August 1. On this date in 1914, Harry Hodgkin, a British Quaker, and Friedrich Siegmund-Schulte, a German Lutheran pastor, departed from a peace conference in Konstanz, Germany. They had assembled there with 150 other Christian Europeans to plan actions that might help avert a looming war in Europe. Regrettably, that hope had been effectively dashed four days earlier by the first skirmishes in what was to become World War I. On leaving the conference, however, Hodgkin and Siegmund-Schulte pledged to each other that they would continue sowing the “seeds of peace and love, no matter what the future might bring.” For the two men, that pledge meant more than a simple abstention from personal participation in war. It meant reestablishing peace between their two nations, no matter what the policies of their governments. Before the year was out, the men had helped found a peace organization in Cambridge, England named the Fellowship of Reconciliation. By 1919, the Cambridge group had become part of an International Fellowship of Reconciliation (known as IFOR),” which over the next hundred years spawned branches and affiliated groups in more than 50 countries of the world. Peace projects undertaken by IFOR are grounded in the vision that love for the Other has the power to transform unjust political, social, and economic structures; the projects are therefore committed to peaceful conflict resolution, to pursuing justice as the primary basis for peace, and to dismantling systems that foster hatred. IFOR’s international campaigns are coordinated by an International Secretariat in the Netherlands. The organization also works closely with like-minded non-governmental organizations and maintains permanent representatives at the United Nations.
August 2. On this date in 1931, a letter written by Albert Einstein was read to a conference held in Lyon, France by War Resisters’ International, a global network of antimilitarist and pacifist groups working together for a world without war. As the leading physicist of his time, Einstein carried on his scientific work with dedication. Yet, he was also an ardent pacifist, who pursued the cause of international peace throughout his life. In his letter to the Lyon conference, Einstein appealed to “the scientists of the world to refuse to cooperate in research for the creation of new instruments of war.” To the assembled activists, he wrote directly: “The people of 56 countries whom you represent have a potential power far mightier than the sword…. Only they themselves can bring disarmament into this world.” He also warned those who planned to attend a disarmament conference in Geneva the following February to “refuse to give further assistance to war or to war preparations.” For Einstein, these words would soon prove prophetic. The disarmament conference came to nothing–precisely because, in Einstein’s view, the conferees had failed to heed his admonition to not address issues relating to the preparation for war. “One doesn’t make wars less likely to happen by formulating rules of warfare,” he declared at a press briefing during a short visit to the Geneva conference. “I think the conference is heading for a bad compromise. Whatever agreement is made about the types of arms permissible in war would be broken as soon as war began. War can’t be humanized. It can only be abolished.”
August 3. On this date in 1882, the United States Congress passed the country’s first general immigration law. The Immigration Act of 1882 set the broad future course of U.S. immigration policy by establishing various categories of foreigners deemed “undesirable for entry.” Enforced first by the Secretary of the Treasury in cooperation with the states, the Act prohibited entry of “any convict, lunatic, idiot, or any person unable to take care of himself or herself without becoming a public charge.” Those who could not demonstrate the financial ability to support themselves were returned to their home countries. The law did, however, make an exception for financially unqualified foreigners convicted of political offenses, reflecting the traditional U.S. belief that America should provide a haven for the persecuted. Still, later iterations of the Immigration Act became progressively more restrictive. In 1891, Congress established exclusive federal control over immigration. In 1903, it acted to end the policy of accepting poor migrants who faced retribution at home for political offenses; instead, it forbade immigration of persons “opposed to organized government.” Since then, the immigration law has added numerous exclusions based on national origin, and continued to discriminate against migrants thought likely to become public charges. The law has yet to make real the dream of “the mighty woman with a torch” in New York Harbor who declares, “Give me your tired, your poor / Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” Yet, against the “Build the Wall” frenzy pushed by the Trump administration more than a century after the statue’s unveiling, her message remains a U.S. ideal showing the way to human solidarity and world peace.
August 4. On this date in 1912, an occupying force of 2,700 U.S. marines invaded Nicaragua, landing at ports on both its Pacific and Caribbean sides. Facing unrest in a country in which it pursued both strategic and commercial interests, the U.S. aimed to re-establish and maintain a government in Nicaragua whose support it could rely on. The year before, the U.S. had recognized a coalition government in Nicaragua headed by the conservative president Jose Estrada. That administration had allowed the U.S. to pursue a policy with Nicaragua called “dollars for bullets.” One of its aims was to undermine European financial strength in the region, which could be used to compete with American commercial interests. Another was to open the door for U.S. banks to lend money to the Nicaraguan government, ensuring U.S. control over the country’s finances. Political differences in the Estrada coalition soon surfaced, however. General Luis Mena, who as Minister of War had developed strong nationalistic sentiments, forced Estrada to resign, elevating his vice president, the conservative Adolfo Diaz, to the presidency. When Mena later rebelled against the Diaz government, accusing the president of “selling out the nation to New York bankers,” Diaz requested help from the U.S. that resulted in the August 4 invasion and caused Mena to flee the country. After Diaz was re-elected in a U.S.-supervised election in 1913 in which liberals refused to participate, the U.S. kept small marine contingents in Nicaragua almost continually until 1933. To Nicaraguans aspiring to independence, the Marines served as a constant reminder that the U.S. was willing to use force to keep U.S.-compliant governments in power.
