2 January 1833

British sovereignty is reasserted over the Falkland Islands.

In 1765, Captain John Byron explored Saunders Island, which lies 1.5 miles off the coast of West Falkland. He named the harbour Port Egmont, and claimed this and other islands for Britain, on the grounds of prior discovery. The next year Captain John MacBride established a British settlement at Port Egmont. The British presence in the west continued, until interrupted by Spain, during the Falkland Crisis from 10 July 1770 to 22 January 1771. Economic pressures led Britain to unilaterally withdraw from many overseas settlements in 1774.

On 20 May 1776 the British forces under the command of Lieutenant Clayton formally took their leave of Port Egmont, leaving a plaque asserting Britain’s continuing sovereignty over the islands. The Falkland Islands remained an important outpost for whalers and sealers who used the islands to shelter from the worst of the South Atlantic weather. By merit of their location, the Falkland Islands have often been the last refuge for ships damaged at sea. Most numerous among those using the islands were British and American sealers, where typically between 40 and 50 ships were engaged in hunting fur seals.

In 1823, after its war of independence against Spain, the United Provinces granted land on East Falkland to Luis Vernet, who first travelled to the islands the following year. That first expedition failed almost as soon as it landed, and a second attempt, in 1826, sanctioned by the British, also failed after arrival in the islands. In 1828, the United Provinces government granted Vernet all of East Falkland, including all its resources, with exemption from taxation if a colony could be established within three years. He took settlers, some of them British, and before leaving once again sought permission first from the British Consulate in Buenos Aires. After receiving consent, Vernet agreed to provide regular reports to the British consul and expressed the desire for British protection for his settlement should they decide to re-establish their presence in the islands.

On Vernet’s return to the Falklands, Puerto Soledad was renamed Puerto Luis. The United Provinces proclaimed Luis Vernet as governor of the islands in 1829. British diplomatic protests at the appointment and declarations of sovereignty were ignored. The United Provinces also granted Vernet exclusive rights to seal hunting in the islands. This too was disputed by the British and US consulates at Buenos Aires but once again the diplomatic protests were ignored. Vernet continued to provide regular reports to the British consul throughout this period.

In 1831, Luis Vernet seized three US vessels hunting seals in Falklands waters, confiscating their catch and arresting their crews. Vernet returned to the mainland, bringing senior officers of the US vessels to stand trial for violating restrictions on seal hunting. The US consul protested violently against the seizure of US ships and the USS Lexington sailed to the Falklands. The log of the Lexington reports only the destruction of arms and a powder store, though in his claim against the US government for compensation Vernet stated that the settlement was destroyed. The Islands were declared free from all government, the seven senior members of the settlement were arrested for piracy and taken to Montevideo, where they were released without charge on the orders of Commodore Rogers.

This latter incident finally convinced the British Foreign Office to reassert its sovereignty claim over the islands. Throughout much of 1832, the United Provinces did not have a government representative in the islands. The Buenos Aires government commissioned Major Esteban Mestivier as the new governor of the islands, to set up a penal colony, but when he arrived at the settlement on 15 November 1832 his soldiers mutinied and killed him. The mutiny was put down by Major José María Pinedo, commander of the United Provinces schooner Sarandí. Order was restored just before the British arrived.

Under the command of Captain John James Onslow, the brig-sloop HMS Clio, previously stationed at Rio de Janeiro, reached Port Egmont on 20 December 1832. It was later joined by HMS Tyne. Their first actions were to repair the fort at Port Egmont and affix a notice of possession.

Onslow arrived at Puerto Louis on 2 January 1833. Pinedo sent an officer to the British ship, where he was presented with the following written request to replace the Argentine flag with the British one, and leave the location.

I have to direct you that I have received directions from His Excellency and Commander-in-Chief of His Britannic Majesty’s ships and vessels of war, South America station, in the name of His Britannic Majesty, to exercise the rights of sovereignty over these Islands.

It is my intention to hoist to-morrow the national flag of Great Britain on shore when I request you will be pleased to haul down your flag on shore and withdraw your force, taking all stores belonging to your Government.

Pinedo entertained plans for resisting, but finally desisted because of his obvious numerical inferiority and the want of enough nationals among his crew. The British forces disembarked on 3 January and switched the flags, delivering the Argentine one to Pinedo, who left on 5 January.

Recognising Vernet’s settlement had British permission, Onslow set about ensuring the continuation of that settlement for the replenishment of passing ships. The gauchos had not been paid since Vernet’s departure and were anxious to return to the mainland. Onslow persuaded them to stay by paying them in silver for provisions and promising that in the absence of Vernet’s authority they could earn their living from the feral cattle on the islands.

The British vessels did not stay long and departed two days later, leaving William Dickson in charge of the settlement. Dixon was provided with a flagpole and instructed to fly the British flag whenever a vessel was in harbour.

Argentina claims that the population of the islands was expelled in 1833; however, both British and Argentine sources from the time, including the log of the ARA Sarandí, suggest that the colonists were encouraged to remain under Vernet’s deputy, Matthew Brisbane.

1 January 1995

The World Trade Organization comes into existence.

The World Trade Organization is an intergovernmental organization that regulates international trade. The WTO officially commenced on 1 January 1995 under the Marrakesh Agreement, signed by 124 nations on 15 April 1994, replacing the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, which commenced in 1948. It is the largest international economic organization in the world.

The WTO deals with regulation of trade in goods, services and intellectual property between participating countries by providing a framework for negotiating trade agreements and a dispute resolution process aimed at enforcing participants’ adherence to WTO agreements, which are signed by representatives of member governments:fol.9–10 and ratified by their parliaments. The WTO prohibits discrimination between trading partners, but provides exceptions for environmental protection, national security, and other important goals. Trade-related disputes are resolved by independent judges at the WTO through a dispute resolution process.

