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1981 - Martial Law

Martial Law in Poland - General Wojciech Jaruzelski imposes martial law, arresting thousands of activists and drastically restricting normal life  in an attempt to crush political opposition

For 15 months, the Solidarity' movement's power and influence had been growing: it numbered 10 million members out of a population of some 36 million. Frustration over its failure to extract any reforms from the regime led to (then outrageous) demands for free elections and a referendum on Poland's alliance with the Soviet Union. The economy, for years a disaster area, had virtually collapsed. The Party, demoralised, divided and with a third of its three million members defected to Solidarity, could not cope. Polish hardliners were fuming restlessly, while Moscow kept up a barrage of threats and intimidation, including manoeuvres close to Poland's borders.

The regime's only hope was the military. On 11 February 1981, General Jaruzelski was made Prime Minister, while also keeping control of the armed forces. In the autumn he was made first secretary, or No 1, of the Communist party. Two other generals were moved into the Politburo and Interior Ministry. He commanded immense power.

Secret plans for a military takeover swung into action. Small units were sent into towns and villages, officially to help distribute food, but in fact to gather intelligence and create the impression of the Army as the people's friend. Then, on the night between 12 and 13 December 1981, tanks moved into the cities, and roadblocks were set up on bridges and intersections.

Tens of thousands of Solidarity supporters were dragged from their beds and arrested. Some 10,000 were interned. Between 10 and 100 were reported killed. Posters everywhere declared that Poland was under martial law. Solidarity was banned. Protest strikes were crushed by the feared ZOMO paramilitary police.

The news unleashed international outrage and protests, and for more than three years Jaruzelski and his regime were shunned by the West. On the other hand, communist leaders greeted it with praise and relief.

Martial law, which was suspended a year later, may have averted a Soviet invasion, but it hardly solved the government's problems. Solidarity continued to flourish in the underground. Despite reform plans, Jaruzelski failed abysmally to improve the economy. Poles became desperately poor, and in the spring and summer of 1988 workers protested with long and bitter strikes.


Further Reading

Wikipedia - The Day Poland Stood Still: Memories from the Introduction of Martial Law

IPNThe Genesis of Martial Law

Metro Warszawa - Tanks on the Streets of Warsaw

1981 - Reagan assassination attempt

Assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan - the US President is shot and wounded by John Hinckley Jr, whose motivation for the attack was to impress actress Jodie Foster

reagan assassination attempt.jpg

Around 2:25 p.m. on March 30, 1981, President Ronald Reagan emerged via a side door from the Washington Hilton Hotel in Washington D.C. He had just finished giving a speech to a group of trade unionists at the National Conference of Building and Construction Trades Department, AFL-CIO.

Reagan only had to walk about 30 feet from the hotel door to his awaiting car, so the Secret Service had not thought a bullet-proof vest to be necessary. Outside, waiting for Reagan, were a number of newspapermen, members of the public, and John Hinckley Jr.

When Reagan got close to his car, Hinckley pulled out his .22-caliber revolver and fired six shots in quick succession. The entire shooting took only two to three seconds.

In that time, one bullet hit Press Secretary James Brady in the head and another bullet hit police officer Tom Delahanty in the neck.

With lightening quick reflexes, Secret Service agent Tim McCarthy spread out his body as wide as possible to become a human shield, hoping to protect the President. McCarthy was hit in the abdomen.

In the mere seconds that all this was taking place, another Secret Service agent, Jerry Parr, pushed Reagan into the backseat of the awaiting presidential car. Parr then jumped on top of Reagan in an effort to protect him from further gunfire. The presidential car then quickly drove off.

At first, Reagan didn't realize that he had been shot. He thought he had maybe broken a rib when he had been thrown into the car. It wasn't until Reagan began coughing up blood that Parr realized Reagan might be seriously hurt.

Parr then redirected the presidential car, which had been heading to the White House, to George Washington Hospital instead.

Upon arrival at the hospital, Reagan was able to walk inside on his own, but he soon passed out from loss of blood.

Reagan had not broken a rib from being thrown into the car; he had been shot. One of Hinckley's bullets had ricocheted off of the presidential car and hit Reagan's torso, just under his left arm. Luckily for Reagan, the bullet had failed to explode. It had also narrowly missed his heart.

Immediately after Hinckley fired the six bullets at President Reagan, Secret Service agents, bystanders, and police officers all jumped on Hinckley. Hinckley was then quickly taken into custody.

In 1982, Hinckley was put on trial for attempting to assassinate the President of the United States. Since the entire assassination attempt had been caught on film and Hinckley had been captured at the scene of the crime, Hinckley's guilt was obvious. Thus, Hinckley's lawyer tried using the insanity plea.

It was true; Hinckley did have a long history of mental problems. Plus, for years, Hinckley had been obsessed with and stalked actress Jodie Foster. Based on Hinckley's warped view of the movie Taxi Driver, Hinckley hoped to rescue Foster by killing the President. This, Hinckley believed, would guarantee Foster's affection.


On June 21, 1982, Hinckley was found "not guilty by reason of insanity" on all 13 counts against him. After the trial, Hinckley was confined to St. Elizabeth's Hospital, although later he was  awarded privileges which allowed him to leave the hospital, and then live with his mother.


Further Reading


Vintage Everyday - Attempted Assassination of Ronald Reagan - John Hinckley, Jr. Tried to Assassinate Ronald Reagan Because He Was Obsessed with Jodie Foster

TimePresident Reagan's Best Jokes About Being Shot

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