The price of oil

This is a paper I wrote for a history class I took at Augsburg College “The Modern Middle East”. The italicized text is the question to be answered, or topic. It’s an excellent class led by an exceptionally knowledgeable professor, Dr. Maheen Zaman (http://www.augsburg.edu/faculty/zamanm/)

To what extent did the Cold War in the Middle East involve the superpowers imposing their will on regional powers, and to what extent did it involve regional powers manipulating the superpowers? Discuss with special reference to different phases of the Arab-Israeli conflict.

According to Khalidi, both the US and USSR had strategic interests in the Middle East for its location in proximity to the USSR, its shipping lanes, and its vital natural resources such as oil and gas. Also, both viewed the other gaining access to these resources as a direct threat to regional economic stability and would pave the way to global military dominance. To the states and countries of the Middle East, the US and USSR were sources of vast wealth and technology, highly advanced weaponry, a means for bringing about a new Arab Nationalism through multilateral control of oil output and pricing, and a means to wage war with Israel.

Continue reading The price of oil

The peoples politics of Nelson Mandela

Harry Boyte

Director, Center for Democracy and Citizenship at Augsburg College

Across the world, people have rightly celebrated Nelson Mandela as a figure who “now belongs to the ages,” as President Barack Obama put it in his tribute to the late South African leader. But recognition of his people’s politics has been largely absent. We need to switch from the dominant “great man” view of Mandela as a singular savior of South Africa to an understanding of his citizen-empowering politics if we are to do justice to his legacy and its potential for contribution to a world in turmoil and crisis.

Nelson Mandela was a populist not in the sense in which the term is commonly used in the media, to mean a rabble-rousing demagogue. Mandela was a populist in the deepest meaning of term. He had a profound and also unromantic belief in the potential of everyday citizens to shape the world.

Today’s public discussion of Nelson Mandela is decontextualized and depoliticized, as well as sanctified. Lost is his schooling in the ancient civic culture of the Eastern Cape.

Mandela was born in Mvezo, a tiny village in the Transkei, in the southeast of South Africa. When his father, Gadla Henry Mphakanyisa, was stripped of his chieftainship after defying British authority, he was taken into the home of the paramount chief of the Thembu people.

In his autobiography, Long Walk to Freedom, Mandela described the meetings at “the Great Place,” Mquhekezweni. “Everyone who wanted to speak did so. It was democracy in its purest form. There may have been a hierarchy of importance among the speakers but everyone was heard, chief and subject, warrior and medicine man, shopkeeper and farmer, landowner and laborer. … All were free to voice their opinions and equal in their value as citizens.”

These experiences became seasoned in the anti-apartheid movement of the 1950s called the Congress of the People (CoP). It produced the Freedom Charter of 1955, the anti-apartheid movement’s manifesto, and aimed at a national awakening instilling freedom consciousness.

In the view of its organizers, the people, not the African National Congress or other political parties, were the driving force of change. As one leader, Rusty Bernstein put it, the ideas of the Charter needed to be “an exercise in getting the people to tell the leadership and self-regarding elites what THEY ought to work for in the name of the people.”

The Congress of the People also challenged anti-apartheid whites to organize in their own communities. Estranged from the white mainstream, they were largely unable to do so.

This movement powerfully shaped Mandela. The Charter, he argued was “by no means a blueprint for a socialist state.” Rather it was “a programme for unification” involving “a democratic struggle of various classes and political groupings.”

Mandela’s schooling generated a clear distinction in his thinking between ideological politics, or “party politics,” and people’s politics. The distinction is clear in an interview published last year in the Australian journal Thesis Eleven with Jakes Gerwel, aide to Mandela throughout his presidency.

Mandela, Gerwel argued, stressed psychological liberation akin to the emphasis of Black Consciousness Movement leader Steve Biko. “Not to be victim to your suffering [and] to be victim of those who perpetrated it against you … He rose above that by the generosity of spirit….”

