Friday, March 30, 2012

This Day in History: Mar 30, 1981: President Reagan shot

On March 30, 1981, President Ronald Reagan is shot in the chest outside a Washington, D.C., hotel by a deranged drifter named John Hinckley Jr.

The president had just finished addressing a labor meeting at the Washington Hilton Hotel and was walking with his entourage to his limousine when Hinckley, standing among a group of reporters, fired six shots at the president, hitting Reagan and three of his attendants. White House Press Secretary James Brady was shot in the head and critically wounded, Secret Service agent Timothy McCarthy was shot in the side, and District of Columbia policeman Thomas Delahaney was shot in the neck. After firing the shots, Hinckley was overpowered and pinned against a wall, and President Reagan, apparently unaware that he'd been shot, was shoved into his limousine by a Secret Service agent and rushed to the hospital.

The president was shot in the left lung, and the .22 caliber bullet just missed his heart. In an impressive feat for a 70-year-old man with a collapsed lung, he walked into George Washington University Hospital under his own power. As he was treated and prepared for surgery, he was in good spirits and quipped to his wife, Nancy, ''Honey, I forgot to duck,'' and to his surgeons, "Please tell me you're Republicans." Reagan's surgery lasted two hours, and he was listed in stable and good condition afterward.

The next day, the president resumed some of his executive duties and signed a piece of legislation from his hospital bed. On April 11, he returned to the White House. Reagan's popularity soared after the assassination attempt, and at the end of April he was given a hero's welcome by Congress. In August, this same Congress passed his controversial economic program, with several Democrats breaking ranks to back Reagan's plan. By this time, Reagan claimed to be fully recovered from the assassination attempt. In private, however, he would continue to feel the effects of the nearly fatal gunshot wound for years.

Of the victims of the assassination attempt, Secret Service agent Timothy McCarthy and D.C. policeman Thomas Delahaney eventually recovered. James Brady, who nearly died after being shot in the eye, suffered permanent brain damage. He later became an advocate of gun control, and in 1993 Congress passed the "Brady Bill," which established a five-day waiting period and background checks for prospective gun buyers. President Bill Clinton signed the bill into law.

After being arrested on March 30, 1981, 25-year-old John Hinckley was booked on federal charges of attempting to assassinate the president. He had previously been arrested in Tennessee on weapons charges. In June 1982, he was found not guilty by reason of insanity. In the trial, Hinckley's defense attorneys argued that their client was ill with narcissistic personality disorder, citing medical evidence, and had a pathological obsession with the 1976 film Taxi Driver, in which the main character attempts to assassinate a fictional senator. His lawyers claimed that Hinckley saw the movie more than a dozen times, was obsessed with the lead actress, Jodie Foster, and had attempted to reenact the events of the film in his own life. Thus the movie, not Hinckley, they argued, was the actual planning force behind the events that occurred on March 30, 1981.

The verdict of "not guilty by reason of insanity" aroused widespread public criticism, and many were shocked that a would-be presidential assassin could avoid been held accountable for his crime. However, because of his obvious threat to society, he was placed in St. Elizabeth's Hospital, a mental institution. In the late 1990s, Hinckley's attorney began arguing that his mental illness was in remission and thus had a right to return to a normal life. Beginning in August 1999, he was allowed supervised day trips off the hospital grounds and later was allowed to visit his parents once a week unsupervised. The Secret Service voluntarily monitors him during these outings. If his mental illness remains in remission, he may one day be released.

 Taken from: [30/03/2012]

In South Africa: SA colonies meet to consider and adopt the South Africa Act, which leads to the Union of South Africa

Date: 30 March, 1909

In the aftermath of the Anglo-Boer War (1899-1902), Britain annexed the South African Republic and the Orange Free State, two hitherto independent Afrikaner republics. These new territories, renamed the Transvaal and the Orange River Colony respectively, were added to Britain's existing South African territories - the Cape Colony and Natal.

It was British government policy to encourage these four colonies to come together in closer union. After the grant of responsible government to the Transvaal and Orange River Colony in 1907, this aspiration was also held by the Afrikaner population. These political forces resulted in the 1908 National Convention, which met for the first time on 12 October 1908. By February 1909, a draft of the South Africa Act had been drawn up.

The South Africa Act of 1909 was an Act of the British Parliament which created the Union of South Africa from the British Colonies of the Cape of Good Hope, Natal, Orange River Colony, and the Transvaal. On 30 March 1909, the parliaments of the four South African colonies meet at their respective capitals to consider and adopt the South Africa Act, as drafted by the National Convention.
Click here to read about the formation of the Union of South Africa.

  1. On this day, March 30 [online]. Available at: [accessed 25 March 2009]
  2. The South Africa Act of 1909 [online]. Available at: [accessed 25 March 2009]

Thursday, March 29, 2012


City Under Siege

On December 2, 1956 a small group of New Yorkers looking to forget their pre-holiday worries filed into the Paramount Movie Theatre in Brooklyn. Some moviegoers were weighted down with Christmas packages obtained in afternoon shopping excursions. Others carried briefcases, the contents of which they hoped to escape for a couple of hours.

