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Today in History: February 8-10
The Russo-Japanese War begins, the Jin Dynasty comes to an end, and more
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February 8, 1250: A Crusader vanguard under the command of Robert I, Count of Artois, attacks the Egyptian city of Mansurah in the Nile delta. In doing so he exceeded his orders, which had been to cross the Nile, establish a camp, and wait for the rest of the Crusader army under Robert’s brother, French King Louis IX, to join him. This proved to be a fatal mistake, as the ensuing Battle of Mansurah saw the Fatimid army nearly annihilate Robert’s vanguard and prevent Louis’ army from advancing once it had crossed the river. The now-depleted Crusader force remained stymied in their camp until late March, when the arrival of Fatimid reinforcements forced them to retreat back over the river. Their situation did not improve after that.
February 8, 1904: The Imperial Japanese Navy launches a surprise attack against elements of the Russian Pacific Fleet at Port Arthur (modern Lüshunkou, in China), damaging several ships including the Russian battleship Tsesarevich. The initial night attack was less successful than Japanese commanders had hoped, and after a second engagement the following day they withdrew. This was the opening strike in the Russo-Japanese War, which was formally declared on February 10. Russian and Japanese interests overlapped in Korea and Manchuria and the two empires had been unable to find a way to coexist. The war ended in September 1905 with a decisive Japanese victory that shifted the balance of power in eastern Asia and sent Russia into a political tailspin (which in turn affected the balance of power in Europe).
February 8, 1963: Former deputy Iraqi Prime Minister Abdul Salam Arif leads a coalition of Baathists, Nasserists, and other pan-Arab elements in a coup against the Iraqi government of Abd al-Karim Qasim that later became known as the “Ramadan Revolution.” Arif had been Qasim’s deputy when the latter led the 1958 coup that toppled the Hashemite monarchy, but the two men fell out fairly quickly as Arif’s pan-Arabism clashed with Qasim’s skepticism of the concept (and particularly of its most prominent variant at the time, Nasserism). Arif and his supporters, with the approval and possibly support of the US government, ousted and executed Qasim. This is the second of three mid-20th century coups that eventually brought the Baath Party to power in Iraq. Arif and Baath Party leader Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr had their own falling out after this event and Bakr eventually ousted Arif’s brother and successor, Abdul Rahman Arif, in 1968.
February 9, 1234: The Siege of Caizhou ends in victory for the combined Mongol-Song Dynasty besieging army and the end of the Jin Dynasty. The Mongols and the Jin, who ruled northern China, had been at war essentially since Genghis Khan first invaded the region in 1211 and Emperor Aizong of Jin had fled to Caizhou following the Mongol conquest of Kaifeng in February 1233. He sought aid from the Song, who ruled southern China, but they opted instead to ally with the Mongols in what proved to be a pretty big mistake. The Mongol-Song army laid siege to Caizhou in December 1233 and Emperor Aizong opted to commit suicide on February 9, 1234, when he realized his situation was hopeless. His successor, Emperor Mo of Jin, has the distinction of one of the shortest reigns in history as he took the throne and was killed before the day ended when the city fell. The Song attempted to retake areas in northern China that they’d lost to the Jin the previous century but were driven off by the Mongols, who eventually eliminated the Song altogether in 1279.
February 9, 1943: US Army Major General Alexander Patch confirms that Japanese forces have retreated from Guadalcanal, marking the end of the six month long Guadalcanal Campaign. Japan’s retreat allowed the US to establish bases on Guadalcanal and the island of Tulagi to support further Pacific operations. The US victory is regarded as one of the major turning points in World War II’s Pacific Theater, helping to put Japan on the defensive.
February 9, 1964: The Beatles make their first of many appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show, drawing a then-record 73 million viewers. The appearance significantly raised The Beatles’ profile in the US and is generally held to mark the start of the 1960s “British Invasion” of the US music and pop culture scene.
February 10, 1258: The Mongols sack Baghdad and topple the Abbasid Caliphate. The end of the caliphate sent a shockwave throughout the Islamic world, even though it had been centuries since the Abbasids had been a real geopolitical power in their own right. Of even greater significance may have been what the Mongols did to Baghdad, which until this point was one of the greatest cities on Earth. In the aftermath of the siege Mongol warriors massacred tens and perhaps hundreds of thousands of Baghdad residents and destroyed much of the city including the fabled House of Wisdom, a repository of scholarly manuscripts whose loss was probably incalculable. Although Baghdad regained some of its importance under the Mongols it never returned to the heights it had enjoyed prior to this event.
February 10, 1763: Representatives from France, Great Britain, Portugal, and Spain sign the Treaty of Paris, one of several diplomatic agreements ending the 1756-1763 Seven Years’ War. Reflecting the overall victory of the British-Prussian alliance, the treaty saw France cede considerable territory to Britain in North America (where the conflict was known as the French and Indian War). This included Canada and the eastern part of the Louisiana Territory (everything east of the Mississippi River). Ironically the treaty itself damaged Britain’s relationship with Prussia, as Prussian ruler Frederick II (“the Great”) was forced to cut a separate peace in the Treaty of Hubertusburg and was angered by Britain’s decision to go it alone at Paris.
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