Anniversaries mark the passage of time, recall our triumphs, and honor our losses. Two thousand nineteen witnessed many significant anniversaries: the centennial of the signing of the Treaty of Versailles, the seventy-fifth anniversary of D-Day, and the fiftieth anniversary of the moon landing to name a few. Two thousand twenty will also see anniversaries of many significant events in history. Here are ten to note:
Seventy-Fifth Anniversary of End of World War II, 1945. The end of World War II is one of the most consequential events in world history and is itself the product of epic events. In January 1945, Allied forces turned back the German army at the Battle of the Bulge. In February, Roosevelt, Stalin, and Churchill met at Yalta to decide Europe’s future. Days later, the Allied forces firebombed Dresden, killing at least 35,000 people. On April 30, Hitler committed suicide. Germany formally surrendered on May 8. In the wake of V-E Day, the world learned of the horrors that were perpetrated at Auschwitz and other death camps. The war in the Pacific, meanwhile, continued. U.S. troops had landed at Iwo Jima on February 19 and endured more than a month of brutal fighting. On April 1, U.S. forces invaded Okinawa and began the final push toward Japan. At the Potsdam Conference in early August, Truman, who had become president upon Roosevelt’s death on April 12, met with Churchill and Stalin and causally mentioned to the Soviet leader that the United States possessed a “new weapon.” On August 6, 1945, the Enola Gay dropped “Little Boy” on Hiroshima, killing at least 70,000 people. Three days later, Bockscar dropped “Fat Man” on Nagasaki, killing at least another 40,000 Japanese. V-J Day came on August 14 with Japan’s surrender. As 1945 closed and people around the world surveyed the war’s carnage— between 70 and 85 million had died—they hoped that the United Nations, which was created on June 26 and began operation on October 24, would prevent another world war.
Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of the Creation of the World Trade Organization, January 1, 1995. Rules work best when someone enforces them. The General Agreements on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which was established in 1948 to set the rules for global trade, lacked such an enforcement mechanism. As result, countries that didn’t like its rules often ignored them. Enter the World Trade Organization (WTO). Championed by the United States, the WTO assumed responsibility for helping set global trade rules and established binding procedures to settle trade disputes. Today, the organization has 164 members representing 98 percent of all global trade. The WTO can claim some successes, most notably with the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). But its main trade negotiation, the so-called Doha Round, collapsed in 2016 after fourteen years of inconclusive talks. The U.S. government has also become disenchanted with the WTO’s handiwork, arguing that it tolerates predatory Chinese trade practices while ruling against U.S. trade policies. So the WTO starts its twenty-sixth year with its future in flux as Washington blocks its enforcement operations and threatens to cut what it contributes to its budget.
Tenth Anniversary of the Haiti Earthquake, January 12, 2010. The magnitude 7.0 earthquake that rocked Haiti on January 12, 2010, killed as many as 300,000 people and injured another 300,000. The horrifying images of the devastation spurred a massive recovery effort. Governments and international organizations pledged over $9 billion in relief funds. Ten years later, the country remains mired in poverty. Part of the problem is that many pledges never turned into actual donations. The long-term aid that reached Haiti frequently went into expensive projects that flopped. UN peacekeepers sent to restore order inadvertently introduced cholera. The disease has now infected more than 800,000 people. At the same time, Haiti’s politics remained dysfunctional. At least $2 billion in government funds—equivalent to a quarter of the country’s annual GDP—has gone missing. With their economy crippled, Haitians have taken to the streets in recent months to demand the resignation of President Jovenel Moise. In early October, the opposition established a nine-member coalition in an attempt to ensure an effective transfer of power. However, given Haiti’s daunting economic and social challenges, the odds are low that these public protests will lead to a new and better chapter in the country’s history.
250th Anniversary of the Boston Massacre, March 5, 1770. Boston was a city in ferment in the late winter of 1770. Its citizens had long bristled over taxes the British Parliament had imposed to pay down the debt incurred fighting the Seven Years War (1756-63), or the French and Indian War as it was known in the colonies. Bostonians argued they shouldn’t have to pay taxes they had no say in setting, or as the famous phrase put it: “No taxation without representation.” As protests grew, London sent 2,000 troops to Boston to enforce the tax laws, fueling further tensions. On March 5, a confrontation that began with a few colonists harassing a lone British soldier escalated into British soldiers shooting into a crowd, killing five Bostonians. The soldiers were tried for the killings. Their attorney was John Adams. The future U.S. president wasn’t sympathetic to the British; he was committed to seeing that the soldiers got a fair trial. He did a good job, winning acquittals for some of soldiers and convictions on reduced charges for others. Nonetheless, the rift between the colonies and Britain had deepened. As Adams later said, the “foundation of American independence was laid” during the Boston Massacre.
