World Events

October 22, 1957 – Francois Duvalier Haiti’s New President

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Haitian President Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier in 1965

On October 22, 1957, a second ominous October launch occurred; Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier was sworn in as President of Haiti.  Although Sputnik 1 would fall out of orbit in three months, Duvalier became President for Life, “serving” the unfortunate populace of the Caribbean island nation until his death in 1971.

Born the son of a justice of the peace (father) and a baker (mother), and with a university degree in medicine, Duvalier was the rare educated man in a country where rampant illiteracy and repression of the Afro-Haitian majority by a small, mulatto elite were facts of life.  Rampant and devastating tropical diseases were also facts of life during Duvalier’s early years, and he earned his “Papa Doc” nickname for his work through a United States-sponsored campaign to control the spread of typhus, malaria, and yaws (a destructive bacterial infection of the skin, bones, and joints).  Also, early in his career, Duvalier began pursuing political and spiritual agendas: the negritude movement of Dr. Jean Price-Mars (a literary, Marxist-style movement promoting Afro-Haitian solidarity to fight French colonial racism and domination); and vodou (the island’s syncretic religion combining elements of West African beliefs and practices and Roman Catholicism).

In 1946, Papa Doc began serving as Haiti’s Director of National Public Health under the government of President Dumarsais Estime, but when Estime was ousted in a coup by General Paul Magloire, Duvalier went into hiding until amnesty was declared in 1956.  Magloire’s rule ended in December of that year, and a series of provisional governments controlled Haiti until September 22, 1957, when Papa Doc was elected President over Louis Dejoie, a mulatto landowner and industrialist.  Duvalier’s populist campaign called on Haiti’s rural Afro-Haitian majority to throw off control by the mulatto elite.  After his landslide victory, he exiled Dejoie’s supporters and established a new constitution.

Over the following years, Papa Doc would consolidate his power base in the military, take control of Haiti’s Catholic churches, revise and then ignore the 1957 constitution, commit massive voter fraud to install himself as “President for Life”, use murder and expulsion to repress political opposition, decimate Haiti’s businesses with extortion, bribery, and theft, intimidate educated leaders to abandon the island, misappropriate millions of dollars in international foreign aid, and create a vodou-laced personality cult for himself to further consolidate his power.

Was Papa Doc sane?  A massive heart attack in 1959, possibly due to an insulin overdose (Duvalier suffered from heart disease and adult-onset diabetes), left him unconscious for nine hours.  Associates speculated that his mental health was affected by neurological damage resulting from this period.  Over the following years, Duvalier’s life was increasingly marked by paranoia and delusions.  He once ordered the head of an executed rebel to be delivered to him packed in ice (so that he could commune with the dead man’s spirit), and also portrayed himself as personally chosen by Jesus Christ to lead the Haitian people.

October 21, 1957 – Army Captain Hank Cramer First U.S. Combat Death in Vietnam

United States Army Special Forces Captain Harry G. Cramer, Jr. Photo: Virtual Vietnam Veterans Wall

United States Army Special Forces Captain Harry G. Cramer, Jr. Photo: Virtual Vietnam Veterans Wall

On October 21, 1957, United States Army Captain Harry (Hank) Griffith Cramer, Jr., of the newly-formed 1st Special Forces Group stationed at Camp Drake in Japan, became the first combat fatality (of many to come) in Vietnam.  Activated on June 24, 1957, the 1st Special Forces Group was responsible for operations in the Pacific.  The unit went on to hold the tragic distinction of having both the first and last Vietnam combat fatalities – Sgt. Fred Mick was killed on October 12, 1972 –  as well as the first Afghanistan combat fatality, SFC Nathan Chapman, who died in country on January 4, 2002.  Captain Cramer’s name was initially left off of the Vietnam Memorial due to the secretive nature of his mission.  After an appeal filed by his son, it was added to “The Wall” in 1983.