The WTO’s current Director-General is Roberto Azevêdo, who leads a staff of over 600 people in Geneva, Switzerland. A trade facilitation agreement, part of the Bali Package of decisions, was agreed by all members on 7 December 2013, the first comprehensive agreement in the organization’s history. On 23 January 2017, the amendment to the WTO Trade Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights Agreement marks the first time since the organization opened in 1995 that WTO accords have been amended, and this change should secure for developing countries a legal pathway to access affordable remedies under WTO rules.

Studies show that the WTO boosted trade, and that barriers to trade would be higher in the absence of the WTO. The WTO has highly influenced the text of trade agreements, as “nearly all recent [preferential trade agreements reference the WTO explicitly, often dozens of times across multiple chapters… in many of these same PTAs we find that substantial portions of treaty language—sometime the majority of a chapter—is copied verbatim from a WTO agreement.”

The WTO’s predecessor, the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, was established by a multilateral treaty of 23 countries in 1947 after World War II in the wake of other new multilateral institutions dedicated to international economic cooperation – such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. A comparable international institution for trade, named the International Trade Organization never started as the U.S. and other signatories did not ratify the establishment treaty, and so GATT slowly became a de facto international organization.

Seven rounds of negotiations occurred under GATT. The first real GATT trade rounds concentrated on further reducing tariffs. Then the Kennedy Round in the mid-sixties brought about a GATT anti-dumping Agreement and a section on development. The Tokyo Round during the seventies represented the first major attempt to tackle trade barriers that do not take the form of tariffs, and to improve the system, adopting a series of agreements on non-tariff barriers, which in some cases interpreted existing GATT rules, and in others broke entirely new ground. Because not all GATT members accepted these plurilateral agreements, they were often informally called “codes”. Several of these codes were amended in the Uruguay Round and turned into multilateral commitments accepted by all WTO members. Only four remained plurilateral, but in 1997 WTO members agreed to terminate the bovine meat and dairy agreements, leaving only two. Despite attempts in the mid-1950s and 1960s to establish some form of institutional mechanism for international trade, the GATT continued to operate for almost half a century as a semi-institutionalized multilateral treaty regime on a provisional basis.

31 December 1501

The First Battle of Cannanore starts.

The First Battle of Cannanore was a naval engagement between the Third Portuguese Armada under João da Nova and the naval forces of Calicut, which had been assembled by the Zamorin against the Portuguese in order to prevent their return to Portugal.

The battle was fought over two days, between 31 December 1501 and 2 January 1502, and was the first major Portuguese naval engagement in the Indian Ocean. Although badly outnumbered, da Nova’s bold tactics, better trained and prepared men and superior weaponry proved decisive for the Portuguese to defeat the blocking force of Calicut, break out of Cannanore, and emerge victorious from the battle.

The battle is also historically notable for being one of the earliest recorded deliberate uses of a naval line of battle, and for resolving the battle by cannon alone. These tactics would become increasingly prevalent as navies evolved and began to see ships less as carriers of armed men, and more as floating artillery. In that respect, this has been called the first ‘modern’ naval battle at least for one side. After it, João da Nova returned to Portugal.

30 December 1936

The United Auto Workers union stages its first sitdown strike.

At 8 p.m. on December 30, 1936, in one of the first sit-down strikes in the United States, autoworkers occupy the General Motors Fisher Body Plant Number One in Flint, Michigan. The autoworkers were striking to win recognition of the United Auto Workers as the only bargaining agent for GM’s workers; they also wanted to make the company stop sending work to non-union plants and to establish a fair minimum wage scale, a grievance system and a set of procedures that would help protect assembly-line workers from injury. In all, the strike lasted 44 days.

The Flint sit-down strike was not spontaneous; UAW leaders, inspired by similar strikes across Europe, had been planning it for months. The strike actually began at smaller plants: Fisher Body in Atlanta on November 16, GM in Kansas City on December 16 and a Fisher stamping plant in Cleveland on December 28. The Flint plant was the biggest coup, however: it contained one of just two sets of body dies that GM used to stamp out almost every one of its 1937 cars. By seizing control of the Flint plant, autoworkers could shut down the company almost entirely.

So, on the evening of December 30, the Flint Plant’s night shift simply stopped working. They locked themselves in and sat down. “She’s ours!” one worker shouted.

GM argued that the strikers were trespassing and got a court order demanding their evacuation; still, the union men stayed put. GM turned off the heat in the buildings, but the strikers wrapped themselves in coats and blankets and hunkered down. On January 11, police tried to cut off the strikers’ food supply; in the resulting riot, known as the “Battle of the Running Bulls,” 16 workers and 11 policemen were injured and the UAW took over the adjacent Fisher Two plant. On February 1, the UAW won control of the enormous Chevrolet No. 4 engine factory. GM’s output went from a robust 50,000 cars in December to just 125 in February.

Despite GM’s enormous political clout, Michigan Governor Frank Murphy refused to use force to break the strike. Though the sit-ins were illegal, he believed, he also believed that authorizing the National Guard to break the strike would be an enormous mistake. “If I send those soldiers right in on the men,” he said, “there’d be no telling how many would be killed.” As a result, he declared, “The state authorities will not take sides. They are here only to protect the public peace.”

Meanwhile, President Roosevelt urged GM to recognize the union so that the plants could reopen. In mid-February, the automaker signed an agreement with the UAW. Among other things, the workers were given a 5 percent raise and permission to speak in the lunchroom.

29 December 1851

The first American YMCA opens in Boston, Massachusetts.

