Anniversaries mark the passage of time, recall our triumphs, and honor our losses. Two thousand twenty-three witnessed many significant anniversaries: the fiftieth anniversary of the Paris Peace Accords, the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Berlin Airlift, the bicentennial of the Monroe Doctrine, and the two-hundred-fiftieth anniversary of the Boston Tea Party to name a few. Two thousand twenty-four will also see milestone anniversaries of significant historical events. Here are ten to note:
The Tenth Anniversary of Russia’s Seizure of Crimea, February 27, 2014. It is tempting to think that the war in Ukraine began on February 24, 2022, when Russia troops attacked Kyiv. But the war actually started eight years earlier when Russia seized Crimea. Russian President Vladimir Putin justified the land grab, the first forcible attempt to alter a European border since World War II, on the grounds that Crimea had been part of Russia from 1783 until Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev “gifted” it to Ukraine in 1954, and that it now needed to be saved from “far-right extremists” in Ukraine. The truth was that Putin felt threatened by Ukraine’s Maidan protests, which culminated on February 22, 2014, with Ukraine’s pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych fleeing the country. Five days later, unmarked Russian troops, aided by local paramilitary forces, seized Crimea and installed a pro-Kremlin government. That government quickly organized a referendum, held on March 16, to bless Crimea’s integration into Russia. The referendum, which did not give Crimeans the option to remain part of Ukraine, passed with more than 90 percent support. Two days later, Russia formally annexed the peninsula. The United Nations declared the move invalid. The United States and European countries imposed mild sanctions on Russia and kicked it out of the G-8 for the land grab and related seizure of territory in eastern Ukraine. But they took no further steps. Historians will long debate whether that supposedly measured response emboldened Putin eight years later.
The Twenty-fifth Anniversary of NATO’s Bombing Campaign Against Serbia, March 24-June 10, 1999. The collapse of Yugoslavia in the early 1990s ushered in rounds of horrifying ethnic conflict. After responding tepidly to ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, Western governments increasingly argued that they had a responsibility to stop mass atrocities. That fledgling idea got one of its first tests when NATO countries acted to halt Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic’s oppression of ethnic Albanian Muslim residents of the Serbian province of Kosovo who were seeking to preserve the autonomy they had enjoyed under the Yugoslav constitution. Serbian forces drove thousands of Kosovars from their homes, creating the largest instance of ethnic cleansing in Europe since World War II. In October 1998, NATO threatened to bomb Serbia unless the attacks stopped and Kosovars were allowed to return to their homes. That threat produced a ceasefire, but fighting soon resumed. In March 1999, Serbia rejected NATO’s proposal to dispatch 30,000 peacekeeping troops to Kosovo to guarantee the province’s autonomy. NATO’s bombing campaign began on March 24 and lasted seventy-eight days. The attacks killed two thousand Serbian civilians. A U.S. sortie struck the Chinese embassy in Belgrade, killing three Chinese journalists and raising tensions between Beijing and Washington. The bombing ended when Serbian forces left Kosovo. Critics argued that the campaign violated international law because the UN had not authorized it; defenders countered that the legitimacy of stopping ethnic cleansing outweighed any legal shortcomings. Tensions between Serbia and Kosovo, which declared its independence in 2008, remain high.
The Seventy-fifth Anniversary of the Creation of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), April 4, 1949. Any discussion of the most effective international organizations in history has to include NATO. Its formation wasn’t on anyone’s bingo card when World War II ended. The expectation both inside and outside the United States was that Americans would do what they had done after World War I: come home and turn inward. That was the early trend. The U.S. Army, for example, shrank from eight million men in arms in 1945 to fewer than 700,000 two years later. But the Soviet Union’s growing belligerence, which included initially refusing to withdraw troops from Iran, preventing free and fair elections in Poland, engineering the overthrow of Czechoslovakia’s democratic government, and blockading West Berlin, changed opinions in Washington and across the country. On June 11, 1948, the Senate overwhelmingly passed the Vandenberg Resolution, named after Republican Senator Arthur Vandenberg, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and a staunch isolationist who converted to internationalism after World War II. The resolution urged President Harry Truman to protect the United States by negotiating mutual defense agreements with other countries, a historic break with America’s longstanding aversion to entangling alliances. On April 4, 1949, the United States and eleven other countries signed the North Atlantic Treaty, creating NATO. The treaty’s core provision was Article 5, which today commits NATO’s thirty-one, soon to be thirty-two, member states to collective defense.
