WASHINGTON -- We're now into the 10th month of an election year, and the so-called mainstream media are on the lookout for an "October surprise." For those too young to remember, the term was coined by the potentates of the press to describe a nonevent: the belief of conspiracy theorists that Ronald Reagan somehow thwarted President Jimmy Carter from achieving the release of 52 American hostages being held in Tehran, Iran, before the 1980 election. It didn't happen; but that hasn't slaked the thirst of print and broadcast "journalists" and "commentators" for a sensational event that will sway voters in the month before an election. What many in the media either don't know or choose not to remember is that October has produced a lot of surprises for Americans.
It was on Oct. 19, 1781, that the success of the American Revolution was assured. That was the day British Gen. Charles Cornwallis surrendered his army to George Washington at Yorktown, Va. Had this "October surprise" not occurred, it's unlikely that we would be holding presidential and congressional elections next month.
John Brown, an abolitionist, raided the U.S. Armory at Harpers Ferry, Va., Oct. 16, 1859, killing and wounding more than a dozen people in an effort to start an insurrection. Three days later, Brown was captured by U.S. Marines led by Robert E. Lee. Though he eventually was hanged for treason, John Brown's "October surprise" led to the election of Abraham Lincoln, secession, the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation.
On Oct. 8, 1871, a cow in the barn of Patrick and Catherine O'Leary started what came to be known as the "Great Chicago Fire." In three days, the fire burned nearly four square miles of the largest city west of Manhattan and left tens of thousands homeless. There was no federal aid offered to survivors for rebuilding.
World War I already was four months on when the Ottoman Empire allied with the Central Powers -- Germany and Austria-Hungary -- in October 1914. But Turkey's decision to enter the war -- and the October Revolution in Russia in 1917 -- forever changed the world in which we live.
On Oct. 15, 1938, Adolf Hitler surprised the world by ordering German troops to occupy the Sudetenland. Two weeks earlier, British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain had returned from the infamous Munich Conference and assured "peace for our time." It was anything but. In October 1939, the Nazis and the Soviets halved and occupied Poland, and by October 1940, Hitler's Luftwaffe was making daylight bombing raids on British cities.
During October 1962, the United States and the Soviet Union came to the brink of war over nuclear-armed missiles that Nikita Khrushchev had shipped to Cuba. Though President Kennedy talked tough in his Oct. 22 broadcast, he secretly agreed to remove U.S. weapons along the Soviet periphery.
Those who believe that this month's collapse of global financial markets is an unprecedented disaster need to study history. The Great Crash of 1929 -- so severe that it makes this year's meltdown pale in comparison -- began Oct. 24. In 1987, Oct. 19 became known as "Black Monday," as Wall Street investors watched the market nose-dive 22 percent and lose $500 billion in value in a single trading session -- still the biggest one-day loss of value in history.
While Sept. 11, 2001, always will be remembered as a day of terror for Americans, October has many more, and all of them cost some of our countrymen their lives. The 23rd of this month is the 25th anniversary of the attack on the U.S. Marine headquarters in Beirut, Lebanon -- a radical Islamic suicide attack that killed 241 Americans. In the aftermath of that assault, U.S. troops pulled out of Lebanon.
On Oct. 7, 1985, Palestinian terrorists hijacked the Italian cruise ship Achille Lauro and murdered an American passenger, Leon Klinghoffer. Three days later, they were captured in Sicily as they tried to flee aboard an Egyptian aircraft. In announcing the success, President Reagan said, "You can run, but you can't hide."
Fifteen years ago this month, there was a 19-hour gunfight in Mogadishu, Somalia, which claimed the lives of 18 U.S. Army Rangers and Delta Force personnel. During the operation, two U.S. MH-60 helicopters were downed, and Chief Warrant Officer Michael Durant was captured. For their courage in trying to save him, Master Sgt. Gary Gordon and Sgt. 1st Class Randy Shughart were awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously. Within weeks, President Bill Clinton ordered U.S. forces to withdraw from Somalia.
And as for that first "October surprise" that wasn't: The American hostages were released Jan. 20, 1981 -- the day of Ronald Reagan's inauguration. He was the man the Iranians didn't want to fight.