August 5. On this day in 1963, the U.S., USSR, and Great Britain signed a treaty banning nuclear testing in the atmosphere. President John F. Kennedy ran for office pledging to eliminate nuclear weapons testing. Radioactive deposits found in crops and milk in the Northern United States by scientists in the 1950s led them to condemn the post WWII nuclear arms race as unwarranted poisoning of the environment. The United Nations Disarmament Commission called for an immediate end to all nuclear testing, initiating a temporary moratorium between the U.S. and the Soviets from 1958-61. Kennedy attempted to ban the ongoing underground testing by meeting with Soviet Premier Khrushchev in 1961. The threat of inspections to verify the ban led to the fear of spying, and Soviet testing continued until the Cuban Missile Crisis brought the world to the brink of nuclear war. Both sides then agreed to more direct communication, and the Moscow-Washington hotline was established. Discussions eased tensions and led to Kennedy’s unprecedented challenge to Khrushchev “not to an arms race, but to a peace race.” Their subsequent talks led to both eliminating weapons from other countries, and a Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty allowing underground testing “as long as no radioactive debris falls outside the boundaries of the nation conducting the test.” The United Nations finally passed a Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty in 1996 banning all, even underground, nuclear testing. Seventy-one nations, most without these weapons, agreed that a nuclear war would benefit no one. President Bill Clinton signed the comprehensive treaty. The U.S. Senate, however, in a vote of 48-51, chose to continue the nuclear arms race.
August 6. On this day in 1945 the American bomber Enola Gay dropped a five-ton atomic bomb — equivalent to 15,000 tons of TNT — on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. The bomb destroyed four square miles of the city and killed 80,000 people. In the weeks following, thousands more died from wounds and radiation poisoning. President Harry Truman, who had assumed office less than four months earlier, claimed that he made the decision to drop the bomb after being told by his advisers that dropping the bomb would end the war quickly and would avoid the need to invade Japan, which would result in the deaths of a million American soldiers. This version of history does not hold up to scrutiny. Several months earlier, General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander of Allied Forces in the Southwest Pacific Area, had sent a 40-page memo to President Roosevelt that summarized five different offers of surrender from high-ranking Japanese officials. The USA, however, knew that the Russians had made significant advances in the east and in all likelihood would be in Japan by September, well before the U.S. could mount an invasion. If this were to pass, Japan would surrender to Russia, not the U.S. This was unacceptable to the U.S., which had already developed a post-war strategy of economic and geo-political hegemony. So, despite strong opposition from military and political leaders and Japan’s willingness to surrender, the bomb was dropped. Many have called this the first act of the Cold War. Dwight D. Eisenhower said years later, “Japan was already defeated . . . dropping the bomb was completely unnecessary.”
August 7. This date marks the birth in 1904 of Ralph Bunche, an African American political scientist, professor and diplomat who became the highest-ranking U.S. official at the United Nations. Bunche’s distinguished career began with a scholarship for graduate work at Harvard University, where in 1934 he received a Ph.D. in government and international relations. His doctoral dissertation on colonialism in Africa culminated two years later in his classic book on the subject, A World View of Race. In 1946, Bunche was appointed to the executive branch — or Secretariat — of the United Nations, where he was responsible for overseeing the administration of former colonies held in trust by the UN and monitoring their progress toward self-government and independence. Bunche’s most notable accomplishment, however, followed his appointment as chief UN negotiator in talks aimed at ending the First Arab-Israeli War. Following five months of unremitting and difficult mediation, he was able to achieve an armistice in June 1949 based on agreements between Israel and four Arab states. For that historic feat of international diplomacy, Bunche was awarded the 1950 Nobel Peace Prize, becoming the first African American to be so honored. In the years following, Bunche continued to play significant peacekeeping and mediation roles in conflicts involving emerging nation states. By the end of his life in 1971, he had established a legacy at the UN that is perhaps best defined by an honorary title his colleagues had given him. Because Bunche had conceived, as well as implemented, many of the techniques and strategies used in international peacekeeping operations, he had come to be widely regarded as the “Father of Peacekeeping.”
August 8. On this date in 1883, President Chester A. Arthur met with Chief Washakie of the Eastern Shoshone tribe and Chief Black Coal of the Northern Arapaho tribe at the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming, thereby becoming the first U.S. president to officially visit a Native American reservation. Arthur’s stop at Wind River was in fact incidental to the main purpose of his long rail trip west, which was to visit Yellowstone National Park and indulge his passion for fishing in its vaunted trout streams. The reservation drop-in allowed him, however, to test the viability of a plan he had proposed in his inaugural 1881 Annual Message to Congress for resolving what he called America’s “Indian complications.” The plan, which was later enshrined in the Dawes Severalty Act of 1887, called for an “allotment in severalty,” to such Indians as desired it, of “a reasonable quantity of land [for farming, which was to be] secured to them by patent, and…made inalienable for twenty or twenty-five years.” It isn’t surprising that both tribal leaders resolutely rejected the plan, since it would have undercut the traditional communal land ownership and way of life central to the self-identity of their people. Nevertheless, the presidential failure at Wind River does seem to offer a valuable lesson for the post-industrial age. To achieve lasting peace, powerful nations must respect the right of emerging and developing nations to create their own economy and social order, and be willing to work with them to help meet the basic needs of their people. History has already shown that coercive approaches only produce resentment, blowback, and often war.