Gerwel traced such generosity to Mandela’s politics. “People often talk about Mandela’s values,” Gerwel said. “The thing that I remember him teaching me was: ‘Jakes, never let your enemy choose the terrain of combat by reacting in anger. If you act in anger to anybody, you are allowing that person to choose the terrain.’ This was a combination of genuine principled morals with a great tactical sense.”

Gerwel emphasized that “Mandela is a politician through and through. He understands party politics and politics to his finger tips. He is not a saint, and he often made that point. He is a hard politician [who] uses power and his political agency for the good.”

In his prison years on Robben Island, Mandela further developed his commitment to nonracial people’s politics. Afrikaner guards who smuggled in newspapers for him to read, provided extra rations, and taught him Afrikaans, the main language of the white population, tempered any desire for racial recrimination.

Meanwhile, exchanges with young hotheads brought home the dangers of a politics of posture. “When you say, ‘What are you going to do?’ they say, ‘We will attack and destroy them!'” he recounted. “I say: ‘All right, have you analyzed how strong they are? Have you compared their strength to your strength?'”

In 1986, Mandela, still in prison, began negotiations with moderates in the National Party government. Simultaneously, parallel efforts began to appear among whites on a large scale.

In 1986, Van Zyl Slabbert and Alex Boraine, leaders of the white opposition party in the South African Parliament, resigned in frustration at the Parliament’s inability to address the country’s growing crisis. They founded the Institute for a Democratic Alternative for South Africa (Idasa), with the aim of generating discussion and work across the deepening racial divide. Slabbert called this “the politics of negotiation.” Their politics, in the same vein as Mandela’s, took up the challenge to whites made by the Congress of the People and leaders like Mandela, more than thirty years before.

For most whites in South Africa in the 1980s, the everyday lives, concerns, talents, and oppressive conditions of blacks were invisible. Idasa’s work closely paralleled Mandela’s efforts.

In 1987 in Dakar, Senegal, the organization brought together white moderates among politicians, labor unionists, journalists, religious and business leaders with exile leaders of the African National Congress for the first time. The meeting reverberated around the world. Over the next seven years, Idasa followed up by organizing hundreds of meetings which brought whites together with blacks, colored and Indians.

After the 1994 election, Idasa became the leading force on the African continent emphasizing the idea that democracy is a society, not simply a state. Its grassroots popular education efforts taught organizing community methods and nonpartisan empowering citizen politics to thousands of people. Throughout its history, Mandela remained Idasa’s friend.

Nelson Mandela believed that ordinary citizens can become bold, confident, responsible agents of change, able to rise to the occasion of even the most daunting challenges. He devoted his life to seeing the democratic potential of the people realized.

The wisdom of his people’s politics has never been more needed.

Harry Boyte, Director of the Center for Democracy and Citizenship at Augsburg College and Senior Fellow at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, lives several months a year in South Africa, where he is also a Visiting Professor at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.

Ella Baker and the Black Freedom Movement

What, exactly, was democratic about Baker and the many hundreds that she worked with? 

“A democracy”, as John Dewey once said, “is having faith in other people to do the right thing at the right time”. Ella Baker and the various organizations and organizers she worked with had this faith not just in African Americans, but in all the people of any race. There is simply no other reason for their efforts to equalize economically and politically across racial and class lines. They had faith that the poor could do great things if they had fair and just opportunities to do so. They had faith that African Americans were capable of leading the country in a better direction, if they were given a chance on equal footing. But they also had faith in the elite aristocracy’s ability to lead the nation, given in that their cause did not consistently advocate complete anarchy or move towards communism. Democracy was not the enemy, those who failed to practice it were. White supremacy, Jim Crowe, and the apartheid south were the enemy, not the founding principles of democracy.

Ella was raised by her mother to know and understand class and race did not dictate overall intelligence and ability (pg.19).  She spent time learning about democracy in Harlem against a backdrop of the Great Depression, and she advocated democracy and worked to break up the enemies of democracy by visiting the members of the NAACP people directly, spending time with them rather than just leading meetings in the town center. This indicates a true sincerity towards making change happen, not for herself, but for the people she worked so hard for. She worked for the betterment of race relations to make a better democratic republic.

