Anniversaries mark the passage of time, recall our triumphs, and honor our losses. Two thousand twenty-one witnessed many significant anniversaries: the centennial anniversary of the dedication of the tomb of the unknown soldier, the seventy-fifth anniversary of Winston Churchill’s Iron Curtain speech, and the fiftieth anniversary of the publishing of the Pentagon Papers, to name a few. Two thousand twenty-two will also see anniversaries of many significant events in history. Here are ten to note:
Fiftieth Anniversary of Nixon’s Trip to China, February 21, 1972. President Richard Nixon said his trip to China in February 1972 was “the week that changed the world.” He wasn’t exaggerating. The visit was the first by an American president to the People’s Republic of China. It was made all the more remarkable by Nixon’s reputation as a staunch anti-communist. The trip was arranged seven months earlier when National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger secretly visited China. After Nixon deplaned in Beijing, Americans watched on television as he and the first lady toured various cultural sites, thereby getting their first glimpse of life behind the so-called Bamboo Curtain. In private, U.S. and Chinese officials hammered out the final details of the Shanghai Communiqué, which they had begun negotiating months earlier. Issued at the end of Nixon’s trip, it stressed that both countries sought a “normalization of relations” and that “neither should seek hegemony in the Asia–Pacific region,” while it finessed the question of Taiwan’s future. The communiqué stated China’s view that “Taiwan is a province of China” and reaffirmed the U.S. “interest in a peaceful settlement of the Taiwan question by the Chinese themselves.” Nixon assured Mao privately that the United States wouldn’t encourage Taiwanese independence. Nixon’s trip did not establish formal U.S. diplomatic relations with China. That would come seven years later under President Jimmy Carter. But Nixon’s visit did open a new era in the complex relationship between two of the world’s most influential countries.
Seventy-Fifth Anniversary of the Truman Doctrine, March 12, 1947. In late February 1947, Britain informed the United States it could no longer afford to provide aid to Greece and Turkey. President Harry Truman recognized that the decision might lead to geopolitical disaster—the Soviet Union would likely fill the vacuum Britain was creating. Determined to thwart Moscow, Truman decided to pick up the baton Britain was dropping. But doing so required persuading Americans, and a Republican-controlled Congress looking to cut federal spending, that the United States should give taxpayer dollars to foreign countries. Senator Arthur Vandenberg (R-MI), chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told Truman privately that Republicans would support him if he could gain public support, but added that to do so Truman had to “scare the hell out of the American people.” Knowing that the case for foreign aid required “the greatest selling job ever facing a president,” Truman went before Congress on March 12, 1947. He outlined the threat facing the United States and declared: “It must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.” The public was persuaded. In May, Congress voted by wide margins to appropriate the funds Truman had requested. By embracing what became known as the Truman Doctrine, the United States broke with its traditional reluctance to become entangled in events outside the Western Hemisphere and began to assume the responsibility of global leadership.
Fiftieth Anniversary of the Signing of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, May 26, 1972. As the Soviet Union and the United States developed nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) in the 1960s, both sides also sought to build systems to shoot down incoming ICBMs. The appeal of missile defense is obvious: it can potentially defeat or mitigate a missile attack. But it also can make an attack more likely. If a country develops an effective defense, the opposing side might see its only hope for survival to lie in attacking first, before any of its missiles can be destroyed. The fear that missile defenses might be destabilizing in a crisis, along with concerns about cost and effectiveness, led the Soviet Union and the United States to sign the Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty in 1972. It permitted each country to construct two ground-based defensive missile sites—later reduced to one—with each limited to one hundred interceptors. However, the missile defense idea didn’t die with the adoption of the ABM Treaty. President Ronald Reagan’s 1983 Star Wars speech led to renewed missile defense research as part of the Strategic Defense Initiative. On June 13, 2002, President George W. Bush withdrew the United States from the ABM Treaty to allow the United States to deploy missile defenses. The United States has spent more than $200 billion on missile defense since 1985, though the effectiveness of the resulting systems is questionable. Meanwhile, China and Russia are building hypersonic missiles designed to evade U.S. missile defenses.
Seventy-Fifth Anniversary of the Marshall Plan, June 5, 1947. One of the most consequential foreign policy speeches in American history was delivered in less than eleven minutes at a college commencement ceremony. When Secretary of State George C. Marshall arrived at Harvard Yard on June 5, 1947, initial postwar optimism had given way to the grinding challenges of rebuilding Europe—and staving off communist expansion. The United States weeks earlier had committed to giving Greece and Turkey $400 million in aid. However, Truman administration officials believed that a comprehensive reconstruction plan for all of Europe was needed. Working feverishly to develop the plan, they decided that Harvard University’s upcoming commencement ceremony provided an ideal opportunity to unveil their idea. Speaking to a 15,000-person crowd with no media present, Marshall proposed a plan as bold as it was simple: the United States would help rebuild war-torn Europe if Europeans agreed to develop a plan for reconstruction. The offer even extended to the Soviet Union and its allies. Was Marshall soft on communism? No. He knew that any proposal to aid communist governments would be dead on arrival on Capitol Hill. But he calculated, correctly, that Joseph Stalin would reject the offer. Congress turned the Marshall Plan into law, and Europe’s reconstruction took off. The Marshall Plan has been rightly called “the most effective program the United States launched during the entire Cold War.” In 1953, Marshall was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for the plan that rebuilt Europe.
