World Events

October 16, 1957 – Margaret Mead Collects Schoolchildren’s Sputnik Drawings

Margaret Mead and Rhoda Metraux look at children’s drawings of Sputnik 1. Photo: Arthur Herzog, Library of Congress.

On October 16, 1957, 13-year-old Kathryn Leonard of Saratoga Springs, New York, completed a school assignment – draw an image of the recently launched Soviet satellite, Sputnik 1.  Her drawing survives, and was collected and included in a project by American anthropologist Margaret Mead, famous for her earlier studies of sexuality and the adolescent experience of teenage Samoan girls.  Horrified by the 1945 atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Mead set out in the 1950’s to study American perceptions of science and space exploration.  Mead and her partner, Rhoda Metraux, decided to study “images of the scientist” among American students.  After the launch of Sputnik 1, they expanded their project to include children’s reactions to the history-making event.  Essays and drawings were collected from across the United States, and also around the world.  Mead and Metraux also conducted interviews and administered questionnaires for their collection, which is currently held in the Manuscript Division of the Library of Congress.

The driving force behind Mead’s research was her desire to find a “model for living in a radically changed world, a world in which human beings could destroy themselves.”

Sputnik drawing by student Kathryn Leonard. Image: Library of Congress

 

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October 14, 1957 – Happy Birthday, Mr. President!

President Dwight D. Eisenhower. Photo: White House, Pubic Domain

On October 14, 1957, United States President Dwight D. Eisenhower celebrated his 67th birthday with his loving wife, Mamie, by his side.  Possibly their son John and daughter-in-law Barbara, and grandchildren David, Barbara, Susan, and Mary were able to join in the festivities.  Dwight and Mamie’s first son, Doud (Mamie’s maiden name), had died of scarlet fever in 1921 at age 3.

Born David Dwight Eisenhower in 1890 in Denison, Texas, President Eisenhower was the third of seven sons for David  and Ida Eisenhower.  Finances were always tight for David, a college-educated engineer, and Ida, a homemaker and deeply religious woman.   The Eisenhowers moved to Abilene, Kansas early in the future President’s life and he worked for two years after graduating from Abilene High to help pay for his brother Edgar’s college education.  When it came time for Dwight, as he was called, to attend college, he chose West Point, and changed his name to “Dwight David” when he entered the prestigious Army academy in the fall of 1911.  Eisenhower enjoyed sports and was a good athlete.  While he didn’t make the academy baseball team (“one of the greatest disappointments of my life, maybe my greatest”), he played football and was a starting running back and linebacker from his sophomore year onward.  Eisenhower graduated in 1915 and served in a wide variety of roles and theaters during his Army career.

Eisenhower trained early in tank warfare, served in the Panama Canal Zone, marked time during the 1920’s and early ’30s, then served in the Philipines before assignment to high commands during World War II.  He was ultimately named Supreme Allied Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in Europe, planning and carrying out Operation Overlord, the D-Day invasion of Normandy.  His ability to work with difficult personalities and maintain strong relationships gained him respect and greater responsibility.  Eisenhower found a way to stay on positive and constructive terms with such military and political luminaries as Gen. George Patton, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, British Field Marshall Bernard Montgomery, French Gen. Charles de Gaulle, Soviet Marshall Georgy Zhukov and Soviet Premier Josef Stalin.

In 1948, after the conclusion of the war and the occupation of Europe, Eisenhower revealed the depth of his commitment to God, calling himself  “one of the most deeply religious men I know”, although he remained unattached to any “sect or organization”.

Prior to his election in 1952, President Eisenhower served briefly as the President of New York’s Columbia University, and as Supreme Commander of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).  He and his 1952 running mate, Richard M. Nixon, beat Democrats Adlai Stevenson and John Sparkman to gain the White House in a landslide victory.  His philosophy was one of “dynamic conservatism”.  He retained New Deal programs, created the Department of Health, Education, and Welfare, championed the creation of the Interstate Highway System, crafted the Eisenhower Doctrine after the Suez Crisis in 1956, and spearheaded the Civil Rights Acts of 1957 and 1960, declaring racial discrimination a national security issue.

