The Autumn Garden dramaturgy: 1949 political events

Table of Contents

Political Events

The Western powers pledge cooperation as Moscow breaks the U.S. nuclear monopoly and communists take over China.

President Truman proposes four major courses of action in his inaugural address January 20. Point Four calls for “a bold new program for making the benefits of our scientific advances and industrial progress available for the improvement and growth of underprivileged areas.”

Connecticut-born statesman Dean Gooderham Acheson, 55, has succeeded George C. Marshall as secretary of state January 7; Andrei Vyshinsky, 65, succeeds V. M. Molotov as Soviet foreign minister March 4.

Moscow arrests U.S. journalist Anna Louise Strong, charges her with espionage, and deports her in late February. Now 64, she has lived in the Soviet capital for 24 years and consistently expressed pro-Soviet views. An FBI agent hands her a subpoena when she arrives at New York’s La Guardia Airport February 23, obliging her to testify before a federal grand jury investigating communism.

A federal jury finds “Axis Sally” guilty of wartime treason March 10 and sentences her to 30 years in prison plus a fine of $10,000. She will serve 12 years in the Federal Reformatory for Women at Alderston, W. Va.

The U.S. Senate acts March 10 to broaden the scope of its Rule 22, adopted in 1917 to bring cloture to filibusters. A filibuster has begun February 28, the new Senate majority leader Scott W. Lucas, 56 (D. Ill.) moves that cloture be revoked, Vice-President Alben W. Barkley (D. Ky.) has twice served as majority leader and overrules a parliamentary point of order in a procedural maneuver to support the Lucas motion, but Sen. Richard Russell (D. Ga.) opposed cloture on any debate over proposed civil rights legislation, and the Democratic-controlled Senate supports Russell, voting 46 to 41 to make Rule 22 applicable “to any measure, motion, or other matter before the Senate.” Senators from both sides of the aisle have used the filibuster for well over a century to prevent a “tyranny of the majority” and will continue into the 21st century to require a two-thirds majority to invoke cloture, filibustering to block bills and appointments considered by one side or the other to be too “liberal” or too “reactionary.”

The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) created by a treaty signed at Washington April 4 joins the United States, Canada, Iceland, Britain, France, Denmark, Norway, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Italy, and Portugal in a pledge of mutual assistance against aggression within the North Atlantic area and of cooperation in military training, strategic planning, and arms production. Incorporating ideas for an Atlantic Community advanced in 1924 by the late geopolitical theorist Halford J. Mackinder, the new treaty organization gives approval to President Truman’s Point Four program of technical assistance to aid world peace.

London recognizes Irish independence May 17 but reaffirms the position of Northern Ireland within the United Kingdom.

The Council of Europe statute signed May 5 at London establishes a Committee of Ministers and a Consultative Assembly with Council headquarters at Strasbourg. Belgium, Denmark, France, Britain, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden sign the statute and will be joined by Greece, Iceland, and Turkey.

Soviet authorities officially lift the Berlin blockade May 12, but the Berlin airlift continues until September 30 when it ends after completing 277,264 flights. In its final months the planes have been carrying cigars, champagne, and other luxuries as well as necessities.

The German Federal Republic (West Germany) established May 23 has its headquarters at Bonn.

“We have evidence that in recent weeks an atomic explosion occurred in the USSR,” President Truman announces September 23. A specially modified U.S. B-29 flying off Siberia’s Kamchatka Peninsula has picked up traces of microscopic particles that contained disintegrating nuclei, and scientists have determined that the invisible grains of matter caught in the plane’s sniffer were part of a highly radioactive, eastward-drifting cloud produced by a device exploded August 29 in a desert about 100 miles south of Semipalatinsk. Physicist Igor V. Kurchatov, now 47, has headed the Soviet team that developed the Soviet bomb; his team includes chiefly Andrei Dmitriyevich Sakharov, 28, who won a doctorate at age 26, and 1925 German Nobel laureate Gustav Hertz, 62, whose uncle Heinrich Hertz pioneered the wireless in 1887. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists reacts to news of the Soviet nuclear explosion by advancing the hands of its “Doomsday Clock” from 7 minutes before midnight to 3 minutes.

The German Democratic Republic (East Germany) is established October 7 under Soviet control with communist Wilhelm Pieck, now 73, as president.

China’s Chiang Kai-shek resigns his presidency January 21 as Nationalist armies suffer reverses at the hands of the communists, who have taken Suzhou January 10 after a 65-day battle in which they have surrounded and defeated the ineptly commanded Nationalist armies one by one (the Nationalists have lost some 500,000 men along with their equipment). Tianjin has fallen January 15 after a brief siege, and Chiang loses whole divisions by desertion to the victorious communists; he begins removing his Nationalist forces to Formosa (Taiwan). Beijing (Peking) surrenders January 23, permitting a peaceful turnover of the capital.

Peace negotiations conducted by former Nationalist vice president Li Zong-ren (Li Tsung-jen) go on from February to April, when it becomes clear that no progress can be made; the Nationalists continue to claim that they still have a large army, control more than half the country, and are not about to surrender. Communist forces cross the Yangtze with virtually no opposition, the Nationalists abandon their capital at Chongqing (Chungking) April 23 and move to Guangzhou (Canton), communist forces occupy Nanjing (Nanking) April 24 and Hanzhou (Hankow) in mid-May, Sian in the northwest falls to Gen. Peng Dehuai (Peng Deh-Hwai) May 20, the communists take Shanghai May 25, and U.S. aid to Nationalist China ends August 5 as powerful communist armies proceed to take over provinces in the south and west.