Twenty-Fifth Anniversary of the Handover of Hong Kong, July 1, 1997. In 1984, British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher and Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang struck an historic agreement for Hong Kong to be returned to China. Britain gained control of Hong Kong in 1841 in the midst of the First Opium War. The territory’s boundaries were expanded in 1860 and again in 1898, when China was compelled to lease Hong Kong to Britain for ninety-nine years. Reclaiming lost Chinese territory was a priority for the Communist Chinese once they came to power. Negotiations began in 1982. The 1984 deal called for sovereignty to be transferred on July 1, 1997. On that day, Hong Kong reverted to Chinese rule as a Special Administrative Region under the “one country, two systems” policy. To secure British agreement, China agreed that Hong Kong could maintain its free-market system for fifty years. For more than two decades, the Hong Kong Basic Law entitled the city’s residents to freedoms denied to those living in mainland China. But Beijing eventually sought to assert more control over Hong Kong. That triggered pro-democracy protests, including one in June 2019 that saw more than one million people march against a bill to permit extraditions to mainland China. Beijing responded by asserting its right to interpret the Basic Law. In 2020, it imposed a national security law that has since been used to jail pro-democracy activists and to shutter pro-democracy media outlets. The days of “one country, two systems” look to be numbered.
Seventy-Fifth Anniversary of the Publication of the “Mr. X” Article in Foreign Affairs, July 1, 1947. The title of the third article in the July 1947 issue of Foreign Affairs—“The Sources of Soviet Conduct”—wasn’t remarkable. But the name of the author was: “X.” It was a pseudonym for a little known State Department official named George Kennan. Sixteen months earlier, while serving as the U.S. charge d’affaires in Moscow, he had sent a lengthy cable to the State Department explaining why Soviet leader Joseph Stalin had given a fiery speech in which he spoke of the wartime alliance with the United States as a thing of the past. Kennan’s 5,000-word missive, now known as the Long Telegram, argued that U.S. policy toward the Soviet Union had erroneously assumed that offering incentives would persuade the Kremlin to be more cooperative. To the contrary, Kennan wrote, powerful internal dynamics drove Soviet behavior, and “as a result, only the threat of force could limit or alter Soviet ambitions.” In “The Sources of Soviet Conduct,” Kennan refined and extended his argument, writing that the “main element of any United States policy toward the Soviet Union must be that of a long-term, patient but firm and vigilant containment of Russian expansive tendencies.” The doctrine of containment would guide U.S. foreign policy for the next four decades. Kennan, however, disliked how his intellectual handiwork was implemented, believing that successive U.S. administrations gave it a more belligerent and militaristic twist than he had intended.
Fiftieth Anniversary of the Munich Olympic Massacre, September 5, 1972. The 1972 Olympic Games, the first hosted by Germany since the end of World War II, were billed as the “Peaceful Games.” Sadly, they weren’t. Early on September 5, ten days after the opening ceremony began the games, eight members of the Black September terrorist group broke into the Israeli team’s quarters in the Olympic Village. They killed two Israelis immediately and took nine others hostage. In return for the release of the athletes, the terrorists demanded that 234 Palestinians be freed from Israeli jails, that two members of the Red Army Faction terrorist organization be freed from German prisons, and that they all be given safe passage to the Middle East. On the evening of September 5, believing that German authorities had given into their demands, the terrorists agreed to be transported to Fürstenfeldbruck Air Base west of Munich along with their hostages. When they arrived at the base, German police launched a badly planned and executed rescue attempt. All nine Israeli hostages were killed, as were five terrorists and one German police officer. The games were postponed for thirty-four hours and a memorial service was held for the slain athletes. The Israeli government later launched a clandestine operation, dubbed “Wrath of God,” to kill those responsible for the Munich Olympic Massacre. For years the victims’ families lobbied the International Olympic Committee to remember their loved ones during the Olympics’ opening ceremony. That finally happened at the 2021 Tokyo Olympics.
Centennial of the Founding of Foreign Affairs Magazine, September 15, 1922. When the Council on Foreign Relations was founded in 1921, discussion turned almost immediately to publishing a journal. On September 15, 1922, Foreign Affairs debuted at just $1.25 a copy. The editorial statement that opened the issue laid out the magazine’s mission: “to promote the discussion of current questions of international interest and to serve as the natural medium for the expression of the best thought.” In doing so, the magazine vowed it “will not devote itself to the support of any one cause, however worthy …. Its articles will not represent any consensus of beliefs. What is demanded of them is that they shall be competent and well informed, representing honest opinions seriously held and convincingly expressed.” For one hundred years now, successive Foreign Affairs editors have adhered to that promise. The list of contributors to the magazine is long and illustrious. They include Madeleine Albright, W.E.B. DuBois, Samuel Huntington, Henry Kissinger, Margaret Mead, Leon Trotsky, and numerous presidents and prime ministers. The magazine’s articles have shaped the foreign policy debate at home and abroad, most famously with the publication of the “X” article. As technology has evolved so too has Foreign Affairs. The print magazine, which is now published six times a year, has been joined by a website and a mobile app that post new material daily. What has remained constant is the commitment to publish the best work on pressing foreign policy issues.