What unique contributions did Baker make to the burgeoning and diverse Black Freedom Movement? 

Baker had a unique background that allowed her to continue to practice what she preached when she obtained higher levels of status within the NAACP. Many leaders coming from poor or lower class roots changed once they were put in charge or obtained a leadership position. But because Baker was raised in a substantial middle-class black neighborhood (and would routinely outreach to poorer black neighborhoods) she was taught at an early age that a life of service is never completed. On page 209, a perfect Baker quote is cited, “I never worked for an organization but for a cause.” This speaks volumes about her true commitment to the organizations she worked with and for. Baker left the NAACP because she felt it was “falling short of its present possibilities” and “the full capacities of the staff have not been used” and “there is little chance of mine being utilized in the immediate future”. (pg.146) It was a resignation based on lack of focus on the true meaning of the organization, not one due to lack of advancement towards leadership.

Can we call Baker a populist?

Baker was a populist by proxy, because she didn’t advocate for all the poor all the time, but instead the African American poor most of the time, she was not advocating on behalf of the people. Populist beliefs are popular, and she was not in favor of pursuing the popular ideals at the time, such as the belief in white supremacy. As unjust and evil as the pursuits of racist ideals are, they were during her time popular. Baker did not need to be populist, Baker needed to be an advocate of an oppressed race of people in a democratic country. Baker perhaps, could not be a populist as it would undermine her efforts to bring justice and equal rights to a race of people who needed her. Baker’s life was a series of desperate situations brought on by years and decades – millennia even, of ignorance and wanton hate. Baker was not a populist because it was more important for her to focus on African Americans and equal rights.

 

A more perfect union (democratic public)

This week, we move from the famous emergence of Populism in rural America during the 1880s and 1890s to a relatively unknown story of urban America in the early 1900s.  If the People’s Party effort failed (in the short-term, at least), other forms of democracy making persisted.  The author is especially interested in the ongoing effort to encourage a democratic public during that period.

What, according to Mattson, is a democratic public?

A democratic public is a work in progress. It “should be a goal in and of itself” (pg.8), and while it will not solve our problems, it “provides people with the opportunity to act democratically” (pg.12). A democratic public continually educates itself, involves participatory citizenship. Without a democratic public “political reform lost its meaning” (pg.36), because there was no deliberation and therefore no long lasting change. A democratic public “was not only politically necessary, but also a source of leading a good life since it could be exciting and encouraged commitment and concern for a common good that went beyond one’s individual self” (pg.38) A democratic public provides a type of intellectualism dedicated to truth and criticism “that could develop only out of collective deliberation”(pg.45)

How did Progressive-era reformers try to cultivate and create a democratic public?

In several different attempts and exercises, reformers of the Progressive-era intended to institutionalize the idea of a democratic public. Starting with the city beautification projects, activists envisioned a city to become a place of public works and art, with the idea being that if everyone was able to appreciate the work the public would become “imbued with civic pride”(pg.17) and “encourage interaction among different people and generate a democratic public.”(pg.18)

Next was the university extension programs aimed at educating the public. A democratic public is one that “relied on much more than commercial entertainment”(pg.27) and “depended on skills like concentration and development through continuous education”(pg.28) In these extension programs, the lecturer faced a different audience – not one of educated academics well versed in the subject matter to be presented, but was required to strike a “balance between sympathy with and criticism of the public”(pg.28)

Next were the forums and tent meetings assembled by Frederic Howe, based on the idea that democracy required the “decentralization of power” (pg.35) and a tent could be deployed anywhere. This also linked Howe’s faith in home rule to a democratic public, where “self-government and decentralization went hand in hand”(pg.35)

The creation of social centers was the last attempt before World War I at creating a democratic public discussed in the book. A social center was intended to give the public even freer range at deliberation of political issues because the people “decided what was to be debated and who was to do the debating.”(pg.52) They provided a venue for political candidates to hear about issues outside of special interest groups “thus creating an institutional basis for the Progressive Era challenge to political corruption”(pg.57)

According to Mattson, why did these efforts matter?