Escape from everyday cares was imminent. At 7:55pm, a bomb ripped apart the theatre. When the smoke and panic cleared, six people were injured. Three of those injuries were serious. As the bomber himself would soon write, it was "by the hand of God" that nobody had been killed.

Everyone knew whom to blame for the attack. The Mad Bomber (or F.P. as he signed his mysterious, paranoid letters) had been planting bombs in New York City for sixteen years. Unfortunately, neither the public nor the police believed he would be stopped before someone was killed.

The bomber's competence made tracing his devices nearly impossible. Years of traditional police work had broached few leads, and everyone from city officials to the local media to ordinary citizens were asking why the most sophisticated police force in the world had come up with nothing.
The detectives working the case were at their wits end and ready to try anything. After all, the Mad Bomber's devices were getting more powerful with every explosion and his incessant, arrogant letters to the department and local media were making them look bad. The papers had not printed the bomber's letters at the request of detectives, but they did cover the case.

The media's conclusion: New York City was paralyzed. Heady with a post war economic boom, the greatest port in the most powerful nation that ever existed — the mysterious Mad Bomber was holding the city hostage with fear.

Since traditional means had been fruitless, Inspector Howard Finney of the New York City crime lab decided it was time to try something new. He asked his friend Captain Cronin at the Missing Person's Bureau if he had any ideas. Cronin suggested that perhaps a psychiatrist could work up a profile of the bomber and that profile could be useful in catching him. The concept of criminal profiling wasn't precisely new, but it was certainly experimental and had not been used effectively to solve a major case. Cronin recommended Finney talk to a friend of his that had had some minor success in psychiatric detecting.  
As a tough and respected veteran of the force, Finney had the clout to try the radical idea. He was himself a man of science with a master's degree in forensic criminology and ran the crime lab tightly and effectively. Although he remained skeptical of "head-shrinking," Finney decided to give the concept a try.

His bulging case file tucked firmly under his arm, Finney and two of his detectives paid a visit to Cronin's friend, a Manhattan criminal psychiatrist named Dr. James Brussel. Little did Finney know just how helpful Dr. Brussel would be in helping the police find the madman that had eluded them for sixteen years.

Small Beginnings

The Mad Bomber had planted his first bomb at the Consolidated Edison building on West 64th Street on November 16th, 1940. He enclosed it in a wooden toolbox and placed it on a windowsill then slipped unnoticed out of the building. The utility giant Con Edison (as it is locally known) was and remains the main supplier of energy for the New York City, and the offices were so huge and bustling that nobody took any notice of a stranger.

The small dud of a pipe bomb never exploded. Around the outside of the device, the bomber had wrapped a note written in neat block lettering:


The workers who discovered it called in the bomb squad. The bomb squad officers found no fingerprints or any other evidence with which to trace the crudely made device. The note inspired some curiosity because it would have been destroyed if the device had exploded.

The puzzled investigators wondered whether the bomber meant for the note to be destroyed or whether he had not realized that the note would be destroyed. Or, they wondered, was the bomb an intentional dud?

After some rudimentary checking into the records of recently dismissed employees and others with grievances against the company, the police gave up on finding the bomber. There were more pressing cases that had more of a chance of being solved. The incident never made the papers.

No one at Con Edison or at the bomb squad thought much about the dud pipe bomb in the next few months. Then, nearly a year after the first incident, someone found a second unexploded device lying on 19th Street — a few blocks from Con Edison's Irving Place offices. Its simple alarm-clock detonator had not been wound. The bomber had wrapped his handiwork in an old woolen sock, and this time there was no note.

The bomb squad investigators recognized the construction as similar to the previous device. They assumed the bomber had been on his way to the Con Edison offices nearby and for any number of reasons had aborted his attempt to plant the bomb. He had simply thrown it into the street.
Again, the papers ignored the incident. The war in Europe as well as the U.S.'s inevitable involvement in the conflict occupied most every page. Three months later, as the U.S. entered the war, the bomber sent a letter to Manhattan Police headquarters. Written in neat block letters it read:

Patriotic Letter
Patriotic Letter
Some of the notes were handwritten. The handwriting was the same as had been written on the first bomb's note with neat, precise lettering. Only the W's were written with a strange, reckless curvature that was oddly out of place with the straight letters.

One of the Con Edison letters
One of the Con Edison letters
F.P. was true to his word. During the next nine years, he planted no bombs. He was not, however, inactive. During this time, he wrote dozens of bizarre, threatening letters to Con Edison, the police, movie theatres and private individuals.

Then, on March 29th, 1950, a third unexploded bomb was discovered in Grand Central Station. The bomb squad recognized the construction as similar to the Con Edison bombs. The construction was similar, but not identical. The bomber had used his nine-year hiatus to hone his skill and the new device was more powerful and skillfully constructed than the first two. Detectives wondered if the "bomber" meant for his devices to detonate at all.

Unfortunately, that theory exploded along with a fourth bomb at a phone booth inside the New York Public Library. Then another exploded at Grand Central. In all, the Mad Bomber would plant over 30 bombs in his career — mostly leaving them in public places but occasionally diverting from that pattern. Once he mailed a bomb to Con Edison. When he planted bombs in movie theatres he would slash open the underside of a seat and insert the bomb there before slipping out the theatre. It was one of those bombs that exploded at the Paramount.