Centennial of the End of the Ottoman Empire, November 1, 1922. Nothing lasts forever. Not even history-defining empires. The Ottoman Empire is a case in point. Its origin dates back to 1299 when Osman I, from whom the empire gets its name, gained control of a principality in Anatolia. A century-and-a-half later, Mehmed II accomplished the unthinkable. He captured Constantinople—modern day Istanbul—ending the thousand-year reign of the Byzantine Empire and earning the sobriquet “the Conqueror.” The empire reached its height in the early sixteenth century under the rule of Suleiman the Magnificent; its boundaries ran from modern-day Yemen in the south to Austria in the north, and from the Persian Gulf in the east to Algeria in the west. In 1683, Ottoman forces were turned back at the gates of Vienna. Over the next two centuries, the empire’s prosperity and influence declined, and its borders shrank as a result. By the late nineteenth century it was the “Sick Man of Europe,” preyed upon by some European powers and propped up by others. When World War I began in 1914, the Ottomans sided with the Central Powers. In the midst of the war, the Ottomans targeted Armenians living in the empire, killing more than one million of them either directly or through forced marches. The Ottoman Empire surrendered to the Allied Powers in October 1918 by signing the Armistice of Mudros. Four years later, Turkey’s Grand National Assembly abolished the Sultanate, officially ending the Ottoman Empire.
Centennial of the Establishment of the Soviet Union. December 30, 1922. The 1917 Russian Revolution ended nearly four hundred years of rule by the Tsars and triggered a three-year-long civil war. Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks emerged triumphant, with control over Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and the Transcaucasian Federation, which would later be divided up into the republics of Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Armenia. In December 1922, delegates from all four entities gathered in Moscow for the Congress of Soviets. On December 30, they adopted the Declaration of the Creation of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics and the Treaty of the Creation of the Soviet Union, which officially created the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). In theory, the legislatures of each of the four constituent republics was entitled to review the text of the treaty before providing their official approval. The treaty was never discussed again, however. The USSR eventually came to encompass fifteen republics, forming the world’s largest country in terms of area. It triumphed over Nazi Germany at a horrific cost—more than twenty million Soviets died in World War II—and during the four-decade-long Cold War it rivaled the United States as a global superpower. The USSR’s sclerotic economic and political systems ultimately proved to be its undoing. With the fall of the Berlin Wall 1989, its domination of Eastern Europe collapsed and the Soviet republics began demanding their independence. On Christmas Day 1991, Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev announced the USSR’s dissolution. It had lasted sixty-nine years.
Other anniversaries in 2022. January 30 is the fiftieth anniversary of Bloody Sunday in Derry, Northern Ireland. February 17 marks seventy-five years since Voice of America began to broadcast to the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe. March 14 marks ten years since the International Criminal Court found Congolese warlord Thomas Lubanga guilty of war crimes for using child soldiers. April 29 is the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Chemical Weapons Convention entering into force. May 3 marks seventy-five years since Japan’s post-war constitution went into effect. June 24 marks ten years since Mohamed Morsi won Egypt’s first free and fair democratic presidential election. July 26 marks the seventy-fifth anniversary of President Truman signing the National Security Act, which among other things created the National Security Council, the Department of Defense, and the Central Intelligence Agency. August 31 is the twenty-fifth anniversary of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, in a car crash in Paris. September 11 marks ten years since the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. October 28 is the centennial of Benito Mussolini’s March on Rome. November 29 marks seventy-five years since the UN General Assembly voted 33 to 13 to partition Palestine. December 11 marks twenty-five years since the UN adopted the Kyoto Protocol.
On the lighter side. January 11 is the centennial of the first time Insulin was used to treat diabetes. February 5 marks ten years since the New York Giants won Super Bowl XLVI, or what New England Patriots fans refer to as “Agony Bowl II.” March 15 is the fiftieth anniversary of the premiere of The Godfather. April 15 marks seventy-five years since Jackie Robinson became the first Black man to play Major League Baseball. May 2 marks seventy-five years since the premiere of Miracle on 34th Street. June 20 marks ten years since LeBron James won his first NBA Championship as the Miami Heat defeated the Oklahoma Thunder in five games. July 2 is the twenty-fifth anniversary of the premiere of Men in Black. August 9 marks ten years since Usain Bolt became the first person to win the 100/200 meter double in consecutive Summer Olympics. September 27 is the bicentennial of the deciphering of the Rosetta Stone. October 14 marks seventy-five years since Chuck Yeager became the first person to fly faster than the speed of sound. November 4 is the centennial of Howard Carter’s discovery of King Tutankhamun’s tomb. December 19 marks twenty-five years since the premiere of Titanic, the third highest grossing film of all-time.
Charlotte Peterson and Anna Shortridge assisted in the preparation of this post.
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