On the 7th August 1964, the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution was passed by the United States Congress. The joint resolution granted powers to President Lyndon B. Johnson to use military force to assist countries in Southeast Asia facing so-called “communist aggression”. Many critics of the war condemned Congress for granting Johnson a “blank cheque” to escalate American military involvement in the Vietnamese conflict. At the time, however, it passed unanimously through the House of Representatives and only two Senators opposed the resolution.
The Resolution was a response to the Gulf of Tonkin Incident that had taken place just a few days earlier, in which the North Vietnamese Navy was blamed for attacking US ships on two separate occasions. While it is accepted that the USS Maddox did exchange fire with three enemy torpedo boats on the 2nd August, the claim that it was attacked again on the 4th August is now known to be false.
Even at the time it was acknowledged that the second attack may not have actually happened. Captain John J. Herrick, the commander of the Maddox, had spent four hours firing at enemy ships picked up on radar. However, he sent a message just a few hours later saying that no enemy boats had actually been sighted and so the radar may have malfunctioned. However, the President was not informed of this before going on television to announce that US ships had been attacked. Johnson’s desire to retaliate led to the Resolution, and this in turn led to the USA escalating its involvement in the Vietnam War.
The Franco-Prussian War began with a declaration of war by the French emperor, Napoleon III.
The Franco-Prussian War marked the culmination of a long period of declining relations between France and the German state of Prussia. Prussia had defeated Austria in the Seven Weeks’ War three years previously, and France was concerned that the established balance of power within Europe was at risk.
In June 1870 Prince Leopold of Hohenzollern-Sigmaringen, a relative of King Wilhelm I of Prussia, was offered the vacant Spanish throne. Leopold accepted the offer, but Napoleon III complained that the appointment would mean France was surrounded by Prussian influence. In the face of France’s hostility, Wilhelm I persuaded Leopold to withdraw his candidacy.
Count Benedetti, the French Ambassador to Prussia, met Wilhelm shortly afterwards to demand a promise that the candidature would not be renewed. Wilhelm saw this as questioning his honour as a King, and refused to give the promise. He informed Bismarck of the meeting by telegram, and on 14 July the minister released an edited version – known as the Ems Telegram – in which he changed the tone of the conversation to give the impression that Wilhelm had offended the French Ambassador.
This pushed Napoleon, persuaded by the media and his wife, to declare war on Prussia on 19 July 1870. Prussia quickly secured the support of the South German states and, aided by superior military planning and rail links, mobilised quickly. France was defeated decisively within 4 weeks, and Emperor Napoleon III himself was taken prisoner. Although the Siege of Paris prolonged the conflict, the French government signed the Peace of Frankfurt in 1871.
The Pig War border confrontation began when Lyman Cutlar shot a British-owned pig on San Juan Island.
The archipelago of which San Juan Island is part lies between Washington State on the United States mainland and Vancouver, in what was then British North America. The 1846 Oregon Treaty had established a boundary along the 49th parallel along ‘the middle of the channel which separates the continent from Vancouver’s Island’. The problem was that San Juan Island itself lies in the middle of the channel, leading both countries to claim sovereignty over it.
By 1859 the British Hudson’s Bay Company had established a sheep ranch on the island. A small number of American settlers had also arrived under the terms of the Donation Land Claim Act, even though the ownership of the land was disputed.
On 15 June 1859 a free-roaming black pig owned by the Hudson Bay employee Charles Griffin began rooting through American settler Lyman Cutlar’s potato patch. Cutlar shot the pig. Although the exact details of what happened next are unclear, a number of sources claim that Cutlar offered $10 compensation while Griffin demanded $100. Whatever the truth, Griffin reported Cutlar to the British authorities who threatened to arrest him. In response the US General William S. Harney sent 66 soldiers from the 9th Infantry, which the British governor responded to by sending three British warships.
By 10 August a force of 461 Americans and five British ships with over 2,000 men were caught in a tense standoff. However, the arrival of British Rear Admiral Robert L. Baynes heralded a de-escalation of tensions after he refused to ‘involve two great nations in a war over a squabble about a pig.’ An international commission eventually ruled in 1872 that America should control the island.
On the 8th June 1972 one of the most iconic photographs of the Vietnam War was taken of Phan Thị Kim Phúc, a nine-year-old girl from the South Vietnamese village of Trang Bang. In the photograph, she is shown running away from a napalm attack, having stripped off her clothes after being severely burned.