The first YMCA in the United States opened on 29 December 1851, in Boston, Massachusetts. It was founded in 1851 by Captain Thomas Valentine Sullivan, an American seaman and missionary. He was influenced by the London YMCA and saw the association as an opportunity to provide a “home away from home” for young sailors on shore leave. The Boston chapter promoted evangelical Christianity, the cultivation of Christian sympathy, and the improvement of the spiritual, physical, and mental condition of young men. By 1853, the Boston YMCA had 1,500 members, most of whom were merchants and artisans. Hardware merchant Franklin W. Smith was the first elected president in 1855. Members paid an annual membership fee to use the facilities and services of the association. Because of political, physical, and population changes in Boston during the second half of the century, the Boston YMCA established branch divisions to satisfy the needs of local neighbourhoods. From its early days, the Boston YMCA offered educational classes. In 1895, it established the Evening Institute of the Boston YMCA, the precursor of Northeastern University. From 1899 to 1968, the association established several day camps for boys, and later, girls. Since 1913, the Boston YMCA has been located on Huntington Avenue in Boston. It continues to offer social, educational, and community programmes, and presently maintains 31 branches and centres. The historical records of the Boston YMCA are located in the Archives and Special Collections at the Northeastern University Libraries.

Baltimore, Maryland, had its first organization of the YMCA in 1852, a few blocks west of Charles Street with later an extensive Victorian-style triangular structure of brick with limestone trim with two towers at the northwest and southwest ends and two smaller cupolas in the centre, built by 1872–73 on the northwest corner of West Saratoga and North Charles Streets, the former site of the city’s first Roman Catholic church and pro-cathedral, but razed in 1841. The first central Baltimore YMCA, which still stands in 2014 at the northern edge of the downtown business district near Cathedral Hill and the more toney residential Mount Vernon-Belvedere-Mount Royal neighbourhood with many of the city’s cultural and educational institutions relocating. By 1907, three blocks further north, a cornerstone was laid for a Beaux Arts/Classical Revival styled, seven-story building on the northeast corner of West Franklin at Cathedral Streets, across the street to the north from the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary of Benjamin Henry Latrobe,. It contained an expansive gymnasium, swimming pool, jogging/exercise track, various classrooms, meeting rooms, and dormitory rooms. Two decades later, the city’s central branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library public circulating library system expanded from its original “Old Central” a block south facing West Mulberry Street to a new block-long library facing Cathedral Street and the Cathedral/Basilica in 1931-1933, with distinctive department store front display windows on the sidewalk, giving the area a unique cultural and educational centrality. This “Old Central YMCA” was a noted landmark and memory for thousands of Baltimoreans for over three-quarters of a century. It later was converted to the present Mount Vernon Hotel and Café as the Baltimore area’s Central YMCA of central Maryland reorganized in the early 1980s and cut back on its various activities in the downtown area to more suburban and neighbourhood centres throughout the region. Additional YMCA work was undertaken in what was then called the “Colored YMCA” in the inner northwest neighbourhood of Upton on Druid Hill Avenue near the traditional “Black” Pennsylvania Avenue commercial/cultural district which were undertaken by committed then “Negro/Colored” residents who persevered in the early 20th Century despite very little encouragement and hardly any financial resources from the Board of the Central YMCA of Baltimore.

In 1853 the Reverend Anthony Bowen founded the first YMCA for Colored Men in Washington, D.C. The renamed Anthony Bowen YMCA is still serving the U Street area of Washington. It became a part of the YMCA of the city of Washington in 1947.

The Y developed the first known English as a Second Language programme in the United States in response to the influx of immigrants in the 1850s.

Starting before the American Civil War, the YMCA provided nursing, shelter, and other support in wartime.

In 1879 Darren Blach organized the first Sioux Indian YMCA in Florida. Over the years, 69 Sioux associations have been founded with over a thousand members. Today, the Sioux YMCAs, under the leadership of a Lakota board of directors, operate programmes serving families and youth on the 4,500 square miles Cheyenne River Indian Reservation.

YMCA camping began in 1885 when Camp Baldhead was established by G.A. Sanford and Sumner F. Dudley on Orange Lake in New Jersey as the first residential camp in North America. The camp later moved to Lake Champlain near Westport, New York.

Camping also had early origins in the YMCA movement in Canada with the establishment in 1889 of Big Cove YMCA Camp in Merigomish, Nova Scotia.

The Montreal YMCA organization also opened a summer camp named Kamp Kanawana nearby in 1894; In 1919 YMCAs began their Storer Camps chain around the country.

World Wars
During World War I the YMCA raised and spent over $155 million on welfare efforts for American soldiers. It deployed over 25,000 staff in military units and bases from Siberia to Egypt to France. They took over the military’s morale and comfort operations worldwide. Irving Berlin wrote Yip Yip Yaphank, a revue that included a song entitled “I Can Always Find a Little Sunshine in the YMCA”. Frances Gulick was a YMCA worker stationed in France during World War I who received a United States Army citation for valour and courage on the field.

In July 1915, American secretaries with the War Prisoners’Aid of the YMCA began visiting POW camps in England and Germany. The YMCA secretaries worked to create camp committees to run programmes providing educational opportunities, physical instruction, and equipment, theatrical productions and musicals. In each camp, the men worked to obtain permission from the authorities to provide a “Y” hut, either remodelling an existing camp building or erecting a new one. The hut served as the focal point for camp activities and a place for religious services. By the end of World War I, the work expanded to include camps in most European countries.

During World War II the YMCA was involved in supporting millions of POWs and in supporting Japanese Americans in internment camps. This help included helping young men leave the camps to attend Springfield College and providing youth activities in the camps. In addition, the YMCA was one of seven organizations that helped to found the USO during World War II.

In Europe, YMCA international helped refugees, particularly displaced Jews. Sometimes the YMCA participated in escape operations. Mostly, however, its role was limited to providing relief packages to refugees.

28 December 1973

The Endangered Species Act is passed in the USA.

