What happened this month in history?

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February 1st 1894

Hollywood film director John Ford was born in Cape Elizabeth, Maine.

Hollywood film director John Ford was born in Cape Elizabeth, Maine on February 1st 1894. He is best remembered as one of the best directors of all time, an icon of cinema history, whose films managed to mythologized the Old West and along the way made actor John Wayne famous! It wasn’t by accident that he fell into the motion picture industry. He following his older brother to Hollywood, where he assisted his successful brother as a stagehand, prop man and as an occasional actor. Servicing his apprenticeship under his brother, he soon realized his real talents lay behind the camera. It wasn’t long before he was making a name for himself, as a silent film director, many of which were westerns. Hollywood westerns were a dim a dozen in those early days, especially in the 1930’s and most of them forgettable B movies, until John Ford’s Stagecoach (1939) arguably began a resurgence in ‘quality’ western films. Today we consider it a landmark film, and a career-defining picture for one of Hollywood’s greatest directors. He went on to make a treasure trove of classic westerns, which included the likes of Fort Apache (1949), She Wore a Yellow Ribbon (1949), The Searchers (1956) and The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962).

Despite the fact that he is best known for his westerns, he was versatile enough to explore and film adaptations of classic 20th century novels such as The Grapes of Wrath (1940) and How Green Was My Valley (1941). Interestingly, it was these films he made away from the western genre, that he was decorated with a record of four academy awards as best director. As a filmmaker he certainly knew what he wanted his pictures to look like and used his directorial style to get the best out of his film crew, actors and actresses. Though, if we are to remember Ford as a famous Western films director, we cannot go by without mentioning his favourite western location, Utah’s Monument Valley. It is here on that we are treated to some of the most stunning cinematography ever filmed. His trademark long shot and ability to turn the inhospitable, rugged and vast Utah valley into something beautiful is Ford’s genius. His commanding use of location (Utah) has also forever defined what audiences think of when they imagine the American West!   

 

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February 7th 457 AD

The First Byzantine Emperor? Leo I The Thracian is crowned emperor.

Historians have debated for a long time about the actual date of the foundation of the Byzantine Empire. The general consensus is that it began under the reign Constantine The Great in the early fourth century. Though there are many more identifiable dates or ‘markers’ in history to choose from and most ‘beginning’ dates all have their merits. On the 7th February, 457, a Thracian by the name of Flavius Valerius Leo was crowned as emperor. What was significant about his coronation is that he was the first emperor crowned by the patriarch of Constantinople. Interestingly, under his reign, the empire made a definitive move away from military authority to a religious ‘ mystical concept of soveignity’. (Leo was a champion of Nicene Orthodoxy.) He was also known unflatteringly as ‘The Butcher’, who cleansed himself of his barbarian general Aspar. He murdered Aspar and his son, in 471. Some say he was hardly deserving of the unofficial title because, by the standards of the time, he had astonishingly little blood on his hands. Leo would reign as emperor of the East and intermittently over the whole of the Roman Empire for seventeen years until his death in 474.

 

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February 15th 1942

The Fall of Singapore

When a substantial British fleet failed to materialize in the Far East in late 1941, it was inevitable that Singapore would fall to a rampaging Japanese force. The Japanese were acutely aware of the state of Singapore’s defence. Its spies had reported that Britain’s “impregnable” fortress in Singapore was undermanned and under-equipped. Almost simultaneously, as one Japanese fleet attacked Pearl Harbour, a second advanced for northern Malaya. With relative ease and speed the Japanese swallowed strategic ports and islands at will. Japan also had complete control of the air and the sea by December 1941, when it sunk two British battle cruisers operating around Malaya. The stage was now set for the Battle of Singapore in early February 1942.

The Japanese attack on Singapore began with a five-day artillery bombardment and air assault. By the 8th of February, the first Japanese ground troops made their way through undefended sections of Australian forces defence lines. With communication lines cut, the Australians couldn’t signal the British to use their spotlights to aid finding the fast-moving, mobile Japanese force. A day later a second Japanese landing force struck between the causeway and the Kranji River and by the morning of the 10th the entire northwest of the island was overrun with Japanese troops.

The Australian, British and Indian troops tried desperately to hold the Japanese. Counter attacks in fierce fighting raged throughout the 10th and 11th did little to help. The situation grew grim as the superiority of the Japanese artillery and air war began to take its toll on the allies. The Japanese gamble and bluff to take Singapore was paying off. It is incredible to think that the Japanese were outnumbered three to one, and still managed to drive forward in their attacks and outflank several divisions.