August 9. On this date in 1945, a U.S. B-29 bomber dropped a nuclear bomb on Nagasaki, Japan, killing some 39,000 men, women, and children on the day of the bombing and an estimated 80,000 by the end of the year. The Nagasaki bombing came just three days after the first use of a nuclear weapon in warfare, the bombing of Hiroshima that by year’s end claimed the lives of an estimated 150,000 people. Weeks earlier, Japan had sent a telegram to the Soviet Union expressing its desire to surrender and end the war. The United States had broken Japan’s codes and read the telegram. President Harry Truman referred in his diary to “the telegram from Jap Emperor asking for peace.” Japan objected only to surrendering unconditionally and giving up its emperor, but the United States insisted on those terms until after the bombs fell. Also on August 9th the Soviets entered the war against Japan in Manchuria. The United States Strategic Bombing Survey concluded that, “… certainly prior to 31 December, 1945, and in all probability prior to 1 November, 1945, Japan would have surrendered even if the atomic bombs had not been dropped, even if Russia had not entered the war, and even if no invasion had been planned or contemplated.” One dissenter who had expressed this same view to the Secretary of War prior to the bombings was General Dwight Eisenhower. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral William D. Leahy agreed, saying, “The use of this barbarous weapon at Hiroshima and Nagasaki was of no material assistance in our war against Japan.”
August 10. On this date in 1964, U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed into law the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which opened the way to full-fledged U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War. Shortly before midnight on August 4, the president had broken into regular TV programming to announce that two U.S. ships had come under fire in the international waters of the Gulf of Tonkin off the coast of northern Vietnam. In response, he had ordered air actions against “facilities in North Vietnam which have been used in these hostile operations”— among them an oil depot, a coal mine, and a significant portion of the North Vietnamese navy. Three days later, Congress passed a joint resolution that authorized the president “to take all necessary measures to repel any armed attack against the forces of the U.S. and to prevent further aggression.” That resolution, signed by the president on August 10, 1964, would lead by the war’s end in 1975 to the violent deaths of 3.8 million Vietnamese plus hundreds of thousands of Laotians and Cambodians and 58,000 members of the U.S. military. It would also prove again that “War is a Lie” — based in this case on nearly 200 documents and transcripts relating to the Gulf of Tonkin incident that were released more than 40 years later. A comprehensive study by National Security Agency historian Robert Hanyok concluded that the U.S. air strikes and the request for Congressional authorization were in fact based on faulty signals intelligence that had been characterized by the president and Secretary of so-called Defense Robert McNamara as “vital evidence” of an attack that never occurred.
August 11. On this date in 1965, riots broke out in the Watts district of Los Angles following a scuffle that ensued when a white California Highway Patrol officer pulled over a car and tried to arrest its young and frightened black driver after he failed a sobriety test. In minutes, initial witnesses to the traffic stop were joined by a gathering crowd and back-up police, which triggered a widening fray. Riots soon broke out all over Watts, lasting six days, involving 34,000 people, and resulting in 4,000 arrests and 34 deaths. In responding to them, Los Angeles police employed “paramilitary” tactics decreed by their Chief, William Parker, who compared the riots to the Viet Cong insurgency in Vietnam. Parker also called in about 2,300 National Guardsmen and instituted a policy of mass arrest and blockades. In retaliation, rioters hurled bricks at the Guardsmen and police, and used others to smash their vehicles. Though the uprising was largely quelled by the morning of August 15, it succeeded in reminding the world of an important truth. When any minority community in a largely affluent society is condemned to shoddy living conditions, poor schools, virtually no opportunities for self-advancement, and routinely adversarial interactions with police, it is likely to rebel spontaneously, given the right provocation. Civil rights leader Bayard Rustin explained how that reaction might have been prevented in Watts: “…Negro youth—jobless, hopeless—does not feel a part of American society…. [We] have…to find them work, decent housing, education, training, so they can feel a part of the structure. People who feel a part of the structure do not attack it.”
August 12. On this date in 1995, between 3,500 and 6,000 demonstrators in Philadelphia engaged in one of the largest rallies against the death penalty in U.S. history. The protestors were demanding a new trial for Mumia Abu-Jamal, an African-American activist and journalist who had been convicted in 1982 of the 1981 murder of a Philadelphia police officer and sentenced to death row at Pennsylvania’s Greene State Correctional Institution. Abu-Jamal had clearly been present at the fatal shooting, which took place when he and his brother were pulled over in a routine traffic stop and the police officer struck the brother with a flashlight during an ensuing scuffle. Yet, many in the African-American community doubted that Abu-Jamal had in fact committed the murder or that justice would be served by executing him. Exculpatory evidence had been offered at his trial, and there was widespread suspicion that both his conviction and sentencing had been tainted by racial prejudice. By 1982, Abu-Jamal was well-known in Philadelphia as a former Black Panther Party spokesperson and a vocal critic of the openly racist Philadelphia police force. In prison, he became a radio commentator for National Public Radio, critiquing the inhumane conditions in U.S. prisons and the disproportionate incarceration and execution of black Americans. Abu-Jamal’s growing celebrity fueled an international “Free Mumia” movement that eventually bore fruit. His death sentence was dropped in 2011 and transmuted to life imprisonment at Pennsylvania’s Frackville State Correctional Institution. And when a judge reinstated his rights of appeal in December 2018, he was given what a lawyer called “the best opportunity we have had for Mumia’s freedom in decades.”
