Mar 29 2011

On This Day in History March 29

This is your morning Open Thread. Pour your favorite beverage and review the past and comment on the future.

Find the past “On This Day in History” here.

March 29 is the 88th day of the year (89th in leap years) in the Gregorian calendar. There are 277 days remaining until the end of the year.

On this day in 1951, the Rosenbergs are convicted of espionage.

In one of the most sensational trials in American history, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg are convicted of espionage for their role in passing atomic secrets to the Soviets during and after World War II. The husband and wife were later sentenced to death and were executed in 1953.

The conviction of the Rosenbergs was the climax of a fast-paced series of events that were set in motion with the arrest of British physicist Klaus Fuchs in Great Britain in February 1950. British authorities, with assistance from the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, gathered evidence that Fuchs, who worked on developing the atomic bomb both in England and the United States during World War II, had passed top-secret information to the Soviet Union. Fuchs almost immediately confessed his role and began a series of accusations.

Fuchs confessed that American Harry Gold had served as a courier for the Soviet agents to whom Fuchs passed along his information. American authorities captured Gold, who thereupon pointed the finger at David Greenglass, a young man who worked at the laboratory where the atomic bomb had been developed. Gold claimed Greenglass was even more heavily involved in spying than Fuchs. Upon his arrest, Greenglass readily confessed and then accused his sister and brother-in-law, Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, of being the spies who controlled the entire operation. Both Ethel and Julius had strong leftist leanings and had been heavily involved in labor and political issues in the United States during the late-1930s and 1940s. Julius was arrested in July and Ethel in August 1950.

By present-day standards, the trial was remarkably fast. It began on March 6, and the jury had convicted both of conspiracy to commit espionage by March 29. The Rosenbergs were not helped by a defense that many at the time, and since, have labeled incompetent. More harmful, however, was the testimony of Greenglass and Gold. Greenglass declared that Julius Rosenberg had set up a meeting during which Greenglass passed the plans for the atomic bomb to Gold. Gold supported Greenglass’s accusation and admitted that he then passed the plans along to a Soviet agent. This testimony sealed Julius’s fate, and although there was little evidence directly tying Ethel to the crime, prosecutors claimed that she was the brain behind the whole scheme. The jury found both guilty. A few days later, the Rosenbergs were sentenced to death. They were executed on June 19, 1953 in Sing Sing Prison in New York. Both maintained their innocence to the end.

Since the execution, decoded Soviet cables, codenamed VENONA, have supported courtroom testimony that Julius acted as a courier and recruiter for the Soviets, but doubts remain about the level of Ethel’s involvement. The decision to execute the Rosenbergs was, and still is, controversial. The New York Times, in an editorial on the 50th anniversary of the execution (June 19, 2003) wrote, “The Rosenbergs case still haunts American history, reminding us of the injustice that can be done when a nation gets caught up in hysteria.” This hysteria had both an immediate and a lasting effect; many innocent scientists, including some who were virulently anti-communist, were investigated simply for having the last name “Rosenberg.” The other atomic spies who were caught by the FBI offered confessions and were not executed. Ethel’s brother, David Greenglass, who supplied documents to Julius from Los Alamos, served 10 years of his 15 year sentence. Harry Gold, who identified Greenglass, served 15 years in Federal prison as the courier for Greenglass and the British scientist, Klaus Fuchs. Morton Sobell, who was tried with the Rosenbergs, served 17 years and 9 months. In 2008, Sobell admitted he was a spy and confirmed Julius Rosenberg was “in a conspiracy that delivered to the Soviets classified military and industrial information and what the American government described as the secret to the atomic bomb.”

 1461 – Wars of the Roses: Battle of Towton – Edward of York defeats Queen Margaret to become King Edward IV of England.

1549 – The city of Salvador da Bahia, the first capital of Brazil, is founded.

1632 – Treaty of Saint-Germain is signed, returning Quebec to French control after the English had seized it in 1629.

1638 – Swedish colonists establish the first settlement in Delaware, naming it New Sweden.

1792 – King Gustav III of Sweden dies after being shot in the back at a midnight masquerade ball at Stockholm’s Royal Opera 13 days earlier. He is succeeded by Gustav IV Adolf.

1806 – Construction is authorized of the Great National Pike, better known as the Cumberland Road, becoming the first United States federal highway.

1809 – King Gustav IV Adolf of Sweden abdicates after a coup d’état. At the Diet of Porvoo, Finland’s four Estates pledge allegiance to Alexander I of Russia, commencing the secession of the Grand Duchy of Finland from Sweden.

