December 21st is the Winter Solstice and the longest night of the year in the Northern Hemisphere. It is interesting that a day covered in darkness can be marked by boldness — in the exploration of geographic and political boundaries as well as in acts of terror. From Roger Williams to Plymouth Rock to Apollo to the tragedy at Lockerbie and the fall of the Soviet Union.
In Part 2, we commemorate the premiers of the landmark play “A Doll’s House,”and the historic films “Battleship Potemkim,” “Snow White” and “Its a Wonderful Life, ” along with the birthdays of Jane Fonda and Chris Evert.
Birth of Roger Williams
Roger Williams, the founder of the State of Rhode Island was born on this day in London. Williams left London for Boston in 1631. His views on the separation of church and state and that land should be purchased not taken from native Americans led to his being convicted of sedition and heresy and expelled by the Massachusetts Bay Colony.
Williams traveled south and founded a settlement in Providence. From Wikipedia:
Williams wanted his settlement to be a haven for those “distressed of conscience”, and it soon attracted a collection of dissenters and otherwise-minded individuals. From the beginning, a majority vote of the heads of households governed the new settlement, but only in civil things. . . . Thus, Williams founded the first place in modern history where citizenship and religion were separate, providing religious liberty and separation of church and state. This was combined with the principle of majoritarian democracy.
The Mayflower went ashore at Plymouth. While there is some debate about whether they truly landed at Plymouth Rock, one thing is certain they arrived in the dead of winter and faced immediate hardship. It took two weeks to build the first structure, a common house. Of the 102 immigrants, 45 died during that first winter.
This day is celebrated as a holiday in Plymouth as Forefathers’ Day.
Apollo 8 launched and was the first manned mission to orbit the Moon.
Pan Am Flight 103 Explodes Over Lockerbie
A Pan Am flight from Frankfurt to Detroit via London and New York, was destroyed by a terrorist bomb in the cargo bay that detonated 33 minutes after takeoff from London — killing all 243 passengers and 16 crew on board. Large sections of the aircraft crashed into Lockerbie, Scotland, killing 11 more people on the ground. It remains the worst aviation disaster in UK history. Victims included 35 students from Syracuse University who were returning from a semester in London.
Following a three-year joint investigation by Dumfries and Galloway Constabulary and the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation, arrest warrants were issued for two Libyan nationals in November 1991. In 1999, Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi eventually handed over the two men for trial at Camp Zeist, Netherlands after protracted negotiations and UN sanctions. In 2001, Libyan intelligence officer, Abdelbaset al-Megrahi, was jailed for the bombing. In August 2009, he was released by the Scottish government on compassionate grounds after being diagnosed with prostate cancer. He died in May 2012, remaining the only person to be convicted for the attack.
In 2003, Gaddafi accepted responsibility for the Lockerbie bombing and paid compensation to the families of the victims, although he maintained never having given the order for the attack. During the Libyan civil war, in 2011, a former government official contradicted Gaddafi claiming that the Libyan leader had personally ordered the bombing.
Commonwealth of Independent States and the Fall of the USSR
On this day, the leaders of eleven Soviet Republics – Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, the Russian Federation, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan-signed signed the Alma-Ata Protocol and joined the Commonwealth of Independent State.
CIS as an entity was not a new nation, but an “alliance” between independent states. The independent states each took over the former Soviet government facilities within their borders. The military side of the CIS was even more confusing. They agreed to sustain any arms agreements signed by the former Soviet Union. The former Soviet defense minister would retain control over the military until the CIS could agree on what to do with the nuclear weapons and conventional forces within their borders.
For Soviet leader Gorbachev, this was the final nail in the coffin of the Soviet Union and he resigned and the Soviet Union ceased to exist four day laters.