August 13. On this date in 1964, the death penalty was carried out for the last time in Great Britain, when two jobless men, Gwynne Evans, 24, and Peter Allen, 21, were hanged in separate prisons for the murder of a 53-year-old laundry van driver at his home in Cumbria. The assailants had planned to rob the victim, whom one of them knew, but ended up killing him. For the perpetrators, the timing of the deed proved highly unlucky. Only two months after they were executed, Britain’s Labour Party came to power in the House of Commons and rallied support for what became the 1965 Homicide Act. The new law suspended capital punishment in Great Britain for five years, substituting for it a mandatory sentence of life imprisonment. When the Act came to a vote, it received overwhelming support in both the Commons and the House of Lords. The same level of support was displayed in 1969, when votes were taken to make the Act permanent. In 1973, Northern Ireland also abolished the death penalty for murder, thereby ending its practice throughout the United Kingdom. In acknowledging the 50th Anniversary of the Homicide Act in 2015, Amnesty International’s global issues director, Audrey Gaughran, commented that the people of the UK can be proud to live in a country that has been abolitionist a long time. In dealing honestly with the real effects of capital punishment, especially its irreversibility, rather than calling for its reinstatement as “a quick fix, particularly around election times,” she said, the UK has helped promote a continuous downward trend in the number of executions globally.
August 14. On this date in 1947, at around 11:00 p.m., thousands of Indians gathered near government buildings in Delhi to hear an address by Jawaharlal Nehru, who would become their country’s first prime minister. “Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny,” Nehru proclaimed. “At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom.” When the hour arrived, officially signaling India’s release from British rule, the assembled thousands broke into joyous celebration of the nation’s first Independence Day, now annually observed on August 15. Notably absent from the event, however, was the man whom another speaker, Britain’s Lord Mountbatten, had extolled as “the architect of India’s freedom through nonviolence.” This was, of course, Mohandas Gandhi, who, since 1919, had led a nonviolent Indian independence movement that episodically loosened the grip of British rule. Mountbatten had been appointed viceroy of India and charged with brokering terms for its independence. After failing to negotiate a power-sharing agreement between Hindu and Muslim leaders, however, he had determined that the only solution was to partition the Indian subcontinent to accommodate a Hindu India and a Muslim Pakistan–the latter gaining statehood a day earlier. It was this division that caused Gandhi to miss the Delhi event. In his view, while the partition of the subcontinent might be the price of Indian independence, it was also a capitulation to religious intolerance and a blow to the cause of peace. While other Indians celebrated the achievement of a long-sought goal, Gandhi fasted in hopes of attracting popular support for ending the violence between Hindus and Muslims.
August 15. On this date in 1973, as required by Congressional legislation, the United States ceased dropping bombs on Cambodia, ending its military involvement in Vietnam and Southeast Asia that had killed and maimed millions, mostly unarmed peasants. By 1973, the war had aroused strong opposition in the U.S. Congress. The Paris Peace Agreement signed in January had called for a ceasefire in South Vietnam and the withdrawal of all U.S. troops and advisers within sixty days. Congress worried, however, that this would not prevent President Nixon from reintroducing U.S. forces in the event of renewed hostilities between North and South Vietnam. Senators Clifford Case and Frank Church therefore introduced a bill in late January 1973 that barred any future use of U.S. forces in Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. The bill was approved by the Senate on June 14, but scuttled when President Nixon vetoed separate legislation that would have ended continued U.S. bombing of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. A modified Case-Church bill was then passed into law, signed by the president on July 1. It allowed the bombing in Cambodia to continue until August 15, but prohibited all use of U.S. forces in Southeast Asia after that date without advance approval from Congress. Later, it was revealed that Nixon had in fact secretly promised South Vietnam’s president Nguyen Van Thieu that the U.S. would resume bombing in North and South Vietnam if it proved necessary to enforce the peace settlement. The Congressional action may therefore have prevented the infliction of even more suffering and death on the Vietnamese people than an unconscionable U.S. war had already brought them.
August 16. On this date in 1980, striking union workers at the Gdansk shipyards in Poland joined with other Polish workers’ unions to pursue a cause that would play a major role in the eventual fall of Soviet domination in Central and Eastern Europe. The collective undertaking had been motivated by the autocratic decision of the shipyards management to fire a female employee for union activity just five months before her scheduled retirement. For Polish trade unions, that decision had catalyzed a new sense of mission, raising it from state-controlled arbitration of narrow bread-and-butter issues to independent collective pursuit of wide-ranging human rights. The following day at Gdansk, the unified strike committees put forward 21 demands, including legal formation of independent trade unions and the right to strike, which the communist government in large part accepted. On August 31, the Gdansk movement was itself approved, after which twenty trade unions merged under the leadership of Lech Walesa into a single national organization called Solidarity. During the 1980s, Solidarity used the methods of civil resistance to advance workers’ rights and social change. In response, the government attempted to destroy the union, first by imposing martial law and then through political repression. Eventually, however, new talks between the government and its union opposition led to semi-free elections in 1989. A Solidarity-led coalition government was formed, and, in December 1990, Lech Walesa was elected president of Poland in a free election. That set off peaceful anti-communist revolutions throughout Central and Eastern Europe, and, by Christmas, 1991, the Soviet Union itself was gone and all of its former territories had again become sovereign states.