Fiftieth Anniversary of the U.S. Invasion of Cambodia, April 30, 1970. Richard Nixon’s decision to invade Cambodia was one of the great mistakes of his presidency. The move yielded few military benefits, deepened the divisions at home over Vietnam, and helped set in motion the events that brought the Khmer Rouge to power. The immediate justification for the invasion was North Vietnam’s use of neutral Cambodia as a staging ground to carry out attacks in South Vietnam. The invasion, however, disrupted North Vietnamese operations only temporarily. As the commanding U.S. general put it: “You give them thirty-six hours and, goddamn it, you’ve got to start the war all over again.” Meanwhile the broadening of the war stirred renewed protests across the United States, especially on college campuses. At Kent State University in Ohio and Jackson State College in Mississippi, the demonstrations turned deadly as National Guardsmen and police officers fired on protestors. U.S. troops left Cambodia in June, but the invasion’s consequences lived on. North Vietnamese forces had moved deeper into Cambodia and substantially increased their support for the Khmer Rouge. The civil war that followed led to one of history’s great horrors: the Killing Fields.
2,500th Anniversary of the Battle of Thermopylae, August or September 480 BC. Few battles have changed history. The Battle of Thermopylae stands out as an exception. In early 480 BCE the Persian Emperor Xerxes set out to avenge his father’s loss at the Battle of Marathon ten years earlier and to subdue the Greek city states. Some 7,000 Greeks marched to Thermopylae, about 120 miles northwest of Athens, to meet the far larger Persian army. The terrain favored the Greeks; the pass at Thermopylae was narrow, with the Aegean Sea on one side and steep hills on the other. Xerxes called on the Greeks to surrender. Their leader, King Leonidas of Sparta, invited the Persian army to “molon labe”’ or to “come and get them.” After two days of bitter fighting a local shepherd showed the Persians a route behind Greek lines. Outflanked, many of the Greeks withdrew. Leonidas, 300 fellow Spartans, and a few others stayed to fight. They were all killed, and the Persians mutilated Leonidas’s body. Their stand became legendary, slowing Xerxes’s progress and setting the stage for Persia’s defeat at the Battle of Salamis. The Greek city states survived, and with them, what would become Western Civilization.
Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of the Beijing Declaration, September 15, 1995. Most international conferences produce little of note. The Fourth World Conference on Women was different. The more than 17,000 participants who met in Beijing for ten days in September 1995, and who included government delegates, international civil servants, and civil society representatives, produced the Beijing Declaration. Adopted unanimously by 189 countries, it ranks as the “most progressive blueprint ever for advancing women’s rights.” The declaration affirmed, as then-First Lady Hillary Clinton put it in one of the most heralded speeches delivered at the conference, that “human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights.” Among the rights the declaration recognized was that women have the right to make their own decisions about their sexuality and childbearing. The declaration effectively pushed women’s rights into a more central role in international diplomacy. However, the declaration wasn’t binding, and today women remain marginalized on many fronts and in multiple ways. As the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Beijing Declaration approaches, some activists are calling on the UN to host a Fifth World Conference on Women to address the new challenges facing women and other marginalized gender identities today.
Fiftieth Anniversary of Black September, September 1970. Many Americans received their first introduction to terrorism and the complexities of Middle East politics on September 6, 1970 when members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine hijacked three commercial jets bound for New York City in a bid to force Israel to release their imprisoned comrades. (A fourth hijacking was foiled.) One of the hijacked planes eventually stopped in Cairo, where the hijackers blew it up after releasing the hostages. The other two planes flew to a remote airstrip in Jordan. They were joined on September 9 by another hijacked plane. On September 12, the hijackers blew up the planes. (The hostages were eventually released.) The hijackings highlighted how Palestinian resistance groups had come to operate independently on Jordanian soil. Having escaped a Palestinian-orchestrated assassination attempt that summer, King Hussein decided to act. He declared martial law on September 16, triggering a war with the Palestinians known as Black September. Nine days later, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) signed a ceasefire agreement acknowledging Jordanian sovereignty. The fighting, however, continued until July 1971, when Jordan officially expelled the PLO. The events of September 1970 fueled Palestinian terrorism, most notably the murder of eleven Israelis at the 1972 Munich Olympic Games by members of the Black September Organization.
Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of the Assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, November 4, 1995. What if? It’s one of the most haunting questions about history. It can rightly be asked about the assassination of Yitzak Rabin. Rabin first distinguished himself as soldier, rising to the rank of general, and then turned to politics. He served as prime minister of Israel for three years in the mid-1970s before resigning in the wake of a financial scandal. He returned to the prime minister’s office in 1992 and championed the Oslo Accords, which started a peace process that sought to settle the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Rabin, along with Shimon Peres and Yasser Arafat, won the Nobel Peace Prize for his effort. But the prospect that Rabin might satisfy Palestinian demands for self-determination alarmed a right-wing extremist, Yigal Amir, who believed that Jewish law permitted killing anyone who would hand Jews over to their enemies. As Rabin left a pro-Oslo Accords rally in Tel Aviv on the evening of November 4, 1995, Amir shot him twice. Twenty-five years after Rabin’s assassination, the Oslo Accords are all but dead, and Amir is considered one of the most successful political assassins of all time. Left unknown is what might have happened if the general who sought peace had gotten the chance to fulfill his greatest mission.
Tenth Anniversary of the Self-Immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi, December 17, 2010. Small acts can have large consequences. Mohamed Bouazizi was a twenty-six year-old Tunisian street vendor scratching out an existence by selling fruits and vegetables. On December 17, 2010, Tunisian authorities confiscated some of the wares he was selling from his stall. Rebuffed when he went to a local governor’s office to complain about how he had been treated, he set himself on fire. He died eighteen days later. News of Bouazizi’s self-immolation spread quickly. Tunisians soon took to the streets to protest a government that ignored their needs. Within a matter of weeks, long-time President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali resigned, paving the way for Tunisia to host its first free and democratic elections. The protests quickly spilled over Tunisia’s borders, as Egyptians, Libyans, Syrians, and Yemenis also took to the street. Politicians and pundits alike talked about an Arab Spring that would bring liberty and democracy to the Middle East. It proved to be a false dawn. Today, Egypt is a military dictatorship, while Libya, Syria, and Yemen are all plagued by civil wars. Only Tunisia remains on a democratic path. So Mohamed Bouazizi’s sacrifice wasn’t in vain.
Other Anniversaries for 2020. January 10 is the centennial of the League of Nations’ founding. February 11 marks fifty years since Japan launched a satellite into orbit, becoming the fourth space power after the Soviet Union, United States, and France. March 20 is the twentieth anniversary of the Sarin Gas attacks in Tokyo. April 22 is the fiftieth Earth Day. May 16 is the centennial anniversary of Joan of Arc’s canonization. June 11 is the fiftieth anniversary of Anna Mae Hays and Elizabeth P. Hoisington becoming the first women in the U.S. military to be promoted to general officer. July 11 marks twenty-five years since President Clinton resumed diplomatic relations with Vietnam. August 26 is the centennial of the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment, which gave American women the right to vote. September is the four-hundredth anniversary of the Mayflower’s voyage to America. October 30 marks twenty-five years since Quebec voted to remain part of Canada. November 16 is the fiftieth anniversary of UNESCO. December 14 is the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Dayton Accords.
On the lighter side. January 11 marks fifty years since the Kansas City Chiefs defeated the Minnesota Vikings to win Super Bowl IV. February 26 is the fiftieth anniversary of the release of the Beatles’ “Hey Jude” album. March 27 marks twenty-five years since Forrest Gump won an Oscar for best picture, beating out the infinitely better Pulp Fiction and The Shawshank Redemption. April 3 is the tenth anniversary of the debut of the iPad. May 8 marks fifty years since the Knicks won the NBA championship, while May 10 marks the fiftieth anniversary of Bobby Orr scoring the overtime goal that won the Stanley Cup for the Boston Bruins. June is the centennial of the invention of the Band-Aid. July 14 is the fiftieth anniversary of the first Major League All Star Game played at night. August 19 is the fiftieth anniversary of the release of the Carpenter’s hit album, Close to You. September 21 marks fifty years since Monday Night Football premiered. October 26 is the fiftieth anniversary of Doonesbury’s debut in twenty-eight newspapers. November 22 marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the premiere of Toy Story. December 21 marks fifty years since Elvis Presley and President Nixon shook hands in what has become the most requested document of any sort from the National Archives.
Brenden Ebertz, Caroline Kantis, and Anna Shortridge assisted in the preparation of this post.
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