Army Special Forces units, also known as the Green Berets, have six primary missions: unconventional warfare; foreign internal defense; special reconnaissance; direct action; hostile rescue; and counter-terrorism.  They also perform combat search and rescue, security assistance, peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance, humanitarian demining, counter-proliferation, psychological operations, manhunts, and counter-drug operations duties.  Counter-proliferation activities are defined as “diplomatic, intelligence, and military efforts to combat the proliferation of weapons, including both conventional weapons and weapons of mass destruction” – in other words, arms control.

Capt. Cramer with his father, Captain Harry G. Cramer, Sr. Photo: Ancestry.com

Captain Cramer had been deployed to South Vietnam on June 25, 1957.  He led the first Special Forces team in place, with a mission to train a cadre of nationals into what would become the fledgling Vietnamese Army Special Forces.  Cramer was killed by an explosion while leading a patrol of combined American and Vietnamese troops near Nha Trang.  Although officially listed as an accident, an American eyewitness at the time claimed instead that the incident was a Viet Cong ambush.  Captain Cramer followed in his father’s footsteps in military service to his country.  Captain Harry G. Cramer, Sr. commanded an infantry company in France during World War I.

October 16, 1957 – Margaret Mead Collects Schoolchildren’s Sputnik Drawings

Margaret Mead and Rhoda Metraux look at children’s drawings of Sputnik 1. Photo: Arthur Herzog, Library of Congress.

On October 16, 1957, 13-year-old Kathryn Leonard of Saratoga Springs, New York, completed a school assignment – draw an image of the recently launched Soviet satellite, Sputnik 1.  Her drawing survives, and was collected and included in a project by American anthropologist Margaret Mead, famous for her earlier studies of sexuality and the adolescent experience of teenage Samoan girls.  Horrified by the 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Mead set out in the 1950’s to study American perceptions of science and space exploration.  Mead and her partner, Rhoda Metraux, decided to study “images of the scientist” among American students.  After the launch of Sputnik 1, they expanded their project to include children’s reactions to the history-making event.  Essays and drawings were collected from across the United States, and also around the world.  Mead and Metraux also conducted interviews and administered questionnaires for their collection, which is currently held in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress.

The driving force behind Mead’s research was her desire to find a “model for living in a radically changed world, a world in which human beings could destroy themselves.”

Sputnik drawing by student Kathryn Leonard. Image: Library of Congress

 

October 14, 1957 – Happy Birthday, Mr. President!

President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Photo: White House, Pubic Domain

On October 14, 1957, United States President Dwight D. Eisenhower celebrated his 67th birthday with his loving wife, Mamie, by his side.  Possibly their son John and daughter-in-law Barbara, and grandchildren David, Barbara, Susan, and Mary were able to join in the festivities.  Dwight and Mamie’s first son, Doud (Mamie’s maiden name), had died of scarlet fever in 1921 at age 3.

Born David Dwight Eisenhower in 1890 in Denison, Texas, President Eisenhower was the third of seven sons for David  and Ida Eisenhower.  Finances were always tight for David, a college-educated engineer, and Ida, a homemaker and deeply religious woman.   The Eisenhowers moved to Abilene, Kansas early in the future President’s life and he worked for two years after graduating from Abilene High to help pay for his brother Edgar’s college education.  When it came time for Dwight, as he was called, to attend college, he chose West Point, and changed his name to “Dwight David” when he entered the prestigious Army academy in the fall of 1911.  Eisenhower enjoyed sports and was a good athlete.  While he didn’t make the academy baseball team (“one of the greatest disappointments of my life, maybe my greatest”), he played football and was a starting running back and linebacker from his sophomore year onward.  Eisenhower graduated in 1915 and served in a wide variety of roles and theaters during his Army career.