President Eisenhower’s health became a troubling issue while in office.  He was hospitalized for several weeks in 1955 following a heart attack, and suffered from Crohn’s disease, which required more surgery and hospitalization in 1956 to relieve a bowel obstruction.  Fortunately, he recovered his health and continued to ably lead the country he loved.

Some quotes from this great American:

“A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both.”

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed.”

“Here in America we are descended in blood and in spirit from revolutionists and rebels – men and women who dare to dissent from accepted doctrine.  As their heirs, may we never confuse honest dissent with disloyal subversion.”

“History does not long entrust the care of freedom to the weak or the timid.”

“Humility must always be the portion of any man who receives acclaim earned in the blood of his followers and the sacrifices of his friends.”

“I can think of nothing more boring for the American people than to have to sit in their living rooms for a whole half hour looking at my face on their television screens.”

“I have only one yardstick by which I test every major problem – and that yardstick is: Is it good for America?”

October 4, 1957 – Soviets Launch Sputnik 1

Sputnik 1. Photo: NASA

 

On October 4, 1957, the Soviet Union upped the ante in the Space Race with the successful launch of Sputnik 1, the first Earth-orbiting artificial satellite.  Blasted through the atmosphere from the Baikonur Cosmodrome aboard a two-stage R-7 rocket, Sputnik 1 was a 23-inch diameter, 184 pound, aluminum-magnesium-titanium sheathed sphere with two whip-like antennae.  Powered by silver-zinc batteries, it entered a low, elliptical orbit emitting a radio signal which could be received on Earth by both Soviet scientists and the curious (and highly-alarmed) American public.  Sputnik traveled 18,000 miles per hour, completing an Earth-orbit every 96 minutes.  Radio transmissions continued for 22 days, until transmitter batteries were exhausted.  The history-making satellite spent 3 months in orbit, traveling a total of 37 million miles, before burning up in atmospheric reentry on January 4, 1958.

While not able to conduct as many experiments as the Soviets had initially hoped, Sputnik was able to gather information during its three-month run concerning the density of the Earth’s upper atmosphere, radio-signal distribution in the ionosphere, and meteoroid detection by penetration of the satellite’s outer hull.

The successful launch of an artificial satellite was one of the primary goals of the International Geophysical Year (IGY), inaugurated on July 1, 1957.  The Soviets had first proposed developing such a satellite on May 27, 1954, and President Dwight Eisenhower announced on July 29, 1955 that the United States would send their own version of the technological achievement into space during the IGY.  But Sputnik took America and its government by surprise.  Americans now had to take Soviet scientific abilities much more seriously.  A sense of vulnerability to attack led to panic reactions by the public, as they listened in to Sputnik’s ominous “beep-beep” when it passed directly overhead.  The US government responded with renewed commitment to scientific and technological research, and military and educational program revamping and investment.  ICBMs, missile defense systems, and satellites were all placed on a developmental fast-track.  After several failed attempts, the United States’ first successful launch of its own artificial satellite, Explorer 1, occurred on January 31, 1958.

Numerous references to Sputnik in movies, television shows, and pop songs have made the term part of the American cultural landscape.  Replicas and models of the satellite can be found at the United Nations, the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum, and the Science Museum in London.

September 30, 1957 – Havana Gunfire Threatens Batista Loyalist

Members of Batista’s Servicio de Inteligencia Militar (SIM) security forces. Photo source: Jim Hale of Arlequin’s World

On September 30, 1957, violence struck close to home for Cuba’s embattled President Fulgencio Batista as the New York Times reported that Luis Manuel Martinez, a leader in President Fulgencio Batista’s Progressive party youth movement, was the target of a shooting incident in downtown Havana.  Unidentified assailants opened fire on a crowded street, killing a merchant named Sixto Careiro and wounding Martinez and two unnamed victims – a woman and a youth.  The youth was arrested when a revolver was found in his possession.

