Wednesday March 12, 2014 the 71st day and 11th week of 2014, there 294 days and 41 weeks left in the year. ?Highlights of world history on this day…

The Blizzard of 1888

The most severe winter storm ever to hit the New York City region reached blizzard proportions, costing hundreds of lives and millions of dollars in property damage. Although the storm also struck New England, New York was the hardest hit, with the 36-hour blizzard dumping some 40 inches of snow on the city. For several weeks, the city was virtually isolated from the rest of the country by the massive snowdrifts. Messages north to Boston had to be relayed via England. Even “Leather Man,” a fixture of New York and Connecticut history who had walked a circuit of 365 miles every 34 days for three decades, was reportedly delayed four days by the Blizzard of 1888. Leather Man, who walked during the day and slept in caves at night, was known as such because his clothes were made out of large patches of thick leather

1917 Russian army lends support to rebels in February Revolution

After being called out to quell workers’ demonstrations on the streets of Petrograd (now St. Petersburg), regiment after regiment of soldiers in the city’s army garrison defected to join the rebels on March 12, forcing the resignation of the imperial government and heralding the triumph of the February Revolution in Russia.?

The most immediate cause of discontent among the Russian people was the country’s disastrous participation in the First World War. Despite enjoying success against Austria-Hungary in the first years of the war, the czar’s armies had suffered repeated crushing defeats at the hands of the German army on the Eastern Front. When combined with Russia’s backward economy, its repressive government and its huge population of hungry and frustrated peasants, defeat on the battlefield pushed the country into full-scale revolution in 1917.

Demonstrators took to the streets of Petrograd, the Russian capital, on March 8, 1917, clashing with police but refusing to leave the streets. By March 10, all of Petrograd’s workers were on strike; the next day, the troops of the Petrograd army garrison were called out to quell the uprising.

In some initial encounters, the regiments opened fire, killing some workers; the total number killed reached about 1,500. Though the demonstrators fled after being fired upon, they refused to abandon the streets altogether and returned to confront the soldiers again. Soon, many troops began to waver when given the order to fire on the demonstrators, even allowing some to pass through their lines. On March 12, regiment after regiment defected to join the demonstrators. Within 24 hours, the entire Petrograd garrison?some 150,000 men?had joined the February Revolution, ensuring its triumph.

Three days later, Czar Nicholas II abdicated the throne in favour of his brother Michael, who refused the crown, ending the czarist regime and leaving Russia in the hands of a new provisional government, led by Russia’s minister of war, Alexander Kerensky, and tolerated by the Petrograd Soviet, the worker’s council formed by the February rebels. Kerensky hoped to salvage the Russian war effort while ending the food shortage and many other domestic crises. It would prove a daunting task: in April, Vladimir Lenin, founder of the radical socialist group known as the Bolsheviks, returned to Russia from exile to lead the October (or Bolshevik) Revolution and take over power of the country.

1921 Italian auto titan Gianni Agnelli born

On this day in 1921, Giovanni “Gianni” Agnelli, the glamorous, powerful Italian business tycoon who turned Fiat, his family’s car company, into an international conglomerate, was born in Turin, Italy. Agnelli was named for his grandfather, who founded Fabbrica Italiana Automobili Torino, later known as Fiat, in 1899.

As a young man Agnelli, who had a privileged upbringing, received a law degree and fought in World War II. He also earned a reputation as a playboy, dating Hollywood actresses and enjoying yachts and fast cars. In the late 1930s, Agnelli travelled to Detroit to study the American auto industry; his grandfather reportedly had been friendly with Henry Ford. In 1966, Agnelli, then in his mid-40s, became head of Fiat. Under his leadership, the company grew into one of Europe’s leading car makers and expanded internationally. Fiat also took stakes in such Italian auto manufacturers as Ferrari, Alfa Romeo, Lancia and Maserati. Additionally, Fiat branched out into other industries, including construction, finance and telecommunications. The company became Italy’s biggest private-sector employer and Agnelli, who was referred to as the country’s uncrowned king, at one point controlled more than 25 percent of the companies on the Milan stock exchange.

According to his 2003 obituary by the United Press International (UPI), Agnelli pursued several unconventional strategies as chairman of Fiat, including turning to Libya’s autocratic Colonel Muammar el-Qaddafi for financial assistance during the oil crisis of the 1970s and, after the end of the Cold War, becoming “the first Western carmaker to make an aggressive move into former Warsaw Pact countries, opening plants in Poland and Russia.”