1831 – Great Bosnian uprising: Bosniak rebel against Turkey.

1847 – Mexican-American War: United States forces led by General Winfield Scott take Veracruz after a siege.

1849 – The United Kingdom annexes the Punjab.

1857 – Sepoy Mangal Pandey of the 34th Regiment, Bengal Native Infantry revolts against the British rule in India and inspires a long-drawn War of Independence of 1857 also known as the Sepoy Mutiny.

1865 – American Civil War: Federal forces under Major General Philip Sheridan move to flank Confederate forces under Robert E. Lee as the Appomattox Campaign begins.

1867 – Queen Victoria gives Royal Assent to the British North America Act which establishes the Dominion of Canada on July 1.

1871 – The Royal Albert Hall is opened by Queen Victoria.

1879 – Anglo-Zulu War: Battle of Kambula: British forces defeat 20,000 Zulus.

1882 – The Knights of Columbus are established.

1886 – Dr. John Pemberton brews the first batch of Coca-Cola in a backyard in Atlanta, Georgia.

1911 – The M1911 .45 ACP pistol became the official U.S. Army side arm.

1930 – Heinrich Bruning is appointed German Reichskanzler.

1936 – In Germany, Adolf Hitler receives 99% of the votes in a referendum to ratify Germany’s illegal reoccupation of the Rhineland, receiving 44.5 million votes out of 45.5 million registered voters.

1941 – The North American Radio Broadcasting Agreement goes into effect at 03:00 local time.

1941 – World War II: British Royal Navy and Royal Australian Navy forces defeat those of the Italian Regia Marina off the Peloponnesian coast of Greece in the Battle of Cape Matapan.

1942 – The Bombing of Lubeck in World War II is the first major success for the RAF Bomber Command against Germany and a German city.

1945 – World War II: Last day of V-1 flying bomb attacks on England.

1946 – Instituto Tecnologico Autonomo de México, one of Mexico’s leading universities, was founded.

1951 – Ethel and Julius Rosenberg are convicted of conspiracy to commit espionage.

1957 – The New York, Ontario and Western Railway makes its final run, the first major U.S. railroad to be abandoned in its entirety.

1961 – The Twenty-third Amendment to the United States Constitution is ratified, allowing residents of Washington, D.C., to vote in presidential elections.

1971 – My Lai massacre: Lt. William Calley is convicted of premeditated murder and sentenced to life in prison.

1971 – A Los Angeles, California jury recommends the death penalty for Charles Manson and three female followers.

1973 – Vietnam War: The last United States combat soldiers leave South Vietnam.

1973 – Operation Barrel Roll, a covert US bombing campaign in Laos to stop communist infiltration of South Vietnam, ends.

1974 – NASA’s Mariner 10 becomes the first spaceprobe to fly by Mercury. It was launched on November 3, 1973.

1982 – The Telegu Desam Party (India’s regional political party) was established by N. T. Rama Rao.

1982 – The Canada Act 1982 (U.K.) receives the Royal Assent from Queen Elizabeth II, setting the stage for the Queen of Canada to proclaim the Constitution Act, 1982.

1990 – The Czechoslovak parliament is unable to reach an agreement on what to call the country after the fall of Communism, sparking the so-called Hyphen War.

1993 – Catherine Callbeck becomes premier of Prince Edward Island and the first woman to be elected in a general election as premier of a Canadian province.

1999 – The Dow Jones Industrial Average closes above the 10,000 mark (10,006.78) for the first time, during the height of the internet boom.

1999 – A magnitude 6.8 earthquake strikes the Chamoli district in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, killing 103.

2002 – In reaction to the Passover massacre three days prior, Israel launches Operation Defensive Shield against Palestinian militants, its largest military operation since the 1967 Six-Day War.

2004 – Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia join NATO as full members.

2004 – The Republic of Ireland becomes the first country in the world to ban smoking in all work places, including bars and restaurants.

2008 – Thirty-five countries and over 370 cities join Earth Hour for the first time.

2010 – Two female suicide bombers hit the Moscow Metro system at the peak of the morning rush hour, killing 40.

   * Boganda Day (Central African Republic)

   * Christian Feast Day:

         o Bertold

         o Eustace of Luxeuil

         o Gwladys

         o March 29 (Eastern Orthodox liturgics)

   * Day of the Young Combatant, celebrated with civil disorder by leftists and anarchists. (Chile)

   * Youth Day (Taiwan)