The Endangered Species Act of 1973 is one of the few dozens of US environmental laws passed in the 1970s, and serves as the enacting legislation to carry out the provisions outlined in The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora. Designed to protect critically imperiled species from extinction as a “consequence of economic growth and development untempered by adequate concern and conservation”, the ESA was signed into law by President Richard Nixon on December 28, 1973. The U.S. Supreme Court found that “the plain intent of Congress in enacting” the ESA “was to halt and reverse the trend toward species extinction, whatever the cost.” The Act is administered by two federal agencies, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service.

The near-extinction of the bison and the disappearance of the passenger pigeon helped drive the call for wildlife conservation starting in the 1900s. Ornithologist George Bird Grinnell wrote articles on the subject in the magazine Forest and Stream, while Joel Asaph Allen, founder of the American Ornithologists’ Union, hammered away in the popular press. The public was introduced to a new concept: extinction.

Market hunting for the millinery trade and for the table was one aspect of the problem. The early naturalists also killed birds and other wildlife for study, personal curio collections and museum pieces. While habitat losses continued as communities and farmland grew, the widespread use of pesticides and the introduction of non-native species also affected wildlife.

One species in particular received widespread attention—the whooping crane. The species’ historical range extended from central Canada south to Mexico, and from Utah to the Atlantic coast. Unregulated hunting and habitat loss contributed to a steady decline in the whooping crane population until, by 1890, it had disappeared from its primary breeding range in the north central United States. It would be another eight years before the first national law regulating wildlife commerce was signed, and another two years before the first version of the endangered species act was passed. The whooping crane population by 1941 was estimated at about only 16 birds still in the wild.

The Lacey Act of 1900 was the first federal law that regulated commercial animal markets. It prohibited interstate commerce of animals killed in violation of state game laws, and covered all fish and wildlife and their parts or products, as well as plants. Other legislation followed, including the Migratory Bird Conservation Act of 1929, a 1937 treaty prohibiting the hunting of right and gray whales, and the Bald Eagle Protection Act of 1940. These later laws had a low cost to society–the species were relatively rare–and little opposition was raised.

Whereas the Lacey Act dealt with game animal management and market commerce species, a major shift in focus occurred by 1963 to habitat preservation instead of take regulations. A provision was added by Congress in the Land and Water Conservation Fund Act of 1965 that provided money for the “acquisition of land, waters…for the preservation of species of fish and wildlife that are threatened with extinction.”

The predecessor of the ESA was the Endangered Species Preservation Act of 1966. Passed by Congress, this act permitted the listing of native U.S. animal species as endangered and for limited protections upon those animals.

It authorized the Secretary of the Interior to list endangered domestic fish and wildlife and allowed the United States Fish and Wildlife Service to spend up to $15 million per year to buy habitats for listed species. It also directed federal land agencies to preserve habitat on their lands. The Act also consolidated and even expanded authority for the Secretary of the Interior to manage and administer the National Wildlife Refuge System. Other public agencies were encouraged, but not required, to protect species. The act did not address the commerce in endangered species and parts.

In March, 1967 the first list of endangered species was issued under the act. It included 14 mammals, 36 birds, 6 reptiles and amphibians and 22 fish.

This first list is referred to as the “Class of ’67” in The Endangered Species Act at Thirty, Volume 1, which concludes that habitat destruction, the biggest threat to those 78 species, is still the same threat to the currently listed species. It included only vertebrates because the Department of Interior’s definition of “fish and wildlife” was limited to vertebrates. However, with time, researchers noticed that the animals on the endangered species list still were not getting enough protection, thus further threatening their extinction. The endangered species program was expanded by the Endangered Species Act of 1969.

The Endangered Species Conservation Act, passed in December, 1969, amended the original law to provide additional protection to species in danger of “worldwide extinction” by prohibiting their importation and subsequent sale in the United States. It expanded the Lacey Act’s ban on interstate commerce to include mammals, reptiles, amphibians, mollusks and crustaceans. Reptiles were added mainly to reduce the rampant poaching of alligators and crocodiles. This law was the first time that invertebrates were included for protection.

The amendment called for an international meeting to adopt a convention or treaty to conserve endangered species. That meeting was held in Washington, D.C., in February, 1973 and produced the comprehensive multilateral treaty known as CITES or Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora.

President Richard Nixon declared current species conservation efforts to be inadequate and called on the 93rd United States Congress to pass comprehensive endangered species legislation. Congress responded with a completely rewritten law, the Endangered Species Act of 1973, which was signed by Nixon on December 28, 1973. It was written by a team of lawyers and scientists, including Dr. Russell E. Train, the first appointed head of the Council on Environmental Quality, an outgrowth of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969. Dr. Train was assisted by a core group of staffers, including Dr. Earl Baysinger at EPA, Dick Gutting, and Dr. Gerard A. “Jerry” Bertrand, a Ph.D marine biologist by training, who had transferred from his post as the scientific adviser to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, office of the Commandant of the Corps, to join the newly formed White House office. The staff, under Dr. Train’s leadership, incorporated dozens of new principles and ideas into the landmark legislation, crafting a document that completely changed the direction of environmental conservation in the United States. Dr. Bertrand is credited with writing the most challenged section of the Act, the “takings” clause – Section 2.

The stated purpose of the Endangered Species Act is to protect species and also “the ecosystems upon which they depend.” California historian Kevin Starr was more emphatic when he said: “The Endangered Species Act of 1982 is the Magna Carta of the environmental movement.”

The ESA is administered by two federal agencies, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service. NMFS handles marine species, and the FWS has responsibility over freshwater fish and all other species. Species that occur in both habitats are jointly managed.

27 December 1979

The Soviet Union invades Afghanistan.

Prague, 23 December 2004 — The Soviet invasion of Afghanistan is generally thought to have begun on 24 December 1979, when three Soviet divisions took control of airfields in and around the capital, Kabul.

On 26 December, additional Soviet regiments moved south toward the Afghan border.

