Discover more from Foreign Exchanges
Today in History: July 14-17
The Crusaders take Jerusalem, the US tests an atomic bomb, and more
If you’re interested in history and foreign affairs, Foreign Exchanges is the newsletter for you! Sign up for free today for regular updates on international news and US foreign policy, delivered straight to your email inbox, or subscribe and unlock the full FX experience:
PROGRAMMING UPDATE: As I hope you all know, Foreign Exchanges is on a break that is scheduled to end on Tuesday. I hope you’re all doing well, and look forward to resuming our regular programming tomorrow. Thanks for reading!
July 14, 1789: A crowd of Parisians, having been out in the streets demonstrating for two days over King Louis XVI’s sacking of finance minister Jacques Necker, attacks the Bastille to seize the arms and ammunition stored inside. The Bastille was mostly used at this point as an armory, but its reputation as a political prison also made it a potent symbol of royal abuse. The “Storming of the Bastille” is generally regarded as the event that triggered the French Revolution, as the insurrection then spread from Paris throughout the country.
July 14, 1958: The Iraqi military’s “Free Officers Movement,” modeled after the similarly named and more famous cabal in Egypt, overthrows the Hashemite monarchy in what’s become known as the 14 July Revolution. Like their Egyptian role models, Iraq’s “Free Officers” were frustrated (as was much of the Iraqi public) by the monarchy’s enthrallment to British colonial authority, which led to Iraq’s inclusion in the UK-led (and US-encouraged) “Baghdad Pact” in 1955 and to the monarchy’s decision to reject an offer to join Gamal Abdel Nasser’s United Arab Republic. Fueled in part by a sense of Arab nationalism, they captured and executed the triumvirate at the head of the Iraqi government—King Faisal II, regent Abd al-Ilah, and Prime Minister Nuri al-Said. The Gang’s leaders, General Abd al-Karim Qasim and Colonel Abdul Salam Arif, quickly fell out over Qasim’s less-than-full commitment to Arab nationalism and his own reluctance to join the UAR, possibly connected to his mother’s Shiʿa background (“pan-Arabism” tended to be more popular among Sunnis than among Shiʿa). Qasim soon had Arif arrested, but the latter would come out on top following the 1963 Ramadan Revolution that overthrew Qasim.
July 15, 1099: The army of the First Crusade emerges victorious from its Siege of Jerusalem, capturing the city and thus achieving its stretch goal. Despite a potentially calamitous lack of readily available fresh water, the Crusaders were fortified by a shipment of raw materials from Europe that enabled them to construct siege towers and overwhelm the city’s enfeebled Fatimid garrison. There is still some debate over the extent of the massacre that followed, partly due to the difficulty in separating deaths during the siege from deaths in the immediate aftermath of the siege. Much to the consternation of Crusader grandee Raymond of Toulouse, the other nobles offered the throne of the newly conquered Jerusalem to Godfrey of Bouillon. In deference to religious sensibilities Godfrey refused the title of “king,” adopting something more modest (possibly “Protector of Jerusalem,” though that may be apocryphal). His successors, beginning with his brother Baldwin I, went with “king.”
July 15, 1799: An officer on Napoleon’s Egyptian campaign, Captain Pierre-François Bouchard, discovers an artifact later dubbed “the Rosetta Stone.” The stone, containing three versions of the same decree—in hieroglyphs, demotic Egyptian, and Ancient Greek—enabled scholars to finally translate hieroglyphs and was a landmark in the development of the field of Egyptology.
July 15, 1974: Greece’s military government engineers a coup in Cyprus in order to install a government favorable to union with Greece. The coup prompted Turkey to intervene to prevent Cyprus from joining Greece, partitioning the island and leaving it in a state of frozen conflict that continues to the present day.
July 16, 1212: An allied Iberian Christian army under Castilian King Alfonso VIII defeats a substantially larger Almohad army under Caliph Muhammad al-Nasir at the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa in what is today southern Spain. The battle is mostly notable for what happened in its immediate aftermath. Muhammad al-Nasir died the following year and his successor, Yusuf II, died without an heir in 1224 which sent the Almohad dynasty into a tailspin from which it never recovered. Forced to focus on internal struggles in North Africa, the Almohads were unable to counter the now onrushing Christians, who captured the key Andalusian cities of Córdoba and Seville by mid-century.
July 16, 1945: The United States conducts the first successful detonation of an atomic weapon at Alamogordo Bombing and Gunnery Range in New Mexico, code named “Trinity.” The 25 kiloton test, one of several such tests conducted as part of the “Manhattan Project,” involved an implosion-type plutonium device dubbed “the Gadget,” which became the model for the “Fat Man” device later dropped on the Japanese city of Nagasaki. The 15 kiloton “Little Boy” bomb dropped on Hiroshima was a gun-type fissile uranium device, a type that had not been tested prior to its use.
July 17, 1936: The Spanish military, led by a cadre of nationalist officers including Francisco Franco, begins a coup against Spain’s Popular Front government starting in Morocco, the Canary Islands, and the Balearic Islands. The intent was to secure those outlying areas before swiftly moving into Spain proper to oust the government the following day, but the effort quickly stalled and the result instead was the Spanish Civil War. Franco and the Nationalists ultimately won but only after hundreds of thousands were killed.
July 17, 1968: In a bloodless coup sometimes called the “17 July Revolution,” the Iraqi Baath Party ousts President Abdul Rahman Arif (brother of the aforementioned Abdul Salam Arif) and takes power under its leader, Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr. To this day the circumstances surrounding the coup remain murky, but the result is not—the Baathists controlled Iraq until the US invasion in 2003 ousted them.
Thanks for reading! Foreign Exchanges is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.