August 17. On this date in 1862, desperate Dakota Indians attacked a white settlement along the Minnesota River, beginning the tragic Dakota War. The Minnesota Dakota Indians comprised four tribal bands that lived on reservations in the southwest region of the Minnesota Territory, where they had been relocated by treaty in 1851. In response to a mounting influx of white settlers into the area, the U.S. government had prevailed on the Dakotas to cede 24-million acres of their fertile native lands in southwestern Minnesota for three-million dollars in cash and annual annuities. By the late 1850s, however, payments of the annuities had become increasingly unreliable, causing traders to eventually refuse credit to the Dakotas for essential purchases. In the summer of 1862, when cutworms destroyed much of the Dakotas’ corn crop, many families faced starvation. A Minnesota cleric’s warning that “A nation which sows robbery will reap a harvest of blood” would soon prove prophetic. On August 17th, an attempt by four young Dakota warriors to steal some eggs from a white farming family turned violent and led to the deaths of five family members. Sensing that the incident would make war with the U.S. inevitable, Dakota leaders seized the initiative and attacked local government agencies and the white settlement of New Ulm. The attacks killed over 500 white settlers and prompted the intervention of the U.S. Army. Over the next four months, some 2,000 Dakotas were rounded up and over 300 warriors were sentenced to death. The war then quickly ended on December 26, 1862, when 38 Dakota men were hanged in the largest mass execution in U.S. history.
August 18. On this date in 1941, almost 4 months before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Winston Churchill met with his cabinet at 10 Downing Street. The prime minister’s transcribed statements show clearly that President Roosevelt was willing to take deliberately provocative actions against Japan that would draw the U.S. into a second world war most Americans wished to avoid. In Churchill’s words, the President had told him “everything was to be done to force an incident.” Churchill had in fact long hoped that Japan would attack the United States. U.S. military engagement in Europe was crucial to defeating the Nazis, but Congressional approval was unlikely because the Nazis presented no military threat to the U.S. By contrast, a Japanese attack on a U.S. military base would enable Roosevelt to declare war both on Japan and, by extension, its Axis ally, Germany. Consistent with that end, Roosevelt had issued an executive order in June freezing Japanese assets, and both the U.S. and Britain had cut off oil and scrap metal to Japan. These were clear provocations that U.S. officials knew would compel a Japanese military response. For Secretary of War Henry Stimson, the question was “how we should maneuver them into the position of firing the first shot without allowing too much danger to ourselves.” The answer was cynical, but easy. Since broken codes had revealed a likely Japanese air attack on Pearl Harbor in early December, the Navy would keep its fleet in place and its sailors in the dark about the expected strike. It came on December 7, and the next day Congress duly voted for war.
August 19. On this date in 1953, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) orchestrated a coup d’etat that toppled the democratically elected government of Iran. Seeds for the coup had been planted in 1951, when Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh nationalized Iran’s oil industry, then controlled by the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. Mossadegh believed the Iranian people were entitled to benefit from their own country’s vast oil reserves. Britain, however, was determined to reclaim its profitable overseas investment. Beginning in 1953, the CIA worked with British Intelligence to undermine Mossadegh’s government by acts of bribery, libel, and orchestrated riots. In response, the prime minister called on his supporters to take to the streets in protest, prompting the Shah to leave the country. When British intelligence backed away from the debacle, the CIA worked on its own with pro-Shah forces and the Iranian military to organize a coup against Mossadegh. Some 300 people died in firefights in the streets of Tehran, and the prime minister was overthrown and sentenced to three years in prison. The Shah then quickly returned to take power, signing over forty percent of Iran’s oil fields to U.S. companies. Propped up by U.S. dollars and arms, he maintained dictatorial rule for more than two decades. In 1979, however, the Shah was forced from power and replaced by a theocratic Islamic republic. Later the same year, angry militants seized the U.S. embassy in Tehran and held the American staff hostage until January 1981.These were the first of many aftershocks following the upheaval of Iran’s first democratic government that would later convulse the Middle East and prove to have lasting repercussions.
August 20. On the night of this date in 1968, 200,000 Warsaw Pact troops and 5,000 tanks invaded Czechoslovakia to crush a brief period of liberalization in the communist country known as the “Prague Spring.” Led by the reformer Alexander Dubcek, then in his eighth month as First Secretary of the communist party’s Central Committee, the liberalization movement pushed for democratic elections, the abolition of censorship, freedom of speech and religion, and an end to restrictions on travel. Public support for what Dubcek called “socialism with a human face” was so broadly based that the Soviet Union and its satellites saw it as a threat to their domination of Eastern Europe. To counter the threat, Warsaw Pact troops were called on to occupy Czechoslovakia and bring it to heel. Unexpectedly, the troops were met everywhere by spontaneous acts of nonviolent resistance that prevented them from gaining control. By April 1969, however, unrelenting Soviet political pressure did succeed in forcing Dubcek from power. His reforms were quickly reversed and Czechoslovakia again became a cooperative member of the Warsaw Pact. Nevertheless, the Prague Spring did in the end play at least an inspirational role in restoring democracy to Czechoslovakia. In spontaneous street protests beginning on August 21, 1988, the official 20th anniversary of the Soviet-led invasion, marchers chanted Dubcek’s name and called for freedom. The following year, the Czech playwright and essayist Vaclav Havel led an organized nonviolent movement called “The Velvet Revolution” that finally forced an end to Soviet domination of the country. On November 28, 1989, Czechoslovakia’s communist party announced that it would relinquish power and dismantle the one-party state.
