"I would rather live my life as if there is a God and die to find out there isn't, than live my life as if there isn't and die to find out there is."
--Albert Camus [1913-1960] French author and philosopher
FIRST RAILWAY LOCOMOTIVE DAY
On February 21, 1804, in Mid-Glamorgan, Wales, the first self-propelled steam railway locomotive was demonstrated. It was built by Richard Trevithick and it successfully puffed along a 10-mile track carrying 70 passengers and sufficient freight to make up a total 10-ton load.
In 1940, Henry A.H. Boot and John T. Randall, working at the University of Birmingham, England, create the first practical magnetron, vital in the development of airborne radar.
In 1943, North Africa: German tanks and two infantry battalions crack Allied line and occupy Kasserine Pass.
In 1944, Headline: Tojo makes himself “military czar” Hideki Tojo, prime minister of Japan, grabs even more power as he takes over as army chief of staff, a position that gives him direct control of the Japanese military.
After graduating from the Imperial Military Academy and the Military Staff College, Tojo was sent to Berlin as Japan’s military attache after World War I. Having earned a reputation for sternness and discipline, Tojo was given command of the 1st Infantry Regiment upon returning to Japan. In 1937, he was made chief of staff of the Kwantung Army in Manchuria, China. When he returned again to his homeland, Tojo assumed the office of vice-minister of war and quickly took the lead in the military’s increasing control of Japanese foreign policy, advocating the signing of the 1940 Tripartite Pact with Germany and Italy that made Japan an “Axis” power.
In July 1940, he was made minister of war and soon clashed with the prime minister, Prince Fumimaro Konoye, who had been fighting for reform of his government, namely, demilitarization of its politics. In October, Konoye resigned because of increasing tension with Tojo, who succeeded him as prime minister. Not only did Tojo keep his offices of army minister and war minister when he became prime minister, he also assumed the offices of minister of commerce and industry.
Tojo, now a virtual dictator, quickly promised a “New Order in Asia,” and toward this end supported the bombing of Pearl Harbor despite the misgivings of several of his generals. Tojo’s aggressive policies paid big dividends early on, with major territorial gains in Indochina and the South Pacific. But despite Tojo’s increasing control over his own country–tightening wartime industrial production and assuming yet another title, chief of staff of the army, on February 21, 1944–he could not control the determination of the United States, which began beating back the Japanese in the South Pacific. When Saipan fell to the U.S. Marines and Army on June 22, 1944, Tojo’s government collapsed. Upon Japan’s surrender, Tojo tried to commit suicide by shooting himself with an American .38 pistol but he was saved by an American physician who gave him a blood transfusion. He was convicted of war crimes by an international tribunal and was hanged on December 22, 1948.
In 1945, during the Battle of Iwo Jima, the escort carrier USS Bismarck Sea was sunk by kamikazes with the loss of 318 men.
In 1946, Indian naval mutiny at Bombay.
In 1947, Edwin H. Land publicly demonstrated his Polaroid Land camera, which could produce a black-and-white photograph in 60 seconds.
In 1954, No. 1 Billboard Pop Hit: "Secret Love," Doris Day.
In 1965, black nationalist leader Malcolm X (Malcolm Little) was murdered in New York as he was about to address a meeting of his Afro-American Unity Organisation. He was 39.
In 1972, President Nixon began his historic visit to China.
In 1973, Israeli fighter planes shot down a Libyan Airlines jet over the Sinai Desert, killing more than 100 people.
In 1975, three aides of U.S. ex-president Richard Nixon - former attorney general John Mitchell, former chief of staff H.R. Haldeman and domestic adviser John Ehrlichman - were jailed for obstructing the course of justice in the Watergate affair.
In 1986, Larry Wu-lai Chin, the first American found guilty of spying for China, killed himself in his Virginia jail cell.
In 1988, television evangelist Jimmy Swaggart tearfully confessed to his congregation in Baton Rouge, La., that he was guilty of an unspecified sin, and said he was leaving the pulpit temporarily. (Reports linked Swaggart to an admitted prostitute, Debra Murphree.)
