John’s Believe It Or Not… December 20th

* 1861 – Britain Arms Canada During the Trent Affair. * 1957 Elvis Presley is drafted. * 1946 The French crack down on Vietnamese rebels. * 1989 The U.S. invades Panama. * 1995 NATO assumes peacekeeping duties in Bosnia.

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1957: Elvis and the draft

It’s Hump Day Wednesday! Did You Know…

* 1861 – Britain Arms Canada During the Trent Affair.

The Trent Affair was the most serious diplomatic crisis between Britain and the US federal government during the American Civil War. On 8 Nov 1861 Capt Charles Wilkes of the Northern navy stopped the Trent, a British merchantman and mail packet, in neutral waters between Havana, Cuba, and London, to take captive two Confederate emissaries to London and Paris. In both Britain and British North America news of the seizure (and violation of British neutrality) was greeted by demands for apologies from the US and for its surrender of the diplomats.

War appeared possible between Britain and the North, with Canada bound to be a battleground, and colonial and provincial officials conferred about how best to defend Canada. When British troops, sent to reinforce the meager border garrisons, had to cross through Maine to reach Canada, Canadian leaders recognized Canada’s vulnerability. The crisis passed. The North returned the Confederate commissioners, but without apology, on Dec 26.

Political cartoon about the Trent Affair, during the American Civil War,
(Alamy)

* 1957 Elvis Presley is drafted.

On this day in 1957, while spending the Christmas holidays at Graceland, his newly purchased Tennessee mansion, rock-and-roll star Elvis Presley receives his draft notice for the United States Army.

With a suggestive style–one writer called him “Elvis the Pelvis”–a hit movie, Love Me Tender, and a string of gold records including “Heartbreak Hotel,” “Blue Suede Shoes,” “Hound Dog” and “Don’t Be Cruel,” Presley had become a national icon, and the world’s first bona fide rock-and-roll star, by the end of 1956. As the Beatles’ John Lennon once famously remarked: “Before Elvis, there was nothing.” The following year, at the peak of his career, Presley received his draft notice for a two-year stint in the army. Fans sent tens of thousands of letters to the army asking for him to be spared, but Elvis would have none of it. He received one deferment–during which he finished working on his movie King Creole–before being sworn in as an army private in Memphis on March 24, 1958.

After six months of basic training–including an emergency leave to see his beloved mother, Gladys, before she died in August 1958–Presley sailed to Europe on the USS General Randall. For the next 18 months, he served in Company D, 32nd Tank Battalion, 3rd Armor Corps in Friedberg, Germany, where he attained the rank of sergeant. For the rest of his service, he shared an off-base residence with his father, grandmother and some Memphis friends. After working during the day, Presley returned home at night to host frequent parties and impromptu jam sessions. At one of these, an army buddy of Presley’s introduced him to 14-year-old Priscilla Beaulieu, whom Elvis would marry some years later. Meanwhile, Presley’s manager, Colonel Tom Parker, continued to release singles recorded before his departure, keeping the money rolling in and his most famous client fresh in the public’s mind. Widely praised for not seeking to avoid the draft or serve domestically, Presley was seen as a model for all young Americans. After he got his polio shot from an army doctor on national TV, vaccine rates among the American population shot from 2 percent to 85 percent by the time of his discharge on March 2, 1960.

Despite being a worldwide star, Elvis was called up to do military service.
Despite being a worldwide star, Elvis was called up to do military service. (nydailynews.com)

* 1946 The French crack down on Vietnamese rebels.

The morning after Viet Minh forces under Ho Chi Minh launched a night revolt in the Vietnamese capital of Hanoi, French colonial troops crack down on the communist rebels. Ho and his soldiers immediately fled the city to regroup in the countryside. That evening, the communist leader issued a proclamation that read: “All the Vietnamese must stand up to fight the French colonials to save the fatherland. Those who have rifles will use their rifles; those who have swords will use their swords; those who have no swords will use spades, hoes, or sticks. Everyone must endeavor to oppose the colonialists and save his country. Even if we have to endure hardship in the resistance war, with the determination to make sacrifices, victory will surely be ours.” The First Indochina War had begun.

Born in Hoang Tru, Vietnam, in 1890, Ho Chi Minh left his homeland in 1911 as a cook on a French steamer. After several years as a seaman, he lived in London and then moved to France, where he became a founding member of the French Communist Party in 1920. He later traveled to the Soviet Union, where he studied revolutionary tactics and took an active role in the Communist International. In 1924, he went to China, where he set about organizing exiled Vietnamese communists. Expelled by China in 1927, he traveled extensively before returning to Vietnam in 1941.