August 21. On this date in 1983, Filipino nonviolent freedom fighter Benigno (Ninoy) Aquino was assassinated by a shot to the head at the Manila International Airport after stepping off a plane that had brought him home from three years of exile in the United States. By 1972, Aquino, a Liberal Party senator and outspoken critic of the repressive regime of President Ferdinand Marcos, had become widely popular and a favorite to defeat Marcos in the 1973 presidential election. Marcos, however, declared martial law in September 1972, which not only suppressed constitutional liberties but made Aquino a political prisoner. When Aquino suffered a heart attack in prison in 1980, he was allowed to travel to the United States for surgery. But, after extending his stay in U.S. academic circles, he felt a need by 1983 to return to the Philippines and persuade President Marcos to restore democracy through peaceful means. The airport bullet ended that mission, but, during Aquino’s absence, a plunging economy in the Philippines had already caused mass civil unrest. By early 1986, Marcos was pressured to call a snap presidential election in which he ran against Aquino’s wife, Corazon. The nation overwhelmingly backed “Cory,” but widespread cheating and fraud made the election results moot. Having no other choice, some two million Filipinos, chanting “Cory, Cory, Cory,” staged their own bloodless revolution in downtown Manila. On February 25, 1986, Corazon Aquino was inaugurated President and went on to restore democracy to the Philippines. Yet, Filipinos also annually celebrate the man who provided the spark for their revolution. For many, Ninoy Aquino remains “the greatest president we never had.”
August 22. On this date in 1934, retired Marine Corps Major General Smedley Butler was urged by a bond salesman for a major Wall Street financier to lead a coup d’état against President Roosevelt and the U.S. government. Plans for the coup had been developed by Wall Street financiers who were particularly affronted by the President’s Depression-related abandonment of the Gold Standard, which they believed would undermine both personal and business wealth and lead to national bankruptcy. To avert that catastrophe, the Wall Street emissary told Butler that the conspirators had assembled 500,000 veterans of the First World War who could overpower the country’s feeble peacetime military and open the way to creation of a fascist government that would be more favorable to business. Butler, they believed, was the perfect candidate to lead the coup, as he was revered by the veterans for his public support of the Bonus Army campaign for early payout of extra money the government had promised them. The conspirators, however, were unaware of one crucial fact. Despite Butler’s intrepid leadership in war, he had come to resent the country’s frequent misuse of the military as a corporate cudgel. By 1933, he had started publicly denouncing both bankers and capitalism. Yet, he also remained a steadfast patriot. On November 20, 1934, Butler reported the coup plot to the House Un-American Activities Committee, which in its report acknowledged compelling evidence of planning for a coup, but brought no criminal charges. For his own part, Smedley Butler went on to publish War is a Racket, which advocated transitioning the U.S. military into a defense-only force.
August 23. On this date in 1989, an estimated two-million people joined hands in a 400-mile chain across the Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. In a united nonviolent demonstration called “The Baltic Way,” they were protesting the continuing domination of their countries by the Soviet Union. The mass protest was staged on the fiftieth anniversary of the Hitler-Stalin non-aggression pact of August 23, 1939, breeched by Germany in 1941. But the same pact also contained secret protocols that defined how the two countries would later divide the nations of Eastern Europe to meet their own strategic interests. It was under these protocols that the Soviet Union first occupied the Baltic states in 1940, forcing their Western-leaning populations to live under the dictatorship of the Communist Party. Yet, until 1989, the Soviets claimed that the Hitler-Stalin Pact contained no secret protocols, and that the Baltic states had voluntarily joined the Soviet Union. In the Baltic Way demonstration, participants demanded that the Soviet Union publicly acknowledge the protocols and allow the Baltic states to finally renew their historical independence. Remarkably, the massive demonstration, which climaxed three years of protests, did persuade the Soviet Union to finally admit to the protocols and declare them invalid. Together, the three years of nonviolent protests showed how powerful a resistance campaign can be, if it pursues a common goal in brotherhood and sisterhood. The campaign served as a positive example for other Eastern European countries seeking independence, and proved a stimulus to the reunification process in Germany. The Baltic states regained their own independence after the fall of the Soviet Union in December 1991.
August 24. On this day in 1967, Abbie Hoffman & Jerry Rubin threw 300 one-dollar bills from the balcony onto the floor of the New York Stock Exchange to disrupt business as usual. Abbie Hoffman, a theater loving psychologist, moved to New York in the 1960s as activists and anti-war protesters were staging sit-ins and marches in Central Park. Hoffman had been involved with an activist group connected to the theater, the Diggers, in San Francisco. Through experiences there, he learned the value of performances in regard to drawing attention to causes, as protests and marches were becoming so common they sometimes went unacknowledged by the media. Hoffman met activist Jerry Rubin who shared his disdain for capitalism as the root cause of war and inequality in the United States. Together with gay-rights activist Jim Fouratt, Hoffman and Rubin organized a demonstration at the New York Stock Exchange inviting Marty Jezer, editor of the War Resisters League publication WIN magazine, Korean War veteran Keith Lampe, and peace activist Stewart Albert, along with a dozen others, and reporters. The group asked for a tour of the NYSE building where Hoffman shared handfuls of one dollar bills with each before they were guided to the second floor where they stood looking down on the Wall Street brokers. The bills were then tossed over the rail, raining down onto the floor below. Brokers stopped their trading as they scrambled to collect as many bills as possible, leading to claims of possible trade losses. Hoffman later simply explained: “Showering money on the Wall Street brokers was the TV-age version of driving the money changers from the temple.”