New York City Public Library
New York City Public Library

The Profiler

Dr. James Brussel
Dr. James Brussel
The sharp-witted, pipe-smoking Dr. James Brussel had casually considered the Mad Bomber case. Like most New Yorkers, he had read about the case in the papers and wondered what kind of person would commit such an act. Being a criminal psychiatrist, he theorized a bit about the mysterious culprit. Who was he? What motivated him?

With no access to the case file and no reason to come up with solid conclusions, thoughts and theories flitted in and out of his mind without care.

That changed when Inspector Finney visited his office with the case file. Dr. Brussel had agreed to meet with the Inspector as a favor to his old friend Cronin. Primarily in private practice, Dr. Brussel also served as the Assistant Commissioner of Mental Hygiene for the State of New York — a position that led to numerous consultations with police forces and appearances at police conferences. At those conferences, he had both impressed and befriended Captain Cronin.

In is memoir, The Casebook of a Criminal Psychiatrist, Dr. Brussel admits he doubted he could be useful to Finney's case. Despite being confident of his profession and his own abilities, he didn't believe that he could add anything that professional detectives had already discovered.
Dr. Brussel's self-doubts were a bit misplaced. If anyone could effectively profile a criminal, he could. Prior to his private practice, Dr. Brussel had served in the military as chief of Neuropsychiatry at Fort Dix during World War II and then as the head of army Neuropsychiatry for the entire army during the Korean War. During that time, he had done counterintelligence profiling work for the FBI and the CID.

Dr. Brussel also admits that Finney intimidated him. He believed the old cop wouldn't settle for anything but solid conclusions and would dismiss the psychiatric profession entirely if he proved wrong. From the amused glances and rolled eyes of Finney's detectives, Dr. Brussel knew that those men had already dismissed him.

With the pressure firmly on, Dr. Brussel read through the case file and came up with a profile of their culprit. The main conclusion: the bomber was most certainly mad.

The Profile

What the police had considered as scant-evidence was a wellspring for Dr. Brussel. After pouring through the case file, he came up with the following conclusions.

The bomber was male. With a few exceptions, historically bombers have always been male.
The bomber had a grudge against Con Edison and was likely a former employee. He believed himself to have been permanently injured by the company and was seeking revenge. This conclusion was obvious from the letters.

The bomber was a textbook paranoid. The bomber believed that Con Edison and the public at large conspired against him.

The bomber was middle-aged — probably around 50. Paranoia generally peaks around age 35 and the bomber had been active for 16 years.

The bomber was neat, meticulous and skilled at his work. Everything from the carefully constructed bombs, to the neat lettering, to the careful planning of the bombs indicated his neatness. Also, paranoids tend to set high standards for themselves so as not open themselves to unwanted criticism.
The bomber was overly sensitive to criticism. This is a classic symptom of paranoia.

The bomber was foreign or spent the majority of his time with foreign people. The bomber wrote in stilted, formal language bereft of any contemporary slang. He utilized phrases like "dastardly deeds" that sounded as if out of Victorian fiction. He referred to Con Edison as "the Con Edison" when New Yorkers had referred to the utility giant without the article "the" for years.
The bomber had at least a high school education but probably no college. The stilted language of the letters and skilled construction of the bombs spoke of self-education. The excellent handwriting indicated at least some formal schooling.

The bomber was a Slav and probably Roman Catholic. Culturally speaking, Eastern and Central Europeans most often employ bombs as weapons. Most Slavs are Catholic.

The bomber lived in Connecticut, not New York. Some of the letters had been mailed from Westchester Country (a location in between Connecticut and New York) and Connecticut was home to large communities of Eastern and Central Europeans.

The bomber suffered from an Oedipal Complex. Like most Oedipal sufferers he was likely unmarried and lived with a single female relative or relatives that were not his mother. He probably lost his mother young. Dr. Brussel made these conclusions based on the phallic construction of the bombs; the strange (and breast-like) W's in the bomber's otherwise perfect handwriting and the strange slashing and penetration of the movie theatres seats. As far as Finney and his detectives were concerned, these were Dr. Brussel's most farfetched and dubious conclusions, but Dr. Brussel was most confident in them.

The Game Begins

Finney and his detectives were impressed, despite their doubts. They had drawn some of Dr. Brussel's conclusions themselves through traditional detecting and nothing in the profile contradicted any of their own beliefs about the bomber. Additionally, as Dr. Brussel developed his profile, he became more and more confident in his conclusions and the confidence was infectious.

Once they had the profile, Finney asked Dr. Brussel what they should do with it. Specific as it was, there were probably hundreds of men who fit it and only one bomber.

"I think you ought to publicize the description I've given you. Publicize the whole Bomber investigation, in fact. Spread it in the newspapers, on radio and television," suggested Dr. Brussel.
Finney was taken aback as it was standard procedure to keep details of the case out of the papers.
"I think there's a chance he'll come forward by himself if we handle him right. I think he wants to be found out," said Dr. Brussel.