The American political system suffers from and is open to, corruption. Reducing political corruption requires a democratic public and all that a democratic public requires. These efforts were the foundation that we can build upon to make a democratic public in modern times. A more engaged and involved democratic public is the only path to “true democracy”.

Finally, how do Mattson’s assertions relate to other readings we’ve done?

When Mattson upholds Zueblin’s understanding  that “a (democratic) public relied on much more than commercial entertainment” he is referring to the same forces that Lasch mentions on page 96 in”The revolt of the Elites” when he writes ” Material abundance weakened the economic as well as the moral foundations of the “well-ordered family state” admired by nineteenth-century liberals” On page 132, Mattson mentions Harry Boyte and how he has argued for a “stronger conception of democracy that grows out of the efforts of these community organizers” when speaking about the efforts of the IAF and how they have grown from the roots of the social centers endorsed by John Dewey and his book “The Public and it’s problems”.  Boyte’s book “Free Spaces” definitely makes a nod to the early activists for social centers in that the title of Boyte’s book might actually be “Social Centers”. Mattson, Boyte, Dewey and Lasch all call for greater public involvement in political life in their works to create a better democratic public.

1950 – Present Day “The Rise of the Consumer”

The question of whether or not the years 1900-1950 should be considered “the age of catastrophe[1]” as Eric Hobsbawm has stated, requires that one consider the social, political, and economic upheaval experienced by the peoples of Europe and Asia during this time. This consideration should define catastrophe as “a momentous tragic event ranging from extreme misfortune to utter overthrow or ruin.”[2] To do so helps to disjoin fact from hyperbole and reduces opportunities for dogmatic interpretation as such a large span of time and events is susceptible to producing.

The events of this time period often include momentum and tragedy. There was extreme momentum in the 60 or so days from the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and the first battle of WWI, when due to alliances, each country was required to join the war. One tragedy of WWI was the reticent recognition that the industrialization of war machines was much more powerful than originally anticipated. Battlefield tactics were not changed to account for this, leading to massive casualties in seemingly endless trench warfare. The greatest tragedy of WWI was not just the massive loss of human life but that it was sacrificed for minimal and insignificant economic and political gain. The tragic cumulative result of WWI was WWII.

The horrors of WWI brought about intense despair and provoked a listless populace into ideas of racial purity. Germany was shell shocked, and only incredibly charismatic and powerful leaders could convince them it was time to go to war again. The economic ruin of Germany from both the war and the Treaty of Versailles was used by Adolf Hitler to overturn the long held belief that all people in Germany, regardless of race or religion, had claim to the title of citizen. The momentum of WWI, “the war that will end war[3]” would wash forward further unrest in Germany and give rise to the National Socialist Party. Extreme misfortune befell the “inferior races” of Nazi Germany. In his book Ordinary Men, Christopher Browning details the lives of ordinary peaceful German policemen forced to murder their neighboring Jewish German citizens in the name of eugenic cleansing, military duty, and the empty glory of the Nazi empire.

Russia would undergo a similar transformation. In the name of Marxism and communism, Vladimir Lenin would rally thousands against the established aristocracy.  The promise of equality for the worker and the abolition of private property, gave rise to a new form of centralized governance. When Lenin died in 1923, a ravenous and morally corrupt Josef Stalin readily took control. Shortly thereafter Stalin began a policy where, at times, randomly chosen ordinary Russian citizens were murdered or sent to forced labor camps in an effort to scare off any capitalist rebellions and to solidify Stalin’s power. Secret police interrogated and tortured without provocation simply to strike fear into the body politic.  Stalin was not concerned with eugenics or the acquisition of territory, but was overwhelmingly fascinated by conquests of power and nationalistic communism. His restructuring of old Russia into a mechanized industrial power saved it from capitulation in WWII, but this required installing the core tenets of the Communist Manifesto into a culturally diverse, resource rich and vast land. The most efficient way to do this was through fear and central control.