The Centennial of the Dawes Plan, April 9, 1924. Thumbnail histories of U.S. foreign policy typically have the United States turning its back on Europe after the Senate’s rejection of the Treaty of Versailles. But that pivot was slower than imagined, as the so-called Dawes Plan attests. It was a response to the crisis caused by Germany’s inability to pay the steep reparations demanded by World War I’s victors. Germany defaulted on its payments in January 1923. Belgium and France responded by occupying the Ruhr, the home of much of Germany’s industrial production. Both unwilling and unable to pay up, the German government encouraged passive resistance to the occupation. On its face, the crisis was a European affair. The United States cared little about German reparations. It wanted Britain and France to repay the money they had borrowed to fight the war. However, Germany’s inability to pay Britain and France limited their ability to pay their debts. To break the stalemate, the United States pushed for the creation of a Reparation Commission headed by Charles G. Dawes, a Chicago banker, who in deference to the political sensitivities at home operated as a private citizen rather than as a representative of the U.S. government. The Dawes Committee convened in Paris in early 1924 and eventually hammered out an agreement. The deal did not solve the reparations problem, but it ended the immediate crisis. Dawes’s success catapulted him to the vice presidency. It also earned him the 1925 Nobel Peace Prize.
The Centennial of the Enactment of the Immigration Act of 1924, May 26, 2024. U.S. immigration policy illustrates the saying that history may not rhyme, but it echoes. A century ago, immigration was a hot political topic and for the same reason as today: a multi-decade surge in immigrants arriving in the United States. The foreign-born share of the U.S. population in the early twentieth century stood at nearly 15 percent, a number that would not be rivalled until recently. The influx of immigrants fueled a political backlash that was openly racist, encouraged by the pseudo-science known as eugenics and its spurious notions of racial hierarchies. A joint House-Senate investigation known as the Dillingham Commission concluded in 1911, for example, that immigrants from Eastern and Southeastern Europe threatened America’s well-being because of their supposed inferiorities and inability to assimilate. Congress in 1917 barred immigration from much of the non-European world, essentially extending the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. A 1921 law imposed temporary numerical limits and country quotas on immigration. The Immigration Act of 1924 (or Johnson-Reed Act), which President Calvin Coolidge signed on May 26, tightened those caps and made them permanent. The law essentially sought to freeze the country’s 1924 ethnic composition in place. The law’s caps help explain why the foreign-born as a share of the U.S. population fell below 5 percent by 1970. The quota system remained in place until the passage of the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965.
The Fiftieth Anniversary of the Turkish Invasion of Cyprus, July 20, 1974. Conflicts are often easier to begin than to end, especially when they fall along ethnic lines. Cyprus offers a case in point. The context for Turkey’s invasion was that Cyprus, which became independent in 1960, had a Greek majority and a Turkish minority. The defining issue in Cypriot politics was enosis—the idea of unification with Greece. Many Greek Cypriots enthusiastically supported the idea; most Turkish Cypriots bitterly opposed it. On July 15, a coup engineered by Greece’s ruling military junta sought to force the issue by deposing Archbishop Makarios, Cyprus’s democratically elected president. U.S. efforts to forestall greater violence went nowhere. On July 20, Turkish troops invaded northern Cyprus. Ankara insisted that it was acting in accordance with the terms of the Treaty of Guarantee that governed Cyprus’s creation. Most other governments disagreed, arguing that the invasion violated that treaty as well as the UN Charter. A ceasefire went into effect on August 16 and a UN buffer zone, or “Green Line,” was created, leaving Turkish forces in control of 36 percent of the island. An estimated 160,000 Greek Cypriots fled to the south, while some 45,000 Turkish Cypriots fled north. In February 1975, Turkey declared northern Cyprus a "Federated Turkish State." In 1983, Turkish Cypriots declared themselves the independent Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC). The UN Security Council called the move “legally invalid.” Forty years later, Turkey remains the only country in the world to recognize the TRNC.