Martinez worked as an assistant editor of the newspaper Tiempo, owned by Batista supporter Senator Rolando Masferrer.  According to the Times, he was one of the most active propagandists of the current regime.

Batista, in an NBC interview with Martin Agronsky broadcast on the day of the shooting, reaffirmed for the American viewing audience that he would honor the provisions of Cuba’s constitution by stepping down the following summer, when free elections would be held.

September 29, 1957 – The Kyshtym Disaster

Map of the Mayak and Kyshtym area, USSR. Image: Jan Rieke, NASA World Wind Screenshot

 

On September 29, 1957, an explosion in a steel storage tank containing liquid nuclear waste led to the release of a massive 2 MCi of radioactive material in the eastern Ural Mountains of the Soviet Union.  Spent nuclear waste generates heat, and when tank cooling systems failed, containment of the material failed and a non-nuclear explosion occurred on the order of 70-100 tons of TNT.  The Kyshtym Disaster, as it came to be called, was the third worst nuclear disaster in history, dwarfed only by the Chernobyl reactor explosions and fire in 1986 and the Fukushima Daiichi multiple reactor meltdowns in 2011.

The incident occurred at Mayak, a nuclear fuel reprocessing plant sequestered in the closed city of Ozyorsk, near the town of Kyshtym.  Within ten hours of the release, the radioactive cloud traveled 300-350 kilometers in a northeast direction.  Fallout contaminated an area of approximately 800 square kilometers later called the East-Ural Radioactive Trace (EURT).  Secrecy surrounding Mayak and its operations led to the suppression of information about the danger to the local population; it was a full week before people began to be evacuated, without explanation.  According to an article in Critical Mass Journal by Richard Pollock, people “grew hysterical with fear with the incidence of unknown ‘mysterious’ diseases breaking out.  Victims were seen with skin ‘sloughing off’ their faces, hands, and other exposed parts of their bodies”.

Knowledge about the event could only be gathered indirectly.  An estimated 200 people died from cancer as a direct result of the explosion and release; massive amounts of contaminated soil apparently were excavated and stockpiled; and an off-limits “nature reserve” was created in the EURT to isolate the affected region.  Studies of the effects of radioactivity on plants, animals, and ecosystems later conducted and published by faculty members of the Institute of Molecular Biology in Moscow eventually confirmed the rumors of a major radioactive release.

At the time, the Soviets were hurrying to catch up with American nuclear weapons researchers.  In their desire to produce sufficient quantities of weapons-grade uranium and plutonium, they proceeded without full understanding of the safety measures necessary to protect citizens and the environment.  Their lack of concern led to open dumping of highly radioactive waste into rivers and lakes.  The level of radioactivity in the town of Ozyorsk is currently claimed to be within safe limits, but the “East-Ural Nature Reserve”, as the EURT was deceptively renamed in 1968, is still heavily contaminated.

Vintage 1957 – Hundred Flowers Crushed in China

Self portrait (interviewing Maoist victims) by Wang Xu. Photo: Art Gallery New South Wales

Self portrait (interviewing Maoist victims) by Wang Xu. Photo: Art Gallery New South Wales

Give us your thoughts, Mao Zedong asked China’s citizens in 1956. How shall we reform this most promising of republics? “Our society cannot back down, it could only progress . . . criticism of the bureaucracy is pushing the government toward the better.” China’s best and brightest minds in the arts and sciences could make vital contributions toward improvement, as long as they were “constructive” (or “among the people”), rather than “hateful and destructive” (or “between the enemy and ourselves”).

The Hundred Flowers Movement – the gathering of intellectual thought – bloomed first in 1956. Named for the poetic theme “Let a hundred flowers bloom; let a hundred schools of thought contend,” Mao was looking for a way to promote socialist ideology through new forms in the arts and new cultural institutions. His hidden agenda? Root out all dissent. Entice those who disagreed with his program to expose themselves and their non-party-line thinking. Then, spring the trap.