August 25. On this date in 1990, the UN Security Council gave the world’s navies the right to use force to stop violations of trade sanctions against Iraq. The United States considered the action a major victory. It had worked hard to convince the Soviet Union, China, and wavering Third World countries that urgent action was needed to check violations of the comprehensive economic sanctions that had been imposed on Iraq after its August 2 invasion of Kuwait. The sanctions, however, failed to force a withdrawal of occupying Iraqi troops. They were instead ousted militarily in late February 1991 in the U.S.-led Gulf War. Yet, even with the restoration of Kuwaiti independence, the sanctions were kept in place, allegedly as leverage to press for Iraqi disarmament and other goals. In reality, however, both the U.S. and UK had always made it clear that they would block any lifting or serious reforming of sanctions as long as Saddam Hussein remained president of Iraq. This was despite strong evidence that the sanctions were failing to pressure Saddam but were badly hurting innocent Iraqi citizens. These conditions prevailed until March 2003, when the U.S. and UK again made war on Iraq and swept away the Saddam government. Soon after, the U.S. called for and obtained the lifting of UN sanctions, giving it full control over Iraq’s oil sales and industry. The thirteen years of sanctions, however, had produced well-documented human suffering. That result has since raised doubts throughout the international community about the effectiveness of economic sanctions in achieving policy goals and their legality under international law governing humanitarian treatment and human rights.
August 26. On this date in 1920, U.S. Secretary of State Bainbridge Colby certified the 19th Amendment for inclusion in the U.S. Constitution, giving U.S. women the right to vote in all elections. This historic advance in U.S. civil rights was the culmination of the women’s suffrage movement, which dated back to the mid-19th century. Using tactics such as parades, silent vigils, and hunger strikes, women pursued various strategies in states across the country to win the right to vote—often in the face of fierce resistance from opponents who heckled, jailed, and sometimes physically abused them. By 1919, suffragettes had won full voting rights in fifteen of the forty-eight states, primarily in the west, and gained limited suffrage in most of the others. At that point, however, most major suffrage organizations were united in the belief that full voting rights in all states could only be achieved through a Constitutional amendment. That became a viable goal after President Wilson voiced his support for an amendment in 1918. He told the Senate: “I regard the extension of suffrage to women as vitally essential to the successful prosecution of the great war of humanity in which we are engaged.” An immediate effort to pass a proposed amendment failed in the Senate by just two votes. But on May 21, 1920, it was passed overwhelmingly by the House of Representatives, and two weeks later by the Senate with the required two-thirds majority. The amendment was ratified on August 18, 1920, when Tennessee became the 36th of the 48 states to approve it, thus obtaining the required agreement of three-fourths of the states.
August 27. This is the date, in 1928, on which the Kellogg-Briand Pact outlawing war was ratified in Paris by the major nations of the world. Named after its authors, U.S. Secretary of State Frank Kellogg and French Foreign Minister Aristide Briand, the Pact became effective in July 1929. It renounced war as an instrument of national policy and stipulated that all international conflicts of whatever nature must be settled only by pacific means. Every war since 1928 has violated this treaty, which prevented some wars and served as the basis for the first prosecutions for the crime of war at the end of World War II, since which time wealthy well-armed nations have not gone to war with each other — choosing instead to wage war on and facilitate war between poor countries. Post World-War II, conquest of territory was largely ended. The year 1928 became the dividing line for determining which conquests were legal and which not. Colonies sought their freedom, and smaller nations began to form by the dozens. The United Nations Charter twisted the Peace Pact’s ban on war into a ban on wars that are neither defensive nor authorized by the United Nations. Wars that have been illegal even under the UN Charter, but which many have claimed or imagined were legal, have included wars on Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Somalia, Libya, Yemen, and Syria. Almost 90 years after the creation of the Kellogg-Briand Pact, the International Criminal Court adopted the policy of prosecuting the crime of war, but the world’s most frequent war-maker, the United States, claimed the right to operate outside the rule of law.
August 28. On this date in 1963, American Civil Rights advocate Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his nationally televised “I Have a Dream” speech before a crowd of some 250,000 people at the March on Washington. The speech made strategic use of King’s gifts for poetic rhetoric, which enabled him to claim equal rights for African Americans by appealing to a unifying spirit that bridges human divides. Following introductory remarks, King made use of metaphor to explain that the marchers had come to the capital to cash a “promissory note” that guaranteed life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness to every American, but had previously come back to people of color marked “insufficient funds.” About halfway through the speech, King departed from his prepared text to intone from memory his previously tested “I have a dream” refrains. One of these dreams is now indelibly etched in the national consciousness: “that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” The speech concluded in a final brilliant burst of rhythmic rhetoric, based on the chant “Let freedom ring”: “When we let it ring from every village and every hamlet…,” King declaimed, “we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children…will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: ‘Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!’” In 2016, Time Magazine recognized the speech as one of the ten greatest orations in history.