Dr. Brussel continued to argue with the detectives — the bomber wanted publicity and wanted credit for his work. He was outraged by the newspapers not publishing his letters, and he would be further outraged at the idea of some clever psychiatrist trying to find him out. Dr. Brussel predicted that if, in fact, anything was wrong with the profile the bomber wouldn't be able to resist telling the police and media about the error. Even if the profile was on target, the bomber might be goaded into revealing details that could lead the police to him.

Dr. Brussel won the argument and despite the fact that Finney believed that they would be dealing with "a million crackpots" in addition to the real bomber — he agreed to Dr. Brussel's plan.
As Finney and his detectives left the office, Dr. Brussel couldn't resist making one more conclusion about their bomber. A neat, conservative man he would be wearing the safest and most conservative clothes of the day in the neatest possible way.

"One more thing," said Dr. Brussel with his eyes dramatically closed, "When you catch him — and I have no doubt you will — he'll be wearing a double-breasted suit."

After a shocked exclamation from one of the detectives, Dr. Brussel continued.
"And it will be buttoned."

False Leads

All the major New York papers including The New York Times published summaries of Dr. Brussel's profile. As Finney predicted, the crackpots responded in force. Plenty of them wanted to take credit for the bomber's actions, but none of them could recreate or produce F.P.'s singularly well-crafted bombs. The police had deliberately kept photographs and details about the devices out of the papers.

Additionally, plenty of normal, civic minded citizens brought leads to the police. Each one had a friend or neighbor or colleague that "fit the profile" and very suddenly the person was convinced that he or she had discovered the bomber. One of the most dangerous and troubling aspects of profiling is that it inevitably leads to innocents being suspected of crimes simply because they fit a profile.

An elderly man on the Upper West Side telephoned the police about a Polish neighbor who lived with an Aunt and often tinkered with metal in his spare time. He left the house at odd hours and carried with him strange-shaped packages. The police interviewed the man only to discover that he was an aspiring modern sculptor who sold his works on the streets of Greenwich Village.

Another man informed the police of an eccentric army buddy who fed stray cats as a hobby. The man had been an army demolitions expert and had once worked for Con Edison. After following the man for a few days, the police determined that the man simply liked to feed cats and nothing more.

A Darien, Connecticut, commuter told the police about a neighbor who had once worked for Con Edison and had spent some time in mental hospitals for paranoia. A skilled mechanic, the man was married to a woman ten years older than himself. The marriage didn't fit the profile, but Dr. Brussel thought the older wife might be a deviation of the Oedipal theory. The man frequently traveled to New York City while carrying a mysterious blue valise. His neighbor had been highly curious about the valise for years, and after the profile was published he called the police. The police discreetly questioned the man with the valise. They discovered the contents to be a pair of women's high-heeled boots. The man had a foot fetish, and he frequented prostitutes in the city who donned the boots for him.

Dr. Brussel himself followed up a false lead. A colleague told him (within the confines of doctor patient privilege) of a patient with an irrational grudge against Con Edison. Dr. Brussel excitedly examined the file and found the man fit the profile. Unfortunately, the man had been confined to a mental hospital on the day of one of the attacks.


During this time, the bomber stepped up his attacks and wrote more letters. He also called Dr. Brussel directly — a feat of cleverness in and of itself since the doctor's number was unlisted. The conversation went as follows.
"Is this Dr. Brussel, the psychiatrist?"
"Yes, this is Dr. Brussel."
"This is F.P. speaking. Keep out of this or you'll be sorry."

The bomber hung up before the call could be traced. Privately, Dr. Brussel was pleased. He felt it was only a matter of time before the bomber's arrogance got the better of him.

Meanwhile, Con Edison assigned several of its administrative staff members to go through its vast "troublesome" employee files searching for anyone who fit the profile. The job was a complex one since, as its name suggests, Con Edison had been created by the merging of several small utility companies in the late 1920s and early 1930s. The post-merger records were neat and well-kept, but the pre-merger records were an incomplete mish-mash of various filing styles. According to Brussel's profile, the middle-aged Bomber could well have been an employee of one of the smaller companies.
As a clerk named Alice Kelly shuffled through the stacks of files, she came upon a file for a George Metesky of Waterbury, Connecticut. He'd worked for United Electric & Power Company. He fit the profile, so Kelly took a closer look. Metesky had suffered an on site accident at the plant where he worked. He blamed his subsequent tuberculosis on that accident — a claim that could not be proven. After his disability claim was denied, Metesky had written several angry letters to the company — one promising revenge for the firm's "dastardly deeds."
She excitedly brought the file to her superior.
"I think — maybe," she said as she handed over the file.

Meanwhile, the bomber continued to angrily taunt the media and the police. In a response to an open letter in the Journal-American, the bomber gave the details (including dates and places) of the accident that had injured him. In doing so, he made the kind of arrogant slip-up that Dr. Brussel had predicted he would. The bomber assumed the records of his accident and claims were long lost in the files of the utility giant he hated. He didn't know that Alice Kelly had found his file or that the police would soon discover the places and dates in the Metesky file matched the ones he'd given to the newspaper.