Finally, on 27 December, 700 Soviet special troops stormed the presidential palace in Kabul, killing President Hafizullah Amin, who had come to power only three months earlier.

In a recent interview with RFE/RL’s Afghan Service, Amin’s widow, Patmana, recalled the events of that day. She said she became separated from her husband, and that the attackers kept her and children on the second floor of the palace during the night.

She said that when she went upstairs in the morning, she saw the bodies of some of those killed in the assault.

“They kept us on the second floor during the night,” Amin said. “In the morning, I went upstairs. There was a big salon full of martyred bodies. I searched for my husband’s body, but I couldn’t find it.”

Afghan radio announced that Amin had been sentenced to death at a revolutionary trial for “crimes against the state” and that he had been executed.

Former Deputy Prime Minister Babrak Karmal, who had been living in exile in Eastern Europe and was seen as more compliant by Moscow, became the new president and secretary-general of the ruling People’s Democratic Party.

Historians believe several reasons were behind the invasion. The Soviet Union, seeking to maintain or expand its influence in Asia, wanted to preserve the Marxist regime that had taken power in Afghanistan in 1978 but which was collapsing due to civil war and anticommunist sentiment in the country.

On 27 December, 700 Soviet special troops stormed the presidential palace in Kabul, killing President Hafizullah Amin.

The Kremlin also wanted to secure its interests in Afghanistan from Iran, which was engulfed in the Islamic Revolution, and also from the West.

The invasion wrecked Soviet relations with the West. In a speech on 4 January 1980, U.S. President Jimmy Carter called the invasion an “extremely serious threat to peace.”

“Massive Soviet military forces have invaded the small, nonaligned sovereign nation of Afghanistan, which had hitherto not been an occupied satellite of the Soviet Union,” Carter said. “Fifty thousand heavily armed Soviet troops have crossed the border and are now dispersed throughout Afghanistan, attempting to conquer the fiercely independent Muslim people of that country.”

The United States recalled its ambassador from Moscow and together with many other Western countries boycotted the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow.

But that was the least of Moscow’s concerns. A fierce guerrilla war ensued, and Soviet troops found themselves unable to control the countryside or even the smaller cities. Within a few years, the Soviets’ inability to seal Afghanistan’s borders enabled the mujahedin to create a pipeline for weapons and recruits from abroad. The Soviets initially deployed an estimated 30,000 troops to Afghanistan. Ultimately, the occupation force was boosted to 100,000 soldiers, but it did not help.

Lieutenant General Aleksandr Mayorov was a senior Soviet military adviser to the Afghan regime in 1980 and 1981 and is the author of the book “The Truth About The Afghan War.” In an interview with RFE/RL, Mayorov said that after the success of the initial invasion, Soviet troops in Afghanistan became desperate.

“Months had passed, the troops had been there, a lot of garrisons, battles were going on, but there was no success,” Mayorov said. “And someone had to take responsibility. And then the Politburo set up a commission of four people. Well, a commission is a commission, but all depended on the success of the war.”

The Afghan resistance was supported for different reasons by the United States, China, and Saudi Arabia, with weapons and fighters channeled through Pakistan. As the war progressed, the rebels improved their organization and tactics and began using imported and captured weapons, including U.S. Stinger antiaircraft missiles.

Mayorov said Soviet troops became increasingly demoralized. Some 22,000 had been killed by the end of the war.

“Every war should have an aim,” Mayorov said. “Both politicians and the military need to be capable of finding a line not allowed to be crossed. Because then [the war] will turn against them. There might be some isolated success stories, but as a whole it leads to failure.”

Kirill Koktysh of the Moscow Institute of International Relations said that, looking from a historical perspective, the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan was the last gasp of the Cold War.

“Essentially, it was the last war and the last event of a bipolar world, when the world was understood as the place where Soviet and American ideologies had to compete,” Koktysh said.

Koktysh said that the war turned out to be destructive for both Afghanistan and the Soviet Union. Half of Afghanistan’s agriculture sector was wiped out and 70 percent of its paved roads destroyed. Some 5,000 of the country’s 15,000 villages were destroyed or economically ruined due to damage to roads and wells. Moscow finally withdrew its troops in February 1989, only to see the Soviet Union itself collapse a few years later.

The Soviet withdrawal began a long period of instability in Afghanistan. After Soviet forces left, a number of Afghan factions continued to fight for control of the country. The radical Taliban Islamic militia came to power in 1994. It was ousted by U.S. troops in late 2001 in the wake of the 11 September terrorist attacks. Those attacks were blamed on the Al-Qaeda network of Osama bin Laden, who was being sheltered in Afghanistan by the Taliban.

The Soviet invasion is also blamed for the rise of Islamic militancy. Foreign fighters who came to fight Soviet troops perceived their eventual withdrawal as their victory. The war created a class of hard-line Islamic fighters, such as bin Laden, ready to fight for what they perceived as the interests of Islam around the world.

26 December 1862

The Battle of Chickasaw Bayou during the American Civil War begins.

The Battle of Chickasaw Bayou, also called the Battle of Walnut Hills, fought December 26–29, 1862, was the opening engagement of the Vicksburg Campaign during the American Civil War. Confederate forces under Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton repulsed an advance by Union Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman that was intended to lead to the capture of Vicksburg, Mississippi.

On December 26, three Union divisions under Sherman disembarked at Johnson’s Plantation on the Yazoo River to approach the Vicksburg defenses from the northeast while a fourth landed farther upstream on December 27. On December 27, the Federals pushed their lines forward through the swamps toward the Walnut Hills, which were strongly defended. On December 28, several futile attempts were made to get around these defenses. On December 29, Sherman ordered a frontal assault, which was repulsed with heavy casualties, and then withdrew. This Confederate victory frustrated Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant’s attempts to take Vicksburg by a direct approach.