The People’s Republic of China is proclaimed at Beijing (Peking) October 1 with Mao Zedong (Mao Tse-tung) as chairman of the central people’s administrative council, Zhou Enlai (Chou En-lai), 51, as premier and foreign minister. Mao’s wife, Jiang Qing, 35, is a onetime stage and film actress 20 years his junior. Removal of Nationalist forces from the mainland to Taiwan is completed by December 8 (some Nationalists take refuge among hill tribes in the mountainous jungles of Burma, Laos, and northern Thailand, an area that will be known in later years as the Golden Triangle as it becomes the world’s largest source of opium and heroin production). Chiang Kai-shek has taken most of the government’s gold reserve to Taiwan and puts on a show of military strength at Taipei, vowing to “rescue” mainland China from the communists.

Paris recognizes Vietnamese independence within the French Union March 8 as Paris-educated Saigon lawyer and rubber plantation manager’s son Nguyen Huu Tho, 38, leads student demonstrations against French rule. The former Nguyen dynasty emperor of Annam, Bao Dai, now 35, has been persuaded to return home and head the state that includes Cochin China, but French forces are fighting Ho Chi Minh’s communist guerrillas and France retains the right to maintain military bases.

“Tokyo Rose” goes on trial for treason in July at San Francisco. Los Angeles-born UCLA graduate Iva Toguri D’Aquino, 34, is one of at least a dozen Tokyo radio announcers who were called “Tokyo Rose” by English-speaking listeners in the Pacific during the war. She did the work under pressure from Japanese secret police after being caught in Tokyo at the outbreak of the war, refused to renounce her U.S. citizenship as did two other women announcers (who thus could not be charged with treason), and married a Portuguese national in 1945. Government officials threaten and intimidate defense witnesses, the prosecution bribes a witness to give false testimony and tries to bribe an Associated Press reporter to lie on the witness stand, the trial lasts 13 weeks and costs $750,000, the judge’s instructions make it impossible for the jury to acquit, and D’Aquino is found innocent of eight alleged overt acts of treason but guilty on one count of trying to undermine U.S. morale. Sentenced to 6 years in prison, she will serve 6½.

President Truman and some members of his cabinet witness a demonstration in May at Quantico, Va., of eight Marine Corps helicopters that transport 42 fully equipped troops with weapons and supplies from a simulated aircraft carrier deck to a mock landing area. The dark-blue fabric-covered HRP-1 Piasecki helicopters deposit their loads, are back in the air within seconds to fetch more loads, and prove to high-ranking officials in the viewing stands that helicopters can play a valuable role in military operations. Engineer Frank Piasecki will build the HUP for the U.S. Navy and the H-21 for the U.S. Army and Air Force before leaving Piasecki Aircraft in 1955 (it will change its name to Vertol in 1956, and Boeing Aircraft will acquire it in 1960; see Chinook, 1961).

The U.S. War Department becomes the Defense Department August 10 under terms of the National Security Act of 1947. The first secretary of defense James V. Forrestal resigned in March with symptoms of nervous exhaustion and depression, entered Bethesda Naval Hospital, and jumped from a window there May 22, dying at age 57.

Judge Harold (Raymond) Medina, 61, presides over the trial of 11 alleged communists in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. The defendants have been indicted under the 1940 Alien Registration Act (Smith Act) requiring aliens to be fingerprinted and making it unlawful to advocate overthrow of the U.S. government or belong to any group advocating such overthrow.

New York dancer Paul Draper, 39, and Baltimore-born mouth organ virtuoso Lawrence Cecil “Larry” Adler, 35, sue Hester T. McCullough of Greenwich, Conn., for libel after “Red”-baiting columnist Westbrook Pegler has picked up her December 1948 letter in the daily Greenwich Time alleging that they were “pro-Communist in sympathy” and “exponents of a line of thinking directly opposed to every democratic principle upon which our great country has been founded”. The trial will end in a hung jury next May, the case will be dismissed in September 1951, but Draper and Adler have been earning $100,000 per year and are unable to obtain further bookings; Adler will move with his family to London in 1952.

Civil war looms in Korea, reports a UN Commission September 2. North Korean dictator Kim Il Sung asks Soviet premier Josef Stalin for help in taking over South Korea; Stalin rejects the request.

Anticommunist editorials in a Peekskill, N.Y., newspaper lead to violence that forces cancellation of a Paul Robeson concert in a field outside town, the concert is held September 4 with Robeson, folk singer Pete Seeger, and other performers, but anti-black, anti-Semitic rowdies throw stones at the concert-goers as they leave, smashing heads and breaking car windows as police stand by without interfering.

Minnesota politician (Helen) Eugenie Anderson (née Moore), 40, is named ambassador to Denmark October 12 and becomes the first U.S. woman ambassador; Washington, D.C., hostess Perle Mesta (née Skirvin), 59, wins appointment as U.S. ambassador to Luxembourg, where she will serve until 1953. Her father made a fortune in Texas oil, her late husband did likewise with a Pittsburgh machine company, she herself was active in Oklahoma politics and the women’s rights movement in the 1930s, switched from the GOP to the Democratic Party, and attached herself to an obscure U.S. senator from Missouri named Truman. Asked at her first staff meeting how she wants to be addressed, she replies, “You can call me Madame Minister.”

President Truman pledges continued U.S. support of the United Nations October 24 in ceremonies dedicating the new UN site at New York.

Washington imposes stringent controls November 8 on export of all strategic commodities to prevent reshipment to Soviet bloc countries.

The Soviet Union (Russia) in August explodes its first atomic bomb, using virtually all the plutonium it has on hand. U.S. plans for the bomb had been smuggled to the Soviet Union by such spies as Klaus Fuchs.

The first working atomic clock is built.


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