There, he organized a Vietnamese guerrilla organization–the Viet Minh–to fight for Vietnamese independence. Japan occupied French Indochina in 1940 and collaborated with French officials loyal to France’s Vichy regime. Ho, meanwhile, made contact with the Allies and aided operations against the Japanese in South China. In early 1945, Japan ousted the French administration in Vietnam and executed numerous French officials.

When Japan surrendered to the Allies on September 2, 1945, Ho Chi Minh felt emboldened enough to declare the independence of Vietnam from France. French forces seized southern Vietnam and opened talks with the Vietnamese communists in the north. Negotiations collapsed in November 1946, and French warships bombarded the northern Vietnamese city of Haiphong, killing thousands. In response, the Viet Minh launched an attack against the French in Hanoi in December 1946. The French quickly struck back, and Ho and his followers found refuge in a remote area of northern Vietnam. The Viet Minh, undefeated and widely supported by the Vietnamese people, waged an increasingly effective guerrilla war against the French.

The conflict stretched on for eight years, with Mao Zedong’s Chinese communists supporting the Viet Minh, and the United States aiding the French and anti-communist Vietnamese forces. In 1954, the French suffered a major defeat at Dien Bien Phu, in northwest Vietnam, prompting peace negotiations and the division of Vietnam along the 17th parallel at a conference in Geneva. Vietnam was divided into northern and southern regions, with Ho in command of North Vietnam and Emperor Bao Dai in control of South Vietnam.

In the late 1950s, Ho Chi Minh organized a communist guerrilla movement in the South, called the Viet Cong. North Vietnam and the Viet Cong successfully opposed a series of ineffectual U.S.-backed South Vietnam regimes and beginning in 1964 withstood a decade-long military intervention by the United States, known as the Vietnam War in America but also called the Second Indochina War.

Ho Chi Minh died on September 2, 1969, 25 years after declaring Vietnam’s independence from France and nearly six years before his forces succeeded in reuniting North and South Vietnam under communist rule. Saigon, the capital of South Vietnam, was renamed Ho Chi Minh City after it came under the control of the communists in 1975.

Dien Bien Phu Battle In Dien Bien Phu, Vietnam In May, 1954-French troops surrendering to the Vietminh forces. May 7, 1954.
Dien Bien Phu Battle In Dien Bien Phu, Vietnam In May, 1954-French troops surrendering to the Vietminh forces. May 7, 1954.

* 1989 The U.S. invades Panama.

The United States invades Panama in an attempt to overthrow military dictator Manuel Noriega, who had been indicted in the United States on drug trafficking charges and was accused of suppressing democracy in Panama and endangering U.S. nationals. Noriega’s Panamanian Defense Forces (PDF) were promptly crushed, forcing the dictator to seek asylum with the Vatican nuncio in Panama City, where he surrendered on January 3, 1990.

In 1970, Noriega, a rising figure in the Panamanian military, was recruited by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to assist in the U.S. struggle against the spread of communism in Central America. Noriega became involved in drug trafficking and in 1977 was removed from the CIA payroll. After the Marxist Sandinista government came to power in 1979, Noriega was brought back into the CIA fold. In 1983, he becomes military dictator of Panama.

Noriega supported U.S. initiatives in Central America and in turn was praised by the White House, even though a Senate committee concluded in 1983 that Panama was a major center for drug trafficking. In 1984, Noriega committed fraud in Panama’s presidential election in favor of Nicolás Ardito Barletta, who became a puppet president. Still, Noriega enjoyed the continued support of the Reagan administration, which valued his aid in its efforts to overthrow Nicaragua’s Sandinista government.

In 1986, just months before the outbreak of the Iran-Contra affair, allegations arose concerning Noriega’s history as a drug trafficker, money launderer, and CIA employee. Most shocking, however, were reports that Noriega had acted as a double agent for Cuba’s intelligence agency and the Sandinistas. The U.S. government disowned Noriega, and in 1988 he was indicted by federal grand juries in Tampa and Miami on drug-smuggling and money-laundering charges.

Tensions between Americans in the Panama Canal Zone and Noriega’s Panamanian Defense Forces grew, and in 1989 the dictator annulled a presidential election that would have made Guillermo Endara president. President George H. Bush ordered additional U.S. troops to the Panama Canal Zone, and on December 16 an off-duty U.S. Marine was shot to death at a PDF roadblock. The next day, President Bush authorized “Operation Just Cause”–the U.S. invasion of Panama to overthrow Noriega.

On December 20, 9,000 U.S. troops joined the 12,000 U.S. military personnel already in Panama and were met with scattered resistance from the PDF. By December 24, the PDF was crushed, and the United States held most of the country. Endara was made president by U.S. forces, and he ordered the PDF dissolved. On January 3, Noriega was arrested by U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency agents.