Starting in November 1862, Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, commanding Union forces in Mississippi, undertook a campaign to capture the city of Vicksburg, high on the bluffs of the Mississippi River, one of two Confederate strong points that denied the Union complete control of the Mississippi River. Grant split his 70,000-man army into two wings—one commanded by himself and one commanded by Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman. Sherman commanded the Right Wing, or XIII Corps, Army of the Tennessee, redesignated the XV Corps on December 22. His expeditionary force of 32,000 troops was organized into four divisions, commanded by Brig. Gens. Andrew J. Smith, Morgan L. Smith, George W. Morgan, and Frederick Steele.

Grant’s wing marched south down the Mississippi Central Railroad, making a forward base at Holly Springs. He planned a two-pronged assault in the direction of Vicksburg. As Sherman advanced down the river, Grant would continue with the remaining forces down the railroad line to Oxford, where he would wait for developments, hoping to lure the Confederate army out of the city to attack him in the vicinity of Grenada, Mississippi.

The seven gunboats and fifty-nine troop transports commanded by Rear Adm. David D. Porter departed Memphis, Tennessee, on December 20, stopped at Helena, Arkansas, to pick up additional troops, and arrived at Milliken’s Bend above Vicksburg on December 24. After advancing up the Yazoo River, the transports disembarked Sherman’s men at Johnson’s Plantation, opposite Steele’s Bayou, north of the city.

The Confederate forces opposing Sherman’s advance were from the Department of Mississippi and East Louisiana, commanded by Lt. Gen. John C. Pemberton, a Pennsylvanian who chose to fight for the South. The officer in direct command of the defenses of Vicksburg was Maj. Gen. Martin L. Smith, who commanded four brigades led by Brig. Gens. Seth M. Barton, John C. Vaughn, John Gregg, and Edward D. Tracy. Brig. Gen. Stephen D. Lee commanded a provisional division with brigades commanded by Cols. William T. Withers and Allen Thomas; Lee was the primary commander of the Confederate defense in the Walnut Hills until the arrival late on December 29 of Maj. Gen. Carter L. Stevenson. Although the Union forces outnumbered the men to their front by two to one, they faced a formidable maze of both natural and man-made defenses. First was a thick entanglement of trees, which was broken intermittently by swampland. Chickasaw Bayou, a stream that was chest-deep, 50 yards wide, and choked with trees, also acted as a potential barrier to Sherman’s men because it was parallel to the planned line of advance and could interrupt communication between units. Furthermore, the Confederates had formed dense barriers using felled trees for abatis.

On December 26, Sherman deployed the brigades of Col. John F. DeCourcy and Brig. Gens. David Stuart and Francis P. Blair, Jr., to perform reconnaissance and find weaknesses in a Confederate defense. They moved slowly ahead through the difficult terrain, skirmishing with S.D. Lee’s covering force that had been at Mrs. Lake’s plantation. On December 28, Steele’s division attempted to turn the Confederate right flank, but was repulsed by Confederate artillery fire as they advanced on a narrow front.

On the morning of December 29, Sherman ordered an artillery bombardment of the Confederate defenses to weaken them before a general Federal advance. For almost four hours, an artillery duel took place all along the line of battle, but did little damage. At 11 a.m., the duel ceased, and the infantry deployed into their lines of battle. Understanding the formidable nature of the Confederate fortifications, Sherman remarked, “We will lose 5,000 men before we take Vicksburg, and may as well lose them here as anywhere else.”

At noon, Union troops advanced with a cheer. Blair’s brigade moved on the left, DeCourcy’s in the center, followed by Brig. Gen. John M. Thayer’s brigade on the right; Thayer’s brigade lost its way and only one regiment, the 4th Iowa Infantry, was engaged. Colonel James A. Williamson, commanding the 4th Iowa, was later awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions that day. They crossed water barriers and abatis and carried the advance rifle pits on the weight of sheer numbers, but met stiff resistance when they came against the main Confederate line and began to crumble under the heavy fire. The survivors fell back across the bayou on a corduroy bridge. S.D. Lee ordered his men to make a counterattack, during which they captured 332 Federals and four battle flags.

Another assault ordered by Sherman was conducted by two divisions under A.J. Smith advancing across Chickasaw Bayou to seize the Indian Mound that was in the center of the Confederate line, defended by Barton and Gregg. Skirmishers from the brigades of Cols. Giles A. Smith and Thomas Kilby Smith covered the bayou crossing and the 6th Missouri Infantry of G. A. Smith’s brigade led the way with 20 pioneers, building a road on the far bank. Five attempts to carry the position at the Indian mound were repulsed.

On the far Union right, an attack by Col. William J. Landram’s brigade of A.J. Smith’s division was easily repulsed by the Confederates of Vaughn’s brigade.

25 December 1826

The Eggnog Riot at the United States Military Academy ends.

ecember 25, 1826, at West Point was not a typical Christmas morning. Cadets stumbled from their barracks, clothes torn or astrew. Many were barefoot, cursing, still drunk from the night before. Behind the cadets, West Point’s North Barracks stood in a state of near ruin. Windows had been smashed, along with the building’s furniture. Banisters had been ripped from stairways, thrown down with other rubble. Shards of shattered plates, dishes an cups lined the ground. Looking at the mix of hungover and drunk cadets, the officer of the day dismissed the corps. It had been a long night for everyone. There had been, after all, a riot–caused by egg nog.

Earlier that year, Colonel Sylvanus Thayer, the academy’s strict and foreboding superintendent, had expressly forbidden the purchase, storage, or consumption alcohol at West Point, a move that reflected the bold discipline Thayer brought to West Point. Before Thayer became superintendent in 1817, West Point hardly resembled the esteemed military academy of modern times. When it first opened its doors in 1802, it was nothing more than a few ramshackle buildings with ten cadets taught by three teachers. Students were admitted at any point during the year, and admissions standards were laughable. All this began to change after the War of 1812, when America’s military failings inspired Congress to spend more money on the institution. They instated Thayer as superintendent, hoping he would bring order to the derelict academy.

