01
Sep
08

On This Day, 9-1-2008: World War II Begins

Germans invade Poland

At 4:45 a.m., some 1.5 million German troops invade Poland all along its 1,750-mile border with German-controlled territory. Simultaneously, the German Luftwaffe bombed Polish airfields, and German warships and U-boats attacked Polish naval forces in the Baltic Sea. Nazi leader Adolf Hitler claimed the massive invasion was a defensive action, but Britain and France were not convinced. On September 3, they declared war on Germany, initiating World War II.

“Germans invade Poland.” 2008. The History Channel website. 1 Sep 2008, 05:44 http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history.do?action=tdihArticleCategory&id=7007.

On This Day

1799 – The Bank of Manhattan Company opened in New York City, NY. It was the forerunner of Chase Manhattan.

1807 – Former U.S. Vice President Aaron Burr was found innocent of treason.

1859 – The Pullman sleeping car was placed into service.

1894 – A forest fire in Hinckley, MN, killed more than 400 people.

1923 – About 100,000 people were killed when an earthquake hit Tokyo and Yokohama, Japan.

1942 – A federal judge in Sacramento, CA, upheld the wartime detention of Japanese-Americans as well as Japanese nationals.

1969 – Col. Moammar Gadhafi came into power in Libya after the government was overthrown.

1972 – America’s Bobby Fischer beat Russia’s Boris Spassky to become world chess champion. The chess match took place in Reykjavik, Iceland.

1979 – The U.S. Pioneer 11 became the first spacecraft to visit Saturn.

1983 – A Soviet jet fighter shot down a Korean Air Lines Boeing 747 when it entered Soviet airspace. 269 people were killed.

King George refuses Olive Branch Petition

Richard Penn and Arthur Lee, representing the Continental Congress, present the so-called Olive Branch Petition to the Earl of Dartmouth on this day in 1775. Britain’s King George III, however, refused to receive the petition, which, written by John Dickinson, appealed directly to the king and expressed hope for reconciliation between the colonies and Great Britain.

Dickinson, who hoped desperately to avoid a final break with Britain, phrased colonial opposition to British policy this way: “Your Majesty’s Ministers, persevering in their measures, and proceeding to open hostilities for enforcing them, have compelled us to arm in our own defense, and have engaged us in a controversy so peculiarly abhorrent to the affections of your still faithful Colonists, that when we consider whom we must oppose in this contest, and if it continues, what may be the consequences, our own particular misfortunes are accounted by us only as parts of our distress.”

By phrasing their discontent this way, Congress attempted to notify the king that American colonists were unhappy with ministerial policy, not his own. They then concluded their plea with a final statement of fidelity to the crown: “That your Majesty may enjoy long and prosperous reign, and that your descendants may govern your Dominions with honor to themselves and happiness to their subjects, is our sincere prayer.”

By July 1776, though, the Declaration of Independence proclaimed something very different: “The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States.” In fact, Congress insisted that Thomas Jefferson remove any language from the declaration that implicated the people of Great Britain or their elected representatives in Parliament. The fundamental grounds upon which Americans were taking up arms had shifted. The militia that had fired upon Redcoats at Lexington and Concord in April 1775 had been angry with Parliament, not the king, who they still trusted to desire only good for all of his subjects around the globe. This belief changed after Congress learned that King George refused to so much as receive the Olive Branch Petition.

Americans had hoped that Parliament had curtailed colonial rights without the king’s full knowledge, and that the petition would cause him to come to his subjects’ defense. When George III refused to read the petition, many Americans realized that Parliament was acting with royal knowledge and support. Americans’ patriotic rage was further intensified by the January 1776 publication by English-born radical Thomas Paine of Common Sense, an influential pamphlet that attacked the monarchy, which Paine claimed had allowed “crowned ruffians” to “impoverish the nation and set it together by the ears.”

“King George refuses Olive Branch Petition.” 2008. The History Channel website. 1 Sep 2008, 05:45 http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history.do?action=Article&id=50884.

Soldier recounts brush with poison gas

On this day in 1917, American soldier Stull Holt writes a letter home recounting some of his battlefield experiences on the Western Front at Verdun, France.

Born in New York City in 1896, Holt served during World War I as a driver with the American Ambulance Field Service. He later joined the American Air Service, receiving his pilot commission as a first lieutenant.

“Dear Lois,” Holt began his letter, written while he was in Paris on leave, “enjoying the luxuries of life including ice cream, sheets, cafes and things.” The bulk of Holt’s letter discussed his experiences at the fortress city of Verdun, where French and German troops had battled for an excruciating 10 months in 1916 and where fighting continued throughout the following year. “The French have a saying to the effect that no one comes out of Verdun the same. As the fighting is stiff there always the statement is probably true for all times, it certainly is true of Verdun during an attack. It would take a book to tell about all that happened there and when I try to write, little incidents entirely unconnected come to my mind so I don’t know where or how to begin.”

Holt described the ruined countryside and villages around Verdun, as well as the sights—and stench—of constant battle. “Besides the desolation visible to the eye there was the desolation visible to the nose. You could often see old bones, boots, clothing and things besides lots of recent ones.” The letter’s most vivid passage, however, recounted his own experiences under fire, including an incident in which he was struck by a shell containing poisonous gas.

“Something hit me on the head, making a big dent in my helmet and raising a bump on my head. If it hadn’t been for my helmet my head would have been cracked. As it was I was dazed, knocked down and my gas mask knocked off. I got several breathes [sic] of the strong solution right from the shell before it got diluted with much air. If it hadn’t been for the fellow with me I probably wouldn’t be writing this letter because I couldn’t see, my eyes were running water and burning, so was my nose and I could hardly breathe. I gasped, choked and felt the extreme terror of the man who goes under in the water and will clutch at a straw. The fellow with me grabbed me and led me the hundred yards or so to the post where the doctor gave me a little stuff and where I became alright again in a few hours except that I was a little intoxicated from the gas for a while. I had other close calls but that was the closest and shook me up most. I think the hardest thing I did was to go back again alone the next night. I had to call myself names before I got up nerve enough.”

Holt’s letters were later published in The Great War at Home and Abroad: The World War I Diaries and Letters of W. Stull Holt (1999).

“Soldier recounts brush with poison gas.” 2008. The History Channel website. 1 Sep 2008, 05:50 http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history.do?action=Article&id=50854

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