The Fiftieth Anniversary of Richard Nixon’s Resignation as President, August 9, 1974. American democracy was tested in the early 1970s when a sitting president tried to cover up a crime. Richard Nixon’s downfall began on June 17, 1972, when burglars were arrested in the Democratic National Committee’s headquarters in the Watergate Complex in Washington, DC. They weren’t run-of-the-mill crooks. One of them worked for Nixon’s reelection committee. Nixon ordered an internal investigation and quickly announced that the burglars had no White House ties. He went on to win a landslide victory that November. The burglary might have been forgotten but for the dogged reporting of two young Washington Post reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein. Helped by a whistleblower dubbed “Deep Throat”—he was identified in 2005 as Assistant FBI Director Mark Felt—their stories persuaded the Senate to establish a special investigatory committee in early 1973. The committee compelled White House officials to testify. One said that Nixon had approved a cover-up of the burglary; another revealed that Nixon taped his Oval Office conversations. Nixon fought a rear-guard action as evidence against him mounted, refusing to turn over the tapes, and in the Saturday Night Massacre, firing the special prosecutor he had appointed. It was all for naught. On July 25, 1974, the Supreme Court unanimously ordered Nixon to release the tapes. Three days later the House Judiciary Committee recommended his impeachment. Recognizing the inevitable, Nixon announced on August 8 that he would resign the next day. He remains the only president to resign from office.
The Two Hundred Fiftieth Anniversary of the First Continental Congress, September 5 to October 26, 1774. All revolutions have a starting point. The start of the American Revolution could be dated back to the meeting of the first Continental Congress. Delegates from every colony but Georgia assembled in Philadelphia to discuss how they should respond to the Intolerable (or Coercive) Acts, which the British parliament had imposed to punish the Massachusetts Bay Colony for the Boston Tea Party. (Georgia stayed home because it wanted British aid in its war against local Native Americans.) While the Intolerable Acts targeted Massachusetts, the other colonies understood that their liberty was also at stake. After five weeks of discussions, the Congress on October 14 issued a Declaration of Rights. It reaffirmed the colonies’ loyalty to Britain, laid out their case against the Intolerable Acts, and perhaps most importantly, declared that “the inhabitants of the English colonies in North America, by the immutable laws of nature, the principles of the English constitution, and the several charters or compacts, have the following RIGHTS,” among them, the right to life, liberty, and political representation. A week later the Congress adopted the Continental Association. It proposed to ban all trade with Britain if the Intolerable Acts were not repealed. The delegates, who included John Adams, Sam Adams, Patrick Henry, and George Washington, concluded the Congress by voting to meet again the following spring. By the time the Second Continental Congress opened in Philadelphia in May 1775, “the shot heard around the world” had already been fired.
The Tenth Anniversary of the Start of Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement, September 26, 2014. The impulse to self-government looks to be universal. But democratic movements often fail. Hong Kong’s Umbrella Movement offers a reminder on that score. The backdrop for the movement’s rise was a provision in the Basic Law that governed Britain’s 1997 handover of control of Hong Kong to the People’s Republic of China. The provision in question stated that Hong Kong’s chief executive would at some point be decided by “universal suffrage” and “in accordance with democratic procedures.” In 2007, Beijing decided that the promised election could be held in 2017. Then on August 31, 2104, Beijing announced that voters would get to choose from among two or three candidates chosen by a screening committee. Anger erupted over the decision, which sought to ensure that Hong Kong’s next chief executive would be loyal to Beijing. On September 26, students began demonstrating outside government offices. Two days later, tens of thousands of protesters flooded the streets of Hong Kong calling for the city’s incumbent chief executive to resign and demanding free elections. Many protestors carried umbrellas to protect themselves in the event the police used pepper spray or tear gas. The occupation of central Hong Kong continued until mid-December, when police finally cleared out the protestors. None of the protestors’ demands were met, and several of the movement’s leaders were jailed. In 2020, in the wake of renewed protests, Beijing imposed a new national security law that ended the Umbrella Movement—at least for now.