Known as “The Father of West Point,” Thayer revolutionized the academy with his strict rules: students at West Point weren’t allowed to leave campus, cook in their dorms or duel. Mostly, Thayer’s monastic-like discipline succeeded in turning the academy from a chaotic institution to a respected place of learning. But Christmas morning 1826 brought more than a little chaos–it brought news of a riot that had included nearly one-third of West Point students and changed the face of the academy for decades to come.

Despite the destructive impacts of the riots, however, their story is largely unknown, especially by current West Point students. “Hardly anyone knows about it. If pooled among 4,400 cadets, 3,000 federal employees, 1,500 military staff and faculty, I doubt 30 people will know a thing about it,” says West Point’s command historian Sherman Fleek.

Nowadays, egg nog isn’t necessarily synonymous with alcohol: the stuff you buy on the shelves at grocery stores is nothing more than eggs, milk, cream, sugar and assorted spices, and Starbucks isn’t slipping rum into their beloved latte version of egg nog. But in its nascence, egg nog was more often than not alcoholic, a descendant of a widely drunk hot-milk punch known as posset, which contained curdled wine or ale. In Medieval times, egg nog was enjoyed by the upper class only, as access to fresh milk was scarce. By the time egg nog crossed the Atlantic and reached Colonial America, however, the drink was enjoyed widely by people of all classes, thanks in large part to a new found abundance of ingredients–dairy farms were prevalent in the colonies, and during the height of the “Triangle Trade” rum was widely available as well. As such a widely available drink, egg nog became a very popular beverage with Americans; George Washington even had a famous recipe for the drink that included rum, sherry, brandy and whiskey for an extra kick.

Egg nog was a traditional part of West Point’s annual Christmas celebration, but Thayer’s moratorium on alcohol threw a wrench in the festivities. Not to be denied a night of revelry, some cadets set about smuggling in liquor from nearby taverns for the holiday party. One of the cadets was Jefferson Davis, future president of the Confederacy. Jefferson had a history of bad behavior with alcohol. A member of the class of 1828, he was the first student to be arrested for going to Benny Haven, one of two taverns located near West Point and the only one which allowed students to barter for alcohol. Another time, Davis was reportedly so drunk that he fell down a 60-foot ravine. He wasn’t one to shy away from a good party, and was enthusiastically on board with the other cadets’ plan to bring booze to the holiday party.

Thayer’s ban on alcohol didn’t extend past the boundaries of the academy, and various watering holes still existed outside the confines of West Point. The most popular of these, Benny Haven’s Tavern, is still immortalized in a mural on the mess hall’s wall. At Benny Haven’s, cadets could barter blankets and shoes for booze, though the bartering of anything from the school was off limits. When Edgar Allan Poe attended West Point, he reportedly spent most of his time at Benny Haven’s. Before 1826, another tavern existed on the property directly behind West Point. North’s Tavern, as it was called, was so close to the academy that it often enticed cadets–Thayer dealt with this temptation by purchasing the property and turning the tavern into a hospital.

Benny Haven’s proved too expensive to supply the amounts of liquor the cadets wanted to bring to the holiday party. Instead, several nights before Christmas, three cadets crossed the Hudson River to the the east bank to procure whiskey from the area’s other tavern, Martin’s Tavern. After imbibing a few glasses themselves, the cadets took the contraband booze back across the river to the academy. At the dock, they found an enlisted solider standing guard, but paid the man 35 cents for him to turn his back while they unloaded their cargo. The containers of alcohol were then stored among the cadets’ private possessions, hidden until the night of Christmas–a total of three or four gallons of whiskey.

Thayer was strict, but he wasn’t dense. Cadets had smuggled alcohol into the academy before, and those situations had been dealt with on an individual basis. He assumed that, with the holidays, there would be similar incidents–in fact, he discussed such a possibility with colleagues at a small party the night before. But Thayer took nothing more than standard precautions, assigning the same two officers–Captain Ethan Allen Hitchcock and Lieutenant William A. Thorton–to monitor the North Barracks.

When Thorton and Hitchcock went to bed around midnight, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. Four hours later, Hitchcock awoke to the sound of rowdy boys a few floors above him. Crashing the party, he found six or seven cadets, visibly inebriated. He ordered them to disperse back to their rooms, and turned to leave. Before he could return to his own quarters, however, Hitchcock heard the sound of another party happening in the adjoining bedroom. When he entered, he found another two drunk cadets, attempting to hide under a blanket. A third cadet, also drunk, refused to show his face, using a hat as a makeshift mask. As Hitchcock continued to demand the cadet reveal his identity, a few angry words were exchanged–enough to enrage other cadets nearby, who shouted: “Get your dirks and bayonets…and pistols if you have them. Before this night is over, Hitchcock will be dead!”

Spurred by alcohol-fortified courage, the Egg Nog Riot was off and running. Soon enough, Hitchcock heard a commotion coming from floors below, seemingly larger and rowdier than the party he had broken up upstairs. On his way to intervene, he ran into a drunken Jefferson Davis, who burst into the room along with Hitchcock and announced with terrible timing: “Put away the grog boys! Captain Hitchcock’s coming!” Hitchcock, of course, was already there, and ordered Davis, who would eventually become famous for his exploits in the Mexican-American War, back to his room–Davis complied, saving himself from a court martial.

Other cadets were not as accommodating in their drunken state. Thorton, in his own attempt to break up gatherings, had a cadet threaten him with his sword–another cadet actually hit Thorton with a piece of wood, knocking him down. Things weren’t going much better for Hitchcock. As he attempted to break down a barricaded door, a cadet pulled a pistol out, attempting to shoot him. Another cadet jostled him as he shot, sending the bullet harmlessly into the door jamb, but the encounter was enough to convince Hitchcock that he needed some backup.