Much skepticism greeted the Chairman’s introduction of a neutral “suggestion box.” Mao even accelerated the process by announcing in the spring that criticism was now “preferred.” The trap began closing in the summer of 1957. Those prominent individuals who had been brave enough to register criticism of Mao’s policies were condemned to prison labor camps and, in many cases, executed. Over 550,000 people were branded “rightists’ and sentenced to death by starvation, hard physical labor, and suicide.  Across the People’s Republic, many individual rights were lost and Maoist orthodoxy would rule, unquestioned in any significant way until the time of the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989.

An exhibit by artist Wang Xu, Archibald Prize winner for 2013, will open this weekend at the Verge Gallery in Sydney, Australia. Wang was born in China and trained in brush and ink painting in Beijing. He emigrated to Australia shortly after the Tiananmen Square uprising. “While enjoying a life of personal security in Australia,” Wang says, “I am still deeply affected by the terrible social and political injustices that continue to occur in China.”

In 2009 and 2012, Wang interviewed and filmed more than 140 survivors of Mao’s Hundred Flowers campaign. The survivors are now in their 70s and 80s and have never received acknowledgement or compensation for their sufferings. “Self-portrait (interviewing Maoist victims)”, a work of oil and acrylic on board, will be on display at the gallery. The 8′ x 12′ panel includes 30 portraits of Hundred Flowers victims, and a depiction of Wang holding a video camera.

One issue of conflict in Mao’s 1957 campaign made the headlines this week in the Wall Street Journal. Ilham Tohti, an economics professor in Beijing and a moderate, articulate voice for the minority Uighurs in China’s troubled Xinjiang region, was sentenced to life imprisonment and the government seizure of all his property. WSJ reporter Josh Chin quoted Human Rights Watch researcher Maya Wang: “It’s a shocking verdict, extremely harsh even by China’s standards. By handing down a life sentence, the government is burning its one and only bridge to moderate Uighurs in China. This will only exacerbate the heightened Han-Uighur tensions.” In the days before Tohti’s conviction, a series of explosions in the Xinjiang region killed six and injured 54. Police response left forty more dead in the ongoing  and violent separatist movement.

Thank you, Wang Xu, for documenting and giving voice to those who dared to speak up and lost almost everything, and those who spoke up and whose voices are lost forever.

September 14, 1957 – Cuban President Fulgencio Batista Faces Internal Opposition

Batista’s army executes a rebel. Photo: Imagno – Museo de la Revolucion, La Habana, Cuba

On September 14, 1957, the New York Times reported that Cuban President Fulgencio Batista had recently suppressed a revolt in the town of Cienfuegos in which officers and personnel of his own Navy had taken sides with Fidel Castro against his regime.  The previous day, Batista had announced that he would not be a candidate for reelection the following June (he was constitutionally forbidden to succeed himself) but that the suspension of civil liberties would be renewed for another 45 days.

The Cienfuegos revolt, crushed by Army tanks and aircraft, had been instigated by no more than 100 men, Batista claimed, including “a few dissident, illicit men in the Navy”.  According to the Times article there were three sources of opposition to Batista: Fidel Castro’s M-26-7 movement; adherents of former President Carlos Prio Socarras, who was deposed by Batista in 1952; and a group of Opposition parties.

On this day, the Times reported that the island “was an armed camp”.  Citizens were fearful of a breakdown of authority resulting in a state of chaos; merchants were losing business, tourism was down, businesses wanted to close but were not being permitted to do so by the government.  Soldiers patrolled the streets, rounding up opposition figures, and the jails were full of people accused of revolutionary activities.  Citizens had little faith in Batista’s government, but also little confidence that change could be achieved through peaceful means at the ballot box.  The Times concluded that “despite the bloody revolt, the terrorism and other efforts of the Opposition to force President Batista out of office, he will undoubtedly continue to control the island as long as his Army, the most powerful branch of the armed forces, remains loyal to him.”