October 29, 1897: Joseph Goebbels is born.
Hitler’s chief propagandist (“Minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda”) was a bitter, diminutive figure described by Albert Speer as an “intellectual” who “looked down on the crude philistines” that made up much of the party, and by others as a “goblin”, as a “poison dwarf”, and “the little doctor”. Goebbels was, physically, the opposite of the Aryan ideal - he was short, frail, dark-haired, and he had, as a child, developed a deformity on his leg that caused him to walk with a limp. Despite his far-from-perfect appearance, Goebbels was also apparently a “serial seducer”.
Goebbels joined the NSDAP in 1924, while Adolf Hitler was still serving a prison sentence for leading the Beer Hall Putsch. In the end, he was also probably Hitler’s most loyal supporter; Goebbels wrote of his love for his Führer, whom he described as a “political genius”, and he replaced Hitler as Chancellor after the latter’s death. He held this position for only a day, before his entire family committed suicide.
In life, Goebbels and his ministry were in charge of maintaining the cultural identity of the Third Reich and implementing the policy known as Gleischaltung. This involved, among other things, purging the German art and music scenes of what was considered degenerate (typically modern art, jazz, and anything “Jewish” in nature). Goebbels and Hitler were also interested in using film as a means of propaganda; documentaries were filmed, of course, but cinema was media for the masses, and films like Jud Süß (a box-office hit created at the behest of Goebbels) were both popular with the public and effective anti-semitic propaganda.
October 28, 1962: The Cuban Missile Crisis ends.
The Cuban Missile Crisis marked the highest point of tension between the United States and USSR during the Cold War. After President Kennedy ordered a “quarantine” of Cuba on October 22, declaring in an address that the United States would regard any missile attacks from Cuba “as an attack by the Soviet Union on the United States, requiring a full retaliatory response upon the Soviet Union.”
Four days later, the crisis reached a stalemate; the Soviet Union had not displayed any signs of backing down, and the United States could not possibly allow the missiles to remain where they were, less than 100 miles from Florida. The Strategic Air Command was ordered to DEFCON 2, the highest state of military readiness before imminent nuclear war (the first and only time during the entire Cold War). The crisis was finally ended by secret negotiations conducted between President Kennedy’s Cabinet and Soviet officials. Khrushchev would remove his missiles from Cuba, and the United States pledged never to invade Cuba and also to remove its Jupiter missiles from Turkey, a promise that was fulfilled by April of 1963.
Because of the secretive nature of these negotiations, the USSR came out of the crisis as the weaker party, even though both countries had been forced to compromise. To the public, however, it seemed as though the USSR had completely succumbed to American pressure, and Khrushchev’s removal from office two years later may have been in part caused by the embarrassing aftermath of the event. After this close brush with nuclear war, the Soviet Union and United States established the Moscow-Washington hotline (the “red telephone”), which provided a clearer and more direct means of communication between the two nations.
October 27, 1858: Theodore Roosevelt is born.
Theodore Roosevelt took office as president of the United States upon the assassination of William McKinley in 1901; interestingly enough, although he is often regarded as one of the country’s greatest presidents, he was forced onto the Republican ticket by political bosses against the will of McKinley’s campaign manager.
Roosevelt was president, but he was also an avid reader, an athlete, a respected historian, a sheriff, New York City Police Commissioner, Assistant Secretary of the Navy, commander of the “Rough Riders” cavalry regiment, and governor of New York. He was often hesitant and passive on the subject of racial equality, but he was also the first president to invite an African-American to the White House for dinner. He was a big game hunter and also an outspoken conservationist who placed over 200 million acres of land under public protection. He was repelled by corruption, and he was the first major trust-busting president, as well as the first president to use federal power to intervene and arbitrate a strike rather than to crush it. He issued a corollary to the Monroe Doctrine that was used to advance American imperialism, and he encouraged the strengthening of the country’s then relatively weak military, but he also won the Nobel Peace Prize for his successful mediation between Russia and Japan at a 1905 peace conference. He was born into a wealthy, privileged family, but his political philosophy of “New Nationalism" was a mostly pro-labor program designed to protect workers from exploitation (among other points).
Roosevelt promoted the idea of a strong American identity (he once called the country ”the mightiest nation upon which the sun shines”), and in some ways his presidency can be seen as the starting point of the modern United States.
October 23, 1942: The Second Battle of El Alamein begins.
Seventy years ago, the North African campaign reached its climax when Allied forces decisively defeated German-Italian forces at the coastal Egyptian town of El Alamein. At the First Battle of El Alamein, which took place in July of 1942, the Allied and Axis armies fought to a stalemate, although the Axis advance into Egypt (and toward the Suez Canal) was halted temporarily. The twelve-day second clash pit forces commanded by Erwin Rommel against those under the newly-appointed commander of the Eighth Army, Bernard Montgomery. Rommel was outnumbered in nearly every way possible. The Allied force had more men (British, Australian, South African, Greek, French, even Indian), more tanks, more cars, more artillery, and more aircraft; granted, the Allies had also outnumbered their foes at their first engagement at El Alamein, but now their advantage was almost overwhelming, particularly the air support provided by the RAF versus that provided by its German and Italian counterparts. In the end, the British took some 30,000 prisoners of war.
In his "The End of the Beginning" speech, delivered in November, Winston Churchill said of the Allied victories: “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” True enough, the defeat at El Alamein did not completely stamp out the Axis in Africa, but it was the turning point of the North African Campaign. The battle was also a huge morale booster. After the war, Churchill wrote: “It may almost be said, 'Before Alamein we never had a victory. After Alamein we never had a defeat.'" The Axis’ forces were driven all the way to Tunisia, and in May 1943, Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps surrendered to the Allies. In 1946 Bernard Montgomery was granted the title Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, commemorating his crucial victory there.
Edmund Dulac (October 22, 1882 – May 25, 1953)
October 21, 1805: The Battle of Trafalgar is fought.
At the Battle of Trafalgar, fought off Cape Trafalgar (south of Spain), the British Royal Navy engaged and decisively defeated a larger Spanish-French force in one of the most significant engagements of the War of the Third Coalition. Before the 1800s, the British Royal Navy (while large) was consistently matched or outmatched by enemy forces, but its victory at Trafalgar cemented Great Britain’s status as the greatest naval power in the world.
The main commanders at Trafalgar were Pierre-Charles Villeneuve, Federico Gravina, and one-armed national hero Horatio Nelson; the latter two died from injuries sustained during battle. As the battle commenced, Nelson famously signaled “England expects that every man will do his duty”. He was shot and killed on the deck of the HMS Victory during the battle, but managed to defeat the larger force through superior tactics, and in the end the British took twenty-one enemy ships and 8,000 men prisoner. The real victory, however, was that the British were now ensured safety against French invasion. Trafalgar probably had little effect (compared to its long-term significance) on the war itself, as Napoleon’s victory at Austerlitz just months later crushed the Third Coalition, but Britain’s dominance at sea lasted until long after the Emperor’s death.