1957 – President Eisenhower intervenes to help the Little Rock Nine

The Little Rock Nine were a group of nine black high school students who were enrolled to begin classes to begin classes in September of 1957 at the Little Rock Central High School, in Little Rock, Arkansas. The nine students – Ernest Green, Elizabeth Eckford, Jefferson Thomas, Terrence Roberts, Carlotta Walls LaNier, Minnijean Brown, Gloria Ray Karlmark, Thelma Mothershed and Melba Beals – arrived at the schooll on September 4 to find their path blockaded by the Arkansas National Guard, who had been ordered out the by the state’s Governor – in direct violation of a Supreme Court ruling ordering the end of segregation.

A tense stand-off ensued, with segregationists and intergrationists arguing vociferously and holding rallies in favour of their causes. Finally, on September 24, President Eisenhower federalised the Arkansas National Guard (thus placing them under his command rather than the Governor’s) and sent in the 101st Airborne division of the US Army. They peacefully dispersed the blockade and took up positions to prevent its reinstatment. The following day, the Little Rock Nine entered the school and began classes, although there remained a considerable amount of racism directed towards them by some white students.

Referenced in:

We Didn’t Start The Fire – Billy Joel

1958 – Lebanon calls on U.S. for military aid

Lebanon had spent the previous few years threatened by a civil war between the Maronite Christians and the Muslims who were its two major religious divisions. As a rule, the Maronites were aligned with the West, and the Muslims with Egypt under Gamel Nasser. Relations with Egypt and Syria had grown tense, further exacerbating the situation.

Finally, the toppling of Iraq’s pro-Western government on July 14 provoked President Chamoun’s call for U.S. assistance. President Eisenhower responded with Operation Blue Bat, commencing on July 15, and ultimately lasting until October 25, 1958. In that time, US forces quelled dissent and helped to stabilise the government. At the time, it was considered a great success, but there are always unintended consequences: in historical terms, however, it can be seen as one more resentment spurring Muslim extremism against the US.

Referenced in:

We Didn’t Start The Fire – Billy Joel

1950 – The U.S. commits itself to the Korean War

On June 25, 1950, North Korean forces poured over the border separating the North and South parts of the peninsula, invading South Korea. This was considered a threat by the United States for two reasons: first, because the North Korean regime was Communist, and the Domino Theory was still widely believed; and second, because if South Korea fell, it would threaten American and allied forces in Japan.

Two days later, America announced that it would come to the aid of South Korea. Aside from the desire to oppose Communism, the Truman administration was keenly aware of the failures of appeasement at the start of World War Two, and did not wish to repeat this mistake.

In the end, the Korean War would last a little more than three years, cost nearly 4 million lives in total, and set the precedent for the Vietnam War – all for some very minor changes in the border between the two states.

Referenced in:

We Didn’t Start The Fire – Billy Joel

1960 – Khrushchev demands that Eisenhower apologise for U-2 spy flights

On May 1, American pilot Gary Powers was shot down while flying a Lockheed U-2 over the USSR on a covert surveillance mission, photographing military and other targets. Four days later, the American government released disinformation stating that Powers had gone missing and was presumed dead while flying over Northern Turkey. On May 7, Khrushchev released information demonstrating that the Americans had lied, causing a massive loss of face to the Eisenhower administration, and heightening Cold War tensions. Not only was Powers still alive, but his plain had been captured mostly intact. Indeed, the Soviets were even able to develop some of the photos Powers had taken.

This was unfortunate timing, to say the least, as the Four Powers summit in Paris was due to begin on May 14. Krushchev demanded an apology from the UNited States, and when Eisenhower proved recalcitrant, he walked out of the summit. Soviet-American relations deteriorated notably as a result of these incidents.

Powers was tried for espionage, pleaded guilty and was convicted on August 19, Although his sentence called for 3 years’ imprisonment and 7 years of hard labor, he served only one and three-quarter years of the sentence before returning to the West in a hostage swap deal.

Referenced in:

We Didn’t Start The Fire – Billy Joel