August 29. On this date each year, the United Nations International Day against Nuclear Tests is observed. Peace organizations around the world make use of the Day to educate the public about the need to end global nuclear weapons tests, which pose potentially catastrophic dangers to people, the environment, and the planet. First observed in 2010, the International Day against Nuclear Tests was inspired by the closing on August 29, 1991 of a nuclear weapons test site in Kazakhstan, then part of the Soviet Union. Hundreds of nuclear devices had been detonated there over a period of forty years, both above and below ground, and had caused severe damage over time to surrounding populations. As of 2016, radiation levels in the soil and water near the town of Semey (formerly Semipalatinsk), 100 miles east of the site, were still ten times higher than normal. Babies continued to be born with deformities, and, for half the population, life expectancy remained less than 60 years. In addition to its warnings about the dangers of nuclear weapons testing, the International Day against Nuclear Tests serves to remind the world that a treaty already adopted by the UN to end such testing has not yet come into force. The 1996 Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT) would ban all nuclear testing or explosions in any setting. But it can do so only when all 44 states that participated in negotiations to create the treaty, and possessed nuclear power or research reactors at the time, have ratified it. Twenty years later, eight states, including the United States, had still not done so.
August 30. On this date in 1963, a “Hot Line” communications link was established between the White House and Kremlin designed to dramatically speed up diplomatic exchanges between the two nations’ leaders in the event of an emergency. The innovation had been motivated by the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962, in which telegrammed dispatches took hours to reach the other side, aggravating the already tense negotiations between antagonistic nuclear-armed world powers. With the new Hot Line technology, phone messages typed into a teletype machine could reach the other side in just minutes. Fortunately, no need for the Hot Line arose until 1967, when President Lyndon Johnson used it to notify then-Soviet Premier Alexei Kosygin of a tactical plan he was considering for intervention in the Arab-Israeli Six-Day War. By 1963, President Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev had already established a productive relationship based on mutual understanding and trust. It was largely the product of a steady two-year exchange of both official and personal letters. One major offshoot of the correspondence was the reasoned compromise that had ended the Cuban Missile Crisis. It had also given impetus both to the limited nuclear test ban treaty of August 5, 1963, and the President’s American University speech two months earlier on U.S.-Soviet relations. There, Kennedy had called for “not merely peace in our time but peace for all time.” In a letter paying tribute to Kennedy after his death, Khrushchev characterized him as “a man of broad views who sought to realistically assess the situation in the world and to look for ways of solving unsettled international problems through negotiation.”
August 31. On this date in 1945, some two-thousand people in London’s Westminster Central Hall invoked the theme of “World Unity or World Destruction” in rallying against the spread of nuclear weapons. At Westminster, as around the world, the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki only a few weeks before had caused thousands of people to join in a popular crusade to save humanity from nuclear destruction. In the beginning, fears of a global nuclear holocaust went hand-in-hand with the idea of world government. It was championed by Bertrand Russell, among others, and drew crowds of thousands to public meetings at which it was discussed. The phrase “One world or none” was intoned not only by Russell, but by Gandhi and Einstein. Even the London Times opined that “it must be made impossible for war to begin, or else mankind perishes.” In ensuing months and years, however, speakers at British anti-war rallies, while continuing to condemn the Japan bombings, began to also advocate for nuclear arms control and disarmament. By the 1950s, “One World” was no longer an integral theme of the anti-bomb movement, but primarily an aspiration of pacifists and advocates for world government. Nevertheless, by emphasizing the potential catastrophe of an unfettered proliferation of nuclear weapons, peace and disarmament groups in Britain and throughout the West helped generate a shift in popular thinking toward greater acceptance of limits on national sovereignty. Confronted by the unprecedented dangers of nuclear war, people showed a remarkable willingness to accept new thinking about international relations. Our thanks to historian Lawrence S. Wittner, whose exhaustive writings on anti-nuclear movements provided information for this article.
This Peace Almanac lets you know important steps, progress, and setbacks in the movement for peace that have taken place on each day of the year.
This Peace Almanac should remain good for every year until all war is abolished and sustainable peace established. Profits from sales of the print and PDF versions fund the work of World BEYOND War.
Text produced and edited by David Swanson.
Audio recorded by Tim Pluta.
Items written by Robert Anschuetz, David Swanson, Alan Knight, Marilyn Olenick, Eleanor Millard, Erin McElfresh, Alexander Shaia, John Wilkinson, William Geimer, Peter Goldsmith, Gar Smith, Thierry Blanc, and Tom Schott.
Ideas for topics submitted by David Swanson, Robert Anschuetz, Alan Knight, Marilyn Olenick, Eleanor Millard, Darlene Coffman, David McReynolds, Richard Kane, Phil Runkel, Jill Greer, Jim Gould, Bob Stuart, Alaina Huxtable, Thierry Blanc.
Music used by permission from “The End of War,” by Eric Colville.
Audio music and mixing by Sergio Diaz.
Graphics by Parisa Saremi.
World BEYOND War is a global nonviolent movement to end war and establish a just and sustainable peace. We aim to create awareness of popular support for ending war and to further develop that support. We work to advance the idea of not just preventing any particular war but abolishing the entire institution. We strive to replace a culture of war with one of peace in which nonviolent means of conflict resolution take the place of bloodshed.