The Seventy-fifth Anniversary of the Establishment of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), October 1, 1949. Revolutions have ending points as well as starting points. The end of the Chinese Communist Revolution effectively came on October 1, 1949, when Mao Zedong proclaimed the formation of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). He made the announcement in Beijing’s famed Tiananmen Square in front of a crowd of two hundred thousand people. It was a proclamation that seemed improbable when the Chinese Civil War began twenty-two years earlier. In 1927, the far larger Kuomintang (KMT) movement turned on its former partner, the Communist Party of China (CPC) and tried to crush it. The KMT nearly succeeded. CPC forces lost nearly every early engagement in the first few years of fighting. Only the historic Long March in 1934 saved Mao and the CPC from the ash heap of history. World War II shifted events in favor of Mao’s forces. Chinese communist forces won public support for their guerilla war against the Japanese, while the KMT military took the brunt of Japan’s conventional attacks. U.S. support for the KMT after World War II failed to turn the tide, leading to Mao’s proclamation in Tiananmen Square. The Soviet Union, which provided critical support and guidance to the CPC during some of its most vulnerable moments, swiftly recognized the PRC as China’s legitimate government. The United States refused to do so until 1979, when President Jimmy Carter finally established diplomatic relations with the PRC.
Other anniversaries in 2024. January 20 is the seventy-fifth anniversary of President Harry Truman’s announcement of the Four Point Program, which proposed to provide technical assistance to developing countries. February 16 is the twenty-fifth anniversary of Turkish agents capturing Abdullah Ocalan, the head of the outlawed Kurdish Workers’ Party, in Nairobi, Kenya. March 8 marks ten years since Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 disappeared after departing from Kuala Lumpur Airport for Beijing, touching off an extensive search that failed to find wreckage of the plane, which is presumed to have crashed somewhere in the Indian Ocean. April 25 marks the fiftieth anniversary of Portugal’s Carnation Revolution in which left-leaning military officers overthrew the country’s authoritarian ruler, ended Portugal’s colonial rule and began the transition to Portuguese democracy. May 18 is the fiftieth anniversary of Operation Smiling Buddha, India’s first successful nuclear test and the first nuclear test by a country that was not permanent member of the UN Security Council. June 2 is the centennial of the passage of the Indian Citizenship Act, which gave citizenship to Native Americans born in the United States. July 3 is the seventy-fifth anniversary of the United States and the Soviet Union signing the Threshold Test Ban Treaty, which banned the test of nuclear weapons exceeding 150 kilotons. August 10 is the seventy-fifth anniversary of President Truman signing legislation that renamed the U.S. National Military Establishment the Department of Defense. September 18 is the tenth anniversary of Scottish voters rejecting a referendum that would have had Scotland leave the United Kingdom and become an independent country. October 12 marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of a coup led by Pakistani General Pervez Musharraf that overthrew the government of Prime Minister Sharif. November 22 is the twentieth anniversary of the beginning of protests in Ukraine that ushered in the Orange Revolution. December 31 marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of Boris Yeltsin’s decision to resign as president of Russia and yield power to Vladimir Putin.
On the lighter side. January 15 marks fifty years since Happy Days debuted on ABC, introducing Americans to Richie, Potsie, Ralph, and the unforgettable Fonzie. February 10 is the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Broadway premiere of Death of a Salesman, one of the classics of the American theatre. March 29 is the fiftieth anniversary of the discovery in Xian, China, of the Terracotta Warriors, which are more than 2,200 years old and constitute one of the world’s great archeological sites. April 4 is the fiftieth anniversary of Hank Aaron tying Babe Ruth’s record of 714 homeruns, a record that Aaron broke four days later. May 7 is the bicentennial of the premiere in Vienna of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, perhaps the greatest contribution ever to Western classical music. June is the seventy-fifth anniversary of the publication of George Orwell’s classic dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, which gave the English language terms such as “Big Brother,” “doublethink,” “memory hole,” and “Thought Police.” July 21 is the fiftieth anniversary of Eddy Merckx of Belgium winning his fifth Tour de France, breaking the record of four victories held by Jacques Anquetil. August 3 is the seventy-fifth anniversary of the creation of the National Basketball Association, now one of the most popular and profitable sports leagues in the world. September 28 marks the centennial of the completion of the first flight around the world, which took 175 days from start to finish. October 21 marks the twentieth anniversary of the completion of the greatest comeback in sports history, when the Boston Red Sox routed the New York Yankees ten to three to win Game Seven of the American League Championship Series after being down three games to none and trailing in the ninth inning of Game Four. November 27 is the centennial of the first Macy’s Day parade, which has delighted New Yorkers ever Thanksgiving Day since. December 1 is the centennial of the first time an American team played in the National Hockey League as the Boston Bruins defeated the Montreal Maroons by a score of two to one.
Sinet Adous and Luca Zislin assisted in the preparation of this post.
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