In 1989, President Bush called Ayatollah Khomeini's death warrant against "Satanic Verses" author Salman Rushdie "deeply offensive to the norms of civilized behavior."
Czech dissident playwright Vaclav Havel was jailed by Prague's communist authorities for incitement and obstruction.
Opening arguments began in the Iran-Contra criminal trial of former national security aide Oliver North.
In 1990, addressing the U.S. Congress, Czechoslovak President Vaclav Havel said his nation welcomed U.S. help after decades of Soviet domination, but also said Europe should eventually "decide for itself" how long American and Soviet troops should remain.
In 1992, Kristi Yamaguchi won the gold medal in ladies' figure skating at the Albertville Olympics; Midori Ito of Japan won the silver, Nancy Kerrigan, the bronze.
CIA Director Gates said his agency would cooperate fully and willingly with any government effort to declassify documents relating to the Kennedy assassination.
Actor Paul Reubens, a.k.a. Pee-wee Herman, produced an anti-drug video, fulfilling his sentence on a 1991 indecent exposure charge.
In 1993, two 10-year-old boys were charged with abducting and killing a 2-year-old boy in a crime that shocked Britain. [Hell, it shocked me, too. -- The OK]
In 1994, with Bosnian Serbs complying with a NATO ultimatum to remove heavy guns near Sarajevo, President Clinton promised renewed efforts to help "reinvigorate the peace process."
Longtime CIA counterintelligence officer Aldrich Ames and his wife were arrested and charged with selling information to the Soviet Union and Russia.
In 1995, the United States and Mexico signed an agreement to unlock $20 billion in U.S. support to stabilize the peso, but under tough conditions.
Chicago stockbroker Steve Fossett became the first person to fly solo across the Pacific Ocean in a balloon, landing in Leader, Saskatchewan, Canada.
A Russian commission estimated as many as 24,400 civilians had died in the two-month uprising in the separatist republic of Chechnya.
In 1997, Whitewater prosecutor Kenneth Starr reversed his decision to resign.
The space shuttle Discovery returned to earth after a mission to upgrade the Hubble Space Telescope.
A bomb exploded at a gay and lesbian nightclub in Atlanta, injuring five people. [Eric Rudolph later admitted targeting the club.]
In 1998, Secretary General Kofi Annan began formal talks with Iraqi officials in the standoff over weapons inspections.
In 1999, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright reported little progress toward a Kosovo peace settlement during talks in Rambouillet, France.
In 2000, South Africa expelled Sierra Leone's Vice President and former rebel leader Foday Sankoh, after complaints that he violated a United Nations travel ban.
David Letterman returned to his Late Night show about five weeks after having an emergency quintuple heart bypass operation.
In 2001, a Predator UAV--up to then strictly a surveillance platform--hits a stationary Army tank with a live Hellfire-C missile.
In 2002, Daniel Pearl's brutal murder is another act of Muslim extremists that will be avenged in the war on terror. Pakistani and U.S. officials said they were able to confirm the death of the Wall Street Journal reporter after watching a gruesome videotape that showed his murder in graphic detail.
A former Roman Catholic priest was sentenced to prison for child molestation as a widening scandal involving alleged sexual abuse of children by priests brought anguish to the church worldwide.
In 2003, David Hasselhoff and his wife Pamela were injured in a motorcycle accident. The accident was caused by a strong gust of wind. Hasselhoff fractured his lower back and broke several ribs. His wife fractured her left ankle and right wrist.
Israel sent troops supported by tanks, armored personnel carriers, jeeps and bulldozers into the Gaza Strip, setting up security checks and closing off roads to Palestinians.
In 2004, the International Committee of the Red Cross visited former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein for the first time since his December capture.
In 2005, heavy snowfall in Indian-controlled Kashmir claimed more than 100 lives with dozens missing.
In 2006, brushing aside objections from Republicans and Democrats alike, President Bush endorsed the takeover of shipping operations at six major U.S. seaports by a state-owned business in the United Arab Emirates. He pledged to veto any bill Congress might approve to block the agreement.