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This Week in People’s History, Oct. 17–23

Nixon's corporate funders guilty (in 1973). World's first video game (1958). Raves for Robeson's Othello (1943). Saturday Night Massacre (1973). Demonstrators shut down Tokyo's trains (1968). The truth hurts (1963). Fortress Germany (1938).

Demonstrators outside the White House calling for Nixon's impeachment

Nixon's Corporate Funders Guilty of Making Illegal Contributions 
October 17, 1973 (50 years ago).
Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox obtains Watergate's first campaign-finance convictions, with guilty pleas from American Airlines, Goodyear Tire and Rubber and 3M. Each corporation pled guilty to having made illegal unreported contributions to President Nixon's reelection campaign. The three convictions are the first in a long list, including many of the Fotune 500.…

World's First Video Game Unveiled 
October 18, 1958 (65 years ago).
The world's first video game debuts at Brookhaven National Laboratory on Long Island, NY, at the lab's annual Visitors' Day. The game is a Pong-like 2-player amusement called "Tennis for Two,"  played on a  7-inch diameter oscilloscope screen. It is the brainchild of 48-year-old nuclear physicist William Higinbotham, who is head of the lab's instrumentation division.  He says he produced it for Visitors' Day because he realized how static most of the exhibits were and thought “it might liven up the place to have a game that people could play, and which would convey the message that our scientific endeavors have relevance for society." The game is a hit, attracting long lines for three days.…

Raves (and a Place in History) for Paul Robeson's Othello 
October 19, 1943  (80 years ago).
The Theater Guild's production of Shakespeare's tragedy Othello opens on New York City's Broadway, starring Paul Robeson, Uta Hagen and Jose Ferrer as Iago. The next day the New York Times reports  "Not for several seasons has a play received the tumultuous applause that was accorded last night's presentation of Shakespeare's "Othello," starring Paul Robeson. Cries of "Bravo!" echoed through the packed Shubert Theatre, while from the galleries higher-pitched notes of approbation were directed toward the stage. At least ten curtain calls were demanded." The production closed after 296 performances, which made it the longest-running Shakespeare play on Broadway, a record it still holds.…

Saturday Night Massacre 
October 20, 1973 (50 years ago).
Most of the world is gobsmacked when Pres. Richard Nixon stages what is known as the Saturday Night Massacre.  Despite the event's nickname, no blood is actually shed, but observers are so startled it is as if Nixon had used a machine gun. 
    Very briefly, Nixon orders Attorney General Elliott Richardson to fire Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox (see October 17, above), whose investigation is getting close to hitting pay dirt. (Under the law, only the Attorney General had the authority to fire a special prosecutor.) Richardson refuses and resigns. Assistant Attorney General William Ruckleshaus automatically has the authority to fire Cox. Nixon orders him to do so. Ruckleshaus refuses and resigns. U.S. Solicitor General Robert Bork now has the authority to fire Cox. Bork, for reasons we can only guess, carries out Nixon's order. 
    Nixon's desperate effort to save himself misfires badly. More than fifty thousand telegrams pour into Washington calling for Nixon's impeachment. Within 10 days, Congress begins impeachment proceedings. Less than 42 weeks later, Nixon's grip on power is so diminished that he resigns, the only U.S. President to have done so.

Anti-Vietnam-War Demonstrators Shut Down Tokyo's Transit Hub 
October 21, 1968 (55 years ago).
Activists in Japan stage coordinated International Anti-War Day demonstrations involving at least 800,000 people throughout the country (nearly one percent of the population). The target of the demonstrations is the Japanese government's whole-hearted support of the U.S. war against Vietnam.
    Militant actions take place all over Japan, but the largest and most memorable is in Tokyo's giant Shinjuku Station, where some 3 million people transfer between a dozen separate train lines on a normal weekday. Twenty thousand demonstrators halt all train operations by occupying station platforms and railbeds. 
    The first effort by more than 3000 riot police to restore order fails when the demonstrators overwhelm the police and take possession of many of the cops' sidearms. The authorities are forced to invoke Japan's draconian Anti-Riot Law for the first time in 16 years. Even so, it takes more than 12,000 police more than 12 hours to take control of the building.…

The Truth about Vietnam Hurts 
October 22, 1963 (60 years ago).
On this day, when both the U.S. Embassy and the U.S. Army are stumbling disastrously in Vietnam, the White House perceives that a New York Times reporter's work is the problem.
    President Kennedy and the diplomatic and military brass are alarmed that David Halberstam is, on an almost daily basis, shredding the rosy story they are trying to project. So Kennedy asks the editors of the Times to transfer Halberstam to another country, anyplace but Vietnam.The Times editors ignore the president's request, which is secret at the time.
    During the six months before Kennedy asked the Times to give their man in Saigon a new assignment, Halberstam had filed no less than 40 major articles describing a diplomatic and military effort that was going much worse than the U.S. would admit. Halberstam's articles ran under headlines like Complexities Cloud Battle in Vietnam, U.S. Policy Clash With Diem Hinted, and Failure to Solve Political Problems May Erode Will of People to Press War.
    Not long afterwards Halberstam was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for the very reporting that Kennedy tried to suppress.

Fortress Germany Unveiled
October 23, 1938 (85 years ago).
Less than a year before the beginning of World War 2, German magazines and newspapers simultaneously publish lavishly illustrated descriptions of a  previously secret line of fortifications under construction near Germany's border with the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxembourg and France, consisting of thousands of tank traps, machine-gun and artillery bunkers, underground passages with railroad tracks, and underground living quarters. The fortified line stretches 390 miles from the North Sea to the Rhine River. 

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