The photograph, which went on to win a Pulitzer Prize, was taken by Nick Ut, a Vietnamese photographer for the Associated Press. He was one of number of press photographers who were with the group of fleeing civilians after the village had been bombed South Vietnamese planes. He took Kim Phúc and other injured children to a hospital in Saigon before delivering the film to be developed, and maintained contact with her throughout her recovery despite being told that her burns were so severe she was unlikely to survive.
The photograph was initially rejected by Associated Press due to the full-frontal nudity. However, the image was deemed to capture such a powerful news story that these concerns were put aside. When the picture appeared on the front page of the New York Times four days later, it had such a dramatic impact that President Nixon discussed with his chief of staff whether the shot had been ‘fixed’.
Kim Phúc stayed in hospital for 14-months, and underwent 17 surgical procedures and skin transplants before she was able to return home. However she did survive and – having sought political asylum in Canada during an aircraft refuelling stop on her honeymoon – she now lives in Ontario.
On the 23rd May 1915, Italy entered the First World War on the side of the Triple Entente and declared war on Austria-Hungary. Italy was actually Austria-Hungary’s ally under the terms of the Triple Alliance, but the Italian government had initially opted for neutrality before being persuaded to join with its theoretical opposition. Under the terms of the Triple Alliance, Italy was well within its rights not to provide military assistance to Germany and Austria-Hungary since the treaty was entirely defensive. Since Austria-Hungary had instigated hostilities against Serbia, Italy argued that the alliance was void.
Italy therefore remained neutral for the first nine months of the war. However, behind the scenes Prime Minister Antonio Salandra and his minister of Foreign Affairs, Sidney Sonnino, were investigating which side would be the best to join. In a secret agreement signed on 26th April in London, Italy agreed to leave the Triple Alliance, join the Triple Entente, and declare war on Austria-Hungary and Germany. Assuming they won, Italy would in return receive large areas of territory from the Central Powers such as Italian-populated areas of Austria-Hungary and in the region of the Adriatic Sea.
Italy duly entered the war against Austria-Hungary on 23rd May 1915. Despite superior numbers, the Italians struggled against Austria-Hungarians. However, they did emerge victorious and so Premier Vittorio Emanuele Orlando went as the Italian representative to the Paris Peace Conference. However, the offers of land were not as much as Italy had hoped for and so he left the Conference in a boycott.
On 29th April 1975, America began Operation Frequent Wind – the evacuation of over 1,000 American civilians and a further 6,000 “at-risk” Vietnamese from Saigon. The largest ever helicopter evacuation lasted for 19 hours and involved 81 helicopters shuttling the evacuees to US Navy ships moored in the South China Sea.
With North Vietnamese troops closing in on the capital by March 1975, the US had already evacuated 45,000 people by April 29th. However, with fixed-wing evacuations impossible due to the approaching army, US Ambassador Graham Martin ordered the commencement of Operation Frequent Wind. American Forces Radio made their pre-arranged signal “The temperature in Saigon is 105 degrees and rising”, and followed it by playing Bing Crosby singing White Christmas. The evacuation began at around 2pm.
The main muster point was the Defense Attaché Office, from where thousands of people were successfully airlifted in a relatively orderly manner. However, at the US Embassy thousands more people had gathered – considerably more than it would be possible to evacuate even with helicopters landing every 10 minutes.
With hundreds of eligible Vietnamese civilians still at the Embassy, at 3.27pm President Ford ordered Ambassador Martin to stop evacuating anyone other than American personnel. The Marines guarding the compound were ordered to move further inside, and shortly afterwards the crowds broke through the gates. The last of the Marines were flown out at 7.53am, leaving approximately 400 evacuees still inside the Embassy when it fell to the Communists.
On the 27th April 1509, Pope Julius II excommunicated the entire republic of Venice. Having been elected pontiff six years previously, Julius II was determined to reclaim Italian territory that had been gradually taken by Venice throughout the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries.
Having joined together with France, Spain, and the Holy Roman Empire to form the League of Cambrai in December 1508, the Papacy was ready to mount military action to seize control of the Romagne region from Venice. Shortly before invading, however, the Pope issued the interdict against the Republic that excommunicated every single one of its citizens.
The interdict deprived the Venetians of their spiritual salvation, and was therefore a formidable weapon. When Venetian forces were defeated at the Battle of Agnadello the following month, the Republic entered what was referred to by one contemporary as a ‘foul mood’.