George Metesky


The neighbors didn't know what to make of George Metesky. The dapper, slavic man who lived at Number 17 Fourth Street in Waterbury, Connecticut with his two unmarried sisters didn't appear to work for a living. Although he was always polite, he was distant and nobody in the neighborhood knew anything about him.
Local children feared Metesky and called his house "The Crazy House" despite there being little or no evidence of madness or foul play at the house. A couple of neighbors wondered what Mr. Metesky did on his frequent excursions into New York City. Some knew he attended mass at St. Patrick's regularly, but that didn't explain the other trips. Still others wondered what he made in his workshop at all hours of the day and night.

Around the same time as the newspapers began to publicize the Dr. Brussel's profile of the mad bomber, the neighbors noticed a change in Metesky. He seemed friendlier — even talkative at times. He helped a local boy fix his model airplane, and the neighborhood children were no longer afraid of him. People in the neighborhood remarked to one another that they might have misjudged the eccentric Metesky.

Had they known that George Metesky had once worked for Con Edison they might have made the connection between him and the bomber. They might have been suspicious as the police stopped by Number 17 "on a routine house-to-house check" regarding an automobile accident — and did not stop at any other houses.

A few nights later, the neighbors were shocked when the police came and arrested Metesky. Dressed in his bathrobe, he pleasantly and politely confessed to being the bomber. He revealed that F.P. stood for "Fair Play."

The police requested that Metesky change clothes before they arrested him. He obliged, and when they took him away he was wearing a double-breasted suit — buttoned.


The Metesky case proved to be a feather in Inspector Finney's cap. He continued his stellar career and later became a well-known corruption buster.

The case catapulted Dr. Brussel to fame, and he was often called in as a consultant on the nation's most troubling unsolved cases. With varying levels of success, he worked on the Wylie Murders, the Coppolino Case, the Sunday Bomber and most notably the case of the Boston Strangler. His work forever changed the way police forces catch criminals. For better or worse, profiling is now an integral part of modern police work.

Metesky in Matteawan asylum.
Metesky in Matteawan asylum.
George Metesky, who fit Brussel's profile in every detail, was found insane and committed to the Matteawan asylum for the criminally insane. As is the case with most acute paranoids, he was unresponsive to treatment — believing the psychiatrists were part of the conspiracy against him. He proved to be a model patient and spent much of his time trying to legally win his release.
Dr. Brussel, who sometimes worked at Matteawan, visited Metesky occasionally. Dr. Brussel always found him talkative and charming. Metesky often pointed out that he'd purposefully constructed his bombs not to kill anyone. Dr. Brussel once asked him directly if he thought he was crazy. Metesky smiled politely and answered no.
George Metesky's actions went on to inspire new criminals. Investigators believe that both the Unabomber and the Zodiac Killer took inspiration from New York City's mad bomber. Upon his release from Matteawan in 1973, Metesky took up residence in his family's Waterbury residence where he died in 1994 at the age of 90. His death did not make the papers.


Brussel, James A. M.D, The Casebook of Crime Psychiatrist. Bernard Geis Associates. 1968.
Nash, Jay Robert, Bloodletters and Badmen. M. Evans & Co. 1995.
Crimes and Punishment, "The Mad Bomber." The Symphonette Press. 1974.
Zonderman, Jon, Beyond The Crime Lab: The New Science of Investigation. John Wiley & Sons, Inc. 1999.
Freifeld, Karen, "A Notorious Predecessor." New York Newsday. 1994.
Other Sources:
Connecticut State Vital Records

The writer: Melissa Ann Madden
Melissa Ann Madden
Melissa Ann Madden
Melissa Madden works as a full time editor and writer in New York City. She works regularly as New York City editor for an internet travel site and has published numerous freelance articles and several short�stories in both print and internet magazines.� Melissa graduated from Wellesley College with a degree in English.

This Day in History: Mar 29, 1973: U.S. withdraws from Vietnam

Two months after the signing of the Vietnam peace agreement, the last U.S. combat troops leave South Vietnam as Hanoi frees the remaining American prisoners of war held in North Vietnam. America's direct eight-year intervention in the Vietnam War was at an end. In Saigon, some 7,000 U.S. Department of Defense civilian employees remained behind to aid South Vietnam in conducting what looked to be a fierce and ongoing war with communist North Vietnam.

In 1961, after two decades of indirect military aid, U.S. President John F. Kennedy sent the first large force of U.S. military personnel to Vietnam to bolster the ineffectual autocratic regime of South Vietnam against the communist North. Three years later, with the South Vietnamese government crumbling, President Lyndon B. Johnson ordered limited bombing raids on North Vietnam, and Congress authorized the use of U.S. troops. By 1965, North Vietnamese offensives left President Johnson with two choices: escalate U.S. involvement or withdraw. Johnson ordered the former, and troop levels soon jumped to more than 300,000 as U.S. air forces commenced the largest bombing campaign in history.

