This Week in People’s History, Oct. 10-Oct. 16
U.S. to World Court: Drop Dead!
October 10, 1983 (40 years ago). The U.S. Navy attacks the Nicaraguan port of Corinto, destroying 3.2 million gallons of stored gasoline.
For the most part, the U.S. war on the Sandinista regime in Nicaragua is being waged by the Contras, a force that was not part of the official U.S. military establishment but was secretly supplied and trained by the CIA. But the Navy conducted the attack on Corinto because the Contras lacked the required equipment and training.
Three years later, In 1986, the World Court, an agency of the UN, found that the Navy's attack on Corinto had been a violation of international law. The attack was one of the elements of the case that led to the World Court's final determination that the U.S. was liable to pay Nicaragua hundreds of millions of dollars in reparations.
The U.S. did not comply with the court order, not because the World Court lacked jurisdiction, but because the U.S. was able to prevent the UN Security Council from enforcing the decision. After the U.S. used its veto to evade its legal and financial responsibility to Nicaragua, the UN General Assembly voted 94-3 urging the U.S. to comply; the nays were the U.S., El Salvador and Israel. The U.S. ignored the General Assembly's appeal, of course. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicaragua_v._United_States
ACT UP Demonstration Shuts Down the FDA
October 11, 1988 (35 years ago). A massive demonstration by the lesbian and gay rights group ACT UP, using the slogan Silence = Death, shuts down the Food and Drug Administration's Washington, D.C., HQ for an entire day in protest of federal inaction on developing treatments for HIV/AIDS.
The federal government's response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which had killed at least 48,000 people by the time of the demonstration, was not just silent, it was contemptuous. Even though it had been front-page news for years, POTUS Reagan said nothing about it in public until September 1985, after it had already caused some 12,000 fatalities. By the time Reagan first acknowledged the issue, his top aides Pat Buchanan and Larry Speakes made their negative opinions clear. Buchanan had written, "The poor homosexuals. They have declared war on nature, and now nature is exacting an awful retribution."
In March 1987 the House Committee on Government Operations reported “The Federal administration has been very reluctant to recognize the true dimensions of and propose an adequately funded federal response to AIDS.” https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2011/12/before-occupy-how-ai…
A Very, Very, Top-Secret Secret
October 12, 1973 (50 years ago). Because money to pay for top-secret U.S. activities must be appropriated by the U.S. Congress, a small number of members of Congress with high security clearances need to receive a minimum of information about the secret activities they are being asked to fund. On this day in 1973, the Senate Committee on Secret and Confidential Documents publishes a report objecting to the way it is kept totally in the dark about some secret programs. The report lists some programs that Congress wants more information about. One of the listed programs is the Pentagon's National Reconnaissance Office (NRO). The committee's very publication of the NRO's name is a breach of security, because the office is so clandestine that even its name is considered to be a secret. The official publication of the NRO's name gets very little attention because no one without a security clearance has ever heard of it, and the republic does not crumble, but there is a shake up in the Senate committee's staff. https://www.govinfo.gov/content/pkg/GPO-INTELLIGENCE/html/int018.html
Stars and Stripes Fly over Dixie in 1863!
October 13, 1863 (160 years ago). Five counties in southeast Mississippi, where both plantations and slaves are rare because the land is not suited for industrial-scale agriculture, secede from the rest of the state and establish a multi-racial, anti-slavery "Free State" where the stars and stripes of the United States fly proudly over public buildings. The creation of the free state is led by local farmer Newton Knight, who had returned to his farm after deserting from the Confederate Army. The area becomes, and remains for the duration of the Civil War, a haven for Confederate Army deserters and for self-emancipated formerly enslaved persons. It is also a no-go zone for Mississippi officials, several of whom are killed when they challenge the authority of the local population. After the defeat of the Confederacy, Knight was appointed a deputy U.S. Marshal. https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/true-story-free-state-jones-1809…
GIs Strike Against the Vietnam War
October 14, 1968 (55 years ago). At the height of the war against Vietnam, 27 enlisted men stage a sit-down strike to protest the Army's refusal to honor promises that they had been given by recruiters that they would receive non-combat status. The demonstration garners international attention because it takes place in the Presidio, a large U.S. Army base in the middle of San Francisco. The Army charges the protesters with mutiny and sentences them to many years at hard labor, but the resulting storm of negative publicity convinces the Army to soon release them all with dishonorable discharges. https://abc7news.com/presidio-27-mutiny-in-san-franciscos-vietnam-war-p…
Supreme Court Prefers Civil Wrongs to Civil Rights
October 15, 1883 (140 years ago). By an 8-1 vote, the U.S. Supreme Court decides that the Civil Rights Act of 1875 is unconstitutional. According the court, nothing in the Constitution gives Congress the power to outlaw racial discrimination by private citizens. The court's racist decision puts an end to attempts to ensure the civil rights of formerly enslaved citizens, and ushers in the widespread segregation in housing, employment and public life that confined Blacks and other minorities to second-class citizenship throughout much of the U.S. until the passage of civil rights legislation in the 1960s in the wake of the civil rights movement. https://www.thirteen.org/wnet/jimcrow/stories_events_uncivil.html
U.S. Olympic Athletes Protest Racism and War
October 16, 1968 (55 years ago). After two sprinters from the U.S. place first and third in the finals of the 200-meter dash at the Olympic Games, the two dramatically demonstrate their support of the Olympic Project for Human Rights (OPHR) by bowing their heads and raising black-gloved, clenched fists when the U.S. national anthem is played during the medal ceremony. The athletes -- Tommie Smith, who set a world record when he finished first, and John Carlos, who finished third -- are part of an anti-racist, anti-Vietnam war movement that is supported by many other members of the U.S. Olympic team. The white runner from Australia who placed second shows his solidarity with the demonstration by wearing an OPHR emblem on his chest during the ceremony. The gesture of resistance is part of the OPHR's effort to expose how the U.S. uses Black athletes to project a lie about race relations both at home and internationally. For much more important information about the events of the day and their consequences, visit https://www.zinnedproject.org/if-we-knew-our-history/fists-of-freedom-a…