This week in history: April 20-26

25 Years Ago | 50 Years Ago | 75 Years Ago | 100 Years Ago

25 years ago: Hubble Space Telescope launched into orbit

The much-anticipated launch of the Hubble Space Telescope aboard the space shuttle Discovery took place on April 24, 1990, from Cape Canaveral, Florida. The shuttle headed for an orbit 380 miles above the earth, releasing its $2.5 billion payload from its cargo bay the following day. The telescope, equipped with a mirror 2.4 meters (7.9 feet) in diameter, was to begin transmitting high-resolution images from space in a few days.

Lennard Fisk, chief scientist for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, described Hubble’s mission as changing “humankind’s perception of itself and its place in the universe,” adding, “Hubble is half a billion times more sensitive than the human eye.” It will see objects up to 10 times more sharply than ground-based telescopes. “It’s as though we currently have 20 over 200 vision and we are about to be given a pair of glasses that brings the universe to 20/20 clarity.”

The launch had been delayed several times. A launch date of October 1986 was the first planned to put Hubble in orbit, but the destruction of the shuttle Challenger on January 28, 1986, in a explosion shortly after launch that killed all seven crew members, led to a years-long shutdown of the shuttle program and postponed Hubble’s launch significantly.

A first launch attempt on April 10, 1990, counted down to four minutes before liftoff when a failure in one of the auxiliary power units—part of the spacecraft’s hydraulic system— caused the launch to be scuttled, forcing a delay of two weeks.


50 years ago: Sukarno completes nationalization of foreign property

On April 24, 1965, President Sukarno signed a decree nationalizing remaining foreign property held in Indonesia. Third Deputy Premier Chairul Sahleh said the decree placed foreign property under the “supervision and control” of the Indonesian government, though it did not remove foreign title. The measure applied mainly to Belgian, French, Swiss, and Danish interests, the property of Indonesia’s former colonial ruler, the Netherlands, having been nationalized in 1957, followed later by the investments of British and American concerns. Japanese and West German investments operating under a so-called “profit-sharing” plan were not affected.

The move was a minor concession to the growing influence of socialism in Indonesia’s working class and peasantry, a politicization reflected in the development of the Communist Party (PKI), which, with perhaps three million members, was by far the largest political party in Indonesia, and among the largest in the world. But the PKI, under the leadership of Dipa Nusantara Aidit, subordinated the working class to Sukarno, encouraged both China and the Soviet Union, which sought the Indonesian leader as an ally against the US.

Yet Sukarno’s brand of bourgeois nationalist—“Nasakom” (nationalism, religion and communism)—like that of Nasser in Egypt, was being torn apart. The military and political Islam, which, along with the PKI provided the three bulwarks of Sukarno’s rule, determined that the working class had to be crushed after the “President-for-life,” in a visit to Egypt, announced his decision to develop an armed militia under his own control.

Anticommunist military and fascistic elements were cultivated by US, British, and Australian imperialism, which feared the Indonesian working class and viewed as a threat Sukarno’s overtures to China. (See: “Lessons of the 1965 Indonesian Coup Chapter One: The historical background”)


75 years ago: US admiral says war against Japan inevitable

“I cannot see how we can ultimately prevent being drawn into war [against Japan] on account of the Far Eastern situation.” This blunt declaration of US imperialism’s interests in the Asia-Pacific region was made by Rear Admiral J.K. Taussig on April 22, 1940, before the Senate committee on naval affairs.

Taussig went on to say, “The area of greatest concern to the United States at the present time is the Far East. For 150 years we have taken a part in the trade and development of this part of the world. In less than a year and a half our interests in this part of the world were and still are threatened…

“We need be under no delusions as to the aims and policies of Japan ... The first step in their plan is the domination of the Far East…. I cannot see how we can escape being forced into eventual war by the present trend of events.... The world has shrunk too much.”

While the Secretary of State and the Navy Department promptly disclaimed any responsibility for Taussig’s comments, there could be no question of his competence on Far Eastern affairs and that he spoke for a section of the American bourgeoisie. The admiral had been lined up as a final witness before the Senate Committee to appeal for a $665 million naval expansion bill. In his testimony Taussig said the navy “should construct an impregnable base in the Philippines and fortify Guam.”

He emphasized the necessity for American capitalism to wage war against Japan, while warning of the consequences flowing from it in the form of a revolutionary movement of the working class. “Modern war has far-reaching and unforeseen results on nations employing it. The cost in lives and treasure and the disruption of the routine of a peaceful existence may even lead to the overthrow of our form of government which we rightly guard so jealously.”


100 years ago: Allied forces launch disastrous Gallipoli landing in Turkey

On April 25, 1915 troops from Britain, Australia and New Zealand landed on the Gallipoli peninsula, in Turkey, beginning the land phase of what has become known as the Gallipoli campaign.

Far from being a fight for “freedom” or “democracy”, the landing was part of a predatory attempt by the allied powers to secure control of the Dardanelles, a narrow strait of water that separates the Balkans from mainland Asia, in order to continue and expand the catastrophic world war that had broken out in August 1914. Along with the Bosporus and the Sea of Marmara, the Dardanelles connects the Black Sea to the Mediterranean.

British control over the Dardanelles would mean a direct line to the Russian navy, enabling the supply of material and munitions to Russian forces who had been cut off from allied supplies as they fought Germany and Austria-Hungary on the Eastern Front of World War I. It would also threaten the heart of the Ottoman Empire which was allied to the Central Powers.

British forces were landed in several places on the tip of the Gallipoli peninsula. They landed unopposed on three beaches at Cape Helles. However, they faced opposition from the Turkish army at two other beaches. At one beach the British were caught by Turkish machine guns and many British troops could not get ashore and were killed at sea. British casualties for the day are estimated to be about 2,000.

The Australia and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) were landed on the Aegean side of the peninsula, at a location renamed Anzac Cove by the Turkish government in 1985. Because of mistakes in planning, the soldiers were faced with steep cliffs that they had to climb to get off the beach. The Turkish troops pushed back the initial ANZAC move inland. The fighting was bloody but the exact number of casualties that occurred during that first day is unknown, although over 900 deaths from the ANZACs are recorded. The ANZACs dug in to defensive trenches on the steep terrain. The battle became a war of attrition, with the ANZACs gaining very little ground over the next eight months.

The Gallipoli campaign is widely viewed as one of the worst disasters in World War I. The British forces were eventually evacuated from the peninsula in December 1915 and January 1916. During the Gallipoli campaign there were over 200,000 casualties on each side, with many men dying from dysentery and other diseases.