Nicknamed L’Avvocato (The Lawyer), Agnelli amassed a multi-billion-dollar fortune, hobnobbed with world leaders and was known for his sartorial flair, which included wearing his wristwatch over his shirt cuff. He was also an avid soccer fan and owned the Italian team Juventus.

Agnelli resigned as head of Fiat in 1996, although he remained honorary chairman until his death on January 25, 2003, at the age of 81 from prostate cancer. In April 2009, American Big Three automaker Chrysler filed for bankruptcy and announced it was entering a partnership with Fiat.

1938 Hitler announces an Anschluss with Austria

On this day, Adolf Hitler announced an “Anschluss” (union) between Germany and Austria, in fact annexing the smaller nation into a greater Germany.

Union with Germany had been a dream of Austrian Social Democrats since 1919. The rise of Adolf Hitler and his authoritarian rule made such a proposition less attractive, though, which was an ironic twist, since a union between the two nations was also a dream of Hitler’s, a native Austrian. Despite the fact that Hitler did not have the full approval of Austrian Social Democrats, the rise of a pro-Nazi right-wing party within Austria in the mid-1930s paved the way for Hitler to make his move. In 1938, Austrian Chancellor Kurt von Schuschnigg, bullied by Hitler during a meeting at Hitler’s retreat home in Berchtesgaden, agreed to a greater Nazi presence within Austria. He appointed a Nazi minister of police and announced an amnesty for all Nazi prisoners. Schuschnigg hoped that agreeing to Hitler’s demands would prevent a German invasion. But Hitler insisted on greater German influence on the internal affairs of Austria-even placing German army troops within Austria–and Schu!

schnigg repudiated the agreement signed at Berchtesgaden, demanding a plebiscite on the question. Through the machinations of Hitler and his devotees within Austria, the plebiscite was cancelled, and Schuschnigg resigned.

The Austrian president, Wilhelm Miklas, refused to appoint a pro-Nazi chancellor in Schuschnigg’s stead. German foreign minister Hermann Goering then faked a crisis by engineering a “plea” for German assistance from inside the Austrian government (really from a German agent). On March 12, 1938, German troops marched into Austria. Hitler announced his Anschluss, and a plebiscite was finally held on April 10. Whether the plebiscite was rigged or the resulting vote simply a testament to Austrian terror at Hitler’s determination, the Fuhrer garnered a whopping 99.7 percent approval for the union of Germany and Austria.

Austria was now a nameless entity absorbed by Germany. It was not long before the Nazis soon began their typical ruthless policy of persecuting political dissidents and, of course, all Jewish citizens.

1947 Truman Doctrine is announced

In a dramatic speech to a joint session of Congress, President Harry S. Truman asks for U.S. assistance for Greece and Turkey to forestall communist domination of the two nations. Historians have often cited Truman’s address, which came to be known as the Truman Doctrine, as the official declaration of the Cold War.

In February 1947, the British government informed the United States that it could no longer furnish the economic and military assistance it had been providing to Greece and Turkey since the end of World War II. The Truman administration believed that both nations were threatened by communism and it jumped at the chance to take a tough stance against the Soviet Union. In Greece, leftist forces had been battling the Greek royal government since the end of World War II. In Turkey, the Soviets were demanding some manner of control over the Dardanelles, territory from which Turkey was able to dominate the strategic waterway from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean.

On March 12, 1947, Truman appeared before a joint session of Congress to make his case. The world, he declared, faced a choice in the years to come. Nations could adopt a way of life “based upon the will of the majority” and governments that provided “guarantees of individual liberty” or they could face a way of life “based upon the will of a minority forcibly imposed upon the majority.” This latter regime, he indicated, relied upon “terror and oppression.” “The foreign policy and the national security of this country,” he claimed, were involved in the situations confronting Greece and Turkey. Greece, he argued, was “threatened by the terrorist activities of several thousand armed men, led by communists.” It was incumbent upon the United States to support Greece so that it could “become a self-supporting and self-respecting democracy.” The “freedom-loving” people of Turkey also needed U.S. aid, which was “necessary for the maintenance of its national integrity.” The president declared that “it must be the policy of the United States to support free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or by outside pressures.” Truman requested $400 million in assistance for the two nations. Congress approved his request two months later.

The Truman Doctrine was a de facto declaration of the Cold War. Truman’s address outlined the broad parameters of U.S. Cold War foreign policy: the Soviet Union was the center of all communist activity and movements throughout the world; communism could attack through outside invasion or internal subversion; and the United States needed to provide military and economic assistance to protect nations from communist aggression.?

