World History 1961 Part 1

About the history of the world in 1961, Russian Yuri Gagarin becomes the first man to orbit the Earth, Eichmann put on trial for Nazi war cimes.

TWO CENTURIES OF WORLD HISTORY: 1778-1978

1961

* Soviet authorities closed down all synagogues in Moscow.

Jan. President Eisenhower's farewell warning to the American people: "In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist."

Apr. 11 Adolf Eichmann went on trial in Israel for W. W. II war crimes. Eichmann's odyssey from the post of Nazi deportation and emigration czar under Hitler to an American POW camp to a job in a Mercedes-Benz plant in Argentina ended in the dock in Jerusalem's Community Center only after Israeli Nazi hunters kidnapped him near his Buenos Aires home, drugged him, and spirited him out of the country. After this bit of do-it-yourself extradition, however, his legal rights were scrupulously upheld. Israel paid the fees of an attorney of his choice. All prosecution documents were made available to the defense, and Eichmann was protected during the trial by a bulletproof glass cage and two armed guards. The defendant pleaded not guilty to all 15 counts of the indictment, which accused him of exterminating and sterilizing Jews, pressing them into forced labor, confiscating their property, depriving them of their livelihoods, inducing abortions in pregnant Jews, and stripping Jewish corpses of gold teeth, artificial limbs, clothing, and hair. In the face of eyewitness testimony and captured Nazi documents bearing his name, Eichmann summed up his defense during direct examination on the stand: "I have regret and condemnation for the extermination of the Jewish people which was ordered by the German rulers, but I myself could not have done anything to prevent it. I was a tool in the hands of the strong and the powerful and in the hands of fate itself." It swayed few. Found guilty on Dec. 15, 1961, he became the first person to die under the Israeli death penalty five months later.

Apr. 12 Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin, 27, became the first human to orbit the earth. His 108-minute global lap left him awed at the novelty of weightlessness: "One's legs, one's arms, they weigh nothing. Objects just float in the cabin, and I didn't just sit in my chair, I hung in space."

Apr. 17 Fifteen hundred Cuban refugees met disaster as they tried to establish a bridgehead at Bahia de Cochinos--the Bay of Pigs. Trained and armed at a secret CIA base in Guatemala, La Brigada, as the unit was known, had hoped to take the Cuban beach by night and draw on the anti-Communist population to topple the Castro regime in one bold stroke. Instead, the mission, which had begun on CIA drawing boards in the final year of the Eisenhower administration, ended in a complete rout. In just three days, Castro forces crushed the invasion with the help of Soviet-supplied howitzers, tanks, and jet fighters. The villain in this tragic episode clearly was the CIA, which tried to play both ends against the middle to rid the hemisphere of Castro. To members of the invasion force--mostly white-collar Cuban refugees with little grounding in warfare--the CIA said that U.S. forces stood ready to pour into Cuba right behind La Brigada the minute the invasion seemed to be faltering. To a skeptical Pres. John F. Kennedy, on the other hand, who with a few weeks of on-the-job training behind him was just beginning to grapple with the levers of power, the CIA described the invaders as highly trained, grizzled veterans of guerrilla war, who were prepared to melt into the hills if their primary objective of a quick takeover should fail. At a postmortem session to assess blame for the fiasco, JFK assumed full responsibility for the decision to go in, but added: "There is only one person in the clear--that's [Sen.] Bill Fulbright. And he probably would have been converted if he had attended more of the meetings." On Christmas, 1962, Castro exchanged 1,113 captured invaders and 922 of their relatives for $53 million worth of medical supplies and baby food.

May U.S. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Newton Minow: "I invite you to sit down in front of your television set when your station goes on the air and stay there without a book, magazine, newspaper, profit-and-loss sheet, or rating book to distract you and keep your eyes glued to that set until the station signs off. I can assure you that you will observe a vast wasteland."

May 5 The U.S. put its first astronaut, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Alan Shepard, Jr., into space. Postflight physicians were relieved to discover that five minutes of zero gravity had no apparent effect on his mind or body. Said Sheperd, "What a beautiful sight. . . . Boy, what a ride!"

May 15-20 Two busloads of "Freedom Riders" were attacked by white mobs in several Alabama cities. The riders were trying to desegregate public facilities in the South.

Aug. 13 Just after midnight, East German troops tore up the streets leading from Communist East Berlin to free West Berlin and threw up barricades in an attempt to stem the flow of East Germans to the West. Four days later the first blocks in the concrete Berlin Wall went up. Western strategists at first thought the wall might be part of a blockade of West Berlin, but when they became convinced that the barrier was defensive in nature, that is, designed to prevent East Berlin from becoming a ghost town, tensions eased a bit. The wall was allowed to remain, an ugly scar across the city, stained with the blood of hundreds who later would brave the barbed wire, the tank traps, the tall picket fence, and the machine gun fire from nearby guards in a bolt to freedom.

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