December 2nd: A Day in Retrospect

A lot can happen in one day. Take today, for instance. December the 2nd. It’s been a momentous day many times.

On December 2nd, 1804, at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, Napoleon Bonaparte crowned himself the Emperor of the French. A year later, on December 2nd, 1805, Napoleon’s forces won the battle of Austerlitz, decisively defeating the Russians and Austrians. The battle is widely considered to be Napoleon’s greatest victory, and as consequence to this, the face of Europe changed forever – with the Treaty of Pressburg, the Holy Roman Empire, which had stood since the days of Charlemagne, was dissolved and divided up between Napoleon and his allies.

Across the water in the USA, on December 2nd, 1823, the Monroe Doctrine was enacted, proclaiming American neutrality in future European conflicts, and warning European powers not to interfere in the Americas (which would remain pretty much unbroken until WWI). On the same date in 1845, James K. Polk declared the ‘Manifest Destiny’ of the United States in his state of the union address.

Back to France, and in 1851 Napoleon’s nephew (also called Napoleon) overthrew the republic, and became Emperor of the French on the same day in 1852 – a position he would hold until the Franco-Prussian war, in which France was decisively defeated by the North German Confederation, led by Prussia (a nation which would later found Germany off the back of this victory).

December 2nd shaped both World Wars too. In 1917, the Russians and Germans signed an armistice at Brest-Litovsk, which marked the Russian withdrawal from the war. In 1942, during the Manhattan Project, a team led by Enrico Fermi initiated the first artificial self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction, heralding the dawn of the nuclear age.

The nation most shaped by December 2nd, I would argue, is Cuba. In 1956, the Granma reached the shores of Cuba’s Oriente Province. Fidel Castro, Che Guevara and 80 other members of the 26th of July Movement disembarked to initiate the Cuban Revolution. In 1961, in a nationally broadcast speech, Cuban leader Fidel Castro declared that he was a Marxist–Leninist and that Cuba was going to adopt Communism. And in 1976, Fidel Castro became President of Cuba, replacing Osvaldo Dorticós Torrado.

In amongst all the war and chaos, however, there have been a few undisputably good December 2nds. In 1970, the EPA was founded and began operations. In 1982, at the University of Utah, Barney Clark became the first person to receive a permanent artificial heart. And in 1999, the UK devolved political power in Northern Ireland to the Northern Ireland Executive following the Good Friday Agreement, ending years of civil unrest and terrorism.

December 2nd was the day Britney Spears and Gianni Versace were born, among many others. It’s also the UN’s International Day for the Abolition of Slavery.

They say 24 hours is a long time in politics.

They’re right.

In 24 hours, wars have been fought and peace made, nations have been born and empires have fallen. Tragedies, crimes, and dictatorships have occurred, yet also great leaps forward have been made in science and technology, diplomacy, environmentalism and the practice of individual freedom and liberty.

Having written this in advance, I wonder what will happen this year?

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