Not everyone embraced Truman’s logic. Some realized that the insurgency in Greece was supported not by the Soviet Union, but by Yugoslavia’s Tito, who broke with the Soviet communists within a year. Additionally, the Soviets were not demanding control of the Dardanelles, but only assurances that this strategic waterway would not be used by Russia’s enemies-as the Nazis had used it during World War II. And whether U.S. assistance would result in democracy in Greece or Turkey was unclear. Indeed, both nations established repressive right-wing regimes in the years following the Truman Doctrine. Yet, the Truman Doctrine successfully convinced many that the United States was locked in a life-or-death struggle with the Soviet Union, and it set the guidelines for over 40 years of U.S.-Soviet relations.

2003 Police recover Elizabeth Smart and arrest her abductors

On this day in 2003, 15-year-old Elizabeth Smart was finally found in Sandy, Utah, nine months after being abducted from her family’s home. Her alleged kidnappers, Brian David Mitchell, a drifter who the Smarts had briefly employed at their house, and his wife, Wanda Barzee, were charged with the kidnapping, as well as burglary and sexual assault.

In the middle of the night on June 5, 2002, Elizabeth Smart, then 14 years old, was taken at knifepoint from her bedroom in her parents’ house in the upscale Federal Heights neighbourhood of Salt Lake City. Her captor slid into the house undetected after cutting open the screen of an open window. Elizabeth’s younger sister, Mary Katherine, with whom she shared her bedroom, was the only witness to the kidnapping. Mary Katherine did not inform her parents until two hours after the incident, frightened that the man might return for her if she called out to alert them. She was initially unable to identify her sister’s attacker.

Elizabeth was taken to a crude campsite in the woods just three miles from her family’s home–close enough that she could actually hear the voices of searchers calling for her in the days following her abduction. There, it is alleged that Mitchell, who calls himself Emmanuel and professes to be a prophet with his own Mormon sect, sexually assaulted her.

After two months, Smart, who was forced to wear a wig and dress in a robe and veil, was taken to Salt Lake City and appeared in public, but was not recognized. From there, Mitchell and Barzee took Smart to San Diego, where they lived in a series of campsites and under bridges. Finally, the group returned to the Salt Lake City area and, just a couple of hours later, several people recognized Elizabeth. They reported their sightings to police, who immediately followed up on the lead and pulled over a car carrying Mitchell, Barzee and Smart.

Most of the early police investigation into Elizabeth’s disappearance had focused on another suspect, Richard Ricci, who had also once worked as a handyman in the Smart home. Serving time in prison for a parole violation during the investigation, Ricci denied having any involvement in the kidnapping. The trail grew cold after Ricci died in prison of a brain haemorrhage on August 30. Finally in early February 2003, Mary Katherine Smart told her parents she believed another former worker at the Smart home, who called himself Emmanuel, might be Elizabeth’s captor and the Smarts relayed the information to authorities. On February 3, believing that the police were not taking Mary Katherine’s tip seriously, the Smart family called their own press conference to release a sketch of Emmanuel. Several days later, a man contacted police to inform them that Emmanuel was his disturbed stepfather, Brian David Mitchell, and that he believed him to indeed be capable of kidnapping. In the days before finding Elizabeth, the Smarts continued to criticize police for failing to devote enough energy to following up on the lead.

When found, Smart, who called herself Augustine, most likely at the behest of Mitchell, initially denied to police that she was in fact Elizabeth Smart. Undeterred, police took her and her captors in separate cars to the Salt Lake City Police Department, where she was reunited with her family. On March 18, 2003, after Mitchell and Barzee were formally charged, Mitchell’s attorney announced that his client considered taking Elizabeth a call from God. It has since been reported that Mitchell believed Smart was his wife and that the young girl may have suffered from Stockholm syndrome during the nine-month ordeal, answering questions as to why she did not try to escape even though it seemed she had been presented with several opportunities.

Police later discovered that Mitchell had also attempted to kidnap Smart’s cousin several weeks after taking Elizabeth and added that crime to the list of charges against him. Mitchell was declared mentally unfit to stand trial in July 2005 and December 2006; Barzee, who filed for divorce from Mitchell in December 2004, was sentenced to 15 years in prison for her role in the kidnapping in November 2009. On May 25, 2011, after being ruled competent to stand trial in March 2010 and convicted that December, Mitchell was sentenced to life in federal prison.

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