During the next few years, the extended length of the war, the high number of U.S. casualties, and the exposure of U.S. involvement in war crimes, such as the massacre at My Lai, helped turn many in the United States against the Vietnam War. The communists' Tet Offensive of 1968 crushed U.S. hopes of an imminent end to the conflict and galvanized U.S. opposition to the war. In response, Johnson announced in March 1968 that he would not seek reelection, citing what he perceived to be his responsibility in creating a perilous national division over Vietnam. He also authorized the beginning of peace talks.

In the spring of 1969, as protests against the war escalated in the United States, U.S. troop strength in the war-torn country reached its peak at nearly 550,000 men. Richard Nixon, the new U.S. president, began U.S. troop withdrawal and "Vietnamization" of the war effort that year, but he intensified bombing. Large U.S. troop withdrawals continued in the early 1970s as President Nixon expanded air and ground operations into Cambodia and Laos in attempts to block enemy supply routes along Vietnam's borders. This expansion of the war, which accomplished few positive results, led to new waves of protests in the United States and elsewhere.

Finally, in January 1973, representatives of the United States, North and South Vietnam, and the Vietcong signed a peace agreement in Paris, ending the direct U.S. military involvement in the Vietnam War. Its key provisions included a cease-fire throughout Vietnam, the withdrawal of U.S. forces, the release of prisoners of war, and the reunification of North and South Vietnam through peaceful means. The South Vietnamese government was to remain in place until new elections were held, and North Vietnamese forces in the South were not to advance further nor be reinforced.

In reality, however, the agreement was little more than a face-saving gesture by the U.S. government. Even before the last American troops departed on March 29, the communists violated the cease-fire, and by early 1974 full-scale war had resumed. At the end of 1974, South Vietnamese authorities reported that 80,000 of their soldiers and civilians had been killed in fighting during the year, making it the most costly of the Vietnam War.

On April 30, 1975, the last few Americans still in South Vietnam were airlifted out of the country as Saigon fell to communist forces. North Vietnamese Colonel Bui Tin, accepting the surrender of South Vietnam later in the day, remarked, "You have nothing to fear; between Vietnamese there are no victors and no vanquished. Only the Americans have been defeated." The Vietnam War was the longest and most unpopular foreign war in U.S. history and cost 58,000 American lives. As many as two million Vietnamese soldiers and civilians were killed.

Also: Mar 29, 1951:The Mad Bomber strikes in New York

On this day in 1951, a homemade device explodes at Grand Central Station in New York City, startling commuters but injuring no one. In the next few months, five more bombs were found at landmark sites around New York, including the public library. Authorities realized that this new wave of terrorist acts was the work of the Mad Bomber.

New York's first experience with the so-called Mad Bomber was on November 16, 1940, when a pipe bomb was left in the Edison building with a note that read, "Con Edison crooks, this is for you." More bombs were recovered in 1941, each more powerful than the last, until the Mad Bomber sent a note in December stating, "I will make no more bomb units for the duration of the war." He went on to say that Con Edison, New York's electric utility company, would be brought to justice in due time.
The patriotic Mad Bomber made good on his promise, although he did periodically send threatening notes to the press. After his flurry of activity in 1951, the Mad Bomber was silent until a bomb went off at Radio City Music Hall in 1954. In 1955, the Mad Bomber hit Grand Central Station, Macy's, the RCA building and the Staten Island Ferry.

The police had no luck finding the Mad Bomber, but an investigative team working for Con Ed finally tracked him down. Looking through their employment records, they found that George Peter Metesky had been a disgruntled ex-employee since an accident in 1931. Metesky was enraged that Con Ed refused to pay disability benefits and resorted to terrorism as his revenge.

Metesky, a rather mild-mannered man, was found living with his sisters in Connecticut. He was sent to a mental institution in April 1957 where he stayed until his release in 1973.

Taken from: [29/03/12]

In South Africa: Date: 29 March, 1879 - The Battle of Kambula

Battle of Kambula took place in 1879, during the Anglo-Zulu War when a Zulu Army attacked the British camp at Kambula. It resulted in a decisive Zulu defeat and is considered to be the turning point of the Anglo-Zulu War.

Following the disaster at Hlobane on 28 March 1879, Colonel Evelyn Wood’s forces prepared to receive an attack by the entire Zulu impi, of which they had only previously encountered the leading sections. Soon after dawn of 29 March, Transvaal Rangers rode out to locate the enemy impi, the cattle were put out to graze and, after some deliberation, two companies were despatched to collect firewood. By 11am the Rangers had returned with the news that the impi was on the move and was to attack Kambula at noon. Wood also now received information that the impi was nearly 20,000 men strong, consisting of regiments that had already defeated the British at Isandlwana and other battles and that many of the Zulus were armed with rifles taken from the British dead at these battles. Shortly after this the Zulu impi was sighted 5 miles away across the plain, coming on due westwards in five columns. However, the warriors of the impi had not eaten for three days.[5] The woodcutters and cattle were brought back in and, confident that the defences could be manned within a minute and a half of an alarm being sounded, Wood ordered the men to have their dinners.

Cetshwayo responded to pleas from the abaQulasi for aid against the raids of Wood's troops by ordering the main Zulu army to help them. He ordered it not to attack fortified positions but to lure the British troops into the open even if it had to march on the Transvaal to accomplish this.[6] His orders were not followed. The impi moved and Wood initially thought it was advancing on the Transvaal but it halted a few miles south of Kambula and formed up for an attack.

