What happened this month in history?

December 2nd 1956

The Granma

Shortly before 5.00am on the 2nd of December 1956, a small shabby boat named the Granma ran aground in a marshy area known as Purgatory Point on the south-western tip of eastern Cuba. On board this boat were 82 men, who set sail seven days earlier from a small port town of Tuxpan in Mexico with thoughts of revolution. Amongst them was the Cuban resistance leader Fidel Castro and his brother Raul and Ernesto Guevara, who the world would come to know simply as ‘Che’. Led by Castro, this motley band of exiles and fugitives would eventually overthrow the regime of President Batista of Cuba in 1959.

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December 7th, 43 B.C.

The Death of Rome’s Greatest Orator.

Marcus Tullius Cicero was the greatest orator of the late Roman Republic. In his capacity, as a statesman, lawyer, scholar and writer, he tried desperately to champion Republican principles and justice in the final civil wars of the Republican period. He exposed much corruption, earning him the scorn of Sulla, which caused him to flee Rome for the safety of Athens. He eventually returned to Rome, after Sulla’s death, and a decade or so later in the year 66 B.C, he would viciously denounce the decadent Catiline, who aimed to overthrow the government. With his own self-importance growing, he alienated important figures in the Senate, which resulted in charges raised against him for ordering the killing of Roman citizens during these turbulent years. He was exiled and eventually invited back by the First Triumvirate. However, by this time, his own political power in Rome was curtailed by his new overlords, to favour their own agendas. Unhappy, he left Rome again, taking on a governorship in Cilicia. When news broke of a new civil war, Cicero took Pompey’s side, but was pardoned by Julius Caesar. Fortunate to find himself, not on Caesar’s ‘hit list’, Cicero bided his time carefully. Though when he heard of Caesar’s murder, he took delight in his undoing and threw himself back into politics.

Cicero’s return to politics would eventually lead to his own fall from power. Cicero’s contemptuous rhetoric in the post-Caesar years against Mark Anthony, openly urging the Senate to name Anthony an enemy of the state, did not go down well. Anthony took his revenge, by demanding that if Octavian (later Augustus) wished to align himself in an alliance with him, the price he had to pay was silencing Cicero for good. Octavian, at first, protest but reluctantly agreed, and a dogged chase ensued until Cicero was captured at one of his villas. On December 7th, the great statesman, Cicero was beheaded, his hands cut off and displayed in the forum. To add insult to injury, Anthony’s wife Fulvia, pierced the tongue of the dead Cicero, as a final revenge against Cicero’s ‘power of speech’. In the end, Cicero’s words and legacy outlasted Anthony, never waning in influence over the centuries.

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December 8th 1980

Death of John Lennon.

John Lennon was fatally shot by Mark Chapman at the entryway of his The Dakota home, in New York City, on this day in 1980, just moments after having returned from the Record Plant Studio. A police vehicle rushed Lennon to St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital, where he was sadly pronounced dead on arrival.

When the news report went out very late that 8th of December during a broadcast of ABC’s Monday Night Football, the world was stunned and shaken. An amazing outpouring of public grief instantly rang out that night and the days that followed. Music fans around the world had lost an incredible talent. 

John Lennon was famously one of the members of The Beatles, who co-wrote almost all of the bands songs with his collaborator Paul McCartney. His hits are instantly recognizable, which include – A Day in the Life, Strawberry Fields Forever, Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds and All You Need is Love. As a solo artist he had intermittent success with his most celebrated anthems being Give Peace A Chance, Happy Xmas (War Is Over) and Imagine. Besides his illustrious career, he was famed for his political activism and paciificism. Interestingly, it was his celebrated role as a pacifist that led to the Nixon administration to move proceeding to have Lennon deported from the United States in 1972. In 1975, Lennon’s three and a half year legal battle with the US government was overturned in his favour. He lived out the rest of his life with his wife Yoko Ono and their son Sean, in his beloved New York City.

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December 15th, 1961

Nortorious Nazi Found Guilty of Crimes Against the Jewish People.