The overthrow and potential ruin created by these fascist regimes gave momentum to Britain and the United States to intervene once again. It was an extreme misfortune for the citizens of Europe and Asia whose everyday lives were turned upside down and destroyed. “Catastrophic” may very well be too weak a term to define the upheaval and destruction cast by the wills of a few evil men during this time period.

The period of 1950 to present day began as a continuation of the age of catastrophe for at least one of the world powers – Russia.  However, the promise of technology and the empowerment of the individual consumer would soon lead to a stagnant and futile cold war and, finally, a capitulation of Soviet style communism. The decades of 1950 to present day should be considered the “quiet rise of the consumer”.

The Yalta Conference established zones of influence for democracy and communism. Germany and Berlin were divided up and pieced out to the victors of WWII. Germany itself was in shambles. The war had destroyed its infrastructure, beheaded the government and crushed the will of the people. From these ashes, a new and divided Germany would arise, thanks in part to the US and the Marshall Plan. West Germany and Austria would experience explosive economic growth in the 1950s – a Wirtschaftswunder (German for “economic miracle”), but East Germany would not experience such a revival. The economic battle lines had been drawn further, strengthened by Khrushchev and the Brezhnev Doctrine, hardening the “Iron Curtain[4]”.  Soviet Russia resisted change even after the destruction caused by the fascists of WWII, and was dedicated to holding on to its old ways as long as possible.

The 1950s in the U.S. was a time of unbridled economic growth. The U.S. was not damaged during the war like much of the rest of the world, and therefore was able to turn its highly charged and efficient war infrastructure into factories foe consumer goods. The advent of the credit card, and the acceptance of a new consumer demographic, the teenager, pushed supply and demand for consumer goods to new highs. There were also a number of economic agreements within Europe such as the European Common Market and the establishment of economically friendly international trading policies like the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), which helped spread consumerism globally.

The rapid spread of consumerism led to the mandate of choice amongst the populations of Western Europe. In contrast, Eastern Europeans did not have such choices. They were consumers of only what their government made for them. Eastern Europeans enjoyed the benefits of communism – parks, free schooling, and job security.  However, knowing that other Europeans had the choice to buy something that was not made by the government, in addition to access to career and travel opportunities, eventually fueled revolutions and led to the failure of Soviet Russia after the fall of the Berlin Wall.[5]

The Cold War did not amount to mass casualties. It did not amount to mass destruction and the sudden upheaval of established states. The Cold War was purely a stalemate, a standoff. The Cold War was a resistance of the old Soviet regime to recognize centralized tightly controlled power over large numbers of people could only persist in a vacuum free of western consumerism.

The rise of science and technology enabled mass media, which in turn communicated western culture and ideals towards freedom outside of national boundaries. This led to the economic power of the consumer to choose which firms and industries should thrive. These firms and industries in turn gave increased government tax revenue and provided higher military expenditures. The governments who coddled the consumer the most eventually found themselves more globally powerful than governments who did not. This was the quiet and subversive rise of the consumer as a world power, the chosen world power.

Bibliography

Browning, Christopher Ordinary Men Harper Collins; 1993

 

McKay, Hill, Buckler, Crowston, Wiesner-Hanks, Perry A History of Western Society Bedford/St. Martins 2011

 



[1] Eric Hobsbawm The Age of Extremes: the short twentieth century, 1914-1991 New York: Vintage, 1994

[3] Wells, H.G. The War That Will End War London, F. & C. Palmer, 1914

[4]  Churchill, Wiston Sinews of Peace (speech at Westminster College in Fulton, Missouri on March 5, 1946)