Kambula’s defences

The defences on Kambula consisted of a hexagonal laager formed with wagons that were tightly locked together, and a separate kraal for the cattle, constructed on the edge of the southern face of the ridge. Trenches and earth parapets surrounded both sections, and a stone-built redoubt had been built on a rise just north of the kraal. A palisade blocked the hundred yards between the kraal and redoubt, while four 7-pounders were positioned between the redoubt and the laager to cover the northern approaches. Two more guns in the redoubt covered the north-east.

Two companies were sited in the redoubt; another company occupied the cattle kraal and the remaining infantry manned the laager. The gunners had been told that if the Zulus got in close they were to abandon their guns and make for the laager. In all, Wood’s force mustered 121 Royal Artillery and Royal Engineers, 1,238 infantry and 638 mounted men. With headquarters staff, it totalled 2,000 men, of which 88 were sick in hospital.


At 12.45 on 29 March 1879, the tents were struck, reserve ammunition was distributed, and the troops took up their battle stations. As the troops moved to their posts they could see the Zulu right horn, circling north out of British artillery range before halting north-west of the camp. The left horn and centre of the impi continued westwards until they were due south of Kambula. At 1.30 Lieutenant-Colonel Redvers Henry Buller suggested his mounted troops sting the right horn into premature attack, which was agreed to. The men rode out to within range of the massed Zulus, fired a volley and then galloped back, closely followed by a great wave of 11,000 Zulu warriors. As soon as the horsemen had reached Kambula, and cleared the field of fire, the British infantry opened fire with support from their four 7-pounders firing shell, and then when the Zulus got closer canister shot. A small number of Zulus managed to burst into the laager, and were repelled with bayonets, while the bulk of the advance was held at bay by the steady British musketry and gunfire. Some of the Zulu force swung right to come in against the western sides of the laager, but were met with equally effective resistance. After about half an hour the Zulu right horn drew back to the north-east.

At 2.15, as the right horn made its withdrawal, the left horn and centre surged up out of the ravine, their leading warriors falling to crossfire from the laager and kraal as they came over the crest. However, more and more swarmed on to the glacis between the cliff and the defenders, funneling into the gap between the kraal and laager. The Zulus soon forced their way into the cattle Kraal and fought hand-to-hand with men of the 1/13th company. The cattle in the kraal hampered both sides, but with Zulu pressure mounting up the heavily outnumbered British troops managed to extricate themselves and pull back to the redoubt. Zulu riflemen were now able to open fire from behind the walls of the kraal to give their advancing comrades cover. At about this time the right horn came on again from the north-east, charging across the north face of the redoubt towards the guns and the eastern sides of the laager.
The closing stages of the battle of Kambula. A company of the 1/13th in the foreground are driving the Zulus back into the ravine.
Although now attacked on both sides, Wood appreciated that the situation to the south was critical and ordered two companies to clear the Zulus off the glacis. Led by Major Hackett the men formed in line with bayonets fixed and charged across the open ground, forcing the Zulus back over the rim. The troops then lined the crest and opened volley fire into the packed warriors in the ravine. The counter-attack had succeeded perfectly but Hackett’s men suddenly found themselves under fire from their right, where Zulu marksmen had concealed themselves in a refuse pit. Hackett sounded the 'Retire' and his men returned to the cover of the laager, but not before losing a colour-sergeant, a subaltern and himself receiving a blinding head wound. The sight of this withdrawal encouraged the Zulus in the ravine to charge again, but along the narrow killing zone in front of the laager they could not this time prevail against the controlled volleys from behind the wagons and the redoubt.
On the north side the Royal Artillery men fought their guns in the open, not taking cover, and poured round after round directly into the right horn.

The Zulus charged again and again, with unwavering courage, but the head of each charge was shot away and at about 5pm Wood sensed the impetus was going out of their attack. Two companies moved to clear the kraal and lined the rim of the cliff with a further company to fire into the dead ground. As soon as the Zulus began to pull away eastwards he ordered Buller to mount his men up and pursue. The Zulus were harried mercilessly for 7 miles, mounted troops firing one handed with carbines from the saddle or spearing them with discarded assegais. The Frontier Light Horse men singled abaQulusi warriors for their special attention, chasing them as far as Hlobane and extracting a savage revenge for their comrades killed the day before at the Battle of Hlobane.


Over 800 Zulu dead were counted in the immediate vicinity of the position and hundreds more perished in the ravine and during the pursuit. 18 British soldiers were killed, and 8 officers and 57 men wounded, 11 of which later died. Kambula is considered as the turning point of the war, for the British demonstrated that shield and assegai were no match for an entrenched force with artillery and the Martini-Henry. Never again would an impi fight against a prepared position with the ferocity and resolution displayed up to this date.