The U.S. invasion of Panama cost the lives of only 23 U.S. soldiers and three U.S. civilians. Some 150 PDF soldiers were killed along with an estimated 500 Panamanian civilians. The Organization of American States and the European Parliament both formally protested the invasion, which they condemned as a flagrant violation of international law.

In 1992, Noriega was found guilty on eight counts of drug trafficking, racketeering, and money laundering, marking the first time in history that a U.S. jury convicted a foreign leader of criminal charges. He was sentenced to 40 years in federal prison, but after extradition to and incarceration in Panama died in a Panama City hospital on May 29, 2017.

US soldiers ride on a tank and position themselves to secure a neighborhood from Panamanian army.
US soldiers ride on a tank and position themselves to secure a neighborhood from Panamanian army. (Roger M. Richards)

* 1995 NATO assumes peacekeeping duties in Bosnia.

During a brief military ceremony in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina, French General Bernard Janvier, head of the United Nations peacekeeping force, formally transfers military authority in Bosnia to U.S. Admiral Leighton Smith, commander of North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) forces in Southern Europe.

The solemn ceremony cleared the path for the deployment of 60,000 NATO troops to enforce the Dayton Peace Accords, signed in Paris by the leaders of the former Yugoslavia on December 14. The U.S.-backed peace plan was proposed during talks in Dayton, Ohio, earlier in the year and was reluctantly accepted by the last of the belligerent parties in November, ending four years of bloody conflict in the former Yugoslavia, which cost more than 200,000 lives.

The United Nations peacekeeping mission in Bosnia began in early 1992, shortly after the war erupted over efforts by the Bosnian Serbs to achieve independence from Bosnia-Herzegovina and unite with Serbia. Although the U.N. force was crucial in distributing humanitarian aid to the impoverished population of Bosnia, it was unable to stop the fighting. Approximately 25,000 U.N. peacekeepers served in Bosnia over three and a half years, and during that time 110 of those were killed, 831 wounded, and hundreds taken hostage.

The NATO force, with its strong U.S. support and focused aim of enforcing the Dayton agreement, was more successful in bringing stability to the war-torn region.

NATO's commitment to a stable and secure Bosnia and Herzegovina was enshrined in the Dayton accords 20 years ago and remains intact today.
NATO’s commitment to a stable and secure Bosnia and Herzegovina was enshrined in the Dayton accords 20 years ago and remains intact today. (NATO)

Today’s Sources: 

* Canadian History Timeline – Canada’s Historical Chronology  http://canadachannel.ca/todayincanadianhistory/index.php

* The Canadian Encyclopedia                                                  http://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/trent-affair/

* This Day In History – What Happened Today                        http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/                          

Author: John Fioravanti

I'm a retired History teacher (35 years), husband, father of three, grandfather of three. My wife, Anne, and I became business partners in December, 2013, and launched our own publishing company, Fiora Books (http://fiorabooks.com), to publish my books. We have been married since 1973 and hope our joint business venture will be as successful as our marriage.

13 thoughts on “John’s Believe It Or Not… December 20th”

  1. Doing the right thing is always the right thing to do — way to go, Elvis Presley. Thank you for a great history lesson on Ho Chi Minh. I learn more from you than I did from my dull history teachers.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. All the turmoil on this day and then there is Elvis. Not only did he serve his country but refused to take all the tax deductions he was due and was thus one of the highest single taxpayers in the US. He also contacted Nixon and wanted to become a CIA operative during his worldwide tours. (No one knows for sure but he was probably turned down.) Thanks, John. (BTW you would have thought the French defeat in Vietnam would have given the US a hint.) Good episode.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, John, you must be psychic! The story of Elvis meeting Nixon is in tomorrow’s post! I didn’t know that about Elvis’ taxes – very impressive. Perhaps his ghost should make an appearance in both houses of Congress tomorrow and lay down a challenge.
      Nope, no hints for Uncle Sam – the Yanks could do better! Sigh… Thanks, John!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Elvis is one of the few who evokes tenderness in most. A complicated life lived with passion, he brought all that he was to his music. His rendition of How Great Thou Art still brings me to tears. Thank you, John, for this morning reminder.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Just like Samson, when Elvis had his hair cut he lost his strength. Never again would he achieve that energy and sheer rawness that he had with his Sun and early RCA performances. While he produced some great Rock ‘n’ Roll tracks they had more of a mainstream Pop quality. Joining the army was the end of Elvis.
    If only the French had dealt with Vietnam in a different way things might have been different.
    Wouldn’t it have been better if the UN had more teeth to sort out trouble-spots before they blow up into wars?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Elvis certainly was the King. I wonder how much control he had over his music. I think the artists who write their own songs have more control. Yes, the French created a mess in Vietnam and the USA inherited it. I agree that the UN needs more power to do its job. Thanks, Opher.

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