Major World Events That Impacted My Youth
Major world events I vividly remember that took place during my first 25 years on this planet.
1. Ronald Reagan becomes President of the U.S., 1981
Barely beyond my toddler years, I had no idea what it meant at the time, but the election of Reagan was a major turning point in the U.S. that still affects the political zeitgeist today.
2. Soviets shoot down Korean Airlines Flight 007, 1983
This event nearly started World War III almost as much as the Cuban Missile Crisis did. The thought of what those people went through on the plane is terrifying.
3. Space Shuttle Challenger Explosion, 1986
One of those seminal events, alongside the assassination of JFK and 9/11, which everyone remembers where they were when it happened. I was in grade school. The teacher rolled in a small TV on a cart for us to watch the news coverage (pretty heavy for kids to watch, looking back on it now) in lieu of lessons that day, as we all knew the teacher Christa McAuliffe was on that flight.
4. Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant Disaster, 1986
I actually don't remember a lot about this event when it happened, perhaps because it was papered over by the Soviets for a while before news of it leaked out.
5. Tiananmen Square Massacre, 1989
That infamous image of the man who defied the communists is burned in my brain. In 2003, I was at the square and asked our young Chinese guide about the event. She refused to acknowledge it happened. The Chinese brainwashed their citizens to believe it never happened.
6. Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, 1989
Holy cow there was nothing else on the news at this time other than the Exxon oil spill. It was the worst environmental disaster at the time. Endless images of seagulls and other animals covered in oil peppered our television screens every day. Exxon, completely lacking any class, initially blamed it on the drunken captain (he had been drinking, but he was sleeping and not at the helm when the ship crashed), it turned out the likely cause was a damaged instrument that Exxon did not repair for a year before the event.
7. Fall of the Berlin Wall, 1989
Even at my young age, watching people knock down the wall and sitting on top of it partying and cheering, left an indelible mark. This was thought to be an impossible event, and yet it happened without a single shot fired.
8. Persian Gulf War, 1991
I reached high school at this point, so there were some intelligent class discussions that took place as to how the war started and whether or not the U.S. should be involved. Most people, as reflected by the politics of the time, were either in the die-hard "America Fuck Yeah let's police the world!" camp, or the camp that believed it was nothing more than a conspiracy between the U.S. and the Saudis to control the world's oil supply. Personally, I think it was both.
9. Fall of the Soviet Union, 1991
People in the Reagan camp always thought the Soviet Union would collapse under its own weight of mismanaged bureaucracy, but they thought it would take many decades, not a single decade. Like the Fall of the Berlin Wall, it's still remarkable to consider this enormous world power fell without any bloodshed.
10. Nelson Mandela elected President of South Africa, 1994
It was impossible that a black man imprisoned for decades by white men of the apartheid era would ever return to lead the country, and yet the miracle happened. That was a special moment.
11. Oklahoma City Bombing, 1995
Watching the coverage on the news, it was frightening to imagine the experience of anyone in that building.
12. Hong Kong returns to China, 1997
There's still debate over whether or not this handoff from the U.K. was good for Hong Kong citizens. I think if you ask many of them, they'd like to be returned to the Brits.
13. September 11 Attacks, 2001
The worst event to happen on American soil since the Civil War, I believe. That was a terrible time.