[5] McKay, Hill, Buckler, Crowston, Wiesner-Hanks, Perry “State and Society in the East Bloc” Chap.30 in A History of Western Society Bedford/St. Martins 2011

The assassination of the Archduke of Austria, Francis Ferdinand

The assassination of Francis Ferdinand is considered the primary cause of the domino effect of events leading to the start of World War I.  Gavrilo Princip, a Serbian nationalist and member of the guerilla group The Black Hand, assassinated the Archduke of Austria and his wife Sophie during a formal visit to Sarajevo on June 28th 1914.  The reporting by the New York Times and The Times revealed immediate and specific knowledge of the assassination and the events leading up to it, yet there were no reporters present in Sarajevo, indicating the reporting was based on information presented from the Austrian news agencies. One key event however, was misreported by these agencies – that Ferdinand was repeatedly warned not to enter Bosnia to witness military maneuvers that day.

Ferdinand was the “the Dark Horse of Statecraft[1]” thrust into international notoriety after a series of unfortunate family tragedies resulted in him becoming heir to the emperor of the Austro-Hungarian empire.   The Countess Chotek, mother of Sophie Chotek von Choktova, descended from an old Bohemian family line, which thereby prevented her daughter’s courtship with the Archduke.  Her role as assistant to the Archduchess Friedrich included the responsibility of arranging “accidental” meetings with Ferdinand and each of her six daughters. Thus, the Countess had a unique opportunity to introduce Ferdinand to Sophie.  Eventually, the Archduchess approached the Emperor Josef imploring him to press Ferdinand into making a decision on one of the six, and he “was dumbfounded when the latter said calmly that he was not in love with any of the Archduchesses, but with their companion[2]” The Countess Chotek was quickly discharged and Ferdinand sent away on a world tour visiting various countries in Asia and North America, with the emperor’s hope that he would forget about Sophie.

Upon his return, Ferdinand revealed he did not forget and was then granted permission for a morganatic marriage to Sophie and “was compelled to take a solemn oath that he would never attempt to place his wife or children on the throne, and in addition that he would never take steps to persuade the pope to annul his vow.”[3]  Sophie Chotek and Francis Ferdinand were finally married on July 1st 1900, after nine years of courtship, but neither the emperor Francis Joseph nor the Archduchess were in attendance. Later, Sophie would be granted the title “The Duchess of Hohenberg”.



Sophie’s marriage to Ferdinand inspired confidence for Bohemians who hoped when Ferdinand came to the throne that, “they would be put on the same footing as the Germans and Magyars, for he lived much of the time in his Bohemian estates, treated his tenants as personal retainers, and was regarded by them as bound to them by ties of race.[4]” Perhaps Sophie felt a sense of duty to her countrymen when on that fateful afternoon, she “attempted to shield her husband by throwing her own body in the way of the assassin’s bullet.[5]”, but it is most likely she was deeply in love with Ferdinand and shocked at the sight of his injury.
Continue reading The assassination of the Archduke of Austria, Francis Ferdinand

Historical Timeline of the 20th Century

The 1900s

Picture courtesy of The Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin.
This decade opened the century with some amazing feats like the first flight by the Wright brothers, Henry Ford’s first Model-T, and Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. It also had hardships like the Boxer Rebellion and the San Francisco Earthquake. The 1900s also saw the introduction of the first silent movie and teddy bear. Plus, don’t miss out in discovering more about the mysterious explosion in Siberia. Learn more about the this “humdinger” decade through the 1900-1909 timeline.

The 1910s

Picture courtesy the Photos of the Great War Archive.
This decade was unfortunately dominated by the first “total war” — World War I. It also saw other huge changes during the Russian Revolution and the beginning of Prohibition. Tragedy struck when a fire rampaged through Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, the “unsinkable” Titanic hit an iceberg. and the Spanish flu killed millions around the world. On a more positive note, people in the 1910s got their first taste of an Oreo cookie and could fill out their first crossword. Take a “gander” at this decade through the 1910-1919 timeline.