Peace negotiations were concluded on February 24th the next year, at which point the interdict against Venice was lifted. France and the Holy Roman Empire, however, were keen to maintain their advance. Having underestimated his former allies, the Pope sought to stop the French advance that was threatening the Papal States. Amazingly he formed a new alliance with Venice and Spain, and placed France under papal interdict. By the time he died in 1513, Julius II had therefore fought and formed alliances with France, Spain, Venice and the Holy Roman Empire. That’s quite some diplomacy.
The Canadian Corps successfully captured Vimy Ridge in the First World War.
Vimy Ridge was a 7km ridge that had been held by the Germans since the Race to the Sea in 1914. French forces had made numerous attempts to seize the ridge over the next two years at the cost of approximately 150,000 casualties. However, due to the need to move French troops to Verdun, in October 1916 the position was taken over by the four divisions of the Canadian Corps.
By early 1917 the war had become one of attrition. Desperate to break the stalemate, French and British commanders planned a major offensive near the city of Arras to divert German forces from the main French offensive further south. The Canadians were tasked with seizing Vimy Ridge, which the Germans had heavily fortified.
The Canadian Corps under the command of Lieutenant-General Sir Julian Byng, and with the assistance of numerous British support units, carefully rehearsed their attack in the preceding weeks. They studied detailed maps and aerial photographs of the enemy lines, laid communication cables, dug a series of tunnels leading directly to the front lines, and stockpiled shells for the enormous artillery barrage that was to precede the assault.
Over 1 million shells were fired at the German lines for a week before the attack. Referred to by German troops as ‘the week of suffering’, the bombardment destroyed many of their defences and left them exhausted. At 5:30 am on 9 April the first wave of Canadian troops advanced behind a creeping artillery barrage through sleet and snow. They captured most of their objectives on the first day, and took control of the final target – a heavily fortified mound known as the Pimple – by nightfall on 12 April.
On the 2nd April 1982, the Falklands War began when Argentina launched an amphibious invasion of the Falkland Islands. The Argentine occupation ended 74 days later on the 14th June following a bitter conflict that killed over 900 people.
The Falkland Islands have long been the subject of a sovereignty dispute between Britain and Argentina. Argentina’s military government, led by General Galtieri, sought to use the country’s claim to the islands to boost patriotic feelings at home and draw attention away from criticisms of economic mismanagement and human rights abuses.
Despite increased tensions in the South Pacific following the raising of the Argentinian flag on the island of South Georgia two weeks earlier, Britain did not expect a military invasion of the Falkland Islands. The small garrison of British Marines were overwhelmed by the Argentine invasion on the 2nd April and the islands’ governor Rex Hunt surrendered. As the last Telex conversation from the Falklands to London stated at 4.30pm that day, “You can’t argue with thousands of troops plus enormous navy support when you are only 1800 strong.”
The next day the United Nations passed Resolution 502 which condemned the invasion and demanded an immediate withdrawal of all Argentine forces. However, on the 5th April the British Government, led by Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, ordered a naval task force that numbered more than 100 ships to retake the islands.
Bitter fighting eventually led to the Argentinian surrender, an outcome that further undermined the military government. Argentina’s 1983 general election returned the country to civilian rule, while in Britain Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative Party secured a landslide election victory.
On the 29th March 1973, the last American troops withdrew from South Vietnam. Taking place two months after the Paris Peace Accords were signed between the U.S., North Vietnam, South Vietnam and the Viet Cong, the final withdrawal ended eight years of direct American military involvement in Vietnam.
As the number of US troops sent to fight in Vietnam increased throughout the 1960s, opposition to the war similarly grew. By the spring of 1969 new President Richard Nixon, who had been elected the previous November, had begun to implement the Nixon Doctrine that is more commonly known as the policy of Vietnamization. This intended to “expand, equip, and train South Vietnam’s forces and assign to them an ever-increasing combat role, at the same time steadily reducing the number of U.S. combat troops.”
Pressure to quit Vietnam completely increased after news of the My Lai Massacre was broken on the 12th November. Troop withdrawals therefore continued, although the US began attacks on Cambodia and Laos in an attempt to flush out Viet Cong and disrupt their supply lines. This coincided with the killing by National Guardsmen of four student protesters at Kent State University which turned yet more people against the war.
Throughout this period Henry Kissinger took part in secret talks with the leadership of North Vietnam. Despite a number of setbacks, they signed the Paris Peace Accords on the 27th January. The last American troops withdrew on the 29th March, but the last American civilians didn’t leave South Vietnam until they were evacuated in Operation Frequent Wind during the North Vietnamese takeover of Saigon two years later.