What happened this month in history?

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March 5th 1946

Winston Churchill delivers his ‘Iron Curtain’ speech.

In the days just after the Nazi surrender Winston Churchill was moved to warn President Truman, a year before he famously used the metaphor, that an ‘iron curtain’ was drawing upon Europe. The seeds for this warning were arranged at Yalta, in February 1945, where the division of Europe was sealed and that of the postwar fate of Eastern Europe and the Balkans. Convoys of tanks carried Soviet agents into Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Hungary and Romania was not liked, but reluctantly tolerated. Each side of the political divide had agreed to respect each others sphere of influence. This, of course, did not soothe Churchill’s concerns and whether or not through honour, duty or a little bit of ‘grandstanding’, Churchill on March 5th 1946 made his famous address at Westminster College, Fulton Missouri.

“From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the Continent. Behind that line lie all the capitals of the ancient states of Central and Eastern Europe. Warsaw, Berlin, Prague, Vienna, Budapest, Belgrade, Bucharest and Sofia, all these famous cities and the populations around them lie in what I must call the Soviet sphere, and all are subject in one form or another, not only to Soviet influence but to a very high and, in many cases, increasing measure of control from Moscow.”

This most important passage of the ‘iron curtain’ speech attracted immediate world attention. Once, where the press had portrayed an alliance of the three equals between the United States, Britain and Soviet Union, now was about to turn ‘Uncle Jo’ (Stalin) into a screaming depot, forcing whole countries into submission.

Churchill’s speech from Moscow was responded in kind very aggressively. Soviet cartoonists created defamatory representations of Churchill and the West. These new type of caricatures would go onto form part of a new type of (cold) war, in which governments taught whole populations to demonize each other. The Soviets, in turn, would go on a defensive ‘war’ by further buffering its sphere of influence away from the West.

This decline in cordiality of relations after 1946, fortunately didn’t come to ‘real’ war, although many thought war was frighteningly close with the Berlin Blockade of 1948-49 and later the Cuban Missile Crisis as two examples. As the ‘cold war’ took shape and/or intensified, the metaphor ‘iron curtain’ that Churchill had first coined, came to be accepted by people throughout the West, as the divide between east and west.

 

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March 10th 241 BCE

The Battle of the Aegates Islands

The naval battle of the Aegates Islands, off the coast of Sicily, was fought between the Romans and Carthaginians on March 10th in the year 241 BCE. The result saw the Romans convincing winners over the seafaring empire of Carthage. Why it is important, if not astonishing, is that the Romans who had no traditions of shipbuilding or naval, literally built a fleet of ships from scratch to become masters of the western Mediterranean. The Battle of the Aegates islands was the last significant campaign of the First Punic War that had lasted over twenty years. The battle is best remembered for the Romans advantage in speed and maneuverability. While the seafaring Carthaginians were much more formidable on the seas, the shrewd Romans during the beginning of the naval engagement bided their time patiently, trapping the Carthaginians and eventually sealing off their sea route in a sudden successful assault.

The most effective tool of the Romans and Carthaginians warships (during this campaign) was their battering ram, which they used to pummel each other to smithereens. As a result, up to 50 Carthaginian ships were sunk and 70 more warships were captured along with their crews. The death toll amounted in the thousands and the rest of the Carthaginians fled for safety. The victorious Romans only suffered the loss of 30 galleys. Shortly after the battle, the Carthaginians asked for peace and the Romans won control of Sicily.

 

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March 16th 1926

The King of Comedy Jerry Lewis was born in Newark, New Jersey.

Jerry Lewis was born Joseph Levitch In Newark on March 16, 1926. He was the only child of vaudeville performers, who often left Jerry with family while they travelled from city to city making a living. It wasn’t too long before Jerry Lewis started performing at age five alongside his parents. By nineteen he was a high school dropout with a wife and baby and a struggling career that didn’t add up to much. All that changed one fateful crisp March day in Midtown, Manhattan, in 1945, when Jerry met Dean Martin. For ten years from 1946 to 1956, Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin, bedazzled fans, firstly in America and later around the world. Their antics on film (and stage) made almost an entire nation laugh until their sides burst. Then one day, it all came to an end, as one of the greatest comedy acts of all time split up. (For years the two maestros would not comment on their split nor consider a reunion.)

Following Jerry’s split with Dean Martin, Lewis embarked on a successful solo career. He made several notably comedies, such as The Bellboy (1960), The Ladies Man (1961) and The Nutty Professor (1963). By the late 60’s his star began to fade, but he always remained on the radar, as host of the annual Labor Day Telethon for the Muscular Dystrophy Association. It’s hard to believe that, at the time of this article, Jerry Lewis is alive and well. In fact, Jerry Lewis celebrates his 90th birthday soon. 

 

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March 17th 180 CE

Death of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius.

The last of the ‘five good emperors’, Marcus Aurelius, died while on campaign at his Danube military headquarters in Vindobona (Vienna) on 17th March, 180. He was genuinely grieved by the people of Rome, especially the men of his legions. Although he had no way of knowing that history would name him as one of the ‘five good emperors’, what Marcus Aurelius wanted more than anything was to rule like his predecessors. Growing up in the Antonine Age, he was given every opportunity to follow in the footsteps of his predecessors. He was trained as a kindhearted administrator, living and ruling by the principles of Stoic philosophy that he very much admired. Unfortunately what he got was a never-ending cycle of violence on the frontiers.

This however did not deter him as he courageous accepted the role that the Roman gods had chosen for him and gathered up his armour and rode to the defense of the empire. He menaced and hammered his enemies, especially the German tribes without relent, pushing them back further and further year after year. He came very close to ending nearly all of his conflicts just before he died.

When Marcus Aurelius wasn’t out welding his sword in battle, or in his tent sorting out administrative paperwork that poured on his desk, he took time out to write a philosophical diary in an attempt to understand and crack “the underlining code of existence”. His diary would become a profoundly influential work on how one should live their life. Even today, thousands of copies of his Meditations are sold worldwide, reminding us of the intelligence of a man who once said, “If any man can prove that any action or idea of mine is wrong, I will accept the fact gladly. I only seek the truth, which never injured anyone.”

 

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March 29th 867 

The consecration of the first new image in the Hagia Sophia after Iconoclasm.

The Hagia Sophia is believed to be the first church in Constantinople to have been decorated with figural religious imagery following the controversial period of religious strife known as Iconoclasm that raged in Byzantium between 726 and 843 CE. (In fact, it is believed that no other monumental images was ever decorated in the great church before Iconoclasm? If we are to believe Byzantine tradition, during Justinian’s reign, the Hagia Sophia was only ever decorated solely of crosses against a gold background.)

The mosaic of the Virgin and Child is masterstroke of political and religious propaganda worthy of any state during the middle ages. It was consecrated by the patriarch Photios in a sermon on March 29th 867, and intended as a public statement to illustrate the triumph of the Iconophiles over iconoclasm in 843 CE. The choice of subject of the Virgin, and in particular, the infant Christ was also significant because it celebrated the ‘incarnation of God as man’. Interestingly, an inscription around the mosaic reads: “The images that the heretics cast down from here, pious emperors have set up again.”

 

Photo credit: Every effort has been made to trace and appropriate acknowledge all the images used this article. All images appear to be in the public domain except the image of the Virgin and child, which is by flickr user George Rex, and is used under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 license. The image of the Athlit naval battering ram is used and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 license. The movie still image of the film The Bellboy (1960) is courtesy of Paramount Pictures. I make use of the images under the rational of fair use to highlight an examples of the body of Jerry Lewis’ work. 



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