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Sept. 9: A day of significance

On Monday, most of us will reflect back on the dreadful events of 9/11/01, when hijacked passenger planes were used as weapons against the United States, targeting the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon in Virginia, and allegedly — but unsuccessfully — the White House in Washington, D.C.

Few of us are mindful of the importance of today’s date — Sept. 9 — to both our nation and our state. Following are some of the events that are historically relevant, and one occurrence that has special implications for America as well as the stability of world order.

Naming our nation

On July 12, 1776, having already crafted the Declaration of Independence from Great Britain, the founders of our country set about the task of writing documents by which we would govern ourselves. At the time, each colony was relatively independent.

The Declaration of Independence declares: “That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other acts and things which independent States may of right do.”

These new “independent states” had to be joined into a common union. On Sept. 9, 1776, the Continental Congress selected the “The United States of America” as the official name of the new nation. Over the next few years, representatives argued about many details that would eventually be included in our Constitution, but the name of the nation remained constant, and the Articles of Confederation were finally ratified on March 1, 1781.

The nation’s capital

When the Constitution was ratified, New York City was the capital of the United States. George Washington stood on the balcony of City Hall as he took the oath of office, and one of the first issues that he had to deal with was the establishment of a permanent home for our government. He chose an area along the Potomac River that included lands from Virginia and Maryland. But, the region contained a good deal of marsh that had to be drained, and it would take several years to fully develop the site.

In 1791, the capital was moved to Philadelphia while Pierre Charles L’Enfant designed “Federal City.” On Sept. 9, 1791, Congress named L’Enfant’s creation “Washington,” after our first president. Finally, in June of 1800, the capital of the United States moved to its current location.

California statehood

In our own state, Monday is known as Admissions Day. Between 1846 and 1848, the U.S. and Mexico were at war over contested claims to a fairly insignificant slice of present-day Texas. Because of its defeat, Mexico was forced to cede much of its land north of the Rio Grande to the United States. This included nearly all of California, except for a sliver that was adjacent to Arizona, but that was later purchased to complete the European dream of manifest destiny.

The following year (1849), gold was discovered at Sutter’s Mill, and this sparked a huge wave of immigration. Few of these newcomers “struck it rich” in the gold fields, but many of them saw the economic opportunities, especially in agriculture. Because of the increasing population and the wealth of natural resources, California was admitted to the nation on Sept. 9, 1850.

Additionally, on that same date, the “Compromise of 1850” transferred a huge tract of Texas territory (including parts of states that are now Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Wyoming) to the U.S. government. The “compromise” was that the federal government would assume $10 million of Texas’ pre-annexation debt.

Computer bugs

The forerunner of modern computers was invented in 1833 by an English engineer named Charles Babbage. It passed the “Turing Test,” which means that it had all of the components and could perform all of the functions that were outlined by Alan Turing, in a paper that he presented more than 100 years later (1946). However, Babbage’s machine was never built because the hand-made parts were too expensive and British Home Secretary Robert Peel decided to devote national funds to developing a civilian police force.

During the 20th century, a variety of machines was built that utilized Turing’s logic. Initially these computers were analog (calculating by some sort of measurement) and electromechanical (“counting” by turning numbered wheels and having moving parts). Eventually, general-purpose, all electronic digital computers were invented.

One of the early pioneers of electronic computer programming was Grace Hopper, a naval officer (who was consequently promoted to the rank of admiral). In her early days, working on the Mark I computer at Harvard University, programming involved turning dials, flipping switches, and connecting (or disconnecting) wires. On Sept. 9, 1947, her team could not find the cause of the computer’s failure to perform.

Hopper ordered the technicians to start removing panels from the sides of the machine. Inside one section, she discovered a moth that had fluttered around in the confined space and loosened a connection. She removed the moth, taped it in the daily log, and wrote, “Here’s the bug that caused the problem.” Henceforth, all glitches in computer programs have been known as “bugs.”

Global stability

In 1945, the United States dropped two nuclear bombs on Japan in an effort to bring a swift conclusion to World War II. Following the war, other nations — especially the former Soviet Union — set their scientists the task of developing nuclear weapons of their own. Eventually, the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. could not only kill off each other, but wipe out much of the world population with their weapons. This led to nuclear non-proliferation treaties among nations.

As part of the treaty, nations agreed to suspend all testing of nuclear weapons. But, one year ago — Sept. 9, 2016 — North Korea completed its fifth nuclear weapon test. Kim Jong Un has already threatened the United States, but the rest of the world is at risk in the event that these weapons are ever used.


Note: On Sept. 2, 2017, a magnitude 6.3 seismic event was detected in North Korea; the “quake” is presumed to have been caused by the country’s sixth nuclear test.

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