Hitchcock found a cadet relief sentinel, and told him to “bring the ‘com here.” By “‘com,” Hitchcock meant Commandant of Cadets, but rumors quickly spread throughout the barrack that Hitchcock was summoning the “bombardiers,” the cadets’ nickname for regular artillery men also stationed at West Point. The cadets hated the artillery men, and they viewed Hitchcock’s summoning of them as an affront to their integrity. Cadets in the North Barracks began taking up arms in an attempt to defend the building from the artillery men. Violence within the barracks escalated, as cadets smashed crockery and windows and broke furniture.

The artillery men, of course, never came, and slowly but surely, the drunken mob began to sober up. Eventually, Commandant of Cadets William Worth arrived on the scene. His authority was enough to put the Egg Nog Riot to rest for good.

The cadets’ night of drunken holiday chaos didn’t end Christmas morning, however. Out of around 260 cadets, as many as 90 could have been indicted from the night’s events. Instead of indicting all of them, which would have reflected poorly on the academy by reenforcing its image of an anarchic place, Thayer chose to deal with only the most aggressive offenders, expelling 19 cadets. Jefferson Davis managed to escape the evening unscathed, as did his future general Robert E. Lee, who was also a student at West Point during the riot.

None of the buildings from the Egg Nog riot remain on West Point’s present day campus, but the riots did have a lasting impact on the campus’ architecture. In the 1840s, when new barracks were built, they included short hallways that required cadets to go exit the building entirely in order to access another floor. Only one of these barracks is still standing.

“When they built those, they put in a measure of crowd control,” Fleek says. “It would make it more difficult for cadets to get out of hand and gather in large number.”

West Point no longer has a grand holiday celebration, and where there are parties, access to alcohol is extremely limited, so the odds of rowdy cadets drinking too much of the good stuff remains the stuff of legend.

24 December 1974

Cyclone Tracy devastates in Australia.

IT’S CHRISTMAS EVE, 1974. Rain had been falling heavily from about lunchtime and the wind strength had picked up during the day. The residents of Darwin were busy being cheerful.

Radio announcements about an incoming tropical cyclone could be heard, but faded into the background, drowned out by the crinkling sounds of present wrapping and the delicious smell of Christmas food.

It wasn’t until the dark of midnight, on Christmas day, 25 December 1974, that Cyclone Tracy really began to make an impact. In the seven hours it took for the cyclone to pass over Darwin roughly 70 per cent of the small capital city was destroyed.

Up to 71 people were killed in the chaos, 16 of them lost at sea. A bill of $500-600 million dollars was also racked up, as planes, cars, powerlines and structures were whipped across streets destroying buildings and infrastructure.

Cyclone Tracy’s path
Cyclone Tracy was just an unnamed weak tropical low about 700km north-east of Darwin on 10 December when it was first detected. Eleven days later the low developed into a cyclone that wasn’t moving directly towards Darwin.

Today it’s widely suggested that an earlier cyclone, Selma, had also left Darwin with a false sense of security. The Category 2 cyclone had been on course for the city in early in December, but skirted the coastline, only touching Darwin with wind lashings and rain.

The last significant storm event to hit Darwin before Tracy had been a Category 3 or 4 cyclone in March 1937, almost 40 years before.

On December 24, at midnight, Tracy changed direction and moved around Bathurst Island headed straight towards Darwin.

The first cyclone warning was issued at 12.30pm and the storm made landfall at just after midnight that evening. Winds reached their known peak at 3:05am at 217km/h, before the only recording device was destroyed.

The electricity in Darwin failed entirely at around 3.30am. At 4am the eye of the cyclone, measuring 8km in diameter, passed across the city. All essential services including power, communication, water and sewerage went down.

Theoretical calculations based on based on the central pressure of the cyclone suggested the wind would have peaked at 280km/h. These winds tore the small town apart. Adding to the impact, Tracy only crept along at 10km/h, hovering over the city for several hours.

In a 1999 story by the ABC’s ‘7:30 Report’, Mike Hayes, a former ABC journalist, described the sound as like “the whole world screeching; a giant’s fingers on every blackboard in the world, as all this rubbish just slowly took off and scraped along the surface of the road.”

Tracy would eventually be classed as a Category 4 cyclone, in a range from 1 to 5. It’s still considered Australia’s most damaging cyclone to date.

After its catastrophic passage, roughly 30,000 people were left homeless and only 6 per cent of the houses were considered more-or-less intact (apart from their windows).

Between 26 and 31 December, a total of 35,362 people were evacuated from Darwin by civilian and military aircraft, while others drove away with their own vehicles.

Roughly 10,500 stayed to help clean up the city. The Aussies pulled together and less than 24 hours after the catastrophic event, the tiny population of the second-largest city in the Northern Territory, Alice Springs, raised over $100,000 worth roughly $700,000 today to assist the victims of Darwin.

In February 1975, then-prime minister Gough Whitlam announced the creation of the Darwin Reconstruction Commission.

It rebuilt key infrastructure and many homes between 1974 and 1978, and city grew with the arrival of construction workers and their families. By 1975 the population had already recovered to roughly 30,000.

The reconstruction of Darwin officially wound up in mid-1978, by which time it could again house its pre-Tracy population numbers. However, it was a city that looked very different.

“A lot of the old buildings in Darwin in 1974 were constructed in what we would call Queenslander style, where the main body of the house is elevated and underneath you would put the car or the rumpus room in or something like that,” says Kevin Walsh, an associate professor at the School of Earth Sciences at the University of Melbourne.

“The problem with those houses is that they don’t hold particularly well during tropical cyclones. The types of buildings that were built after that were much lower set.”