Eisenhower trained early in tank warfare, served in the Panama Canal Zone, marked time during the 1920’s and early ’30s, then served in the Philipines before assignment to high commands during World War II.  He was ultimately named Supreme Allied Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in Europe, planning and carrying out Operation Overlord, the D-Day invasion of Normandy.  His ability to work with difficult personalities and maintain strong relationships gained him respect and greater responsibility.  Eisenhower found a way to stay on positive and constructive terms with such military and political luminaries as Gen. George Patton, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, British Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery, French Gen. Charles de Gaulle, Soviet Marshall Georgy Zhukov and Soviet Premier Josef Stalin.

In 1948, after the conclusion of the war and the occupation of Europe, Eisenhower revealed the depth of his commitment to God, calling himself  “one of the most deeply religious men I know”, although he remained unattached to any “sect or organization”.

Prior to his election in 1952, President Eisenhower served briefly as the President of New York’s Columbia University, and as Supreme Commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).  He and his 1952 running mate, Richard M. Nixon, beat Democrats Adlai Stevenson and John Sparkman to gain the White House in a landslide victory.  His philosophy was one of “dynamic conservatism”.  He retained New Deal programs, created the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, championed the creation of the Interstate Highway System, crafted the Eisenhower Doctrine after the Suez Crisis in 1956, and spearheaded the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960, declaring racial discrimination a national security issue.

President Eisenhower’s health became a troubling issue while in office.  He was hospitalized for several weeks in 1955 following a heart attack, and suffered from Crohn’s disease, which required more surgery and hospitalization in 1956 to relieve a bowel obstruction.  Fortunately, he recovered his health and continued to ably lead the country he loved.

Some quotes from this great American:

“A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both.”

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed.”

“Here in America we are descended in blood and in spirit from revolutionists and rebels – men and women who dare to dissent from accepted doctrine.  As their heirs, may we never confuse honest dissent with disloyal subversion.”

“History does not long entrust the care of freedom to the weak or the timid.”

“Humility must always be the portion of any man who receives acclaim earned in the blood of his followers and the sacrifices of his friends.”

“I can think of nothing more boring for the American people than to have to sit in their living rooms for a whole half hour looking at my face on their television screens.”

“I have only one yardstick by which I test every major problem – and that yardstick is: Is it good for America?”

October 4, 1957 – Soviets Launch Sputnik 1

Sputnik 1. Photo: NASA

 

On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union upped the ante in the Space Race with the successful launch of Sputnik 1, the first Earth-orbiting artificial satellite.  Blasted through the atmosphere from the Baikonur Cosmodrome aboard a two-stage R-7 rocket, Sputnik 1 was a 23-inch diameter, 184 pound, aluminum-magnesium-titanium sheathed sphere with two whip-like antennae.  Powered by silver-zinc batteries, it entered a low, elliptical orbit emitting a radio signal which could be received on Earth by both Soviet scientists and the curious (and highly-alarmed) American public.  Sputnik traveled 18,000 miles per hour, completing an Earth-orbit every 96 minutes.  Radio transmissions continued for 22 days, until transmitter batteries were exhausted.  The history-making satellite spent 3 months in orbit, traveling a total of 37 million miles, before burning up in atmospheric reentry on January 4, 1958.

While not able to conduct as many experiments as the Soviets had initially hoped, Sputnik was able to gather information during its three-month run concerning the density of the Earth’s upper atmosphere, radio-signal distribution in the ionosphere, and meteoroid detection by penetration of the satellite’s outer hull.

The successful launch of an artificial satellite was one of the primary goals of the International Geophysical Year (IGY), inaugurated on July 1, 1957.  The Soviets had first proposed developing such a satellite on May 27, 1954, and President Dwight Eisenhower announced on July 29, 1955 that the United States would send their own version of the technological achievement into space during the IGY.  But Sputnik took America and its government by surprise.  Americans now had to take Soviet scientific abilities much more seriously.  A sense of vulnerability to attack led to panic reactions by the public, as they listened in to Sputnik’s ominous “beep-beep” when it passed directly overhead.  The US government responded with renewed commitment to scientific and technological research, and military and educational program revamping and investment.  ICBMs, missile defense systems, and satellites were all placed on a developmental fast-track.  After several failed attempts, the United States’ first successful launch of its own artificial satellite, Explorer 1, occurred on January 31, 1958.

