Just after midnight on Christmas morning, the majority of German troops engaged in World War I cease firing their guns and artillery and commence to sing Christmas carols. At certain points along the eastern and western fronts, the soldiers of Russia, France, and Britain even heard brass bands joining the Germans in their joyous singing.
At the first light of dawn, many of the German soldiers emerged from their trenches and approached the Allied lines across no-man’s-land, calling out “Merry Christmas” in their enemies’ native tongues. At first, the Allied soldiers feared it was a trick, but seeing the Germans unarmed they climbed out of their trenches and shook hands with the enemy soldiers. The men exchanged presents of cigarettes and plum puddings and sang carols and songs. There was even a documented case of soldiers from opposing sides playing a good-natured game of soccer.
The so-called Christmas Truce of 1914 came only five months after the outbreak of war in Europe and was one of the last examples of the outdated notion of chivalry between enemies in warfare. In 1915, the bloody conflict of World War I erupted in all its technological fury, and the concept of another Christmas Truce became unthinkable.
The United States invades Panama in an attempt to overthrow military dictator Manuel Noriega, who had been indicted in the United States on drug trafficking charges and was accused of suppressing democracy in Panama and endangering U.S. nationals. Noriega’s Panamanian Defense Forces (PDF) were promptly crushed, forcing the dictator to seek asylum with the Vatican anuncio in Panama City, where he surrendered on January 3, 1990.
In 1970, Noriega, a rising figure in the Panamanian military, was recruited by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) to assist in the U.S. struggle against the spread of communism in Central America. Noriega became involved in drug trafficking and in 1977 was removed from the CIA payroll. After the Marxist Sandinista government came to power in 1979, Noriega was brought back into the CIA fold. In 1983, he become military dictator of Panama.
Noriega supported U.S. initiatives in Central America and in turn was praised by the White House, even though a Senate committee concluded in 1983 that Panama was a major center for drug trafficking. In 1984, Noriega committed fraud in Panama’s presidential election in favor of Nicolás Ardito Barletta, who became a puppet president. Still, Noriega enjoyed the continued support of the Reagan administration, which valued his aid in its efforts to overthrow Nicaragua’s Sandinista government.
In 1986, just months before the outbreak of the Iran-Contra affair, allegations arose concerning Noriega’s history as a drug trafficker, money launderer, and CIA employee. Most shocking, however, were reports that Noriega had acted as a double agent for Cuba’s intelligence agency and the Sandinistas. The U.S. government disowned Noriega, and in 1988 he was indicted by federal grand juries in Tampa and Miami on drug-smuggling and money-laundering charges.
Tensions between Americans in the Panama Canal Zone and Noriega’s Panamanian Defense Forces grew, and in 1989 the dictator annulled a presidential election that would have made Guillermo Endara president. President George H. Bush ordered additional U.S. troops to the Panama Canal Zone, and on December 16 an off-duty U.S. Marine was shot to death at a PDF roadblock. The next day, President Bush authorized “Operation Just Cause”–the U.S. invasion of Panama to overthrow Noriega.
On December 20, 9,000 U.S. troops joined the 12,000 U.S. military personnel already in Panama and were met with scattered resistance from the PDF. By December 24, the PDF was crushed, and the United States held most of the country. Endara was made president by U.S. forces, and he ordered the PDF dissolved. On January 3, Noriega was arrested by U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency agents.
The U.S. invasion of Panama cost the lives of only 23 U.S. soldiers and three U.S. civilians. Some 150 PDF soldiers were killed along with an estimated 500 Panamanian civilians. The Organization of American States and the European Parliament both formally protested the invasion, which they condemned as a flagrant violation of international law.
In 1992, Noriega was found guilty on eight counts of drug trafficking, racketeering, and money laundering, marking the first time in history that a U.S. jury convicted a foreign leader of criminal charges. He was sentenced to 40 years in federal prison.
Italian physicist and radio pioneer Guglielmo Marconi succeeds in sending the first radio transmission across the Atlantic Ocean, disproving detractors who told him that the curvature of the earth would limit transmission to 200 miles or less. The message–simply the Morse-code signal for the letter “s”–traveled more than 2,000 miles from Poldhu in Cornwall, England, to Newfoundland, Canada.
Born in Bologna, Italy, in 1874 to an Italian father and an Irish mother, Marconi studied physics and became interested in the transmission of radio waves after learning of the experiments of the German physicist Heinrich Hertz. He began his own experiments in Bologna beginning in 1894 and soon succeeded in sending a radio signal over a distance of 1.5 miles. Receiving little encouragement for his experiments in Italy, he went to England in 1896. He formed a wireless telegraph company and soon was sending transmissions from distances farther than 10 miles. In 1899, he succeeded in sending a transmission across the English Channel. That year, he also equipped two U.S. ships to report to New York newspapers on the progress of the America’s Cup yacht race. That successful endeavor aroused widespread interest in Marconi and his wireless company.
Marconi’s greatest achievement came on December 12, 1901, when he received a message sent from England at St. John’s, Newfoundland. The transatlantic transmission won him worldwide fame. Ironically, detractors of the project were correct when they declared that radio waves would not follow the curvature of the earth, as Marconi believed. In fact, Marconi’s transatlantic radio signal had been headed into space when it was reflected off the ionosphere and bounced back down toward Canada. Much remained to be learned about the laws of the radio wave and the role of the atmosphere in radio transmissions, and Marconi would continue to play a leading role in radio discoveries and innovations during the next three decades.
In 1909, he was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in physics with the German radio innovator Ferdinand Braun. After successfully sending radio transmissions from points as far away as England and Australia, Marconi turned his energy to experimenting with shorter, more powerful radio waves. He died in 1937, and on the day of his funeral all British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) stations were silent for two minutes in tribute to his contributions to the development of radio.
December 12, 1901 : Marconi sends first Atlantic wireless transmission
December 12, 1901 : Marconi sends first Atlantic wireless transmission