  1. ^ Laband, John. Historical dictionary of the Zulu wars, Scarecrow Press, 2009, ISBN 0810860783, p.6..
  2. ^ Knight & Castle, Zulu War, 1992, p.69
  3. ^ F.E. Colenso, History of the Zulu War and Its Origin, London, 1880, p. 353, "The strength of the enemy was thought to be 20,000..."
  4. ^ F.E. Colenso, History of the Zulu War and Its Origin, London, 1880, p. 353, "The strength of the enemy was thought to be 20,000 of whom 1000 are supposed to have been killed.".
  5. ^ Donald R. Morris, Mangosuthu Buthelezi, The Washing of the Spears, Da Capo Press, 1998, p.496
  6. ^ Knight & Castle, Zulu War, 1992, p.69
 Taken from: [29/03/2012]

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Spanish Civil War (1936-39)

The Spanish Civil War (1936-39), was a  military revolt against the Republican government of Spain, supported by conservative elements within the country. When an initial military coup failed to win control of the entire country, a bloody civil war ensued, fought with great ferocity on both sides. The Nationalists, as the rebels were called, received aid from Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany. The Republicans received aid from the Soviet Union, as well as from International Brigades, a great number of volunteers who came from other European countries and the United States.

The war was an outcome of a polarization of Spanish life and politics that had developed over previous decades. On one side were most of the Roman Catholic Church in Spain, important elements of the military, most landowners, and many businessmen. On the other side were urban workers, most agricultural laborers, and many of the educated middle classes. Politically their differences often found extreme and vehement expression in parties such as the Fascist-oriented Falange and the militant left-wing anarchists. Between these extremes were other groups covering the political spectrum from monarchism and conservatism through liberalism to Socialism, including a small Communist movement divided among followers of the Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and his archrival Leon Trotsky.

Assassinations and other acts of violence were not uncommon. In 1934 there were general strikes in Valencia and Zaragoza, fighting in Madrid and Barcelona, and a bloody rising by miners in Asturias that was suppressed by troops led by Gen. Francisco Franco. A succession of governmental crises culminated in the elections of Feb. 16, 1936, which brought to power a Popular Front government supported by most of the parties of the left and opposed by the parties of the right and what remained of the center.

A well-planned military uprising began on July 17, 1936, in garrison towns throughout Spain. By July 21 the rebels had achieved control in Spanish Morocco, the Canary Islands, and the Balearic Islands (except Minorca) and in the part of Spain north of the Guadarrama Mountains and the Ebro River, except for Asturias, Santander, and the Basque provinces along the north coast and the region of Catalonia in the northeast. The Republican forces had put down the uprising in other areas, except for some of the larger Andalusian cities, including Seville, Granada, and Córdoba. The Nationalists and Republicans proceeded to organize their respective territories and to repress opposition or suspected opposition. A minimum estimate is that more than 50,000 persons were executed, murdered, or assassinated on each side--an indication of the great strength of the passions that the Civil War had unleashed.
The captaincy of the Nationalists was gradually assumed by General Franco, leading forces he had brought from Morocco. On Oct. 1, 1936, he was named head of state and set up a government in Burgos. The Republican government was headed, beginning in September 1936, by the Socialist leader Francisco Largo Caballero. He was followed in May 1937 by Juan Negrín, also a Socialist, who remained premier throughout the remainder of the war and served as premier in exile until 1945. The president of the Spanish Republic until nearly the end of the war was Manuel Azaña, an anticlerical liberal.
Each side, seeing itself too weak to win a quick victory, turned abroad for help. Germany and Italy sent troops, tanks, and planes to aid the Nationalists. The Soviet Union contributed equipment and supplies to the Republicans, who also received help from the governments of France and Mexico. About 40,000 foreigners fought in the International Brigades on the Republican side, and 20,000 others served in medical or auxiliary units.

By November 1936 the Nationalists had advanced to the outskirts of Madrid. They laid siege to it but were unable to get beyond the University City area. They captured the Basque northern provinces in the summer of 1937 and then Asturias, so that by October they held the whole northern coast. A war of attrition began. The Nationalists drove a salient eastward through Teruel, reaching the Mediterranean and splitting the republic in two in April 1938. In December 1938 they moved upon Catalonia in the northeast, forcing the Republican armies there northward toward France. By February 1939, 250,000 Republican soldiers, together with an equal number of civilians, had fled across the border into France. On March 5 the Republican government flew to exile in France. On March 7 a civil war broke out in Madrid between Communist and anti-Communist factions. By March 28 all of the Republican armies had begun to disband and surrender, and Nationalist forces entered Madrid on that day.
The number of persons killed in the Spanish Civil War can be only roughly estimated. Nationalist forces put the figure at 1,000,000, including not only those killed in battle but also the victims of bombardment, execution, and assassination. More recent estimates have been closer to 500,000 or less. This does not include all those who died from malnutrition, starvation, and war-engendered disease. 
The political and emotional reverberations of the war far transcended those of a national conflict, for many in other countries saw the Spanish Civil War as part of an international conflict between--depending on their point of view--tyranny and democracy, or Fascism and freedom, or Communism and civilization. For Germany and Italy, Spain was a testing ground for new methods of tank and air warfare. For Britain and France, the conflict represented a new threat to the international equilibrium that they were struggling to preserve, which in 1939 collapsed into World War II.

Taken from (28/03/2012)