This Day in History – September 2nd

31 BCE – At the Battle of Actium, Octavian is victorious over Marc Antony and Cleopatra – On the Ionian Sea coast of western Greece on this date over 2,000 years ago, Roman Caesar Octavian won a significant naval victory near Actium, sinking or capturing 200 ships fighting on behalf of the Egyptian queen Cleopatra and her lover, the Roman general and politician Marc Antony. This feud is seen as the decisive confrontation of what is called the Final War of the Roman Republic, and the roots of it date back to around 44 BCE, immediately after the assassination of Julius Caesar. At that time, Octavian (Julius Caesar’s nephew) and Antony united to put down Caesar’s murderers. In the years that followed, the relationship between the two became strained as they each strived to attain more power within Rome and its territories. Antony, who was married to Octavian’s sister, was stationed in the east, and soon began having an affair with the queen of Egypt, Cleopatra. As a result, in 31 BCE, Octavian directed the Roman Senate to declare war on Egypt and to proclaim Antony a traitor. On the morning of this date off the shores of Greece, Octavian’s fleet of warships met Antony’s. Seeing that they were outnumbered, Antony and Cleopatra abandoned their forces. Because of this act, Antony’s vast armies began deserting him and, roughly one year later, he and Cleopatra committed suicide. Octavian’s victory allowed him to consolidate his power in Rome. He was later bestowed the name “Augustus” by the Roman Senate, and became the Roman Empire’s first Emperor in 27 BCE. He ruled for 40 years until his death in 14 CE.

1807 – Britain bombards Copenhagen, capturing the Danish fleet to prevent it from being turned over to Napoleon – The English and French were bitter enemies for hundreds of years, with the scale of their wars gradually growing as their influence over other parts of Europe also grew. In May 1806, the mighty British fleet began blockading the French coast so, in response, French leader Napoleon issued a decree that November that no French allies could trade with Britain. For the next few months, they each stepped up trade sanctions against one another, but trade was ultimately far more important to Britain, an island nation; they had to keep their sea lanes open. So, the English decided to attack what they saw as the weakest link in Napoleon’s European alliance: Denmark. The Danes were neutral but, as they possessed territory in Greenland, Iceland and Norway, they had many ships which England feared Napoleon might compel them to use to prevent passage of English ships in the North and Baltic Seas. England launched a preemptive attack on Denmark and, on this date in 1807, began bombarding the Danish capital of Copenhagen. Almost 200 civilians were killed, and over 700 were injured. On Sept. 5, the Danes surrendered and turned over their navy to British control. Britain’s tactics inspired a new military term for the practice of confiscating all the ships of a defeated adversary: Copenhagenization. The great French Empire collapsed soon after Napoleon’s ill-advised invasion of Russia in 1812. After a brief attempt at reclaiming his throne in 1815, Napoleon was permanently exiled to the island of Saint Helena. He died in 1821.

1901 – During a speech at the Minnesota State Fair, then-vice president Theodore Roosevelt famously describes his foreign policy as “speak softly and carry a big stick” – The Minnesota State Fair first took place in 1859, and is today second in total attendance among such fairs in the United States to only the Texas State Fair. One of the state’s claims to fame is its butter sculptures but, another more historically significant claim to fame took place on this date 115 years ago in 1901. On that day, then-vice president Theodore Roosevelt, who was serving in the administration of William McKinley, was visiting the fair. Giving an address entitled “National Duties,” Roosevelt said that, in terms of foreign policy, he favoured an old West African proverb: “speak softly and carry a big stick; you will go far.” By this, he said, he meant exercising intelligent forethought and decisive action far in advance of any likely crisis. Just four days later, McKinley was shot by an assassin and Roosevelt became the 26th president of the United States on Sept. 14, 1901. He put his policy ideas to work, negotiating in favour of U.S. interests in Central America and in Japan, eventually winning the Nobel Peace Prize in 1906.

1945 – In Tokyo Bay aboard the USS Missouri, Japan’s foreign minister formally surrenders, ending combat in the Pacific Theatre of World War II – Though the Allies first celebrated victory over Japan on Aug. 15, 1945, nine days after the first atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, Sept. 2 is also sometimes referred to as Victory over Japan Day. It was on this date in 1945 that Japanese officials signed an act of unconditional surrender, officially ending six years of world war. Signing on behalf of Japan was foreign minister Mamoru Shigemitsu, while representatives from the USA, China, United Kingdom, Soviet Union, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, France and the Netherlands were also present aboard the battleship USS Missouri to sign. Signing for Canada was Colonel Lawrence Moore Cosgrave. Cosgrave accidentally signed his name one line too low on the form, and so did every signatory after him so that, when New Zealand’s representative came to sign, an extra line had to be drawn in for him in the bottom margin. A First World War veteran, Cosgrave also reportedly said that it was on his back that his friend John McRae placed a scrap of paper to write the poem “In Flanders Fields.” Within 30 minutes of the signing ceremony, 13,000 American troops landed in Tokyo. Japan regained its independence in 1952 – although the US retained the island of Okinawa until 1972 and still has military bases there.

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