The 1920s

Picture courtesy of Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division [LC-USZ62-30776 DLC]
The Roaring ’20s were a time of speakeasies, short skirts, the Charleston dance, and jazz music. The 1920s also showed great strides in Women’s Suffrage and archaeology hit the mainstream with the discovery of King Tut’s Tomb. There were an amazing number of cultural firsts in the 1920s, including the first talking film, Babe Ruth hitting his home-run record, and the first Mickey Mouse cartoon. Learn more about this “nifty” decade through the 1920-1929 timeline.

The 1930s

Picture part of the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library Collection, courtesy of the National Archives.
The Great Depression hit the world hard in the 1930s. The Nazis took advantage of this situation and were able to come to power in Germany, establish their first concentration camp, and begin a systematic persecution of Jews in Europe. Other news in the 1930s included the disappearance of Amelia Earhart, a wild and murderous crime spree by Bonnie and Clyde, and the imprisonment of Al Capone for income tax evasion. Learn more about this “snazzy” decade through the 1930-1939 timeline.

The 1940s

Picture part of the Estelle Bechoefer Collection, courtesy of USHMM Photo Archives.
World War II was already underway by the time the 1940s began and it was definitely the big event of the first half of the decade. Plus, the Nazis established death camps in their effort to murder millions of Jews during the Holocaust. When World War II ended, the Cold War began. The 1940s also witnessed the assassination of Gandhi and the beginning of Apartheid. So you should, “you know,” learn more about this decade through the 1940-1949 timeline.

The 1950s

Picture courtesy of the National Archives.
The 1950s are sometimes referred to as the Golden Age. Color TV was invented; the polio vaccine was discovered; Disneyland opened; and Elvis gyrated his hips on The Ed Sullivan Show. The Cold War continued as the Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union began. The 1950s also saw segregation ruled illegal in the U.S. and the beginning of the Civil Rights movement. Learn more about this “cool” decade through the1950-1959 timeline.

The 1960s

Picture courtesy of the National Archives.
To many, the 1960s can be summed up as the Vietnam War, hippies, drugs, protests, and rock and roll. (A common joke goes “If you remember the sixties, you weren’t there.”) Although those were important aspects of this decade, other events occurred as well. For instance, the Berlin Wall was built, the Soviets launched the first man into space, President John F. Kennedy was assassinated, the Beatles become popular, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made his “I Have a Dream” speech, and so much more! Learn more about this “groovy” decade through the 1960-1969 timeline.

The 1970s

Picture courtesy of the National Archives.
The Vietnam War was still a major event in the beginning of the 1970s. There were other tragic events this decade as well, including the deadliest earthquake of the century, the Jonestown massacre, the Munich Olympics massacre, and the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island. Culturally, disco became extremely popular and Star Wars hit theaters. Learn more about this “far out” decade through the 1970-1979 timeline.

The 1980s

Picture part of the Ronald Reagan Library Collection, courtesy of the National Archives.
Mikhail Gorbachev’s policies of glasnost and perestroika began the end of the Cold War. This was soon followed by the surprising fall of the Berlin Wall. There were also some disasters this decade, including the eruption of Mt. St. Helens, the oil spill of the Exxon Valdez, the Ethiopian Famine, a huge poison gas leak in Bhopal, and the discovery of AIDS. Culturally, the 1980s saw the introduction of the mesmerizing Rubik’s Cube toy, Pac-Man video game, and Michael Jackson’s Thriller video. Learn more about this “sweet” decade through this 1980-1989 timeline.

The 1990s

Picture taken by your About.com Guide, Jennifer Rosenberg.
The Cold War ends, Nelson Mandela is released from prison, the Internet becomes popular – in many ways the 1990s seemed a decade of both hope and relief. Unfortunately, the decade also saw its fair share of tragedy, including the Oklahoma City bombing, Columbine High School massacre, and the Rwandan genocide. Learn more about this “phat” decade through this 1990-2000 timeline.