also suffered from a very negative diplomatic response from the United States–President Jimmy Carter put a hold on arms negotiations, asked for economic sanctions, and pressed for an American boycott of the 1980 Olympics in Moscow.
By 1988, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev decided that the manpower and financial drains imposed by Afghanistan were unacceptable and indicated that Soviet troops would shortly begin their withdrawal. The Soviet Union was in the midst of tremendous internal political and economic instability at the time, and Gorbachev’s action in regards to Afghanistan was yet another indication that Soviet power was on the wane. In less than three years, Gorbachev had resigned and the Soviet Union had ceased to exist. For Afghanistan, the Soviet withdrawal did not mean an end to the death and destruction. The Afghan rebels, who had been armed to the teeth by U.S. aid, simply turned their attention to political and religious rivals within the country. Civil war continued to wrack the nation.
* 1631 Roger Williams arrives in America.
Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island and an important American religious leader, arrives in Boston in the Massachusetts Bay Colony from England. Williams, a Puritan, worked as a teacher before serving briefly as a colorful pastor at Plymouth and then at Salem. Within a few years of his arrival, he alarmed the Puritan oligarchy of Massachusetts by speaking out against the right of civil authorities to punish religious dissension and to confiscate Indian land. In October 1635, he was banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony by the General Court.
After leaving Massachusetts, Williams, with the assistance of the Narragansett tribe, established a settlement at the junction of two rivers near Narragansett Bay, located in present-day Rhode Island. He declared the settlement open to all those seeking freedom of conscience and the removal of the church from civil matters, and many dissatisfied Puritans came. Taking the success of the venture as a sign from God, Williams named the community “Providence.”
Among those who found a haven in the religious and political refuge of the Rhode Island Colony were Anne Hutchinson, like Williams, exiled from Massachusetts for religious reasons; some of the first Jews to settle in North America; and the Quakers. In Providence, Roger Williams also founded the first Baptist church in America and edited the first dictionary of Native American languages.
* 1957 The American Invasion begins as Bill Haley and the Comets storm Britain.
Back home in the United States, Bill Haley and the Comets were already passé. Their role in launching the rock-and-roll revolution was unquestioned, but it had been almost two years since “Rock Around the Clock” exploded on the scene, and in the meantime, a certain young man from Memphis had come along and changed the rules of the game. Elvis Presley, with his good looks and world-altering charisma, had made it nearly impossible for a slightly paunchy 30-year-old like Bill Haley to compete in the youth market in the United States. But Bill Haley and the Comets weren’t in the United States on this day in 1957—they were in England, disembarking from the Queen Elizabeth at Southampton and preparing to launch the first European tour ever by a major American rock-and-roll act.
When Haley and his band reached London’s Waterloo Station later that same day, mayhem ensued. Thousands of fans formed a crush at the station to greet the group in a raucous display the press dubbed “the Second Battle of Waterloo.” For the generation of war babies just becoming teenagers in Great Britain, Haley’s tour offered the first chance to see a real, live rock-and-roll show. Those shows made a particularly strong impression on certain members of that generation who would go on to change the course of music history.
“The birth of rock ‘n’ roll for me?” said Pete Townshend several decades later, “Seeing Bill Haley and The Comets….God, that band swung!”
“The first time I really ever felt a tingle up my spine was when I saw Bill Haley and The Comets on the telly,” said Paul McCartney. “Then I went to see them live. The ticket was 24 shillings, and I was the only one of my mates who could go as no one else had been able to save up that amount. But I was single-minded about it….I knew there was something going on here.”
“I’ve still got the ticket stub in my wallet from when I went to see Bill Haley and the Comets play in Manchester in February 1957—my first-ever concert,” said Graham Nash. “Over the years I’ve lost houses…I’ve lost wives…but I’ve not lost that ticket stub. It’s that important to me.”
Bill Haley and the Comets may have aged out of rock-and-roll stardom back home, but they were greeted as heroes on this day in 1957 by a nation where rock and roll was just starting to explode.
* Canadian History Timeline – Canada’s Historical Chronology http://canadachannel.ca/todayincanadianhistory/index.php
* Diefenbaker Canada Centre https://www.usask.ca/diefenbaker/virtual-exhibits/nuclear-question.php
* This Day In History – What Happened Today http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/