This Week in History

PHOTO: Atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, Aug. 6, 1945.
Apic/Getty Images

From the East Room of the White House to the wasteland that became Hiroshima and Nagasaki, history traveled the world this week. Americans heard their first presidential announcement of resignation--amid the Watergate scandal--and the first news of atomic weaponry, used to end a deadly war. Here's what happened this week in history:

PHOTO: President Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev
Underwood Archives/Getty Images
August 5

1963: Nuclear Test Ban Treaty Signed

Fifty years ago Monday, the U.S., the Soviet Union, and Great Britain signed a ban on any nuclear testing underwater, in outer space, or in the atmosphere.

Discussions on such a treaty had started over a decade earlier but always resulted in disagreement between the democratic and communistic powers.

However, the Cuban Missile Crisis of October 1962—which nearly caused an all-out nuclear war between Russia and America—brought the nations back to the negotiating table.

Discussions restarted in January 1963, and officials from the U.S., the USSR, and Great Britain signed a compromised treaty on August 5, 1963.

The Nuclear Test Ban Treaty was seen as the first important step toward regulating nuclear weapons and avoiding an atomic war.

PHOTO: Atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, Aug. 6, 1945.
Apic/Getty Images
August 6

1945: U.S. Drops Atomic Bomb On Hiroshima

On August 6, 1945, at 8:15 a.m., the U.S. bomber Enola Gay dropped the first atomic bomb in military history on the Japanese city of Hiroshima, instantly killing roughly 80,000 people.

The weapon had been three years in the making, with over 100,000 scientists in America working on the "Manhattan Project" to become the first country to construct an atomic bomb.

Physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, who led the project, and his team had successfully detonated the first test bomb in a New Mexico desert just a couple weeks earlier, on July 16, 1945.

Upon his success, Oppenheimer, quoting the Bhagavad Gita, said, "Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds."

President Harry Truman informed the public of the bomb's detonation aboard the cruiser, USS Augusta, in the Atlantic Ocean.

Truman, who believed the bomb to be the only way to bring a rapid end to the war against Japan, said in his broadcast, "Let there be no mistake; we shall completely destroy Japan's power to make war."

Three days later, another atomic bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. Six days after that, the Japanese surrendered to the Allied forces.

The attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki remain the only atomic episode in history. The total death toll by 1950, including those who died of radiation exposure and illness in the months following the attacks, was approximately 340,000.

Although Truman insisted that the dropping of the atomic bombs was necessary to bring an end to World War II, some historians later argued that the real purpose of the attack was to display military prowess to the Soviet Union, which would mark Hiroshima as the beginning of the Cold War.

PHOTO: The Purple Heart
Getty Images
August 7

1782: Washington Instates Purple Heart

On August 7, 1782, the Continental Army's Commander in Chief George Washington created the "Badge for Military Merit," meant to recognize a soldier who performed "any singularly meritorious action."

The badge consisted of a purple silk heart, a thin silver border, and the word "Merit" stitched on the heart in silver.

After the Revolutionary War, the military decoration was largely abandoned until the twentieth century. In 1927, U.S. Army Chief of Staff Charles P. Summerall took up the cause to "revive the Badge of Military Merit."

The following U.S. Army Chief of Staff, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, successfully petitioned to bring back the badge in 1931, and the Order of the Purple Heart's creation was announced on February 22, 1932—the bicentennial of Washington's birth.

PHOTO: President Richard Nixon announces his resignation on television in Washington in this Aug 8, 1974, file photo.
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
August 8

1974: President Nixon Resigns

On August 8, 1974, President Richard Nixon became the first U.S. president to announce his resignation.

In a radio and television address broadcast at 9:01 p.m., Nixon said, "I have never been a quitter. To leave office before my term is completed is abhorrent to every instinct in my body. But as president, I must put the interest of America first."

Nixon resigned amid scandal after the break-in and attempted wire tapping of the Democratic National Convention's headquarters at the Watergate building in Washington, D.C.

Although it is still unclear whether Nixon knew of the break-in before it occurred, he was impeached for attempting to cover up the incident and to convince the FBI to stop investigating.

The president formally resigned at noon the following day, and vice president of only eight months Gerald Ford was sworn in as the next president minutes later in the East Room of the White House.

In closing his address to the American people on August 8, Nixon said, "To have served in this office is to have felt a very personal sense of kinship with each and every American. In leaving it, I do so with this prayer: May God's grace be with you in all the days ahead."

PHOTO: Convicted spy Arthur Walker
Steve Helber/AP Photo
August 9

1985: Arthur Walker Found Guilty Of Spying For USSR

On August 9, 1985, a court found Arthur Walker guilty of seven counts of espionage and sentenced him to life in prison due to his leaks of confidential U.S. documents to the Soviet Union.

Walker first began his spying in 1980 when he took a job with a Virginia defense contractor at the suggestion of his brother, John Walker, who led the scheme.

Arthur Walker leaked a number of highly classified documents over the next two years to his brother, who brought them to the Soviets, and received approximately $12,000 for his efforts.

The Walker's spying ring, which also included John Walker's son, was revealed when John's wife came to the FBI to inform on them amid a nasty separation and divorce.

Arthur Walker was arrested on May 29, 1985, one day after the arrests of his brother and his nephew, Michael. He was sentenced to life in prison, and John received two life terms.

Michael was sentenced to only 25 years due to his father's testimony against another coconspirator, Jerry Whitworth, who eventually received 365 years in prison from a court.

With the end of the Walker spying ring, the U.S. government claimed it had stopped one of the most dangerous espionage teams in Cold War history.

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