1917 — Mata Hari executed
Mata Hari, the archetype of the seductive female spy, is executed for espionage by a French firing squad at Vincennes outside of Paris.
She first came to Paris in 1905 and found fame as a performer of exotic Asian-inspired dances. She soon began touring all over Europe, telling the story of how she was born in a sacred Indian temple and taught ancient dances by a priestess who gave her the name Mata Hari, meaning "eye of the day" in Malay. In reality, Mata Hari was born in a small town in northern Holland in 1876, and her real name was Margaretha Geertruida Zelle. She acquired her superficial knowledge of Indian and Javanese dances when she lived for several years in Malaysia with her former husband, who was a Scot in the Dutch colonial army. Regardless of her authenticity, she packed dance halls and opera houses from Russia to France, mostly because her show consisted of her slowly stripping nude.
She became a famous courtesan, and with the outbreak of World War I her catalog of lovers began to include high-ranking military officers of various nationalities. In February 1917, French authorities arrested her for espionage and imprisoned her at St. Lazare Prison in Paris. In a military trial conducted in July, she was accused of revealing details of the Allies' new weapon, the tank, resulting in the deaths of thousands of soldiers. She was convicted and sentenced to death, and on October 15 she refused a blindfold and was shot to death by a firing squad at Vincennes.
There is some evidence that Mata Hari acted as a German spy, and for a time as a double agent for the French, but the Germans had written her off as an ineffective agent whose pillow talk had produced little intelligence of value. Her military trial was riddled with bias and circumstantial evidence, and it is probable that French authorities trumped her up as "the greatest woman spy of the century" as a distraction for the huge losses the French army was suffering on the western front. Her only real crimes may have been an elaborate stage fallacy and a weakness for men in uniform.
1990 — Mikhail Gorbachev wins Nobel Peace Prize
Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev wins the Nobel Peace Prize for his work in ending Cold War tensions. Since coming to power in 1988, Gorbachev had undertaken to concentrate more effort and funds on his domestic reform plans by going to extraordinary lengths to reach foreign policy understandings with the noncommunist world.
Some of his accomplishments include four summits with President Ronald Reagan, including a 1987 meeting at which an agreement was reached to dismantle the U.S. and USSR intermediate-range missiles in Europe. He also began to remove Soviet troops from Afghanistan in 1988 and exerted diplomatic pressure on Cuba and Vietnam to remove their forces from Angola and Kampuchea (Cambodia), respectively. In a 1989 meeting with President George Bush, Gorbachev declared that the Cold War was over.
Gorbachev also earned the respect of many in the West through his policy of non-intervention in the political upheavals that shook the Eastern European "satellite" nations during the late-1980s and early-1990s. When Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Poland, and other Iron Curtain countries began to move toward more democratic political systems and free market economies, Gorbachev kept Soviet intervention in check. (This policy did not extend to the Soviet republics; similar efforts by Lithuania and other republics were met with stern warnings and force to keep the Soviet Socialist Republics together.)
— This Day in History is courtesy of History.com.