Today in History: July 31

Perhaps Raúl Castro’s accession doesn’t count as a “coup attempt” (since it was successful), let alone a “rank-and-file” mutiny, but the plain fact remains that, for the first time in a Communist state since Gen. Jaruzelski seized power in Poland in 1981, the army has replaced the party as the source of authority.
The even more grotesque fact that power has passed from one 79-year-old brother to a “younger” one who is only 75 may have assisted in obscuring the obvious. So may the fact that—continuous babble about his “charisma” notwithstanding—Fidel Castro has never taken off his uniform (except for the tailored suits he dons for appearances at international conferences) since the day he took power. Even my distinction between the army and the party may be a distinction without much of a difference. Cuba has been a garrison state run by a military caudillo for most of the past half-century. More than anything, the maximum leader always based his legitimacy on his status as commander in chief. The dynastic succession of his brother only formalizes the situation. As was once said of Prussia, Cuba is not a country that has an army but an army that has a country.—Christopher Hitchens, “The Eighteenth Brumaire of the Castro Dynasty,” Slate, August 7, 2006

Ten years ago today, Fidel Castro, the leader of Cuba via a variety of titles since 1959, announced through Cuban media that “days and nights of continuous work, almost without sleep, took its toll on my health, put me under extreme stress and my health was affected,” so that he would hand over the duties and titles of First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba, President of the Council of State of Cuba, President of the Council of Ministers of Cuba, and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces to his younger brother, Raúl Castro, who had been minister of defense since 1959.

The word “acting” sat in front of each of these titles for Raúl Castro until February 2008, when he formally became the leader of the Communist nation, which he remains ten years later.

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Idlewild Airport, known today as John F. Kennedy International Airport, was dedicated by President Harry Truman 68 years ago today.

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NBC News’ final “Huntley-Brinkley Report” (“Good night, Chet. Good night, David”) aired on July 31, 1970, after almost 14 years, when Chet Huntley retired. Even long-time rival Walter Cronkite briefly turned his CBS News broadcast over to NBC’s cameras to share the pair’s final sign-off, live, with his audience:

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Nolan Ryan earned his 300th win on this date in 1990.

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Franz Liszt died 130 years ago on this date. Gen. Omar Torrijos died 35 years ago today. Gore Vidal died four years ago today.

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Primo Levi was born on this date in 1919. Ahmet Ertegun was born on this date in 1923. Ted Cassidy was born on this date in 1932. Geoffrey Lewis was born on this date in 1935.

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Cees Nooteboom is 83. Geraldine Chaplin is 72. Gary Lewis (Gary Lewis & the Playboys) is 70. His hit songs include “This Diamond Ring”:

Mark Cuban is 58. Stanley Jordan is 57. Wesley Snipes is 54. Fatboy Slim is 53. His 2003 collaboration with Christopher Walken:

J. K. Rowling is 51 today.

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One comment

  1. loisajay · July 31, 2016

    Awesome!! Christopher Walken is so THE MAN! Thanks, Mark.


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