Numerous references to Sputnik in movies, television shows, and pop songs have made the term part of the American cultural landscape.  Replicas and models of the satellite can be found at the United Nations, the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, and the Science Museum in London.

September 30, 1957 – Havana Gunfire Threatens Batista Loyalist

Members of Batista’s Servicio de Inteligencia Militar (SIM) security forces. Photo source: Jim Hale of Arlequin’s World

On September 30, 1957, violence struck close to home for Cuba’s embattled President Fulgencio Batista as the New York Times reported that Luis Manuel Martinez, a leader in President Fulgencio Batista’s Progressive party youth movement, was the target of a shooting incident in downtown Havana.  Unidentified assailants opened fire on a crowded street, killing a merchant named Sixto Careiro and wounding Martinez and two unnamed victims – a woman and a youth.  The youth was arrested when a revolver was found in his possession.

Martinez worked as an assistant editor of the newspaper Tiempo, owned by Batista supporter Senator Rolando Masferrer.  According to the Times, he was one of the most active propagandists of the current regime.

Batista, in an NBC interview with Martin Agronsky broadcast on the day of the shooting, reaffirmed for the American viewing audience that he would honor the provisions of Cuba’s constitution by stepping down the following summer, when free elections would be held.

September 29, 1957 – The Kyshtym Disaster

Map of the Mayak and Kyshtym area, USSR. Image: Jan Rieke, NASA World Wind Screenshot

 

On September 29, 1957, an explosion in a steel storage tank containing liquid nuclear waste led to the release of a massive 2 MCi of radioactive material in the eastern Ural Mountains of the Soviet Union.  Spent nuclear waste generates heat, and when tank cooling systems failed, containment of the material failed and a non-nuclear explosion occurred on the order of 70-100 tons of TNT.  The Kyshtym Disaster, as it came to be called, was the third worst nuclear disaster in history, dwarfed only by the Chernobyl reactor explosions and fire in 1986 and the Fukushima Daiichi multiple reactor meltdowns in 2011.

The incident occurred at Mayak, a nuclear fuel reprocessing plant sequestered in the closed city of Ozyorsk, near the town of Kyshtym.  Within ten hours of the release, the radioactive cloud traveled 300-350 kilometers in a northeast direction.  Fallout contaminated an area of approximately 800 square kilometers later called the East-Ural Radioactive Trace (EURT).  Secrecy surrounding Mayak and its operations led to the suppression of information about the danger to the local population; it was a full week before people began to be evacuated, without explanation.  According to an article in Critical Mass Journal by Richard Pollock, people “grew hysterical with fear with the incidence of unknown ‘mysterious’ diseases breaking out.  Victims were seen with skin ‘sloughing off’ their faces, hands, and other exposed parts of their bodies”.

Knowledge about the event could only be gathered indirectly.  An estimated 200 people died from cancer as a direct result of the explosion and release; massive amounts of contaminated soil apparently were excavated and stockpiled; and an off-limits “nature reserve” was created in the EURT to isolate the affected region.  Studies of the effects of radioactivity on plants, animals, and ecosystems later conducted and published by faculty members of the Institute of Molecular Biology in Moscow eventually confirmed the rumors of a major radioactive release.

At the time, the Soviets were hurrying to catch up with American nuclear weapons researchers.  In their desire to produce sufficient quantities of weapons-grade uranium and plutonium, they proceeded without full understanding of the safety measures necessary to protect citizens and the environment.  Their lack of concern led to open dumping of highly radioactive waste into rivers and lakes.  The level of radioactivity in the town of Ozyorsk is currently claimed to be within safe limits, but the “East-Ural Nature Reserve”, as the EURT was deceptively renamed in 1968, is still heavily contaminated.