By the 14th and 15th, the allies were forced into a small pocket on the island. About one million civilian also got caught up in the fighting behind the defensive lines of the allies. Ammunition, food and water supplies were also running out. The situation became very dire as the last line of defence was broken through on the morning of the 15th. After some consultation with senior commanders, British lieutenant-general Percival decided to surrender to the Japanese. In the aftermath of the surrender, huge numbers of British and Australian soldiers were taken prisoner and were stationed at Changi prison. A third of these would die in captivity from disease, starvation and neglect. Many thousands of others were shipped out on transports around Asia, including Japan, to be used as forced labour.

 

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February 24th 303 AD

The Great Persecution

The first truly organized prosecution of Christians came after the Great Fire of Rome in 64 AD under the Emperor Nero. Looking for a scapegoat in the devastating aftermath of the fire, he found it in the Christians. He would blame them for the fire because of their apocalyptic belief that Rome and the world would end by fire. This led to an active and organised campaign against them. The second and third centuries sporadically saw more of the same prosecutions, especially under the reign of Emperors Decius and Valerian. The last and truly terrible prosecution of Christians occurred at the beginning of the fourth century. A general edict of persecution, under the authority of Emperor Diocletian, was published on February 24th, 303 AD. Interestingly, on the day before the edict was published, Diocletian ordered the new Church at Nicomedia to be demolished. It was meant to signal the beginning of the end of Christianity for once and for all. Diocletian was inspired by his predecessor’s attempts to wipe out the Christians because they refused to offer up prayers to the pagan gods of Rome, which was something that was required by all the subjects of the empire. Diocletian supposedly also feared that the Roman gods had gone silent because of the disobedience of the Christians for putting their faith in only one god.

So began the ‘Great Persecutions’ as Bishops were imprisoned and tortured, in the general hope that they would renounce their belief their god and return to the established practice of pagan worship. This edict or order was extended to the general Christian population too. Subsequently there were many deaths because Christians simply refused to renounce their faith in Jesus Christ. As part of the persecutions, churches and martyrs tombs desecrated and destroyed including Christian scriptures.

When Diocletian abdicated his throne in 305, his junior emperor Galerius, carried on with the persecutions with furious brutality for another six years. (It is important to note that the western half of the Roman Empire was largely unaffected by the persecutions because Emperor Constantius and later his son, Constantine, had no enthusiasm to belittle or persecute the Christians.) By 311, Galerius officially finally put an end to the persecutions. Coincidentally, the end of the persecutions came at a time when he was serious ill, and he feared his illness was punishment inflicted on him by the Christian God. Christians were therefore once again allowed to worship their god. Scarcely two years later in 313, in a joint statement between Constantine and Licinius, Christianity would be placed on an equal footing with all other pagan religions of the empire.

 

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February 26th 1924

Adolf Hitler Tried for Beer Hall Putsch.

The trial of Adolf Hitler and his co-conspirators, for the Beer Hall Putsch began on February 26th 1924. The Beer Hall Putsch was Hilter’s aggressive attempt to overthrow the Weimar Republic and establish unlawfully Nazi rule. On November 9th, Hitler marched on Munich at the head of a 3,000 strong supporter base, but were confronted by the army and police. In the ensuing gunfight, sixteen Nazis and four policemen were killed. Hitler was arrested in the aftermath of the failed coup and brought to trial under the charges of treason. The trial lasted a little over four weeks, which provided Hitler with the best possible opportunity to publicly announce his political views. He argued strongly that his actions were for the good of the German people because they needed a champion to save them. Hitler was eventually convicted and sentenced to 5 years in Landsberg prison. However, he would only serve nine months of his sentence, which Hitler later saw as a great moral and propaganda victory to his cause. During this time in prison, he wrote his infamous book Mein Kampf and realized that to eventually attain absolute power, he would have to do everything strictly by the law. Ten years later, Adolf Hitler would become Führer of Germany.

 

Photo Credits: All images used are in the public domain except the b/w image of Adolf Hilter and his Beer Hall Putsch co-conspirators, which is used under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Germany license.

 

 



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  1. The Fall of Singapore 15 February 1942 – If It Happened Yesterday, It’s History | First Night History
  2. The Great Persecution – If It Happened Yesterday, It's History
  3. Adolf Hitler Tried for Beer Hall Putsch – If It Happened Yesterday, It’s History | First Night History

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