Nazi SS-Colonel Adolf Eichmann was found guilty of many of the most heinous crimes of World War Two and twentieth century history on December 15, 1961, in a district court in Jerusalem, Israel. He was subsequently put to death for his role in the deportation of Jewry across occupied Europe during the Holocaust, six months later at midnight on June 1st, 1962.

As a relative nobody, Eichmann successfully rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in the Nazi regime, who coordinated the deportation of millions of Jews, from Poland to occupied parts of Russia in the north of Europe to Belgium and Hungary in central Europe. In Hungary, for instance, Adolf Eichmann personally made his presence felt by supervising the deportation of almost 500,000 Hungarian Jews.

The deep-seated anti-Semitic, Eichmann, found himself in US custody at the end of the war, but managed to escape in 1946. He fled to Argentina, which sparked a long drawn out manhunt that lasted 14 years. In 1960, his flight from justice in Argentina finally came to an end, when Israeli Security Service (Mossad) captured and abducted Eichmann outside Buenos Aires, and secretly brought him back to Israel.

The trial that took place following his abduction, aroused once more great international attention, bringing Nazi atrocities and his involved in the systematic extermination of Jewry to the world’s attention.

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December 20th 1860

South Carolina becomes the first state to secede from the Union.

A healthy debate is still argued today, as to what were the most important reasons for secession and all-out war, during the American Civil War. Most historians agree that slavery was its primary spark. South Carolina, with a history steeped in slave society, became the first state to secede from the Union (the North) in a prelude to the Civil War on December 20th, 1860. Soon after, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas all seceded. Interestingly, in the state that first seceded, around the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina, the Civil War began with a bombardment on April 12th, 1861. Canon fire smashed through Fort Sumter, a Federal installation and after three days, Union soldiers surrendered the fort. Following this engagement widespread support, from both the Union and Confederate states, for war escalated. On April 17th, Virginia seceded, followed shortly by Arkansas, Tennessee, and North Carolina. These states eventually formed an eleven state Confederacy with an armed strength of a little over one million soldiers. The Union led by Abraham Lincoln, with a much larger northern population, was able to draw on a strength of around two million men.

Note: The Sovereignty/secession flag, as illustrated above, was never recognized as an official flag in South Carolina. It is said that it was flown for a short period of time after it seceded from the Union on December 20, 1860.

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December 25th 1914

The Christmas Truce of 1914

It all began innocently enough as British and German soldiers on the northern sector of the western front enjoyed a brief respite in hostilities that began sometime around the week leading into Christmas. A “live and let live” arrangement arguably allowed soldiers to cope with the appalling conditions that they had found themselves in during the winter of 1914. The weather was generally terrible that Christmas week including December 24th, which was blanketed in a heavy fog, which helped facilitate a surreal feeling of quiet. As British soldiers along the northern sector sat in their trenches that Christmas Eve, they began to hear the sounds of Christmas carols, being sung by German soldiers opposite them across the stretch of no-mans-land. As they stuck their heads out to see what was going on many were also astonished to see German Christmas trees along their trenches.

The singing of carols continued like this throughout the night on Christmas Eve and it was sometime in the early morning on Christmas day, that a handful of German soldiers came out of their trenches and greeted the British across no-man’s-land to wish them a Merry Christmas. Out in the middle of no-man’s-land the soldiers would go onto exchange things like German beer and cigars for British tins of beef, buttons and plum pudding. There was even a documented case of soldiers playing football matches after the British found a ball from behind their trenches. 

Events like this throughout war history are not uncommon, as informal truces and ceasefires have allowed soldiers to fraternise with the enemy, usually to rescue or attend to wounded men. But the Christmas truce of 1914 was something entirely different.

This series aims to take a look at many of the important events or memorable moments that shape our history month after month. It will be on occasions updated to include additional material, giving you the reader a rough guide to what happened this month in history!

*This article was originally published on December 1st 2015.

Photo Credit: Every effort has been made to trace and acknowledge appropriate credit. All images are in the public domain, except the header image of the Granma beached on a sandbank with Castro’s rebels wading ashore. I am unsure of its copyright status. I make use of it under the fair use rationale to highlight a significantly important moment in history. The image of Adolf Eichmann on trial in Jerusalem is licensed under the Getty images embedding service.